Biden's agenda may end up falling apart — but the GOP is eating itself alive

As anyone could have predicted, much of the media is once again obsessed with the "Democrats are in disarray" storyline, a perennial favorite that makes it easy to preserve the preferred conventional wisdom that says the right may be authoritarian bigots but at least they aren't the dizzy dingbats of the left. Republicans don't even have to make the trains run on time anymore.

Right now, the Democrats are doing the most tedious of all political tasks: trying to pass complicated legislation with a coalition that includes a handful of officials who look in the mirror every morning and see a superstar looking back at them. There is no politician on Earth who does not have a healthy ego, but these are people who live for headlines like this one: Manchin Lays Down Demands for Child Tax Credit.

This is hardly a unique characteristic of the Democratic Party. We only have to look back at the famous moment back in 2017 when GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona, dying of cancer and filled with loathing for President Donald Trump, dramatically gestured thumbs down and defeated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Still, it is true that Democrats are particularly prone to exceedingly tiresome haggling over legislation, but that's because they actually want to do things. The Republican agenda is pretty much confined to confirming judges and cutting taxes so they tend to get those things done quite efficiently, no negotiating required.

So the Biden Agenda may end up falling apart. It was always going to be a heavy lift to do big things with such a narrow majority. But they still might pull it off and if the process is messy and exhausting it's just how progress happens. If one wants an example of a political party that's in a state of full-blown internal chaos, just look to the right and check out what's going on in the GOP. Sure, Republicans are in lock-step obstruction mode in Congress, fighting anything and everything the Democrats are trying to do. But the party is actually eating itself alive, so energetically in fact that the media is beginning to take notice. What seems to have precipitated this new interest was this startling statement by Donald Trump last week:

There was no way to interpret that as anything but a threat. Trump was just making it clear that anyone who isn't in line with the Big Lie will be put on his "don't vote" list. And, not that he cares, but the statement also has the effect of telling GOP voters that unless the election fraud is "solved" (whatever he means by that) that they might as well not bother to vote.

There are plenty of people, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believe that his caterwauling about voter fraud cost the Republicans two Senate seats last year. He wasn't the only one. Right wing personality Erick Erickson said at the time:

"Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats. The going all-in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up this, 'There's no way Donald Trump could have lost. It had to be stolen from him.' "

This is not just an assumption. In this Sunday New York Times piece, Jeremy Peters notes that even a vociferous supporter like Marjorie Taylor Greene was surprised to find in an internal survey that 10% of Republican voters in her Georgia district would not vote in 2022 if there was no "forensic audit" of the 2020 vote. Marjorie Taylor Greene's district will no doubt return her to Congress, unfortunately, even if 10% of her voters did lay out. But in districts and states with more competitive races, that rate of GOP apathy could be a serious problem.

There are a few rare dissenters left in the party and not just the usual suspects., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Il, or Wyoming GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La, has shown some independence in the past and this week told Axios that he wouldn't vote for Trump in 2024 and hoped he wouldn't run because he lost the House, the Senate and the Presidency in four years and politics is about winning. I don't know if Cassidy had attended the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. last week, but according to the Washington Post, if he did he heard Trump say that he had actually saved the party, telling the gathered GOP senators that "it was a dying party, I'll be honest. Now we have a very lively party." That's one way of putting it.

Trump went on to insult various "RINOS" in the party whom he felt betrayed him, naming Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse among others. It's a good bet Cassidy will also be name-checked soon, as will Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who told Meet the Press on Sunday that "re-litigating" the 2020 election would be a "recipe for disaster."

Cassidy and Hutchinson are outliers in the party for openly embracing reality. Most elected Republican officials are falling all over themselves trying to prove their loyalty and the ensuing primary battles are already head spinning. Everyone is no doubt aware by now of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's humiliating descent into Trump cultism. Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post tells the tale of first term Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, former Ambassador to Japan, a man once considered to be a man of integrity and independence who has instead become an energetic Trump sycophant for no real apparent reason other than a desire to please the man.

Nowhere is the tension more marked than the Virginia gubernatorial race, where the the Big Lie is the last thing GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin wants to talk about but it's the only thing his voters seem to care about. He is a man desperate to escape the clutches of Donald Trump but cannot risk offending his followers and it's tying him up in knots.

Still, the GOP primary races are where the real action is.

Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker reports on an astonishing Republican race in Alabama to fill retiring Richard Shelby's seat between an establishment candidate Katie Britt and Insurrectionist Congressman Mo Brooks. Brooks attacked Britt for saying that she feels it's important to stand with women and her reply was that Brooks was insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump because he had once supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries while she was a Trump supporter from the get-go. It's getting very ugly, very quickly.

Democratic wrangling over their agenda is difficult and frustrating but at least they are trying to get something done for the people. The Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in "disarray" and it's all in service of keeping Donald Trump happy. It's not hard to see which process is actually serving the public interest and which one isn't.

Bannon would love to turn his criminal contempt citation into a revolutionary cause for the MAGA faithful

It appears that the January 6th commission is getting ready to rumble. The bipartisan probe in the House of Representatives has been taking the testimony of various participants and observers of the events leading up to the insurrection and has issued 19 subpoenas for some who have so far refused invitations to appear.

The most recent recipient is Jeffrey Clark, the former acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division of the Justice Department who reportedly broke agency rules by working directly with the president and outside lawyers on a plot to overturn the election. Often portrayed as a lowly background player with no profile, according to the New Republic, Clark is actually a high-level conservative movement legal activist with an Ivy League pedigree, a clerkship with a very right-wing judge, a long association with The Federalist Society as well as Kirkland and Ellis, the law firm known for housing right-wing attorneys in between service in GOP administrations. Clark served on the Romney campaign in 2012 as an "energy adviser" and along with his duties in the civil division, he worked as the assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, where Bloomberg reports he diligently worked to slash and burn existing environmental policy. In other words, he is a full-fledged creature of the Republican establishment. Attempts to portray him as some sort of eccentric gadfly are wrong. Clark is a member of the club.

It will be interesting to see if he responds to the subpoena or tries to claim attorney-client privilege. The Department of Justice told employees that it would not invoke executive privilege some time back and Trump himself has declared that he would not sue to stop them. Clark will have to do some fancy footwork to get out of it.

Meanwhile, four of Trump's closest accomplices were due to appear this week and failed to do so.

Dan Scavino Trump's Deputy Chief of staff and social media director eluded the process for some time but was finally served and has been given more time to respond. Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump loyalist/jack of all trades Kash Patel are both said to be working with the committee to come up with some agreement and have also been given a temporary reprieve. That leaves Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser and current podcaster extraordinaire.

Having escaped accountability for the fraud he was alleged to have perpetrated against Trump's followers by obtaining a pardon from the leader they revere, just 10 months later, Bannon is once again committing crimes. He has decided to defy the subpoena, setting up a criminal contempt charge which could land him in jail for one year and cost him $100,000. The January 6th Committee has said it will refer the charge to the DOJ.

Bannon is apparently claiming executive privilege based upon the fact that Trump says he doesn't want him to talk. There is no privilege for former presidents and even if he were still in office, a podcaster would not be able to claim it. Bannon has not been a member of the executive branch since 2017 when Trump fired him for shooting off his mouth to author Michael Wolff for his book "Fire and Fury" and taking too much credit for Trump's election success. Bannon has no claim to any kind of privilege but he's more than willing to push the envelope with the committee and the Department of Justice in order to foment revolutionary anger among the Trump faithful. That is his raison d'etre and has been for quite some time.

As Washington Post authors Bob Woodward and Bob Costa detail in their book "Peril," and as Bannon has since confirmed, in the days before the insurrection, Bannon told Trump "People are going to go, 'What the fuck is going on here? We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, fucking bury him. We're going to kill it in the crib, kill the Biden presidency in the crib." On January 5, Bannon told his listeners, "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Tomorrow is game day. I've met so many people through my life who said, 'Man if I was at the revolution, I would be, I would be with Washington at Trenton.' Well, this is for your time in history." On the morning of January 6th, he told his Facebook followers, "TAKE ACTION. THEY ARE TRYING TO STEAL THE ELECTION." His parting words during his podcast that day were, "Today is not just a rally. The president is going to give you his opening argument. I think Eastman's up there actually throwing down. .. at 1:00 there's going to be some pretty controversial, controversial things going on."

Apparently, Bannon was very much in the loop. One can understand why the Committee would like to talk to him.

But what's in it for him --- or Trump, for that matter --- to defy the subpoena? Why not just go in there and admit everything and dare them to bring charges against him. There's very little chance they would. What would they be for? Sedition?

As I wrote earlier, Bannon is planning Insurrection 2.0 and people are listening. He's talking about preparing "shock troops" to take over the executive branch when Trump is restored to the presidency and his "precinct strategy" to get Trump followers to take over local administration of elections and storm school boards has been taken up by thousands of MAGA true believers. As he told his listeners last May, "It's going to be a fight, but this is a fight that must be won, we don't have an option. We're going to take this back village by village … precinct by precinct."

Trump, meanwhile, has turned Ashli Babbit (the woman who was shot crawling through a broken window trying to get to members of Congress on January 6th) into a martyr.

At a fundraiser for Virginia gubernatorial candidate Glenn Younkin this week, followers pledged allegiance to a flag that was supposedly present on January 6th. (No word on whether it had any policemen's bloodstains on it.) Bannon was the featured speaker.

It's impossible to know whether Trump and Bannon are strategizing together, but it's clear that they have the same goal. They are turning January 6th into a rallying cry for more insurrection. Both Bannon and Trump have spoken of the people indicted for their crimes in the insurrection as "political prisoners" and I suspect Bannon would like nothing more than to turn his criminal contempt citation into a revolutionary cause for the MAGA faithful.

I don't know if they allow prisoners to podcast from their jail cells but Bannon wouldn't be the first to spend his time behind bars working on a manifesto. And Trump can wave the bloody shirt of January 6th to keep the Big Lie alive for his run in 2024. It's going to be quite a show.

Democrats don't have to save themselves -- Trump is still here to help

Democrats find themselves, in the midst of an intense battle to pass President Biden's domestic agenda while avoiding a debt limit showdown, once again asking the perennial post-election question: How can they win back white, non-college-educated voters?

This has been the Democrats' big conundrum for over 30 years now and most of the time they end up with exactly the same possible strategies. Either appeal to the white working class' economic self-interest, pander to their prejudices or triangulate against their own base. Sure there are other strategies for winning elections thrown out there, like find the apathetic voters who don't bother with politics and get them to the polls or wait for demographic changes that will bring more voters into their coalition. Often there is a "one from column A and one from column B" quality about this discussion, but there really hasn't been anything new added to the mix for several decades.

At this moment, the discussion is being waged around a couple of takes on these basic ideas. The New York Times' Ezra Klein interviewed data specialist David Shor for his column to talk about a theory they are calling "popularism" which they defined this way:

Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.

It may surprise you, as it did me, that this is considered some kind of breakthrough idea but apparently some people think it is.

Of course, Democratic politicians don't actually have that kind of control over the narrative. Politics are much more national than they used to be with the press out there contributing their takes and independent activists trying to advance their issues and causes. And needless to say, there are the Republicans who are very, very good at ruthlessly hijacking the political narrative. The idea that Democrats can just keep their less popular ideas on the down-low isn't remotely realistic.

The problem began with the Southern Strategy in 1968 and gained steam throughout the 80s as all the old Southern Democratic lions retired, switched parties or died, making the two parties polarized ideologically and demographically. In fact, 30 years ago this issue was considered a regional problem and the consultants and strategists all said that we needed presidential candidates from southern states so that they could relate to the "bubbas" as they called them. Essentially, the advice boiled down to finding (or creating) cultural affinity combined with an economic pitch to the working man, which always polls well.

Jimmy Carter was the first stab at this approach and it worked out in 1976. But when a movie star from California challenged him in 1980, all that affinity for authentic Southern identity went right out the window. Ronald Reagan appealed on a whole other level. His slogan was "Let's Make America Great Again" and those white, working-class Democrats ate it up with a spoon. Those voters became known as Reagan Democrats. They're all old or dead now but the Democratic Party is still trying to get them back.

Bill Clinton, a southern boy from Arkansas, was the first candidate after Carter to win the presidency, reactivating the argument that southern cultural affinity would signal to this elusive group of white voters that the Democrats weren't snobby elites from the Big City trying to impose their deviant ways on Real Americans. He didn't make a populist argument. He was a DLC Democrat, a group that had decided that old-fashioned new deal style government needed to go the way of the Dodo, so they adopted a technocratic "market" approach, thinking that would be a better way to deliver government to the masses. The populism was left to a billionaire named Ross Perot, who took one of the largest 3rd party shares in US history in 1992.

And at the same time, you had a Republican Party that was radicalizing rapidly under the leadership of a crude demagogue by the name of Newt Gingrich who was heating up the culture war and feeding red meat to these contested voters. Clinton was caught in that crossfire and never won a majority. He survived because the radicalized Republican Party had succumbed to hubris and tried to remove a popular president on trumped-up charges. Clinton was very lucky in his enemies. There's an important lesson for the present day in that.

Shor obviously thinks that President Obama was able to win two terms by following what he prescribes, arguing that Obama downplayed the unpopular culture war issues that bother these voters and emphasized the issues that drew them in. Sure, that's true, but Obama embodied racial progress and generational change which meant he didn't have to say much about it in order to keep his base happy, at least in the beginning. Unfortunately, the backlash on the right was fierce and it dogs the party to this day. The first Black president may have won two campaigns but his election drove the Republican Party over a cliff.

These last few decades have been backlash followed by a backlash against the backlash, and we are still in the middle of that dynamic. Democrats have tried everything to offset the structural disadvantage they have as the party of multi-urban voters in a system that over-represents rural citizens. Better messaging isn't going to solve that problem.

But that doesn't mean the Democrats are doomed, at least not yet.

If polarization and backlash are what drives the political dynamic, then the Republicans have given Democrats a gift that keeps on giving. His name is Donald Trump.

While Democrats dither over which "Kitchen Table Issue" will appeal to some rural voter in Iowa, the Republicans are becoming frantic that Trump is going to ruin 2022 and 2024 for them. Politico reports that the party wants to talk about inflation and Afghanistan and crime etc, while Trump is out there ginning up the MAGA faithful with non-stop talk about the Big Lie. Republicans are reportedly very nervous that "in focusing on that issue above all others, Trump effectively makes the 2022 election a referendum on him instead of Biden."

Republican Senators are also deeply concerned that Trump is going to mess up their chances of retaking the upper chamber, according to The Hill:

"I think we're better off when he's not part of any story," said a Republican senator, who said his view is widely shared in the GOP conference.

That's a shame for them because he's not going anywhere. In fact, this past weekend the Senate's elder statesman Chuck Grassley, R-IA, decided if you can't beat them, join them and attended Trump's rally to receive his blessing from the Dear Leader himself.

Trump's meddling in the primaries is causing huge headaches as well.

The AP reported that there is no vetting of the candidates he's choosing and a good number of them are very dicey characters accused of violent behavior and criminal financial activity. Their only qualification is their total loyalty to Donald Trump. They will no doubt be popular with the Trump base but they will have difficulty winning general elections.

Republicans have a very big, orange albatross around their necks right now and even though they know it could cripple their chances to regain the majority, they can't get it off. We'll have to see if the Democrats and their consultants can stop navel-gazing long enough to recognize it.

Trump's coup plot was worse than anyone knew

It seemed odd last December when then-Attorney General Bill Barr resigned before the end of President Trump's term. Barr had been such a loyal soldier throughout, defending Trump's misdeeds and corrupting the Department of Justice (DOJ) on his behalf over and over again. Barr had broken DOJ protocols repeatedly as well, most recently ordering the department to investigate claims of voter fraud before any suit or legal proceedings had been initiated. But it all fell apart when Barr said in an interview that he had not actually seen any evidence of such fraud. The president was very displeased. Barr later told him to his face that the claims were "nonsense" and a major rift developed between the two.

Nonetheless, Barr apparently still tried to appease Trump and later told the U.S. Attorney in Georgia to look into Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani's wild claims and make it a priority. But within a few days, Trump announced that Barr would be leaving his post and he was gone by the end of the month, replaced by his deputy Jeffrey Rosen.

I don't think we know the full scope of what was going on with Barr and Trump during this period despite Barr's self-serving recitations to several authors of books on the final days. But it's clear that he knew that Trump was out of control and he decided to jump off the sinking ship before it went under.

On Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee released an interim Senate Judiciary Committee Report covering the testimony of various high-level Department of Justice officials during that period between the election and the insurrection and it is a blockbuster. It's titled "Subverting Justice: How the Former President and His Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election," which pretty much says it all.

We knew quite a bit of this already. There was earlier reporting about how Trump had called Acting Attorney General Rosen to instruct him to "just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen." And we knew that an obscure Justice Department lawyer in the civil division by the name of Jeffrey Clark had somehow found his way into Trump's inner circle and was pushing some corrupt schemes to overturn the election which Trump liked very much. But until this report we didn't know the scale of this plotting to get the DOJ to step in and use its muscle to carry out Trump's coup.

Trump worked hard to twist Rosen's arm. He had Clark calling him with threats that he was going to replace him and demanding that he send a letter to Georgia and other states to advise them of "serious irregularities" in their elections, telling them to call special sessions of their legislatures and deal with the electoral votes however they chose. Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was haranguing him as well demanding that he look into Giuliani's crazy conspiracy theories, as well as odd lawyers involved in Trump lawsuits around the country, one of whom told Rosen "you're going to force me to call the President and tell him you're recalcitrant," as if that would frighten him into compliance.

Trump himself inappropriately called Rosen and his deputy nine times, and met with him personally several more, the final denouement coming just days before the January 6th insurrection in which he literally said, "one thing we know is you, Rosen, aren't going to do anything to overturn the election." As usual, he said the quiet part out loud.

The report is damning. The president of the United States tried for weeks to get the Attorney General to overturn the election. That is the definition of an attempted coup.

The ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Chuck Grassley, R-Ia, issued a GOP rebuttal to the report. It is truly mind boggling and makes you wonder if the Republicans even bothered to read it. It suggests that Trump was right to be skeptical of Rosen and Donohue because of Carter Page and the FBI and some other irrelevant nonsense from the Russia investigation. This was pure red meat for their base, of course. But this line is so fatuous you have to wonder if they were just trolling for laughs:

"The available evidence shows that President Trump did what we'd expect a president to do on an issue of this importance: He listened to his senior advisers and followed their advice and recommendations,"

Yes, we expect our presidents to refuse to admit they lost elections and plot a coup to stay in power. It's perfectly normal. And yes, he did back down on firing Rosen and replacing him with his lackey — only once his White House counsel's office and the entire top level of the Department of Justice said they would quit en masse if he did it. I guess you can call that "advice and recommendations" but Trump's White House counsel had another term for it: "a murder-suicide pact."

And anyway, once that part of the plot was foiled, he just switched to plan B — the right-wing lawyer John Eastman's plot to have Pence refuse to count the electoral votes. At the same time, he had his crack legal team of Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani all over the country filing half-baked, embarrassing lawsuits and was egging on activists to come to the Capitol on January 6th saying it was going to be "wild." He was juggling several coup plots at the same time. And he's still at it today, calling for "forensic audits" even in states he won! This deranged plot is still unfolding even though he's been out of office for nine months.

That Senate Republicans would actually defend these actions is outrageous. It's also chilling.

It's quite clear that that brief moment after January 6th when the Republicans seemed shaken by Trump's incitement of a violent insurrection passed very quickly and they have comfortably settled back into rationalizing their complicity by saying that it's no harm no foul if the president tries to extort foreign leaders to help him sabotage a rival's campaign or plan a coup to overturn an election if he doesn't manage to pull it off.

Grassley is appearing with the former president at a rally this weekend where Trump will no doubt insist that he actually won the election. Grassley won't blink an eye, apparently believing that if Trump gets back in power, it will be perfectly fine if he behaves exactly the same way as he did during those insane final weeks of his term. This is how pathetically corrupt and compromised the GOP's moral reasoning has become. According to one of the major political parties in the country, attempted coups are now normal politics in America. And as a result we can be quite sure this isn't the last time that will happen. The only question is whether they can corral enough accomplices to actually succeed next time.

Now the GOP has a coup plan — and Steve Bannon's ready to put boots on the ground

One of the more memorable quotes from the 2020 post-election period was the one in which a Republican insider blithely told a reporter for the Washington Post that there was no harm in letting Trump cry himself out:

"What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change," the official said. "He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."

We all know how that turned out, don't we?

Today, the congressional Jan. 6 commission continues to subpoena witnesses and demand documents from various players in the post-election saga, and the press keeps reporting new information on exactly what went down during that bizarre period weekly. Last month, the new book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, "Peril," revealed the existence of a full-blown coup plot based upon a legal theory advanced by conservative constitutional lawyer John Eastman, formerly of Chapman College and a founder of the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank. They actually memorialized what they planned to do in writing.

The idea was to have Mike Pence refuse to acknowledge the electoral votes of certain states whose legislatures might be persuaded to send an alternate slate of electors and then declare Trump the winner based upon the remaining electoral votes. It was a cockamamie scheme, but the concept of Republican state legislatures declaring that the vote was rigged and sending an alternate slate to declare Trump the winner did not come from nowhere. I wrote this in November 2020, just a couple of weeks after the election:

Having lost over and over again in court, Trump and his team have switched to their Plan B, which, as longtime Democratic strategist Chris Marshall spelled out in detail in Salon on Thursday, is to delay the certification of the vote in certain states and try to get Republican legislatures to assign electors to vote for Donald Trump instead of the actual winner, Joe Biden. This is based on the theory that if they can create enough chaos around the election results, Republican loyalists will rise to the occasion and "save democracy" from the Democrats, who are allegedly stealing the election.

Trump's behavior with all these phony "audits," even in places like Texas where he won, is explained as an extension of that plan. They are attempting to create so much distrust in the electoral process that in the case of a semi-close election, the default "solution" will be for the (Republican) state legislatures to take over the process and decide the winner. Lest you think the courts would automatically reject such a clearly unconstitutional move, don't count on it. As the New Yorker's Jane Mayer noted:

Few people noticed at the time, but in … Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, hinted at a radical reading of the Constitution that, two decades later, undergirds many of the court challenges on behalf of Trump. In a concurring opinion, the Justices argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors.
Today, the so-called Independent Legislature Doctrine has informed Trump and the right's attempts to use Republican-dominated state legislatures to overrule the popular will. Nathaniel Persily, an election-law expert at Stanford, told me, "It's giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument."

That's the legal argument. The implementation will require provocateurs to help foment the chaos and distrust on the ground. Enter Trump's former campaign chairman (and pardoned accused felon) Steve Bannon. You may recall that Bannon was heavily involved in the Jan. 6 planning, urging Trump to "kill the Biden presidency in its crib" and promising listeners of his wildly popular podcast the night before that "all hell will break loose tomorrow. It's them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?"

ProPublica did extensive reporting last month showing that since then Bannon has been pushing a "precinct strategy," whereby MAGA followers take over the Republican apparatus at the precinct level, which in many states means they have influence over how elections are run, including the choice of poll workers and members of election boards. When Bannon announced this strategy, it "rocketed across far-right media" and suddenly people who had never before been involved in politics were volunteering all over the country, in blue states as well as red states, cities and suburbs and rural areas alike.

This strategy is the brainchild of Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who has been pushing it for several years:

In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon's podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state's Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered.

Schultz is now a huge right-wing celebrity, has been on Bannon's show at least eight times and holds weekly Zoom calls with activists around the country. Last July he told his audience, "Make sure everybody's got a baseball bat. I'm serious about this. Make sure you've got people who are armed."

Bannon isn't confining himself to trying to destroy the democratic electoral system. NBC News' Jonathan Allen reported that he's also planning an assault on the government once he gets Trump back in the White House, as a continuation of his "deconstruction of the administrative state." To that end, Bannon held a meeting last week with "scores of former Trump political appointees" at the Capitol Hill Club and gave them their marching orders for the hypothetical day when Trump returns to power.

He was invited by a new group called the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, which has the goal of having non-confirmable executive branch appointees ready on Day 1 to go in and take over. In practice, that means they would immediately set about systematically dismantling everything put in place under a Democratic president and deregulating everything in sight. Bannon aptly calls them his "shock troops."

Now maybe all this is just the lunatic fringe acting out and nothing will come of it. Bannon has been flogging this kind of anti-democratic strategy for a long time. But considering how radical the GOP establishment itself has become, it seems foolhardy to make that assumption. Inviting Bannon to address this ambitious new Republican group sends a clear signal that his previously outlandish ideas and strategies have become mainstream conservative thinking.

Manchin and Sinema finally feel the heat as Democrats battle over Biden's agenda

Thursday evening, as negotiations over President Biden's domestic agenda dragged on for hours on Capitol Hill, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin stood at the stern of his large yacht and spoke to some of his West Virginia constituents.

It would be easy to mock Manchin standing there addressing his people from on high, considering that he and his partner in obstruction Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat from Arizona, are both behaving like a couple of theatrical divas. In the last few days especially, both of them have been all over the place, ostentatiously declaring their independence and generally driving everyone nuts with their vague and inconsistent objections combined with constant, tiresome grandstanding. But if you can get past the bizarre spectacle and listen to what Manchin said, it's clear that all is not lost.

Yes, Manchin balked at expanding Medicare benefits with a bogus claim that the federal program is going broke. (It is not.) But, importantly, he did say that he believed in taxing the rich and that we should be negotiating for lower drug prices. That's a more concrete promise than we've seen from him in quite some time.

That little interaction came on the heels of the release earlier in the day of a memo from last summer, co-signed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (who added that he would try to talk Manchin out of it), that outlined Manchin's "topline" number for the bill: 1.5 trillion. If Manchin is negotiating in good faith, then that number cannot be written in stone, leaving at least some room for compromise. The publicizing of this proposal was obviously in response to a growing chorus of Democratic frustration that Manchin and Sinema were throwing their weight around and preening for the press without laying out their own counter-offers. After weeks of op-eds and press gaggles in which Manchin was saying that he wanted a "strategic pause" and appeared not to be interested in passing a bill at all, the release of this memo at least ended that charade. Manchin may still blow up the president's agenda, but he is apparently now negotiating specifics, which is hopeful.

There have been a gazillion pixels deployed on the question of what Kyrsten Sinema really wants and it's quite difficult to fathom. My personal opinion is that she is simply carving out a brand as an Arizona Maverick and believes that drawing attention to herself as someone who bucks the party will stand her in good stead back home. It's hard to imagine that destroying the Democratic agenda and ushering in another era of GOP dominance, likely led by Donald Trump, will endear her to her base voters but that seems to be her motivation. It certainly isn't any adherence to ideology or principle.

But it turns out that she too felt the pressure of the criticism coming from the party and so released a statement on Thursday insisting that she is negotiating with all the parties and has offered specifics, although she didn't say what those were.

What this all means is that the two bills — and thus Biden's agenda — still have a chance for passage.

On Thursday night, the House worked with the White House and members of the Senate into the wee hours but were unable to come to an agreement on the reconciliation bill. So they missed the vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill by the deadline agreed to by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to appease a small handful of recalcitrant House "moderates." It was an arbitrary date, so missing it is insignificant in itself. They plan to continue to negotiate today and beyond if that's what it takes. This is monumentally important legislation and it makes no sense to cobble together a deal at 2 AM for no good reason.

Notably, the House progressives are holding together in their demand that the infrastructure bill will not pass unless the Senate also passes the rest of the Biden agenda in the larger reconciliation package. From the gasps in the media as Thursday night wore on, it seems that few believed they would do it. In fact, they apparently thought that they had done something catastrophic when, in reality, they were just being smart negotiators.

That headline is just wrong. The progressives were not alone in this and it isn't a big setback. The leadership didn't whip for votes on Thursday night and for good reason: The entire Democratic caucus minus a small handful in the House and two Senators are on board with this legislation. Even more importantly, the President of the United States is with the progressives as well.

Politico reported on Thursday that the White House is happy with the progressive strategy to hold fast to their terms in the hopes that it would put pressure on Manchin and Sinema to get with the program. It quotes Press Secretary Jen Psaki being downright complimentary in the press briefing this week, saying "[M]embers of the Progressive Caucus want to have an understanding of the path forward on the reconciliation package. They have stated that publicly. You know why? Because they think it's a historic progressive package that will make bold changes into addressing our climate crisis, into lowering costs for the American people, bringing more women back into the workplace."

In press appearances, progressives have likewise been on message, making very clear that they want to vote for the Biden agenda and it's the small rump of so-called moderates who are standing in the way. Politico characterized the relationship this way:

Ultimately, the White House wants to see the infrastructure bill passed when it is brought up. But the idea that it would be comfortable with an effort by a portion of its own party to delay and put into question one of the president's most important initiatives would have been unheard of in previous administrations. These, however, are not normal times. And this is hardly a normal legislative calendar.

And it is not your grandfather's Progressive Caucus either. They are a savvy group, leveraging their numbers to pass an ambitious agenda that's been proposed by a mainstream Democratic president. They are a force to be reckoned with.

I don't know what will happen today. Pelosi says there will be a vote. It sounds as though Manchin and Sinema have moved off their high horses, at least for now, and are seriously engaged in the details. But there's nothing wrong with taking the time to hash this out and get an agreement and if it takes some more time it's worth it. What they all must recognize is that this is their shot to do something historically important and if they don't succeed they may not get another chance. The future of the country — and the planet — depend on it.

Trump's own rallies reveal him to be the ultimate follower – not a leader

Donald Trump returned to his beloved rally stage over the weekend to perform his greatest hits in front of a Georgia crowd. It was a large and ecstatic crowd. What else is new? If there was any hope of Trump's fans getting tired of him, there is no sign of it yet.

This article was originally published at Salon

From asking the crowd what it must be like to be married to Hillary Clinton and eliciting a raucous rendition of "Lock Her Up!" to complaining about the border as his followers chanted "Build That Wall," Trump delivered his tried and true staples. He declared that he loves law enforcement and the military and the 2nd Amendment and even bragged about making people say Merry Christmas once again. And when he asked, "Is there anything as fun as a Trump rally?" he truly brought the house down. In the end, they all danced awkwardly to the 70s hook-up song, YMCA before heading home spent and satisfied.

This stuff never gets old, apparently.

But for all the familiar old saws, Trump spent most of his time pushing the Big Lie, taking it to even higher levels of delusion, implying that President Obama stole his two elections and asserting that the Arizona "fraudit" went his way:

He also got huge applause trashing Republicans he believes betrayed him by failing to cheat, at one point suggesting that Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams would be a better governor than the current GOP governor Brian Kemp. His followers loved every minute of it, lustily booing Kemp and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. In their minds, as in Trump's, the Democrats and RINOs are one in the same: They are the enemy.

It's hard to know if the rally crowd represents the average Trump follower but the polls indicate that he is still massively popular with Republicans so it stands to reason they are generally happy with the Trumpism on display at his gatherings. As so many have marveled when asked what they like about him, he says what they're thinking.

I couldn't help but ponder that when I read some recent analyses of the 2020 election once again looking at the question of "what does the white working class voter really want?" The Washington Post's Monkey Cage blog turned the spotlight on the upcoming Virginia governor's race and looked at the three big cultural markers that separate the urban from the rural voters: faith, gun ownership and race.

I don't think I have to explain the differences among the Democrats and Republicans on those issues. Democratic strategist James Carville blames the urban voters for being elitist and chasing away voters with their big city ways. Analyst Ruy Teixeira believes that Democrats are out of step culturally with the mainstream of America and, as a result, have put a ceiling on their appeal. Teixeira makes a number of suggestions as to how to become more culturally palatable to Real Americans and suggests:

The way to lift that ceiling is clear: move to the center to embrace the views enumerated above, all of which are compatible with a robust program of full employment, social safety net expansion and public investment. Indeed, the ironic aspect of this is that the public writ large, including the median voter, are more open to such a program than they have been in decades, yet the Democrats' cultural leftism interferes with their ability to focus on their popular economic program and avoid unpopular positions that have little to do with that program.

In other words, he believes that delivering a popular economic program will bring them back as long as the Democrats don't upset them with all this cultural leftism. But after crunching the numbers, the Monkey Cage analysts found that it's not urban arrogance or cultural leftism that's at the root of the problem and neither are different attitudes about gun ownership or faith. The problem is race. This is evident by the fact that rural white voters simply refuse to acknowledge that racism exists:

[I]f voters in urban and rural areas acknowledged White privilege at the same rate, the urban-rural voting divide would be relatively small, just eight points. That the divide is actually 32 points speaks to the powerful role that racism plays in fueling this gap. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that Virginia Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin attacked the teaching of critical race theory, making it a cornerstone of his campaign.
Our findings suggest that messaging isn't the problem, as Carville asserted. Rather, rural Americans prefer Trump's racially charged politics and denial that racism exists. Fueled by a core disagreement over racism in the United States, the urban-rural divide is likely to continue in 2021 and beyond.

This analysis tracks with earlier findings in the wake of the 2016 election when the media decided that Trump's win was based upon the "economic anxiety" of the white working class and spent months chasing them through diners in the South and the rustbelt to prove it. Then, as now, the analysis just didn't add up. Non-college educated voters exist throughout the country but the ones who loved Trump were those white, mostly rural, and often more affluent Fox News viewers who were filled with grievance and resentment against people of color.

Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia begs to differ with both of these analyses. He agrees that economic insecurity had little to do with non-college educated votes for Trump in 2020 but believes it's "fundamentally" about ideology. He writes:

I find that support for Donald Trump among white working class voters reflected conservative views across a wide range of policy issues including social welfare issues, cultural issues, racial justice issues, gun control, immigration, and climate change. In other words, the rejection of the Democratic Party by white working class voters is fundamentally ideological. This fact makes it very unlikely that Democrats will be able to win back large numbers of white working class voters by appealing to their economic self-interest.

I don't know which of these analyses are correct, although I'm deeply skeptical that taming the "cultural left" will have any effect on those who are allegedly so offended by it that they will instead vote for the likes of Donald Trump. I am convinced that racism lies at the heart of most of the grievance and hostility that animates the right, and I also think that easily evolves into a more holistic worldview that encompasses grievance across the entire ideological spectrum leading to conspiratorial thinking and an abandonment of critical thinking. Still, I'm not sure that adds up to a coherent ideology. It's more of a tribal identity.

Trumpism's appeal rests on the fact that Trump himself is very careful to stay within the bounds of all those issues Sabato lists. He uses his rallies to feel them out and adjust accordingly. In that way he is the ultimate follower, not a leader. What he does is express their loathing for racial and religious minorities and immigrants, gun control advocates, climate change, tolerance, equality and pluralism in the crude, bullying, hostile way that validates their existing beliefs. Basically, he completes them.

Mitch McConnell is trying to troll Democrats — but the latest fight will just blow back on the GOP

There are many inane rituals that take place in the U.S. Capitol, but none that rival the tiresome conventions around the annual funding of the government known as "raising of the debt ceiling."

It's like Groundhog Day, with Republicans balking at participating and everyone else running around in circles trying to cajole them into getting onboard so the United States doesn't crash the world economy. It is no way to run a country. This year the issues are more acute than usual because the Democratic majority is concurrently trying to pass two very large programs — the bipartisan physical infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill that contains the vital human infrastructure program that Joe Biden and the party ran on in 2020. It's all coming to a head at the same time.

The progressives in both chambers of Congress are standing firm in their demand that Congress pass the agenda that they and Joe Biden both ran on. But sadly, there is a small handful of so-called moderate Democratic House members who have decided to be divas and are threatening to blow up Biden's program unless it is stripped of much of the funding that makes the rest of it possible, while certain so-called moderate Democratic senators are strutting around insisting the price tag is too high without bothering to name any specific cuts. D.C. is full of demands to meet meaningless and arbitrary deadlines, constantly moving targets and endless tedious posturing these days.

This dynamic is anything but unprecedented (there are always a few who just have to gum up the works) but with margins as narrow as they are in this polarized body, and with the presidency on the line, you would think these moderates could stay unified with the majority just this once. If they succeed in destroying the president's signature initiative, they are effectively Republicans. I hope they look good in red MAGA hats.

It's nice that a handful of Republicans in the Senate managed to vote for the physical infrastructure bill (although the GOP House leadership is now whipping against it) but no one expected that the Republicans would vote for the big infrastructure bill that directly benefits actual humans and addresses climate change. They have no interest in such things. The Democrats are happy to put that bill through the reconciliation process which only requires 50 votes, although corralling all 50 is predictably difficult for the reasons outlined above. But funding the government and raising the debt ceiling should basically be pro-forma votes and the fact that it is pulling teeth every single time is one of the most pathetic annual displays of dysfunction in our government.

It didn't use to be that way.

Government shutdowns were never even thought of until the Congressional Budget Act of 1974. It's happened 21 times since then.

Haggling through the budget process didn't necessitate actually furloughing workers — until the Reagan Justice Department issued a set of opinions saying that if there is a period when Congress doesn't allocate funds for some reason, the government must partially or fully shutdown until it comes to an agreement. The longest shutdown came in 2019 when President Trump had a tantrum over his border wall which the Democratic majority refused to fund.

It might happen again this year and it would be particularly destructive. We are still in the middle of a major crisis, a deadly pandemic that is being exacerbated by so many Republicans refusing to get themselves vaccinated. Meanwhile, the need to lift the debt ceiling looms.

The law states that the Treasury Department must come to Congress and get permission to raise the debt ceiling and, according to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, that time is upon us. If Congress fails to lift it by mid-October, the United States will default on its debt and all hell will break loose.

So it's important to look at how this came to pass. After all, the idea that the U.S. should pay its bills is a no-brainer. And throughout most of our history, that's exactly how it was treated. In fact, until 1917 it was just done automatically when Congress instituted the rule because federal agencies were spending willy nilly without congressional approval. And mostly it continued to be done automatically without much fanfare. At one point the House instituted what they called the Gephardt Rule (after former Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt), which simply "deems" the debt ceiling lifted when a budget resolution is passed and it is an excellent idea.

However, the modern GOP's original bad seed, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, saw the opportunity to turn the debt ceiling into another Republican weapon and it's now pulled out whenever they want to yank the Democrats' chains. In 1995, in a speech before the Public Securities Association, Ginrich raised the specter of default as if it was a serious option in order to force a budget on radical GOP terms. The demands were not met, but the brinkmanship became an annual GOP custom that's still playing out today.

This time there's a new twist, however. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell isn't even negotiating. He says that Republicans will not vote to raise the debt ceiling because it isn't their responsibility. And that's that. Sure, several Democrats just voted to raise it during Trump's term but that's their thing. Republicans are now all simply refusing to participate. Except, of course, they are. They are filibustering the budget resolution and the debt ceiling hike making it necessary to get 60 votes, which don't appear to exist.

McConnell and company insist that Democrats can just raise the debt ceiling in reconciliation which only requires 50 votes. Of course, that also means opening up another round of "vote-o-rama" and that takes time. They also seem to think that somehow voting for the debt ceiling in a party-line reconciliation bill will really hurt the Democrats in 2022. Seems a bit far-fetched to me. Republicans are already going to attack Democrats mercilessly as tax-and-spend liberals no matter what, so it's hard to see why this would make much difference.

Obviously, McConnell also believes that this gumming up of the works may prevent them from passing their two big infrastructure bills although it looks like Democrats may do that dirty work for him. But you have to wonder why Republicans keep going down these roads. Every government shutdown since Gingrich's time has blown back on the GOP because everyone knows that they are the ones who are obstructing the normal process. It's their brand!

Ultimately, they are just obstructing for the sake of obstructing. Will Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia ever wake up and realize that their "principled" stand protecting the filibuster has simply made them pawns in Mitch McConnell's obnoxious trolling strategy? I don't know, but if they ever plan to do it, now would be an excellent time.

The Trump 6-point plan to steal the election: Republicans leave roadmap for future authoritarians

One of the most important lessons of the 2020 election is just how easy it would be for someone with a little bit more savvy to upend the constitution and prevent the peaceful transfer of power in the future. Democracies don't always crumble as a result of violent revolution. It's often done by manipulating the law and using intimidation to ensure compliance.

The most famous example is the German Enabling Act of 1933, also known as The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich. That law allowed Adolph Hitler to enact other laws, including ones that violated the Weimar Constitution, without the approval of either parliament or Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, effectively making Hitler a dictator. Through some adroit maneuvering and the detention of certain members of the Parliament, he was able to gain the two-thirds majority required and the courts all went along with it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Donald Trump is no Hitler, of course. He is not that clever. But he does have some of the same impulses, particularly when it comes to seizing power.

This week we learned, through the new Woodward and Costa book "Peril," that one of Donald Trump's closest legal advisers, a law professor by the name of John Eastman, had prepared a memorandum to serve as guidance for the Vice President to overturn the election on January 6th. The memo laid out a six-point plan:

First: The Vice President begins the counting with the state of Alabama as usual.

Second: When Pence gets to Arizona, he sets the electoral votes aside under the premise that there was an alternate set of electors that had been submitted. Likewise, he also sets aside the votes of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico under the false assertion that they too had sent alternate Trump electors. (They had not.)

Third: Pence then declares that the alternate states will not be included and since Trump then "won" the remaining votes, he has been reelected.

At that point he predicted the Democrats would "howl" and Pence would then compromise and decree that the vote could go to the House as the constitution allows in case of a tie. This would simply confirm a Trump victory since the Republicans controlled 26 out of 50 state delegations. Easy Peasy.

The remaining two points regarded commissioning Ted Cruz or Rand Paul to ensure that the filibuster remained intact so they could at least create a "stalemate" and allow states "more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors." (This explains the frantic calls by Rudy Giuliani and Trump even as the insurrection was in full effect to Senator Tommy Tuberville, R-AL exhorting him to "try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you.")

But most importantly, Eastman insisted that Pence not ask anyone for permission to do any of this and instead just declare that he had the authority and that was that. The course for Trump's dictatorship would be set.

As we know, however, Pence dithered about all this before eventually asking former Vice President Dan Quayle what he should do. Quayle told him he had to follow the Constitution and perform his ceremonial duty as all previous Vice Presidents have done in this situation. (If his conscience didn't already tell him that he needs to turn in his little American flag pin and enter another line of business.)

What we didn't know until now was that this memo was circulated in January to some of Trump's staunchest Republican defenders in Congress, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Utah Senator Mike Lee, both of whom took it very seriously and had their top expert staff members look it over. They concluded that it was unconstitutional and in Graham's words, "third grade."

I guess we should be grateful that Trump's lawyers were so lame because it's quite clear that if they had been able to legally engineer this coup more professionally, people like Graham and Lee might very well have gone along with it. How do we know this? Because even though there was no evidence of voter fraud in the election, they didn't dismiss the idea out of hand. They were apparently open to the idea that Pence really could overturn the election on January 6th. They're both lawyers. They're both conversant with the Constitution and, more importantly, with the concept of democracy in which the loser of the election accepts the results and bows out gracefully. And yet they didn't object publicly to Trump's Big Lie until thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol. Of course, there were dozens of other Republican officials also saying there were reasons to "investigate" and pushing various aspects of the Big Lie as well. But these two knew what Trump was trying to do and they said nothing.

The lawyer who came up with this mad plot, John Eastman, gave a speech at the insurrection rally that told the whole story. In fact, one might even suggest it was the primary inspiration for the riot. He said he had petitions before the Supreme Court and he babbled a litany of false voter fraud claims before ending with this:

All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at 1:00 he let the legislators of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it, and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government, or not. We no longer live in a self governing republic if we can't get the answer to this question. This is bigger than President Trump. It is a very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it, does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.


I don't know if he believed that or if he's just a Trump partisan willing to win by any means necessary. But it doesn't really matter. This was a coup attempt. It was unsuccessful, but only because of the sloppiness with which it was put together, not because of the attempt itself. The Big Lie has since metastasized, largely at the hands of Republican officials who believe it will be useful to them in trying to regain power. Does anyone think that a more elegant "Enabling Act" wouldn't be supported by most of them?

Trump's greatest legacy may end being the fellow who showed Republicans just how dependent our democracy is on the goodwill and decency of the people who run it. He and his legal flunkies just left a roadmap for other unscrupulous authoritarians to follow.

Republicans just left a roadmap for future authoritarians

One of the most important lessons of the 2020 election is just how easy it would be for someone with a little bit more savvy to upend the constitution and prevent the peaceful transfer of power in the future. Democracies don't always crumble as a result of violent revolution. It's often done by manipulating the law and using intimidation to ensure compliance.

The most famous example is the German Enabling Act of 1933, also known as The Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Reich. That law allowed Adolph Hitler to enact other laws, including ones that violated the Weimar Constitution, without the approval of either parliament or Reich President Paul von Hindenburg, effectively making Hitler a dictator. Through some adroit maneuvering and the detention of certain members of the Parliament, he was able to gain the two-thirds majority required and the courts all went along with it. The rest, as they say, is history.

Donald Trump is no Hitler, of course. He is not that clever. But he does have some of the same impulses, particularly when it comes to seizing power.

This week we learned, through the new Woodward and Costa book "Peril," that one of Donald Trump's closest legal advisers, a law professor by the name of John Eastman, had prepared a memorandum to serve as guidance for the Vice President to overturn the election on January 6th. The memo laid out a six-point plan:

First: The Vice President begins the counting with the state of Alabama as usual.

Second: When Pence gets to Arizona, he sets the electoral votes aside under the premise that there was an alternate set of electors that had been submitted. Likewise, he also sets aside the votes of Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Mexico under the false assertion that they too had sent alternate Trump electors. (They had not.)

Third: Pence then declares that the alternate states will not be included and since Trump then "won" the remaining votes, he has been reelected.

At that point he predicted the Democrats would "howl" and Pence would then compromise and decree that the vote could go to the House as the constitution allows in case of a tie. This would simply confirm a Trump victory since the Republicans controlled 26 out of 50 state delegations. Easy Peasy.

The remaining two points regarded commissioning Ted Cruz or Rand Paul to ensure that the filibuster remained intact so they could at least create a "stalemate" and allow states "more time to weigh in to formally support the alternate slate of electors." (This explains the frantic calls by Rudy Giuliani and Trump even as the insurrection was in full effect to Senator Tommy Tuberville, R-AL exhorting him to "try to just slow it down so we can get these legislatures to get more information to you.")

But most importantly, Eastman insisted that Pence not ask anyone for permission to do any of this and instead just declare that he had the authority and that was that. The course for Trump's dictatorship would be set.

As we know, however, Pence dithered about all this before eventually asking former Vice President Dan Quayle what he should do. Quayle told him he had to follow the Constitution and perform his ceremonial duty as all previous Vice Presidents have done in this situation. (If his conscience didn't already tell him that he needs to turn in his little American flag pin and enter another line of business.)

What we didn't know until now was that this memo was circulated in January to some of Trump's staunchest Republican defenders in Congress, Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Utah Senator Mike Lee, both of whom took it very seriously and had their top expert staff members look it over. They concluded that it was unconstitutional and in Graham's words, "third grade."

I guess we should be grateful that Trump's lawyers were so lame because it's quite clear that if they had been able to legally engineer this coup more professionally, people like Graham and Lee might very well have gone along with it. How do we know this? Because even though there was no evidence of voter fraud in the election, they didn't dismiss the idea out of hand. They were apparently open to the idea that Pence really could overturn the election on January 6th. They're both lawyers. They're both conversant with the Constitution and, more importantly, with the concept of democracy in which the loser of the election accepts the results and bows out gracefully. And yet they didn't object publicly to Trump's Big Lie until thousands of rioters stormed the Capitol. Of course, there were dozens of other Republican officials also saying there were reasons to "investigate" and pushing various aspects of the Big Lie as well. But these two knew what Trump was trying to do and they said nothing.

The lawyer who came up with this mad plot, John Eastman, gave a speech at the insurrection rally that told the whole story. In fact, one might even suggest it was the primary inspiration for the riot. He said he had petitions before the Supreme Court and he babbled a litany of false voter fraud claims before ending with this:

All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at 1:00 he let the legislators of the states look into this so we get to the bottom of it, and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government, or not. We no longer live in a self governing republic if we can't get the answer to this question. This is bigger than President Trump. It is a very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it, does not deserve to be in the office. It is that simple.


I don't know if he believed that or if he's just a Trump partisan willing to win by any means necessary. But it doesn't really matter. This was a coup attempt. It was unsuccessful, but only because of the sloppiness with which it was put together, not because of the attempt itself. The Big Lie has since metastasized, largely at the hands of Republican officials who believe it will be useful to them in trying to regain power. Does anyone think that a more elegant "Enabling Act" wouldn't be supported by most of them?

Trump's greatest legacy may end being the fellow who showed Republicans just how dependent our democracy is on the goodwill and decency of the people who run it. He and his legal flunkies just left a roadmap for other unscrupulous authoritarians to follow.

Trump quietly unleashes his mob

There's been a ton of reporting and analysis on Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's new book, "Peril", most of it focusing on the final days of the Trump administration — which by all accounts were even more of a chaotic mess than we could see from the outside (and we saw plenty). The bizarre antics from the president and his henchmen regarding the election results were unprecedented and continue to this day.

But one of the most chilling quotes from the book that I've seen so far comes from this review of the book by history professor Eric Rauchway in the Washington Post. As we knew, Vice President Mike Pence tried every way he could to come up with a rationale to do Trump's bidding and refuse to ceremonially confirm the electoral count in the joint session of Congress on January 6th. On that morning, before the fateful rally that inspired the insurrection, Pence came to the White House to reluctantly tell his boss that he just didn't have the power to do that under the Constitution:

Gesturing at some of his supporters already gathered and shouting outside the White House, Trump asked, "Well, what if these people say you do?

When Pence demurred again, Trump mused, "wouldn't it almost be cool to have that power?"

As Rauchway points out, "the president was willing to find authority in the mob if he lacked it in the law." It's entirely possible that if the mob had succeeded in finding House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or the vice president or had been able to corner some of those elected officials in the Capitol that day, Trump would have gone along with it. All the recent books, including "Peril" have Trump watching the event unfold and being unmoved by exhortations to step in from everyone from his daughter Ivanka to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, to whom he reportedly said, "well, Kevin, I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are."

That comment about the mob conferring the power to overturn the election results got me thinking about the timeline on Jan. 6 and it occurs to me that Trump only issued his pathetic video in which he said he loved the gathered rioters but implored them to go on home once it became clear that all the officials had gotten away safely and there was no longer any chance his supporters would succeed in finding them. He had waited to see if they could physically force the Congress to overturn the election.

As predicted, the "Justice forJ6" rally last Saturday was a non-event. More media showed up than protesters, largely because the organizer has no talent for organizing and the word on all right-wing social media was that the FBI was going to arrest everyone. As I noted earlier, Trump himself said it was a "set-up." But in case anyone wondered where he stood on the premise of this rally, which is that the federal authorities are unjustly holding peaceful protesters as political prisoners, he left no doubt when he issued his statement in solidarity. "Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice."

ABC's Jonathan Karl reported on "This Week" that when he's interviewed Trump for his new book, it's clear that Trump has no regrets:

I was absolutely dumbfounded at how fondly he looks back on January 6th. He thinks it was a great day. He thinks it was one of the greatest days of his time in politics.

Trump is still flouting the law and openly condoning the violent insurrection. As Rauchway said, he "finds authority in the mob." He's always engaged in lurid rhetoric and has nudged his followers and police to beat protesters and the like. But starting with his calls to "liberate" states that were trying to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, he has been backing insurrectionist and vigilante activity. And his followers are listening.

We've seen threats and intimidation against government workers and public health officials for months. Congressional representatives are under constant threat having to hire private security and bodyguards. We are starting to see violence in everyday interactions between local officials and their constituents. School board meetings have become fraught with locals citizens yelling at officials that they know where they live and they will find them. Last week GOP Congressman Anthony Gonzales announced that he would not run for reelection in Ohio because ever since he voted to impeach Donald Trump after the insurrection he and his family have needed security due of the risk of violence from Trump supporters. Trump quickly put out a statement indicating his elation at the success of that intimidation:

The 9 he refers to are the other Republicans who voted to impeach him. He is using the "authority of the mob" to chase his perceived enemies in the GOP out of politics and to send a message to all the other Republicans that they will be subject to the same treatment if they cross him.

All the recent polls show Trump is as popular as ever with Republicans. His obsessive attention to his Big Lie seems to have hardened their attitudes with more of them believing he was cheated than believed it last January. The vast majority of his voters have lost faith in the electoral system to deliver a fair result and will likely not accept anything but a victory going forward, particularly if Donald Trump is on the ballot.

Rauchway's review of "Peril" features an unexpected insight into President Biden's view of Trumpism. He writes:

Biden regards the -ism, not the man, as the real threat; Trump put the nation in peril because he evoked and organized a darkness that was already there.

That darkness isn't going away. It is energized and stimulated by the strong threat of violence that is running through our politics. Like its leader Trump, it sees the "authority in the mob" as the best way to preserve its dominance in a culture it believes is slipping away. Biden is right that Trump is not the real threat. The threat is the violent beast he has unleashed and there isn't any obvious way to put it back in its cage.

Pro-Trump rally may be a dud — but that proves the power of the Big Lie

In anticipation of another gathering of Trump followers at the U.S. Capitol on Saturday, the various law enforcement agencies aren't taking any chances. The fences are back up and officials have called for back-up from local police; the National Guard has already gone out. The rallygoers are gathering to protest the prosecution and incarceration of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6th. Organizers claim they are being held as political prisoners in cruel conditions, so one can understand why the authorities are concerned.

Most observers of extremist forums seem to think this so-called "Justice for J6" event isn't going to be very well-attended. Law enforcement reckons maybe 700 people will show up. This is not all that surprising since the organizer Matt Braynard, a former Trump campaign official, has told those who show that will not be allowed to wear their usual MAGA costumes or carry Trump regalia, which would have been like telling Deadheads they couldn't wear tie-dye or smoke pot at a Grateful Dead concert. He took the fun right out of it for the vast majority of Trumpers.

There is, of course, the danger that some of the more violent types could attend for their own reasons. (There doesn't seem to be any prohibition against wearing military gear or Proud Boys t-shirts.) But according to NBC's Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny, the word has gone forth on extremist Facebook groups and forums such as TheDonald and 4chan that the whole thing is a "false flag" or a "honeypot" by the government designed to bring more patriots to Washington so they can be arrested and thrown into the dungeons with the other "political prisoners."

Brayand responds that those people are the real false flag and these comments are being planted to deter people from protesting the supposed stolen election and the government's ill-treatment of the supposedly innocent protesters of January 6th. There seems to be a lack of trust among the paranoid extremists these days. Go figure.

Perhaps most importantly, no big names or MAGA stars will be attending, not even attention hogs like Congressional Reps Matt Gaetz, R-Fl, or Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga. Trump himself was thought to be ignoring the whole thing until Thursday when he sent out a statement of support:

Our hearts and minds are with the people being persecuted so unfairly relating to the January 6th protest concerning the Rigged Presidential Election. In addition to everything else, it has proven conclusively that we are a two-tiered system of justice. In the end, however, JUSTICE WILL PREVAIL!

He also told The Federalist in an agitated interview that he too believes the rally to be a "set-up." But predictably his view is that if a big crowd shows up it will be an excuse for the media to "harass" the protesters and if only a few show up they'll say it makes him look bad. (His direct quote was"if people don't show up they'll say, 'Oh, it's a lack of spirit.')

Always in fear of offending his followers, Trump's trying to have it both ways. Not that there's anything new about that.

In the new book "Peril" by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, when former House Speaker Paul Ryan demanded that Trump denounce white supremacy in the wake of Charlottesville, Trump reportedly responded, "These people love me. These are my people. I can't backstab the people who support me." Evidently, he somehow came to believe that by saying Nazis are bad, but there were "very fine people on both sides," that he had successfully covered his bases.

He really needn't worry, of course. His people are still with him — now more than ever.

According to a new CNN survey, 63% of all respondents believe Biden "legitimately won enough votes to win the presidency." That's a shockingly low number since it's obvious that Biden legitimately won and normally this isn't even in question. But even more shocking is the fact that 78% of Republicans don't believe it. That's up from 70% a few months ago. In other words the Big Lie isn't dissipating. It's gaining steam.

The Public Religion Research Institute also released a poll that asked who people blame for the January 6th insurrection. 56% of those surveyed hold Trump responsible. Republicans? 15%.

The CNN poll asked if people feel democracy is under attack or is being tested and 93% agreed that it was one or the other. Of course, they are right. The problem is that Republicans believe that it's Democrats who are doing it when the truth is the opposite. Most distressing is a fatalistic attitude among Democrats who, after seeing Republican partisans change voting rules and pass laws suppressing votes all over the country, are coming to believe that elections will not reflect the will of the people. 90% believed they would in January. It's down to 69% today and for good reason.

Despite no evidence of fraud and two previous audits of the 2020 election, this week Pennsylvania Republicans issued subpoenas for the names, addresses, driver's license numbers and the last four digits of Social Security numbers for millions of people who cast ballots in the primary and general election last year. What can they possibly do with that information? It's hard to see this as anything more than another attempt to undermine confidence in democracy.

And I doubt most Democrats are even aware of the former president latest nefarious activity. As CNN's Daniel Dale pointed out, Trump's endorsement this week of Rep. Mark Finchem for Arizona Secretary of State is the latest in a series of moves to place Big Lie supporters into those crucial positions ahead of the 2024 election. This was the third such supporter he's endorsed in a battleground state — the other two are Michigan and Georgia.

This isn't just Trump rewarding his loyal followers. This is a strategic plan. Secretaries of State run elections. No wonder Americans are losing faith in democracy. It's being actively undermined before their very eyes.

This weekend's rally at the Capitol may turn out to be a dud. But it would be a mistake to think that the air has gone out of the Big Lie or the MAGA movement. Trump is making sure to take care of his base and they still love him for it. And in the meantime, he and his henchmen are working overtime to ensure that elections are in the hands of those who will take care of him in return.

California recall comes down to Donald Trump

The absurd recall election to replace California's Democratic governor, Gavin Newsom, is upon us. All registered voters in California were sent mail-in ballots weeks ago and Tuesday is the last day for people to either turn them in or vote in person. So far, turnout has been much better than anyone expected for this weirdly timed special election. That bodes well for Governor Newsom in a state in which Democrats outnumber Republicans 2-1. As of last week, 56% of returned ballots were from registered Democrats and about a quarter from registered Republicans. And it does not appear that many of those ballots came from disgruntled Democrats.

The last Los Angeles Times poll found 60.1% of likely voters surveyed oppose recalling Newsom compared with 38.5% in favor. That's ten points higher than the same poll had the "No" vote in July and close to his 62% - 38% victory in 2018. Most other polls are in the same ballpark, showing Newsom getting well above 50%, which is what it will take for him to survive. It's certainly possible that the Republicans could still pull this off with a massive surge of same-day voting that includes many unhappy Independents and angry Democrats who are not being caught in the polling, but it will be a tough lift.

The big question is: What turned this around for Newsom?

After a very complacent spring in which Democrats (including yours truly) assumed the recall wasn't going anywhere, the polling started to look scary during the summer. The analysis at the time was that Democrats just weren't engaged while the Republicans were champing at the bit to oust a Democratic governor in a big blue state. So Newsom and the party put together a major operation with a massive ad buy. (This is, unfortunately, necessary in California which has a very media-dependent political culture.)

Newsom's team started off with positive ads during the summer, highlighting the positive results of the Governor's pandemic policy including one-time cash payments of $1,100 he proposed in his budget. But as his numbers began to sink, they relied much more heavily on negative ads, ramping up to a full-court press against GOP pandemic policies in the final month. They denounced radio talk show host Larry Elder, the Republican "front-runner" to replace him, informing people about his far-right, extremist views. But they also went after the Republicans generally, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Texas Governor Greg Abbot, along with the big kahuna, Donald Trump. The Newsom campaign raised the specter of Republican governance in dark and threatening terms.

The Atlantic's Ron Brownstein points to an explicit emphasis on the pandemic response as being the key to Newsom's improved chances of survival. He quotes Oscar Lopez, the political director of the 700,000 member SEIU, who says that organizers in the field are finding that voters are most responsive to messaging that highlights the GOP candidate pledges to band mask mandates and repeal vaccine requirements for teachers and school staff. Brownstein reports that concern is reflected in the polling:

A late-August survey by the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California tested an idea that goes beyond even the mandates Newsom has imposed so far: requiring proof of vaccination to enter "large outdoor gatherings" or "restaurants, bars, and gyms." Almost exactly three-fourths of state residents who have taken shots (including more than two-fifths of the vaccinated Republicans) supported such a mandate, according to detailed results PPIC provided to The Atlantic. More than 90 percent of Californians who have not been vaccinated opposed such requirements. But because more than four-fifths of all adults in California have received at least one shot, that division translated into a solid 62 percent overall majority support for such a "vaccine passport" mandate.

If Californians are paying attention, they will have seen many Republican governors' immediate hysterical reaction over President Biden's executive orders last week requiring companies over 100 to require employees to either get vaccinated or get tested once a week. It's reasonable to assume that will only reinforce their intention to vote no on the recall if they haven't already done so. The partisan divide on the pandemic response is stark.

Brownstein makes the case that Newsom's strategy may be a template for some of the other off-year elections. The polling in the 2021 Virginia and New Jersey Governor's races shows a similar response to Republican resistance to COVID mitigation strategies. The connecting of Republican candidates to Trump and other national Republicans who are hostile to the vaccines might just carry on into the 2022 cycle.

In fact, this points to a larger strategy that one hopes Democratic candidates will see and emulate going forward. While it is vitally important to educate voters about accomplishments and a positive agenda if it hasn't been obvious before it should be crystal clear now that we are in a period of such severe polarization that everything depends upon getting base voters and Democratic-leaning Independents to turn out. And that requires highlighting the very real threat of a Republican takeover.

In the past, the president's party tended to go to sleep and forget to vote in the midterms but there is no room for such complacency anymore. Republicans are so far gone that they are coddling extremist insurrectionists and allowing thousands of people to die needlessly by catering to the minority's refusal to do what's necessary. They must do what Newsom is doing: Eschew happy talk and instead engage in the political fight.

It would have been more difficult if the Republicans had put Donald Trump behind them. But he is still the undisputed leader of the GOP and will no doubt be campaigning and riling up the MAGA base all over the country next year. But he and the Republicans won't be able to count upon those suburban voters who tend to vote in midterms because they despise Trump and are petrified of the DeSantis/Abbott wing of the Republican party who have treated the pandemic as a lethal partisan weapon. It's going to be very hard for Republicans to win without them.

Democrats must remind them and the rest of their base exactly what's at stake and they must ignore the political establishment and the media which will demand that they deliver a "positive" message insisting that negative campaigning turns people off. For better or worse, this is an era of negative partisanship in which fear and loathing of the other party is the prime motivation for political involvement. Ignoring that reality is dangerous political malpractice.

Desperate Trump turns to Robert E. Lee to rehab his own mangled reputation

As we commemorate the 20th anniversary of 9/11 this weekend it's hard not to think of how different everything would have been over these past two decades if it had never happened. The attacks changed America in some fundamental ways and I'm not sure we've ever fully grappled with it. Our government responded in a primitive, unthinking way and unearthed an enduring weakness in our national character that continues to haunt us to this day.

This article was originally published at Salon

We should have known that when Dick Cheney, the vice president at the time, appeared on television just days after the attacks and announced that the country would have to go to "the dark side" and "use any means at our disposal" that we were going down an immoral path that would lead us to an ignominious end. And it did.

Spencer Ackerman, author of "Reign of Terror: How the 9/11 Era Destabilized America and Produced Trump" makes the case in his book that the ongoing war on terror primed the country for MAGA nihilism and violence by demonizing Muslims and "the decadent left" which Trump successfully capitalized on in his run in 2016. I think there's something to that.

Trump instinctively understood the undercurrent of racist violence that was electrified when he "took off the gloves" and he used it to great effect, spending hours on the campaign trail repeating lurid details of alleged deviant criminality by immigrants and insisting that torture works, gleefully promising to do more of it with descriptive detail. One of his greatest hits was endorsing an apocryphal story about General Blackjack Pershing dipping bullets in pig's blood before he summarily executed Muslim prisoners in the first World War. His campaign was drenched in violent rhetoric and yet somehow the fact that he had read the polls and determined that the "forever wars" were unpopular — and unwittingly appropriated the isolationist slogan of the pre-WWII era, "American First" — he got a reputation as some kind of anti-war pacifist. Recall that New York Times writer Maureen Dowd even characterized him as "Donald the Dove" in one notorious column.

His followers, of course, never believed it. Trump was a bloodthirsty leader, and they knew one when they saw one. He was just going to wage his war at home — and that suited them just fine.

As it turned out, this left Trump with a conundrum as president. He actually saw himself as a great warrior leader but he couldn't pull the trigger on a big military adventure. I always suspected that it was because he was justifiably insecure about which way to turn and relied on his 2016 promise to keep from having to test himself in that way. Instead he talked loudly and carried a small stick. At one point in 2019 during a joint appearance with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, he said:

"If we wanted to fight a war in Afghanistan and win it, I could win that war in a week. I just don't want to kill 10 million people. I have plans on Afghanistan that, if I wanted to win that war, Afghanistan would be wiped off the face of the Earth. It would be gone. It would be over in — literally, in 10 days. And I don't want to do — I don't want to go that route."

For all his chillingly inane bluster, he clearly didn't have a firm grip on national security and foreign policy, consistently falling back on stale bromides about trade and antagonizing allies he knew were no threat while kissing up to tyrants and dictators. He constantly fought with his military advisers, seeing them as "losers" who didn't know how to win wars, but never really had the nerve to do what he always threatened to do which was unleash the full might of the U.S. military. (Thank God!)

Now that he is out of office, ensconced in temporary exile at one of his resort palaces, anticipating his full return to campaigning, he is busily re-writing the story of his presidency to fit the current facts. Early in the process he took credit for negotiating the withdrawal with the Taliban and insisted that Biden was dragging his feet. In April, he said, "Getting out of Afghanistan is a wonderful and positive thing to do. I planned to withdraw on May 1st, and we should keep as close to that schedule as possible." He boasted two months later, "I started the process. All the troops are coming back home. They couldn't stop the process."

Then during the chaotic final days in Kabul last month, he frantically shifted his posture.

As Trump saw the right revert to its warmongering ways, he saw the opportunity to airbrush his involvement and pretend that he had the war "won" until Biden surrendered. He said that the situation was not acceptable and demanded that President Biden "resign in disgrace for what he has allowed to happen to Afghanistan." Babbling incessantly about the mostly defunct military equipment left behind, he declared that if the Taliban didn't return it, "we should either go in with unequivocal Military force and get it, or at least bomb the hell out of it."

Now, during this week of commemoration of 9/11 and the beginning of that misbegotten war from which we have finally, painfully, withdrawn military troops, Trump has outdone himself.

On the occasion of the removal of the statue of Robert E. Lee from the capital of Virginia, he managed to thread together his grotesquely racist impulses, his embarrassing ignorance of history and his incompetent national security and foreign policy leadership all in one stunningly stupid statement:

"Robert E. Lee is considered by many Generals to be the greatest strategist of them all. President Lincoln wanted him to command the North, in which case the war would have been over in one day. Robert E. Lee instead chose the other side because of his great love of Virginia, and except for Gettysburg, would have won the war ... If only we had Robert E. Lee to command our troops in Afghanistan, that disaster would have ended in a complete and total victory many years ago. What an embarrassment we are suffering because we don't have the genius of a Robert E. Lee!"

That is the very stable genius who has the entire Republican party on its knees begging for his favor.

I don't know if Spencer Ackerman is correct to say that the War on Terror "produced" Donald Trump. But it certainly did rouse some of the violent, lizard brain racism and ignorance that's never very far from the surface of our culture. And nobody in this country better personifies that violent, lizard brain racism and ignorance than Donald Trump.

Republicans got wiped out the last time they ran a 'war on women'

Back in 2012, Republicans were on one of their tears against women's rights, thinking that it was the ticket to win the election and oust President Barack Obama from office. They decided to attack contraception, confirming once again that their alleged love for the fetus was really all about restricting reproductive freedom.

The U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held committee hearings and insulted the women who testified about the medical need for contraception. Rush Limbaugh grossly derided one of them on his national radio show, calling a woman named Sandra Fluke a "slut" who is "having so much sex she [couldn't] afford her own birth control pills ... having so much sex, it's amazing she can still walk." Ever the classy fellow, Limbaugh added, "If we are going to pay for your contraceptives, and thus pay for you to have sex, we want something for it, and I'll tell you what it is. We want you to post the videos online so we can all watch." (And that was just for starters.) One of their top donors, Foster Freiss, went on television and claimed that in his day, a woman just used aspirin for birth control — by putting it between her knees. Haha! And perhaps the most famous quote of that entire campaign season came from a GOP Senate candidate from Missouri named Todd Akin who was asked about his stance that rape and incest survivors should be forced to bear the child of their rapist and said this:

Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.

He later walked back the biologically illiterate comment (and then walked back the walk-back two years later) but it was too late. The Republican "War on Women" was a decisive factor in Obama's re-election and the Democrats gained seats in both the Senate and the House that year.

Republicans famously performed an electoral "autopsy" after that election in which, among other things, they acknowledged that their reputation as witless misogynists was hurting the party's image. But the party completely ignored that analysis and went on to elect Donald Trump, a man credibly accused of numerous sexual assaults who was even caught on tape crudely bragging about it.

And as you have no doubt heard, despite their losses in the last two elections, they are at it again.

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Aided by the Trump Court majority of far-right conservative Catholic justices, the state of Texas passed a law banning abortion after 6 weeks with no exception for rape or incest. And the Governor of Texas decided to emulate the great examples of Akin, Limbaugh and Freiss by demonstrating his ignorance of human biology, saying that rape victims will have "at least" 6 weeks to get an abortion (not true, and absurd on its face) and then issuing this fatuous declaration he apparently believed would be reassuring to assault victims:

Let's make something very clear, rape is a crime, and Texas will work tirelessly to make sure that we eliminate all rapists from the streets of Texas by aggressively going out and arresting them and prosecuting them and getting them off the streets. So, goal number one in the state of Texas is to eliminate rape, so that no woman no person will be a victim of rape."

What a great solution. I wonder why they didn't think of this before?

This time the party has gotten very creative with this new law in which they are turning private citizens into vigilantes and bounty hunters in order to circumvent federal jurisdiction, And you can expect this clever gambit to become law in many Republican-led states. South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem is considering a similar law and went a step further by issuing an executive order restricting telemedicine abortions and abortion medication. Florida's Ron DeSantis said he's going to take a look at it and the Florida legislature is already moving on it.

The Wall Street Journal profiled the Machiavellian legal thinker who came up with the idea to enforce the abortion ban through the civil courts by enlisting the public to file suit. His name is Jonathan F. Mitchell, a former clerk for Justice Antonin Scalia who worked for former Texas Governor Rick Perry and was tapped for a position with the Trump administration but his nomination never came up for a vote. He is also, of course, heavily involved with the Federalist Society. According to the WSJ:

In 2018, Mr. Mitchell drafted "The Writ-of-Erasure Fallacy," a Virginia Law Review article that articulated the legal theories that would eventually find their way into the Texas abortion law. The article was a deep dive into the subject of judicial review and raised the idea that when a court rules a statute unconstitutional, the law isn't erased from the books and could be modified to allow for "private enforcement." He described how laws could be constructed to "enable private litigants to enforce a statute even after a federal district court has enjoined the executive from enforcing it," without going in-depth about the applicability to abortion laws.

Ed Kilgore at NY Magazine reports that Mitchell worked with an anti-abortion extremist pastor in east Texas named Mark Lee Dickson who promoted the idea of towns calling themselves "sanctuaries for the unborn" and giving citizens the power to legally harass providers, including pharmacies that sell Plan B contraceptives. Mitchell and Dickson did a trial run of this legal strategy in Lubbock, Texas where a federal judge ruled that he had no power to enjoin private citizens. That success laid the groundwork for the state law that the Supreme Court majority washed its hands of last week.

None of this really all that unprecedented, as Kilgore noted:

The idea is reminiscent of the White Citizens' Council model of fighting desegregation during the Civil Rights era: Once defeated in the courts, white supremacists switched to nonofficial harassment of civil rights workers, threats of terrorism, and essentially (white) community-based civil disobedience.

Unfortunately, this time the Supreme Court is on the wrong side of history and the state governments are using this legal end run to, as Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his dissent, "avoid responsibility for its laws." It's a very neat trick but one that could end up being too clever by half if Republicans continue to repeat their mistake in believing that everyone in America is as primitively misogynist as they are. One gets the sense that some of them, at least, understand this.

The silence from most national GOP officials has been deafening. Unfortunately, there's not much they can do about it. By empowering fanatics in the states to go their own way, they've completely lost control of the issue.

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