Democracy on the line: Senate Democrats can't let Trump's Big Lie become a zombie lie

One of the more revealing political moments of recent times was when the Republican Party decided they weren't going to bother writing a platform for the national convention in 2020. They simply announced that they supported President Trump and pretty much left it at that. It's not that platforms necessarily guide the party's agenda, but they are an indicator of its priorities, philosophy, ideology, etc. Yet the erstwhile "party of ideas" didn't think it was important enough to even make a half-baked stab at writing them down ahead of the last election. That's because they don't have ideas anymore, at least any that could possibly be translated into a legislative program.

Maybe it's the influence of Donald Trump or the fact that the right-wing media's culture war machine is permanently turned up to 11, 24 hours a day, but the right has clearly decided that turning politics into a non-stop circus is all they need to do. That's why we have Republicans in Congress refusing to negotiate in good faith on the COVID relief bill and pulling stunts like forcing the clerk of the Senate to read the bill aloud for no good reason other than to delay the process.

And that's just Congress.

Out in the states, Republicans are a beehive of activity, putting all of their energy wherever they have any power to roll back voting rights. This isn't new, of course. Conservatives have been trying to suppress the vote of their political opponents and racial minorities literally for centuries. But we had made some progress in the latter half of the 20th century with the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, which the Supreme Court recently ruled meant that we no longer needed the federal government to protect the right of those who've traditionally been disenfranchised.

Democrats knew that would unleash a wave of voter suppression and in the last Congress, the House passed H.R.1, the For The People Act, which would expand voting rights, change campaign finance laws to reduce the influence of money in politics, limit partisan gerrymandering, and create new ethics rules for federal officeholders. Needless to say, the Senate under the leadership of Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., never took it up because they weren't in the business of doing anything but confirming judges, appearing on Fox News and golfing with the president if they were lucky.

Trump's Big Lie that the election was stolen has now allowed Republicans across the board to go into overdrive, fatuously insisting that they must pass hundreds of laws all over the country making voting as difficult as possible for poor and working people, students, racial and ethnic minorities and people who live in dense population areas, in order to "restore faith" in our elections. Lie blatantly about a stolen election and then use that as an excuse to steal future elections. You have to admire the chutzpah.

H.R.1 once again passed the House this week on a party-line vote and the Senate will take it up once the Republicans get tired of putting on a sideshow and the COVID relief package is finally finished. This bill cannot be dealt with through the reconciliation process that allows for only a simple majority to pass so it is subject to the filibuster and the Democrats are going to have to do a very serious gut check. This is an existential battle for the party and for American democracy. The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein puts it this way.

If Democrats lose their slim majority in either congressional chamber next year, they will lose their ability to pass voting-rights reform. After that, the party could face a debilitating dynamic: Republicans could use their state-level power to continue limiting ballot access, which would make regaining control of the House or the Senate more difficult for Democrats—and thus prevent them from passing future national voting rules that override the exclusionary state laws.

Perhaps that's why former Vice President Mike Pence popped his head up for the first time since he was evacuated from the U.S. Capitol on January 6th to argue against this bill, accusing Democrats of trying to "give leftists a permanent, unfair, and unconstitutional advantage in our political system," which is laughable considering the state of our tattered democracy.

The Democrats currently hold 50 Senate seats but represent 41,549,808 more people than the 50 Senate Republicans. GOP presidents appointed six of the nine Justices of the Supreme Court while winning the popular vote only once in the past seven elections. Of course, the anachronistic Electoral College can grant a Republican president the White House even though he or she might actually lose by millions of votes, and partisan gerrymandering in red states consistently benefits Republicans.

Unless Democrats can persuade centrist Sens. Joe Manchin, D-WV, Kyrsten Sinema, D-Az, and institutionalists like Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that U.S. democracy is in dire straits and the filibuster has to either be eliminated or "reformed" in some way, H.R.1 and the upcoming John Lewis Voting Rights Act will not pass and this barrage of voting restrictions and gerrymandering may very well cement GOP minoritarian rule permanently. Not passing these bills really isn't optional.

The U.S.-funded NGO Freedom House, which has been around since 1941, recently released its annual report on democracy around the world. The outlook is not good.

Democratic governments have been on the decline for 15 years and it's not getting any better. But the most startling finding is that the U.S., once the exemplar of modern democracy, has declined by 11 points on Freedom House's aggregate Freedom In The World score, placing it among the 25 countries that have suffered the steepest declines over the past 10 years.

The report discusses the long term degradation of America's democratic norms but focuses on the accelerating decline in U.S. freedom scores during the Trump years, "driven in part by corruption and conflicts of interest in the administration, resistance to transparency efforts, and harsh and haphazard policies on immigration and asylum that made the country an outlier among its Group of Seven peers." But it reserves its harshest criticism for Trump's attempt to overturn the election which it rightly characterizes as his most destructive act. And even more concerning was the fact that "nationally elected officials from his party backed these claims, striking at the foundations of democracy and threatening the orderly transfer of power." That is not something any of us would have expected to read in a Freedom House report.

The Democrats have a small window of opportunity to prevent this undemocratic movement from gaining steam and securing minority rule for the foreseeable future. Trump himself is not out of the picture and his party is single-mindedly focused on attaining power by any means necessary. Democrats must act decisively now and make sure that all 50 Senators understand the stakes and do what is necessary to pass H.R.1.

I would hope that neither Kyrsten Sinema or Joe Manchin want to be remembered as the Strom Thurmond of their time, but that's exactly who they will be if they allow the filibuster to once more stand in the way of ensuring voting rights for all Americans.

Trump's CPAC warning shot leaves Republicans with little choice

With his trademark hair helmet a bit less brassy and his bronzer evenly applied, a rested and recharged former president Donald J. Trump made his triumphant return to the main stage at the annual CPAC convention on Sunday and it was like he never left. Delivering a patented 90-minute rally speech that could have been delivered in October of 2020, or October of 2016 for that matter, Trump hit all his low notes from the border wall to China trade to the Muslim ban to the mortal dangers of windmills. The only addition to his greatest hits were a lengthy riff on the Big Lie, a declaration of war against all Republicans who've betrayed him and a new attack on the Supreme Court for being "cowards."

In other words, it was the same old, same old, and while the crowd cheered and swayed awkwardly to their favorite decadent 70's disco tunes "Macho Man" and YMCA," it was a rather sad little spectacle in a small hotel ballroom that couldn't hide the fact that any other weekend it would probably be hosting an insurance underwriter conference. While Trump has clearly decided to "tease" his decision about whether he's running again, hinting broadly that he almost certainly plans to do it, it's hard to imagine he isn't going to insist on holding a major rally sometime soon to prove he can still pull a big crowd.

Of course, he won the convention's annual straw poll, but he only got 55% support which had to be something of a blow. He certainly couldn't have been happy to see his loyal henchman Florida Governor Ron DeSantis come in second with 21%. (If I were DeSantis, I'd keep my back to the wall for a while.) The rest of the vote was split among a dozen others, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who gave a remarkably churlish speech, Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who seems to be moonlighting either as a comedian or a barking seal these days.

So it is little surprise that despite the fact that the conference's theme was "Uncancel America," Trump went out of his way to cancel a whole lot of Republicans he considers disloyal, promising to do everything in his power to "get rid of 'em all." He didn't mince words:

"The RINOs {Republicans In Name Only] that we're surrounded with will destroy the Republican Party and the American worker and will destroy our country itself"

He called out every single GOP politician who voted for impeachment individually, his voice dripping with venom, ending with the most hated of all his enemies, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney. I'm only surprised the crowd didn't erupt in a raucous round of "lock her up" when he mentioned her name. He didn't spare Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., whom he claimed owed his seat to him, which is utter nonsense, either.

Whether Trump ends up running again or not — and I suspect he will if he is able — he is already making it clear that he will use whatever clout he has to destroy anyone who speaks out against him. In fact, that's his priority. This is a man, after all, who has said over and over again that the most important thing in life is getting even. As he wrote in his 2009 book called "Think Big":

I love getting even when I get screwed by someone. ... Always get even. When you are in business you need to get even with people who screw you. You need to screw them back 15 times harder. You do it not only to get the person who messed with you but also to show the others who are watching what will happen to them if they mess with you. If someone attacks you, do not hesitate. Go for the jugular.

Trump's collected a big wad of money from his faithful and he's got lots of time on his hands. He's reportedly forming a new Super PAC with his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski at the helm, which seems to be the likliest vehicle for revenge. Looks like he needs to "settle all the family business" before focusing on his own campaign.

Mark Caputo of Politico wrote a piece last week in which he harkened back to the "lane" theory of 2016 and surmised that there will be three, "Trump Ultra", "Trump-Lite" and "Trump-zero." I won't go into the full analysis —I think it's obvious from the cute names what he was getting at. But the upshot is that everyone will be traveling down Trump Interstate Highway, one way or the other. Warming up the crowd for Trump on Sunday, Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan helped make Caputo's point and made clear where the party is today:

President Trump is the leader of the conservative movement, he's the leader of the American first movement, he's the leader of the Republican party . . . and I hope on January 20th, 2025, he is once again the leader of our great country.

So what are all the other 2024 presidential hopefuls to do?

Trump has made it very clear that he won't stand for any criticism and GOP primary voters are as enthralled as ever. Even if they never say a harsh word against him and continue to publicly kiss his ring, can any Republican even hope to raise money without risking his ire? I wouldn't think so. Basically, they are all running exactly the same playbook they ran in 2016: hug Trump as tight as possible in the hopes that when he finally flames out they will inherit his voters who will love them almost as much as they love him. But how did that work out for them last time?

Of course, the bloom could finally come off the rose over the course of the next few years. Maybe his acts of revenge will backfire, the people who crossed him will survive and his power will wane because of it. He's no spring chicken and he might not be up for another run. There's also a chance that some of the many legal proceedings against him will somehow make it impossible for him to seek another term. But until something like that happens, Trump has got his golden 757 parked right in the middle of that highway and nobody else is taking off.

Stunningly hypocritical Republicans are now throwing their own voters under the bus

I can't remember the last time a major piece of legislation was embraced by three-quarters of the American people but we have one now. According to a new Politico/Morning Consult poll, 76% of Americans including 60% of Republicans are in favor of the Biden administration's Covid relief package. "Hurrah," you might say, "the logjam has finally broken and a large majority of the country has come together to support vital legislation!" It's a nice thought but the sad fact is that while 60% of Republicans out in the country support the bill, 100% of Republicans in Washington oppose it. Yes, even our allegedly moderate hero Mitt Romney, who called the plan "a clunker."

This article was originally published at Salon

We hear ad nauseum that the Republicans in Washington are supposedly so beholden to their base that they have absolutely no agency. It's just the way it is, nothing they can do. Yet here we see them openly defying 60% of them. Apparently, they are only in thrall to their voters when it comes to fealty to Donald Trump. Otherwise, they are free to "vote their conscience." And, as always, their conscience is telling them to dismiss the misery of average Americans, even their own constituents, and pretend to be serving some abstract antipathy to budget deficits and big government.

The pattern of Republican governance has been predictable for the past 40 years. A GOP president comes in, spend massively on the military, cuts vital programs that benefit people, enacts tax cuts for the wealthy, drives the economy into recession and then leaves the mess for the Democrats to clean up while they criticize from the sidelines and try to obstruct everything they do. This is, of course, stunningly hypocritical but, as we know, hypocrisy is no longer operative among Republicans. They are shameless.

But the good news is that the deficit argument doesn't seem to be in play in this round.

Perhaps it is because this state of emergency is felt by every American and the urgency is so real that the public isn't interested in abstractions? Or maybe it's the result of the GOP and Trump willingly spending the money in round one and so people have turned a deaf ear to complaints about it? And it's more than possible that since the incessant whining about deficits for the past 40 years has never once proven to result in the catastrophe they are always predicting, most recently during the last time Democrats had to do the heavy lifting to fix the financial crisis, the public finally sees through it. At some point, people stop believing the boy who cried wolf. Moreover, as the economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has pointed out repeatedly, there has actually never been a better time for the government to borrow money than there is now.

That hasn't stopped Republicans from trotting out various other stale reasons for opposing the bill that 75% of the country supports. Republican Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, for instance, dutifully followed the GOP talking points and tweeted out a few cherry-picked items in the bill to imply that they are liberal pork:

I'm going to guess that all those college-educated suburbanites who fled the GOP in the past four years understand that money for such lineitems represents aid to businesses, institutions and workers and don't find it wasteful at all. Perhaps Republicans don't care about that anymore but it's hard to see how it convinces the 60% of their voters who back Covid relief that the bill should fail on this basis.

One of the arguments that did get traction, however, is opposition to a raise in the minimum wage to $15 per hour. They managed to persuade a couple of Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, to threaten to vote against the package if it contained that provision. The Democrats had intended to include it in the bill anyway, and work on the two spoilers to change their minds, but on Thursday night the Senate parliamentarian ruled that it was not admissible in a reconciliation process which is what they are using to avoid a Republican filibuster. (Republicans used the same process to pass their gargantuan tax cuts for the rich in 2017 and their failed attempt to repeal Obamacare.)

The Republicans no doubt cheered at the news the Democrats would not use other methods at their disposal to include the provision, such as having the president of the Senate, Vice President Kamala Harris overrule the decision and then let the Republicans try to find 60 votes to sustain a filibuster. The White House and the Senate leadership ruled that out. Neither does it appear they are going to do what former Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Ms, did in the early days of the George W. Bush administration with a 50-50 Senate, which is fire the parliamentarian when he failed to deliver the decision they needed to ---you guessed it --- pass yet another massive package of tax cuts.

Perhaps they believe that Manchin and Sinema really are prepared to sink the entire relief bill and destroy the Biden presidency before it gets started over the $15 minimum wage, but in any case, there is little reason to think the White House or the Senate leadership will change their minds. Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, put out a statement saying they will try to adjust the tax code and provide incentives in the bill to make $15 a de facto minimum wage. It's a very clumsy way to get this done but they seem convinced that a more dramatic show of strength would endanger the passage of the bill.

Regardless of what the Democrats do, the Republicans in Washington are clearly going to complain that unless Biden is passing their agenda, he is failing to unify the country.

Nobody is fooled. The Republicans have no intention of "working with" Biden on a relief bill. As Salon's Jon Skolnik reported, they've even brought in former Vice President Mike Pence this week to instruct them on how they successfully obstructed President Obama's agenda. They plan to win in 2022 by making the country fail. It's their go-to strategy.

But as much as they would like to party like it's 2009, it's 2021.

Republicans still have Donald Trump out there who is going to do his own thing, always reminding those suburban voters how much better it is that Joe Biden is in the White House instead of him. And this pandemic is of a very different character than the financial crisis of 2009. There is the matter of half a million dead and the atrocious government performance under Trump and the Republicans in dealing with it. After what they did, caterwauling about "the swamp" and whining about bipartisanship just makes them look worse.

More importantly, if the Democrats can get this needed relief out to the people and the institutions they depend on so they can just hold on a little longer, within months most people are going to be vaccinated, the economy is going to recover, kids will be back in school and the Republicans' hope for 2022 is going to be a long shot. I don't think the public is going to be yearning for a return to the Trump years any time soon. And that's all the GOP has to offer.

Fox News' COVID denialism now threatens U.S. vaccine rollout — but its roots are deeper

One of the great challenges for public health officials during the COVID pandemic has been establishing trust among the public, particularly racial minorities who have a long history of both exploitation and neglect by the medical establishment and the government. In recent months there has been a lot of discussion about how to get past vaccine hesitancy in this population with efforts at outreach and communication aimed directly at these communities. And thank goodness, after all, Black and brown Americans have been hit the hardest of all demographic groups aside from elderly residents of nursing homes. There has been an unconscionable number of deaths and serious illnesses in these communities so it's vital to get them the latest information, delivered by trusted messengers, as well as easy access to the vaccines.

The good news is that the vaccination program is quickly picking up steam, with Black and Hispanic vaccine skepticism specifically falling substantially over the past few months. There, of course, must be continuing efforts to get the word out and get vaccines in some of the hard-to-reach areas to encourage even more participation, but it now appears that a new group has arisen as the real barrier to achieving herd immunity: white Republicans.

A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found similar numbers.

From a Republican respondent asked "If there is one message or piece of information you could hear that would make you more likely to get vaccinated for COVID-19, what would it be?"
'Not sure there is anything that could be said. If it is proven effective and no side effects after a year or 2 of use I would no longer have concerns.'
Republicans who want to "wait and see" are less likely than others to say they will turn to the CDC or state and local health departments for information when making decisions about whether to get vaccinated for COVID-19.

The partisan gap among white people on vaccinations is simply astonishing. But then again we shouldn't be too surprised.

Some of this is simply reflexive loyalty to Donald Trump, who constantly "downplayed" the virus and consequently allowed it to run out of control on a level unmatched by any other developed country. But it isn't all Trump. Right-wing media must shoulder much of the responsibility for the growing anti-vaxxer attitude on the right.

This week we passed the grim milestone of 500,000 COVID deaths. A year ago, when the virus was first declared a global pandemic, such a number would have been unthinkable. Trump said at the time that he had it completely under control. Obviously, he didn't. It's one of the main reasons he lost the election and it was left to his successor to memorialize the dead on Monday.

Luckily, this is something that President Joe Biden is very good at. He held a somber ceremony at the White House which was carried live on the mainstream news networks and observed with appropriate gravity by nearly all who commented —except Fox News.

The hosts of Fox News followed up their coverage of the memorial with their same COVID disinformation they've fed their viewers from the beginning. And they did this even after issuing a statement the same day insisting that they have always given accurate scientific information during the crisis. As Media Matters reported, on the night that America observed the horror of half a million COVID deaths, Laura Ingraham was insulting the head scientist at the National Institute of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, as an "ancient medical bureaucrat with a fancy title spewing lies or unprovable accusations." Ingraham took issue with Collins calling masks a "life-saving medical device." She later featured former Trump adviser Dr. Scott Atlas, a man with no expertise in epidemiology, who agreed with her about the uselessness of masks.

Likewise, fellow Fox News primetime host Tucker Carlson snidely asserted that Americans are "not allowed" to ask questions about the vaccines and insisted that social distancing measures have resulted only in "traumatized citizens and destroyed lives." Sean Hannity spent the evening flogging the useless treatment pushed by Trump, Hydroxychloroquine, again. When Hannity tossed the show to Ingraham she declared, "when you look at the full, full picture on COVID there are going to be a lot of villains when the history is actually written on this." Hannity agreed, saying, "a lot of people were dead wrong and it hurt a lot of us."

I don't think it's going to go quite the way they think it will.

Watching Fox News, it's easy to see how so many Republicans are skeptical of the virus and the vaccines. If they've been listening to their leaders and conservative media, they have been hearing lies and propaganda. But the sad truth is that this is actually an old story that predates Trump and Fox News. There is something about health care to which the right-wing seems to be inherently hostile.

As this piece in the Economist lays out, going back to Ronald Reagan in the 1960s when he railed against Medicare and called any expansion of the program "socialized medicine" to his refusal to acknowledge the AIDS crisis as president, conservatives have consistently put up roadblocks to creating a decent health care system in the U.S. In the 1990s, former House speaker Newt Gingrich deep-sixed any hope of passing a health care plan under President Clinton but was actually in favor of a program similar to the one that was later adopted by Senator Mitt Romney, R-Ut, when he was governor of Massachusetts. That plan formed the basic template for what became Obamacare and we all know how the Republicans reacted to that, Newt Gingrich included.

It isn't just ideological resistance or a belief that it's economically unsound. It's not even simple partisanship. There's just a bone-deep antipathy to any collective attempt to extend a helping hand. I'm reminded of this awful scene from the town hall protests against Obamacare in 2010, which may illustrate what this is really all about:

Tea Partiers Mock And Scorn Apparent Parkinson's Victim

That lack of empathy there says everything.

When the pandemic hit and state governments and public health officials tried to marshall the people to work together to prevent the spread of the disease, once again the right-wing inexplicably rose up in protest, some even storming their statehouses, carrying guns, demanding they be "freed" from any requirement to follow measures designed to save lives. Today, they make up the largest group of vaccine resisters which, like rejecting Obamacare, will end up hurting themselves the most.

Certainly, the economic hardship of the past year has taken a toll on many people and the frustration of business owners and workers is understandable. But refusing to wear a mask or take the vaccine has nothing to do with that. No, this attitude toward health issues in our culture is something that runs much deeper in the American right-wing. It's not ideology, it's pathology.

There's a reason why Republicans are keeping Trump's 'Big Lie' alive

Donald Trump may be spending his post-presidency golfing at Mar-a -Lago but he remains front and center in the hearts and minds of millions of Republican voters, as evidenced by the 46% who said in a new Suffolk University/ USA Today poll released over the weekend that they would join a Trump Party if he decided to split off from the GOP. A whopping 80% of Republican respondents said they support punishing any Republicans in Congress who voted for Trump's impeachment. He is still their Dear Leader even in exile.

So the GOP still has a Trump problem. If it loses 20-30% of its voters, it will prove difficult to win any elections whether it's called the Trump Patriot Party or the plain old GOP. That is because the polarization that powers the extreme right-wing under Trump depends upon having every last self-identified Republican vote their way. There are no more crossovers when it comes to Donald Trump.

This is the dilemma now Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., finds himself trying to navigate as he tries to take back the Senate in 2022. So far, he's tried to have it both ways. Perhaps he and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham are playing some elaborate game of "good cop-bad cop" with Graham ostentatiously currying Trump's favor while McConnell writes op-eds in the Wall Street Journal desperately trying to assuage big money donors and appalled suburban voters with reassurances that the Republican establishment hasn't gone completely mad.

It's impossible to know how any of that will work out but whatever happens, the GOP is taking advantage of one major aspect of Trump's legacy: The Big Lie. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 76% of Republicans still say they believe there was widespread fraud in the 2020 election and that Trump was the legitimate winner. Republican lawmakers in states across the country are now rushing to pass various draconian vote suppression schemes.

It's not that they haven't been doing that all along, of course. That's conservative electoral strategy 101, about which I've written many times. Having lost the popular vote seven out of the last eight presidential elections, they know very well that they do not have the support of a majority of voters in the country. Now that Trump conveniently persuaded GOP voters that the presidential election was stolen from them in broad daylight, the opportunity to curb voting in some new and ingenious ways has presented itself and they are going for it.

So far this year at least 165 bills that would restrict voting access are being considered in state legislatures nationwide reports the Brennan Center for Justice. And the excuse Republicans are using is that they must do this to "restore trust" in the voting system — trust that was destroyed by the outrageous lies of Donald Trump and his henchmen. What a neat trick. Apparently, the only way they can restore trust is to "fix" problems that don't exist but which also happen to suppress Democratic votes. Take Georgia, for instance, ground zero for Trump's post-election machinations. According to the Brennan Center, the Republican legislature has proposed curtailing early voting — including on Sundays when historically Black churches have caravaned congregations in what is called "souls to the polls" — making drop boxes more onerous to access and requiring several new steps in order to vote by mail. One of the most counterintuitive restrictions is a new process that disallows dropping ballots off on Election Day and three days prior. It makes no sense. If you've forgotten to get your ballot in the mail you should be able to walk it in. What can possibly be a reasonable rationale against that?

You can see how important this issue is right now by the fact that this week's CPAC conference is featuring seven panel discussions on "election protection" with names like "The Left Pulled the Strings, Covered It Up, and Even Admits It." "Failed States (PA, GA, NV, oh my!)" and "They Told Ya So: The Signs Were Always There." Here's one of the featured speakers, a lawyer who secretly helped Trump behind the scenes:

It goes without saying that the right-wing media continues to flog this lie but it is spread far and wide by the the major networks as well which continue to feature guests who find subtler ways to poison the public's mind. Take Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La, on ABC's "This Week" dodging the question in a different way, suggesting that the "real problem" is that the states didn't follow their own laws in the election, as some of Trump's bush league lawyers argued at the time before being shot down by every judge who heard them.

This version of the Big Lie is what MSNBC's Chris Hayes dubbed "High Hawley-ism", after the unctuous mewlings of Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo, during the post-election period, which Hayes says is a trial balloon for GOP state legislators to unilaterally award electoral college votes to whomever they choose. You may recall that was what Trump was trying to do up until the very minute his rabid mob sacked the Capitol. Hayes wrote:

This dubious theory, that only state *legislatures* can make these kinds of changes also invites all kinds of mischief by federal judges to reach in and overrule state supreme courts. It didn't work in 2020, but that doesn't mean it won't.
Further, as Scalia memorably noted there is no constitutional guarantee of the right to vote for president; we vote for electors. Every state with R control could pass a law awarding all state electors to the candidate that won the most counties and basically guarantee R victory.

As the New York Times reported at the time, the conservative majority on the Supreme Court gave plenty of signals during the election campaign that they were amenable to this idea, making it clear that they believe state legislatures have the right to enact strict measures against (non-existent) voter fraud. As Wendy R. Weiser, the director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, told the Times:

Even without the reasoning, it's very clear that what the court has done throughout this election season has made it clear that federal courts are not going to be significant sources of voting rights protection in the lead up to elections. It's the unique constitutional role of the courts to protect individual rights like voting rights, and they're treating it like policy decisions.

That's what Trump put Amy Coney Barrett on the Supreme Court to do for him last fall, but the cards just didn't fall his way enough to put it to use. Even so, the Big Lie about the stolen election has opened the door for a wave of voter suppression not seen in decades with a Supreme Court ready to rubber stamp it. It may end up being his greatest legacy.

From Newt Gingrich to Donald Trump: Rush Limbaugh's legacy is the modern GOP

Back in 2014, former Trump staffer Sam Nunberg was assigned to listen to talk radio all day and summarize the talking points for his boss as he assessed whether he was going to enter the presidential race. Trump had already learned the power of the right-wing media when he flirted with a run in 2012 by flogging the absurd "Birther" conspiracy theory and had decided that if he ran it would be as a Republican. But he didn't really know right-wing media. His experience with talk radio over the years had been with Howard Stern, whose show appealed to a different crowd. He was a TV guy and in those days he watched CNN as much as he watched Fox News.

So he got the notes and picked out the issues that appealed to him, like immigration and terrorism, and chose a few about which he was clueless but were crowd-pleasers like railing against "common core." He picked up some discrete stories that seemed to resonate with the GOP base such as the story of "Bowe Bergdahl, the dirty, rotten traitor" which also signaled his aggressive attitude toward military matters. And, of course, he added his own hobby horses like foreign trade which fit into this issue matrix perfectly since it was driven by the same xenophobia that drove the anti-immigrant fervor that was already at fever pitch on the right.

As it turned out, Trump was perfectly suited to become the first Republican nominee to run exclusively on the culture war issues that had animated conservative talk radio for the previous two decades. He may not have been a listener but he was a member of the tribe. And because he was naive about politics he had no sense that projecting the worst of hate radio was politically dangerous so he just put it all out there, unfiltered. I think most observers, including his GOP rivals, assumed that would be the kiss of death. Instead, it turned out to be massively popular among Republican voters.

They should have known, of course. The right had been primed for such a thing for years. And there is no one more responsible for that than Rush Limbaugh.

His radio show almost single-handedly created the culture war narrative that has come to define conservative politics. It's not that Limbaugh came up with every element on his own. There were plenty of racists, xenophobes, sexists, religious hypocrites and violent extremists long before he came along. But he found a way to synthesize their point of view into one over-arching worldview: coastal elites, Black people, immigrants, gays, feminazis and environmentalists are your enemy and they want to destroy America.

Seeing its organizing potential back in the early 90s, backbench congressman Newt Gingrich turned Limbaugh's narrative into a partisan weapon, launching a program designed to teach fledgling, right-wing politicians how to talk about themselves as heroic warriors for the American way and portray their political opponents as depraved savages bent on destroying everything Real Americans hold dear. When the Republicans won the House majority for the first time in decades in 1994, Limbaugh was made an honorary member of the freshman class. The new House Speaker said he couldn't have done it without him.

Gingrich was right. And there would have been no Donald Trump without Limbaugh either because there would have been no Trump base without him. Gingrich may have turned partisan, electoral politics into a blood sport but it was Rush Limbaugh who brought in the fans.

Limbaugh passed away this week and the right-wing encomiums to his decency and intellectual prowess are unsurprising but infuriating nonetheless. I don't think any single political figure other than Donald Trump has ever been this polarizing, so seeing these flowery tributes to his decency and fine character is hard to take. But if there's one thing the entire country, regardless of party or ideology, can agree upon it's that Rush Limbaugh is one of the most influential political figures of our time. His mean-spirited, crude "guy at the end of the bar" routine was the template for all of right-wing media and remains so today.

And for a time, the mainstream media was more than willing to accept him as one of their own. Back in 2002, the former Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD, complained that Limbaugh had unleashed a torrent of invective against him, resulting in death threats to Daschle's family. The reaction from then Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz was stunning:

Has Tom Daschle lost a couple of screws? Did the normally mild-mannered senator accuse Rush Limbaugh of inciting violence? He came pretty darn close. There were cameras there. You can watch the replay.
We can understand that Daschle is down, just having lost his majority leader's job and absorbed plenty of blame for this month's Democratic debacle. What we can't understand is how the South Dakotan can suggest that a mainstream conservative with a huge radio following is somehow whipping up wackos to threaten Daschle and his family.
Has the senator listened to Rush lately? Sure, he aggressively pokes fun at Democrats and lionizes Republicans, but mainly about policy. He's so mainstream that those right-wingers Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert had him on their Election Night coverage.

Limbaugh had indeed appeared on election night coverage, shocking anyone who knew what a depraved character assassin he was. The idea that he "poked fun" at Democrats "mainly about policy" was beyond absurd. After all, this was the man who shared insane conspiracy theories for years, like the one that claimed Vince Foster had been murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton. The mainstream media were finally forced to stop featuring Limbaugh after he made racist comments on ESPN, but that only made him more powerful in the GOP. Nicole Hemmer, author of "Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics", observed:

As Limbaugh's political strength became evident, many Republican politicians felt they couldn't cross him, or run the risk of alienating his millions of listeners, Hemmer said. "Many of these listeners didn't care if Rush Limbaugh crossed the line (of propriety)," she said. "They cared more about loyalty to him than any kind of underlying set of principles."

As you can see, the cult Limbaugh created was simply appropriated by Donald Trump. The "Us vs Them" ethos fit him to a T. He saw no need to pander to anyone but his own voters and set about demonizing those who didn't vote for him, even to the point of threatening to withhold federal aid and favoring the states that voted for him. And he in turn has inspired a whole new generation of politicians to follow his example:

Rush Limbaugh's legacy will, unfortunately, live on in the Republican politicians who grew up listening to his derisive, contemptuous rhetoric and then watched as Donald Trump used it to wield power. He created a monster and we'll, unfortunately, be living with it for a long time to come.

Senate GOP left embarrassed and humiliated thanks to Trump's costly impeachment defense strategy

Day three of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial was not quite as harrowing as day two, with its never before seen security footage of officials and staff being evacuated just steps away from a frothing mob, but it was startling nonetheless. Having meticulously laid out the case that Trump spent months stoking the fury of his voters the day before, Thursday's arguments took a look further back into his long history of violent rhetoric and drove home the point that if Trump is not held accountable and barred from running for office he will do it again.

Lead House Manager Jamie Raskin, D-Md, rested the case with encouraging words from Thomas Paine:

"Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered, yet we have this consolation with us: that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph."

If he was listening, no doubt Trump's ears perked up at the words "glorious" and "triumph" and, in a way, you couldn't blame him. The Impeachment managers delivered an irrefutable argument that proved the former president incited an insurrection which came horrifyingly close to causing death or injury to members of Congress, the Senate and the Vice President — and yet he is almost certain to be acquitted. A glorious triumph indeed.

Who but Donald Trump could get away with such a thing? Who but Donald Trump would even have the nerve to try?

He will be most pleased with those senators who boldly defend the Big Lie and say that he won the election and everything he did was perfect. There will be a few. There always are. Most, however, will quietly take the proverbial "off-ramp" offered by the discredited constitutional argument that the Senate has no jurisdiction to try a former president. It's an easy way out that Trump will no doubt accept, but he won't be particularly impressed and may require some more overt acts of loyalty if Republicans expect him not to call his Red Hat MAGA mob down on them.

There are also going to be a handful who will echo the defense team's apparent argument that the House managers were "offensive" and divisive by presenting their case with the graphic videos and documents showing the Jan. 6th violence and Trump's participation in it. This is apparently contrary to the need for "healing" which everyone knows is Donald Trump's primary concern. Trump's lead attorney Schoen went on Fox News to explain:

I think we know by now that if there's one thing Trump cannot abide, it's divisiveness.

Schoen's insistence that the manager's case is offensive has been echoed by Trump's most loyal henchman Lindsey Graham, R-SC, and he, along with Sens. Mike Lee, R-Ut, and Ted Cruz, R-Tx, met with the impeachment managers on Thursday night to help them with a strategy in advance of their presentation today. One might think that's a little bit unusual since they took an oath to be impartial but this is Donald Trump's impeachment trial so oaths are obviously for suckers and losers.

As I write this, it's unknown what their advice might be, but perhaps this is a clue:

That's right. According to Graham, Nancy Pelosi has only herself to blame for the sacking of the Capitol, the mob hunting her down, breaking into her office, terrifying her staff and she really needs to pay for that. "Is this another diversionary operation?" Senator Ron Johnson, R-WI, recently asked about the impeachment trial. "Is this meant to deflect away from potentially what the speaker knew and when she knew it?" Johnson asked on Fox News. "I don't know, but I'm suspicious."

Graham and Schoen have been very derisive toward the House managers in general, but their opinion isn't widely shared, even by the Senate Republicans, most of whom were unable to summon that level of gall and reluctantly had to admit that the case was very compelling.

Texas Senator John Cornyn told CNN's Manu Raju, "I have to compliment the impeachment managers just in terms of their presentation preparation. I thought it was excellent. I don't agree with everything. But I think they set the standard pretty high." Of course he went on to say that the biggest concern he has is the moot constitutional question and "what that means to exact retribution on political opponents." That's pretty rich coming from the man who enthusiastically supported the president who led "lock her up" chants for four years and said "you'd be in jail" to his presidential opponent's face in a televised presidential debate.

Trump's lawyer Bruce Castor actually suggested on Tuesday that while the impeachment was illegitimate, there was no good reason not to have the former president arrested:

"[If you] actually think that President Trump committed a criminal offense…you go and arrest him…. The Department of Justice does know what to do with such people, and so far I haven't seen any activity in that direction."

I thought "so far" was a nice touch. Florida Senator Marco Rubio seemed to think it made sense as well, tweeting, "The 6 Jan attack on the Capitol was far more dangerous than most realize and we have a criminal justice system in place to address it." It seems odd for Trump's defenders to take this tack, but I have to say that it is the best idea they've had in a very long time. Lock him up.

Whatever "strategy" they decide to go with, they know that it really doesn't matter because their client has threatened and intimidated the jury and they will vote to acquit regardless of what they say. We already know how this ends and it's profoundly depressing. After all, if what happened on Jan. 6th does not result in any consequences for the man who incited it, then it's hard to imagine what would.

Donald Trump has been impeached twice, both times for gross abuse of power. He was the most corrupt, incompetent, demagogic, radicalizing president in US history. And the Republican party cannot quit him even when he's no longer in power. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick describes watching this trial as "excruciating" and not just because it's painful to watch that rabid crowd descend into bloodlust and violent delusion, which it is. It's excruciating because this terrifying event was real, we watched it happen, and yet it changed nothing. And that's not even the worst of it:

[T]he same people refusing to contend with its factuality were witnesses and victims themselves, and they still don't care. Rep. Eric Swalwell narrating in the second person what happened to United States senators was astounding. This happened. And it happened to you. A recitation of facts that were excruciating one month ago is worse today, as new details come out of colleagues, like Romney and Pence, who were closer to harm than they even realized at the time. None of this will change their minds, a fact that starts a spiral of hopeless despair as the back of one's mind asks: What else will we have to live through before the Republican Party finds its way back to fact-based decision-making?

Watching these GOP senators flounce around like a gang of sullen teenagers, making excuses for Trump's shameless attempt to overturn the election, it's clear that we have a very long way to go before that happens. I don't even want to think about what we will have to live through before we get there.

Trump's lawyers make a mockery of Republican senators: Impeachment trial makes GOP complicity clear

The second impeachment trial of Donald Trump opened with a bang.

Lead House manager, Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, spoke a few words and then went to the tape. The senators serving on Trump's jury and everyone watching over broadcast then saw 13 minutes of anarchy, violence and fear that made vivid the detailed events of January 6th, starting with Trump offering one final incitement to the crowd at his "Stop The Steal" rally and culminating with his congratulatory tweet issued later that evening which asked the mob to "remember this day forever!"

Missouri Republican Sen. Roy Blunt said viewing that video was "the longest time I've sat down and just watched straight footage of what was truly a horrendous day." Sadly, however, it wasn't horrendous enough for Blunt to recognize that the impeachment trial is a constitutional necessity. Blunt voted on Tuesday with the majority of his fellow GOP colleagues to not proceed with the first-ever trial of a former president. So as harrowing as the opening footage was, it likely won't result in enough votes to impeach Trump and bar him from holding office in the future. The vast majority of Republicans from the national leadership to the Party committees all over the country to the average, everyday voter, simply do not think what happened that day was anything to get worked up about. And they are certainly not prepared to admit that Donald Trump did anything wrong at all. At this point, you have to assume that Trump's famous quip that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose any votes is literally true.

That hasn't deterred the Democrats from trying Trump before the Senate, however, in hope that there is at least a record of what happened. House Managers Rep. Joe Neguse of Colorado and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island methodically laid out their argument that impeachment of a president under these circumstances is not only constitutional but historically well documented. Raskin presented the opening argument making the case that what happened on that day was so dangerous that the former president must be impeached and barred from ever holding federal office again. He shared his own horror, revealing that his own family was at the Capitol that day, in stark emotional terms illustrating the human dimension of that incursion into the building.

It was an impressive first day for the managers but it was not quite as auspicious for the former president's defense team.

It's probably wrong to be too critical of them since they have the worst client in the world and they just took on the case a little over a week ago after the president's former lawyers abruptly quit. So, when his new lawyer Bruce Castor took to the podium it was with the understanding that they might not be fully up to speed. But no one expected anything as bad as what Castor delivered. He rambled and meandered and seemed to not have any point other than compliment the House managers, suck up to the senators and admit that Trump lost the election even suggesting that it might be better to prosecute him in a court of law rather than the Senate. His employer was reportedly apoplectic and yelling at the TV. He did the one thing Trump did not want him to do.

Trump's other lawyer, David Schoen, was more polished but much more disturbing. His delivery was frenetic and hostile, barely able to contain his contempt for the process and threatening repeatedly that the trial was going to "tear the country apart," which no doubt soothed his boss after Cantor's bizarre performance. His half-baked arguments against the constitutionality of the process were nothing more than window dressing since more than 40 Senators had already signaled that they would buy anything he said so there would be no conviction regardless.

The fact of the matter is that the two of them could have come out and done an interpretive dance to "YMCA" and it wouldn't have made any difference. The fix was in on this from the beginning and everyone knows it.

Nonetheless, the Democrats did get one more Republican over to their side than was expected. Louisiana Sen. John Cassidy voted to go ahead with the trial along with the other five Republicans who were expected. It's a long way from the 17 they would need to convict but it does show that a handful of them have too much pride to pretend to believe the nonsense Trump and his allies are trying to force them to swallow. It's obvious what Trump did and the Democrats have the evidence, a legal case backed up even by prominent conservative lawyers and academics, and the historical precedents. They also have the advantage of the reality of what we all saw with our own eyes that day and all the video that's emerged since then, not to mention the hundreds of arrests of insurrectionists Trump said he loved and believed were "very special" as they sacked the Capitol.

It boggles the mind that these Republican senators would defend this. People died that day, including police officers whom the MAGA followers purport to love, and many others were grievously wounded. This lame "process argument" about the unconstitutionality of the trial, does nothing more than confirm that they will do anything to protect their seats. If they had any integrity or loyalty to their oath, this one would not be a hard call.

I checked in with Fox News to try to get a sense of how the right-wing media is covering Trump's second impeachment trial and it was predictably dismissive.

Tucker Carlson proudly said he didn't watch it and called it a distraction "from something that is actually important" --- such as his apparent belief that the COVID vaccines aren't safe. Sean Hannity called in Donald Trump Jr to rev up the audience to "play hardball" which seems stupendously idiotic in light of what Trump is being impeached for. Perhaps Junior is up for another run at the Capitol? No Fox News viewers saw that 13-minute video during prime time. Across the board, the word to the Trump followers was, "don't worry, Trump did nothing wrong. The Democrats are just persecuting him, as usual." If they haven't ventured beyond their right-wing bubble they do not know what really happened that day.

But the senators were all there. They experienced it personally. They saw that footage and heard the arguments and they have no excuses. Neither does the right-wing media, which continues to perpetuate the MAGA mentality even now that Trump is no longer in office. I suppose it's too much to expect any of them to speak truth to power. But you might have thought more than a small handful would summon the guts to speak truth to someone who no longer has any. As Trump would say: "Sad!"

How Trump's second Senate impeachment trial is going to be a lot different from the first

The era of Donald Trump is not over, unfortunately. Yes, he has retreated to his compound in Southern Florida and has been uncharacteristically out of the public eye since he left office on January 20th. But his presence still hovers over the Republican Party like an evil genie pulling the party leadership's strings and keeping the rank and file under his spell despite the fact that he's been banned from social media and is refusing to appear on TV or talk radio.

This week, Trump will be very much at the center of our political world once more when his second impeachment trial begins.

As exhausting as it may seem to have Trump on the stage again, it is vitally necessary. The man tried to overturn the election and illegally install himself in the White House for four more years. While it's still unlikely the impeachment managers from the House of Representatives will be able to get 17 Republicans Senators to put their country before their party, the record will be kept for posterity and hopefully the country will figure out a way to close the holes in our system that Trump exposed during his four years in office. The impeachment managers had better get to work doing that because just as it is highly unlikely they will be able to convict Trump of his abuse of power it's equally unlikely that they will be able to disqualify him from running again (although that is disputed). God forbid, it is possible that we could have President Trump again on January 20th 2025.

There has been a lot of back and forth on the issue of whether or not it's constitutional to even hold an impeachment trial of a president who is no longer in office. The brief Trump's lawyers submitted suggests that they will be leaning hard on the idea that it's unconstitutional as their defense, which is understandable since the GOP senators signaled that was the ticket out when 45 of them voted for a resolution saying that it was.

Interestingly, there has been pushback on this from some highly respected conservative legal scholars from the Federalist Society, notably former federal judge Michael McConnell and Charles J. Cooper, who is as stalwart a right-winger as exists in the Republican legal world. Cooper has worked closely with Ted Cruz of Texas and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy as well as provided counsel for every conservative legal crusade from anti-abortion cases to gun rights. Writing in the Wall St Journal on Sunday, Cooper points out that the idea a president cannot be impeached after leaving office makes no sense considering the provision that allows the Senate to bar him or her from holding office again. He says, "it defies logic to suggest that the Senate is prohibited from trying and convicting former officeholders."

There was a time when an opinion from Charles Cooper would hold great sway with Republican Senators. But they have mostly been immune to reason when it comes to Trump for years now and that hasn't changed since he left office. Still, if there are any conservatives looking for some back-up to argue the point, he's given it to them.

The House managers will be presenting a case that says, "you all know what you saw, here's a reminder." They will air video clips showing that for weeks Trump riled up his voters with the Big Lie about the election and then called them to Washington, promising it would be "wild," and then incited them to storm the Capitol to stop the counting of the electoral votes. He told them he was going up there with them but went back to the White House instead. Did he suspect there was going to be violence? It's a question worth asking. Back at the White House he watched the insurrection on television and did nothing for hours until he reluctantly issued this video:

And then, with the Capitol building still engulfed in tear gas and smoke, windows shattered, people wounded and the country in shock, he tweeted this which resulted in Twitter finally locking his account:

"These are the things and events that happen when a sacred landslide election victory is so unceremoniously & viciously stripped away from great patriots who have been badly & unfairly treated for so long. Go home with love & in peace. Remember this day forever!

That is basically the case right there. In a courtroom with an unbiased jury, it would be a slam dunk.

But this won't be a normal courtroom and it's anything but an unbiased jury. It's nearly the same jury that ignored Trump's embrace of illegal electoral behavior going all the way back to 2016 when he was warned that the Russian government was interfering in the election and his reaction was to invite them to hack Hillary Clinton's email and spend the next four years denying the interference had ever happened. When asked in the presidential debate that year if he would accept the results of the election, he refused to say. Days later he told his rally crowd that he would accept it — but only if he won.

Fast forward two years and Trump is caught trying to extort the Ukrainian president to sabotage Joe Biden's presidential campaign in exchange for military aid, a gross abuse of power for which he was impeached and acquitted by the Republicans in the Senate. Many of those Senators argued that since it was only a year from the election they should let the people decide.

And then came the Big Lie that the election of 2020 was stolen and the incitement to insurrection on Jan. 6th. Many of those same senators who suggested the people should decide joined Trump in his post-election fantasy, refusing to admit that it was over, objecting to the results on the most specious of grounds.

From almost the moment Trump entered politics, he's been telegraphing that he had no intention of following the rules or laws that govern our democracy, especially those pertaining to elections. Once he learned how the Electoral College makes it possible to win despite losing he clearly thought he could game the system to his advantage and might well have succeeded if it had been just a little bit closer in some states. At some point, he became convinced that he could overturn the election if he intimidated Mike Pence and the Congress with a violent mob. And all the way along, a majority of Republicans have collaborated with him, in the process normalizing this democratic dysfunction.

Republicans have shown us in living color that they will not forthrightly stand up against an assault on our democracy by one of their own. A handful voted to impeach in the House and it's possible another handful will vote guilty in the Senate, but the number who stood by Trump, openly and boldly, to object to the election results despite massive evidence that the election was fairly decided is chilling. They now seem determined to let Trump off the hook once again. At this point, you have to wonder if it isn't because at least some of them think he was on to something.

Fox is flailing without Trump --and right-wing media is ramping up the culture wars in desperation

There's a lot going on in politics right now, but I think we can pretty much declare that this particular week belonged to Marjorie Taylor Greene and her history of sharing unhinged conspiracy theories on social media. It seems as though every day someone unearths another example of her obnoxious rants.

The Republicans held a right-wing encounter session on Wednesday night at which they gave Greene a standing ovation even as 147 of them voted —by secret ballot — to allow Liz Cheney to keep her leadership position after she voted to impeach Donald Trump. The next day, all but 11 stepped forward to show their fealty to Trump and his favorite new henchwoman Greene, by voting to allow her to keep her committee assignments even as the Democrats did their dirty work for them by voting to strip her of them.

House Republicans are running in circles trying desperately to keep the QAnon/Trump faction from exploding at them while also keeping some semblance of deniability if this whole thing goes sideways and they need to deny they are in thrall to the crazies when the next election rolls around. They do have to dial for dollars from big donors and appeal to at least a few informed voters who think this whole thing is nuts.

It's a problem. But when you think about it, it's really all they know how to do at this point. After all, the party didn't even put out a platform for the 2020 campaign, so it's not as if they would have a pressing agenda even if they had won the majority:

WHEREAS, The RNC, had the Platform Committee been able to convene in 2020, would have undoubtedly unanimously agreed to reassert the Party's strong support for President Donald Trump and his Administration ...

There were a couple of bullet points bashing the media as well, but that was it.

The truth is that Republicans didn't actually have much of an agenda throughout the Trump years either. Other than their massive tax cuts for the wealthy and attempted repeal of Obamacare (both of which they rammed through the reconciliation process), confirming judges to the federal bench and pro-forma budgets with huge hikes in military spending, they mostly let Trump flail around in the White House and keep the country stirred up with his divisive behavior both here and abroad. As a result, Republicans are now the party of conspiracy theories, culture war, and Donald Trump.

Republican officials exist to feed that beast and nothing more. This is where it's quickly led them:

Meanwhile, their propaganda arms in the right-wing media are in a strange new world without Trump. Fox News, in particular, is having a hard time finding its footing. For the first time in two decades, it's ratings have left them in the number three spot behind CNN and MSNBC with far-right competitors OAN and Newsmax nipping at its heels. Recall that Trump had been sticking the knife in for quite a while, taking to Twitter at the slightest criticism and was particularly furious at anchor Chris Wallace for his moderating at the disastrous first presidential debate. Trump managed to convince his followers that Fox calling Arizona before the other networks somehow cost him the election and the network has been reeling ever since.

One might have thought that such a predicament would lead to a news organization having some kind of self-evaluation about how they got in the position of having to keep spreading lies in order to keep their audience, but Rupert Murdoch is back in the captain's chair and he seems to be intent upon doubling down on the crazy in order to recapture the audience from the two low rent competitors. So, as we speak, the Fox News, OAN and Newsmax viewers are all being fed a diet of the same right-wing conspiracies, mockery and lies that they got during the Trump years, only this time without the dominating figure of Trump himself who, for all of his grotesque behavior was in fact the president of the United States so covering him, even as sycophants, had at least some relationship to reality.

What we learned about the far-right from the 2016 Oregon Occupation led by Ammon Bundy


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The Big Lie of the stolen election, in particular, seems to have spun off the right-wing media into a separate political universe where politics, to the extent you can call it that, is nothing more than non-stop grievance.

For example, the story of the January 6th insurrection at the Capitol is one of the most stunning political events in American history. If you tune in to Fox or one of the others, however, this event was just a little blip on the screen, no different than an average street protest, despite the fact that the goal of the violence was to force the Congress to overturn the election results. As Salon's Sophia Tesfaye noted, Fox hosts have now taken to derisively insulting people who experienced the event, like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Katie Porter, as dizzy hysterics, as if the ransacking of the U.S. Capitol was merely a rowdy tailgate party that got a little out of hand. And I don't doubt their viewers think that's true because Fox pretty much dropped the story after the first few days. The late Gore Vidal said, "We are the United States of Amnesia, we learn nothing because we remember nothing" but this is ridiculous. It just happened four weeks ago.

It will be very interesting to see if they even bother to cover the impeachment trial next week. If they do, you can be sure it will be framed as a partisan stunt, totally without merit. Nonetheless, I'm sure they will find time to denigrate the process and focus their audience toward whatever Democratic villains they choose to target. The Republicans in the Senate, supposedly the body that's supposed to cool the passions of the polloi, are also captives of this alternate politics, in which governing is almost irrelevant. Most will refuse to convict, some no doubt hoping that America's amnesia will kick in before their next election.

All of this leaves an opening for the Democrats who are busy with a real agenda and real plan for governing.

While the Republicans fulminate, whine, mock and deride, still wringing their hands over whether Donald Trump and his followers will be mad at them, the government is kicking back into gear and is starting to work again. Democrats are betting that delivering material benefits to the American people after all the trauma of these past few years will benefit them politically. The Republicans have no choice but to bet on their base continuing to live in an alternate universe, fighting phantoms and feeding their grievances. Over the next couple of years, we're going to see which political vision most Americans really want.

Why Republicans can't dump Trump: The future of the GOP looks as bleak as its past

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn't seem to know whether he's coming or going these days. One minute he's condemning Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene as "a cancer" on the Republican party and the next he's voting with the majority of GOP senators to reject the idea that Greene's mentor, Donald Trump, can constitutionally be impeached and convicted for inciting a violent riot. McConnell now appears uncharacteristically unsteady, unsure how to proceed in a world in which his party has become so radicalized that average Republican voters are capable of storming the Capitol and demanding the execution of a stalwart conservative and Trump loyalist like former Vice President Mike Pence.

He shouldn't be surprised by any of this, however.

The GOP's intensifying radicalization has been building for a very long time and McConnell and the rest of the establishment adopted a "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" stance because they benefited from the energy, dedication and money they received from the ever more crazy Republican grassroots. The Washington Post's Greg Sargent observed that this actually goes all the way back to the early post-WWII years, drawing on the work of political scientists Daniel Schlozman and Sam Rosenfeld's authors of "The Long New Right," who say that the right's addiction to the "politics of conflict" has always made any wall between the extremists and establishment fairly porous. Sargent points to the back and forth between the mainstream and the John Birch Society in the 1960s, flirtations with the Ku Klux Klan and "Newt Gingrich's conversion of GOP politics into nationalized scorched earth warfare," the latter of which was the first step to openly marrying extremist rhetoric and tactics to the party itself.

Norm Ornstein, who has written a number of books on the radicalization of the modern GOP noted recently that it was Gingrich who turned the Republican Party into a cult, saying Gingrich "very deliberately generated tribalism" creating a "situation where people could view Democrats as evil, trying to destroy their way of life." Of course, it wasn't just Gingrich. He came to prominence at the same time that talk radio became a toxic hatefest creating star propagandists like Rush Limbaugh. Roger Ailes then joined up with Rupert Murdoch to create a TV and print empire to similarly stoke the partisan acrimony. The Clinton years were a dumpster fire of partisan rancor.

The GOP establishment was fine with that, of course. By the time the Bush administration came along, their base was well primed and the media infrastructure solid. The Republican leaders of the Bush-era may not have been as bombastic as Gingrich or Trump but they played a major part in radicalizing the Republican party as well. If you want to talk about Big Lies, look no further than "Saddam had WMDs" and "Saddam was involved in 9/11" for a couple of propaganda success stories. Years later, former Vice President Dick Cheney unsuccessfully tried to wriggle out of it, but of course, it had already gotten the job done and they had moved on to their favorite enemy: Democrats.

After Barack Obama took office in the midst of an economic catastrophe, the big money funders were on hand to help and the Tea Party was born. They ratcheted up partisan hysteria over President Obama's health care proposal, giving their activist base something tangible to do by instructing them to storm town hall meetings and disrupt the proceedings. They were even known to hang and tar and feather lawmakers in effigy, even converging on the Capitol to get in the faces of a group of Democratic congressmen, screaming the "n" word, spitting at them and taunting an openly gay representative.

The GOP establishment said not a word and they won the 2010 midterms that year in a landslide. Imagine that.

Among their new members was a group of far-right extremists who formed themselves into the Tea Party-aligned House Freedom Caucus, who believed in using the same confrontational tactics with legislation as the Tea Party activists. There was no longer any such thing as compromise or negotiation. It was "my way or the highway" with the Democrats and if the Republican leadership didn't like it, well, that was too bad.

By 2014, they were gleefully devouring their own. In a shot heard round the beltway, a Tea Party candidate backed by right-wing radio took on the House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a primary, and beat him. Cantor's sin? He had strayed from the orthodoxy very slightly on immigration, which was bubbling up (again) on the right as a central issue. Soon, Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, was forced out as well, replaced by Wisconsin dreamboat Paul Ryan. By the time Donald Trump came along in 2015, Ryan too was already in their crosshairs.

Trump watched all of this and in his instinctual, feral way, understood exactly what the Republican party base had become. He didn't create the cult. It already existed. He just took it over.

For the past 30 years, the Republican establishment has either guided or accepted every step of their party's descent into extremism. And no one has been more willing to make that deal with the devil than Mitch McConnell. In fact, he made one of the greatest contributions to the radicalism of the GOP by exploding one Senate norm after another and turning the filibuster into a partisan weapon.

Now he's facing a big problem.

January 6th laid bare just how fanatical and downright seditious the Republican base has become. He's lost his majority and has several vulnerable members up for re-election in 2022. They are going to have a hard time winning statewide if 25% of their voters reject the Republican party because it's turned the asylum over to the inmates. He's greatly worried about corporate America's revulsion at his party's behavior and their unwillingness to finance it going forward. Seeing a so-called moderate senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, cutting and running has to hurt.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, on the other hand, is caught between a deep desire to please Donald Trump and a competing desire to please his corporate donors. He's handling his dilemma even less gracefully than McConnell. It's anyone's guess what will happen in the fight between Liz Cheney of Wyoming and the faction backing the Trump worshiping conspiracy monger from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, but the mere fact that such a battle is even happening is testament to the fact that McCarthy has no control over his caucus. I'm sure John Boehner is chuckling mordantly at the thought of his former Freedom Caucus nemesis' little dilemma as he sips his glass of Merlot on the back nine.

McCarthy also has to be thinking about what happened to Eric Cantor just six years ago. At one time the two of them, along with Paul Ryan, were feted in the GOP as the so-called Young Guns, the new generation of GOP leadership. But the rabble rousing Tea Party candidate who took Cantor's seat was ousted by a Democrat, Abigail Spanberger, in 2018 and she held on to it in 2020, against all odds. McCarthy is now getting some blowback from Trump voters in his conservative district for failing to show undying fealty to the former president. It's unlikely his district would go Democratic — but in California's jungle primaries you just never know what might happen.

The radical chickens have come home to roost and they have taken over the place. The Republican establishment turned a blind eye to right-wing extremism for decades and now it's come to define the Republican Party. They have no one to blame but themselves.

Here's why Trump really lost his impeachment legal team

As the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump approaches, we are beginning to get some idea of how the House managers intend to proceed. The single Article of Impeachment alleges that Trump lied repeatedly about the results of the election and called people to Washington, D.C. for a rally at which he incited them to "violent, deadly, destructive and seditious acts." It cites his earlier attempts to subvert and obstruct the certification of the results of the election including that astonishing phone call in which Trump openly asked an election official in Georgia to "find" the votes needed to overturn the election in his state.

Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer told MSNBC on Saturday that the trial will "show the American people — vividly, on film — what happened there in the Capitol, what Trump said. … All of America will see it."

There's a lot of video and audio available to tell that story — much of it produced by the insurrectionists themselves. The call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger was also taped. There are dozens of court transcripts from indicted insurrectionists who say they believed that the president had told them to do what they did. It is well documented that Trump did what he is accused of doing.

This is why Republicans have offered up a defense for Trump that would evade the charges altogether and argue simply that the Senate has no constitutional right to impeach him at all since he is already out of office. The fact that then-Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made sure the Senate was not in session to receive the Article of Impeachment until Joe Biden took office gives away the game on that one.

In other words, Republicans believe the best way to let Donald Trump off the hook for telling a crazed mob to march to the Capitol on January 6th to overturn the election they all know he lost, is to pretend that the process is fundamentally illegitimate. This is a highly disputed claim but it's really all they've got.

Trump, however, is apparently having none of it.

Just a little over a week before he is to file briefs in the case, he abruptly parted ways with most of his legal team, a group of respected lawyers from South Carolina led by a former prosecutor named Butch Bowers. The split, which was made public on Saturday, reportedly occurred over differences of opinion about strategy. Trump's former lawyers believed that his best defense was the one the Senate Republicans handed him on a silver platter last week when 45 of them cast a vote making it clear that they backed the "illegitimate process" argument and would acquit Trump of the charges on that basis.

Their client curiously disagreed.

According to both the New York Times and the Washington Post, Trump insisted that his lawyers mount a defense focusing on "his baseless claims about election fraud." Bowers informed Trump they could not do it. The reason for that, of course, is that they would have to lie and like many of the lawyers Trump has employed since the election — other than the unhinged legal freakshow of Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Jenna Ellis — they refused to break the law on his behalf or participate in his propaganda campaign to undermine the election results.

The Times also reported that the newly pardoned Steve Bannon, back in Trump's good graces and advising him on his future, believes that Trump should go to the floor of the Senate and make his case in-person because "he's the only one who can sell it." There was also speculation that Trump might let his old buddy Giuliani take over as he's been champing at the bit to do from the beginning, but since Giuliani is actually a participant in the incitement, telling the January 6th mob that there should be "trial by combat," it seems the president's advisers have succeeded in keeping him from the case. And it was not entirely unlikely that Trump just would not bother to put up a case at all, allowing McConnell and his other henchmen in the Senate to make his argument for him and call it a day. After all, he already believes he's guaranteed an acquittal as Trump's reportedly told people he couldn't see why he should have to spend money on lawyers if he already has the verdict in the bag.

But Trump did end up hiring two lawyers to replace the team that left on Saturday. Roger Stone's former attorney David Schoen, who had evidently already been working with Trump, now assumes the lead role. Bruce Castor, a former DA from Pennsylvania best known for refusing to prosecute Bill Cosby, has also been added to the team. According to the news release announcing their hiring, they both believe that that the trial is unconstitutional — which doesn't actually say much about how they plan to defend the president.

Both Schoen and Castor have reputations for theatricality. In Schoen's case, that's a literal description since he studied at the Actor's Studio in New York and has recently acted in a docudrama about the late accused child trafficker Jeffrey Epstein, whom he met with just days before Epstein committed suicide. Schoen describes himself as someone who has represented "reputed mobster figures: alleged head of Russian mafia in this country, Israeli mafia and two Italian bosses." Now he's representing Donald Trump. Castor was evidently once an up and coming Republican politician in the state of Pennsylvania but his Cosby decision derailed his career when he turned to mush on the witness stand.

Trump's new attorneys would appear to be the kind of lawyers who will do for his impeachment trial what Dr. Scott Atlas did for his COVID response. When asked about the Democrats' reported trial strategy, Trump adviser Jason Miller told Axios' Mike Allen: "'Emotionally charged' is code for 'We know this is unconstitutional, but we're going to try to put on a show anyway.'"

Trump likely sees this trial as a way to once again rally the base with a spirited "defense" stating the election was stolen, this time with an implicit admission that he believes the insurrection was justified. If he does that all the pundits insist it's going to make the GOP senators very nervous and they might end up voting to convict. Will it? Nah. They'll find a way to make sure he faces no accountability at their hands. We have to stop pretending otherwise.

The question is whether the "show" the Democrats put on to prosecute Trump will be more convincing to the American people than whatever "circus" Trump is planning. If you want emotion, he's got plenty of emotion ready to go. He might even get some of that incitement going all over again. But the evidence of what he did that day is irrefutable. He's guilty as sin.

Mitch McConnell is up to his old Obama-era tricks again -- but can Dems ignore the trolling this time?

It stands to reason that in a politically divided country like the U.S., presidential hopefuls would run for office promising to bridge the divide and "bring people together." Polling always shows that if there's one thing the people want, it's for the two parties to stop fighting and "get things done." They may say they want compromise and bipartisanship as well. But when you drill down to what they actually mean by that, it's pretty clear that they really want their team to dictate the terms and by "compromise" they really mean they want the other side to capitulate. Bipartisanship is just another word for "my way or the highway."

All of this has gotten demonstrably worse in the last few years with the rise of social media and right-wing media. For Republicans to compromise with the Democrats today it would signal to a whole lot of their constituents that they are giving in to pedophile cannibals who wear the skinned faces of dead children as masks. They've left themselves very little room for good faith negotiations.

On the other side of the table, you have Democrats who have a hard time finding common ground with people who call for their execution, incite insurrection and stand by as a violent mob of supporters storms the Capitol and marauds through the hallways, yelling "I'm coming for you!"

These are things that make "compromise" difficult in today's political climate.

Still, presidential candidates continue to promise to do it. Barack Obama came to national attention four years before he ran with a famous speech at the Democratic National Convention in which he proclaimed that we are not divided by Blue states or Red states. His 2008 campaign was built on the idea of "hope and change" but a big part of that was hope that the country could change and come together in a common purpose.

He really tried to do it too.

Obama's Grand Bargain was designed to bring the Republicans on board with some of his big ideas by getting together with them on cutting social security, Medicare and Medicaid in exchange for limits on carbon emissions and an agreement to raise taxes to help pay down the deficit. I think we know how that went. Rush Limbaugh came out of the box saying he didn't want Obama to succeed and would press Republicans to oppose him every step of the way. Later, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., made it known that his primary goal was to make Obama a one-term president.

And what did all that obstruction add up to? Obama "failing" to live up to his promise to bring the country together. How convenient?

When he left office, Obama had a 57% approval rating, but only 27% saw the country as more unified. At his final State of the Union address, he admitted it was the greatest regret of his presidency. No doubt Mitch McConnell and Rush Limbaugh felt proud as punch, however.

Obama's so-called failure to unify the nation was followed by the election of the crude demagogue Donald Trump who ran on the most obnoxious, divisive agenda in modern memory. But even he promised unity in his own very special way. On January 15, 2017, just days before he was inaugurated he tweeted:

"For many years our country has been divided, angry and untrusting. Many say it will never change, the hatred is too deep. IT WILL CHANGE!!!!"

That was a day after he had posted that then-Congressman John Lewis, D-GA, a Civil Rights Movement icon, was all talk and no action, advising him to clean up his allegedly crime-infested district in the Atlanta suburbs. I don't think anyone ever did anything but chortle at the idea Trump wanted to unite the country and the many ways in which he ended up exacerbating our divisions would take days to recite.

In fact, when Joe Biden announced his run for president it was explicitly based upon the idea that he wanted to "heal the soul of America" which he said Trump had wounded grievously, particularly with respect to his encouragement of white supremacy and racial division. Days after Donald Trump sicced an angry mob on Congress to try to overturn his election, Biden stood before the country and said, "It is time to end our "uncivil war."'

Of course, the minute he set about enacting the agenda he ran on the Republicans called for the smelling salts, shrieking that he isn't unifying the country, presumably because he isn't enacting their agenda instead. Take for instance the minority whip of the Senate, John Cornyn of Texas, who has apparently been assigned the role of chief GOP unity concern troll:

Actually, Donald Trump only won 46.8% of the vote, but who's counting?

The point is that while McConnell has been holding the Senate hostage, demanding that he be allowed to have veto power over the agenda, and Republicans are planning to stage yet another Trump fealty pageant at his second impeachment trial, they have done exactly nothing to meet the new administration halfway. In fact, quite a few of them refused to accept the election results at all and most of the rest stood silent for weeks as Trump perpetrated the Big Lie that Biden had stolen the election.

As Salon's Amanda Marcotte says, "the Republicans have become radicalized against democracy itself" and any hopes of bipartisanship are whistling past the graveyard.

That should be obvious to anyone paying attention but it didn't stop the New York Times Editorial Board from hand wringing over Biden's use of executive orders, most of which have been reversals of Trump's odious attempts to destroy what was left of the country's international reputation and make the lives of Americans as miserable as possible — a fact curiously unmentioned by the Times. They say legislation is a more durable way to make policy and they are right. But when you have to get it through people whose power depends on constituents who are now convinced Trump is going to be inaugurated on March 4th, I'm afraid it's going to be a waste of time.

And it leads to absurd moments like this:

Biden will not be able to win over Trump voters or his Republican opponents in Congress who are beholden to them. But he can unify a majority of the country around an agenda that materially improves their lives and makes them feel as if they are living in a civilized country.

According to a new Crooked Media/Change Research poll, "there is an appetite for bold action, and little tolerance for obstruction" among the public and the Democrats have much more to lose by trying to appease the other side than by moving fast and going big, whether it takes Executive Orders, changing the Senate rules or passing legislation through reconciliation.

It's a big job. We haven't ever been truly civilized and we have some very urgent problems facing us. Worrying about the obstructionist Republicans' unity concern trolling isn't one of them.

Why Senate Republicans are still playing defense for Donald Trump

I believe all the reports that say Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., loathes former president Donald Trump with every fiber of his being. Apparently, he hasn't spoken to him since the election and has made it clear to everyone who knows him that he would love to see Trump just retire to Mar-a-Lago never to be heard from again. He's anything but a Trump true believer.

But Mitch McConnell believes in power. As he cast about trying to get a sense of where Republicans are in the wake of Trump's disastrous performance since the election and the incitement of a violent insurrection on January 6th, he floated trial balloons about supporting impeachment and made some critical speeches. But he never had any intention of allowing Donald Trump to be convicted in a Senate trial, even if it were possible. How do we know this? As The Atlantic's James Fallows tweeted:

-On January 13, when House voted for impeachment, McConnell said Senate could not consider it *until* Trump had left office. -From Jan 20 onward, McConnell has said Senate should not consider it *because* Trump has left office.

On Tuesday, when Senator Rand Paul, R-Ky, called for a vote on the question of whether impeaching a president after he was out of office was constitutional, Mitch McConnell and with 44 other Republicans signaled that they believe it is not. That's why he delayed the trial. A year ago, Republicans argued against Trump's first impeachment because the country was too close to an election.

Similarly, McConnell's lugubrious paean to Senatorial comity as he held the Senate hostage demanding that Democrats agree not to eliminate the filibuster is a monument to shameless hypocrisy, as Fallows also demonstrates:

McConnell himself eliminated the filibuster for judicial confirmations and had no problem with it for regular legislation because they didn't really legislate during Trump's term. Republicans rammed through their massive corporate tax giveaway and a failed Obamacare repeal through the Senate's budget reconciliation process because budget bills can't be filibustered. So all McConnell did was kill legislation that passed the House and confirm federal judges on an assembly line. Republicans don't really have a legislative agenda anymore. They are a purely obstructionist congressional party that depends entirely on judicial power to roll back existing programs and executive power to enact policy.

In any case, it's clear that we don't have to hold our breath wondering if the newly enlightened Mitch McConnell will join hands with the sane people to save the country from Trump's radical mob. The idea was always laughable. What's happening instead is a concerted effort on the part of the entire GOP establishment to cleanse Donald Trump of any responsibility for what he did so that he might emerge once again as the hero they've all been waiting for. They simply cannot quit him.

Take for instance Rand Paul's speech on Tuesday, a tour de force of brazen bad faith.

"Impeachment is for removal from office, and the accused here has already left office — a trial would drag our great country down into the gutter of rancor and vitriol, the likes of which has never been seen in our nation's history," the Kentucky Republican thundered.

I'm pretty sure we saw the likes of that on January 6th when the greatest sore loser in history provoked an angry mob into storming the Capitol, chanting "hang Mike Pence" and "Nancy Pelosi, we're coming for you!" Frankly, this country was dragged into the gutter of rancor and vitriol the day Donald Trump was elected president in 2016.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who has apparently taken a bet from someone that he can be even more sycophantic toward Trump than South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, characterized holding Trump accountable for siccing an angry mob on Congress to stop the certification of the electoral college as simply a "show" trial:

Again, if you're talking about shows and vengeance, it's pretty rich to try to misdirect people into believing it's the impeachment rather than the events of January 6th in which Donald Trump staged a huge rally in D.C. on the day Congress was scheduled to certify Joe Biden's win and told them he was going to lead them to the Capitol to stop the count.

Ted Cruz, one of the insurrectionist senators who backed Trump's baseless claims of election irregularities in swing states Trump lost, unctuously declared that we now need to move on:

This from the man who flogged the Benghazi pseudo-scandal for years.

And then we have former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley making an earnest appeal to leave poor Trump alone:

"The actions of the president post-Election Day were not great. What happened on January 6 was not great. Does he deserve to be impeached, absolutely not ... I don't even think there's a basis for impeachment. Now they're going to turn around and bring about impeachment yet they say they're for unity. I mean at some point give the man a break. I mean move on...

This is deja vu all over again. Every time Trump did something outrageously beyond the pale, there would be a flurry of hand wringing and pearl-clutching by Republicans followed almost immediately by excuses and deflecting blame once they got some blowback from the right-wing media and Trump's supporters. The pattern was set back in the 2016 campaign when news of the Access Hollywood tape was published and half the GOP declared it was the last straw, claiming they could never look their children in the eye again if they supported such a crude, indecent man. Some said he should step aside for Mike Pence or even declared their intention to vote for Hillary Clinton. Mitch McConnell said that he strongly believed "Trump needs to apologize directly to women and girls everywhere, and take full responsibility for the utter lack of respect for women shown in his comments on that tape."

He did not. And before long, the GOP response was more along the lines of Dr. Ben Carson's, who claimed the Democrats had probably had the tapes for some time and had dropped them to distract attention from Wikileaks emails that supposedly said Hillary Clinton wanted "open borders." (Those Wikileaks emails were actually released immediately after the Access Hollywood tape came out.)

As we know, all but a small handful of Republicans fell in lockstep with him shortly thereafter until the next time he did something abhorrent. A few apostates rebelled and ended up being chased out of politics for it but before long, most of them stopped even pretending to have any integrity or morals and the few that still felt compelled to say something when he went off the rails usually just made a half-hearted gesture and then went along.

And as usual, it appears this time that for most of the senators, even those who proclaimed their dismay at the violent mob that defiled the Capitol, their vote to fulfill their oath and certify the election took all the energy they could muster to protect our democracy. On Tuesday, only five Republicans managed to reject Rand Paul's fatuous claim that the impeachment is unconstitutional, the vast majority signaling once again that Donald Trump can do no wrong.

Leaving Mitch in the ditch: Trump loyalty may prove too potent a force for McConnell to handle

It took a little longer for the inevitable post-election Republican implosion than might have been expected. Perhaps they were exhausted from all the excitement of witnessing a historic violent insurrection or maybe they are just aimless without former President Donald Trump's Twitter feed to guide them. It's possible they were a little bit gun-shy since people are being investigated for committing sedition all over the country after their assault on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th. Whatever the reason, the normally voluble Republicans went uncharacteristically quiet for a few days during Joe Biden's Inauguration week. That silence ended over the weekend after two state Republican parties decided it was time to deal with the traitors in their midst.

In Arizona, the party reelected Kelli Ward — a Trump fanatic who lost her bid for the GOP nomination to the Senate in 2018— as the state chairman and her first order of business was to offer a censure motion against a raft of prominent Republicans, including former Senator Jeff Flake, Cindy McCain, the wife of former Senator John McCain and sitting Governor Steve Ducey, all for the crime of failing to be properly loyal to Donald Trump. The first two are vocal critics and didn't vote for Trump, but Gov. Ducey has been a loyal minion whose only crime was refusing to break the law and somehow give Donald Trump more votes in the election.

Meanwhile, the Republican State Central Committee of Kentucky met on Saturday to vote on a resolution demanding that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell support former President Donald Trump and condemn his second impeachment. The resolution failed on procedural grounds but the people who brought it up say they plan to bring another motion demanding McConnell's resignation. There is no chance that will pass either. Mitch McConnell is the most powerful Republican in the federal government and the Kentucky political establishment knows that. But both of these events reveal that Trump loyalty remains a potent force in the party.

It also illustrates the bind that Mitch McConnell finds himself in.

Polling shows that a large majority of Republicans are still in thrall to Trump to be sure, but somewhere between one-fifth and one-fourth of the party has fallen away. A Pew poll taken after the insurrection found that more than 30% of Republicans disapprove of Trump. That may not seem like much but it is enough to make it impossible for Republicans to win nationally if those people fall away from the GOP permanently. As the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein put it, "if Biden could lastingly attract even a significant fraction of the Republican voters dismayed over the riot, it would constitute a seismic change in the political balance of power."

Nobody knows that better than Mitch McConnell who just lost four Senate seats in Arizona and Georgia, states that were solid red not long ago. Those kind of wins are predictable in purple states like Colorado (which the Republicans also lost) but losing four seats in Arizona and Georga is a harbinger of big problems for the GOP in metro and suburban areas around the country. And after what happened on Jan. 6th, Trump and his agitated, radical following are very likely to make things even worse. In that Pew Poll, 43% of Republicans said they do not want Trump to remain a major political figure.

It has long been obvious that Mitch McConnell doesn't care for Donald Trump. He's a big pain in the neck if nothing else and McConnell understands that a leader who can never get above 50% approval is not someone they can count on to deliver for the party. In fact, Trump never did. He barely pulled out an electoral college win in 2016, lost in 2020 and lost both the House and the Senate during his only term. It's not a good record.

McConnell gave a strong speech condemning the move to object to the electoral votes before the riot started on Jan. 6th, even making the point that the election was "not unusually close." And after the attack, he floated several trial balloons in the mainstream press to test out the appetite for convicting Trump in a second impeachment trial. He's made it clear that his senators are free to vote their conscience and even gave a speech on the floor saying "the mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the President and other powerful people."

But before we get too excited about this born again, patriotic Mitch McConnell, let's not forget that he declined to step up and say that the election was decided until very late in the game and then held back from his criticism until the Georgia runoff elections were over, just in case he got to keep the majority. He, along with all the other GOP leaders, allowed Trump's Big Lie to spread and metastasize into a massive conspiracy theory that led hundreds of people to storm the Capitol. And for four years, knowing what Trump was didn't stop McConnell from using the power he had while he had it. Just because Trump was driving the party into the ditch was no reason not to confirm a whole bunch of right-wing judges and pass some huge tax cuts, am I right? He even went out of his way to make sure that Trump stayed in office when the Democrats conveniently offered him a way to get rid of him and replace him with good old, reliable right-wing Mike Pence. McConnell made that deal with the devil and he's scrambling to figure out what to do about old Beelzebub now that he's on the outside looking in.

Democrats must face the lasting damage of Trump's coup attempt.

McConnell isn't the only member of the GOP leadership who is dancing as fast as he can either.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, one of the most verbally incontinent politicians in Washington, doesn't know which way to turn either. At first, he said Trump won the election and he voted to overturn the electoral college, then turned around and said Trump bears some responsibility for the insurrection, then reversed himself and said Trump didn't provoke it and finally laid the blame at the feet of all Americans.

The 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach Trump are being threatened including Liz Cheney who is in danger of losing her leadership role in the caucus. The House Republicans are all at McCarthy's, and each other's, throats.

And nobody knows what they're going to do about the Senate impeachment trial. Some Republicans would like to draw it out and make it a Trumpian spectacle, while McConnell would prefer not to have Trump back in the spotlight. And now there may even be some jockeying for power within the Senate leadership:

McConnell has plenty of tricks up his sleeves and it's unlikely Cornyn is actually maneuvering. But it's been years since they had this much tension within their caucus and he may not be able to control his fractious bunch of Trumpish radicals like Josh Hawley, R-Mo, Ted Cruz, R-Tx, and Lindsey Graham, R-SC, who is strangely obsessed with defending Trump far beyond what is politically useful. I hope the Democrats are prepared to battle a party that's in disarray. It may not be as easy as it seems.

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