The Republican Party long ago missed its chance to distance itself from Trump. Now it’s far too late

With her jaw-dropping testimony before the House select committee on Jan. 6, former assistant to the White House chief of staff Cassidy Hutchinson has given Republicans an opportunity: Get out the 17.5-foot poles and push Donald Trump as far away as they can while there is still a chance. Hutchinson’s testimony, showing that the man who is petty, spiteful, mean, and cruel on stage, turns out to be even more petty, spiteful, mean, and cruel in private, is to Republicans what Jan. 6 was to Trump’s seditious conspiracy: a last chance.

On the day after Jan. 6, Republican “leaders” like Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell were adamant in renouncing both the assault on the Capitol and the man who drove the mob into the halls of Congress. McCarthy was quoted as saying, “I’ve had it with this guy” after telling a group of Republican representatives that he would push for Trump to resign. McConnell also told fellow Republicans that Trump was responsible for the Jan. 6 attack and vowed to “drive him from politics.”

But within days, McCarthy hurried down to Mar-a-Lago, begging the forgiveness of Trump and denying he’d ever said anything about trying to remove him from office. A position made only slightly more awkward by recordings of McCarthy doing exactly that. 

Now Republicans have another chance to walk away from Trump. Don’t expect them to take it. Because it’s too late.

Campaign Action

Once upon a time, in the Pre-Trumpian age that now seems so far away, but was really just 2016, Republicans up and down the dial were readily aware that Donald Trump was in no sense qualified for high office, and that even putting him on the ballot as the Republican nominee was absolutely ridiculous.

There was Marco Rubio saying, “We’re about to have someone take over the Republican Party who is a con artist” (and Rubio should know). Rubio also called Trump the most “vulgar person to ever aspire to the presidency” and someone “who has fed into language that basically justifies physically assaulting people who disagree with you.” 

Ted Cruz called Trump, “utterly amoral,” “a pathological liar,” and “a narcissist at a level that I don't think this country has ever seen.” Repeating … Ted Cruz said this.

And of course, Lindsey Graham was there to say that Trump was, “a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot. He doesn't represent my party.” 

"You know how you make America great again?,” asked Graham. “Tell Donald Trump to go to hell."

Then every single one of these leaders showed that they had feet, not of clay, because clay has much more consistency than anything demonstrated by these men. Watery mud, at best. 

The Republican Party might have tried to hold itself separate from Trump’s white nationalist kleptocratic authoritarian agenda. It didn’t. It might have broken with Trump when the first impeachment hearings revealed how he attempted to bully Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy into generating false evidence against Joe Biden in exchange for the weapons it needed to hold back Russia. It didn’t. It might have broken away from Trump at a hundred different points, before, during, and after Jan. 6. It didn’t. 

Every day Republicans have had an option: Take their lumps for supporting Trump, and try to save what remains of their party. Instead, they’ve picked door number two—the one where they pull out a spade and dig the hole even deeper. Every day they’ve made the bet that wading further into the swamp is the better alternative—even though they’ve watched the waters close over the heads of so many former party stalwarts.

Last night in Illinois, Mary Miller beat out Rodney Davis for the nomination in the 15th congressional district on the sole basis of being the most willing to do anything, anything, anything, that Donald Trump says. It’s a story that has been repeated so many times in the last five years. What’s left of the Republican Party to save at this point? There’s no version of Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene that is not just about being proxies for Trump. Ditto Josh Hawley, Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, et. al. 

If Republicans stepped away from Trump, who would lead that charge? McCarthy? Graham? Cruz? Any of them might have preserved something of a dry place to stand that they could leverage now. But they didn’t. There’s maybe Mitt Romney and maybe half a dozen members of the House who have made it through the last four years like kids hunched down at the back of the class, hoping that the teacher would never, ever call on them. The only other Republicans who haven’t groveled at a level that embarrasses earthworms have either lost their seats, retired, or are about to.

Republicans should be thanking Cassidy Hutchinson for this fresh opportunity to declare that they didn’t know Trump was that bad. Because, beyond the ketchup on the walls and the grabbing for the wheel, what Hutchinson made dead obvious was that Donald Trump acted to make sure that his supporters at the Capitol were armed and that he intended to lead their assault on Congress personally. He wanted to be on hand to direct the people chanting “Hang Mike Pence,” which was music to his ears.

There are going to be charges of seditious conspiracy. A number of people are going to go to jail. What’s left of the Republican Party can either take this opportunity to bail on Trump or double down on the destruction of democracy.

Expect them to choose door number two. Again.

Republicans are preparing another ‘Contract on America’ with the aid of … who else?

There are few people in modern political history who have done as much damage to our democracy as Newt Gingrich. As the prototypical, ideological Republican “bomb-thrower” who first came of age during the Reagan “revolution” in the 1990s, Gingrich ushered in and patented an era of hyperpartisan viciousness and crass, unrelenting political rancor that finally reached its apotheosis in a GOP now firmly under the thumb of Donald Trump. As a co-author of the Republican Party’s infamous 1994 Contract with America (a revenue-gutting, deregulatory attack on government programs recast by President Bill Clinton as a Contract on America), Gingrich established the standard legislative template for all future attempts by conservatives at governance (actually “non-governance”) while in the process turning the “government shutdown” deficit-scolding and brinksmanship into routine tactics for Republicans whenever a Democrat occupies the Oval Office.

Gingrich was and still is a nasty piece of work. He is notable for creating a smear lexicon that he encouraged Republicans to adopt in which Democrats were routinely labeled with such pejoratives as “sick,” “decay,” “corrupt”and “traitors,” while Republicans were urged to self-describe their proposals with noble-sounding words like “caring,” “principled" and “common-sense.” He was a primary motivating force behind the churlish, politically driven impeachment of President Bill Clinton. Facing a broadly based public backlash against both his party’s policies and his own abrasive personality, Gingrich was forced to resign as House speaker in 1998 and left Congress altogether the following year, spending his time as an erstwhile pundit on the conservative media circuit and regurgitating his ideas in high-priced speeches and insular, right-wing think tanks.

By all standards of human decency that should have been the denouement of all things Gingrich, but because the Republican Party as it stands today has few if any purported “thinkers” able to formulate even an excuse for public policy, he remains relevant as their “go-to” man. The benighted cruelty and criminal incompetence of the Trump administration offered Gingrich as an éminence grise, a chance to reaffirm his bona fides, and he immediately signed on to parroting Trump’s requisite Big Lie about election fraud. So when relatively hapless Republican Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy needed help in preparing his minions for the 2022 elections, Gingrich was a natural choice. As reported by Jeff Stein and Laura Meckler for the The Washington Post: 

Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” in 1994 is linked with the GOP takeover of Congress in that midterm cycle, said he has been advising House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) on a set of policy items for Republicans to take to voters ahead of the November elections. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.) and other members of House Republican leadership are also involved in the project, which is not expected to launch until the spring or summer.

As McCarthy himself told Breitbart last week, his Gingrich-inspired project for the midterms already has a working title: “We’ll come out with a Commitment to America … We’ve been working on policy.”

In today’s Republican-speak, “working on policy” translates into looting the country for profit; initiating pointless and distracting “Benghazi-style” investigations to harass, smear, and intimidate Biden administration officials and otherwise occupy the media, and exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic by dividing and polarizing Americans as much as possible.

Republicans are expected to focus their new platform on education policies aimed at tapping into parental discontent; countering the rise of China with new economic measures; and “oversight” of the Biden administration. They are also looking at invoking other traditional GOP goals such as cutting taxes, restricting immigration, criticizing Silicon Valley and repealing environmental rules.

Glenn Youngkin’s victory in the Virginia gubernatorial election all but assured that Republicans now intend to present themselves as the party of education, if by “education” you meant the deliberate stoking of racial resentment among white parents and parents otherwise exhausted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The party that featured anti-teacher smears as part of its national convention, consistently and deliberately downplayed teachers’ health and safety during the pandemic, and has spearheaded a longstanding effort to privatize and eliminate public education now seeks to portray itself as a defender of our public schools, specifically by way of appealing to parents of school-age children. Except the only “parents” it seems to want to pander to are the types of parents who enter school board meetings unmasked, screaming about their “freedoms” while complaining loudly about teachers who dare to provide students with historical context for this nation’s unique and long-standing embrace of virulent racism.

As Stein and Meckler point out, however, beyond pandering to disgruntled parents, there is little that Republicans can actually do to further degrade our public schools, as much as they might want to:

McCarthy has released a “Parents Bill of Rights” that would not make big changes in education but would send some new mandates to school districts, some of which duplicate actions that are already routine or covered by existing rules and laws ...

The document also asserts that parents have a “right to be heard.” School boards almost uniformly allow for public comment, though some have shut meetings down because of disruptions including screaming and threats of violence.

The curious love-hate relationship between Republicans and what they like to simplify in broad, ridiculous brush strokes as “Big Tech” is another “policy” area Republicans plan to exploit. But this is largely a matter of insider baseball barely comprehensible to a GOP rank and file thoroughly mesmerized by their smartphones and tablets. The party appears to have no problem with the tech monopolies their own party fostered for decades as long as they amplify GOP lawmakers; it’s only when tech behemoths attempt to place curbs on the GOP‘s now requisite hate speech that Republicans find these mammoth corporations not to their liking. 

It’s difficult to take them seriously, and I frankly doubt anyone in Silicon Valley actually does. It’s also hard to take any anti-China stance seriously beyond its obvious pandering to Trump’s racist base, who appear to still believe that the minuscule possibility the COVID-19 virus originated in a lab somehow absolves Donald Trump of all the subsequent malfeasance in response to the pandemic that cratered his reelection in 2020.

One area where Republicans promise to effect big changes is in eliminating barriers to House members actually killing themselves: “[C]hanging congressional rules, such as by repealing mask mandates, removing magnetic scanners from the floor of the House and abolishing voting by proxy” are all in the works, virtually guaranteeing that their anticipated majority after 2022 winnows itself down a bit through natural selection. But beyond this, assuming they achieve a majority in one or even both chambers of Congress, the actual GOP agenda promises to be fairly threadbare, as any effort to cut taxes any further for the wealthiest Americans will inevitably run into President Biden’s veto pen. And until the Supreme Court effectively guts the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to function, Republicans’ ability to increase pollution though deregulation and accelerate global warming will also continue to be stymied.

In sum there’s not a great deal policy-wise for Gingrich or McCarthy to work with beyond criticizing the nation’s withdrawal from the 20-year Afghanistan war (a debacle that was scarcely mentioned during the two years Republicans enjoyed congressional majorities under Trump). Also, of course, everything about Hunter Biden, from his “mysterious” connection to Chinese businesses to his art deals with the Georges Berges gallery in SoHo. With Gingrich tending the till of an anticipated House majority, President Biden will doubtlessly be impeached … for something. Because the current leader of the GOP, Donald Trump, will demand it.

Of course, all of this will be happening in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, which Republicans at both the federal and state levels have all but ensured will continue at least through 2023. That’s the real wild card since any actions the GOP takes to further exacerbate the pandemic will be seen in light of what happens after omicron. The political fallout from a continued COVID-19 pandemic is unknowable at this point, but Republicans have already amply demonstrated they are completely incapable of formulating any policy response to it. So the focus for Gingrich and McCarthy will not be on policy, but on constant personal attacks and smears on Democrats and the demonization of the Biden administration. This has always been Gingrich’s modus operandi, and it is perfectly suited to a modern Republican Party that has long since abandoned any pretense of governance or concern for the well-being of Americans.

The first Contract on America  essentially fizzled out with Gingrich, its proponent and co-author, blithely leaving the field and the cultural wreckage he wrought behind him. Contract on America 2.0 simply promises to pick up where he left off, albeit with a GOP even more morally bankrupt than in the 1990s. Any American concerned for the future of this country should hope that Gingrich’s second bite at the apple proves equally poisonous to himself and the party that spawned him.

One question the Jan. 6 committee should ask every police officer injured during the insurrection

The response of the Washington, D.C. Capitol Police to the events of Jan. 6 has been closely examined and debated from practically the first moments of the insurrection itself. There have been credible accusations that the police deliberately responded sluggishly or with intentional forbearance given that the thousands of Trump supporters who stormed the U.S. Capitol were almost entirely white. There is also strong evidence that some of the Capitol officers willingly abetted the insurrectionists by allowing access to the Capitol building at critical times during the event. There has been credible evidence indicating that some in the Capitol police hierarchy were aware of the insurrectionists’ plans to attack Congress beforehand and still did nothing to prepare against the attacks.

All of these assertions deserve to be fully investigated. But one thing remains absolutely undeniable: the Capitol and D.C. police were the only thing standing between the insurrectionists and the elected representatives and senators trapped in the Capitol building on Jan. 6. Had it not been for the presence and efforts of most of these officers, many of the Trump-supporting thugs who violently smashed their way through glass doors for the sole purpose of finding these officials would have inflicted violence on those same officials. Absent the police, some of these representatives and senators would almost certainly have been killed or otherwise assaulted by the members of this uncontrolled mob.

One other thing is clear: about 140 Capitol and D.C. police officers suffered injury in their efforts to repulse the attack on Jan. 6. Some of them were so gravely injured, both mentally and physically, that they may never return to work as police officers. Others find themselves now disabled from injuries inflicted during the melee on that day or stricken with PTSD more reminiscent of the wartime experience of Vietnam or Iraq veterans who have seen close combat. 

Many of those injured as a result of the events at the Capitol will doubtlessly be called as witnesses by the select committee now formed to investigate the cause of the insurrection.They will be asked about the extent of their injuries, and how they received those injuries. So here is one simple question that members of that committee should ask each and every one of these officers, preferably at the close of their testimony:

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

I’m quite certain the answer of each of these officers will be “no.”

This weekend the Washington Post ‘s Peter Hermann highlighted the extent of injuries sustained by several officers defending against the attacks. As Hermann reports, these officers were “bludgeoned with poles and bats, pushed and trampled, and sprayed with chemical irritants.” Others were struck, often in the head, by thrown objects. One who was knocked unconscious could “barely walk, barely talk” in the days following the attacks, and is still out of work, having suffered a severe concussion. Several officers now suffer from ongoing neurological problems after being assaulted with such objects:

Some officers who were assaulted Jan. 6 experienced different or worsening symptoms in the weeks and months that followed, indicating they may have suffered injuries more severe than had initially been believed, in particular undiagnosed head trauma, according to a therapist who has seen hundreds of D.C. officers. She thinks others who emerged exhausted and sore may not have reported injuries, or even recognized they needed medical care.

One officer, Brian Sicknick, succumbed to two successive strokes one day after being assaulted and pepper-sprayed by the Trump mob. Two officers have committed suicide as a result of mental and physical trauma sustained during the attacks. One turned in her weapon, fearing that she would use it on herself. According to their union, several officers present that day are unlikely to ever return to work due to physical injuries they sustained.

Other scars are less visible but no less real. One Black police officer, repeatedly vilified as a “n-----” by Trump’s supporters, screaming it in his face as they assaulted him, has undergone marked changes in his personality. Others have sustained emotional trauma that has impaired their ability to function and impacted their relationships with their spouses and families.

Officer Michael Fanone is already familiar to many. Beaten unconscious by the Trump-incited mob, he has spearheaded a personal effort to obtain recognition for the sacrifices of his fellow officers. Fanone’s post-hospitalization course is emblematic of other officers injured that day: debilitating headaches, nausea, and dizziness symptoms common to post-concussion survivors, along with cognitive impairment, nervousness, and anxiety more akin to sufferers of PTSD. For his efforts in defending the Capitol, Fanone was rewarded by Georgia Republican Rep. Andrew Clyde, who refused to shake his hand. when the two met in an elevator (Clyde had previously referred to the Capitol attacks as a “tourist visit”).

Another officer, Sgt. Aquilino Gonell, a veteran of the Iraq war, was interviewed by Hermann for the Post article:

Gonell fought on the Capitol’s West Terrace. He said he and his colleagues were called unpatriotic, scum, traitors and un-American. He didn’t know he had been struck with a speaker until he saw himself on a video.

After the riot, Gonell powered through his injuries and insisted on working through the Jan. 20 inauguration, hiding his limp and shoulder pain and ignoring a doctor’s advice to take it easy. He stopped only after Biden was sworn in, when his foot had become dangerously swollen and he could no longer stand.

All of these injured officers have something in common: they were all injured as a direct result of a mob incited by Donald Trump to attack the Capitol. While these policemen and women were subjected to the full fury of the mob, Donald Trump (who had falsely reassured the rioters that he would be present alongside them during the assault) simply sat watching them being beaten, enthralled, in front of his television set for literally hours. Far from doing anything to stop the mayhem that he had incited, he encouraged it by refusing to do anything at all, even coyly tweeting at one point that the attackers were “very special.”

In his open letter to all members of Congress, Officer Fanone wrote that the “indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful.” 

"As the physical injuries gradually subsided, in crept the psychological trauma. In many ways I still live my life as if it is January 07, 2021. I struggle daily with the emotional anxiety of having survived such a traumatic event but I also struggle with the anxiety of hearing those who continue to downplay the events of that day and those who would ignore them altogether with their lack of acknowledgement. The indifference shown to my colleagues and I is disgraceful."

At the time Fanone was referring to the fact that Republican members of the House and Senate refused to acknowledge the viciousness and extent of the assault or even the reason it occurred. Since that time, Republicans have even attempted to ascribe some sort of heroism or justification on the part of these insurrectionists. Trump himself has called them “great people,” and a “loving crowd.”

So, after each officer testifying before the committee sets forth—in painstaking detail—the extent and cause of his/her injuries sustained at the hands of the Trump mob, the committee members will have an opportunity to simply remind Americans that all of those officers’ injuries stemmed entirely from one man’s malice, depravity and complete indifference to their fate. An indifference that he has never once even tried to hide or disguise by the slightest expression of sympathy or appreciation for their sacrifice.

Did President Donald Trump ever contact you to apologize, or express his sympathy, gratitude or appreciation for your sacrifice?

That, at the very least, should leave an impression.

Trump lickspittles have taken over Republican Party, but a handful of rebels play long game

All Republicans are awful. They are greedy, selfish, death-worshipping assholes. Let’s just stipulate that because it’s objectively true—it’s no accident that while they were happy to toss aside their supposed fealty to “family values” and “national security” during the Trump years, the one thing they got accomplished was tax cuts for the über-wealthy. Their priorities have always been clear. 

That said, we can divide Republicans into two camps, one of them full of morons beyond belief, and the other not so dumb. The first has surrendered itself completely to the felon-in-waiting Donald Trump, who cost them the House, the Senate, and the White House—only the third president to lose reelection in the last hundred years. He isn’t just the nation’s biggest loser, but a living reminder of the GOP’s lack of any actual ideological core beyond tax cuts for the rich. Remember, Republicans didn’t even bother writing a party platform during their presidential convention! Why bother writing anything down when all that matters is what Trump thinks in the moment, subject to his changing irrational whims? 

The Trump lickspittles have won the battle for control of their party. But there is a smaller faction—those Republicans who, while ideologically odious, at least remain loyal to the Constitution and the principles of American democracy. It’s a low bar to meet and a distressingly small number of Republicans meet it, but they exist. 

Yet while this small minority of Republicans might be on the outs today, they’re playing the long game, and it’s a smarter game to play. They may not be the future of the party, but they have more of a chance to do so than any of the Lickspittle caucus ever will. 

Six Republicans voted for the Jan. 6 commission: 

  Bill Cassidy, Louisiana   Susan Collins, Maine   Lisa Murkowski, Alaska   Rob Portman, Ohio   Mitt Romney, Utah   Ben Sasse, Nebraska

This nearly mirrors the list of Republicans who voted to convict during Trump’s second impeachment trial. The only differences are that Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey is missing (he didn’t bother to stick around) and Portman was added to this list. 

Of those, Portman is retiring, Collins represents a blue state, and Murkowski is protected by the strange politics of her state (including the brand new “top-four” jungle primary that protects her from being ousted in a traditional Republican-only primary). 

Cassidy, Romney, and Sasse, however, represent solid red states (even if Utah isn’t particularly Trump-loving), and Sasse, in particular, has presidential ambitions. (Maybe Romney too.) 

Over in the House, 35 Republicans voted for the commission—a stunningly large number of defectors—led by Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who was recently cancelled from the House leadership. That is a significant increase from the 10 who voted for Trump’s second impeachment. And if you look at that list, it’s not a list of “liberal Republicans,” or even moderates. No liberal Republicans are left, and precious few moderates, as well. Most were solid conservatives standing up for the Constitution. 

It would be hard to point to any elected official and not think that they have higher-office aspirations. So these Republicans, in all future campaigns, will have this vote hung around their necks during their primaries. It’s the reason so many Republicans took the coward’s way out and stood by Trump. They were afraid to face their base voters having stood up to Trump. There are the loyalists, like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who are far gone in Q-conspiracy land and worship their idol Trump. But aside from those, there are the opportunists—the Sens. Josh Hawleys and Ted Cruzes, Republicans working feverishly to capture that Trump electoral magic in a bottle and releasing it for their own benefit in their inevitable future presidential bids. George P. Bush is the latest of that crowd to humiliate themselves in a bid to win Trump’s approval. 

What the Liz Cheneys and Ben Sasses know, because it’s obvious, is that Trump will never anoint any of that crowd—not the loyalists, and not the opportunists—for anything in which he or his spawn have their eye on. He is loyal to himself first, and Ivanka Trump second. Then, to a lesser degree, his sons. And after that, the spouses and partners. That’s it! 

There isn’t a chance in hell that a Trump doesn’t run for president in 2024. It might not be Donald Trump himself—he might be too indicted, too convicted, too in jail, or too dead from all those disgusting Big Macs he eats. But if it isn’t the Liar in Chief himself, it will be one of his children. The loyalists might not care, pathetically worshipping at the altar of Trump. But the opportunists are making a bet that will never pay off. They will never inherit the Trump movement, because Trump doesn’t give a rat’s ass about anyone but himself and his clan. They have thrown in with an odious, morally obscene man who will never give them the approbation they so desperately want from him. 

Cheney and Sasse are ambitious politicians. They know what they face inside their party, and they’re making a calculated bet that someday sanity will return to their party, and their brand of competent conservatism will once again have value. These are smart politicians, and they know the pitfalls and dangers they face ahead. They may lose their next primary bids. They may be further ostracized and marginalized. They may simply fail to stem the tide of a Republican Party falling deeper into conspiracy territory. 

But if the Republican Party ever breaks out of this current fever, they’ll be there to pick up the pieces and lead it onward. 

The chance that happens is slim. What, 5% or 10%? Let’s not pretend odds are good. But it’s not out of the realm of impossibility. And even 10% is a higher chance of success than the big 0% the lickspittles have of ever becoming president, becoming leaders of their party, or even winning any seats coveted by the Trump clan. 

House votes to create Jan. 6 commission, but McConnell is doing what he always does—blocking justice

On Wednesday evening, the House authorized the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the the January 6 assault on the Capitol. In the process, 35 Republican representatives bucked GOP leadership to vote in favor of the commission that will investigate not just events of that day, but just how the nation came to face a violent insurgency and an attack on democracy. 

The overwhelming 252-175 vote in the House came after Republican leaders at first expressed support for the idea of such a commission in the immediate wake of the attack. The actual design for the commission came from a bipartisan agreement of the Homeland Security Committee, and gave Republicans equal representation in the investigation, as well as what amounts to  veto power over any subpoenas. That such a Republican-friendly agreement was reached seemed to surprise Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who initially refused to say whether he would support the deal. Then McCarthy let it be known that he would not whip other Republicans to vote against it. Then he did exactly that.

Now the proposed commission moves to the Senate, where—despite Mitch McConnell’s speech calling January 6 “a disgrace” that happened because Americans were “fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth”—McConnell has already announced that he will oppose it. At the moment, not a single Republican in the Senate has spoken up to support the bill.

Because, when all is said and done, they are all still following the orders of the same man, who is still spreading the same wild falsehoods.”

The commission designed by the House Homeland Security Committee could not be more straightforward or more generous in the power it gives to the minority party. Modeled after the similar body created to investigate 9/11, the commission is “charged with studying the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6th attack on the Capitol as well as the influencing factors that may have provoked the attack on our democracy.”

The 10-person panel is to be composed, not of political figures, but of individuals with “significant expertise in the areas of law enforcement, civil rights, civil liberties, privacy, intelligence, and cybersecurity.” Anyone currently serving in government is not eligible, and the selections are to be split evenly between majority and minority leadership in the House and Senate. The commission can issue subpoenas, but they must be approved by both the Democratic chair and Republican vice-chair.

In terms of the structure and purpose, the commission created by the House bill is in no way slanted toward a Democratic position. The fact that Democrats have agreed to this structure, despite holding a majority in the House and Senate, is testament to the idea that they simply want to know the truth.

 Which is, of course, the problem. 

Because a lot of Republicans stand to be put in a very, very bad light if the full truth comes out. Not least of all, that man who was the ultimate source of “wild falsehoods.” That’s why Donald Trump used his new web page this week to insist that the strikingly bipartisan commission was a “Democrat trap” and “partisan unfairness.” And Trump provided the talking points by saying that any commission should also investigate every act of violence that Republicans blame on Democrats, even if exactly none of those events threatened to overturn the outcome of the election and destroy our system of government.

Both Republicans and right-wing media immediately picked up on Trump’s theme, with McCarthy issuing a statement saying that he could not support the commission because it would not investigated “political violence” on the left. Which makes all the sense of refusing to vote for a 9/11 commission unless it also covered Vietnam protests. Or the Civil Rights movement. 

There is no connection, nor comparison, between what happened on January 6 and what happened during Black Lives Matter protests following the police murder of George Floyd. No connection except how men like Trump and McCarthy used lies about about the BLM protests to help stir anger among many of the same groups behind the violence on January 6.

When McConnell spoke on February 13, he agreed that “Former President Trump’s actions preceding the riot were a disgraceful dereliction of duty” and that “There is no question that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day.” McConnell also pushed back against Republicans who had voted in the House or Senate against certifying the election. In fact, as of Tuesday, McConnell had said he was open to voting for the commission.

But, as The New York Times reports, McConnell “reversed” his position and declared his opposition to the commission. McConnell has made it clear that not only will he vote no, he will also insist that other Republicans vote against the commission.

That reversal came “amid pressure from Mr. Trump.” And now McConnell is absolutely toeing the Trump line, voicing the same nonsensical claims that the studiously bipartisan commission would somehow be unfair because it’s not also looking at events totally unrelated to the assault on the Capitol. Previous Trump’s statement, getting the commission passed by the Senate seemed like a given. Now it seems impossible. That change in tone came after both McConnell and McCarthy “joined … Mr. Trump in panning the proposal.”

The man who McConnell explicitly said is “practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of that day” is being allowed to quash an investigation of those events.  Even in exile, even in defeat, Trump rules the Republicans. And the reason is simple. As Politico notes, Trump is their “cash cow.” 

In a party literally without a platform, and with absolutely no vision for the future, the only means of engaging their voters—and donors—is through fear and anger. No one generates that fear and anger more than Trump. Republicans aren’t just giving in to Trump, they’re selling out. 

Removing Liz Cheney isn’t a turning point for the Republican Party, it’s a post-extinction event

No Democrat loves Liz Cheney. Over the years she has consistently taken positions that were among the most conservative, most regressive, and most aggressive of any Republican in Congress. She is among those most protective of the wealthy, most willing to sacrifice the environment, and most willing to ignore injustice. Looking back at the key votes of this past year, Cheney voted against reauthorizing the Violence Against Women Act, against the Paycheck Fairness Act, against a bipartisan bill expanding background checks, against the SAFE Banking Act, and against the American Dream Act. She also voted against removing Marjorie Taylor Greene from committees.

In fact, Cheney cast a “No” vote on every single key vote in 2021—except one. That one exception was her vote on Jan. 13 in favor of impeaching Donald Trump for his role in inciting an insurrection against the U.S. Capitol. 

Cheney is, in every way, a perfect example of the kind of Republican that progressives have fought so hard for decades. And that’s exactly why she’s being removed from her post. Because that Republican Party no longer exists.

Cheney got a chance to have her own say in The Washington Post, in which made it clear that her struggle with Donald Trump is on a level that goes beyond policy. “Trump is seeking to unravel critical elements of our constitutional structure that make democracy work—confidence in the result of elections and the rule of law. No other American president has ever done this.”

Cheney also calls out House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, who was willing to tell at least a modicum of the truth a week after being forced to flee from the House chamber. “The president bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” McCarthy said on Jan. 13. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.” At the time, McCarthy suggested that Trump deserved to be censored by Congress.

Fast forward three months, and McCarthy was not only visiting with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, but defending his actions on Jan. 6.  With each passing week, McCarthy has moved more and more to not just defend Trump, but rewrite the history of the past four years, including the assault on the Capitol. His willingness to surrender any sign of honesty has earned McCarthy a spot that The New York Times described as “an alpha lap-dog inside Mr. Trump’s kennel of acolytes.”

Trump left office in shame, with an approval rating that matched the worst of his term in office and a record number of impeachments attached to his name. Republicans, including McCarthy, might have decided to move away from Trump and champion their agenda with someone else at the head. It might even seem logical that the 56-year-old congressional leader might push himself forward, seizing the opportunity to stand in the spotlight far from Trump’s orange glow.

Except … there is no Republican agenda. Not any more. That Republicans failed to adopt a party platform in 2020 wasn’t just some fluke of Trump’s bungled management. It’s a 20-gigawatt Broadway sign signaling that there is no there there, with a footnote that McCarthy may be the weakest “leader” Congress has ever seen.

That’s not to say that Republicans aren’t trying to pass bills. It’s just that those bills have no real purpose beyond making people angry. Making people angry—on both sides of the political spectrum—isn’t just the modern Republican brand, it’s all that remains of their party of trolls. Their base has no demands other than to be fed lies that make them angry, and to see Republicans taking action that makes everyone else angry.

Which is why they went crawling back to Trump. He knows how to spread nonsense that makes people angry, and that’s all the party is about.

Liz Cheney, with her positions and her ideas is an alien to this party. She’s talking about a turning point in a party that turned to ash years ago. Meanwhile, the Gaetz-Greene-Boebert base of the party, both in and out of Congress, see her as an alien who, rambling about conservative principles, might as well be High Martian.

So they’ll get rid of her. But only after Politico publishes a few editorials about how “Democrats love Cheney” without bothering to quote a single Democrat. Because then Republicans get to be angry at Cheney and convinced they’ve also upset Democrats. That’s their idea of a win these days.

“While embracing or ignoring Trump’s statements might seem attractive to some for fundraising and political purposes,” wrote Cheney in her editorial, “that approach will do profound long-term damage to our party and our country.” But she’s wrong about a critical point here. The tense.

That damage has already been done. 

Still more details emerge showing that Matt Gaetz was using his pal Greenberg to pimp young women

The story of Rep. Matt Gaetz is like one of those horror films that generates an extra large jolt of fear by first tossing up something that causes laughter. It’s clear that what Gaetz has done is genuinely criminal, and that the way his crimes were systematically ignored by Republicans at every level in both Florida and Washington, D.C. speaks to an incredible level of hypocrisy and corruption. On the other hand, the details are … ridiculous.

For example, Gaetz has repeatedly put out statements saying that “Rep. Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex.” It turns out this may be true. Technically. Because as Daily Beast reports, records show that Gaetz only paid his friend Joel Greenberg. It was Greenberg who then actually paid for the sex. This is the kind of logic that’s certain to make heads nod on the couches of Fox & Friends. “See? Gaetz was telling the truth.”

But to take this claim and turn the facepalm level to 11, it turns out that Gaetz paid Greenberg $900 using the cash app Venmo. Greenberg then sent cash along to three women, also using Venmo, that totaled $900. And before anyone starts up the Fox-brand coincidence engine, Gaetz included a memo along with his payment saying “hit up ___” where “___” was the name of one of the women involved.

This comes on the same day that Gaetz’s office issued a statement saying the women on his staff thought of him as “a principled and morally grounded leader” and that none of them had witnessed anything other than “the utmost professionalism and respect.” There was no mention of whether Gaetz had provided these women with blindfolds or fireplace pokers on entry into his office.

In an over-the-top op-ed, Gaetz warned that there would be a “drip drip drip” of news coming out about his activities. Somehow, Gaetz seems to think that the more information appears, the more it shows that he is innocent. But at this point, the sheer amount of daily material appearing on Gaetz is more than a little daunting, and it’s not as if all of this is coming through leaks at the FBI or Department of Justice. Gaetz seems to have done almost nothing to hide his activities.

Gaetz defending Trump during Trump’s second impeachment.

And that’s perhaps the most disturbing part of this story. Not what Gaetz did, but that he did it so loudly.  From the sex games he played in the Florida House—where sleeping with interns was a goal and finding virgins scored extra “points”—to the nude videos he has circulated on the flood of the U.S. House, Gaetz was absolutely open with his fellow Republicans. Gaetz walked around preaching family values while apparently jetting off to visit sex workers in the Bahamas, or working with Greenberg to generate fake IDs for underage girls, or paying for those girls to fly to hotels where Gaetz could be “generous” to them with “gifts.” 

No Republican in either Washington or Florida can claim to be surprised about Matt Gaetz. The news that’s drip, drip, dripping out each day isn’t a revelation to them. Gaetz has bragged about these things for years. This is a guy who ran a concerted campaign in favor of revenge porn. And not once was any of it allowed to slow his rise through Republican ranks. Gaetz was passing around nude photos of his conquests on the House floor as other Republicans were lining up behind him as a “leader.”

Whether it was acting as one of Donald Trump’s biggest supporters, voting to overturn the results of the 2020 election, or storming a secure facility with phone cameras running, other Republicans have repeatedly stood behind Gaetz both figuratively and literally, and all the time they knew exactly who he was. There may be staffers now coming forward with horror stories, but it’s been only weeks since congressmen with decades of experience lined up to champion Gaetz.

Gaetz stands in front of two dozen House Republicans after leading them in an invasion of a secure facility in violation of House rules.

PizzaGaetz, FloodGaetz, GaetzGate ... whatever the name, it just keeps getting worse. And it’s not just about Matt Gaetz. It’s about the Republican Party and a culture that regularly ignores misogyny, sexual harassment, and genuine crimes. Because when it comes to abuse of women … that’s what being a Republican is all about.

It certainly explains the difficulty in passing a new version of the Violence Against Women Act. 

In any case, the specifics of this little bit of the story about teenage sex trafficking, buying sex for other Republican officials, and the international “ganjapreneur” story may be about to unwind in the public eye as Greenberg has apparently decided to take a deal in exchange for testimony. As The New York Times reports, Gaetz isn’t involved in all of Greenberg’s charges—such as stalking a political opponent or trying to bribe a federal official—but Gaetz was certainly there for many of the charges that are about to be laid out in great detail.

What’s a good sign that Greenberg’s testimony won’t be good for Gaetz? Maybe this statement from Greenberg’s attorney: “I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” said attorney Fritz Scheller. 

Republicans in general shouldn’t be feeling too comfortable. Unfortunately, they are.

When it comes to Joel Greenberg and the trio of women to whom he distributed Gaetz’s funds, there is no direct mention of their age. However, the terms that Greenberg placed in the memos of their payments might give a clue: “Tuition,” “School,” and “School.”

Friday, Apr 9, 2021 · 2:19:44 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

New: @RepMattGaetz has hired white collar criminal defense lawyers Marc Mukasey & Isabelle Kirshner to lead his legal team. Mukasey has a long history in former President Trump’s orbit, and notably defended SEAL Eddie Gallagher, who was acquitted of murder in 2019.

— Garrett Haake (@GarrettHaake) April 9, 2021

The admission of Republican failure that hovers beneath every racist coronavirus slur

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Republicans, encouraged by the twice-impeached, former one-term president, have persisted in using the phrase “China virus” or “Wuhan virus” to describe the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these same Republicans have insisted, despite an overwhelming scientific consensus to the contrary, that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as opposed to originating in an animal host. Last April, as the pandemic spread uncontrolled throughout the U.S., the GOP sent a detailed, 57-page internal memo to its 2020 election candidates, specifically urging them to blame China at every turn when faced with questions about the administration’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

Of course, the predictable result from repeating this theme was a marked upsurge in violence directed towards Asian Americans. The link between Trump and the GOP’s anti-China rhetoric and such violence prompted President Joe Biden, in one of his first official acts upon taking office, to ban such pejorative terminology from our federal agencies and their public documents. Still, despite the well-documented consequences to Asian Americans, elected Republican officials—such as Ohio Lt. Gov. John Husted only last week—continue to trot out the racist slur.

While the connection between this rhetoric and acts of violence is obvious, it’s important for Americans to remember why Trump and the GOP made this conscious, collective decision in the first place. Blaming China  was more than a deliberate attempt to shift the blame for the pandemic itself,; as employed almost exclusively by Republicans, it was a deliberate attempt to distract from the administration’s wholly botched response.

From the very start the “Chinese virus” appellation was intentionally amplified by American right-wing media. It’s a slur which almost revels in its senselessness. To be clear, even if the virus actually had man-made origins—even if the virus been created in Xi Jinping’s basement with a vintage Gilbert chemistry set—from a practical standpoint, the precise origin of the virus, be it bat, bald eagle or Beijing lab, is essentially irrelevant.  Whether the virus originated in China, Kenya, or Wyoming is distinct from the question of how the global community has responded to it, which is what ultimately matters.

Medical staff treating COVID-19 patients in Wuhan China, February, 2020.

That distinction is what Trump’s favorite slur tries to obfuscate. The tragic reality is that the U.S. response to the COVID-19 pandemic was atrocious compared to nearly every other developed nation in the world. It was so bad it turned this country into a pariah nation, a cautionary tale of what not to do in a public health crisis.

And that abysmal response, whose ineptitude and human cost will doubtlessly fill the history books for the next hundred years as an example of what failed, indifferent government policies can lead to, was due almost entirely to an abdication of responsibility towards the American public by one of this country’s two major political parties. Republicans were the ones responsible for electing, abetting and encouraging an Executive uniquely and pathologically unsuited to addressing the catastrophic implications of a global pandemic. Republicans  were the ones who stood by silently, while our public health infrastructure and pandemic response capabilities were being gleefully dismantled by the the Trump administration. And Republicans of every stripe must bear the ultimate responsibility for the consequences of that failure, whether they choose to admit it or not.

Only recently, as the nation finally begins to extricate itself from this calamity, is a reckoning of sorts coming forth. The most up-to-date estimates place direct blame on Donald Trump for approximately 400,000 of the deaths that have occurred to date due to COVID-19. There is literally no president in American history whose malfeasance resulted in so many deaths of U.S. citizens.

But Trump didn’t act alone. The death toll was increased exponentially due to the sycophancy of a Republican establishment lined up behind him, adopting his cues as the pandemic’s impact continued to worsen. Every Republican  at the state and federal level who acquiesced to the former administration’s malfeasance either by parroting lethal anti-masking propaganda, forcefully advocating reopening businesses in the name of “personal freedom,” or hawking phony cures and ridiculous conspiracy theories is complicit.

The August 2020 Sturgis motorcycle rally, encouraged by South Dakota’s Republican Governor, Kristi Noem, was linked to 260,000 US COVID-19 infections, according to one study.

So the appeal of the slur to Republicans, however irrelevant to the actual harm caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, is easy enough to understand, because it serves as an ready distraction from the blame they so richly deserve for allowing a public health crisis to become a calamity. The entire approach by the Trump administration was intended to abandon any leadership role of the federal government, and thereby escape blame for any failure to stop it. As pointed out by Josh Marshall, writing for Talking  Points Memo,  this exercise in blame avoidance was intentional, a key to the administration’s overall strategy when faced with its own ineptitude.

From the very start of the Pandemic in the first weeks of 2020 the Trump administration consistently sought to disclaim responsibility for things that would be genuinely difficult and could have challenging or bad outcomes. Push the tough tasks on to others and if it goes badly blame them. This frequently went to absurd lengths as when the White House insisted that states short on ventilators at the peak of the spring surge should have known to purchase them in advance of the pandemic. Over the course of the year Trump spun up an alternative reality in which the US was somehow still operating under the Articles of Confederation in which individual states were responsible for things that have been viewed as inherently federal responsibilities for decades or centuries.

But the impetus wasn’t ideological. It was mainly a means of self-protection and risk avoidance: arrange things so that the administration could take credit if things went well and blame states if they went bad. Nowhere was this more clear than in the months’ long crisis over testing capacity. Since the administration was actually hostile to testing in general and couldn’t solve the problem in any case they simply claimed it was a state responsibility.

As Marshall points out, the one constant during Trump’s entire botched handling of the COVID-19 pandemic—from the first warnings of an incipient health crisis through and including Trump’s final day in office—was “to put it off on someone else so the White House didn’t get the blame.”

Attributing the pandemic to China or Wuhan, or the rally staple “Kung flu?” That was always a calculated part of Trump’s attempt to avoid blame, one which immediately filtered down to the state level and was adopted by Republican officials equally eager to dodge blame. Even following a year of racially-motivated attacks on Asian Americans that resulted from this distraction campaign, most House Republicans still refused to condemn Trump’s rhetoric. 

As detailed by Alex Samuels, writing for FiveThirtyEight, the vilification of China had its desired effect among the Republican constituency.

Ultimately, blaming China for the pandemic didn’t help Trump win reelection in 2020, but unfavorable views of China are at a record high among Americans.1 And there are signs that Americans, especially Republicans, blame China for the spread of the coronavirus. A November Economist/YouGov poll found, for instance, that 64 percent of all registered voters and 86 percent of Republicans said it was definitely or probably true that China was responsible for the pandemic.

The key word for Republicans here was “responsible.” Republicans recognize that Donald Trump and those GOP officials that adopted his strategy throughout this crisis were ultimately responsible for the U.S. sustaining a higher death toll from this virus than any other country in the world. As Samuels notes, that fact practically compels them to find a scapegoat for their own failure, with any blowback inflicted on Asian-Americans a secondary consideration at best.

[T]he experts I’ve talked to think that if people uphold a specific worldview by delegitimizing another group, the framing of diseases will always be political — no matter how apolitical we think diseases are. That’s because racism itself is a disease, and as Roger Keil, a political scientist at York University, told me, “[I]t seems to spread sometimes like a virus.” Keil compared it to watching a video online: “For every video that links the disease to Chinese people, there will be 10 or 1,000 people watching, so it’s normalized,” he said. “It’s terrible, but that’s how racism spreads.”

The Trump administration knew the implications of COVID-19,from the outset and that it presented his prospects and those of his minions with a truly daunting, existential crisis. The China scapegoating began immediately and continued throughout the rest of Trump’s tenure, heedless of whatever harm such scapegoating would have on millions of Asian-Americans. Republican leaders willingly followed his lead and have continued to do so up to this day. But every time one of them utters the words “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan virus,” what they’re really doing is dodging their own responsibility for the worst response to a major public health crisis in this nation’s history.

Don’t worry, Republicans! Trump will be on the ballot in 2022

There are so many memorable quotes from Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather series that be can be applied to our current political environment. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” comes to mind, for example.

But there is a lesser known quotation, specifically from The Godfather Part II, that seems uniquely suited to the way Democrats ought to be viewing the circus of abject Trump tongue-bathing currently underway in Orlando at CPAC. It’s a line Michael Corleone delivers to his adopted brother Tom Hagen early on in the film, reflecting a strategy he learned from his father, Don Vito Corleone, but one he applied to friend and foe alike. He advises Hagen to “try to think as the people around you think,” noting that “on that basis, anything is possible.”

A grandiose, egotistical and sociopathic carnival barker with no demonstrable features of human empathy, one with a sordid, shady and criminal past, leaving two impeachments, a single term, and a record of abuses (including the deaths of over a half million Americans) in his wake. For all intents and purposes, this person now wields complete control of the Republican Party, with the power (and intention!) to create or destroy individual careers in that party with a single expression of his disapproval or distaste.

And now his very presence, his likes and dislikes, are being slavishly catered and accommodated in the expectation that he will save that party from irrelevance, simply through the force of his own erratic personality.

It’s no understatement to say that we’re witnessing an unprecedented moment in the country’s  history. One of our political parties has willingly allowed itself to become subservient and beholden to a cult of personality—not just any personality, mind you, but one with a distinct, unmistakable character and history.

So if we want to follow Vito Corleone’s advice, we should try to put ourselves in the positions of Republicans and try to divine exactly what it is they are thinking.

Perhaps, to that end, its most useful to start with what they’re not thinking. They’re clearly not motivated by any high-minded fealty to the country, conservative principles or the Constitution. Other Republicans have survived for over a century paying homage to those things without abjectly prostrating themselves before a figure like Donald Trump. Nor in the last hundred years has a president with so many glaring failures (loss of the House, loss of the Senate, and loss of the general election) continued to hold sway over the Republican Party. 

In fact the cult-like devotion among elected Republicans that we are witnessing with Trump points to only one cause—these Republicans are operating solely out of self-interest, and that self-interest is being driven, for the most part, by fear: specifically, fear of being primaried by someone more closely aligned with Trump, but also fear of what certain of their constituents will do to them if they do not continue to display their fealty to Trump.

For most of them that calculation is purely political, and it goes something like this: By aligning closely enough to Trump, Republicans hope to retain the base of constituents that put them into the office in the first place. They won’t grow that base, but it will be enough to secure reelection. That was the 2020 thinking; although Republicans lost control of the Senate, the margins were not as great as some predicted, and in the House they even gained a few seats. Many voters, disgusted by Trump but still loyal to the Republican Party, chose to keep their Republican senators and representatives even as they voted for Joe Biden.

But these same Republicans saw what happened in January’s Georgia special elections. Trump was nowhere on the ballot, and two GOP incumbents in what had long been considered a very “red” state promptly went down. They went down because of substantial and significant voter participation by people of color, which is why the upsurge in passing voter suppression has been such an urgent imperative in Republican-dominated state legislatures since that election. They went down because Trump himself had cast doubt on the integrity of the election itself, prompting a small but not insignificant number of Republican voters to sit the special election out.

Without Trump on the ballot, any conclusion that could be drawn from either the 2020 general or the Georgia special election would remain murky for Republicans. But faced with this inconclusiveness, the party as a whole has collectively decided to cast its lot with Donald Trump.

Just one short week ago, now-former Georgia Sen. David Perdue thought he might run for Senate again in 2022, for the seat that ex-Sen. Kelly Loeffler lost to Sen. Raphael Warnock. Following the lead of his party, he went down to Mar-a-Lago to pay homage to the dethroned and embittered Orange Ozymandias and secure his blessing.

It didn’t work out well. As reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Trump didn’t want to talk to Perdue about 2022. Instead, the one-term president wanted to enlist him in his vendetta against Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, whom he blames for declining to falsify the results of the 2020 election in his favor.

Perdue trekked to Trump’s private Mar-A-Lago club in Florida on Friday to play golf with the former president, according to people with direct knowledge who said Trump spent much of their time together railing against Republicans he claimed didn’t do more to overturn his defeat.

AJC reports that Perdue later stated that Trump’s behavior didn’t influence his decision. But that’s not what was reported by other outlets, including The New York Times.

The meeting did not go well, people briefed on it said. Mr. Trump was focused on retribution, particularly against Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, and Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia, a Republican whom Mr. Trump views as having betrayed him.

[…]

Trying to navigate a feud between the former president and his state’s sitting governor for the next two years was deeply unappealing to Mr. Perdue, according to a Georgia Republican who knows the former senator.

One of the people briefed on the meeting with Mr. Trump said it appeared to be a factor in Mr. Perdue’s decision not to run...[.]

Let’s hit the pause button for a quick recap. To emphasize, the Republican Party leader is exactly what he was before 2020: an accused rapist and sexual harasser who was twice impeached. One who miserably failed the country in the time of its most dire need and incited an insurrection against the American government. An emotionally volatile, spite-driven figure, with multiple looming legal challenges that might very well end him up in prison. One who, with the assistance of a right-wing media firmly in his thrall, has managed to hoodwink tens of millions of Americans into believing that the election was stolen from him through some murky and fantastical exercise of widespread fraud.

Perdue tried to reason with him, to enlist his support, but he quickly discovered that it’s impossible to reason with such a person, to rise and fall with his whims, with his vindictiveness—whims and vindictiveness that are extraordinarily unpredictable. As unpredictable, in fact, as Trump’s own future.

This is the person in whom the Republican Party has placed both its trust and its future. In effect, through their allegiance, they’re consciously angling to make 2022 another referendum on Donald Trump. Beyond demonizing their usual targets (LGBTQ citizens, undocumented immigrants, and people of color they consider inferior) they have no ideas or policies to speak of—this is what “conservative values” have effectively devolved into.

So that explains what they’re “thinking.” It explains their motivation, and, as Michael Corleone would doubtlessly point out, it reveals their weaknesses, in spades.

President Biden is likely to have the benefit of some strong tailwinds going into 2022. The country will be reopened, and many people will be eager to spend money in ways they have been unable to do over the last year, leading to a huge upswing in the economy. Everyone who wants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 likely will be by 2022, and in many ways, able to go back to lives we all considered to be normal before the pandemic struck. The change in quality of life for literally hundreds of millions of Americans will be palpable. The COVID-19 relief bill, which will be passed in about two weeks, will have worked its way through the economy, pumping nearly two trillion dollars into the system, relieving state governments and providing aid to millions of those currently—but hopefully only temporarily—unemployed. Since the bill will pass with exactly zero Republican support, the transformation this country undergoes will be solely attributable to the Democratic Party.

In contrast, we will see a Republican Party that has irrevocably tied itself to the failed presidency of Donald Trump, with all the baggage, current and ensuing, that Trump will force upon them as a consequence of that allegiance. Meanwhile the mercurial, unstable, and vindictive nature of Donald Trump himself will only grow worse. His legions of deplorable followers, including Republican elected officials who chose to become followers, will only become more and more radicalized as their futures grow inexorably attached to his failure. Even the slightest effort to acknowledge Biden’s successes will subject them to irredeemable punishment, resulting in ballot box rejection from their base.

Democrats must be out in front, emphasizing their successes, and taking credit for the resulting changes and improvements to Americans’ lives, as they happen, over and over again, ad nauseum. Draw these accomplishments into sharp relief with the presidency of Donald Trump, and particularly the empty platitudes his followers, elected Republicans, will offer in response.

Those Republicans who have now chosen, out of expediency, to tie themselves to Donald Trump should be given no quarter. They are making their bed now, and they should be forced to lie in it.

The Republican Party has chosen to make 2022 a referendum on Donald Trump. If Democrats do their job till then, it absolutely will be ... just not in the way Republicans would have hoped.

I like our chances.

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.