Jim Jordan sends Republicans on a wild goose chase

If you need proof that the Republican Party is fully in the hands of far-right extremists, look no further than the case of Congressman Jim Jordan.

The Ohio Republican, first elected in 2006, is the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Jordan has been a right-wing bomb thrower and ruthless partisan street fighter from the start. An early endorser of the Tea Party and a founder of the hardcore austerity crusaders the Freedom Caucus, Jordan was always at the center of the obstructionist tactics during the Obama years. He then ran interference for Donald Trump during his many scandals. From Tea Party to Freedom Caucus to MAGA, for the last 16 years, Jim Jordan has been the quintessential far-right Republican, in whatever permutation that is at a given time.

Jordan was involved in the efforts to oust former GOP Speaker John Boehner as a member of the Freedom Caucus, causing Boehner to dub him a "legislative terrorist" which is a very accurate description of his tactics. And he led unsuccessful efforts to do the same to his successor Paul Ryan. Jordan was part of the plots in both 2011 and 2013 to shut down the government and hold the debt ceiling hostage in order to force spending cuts and repeal Obamacare. But his specialty has always been his vicious questioning of Democrats as a member of the House Judiciary and Oversight committees.

Back in 2015, for instance, he angrily harangued Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards about a formal apology she made on behalf of the organization insisting that it wasn't good enough. And who can forget his grilling of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the famous 11-hour marathon interrogation about the Benghazi attacks in 2015? He accused her of lying, suggesting that she personally tried to cover up the attacks because the Libya mission was supposed to look like a big success. In both of those cases, the women he attacked more than held their own but Jordan was hailed as a hero on the right for doing it.

During the Trump years, he was out front as a full-blown Trump accomplice in everything he tried to do from pushing for the impeachment of the acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein over the Mueller Investigation to leading the congressional defense against Trump's two impeachments. He was so close to Trump that he spoke with him personally for 10 minutes on the morning of January 6th and then refused to honor a subpoena from the J6 Committee seeking to question him about what they said. (His close ally Kevin McCarthy actually had the nerve to try to place him on that committee prompting then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to veto the choice, for obvious reasons.)

As chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Jordan will be leading a potential impeachment of the Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas simply because they just have to impeach some people and he seems to be the first in line. Jordan already issued subpoenas to Joe Biden's administration demanding documents for an investigation into the government's alleged treatment of parents as "terrorists" (which is completely nonsense) when it issued directives to look into people who were threatening school officials with violence over mask mandates and imaginary Critical Race Theory curriculum. (Republicans apparently believe such behavior falls under the rubric of "parental rights.")

That is the first salvo in what Jordan has promised will be his mission. He plans to take on the Department of Justice, which the Republicans believe is a hotbed of woke liberal activists out to use the long arm of the law to silence conservatives wherever they are found. To that end, they have formed the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government which Jordan will personally oversee. They've already begun their investigations by interviewing a former FBI agent who was fingered by an unnamed whistleblower to have been at the center of a liberal cabal that's out to get Republicans. According to CNN, Matt Gaetz was involved in the questioning which indicates how credible this investigation is already since he has personally been the subject of a serious DOJ investigation for which he asked former president Trump for a pardon.

This subcommittee will "be authorized to receive information available to the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence," giving it access to the most closely held secrets of the U.S. government, which is slightly terrifying. Considering the Republican proclivity for projection, it's almost certain that they will do exactly what they are accusing the Department of Justice of doing.

Despite the crude partisanship and conspiracy-mongering that already defined the judiciary committee under Jordan, he is reportedly attempting to present himself as some sort of fair-minded moderate who is deeply committed to maintaining the committee's credibility. CNN reported on the first meeting of the so-called "weaponization" committee:

Rather than issuing a series of partisan attack lines about the so-called "Deep State," Jordan took a low-key approach – handing out binders of reading materials and cautioning members to be meticulous about who they haul in for interviews, a source familiar with the meeting told CNN. "We're going to try to get all the facts on the table for the American people, because that's always the first step," Jordan told CNN after the Jan. 27 meeting.

Jordan can try to project the image of a serious investigation but it's not going to work.

Consider what has just been revealed about the vaunted "investigation of the investigation" by Special Counsel John Durham. He and former Attorney General Bill Barr also set up the pretense of running a sober inquiry when it's now clear they were on a snipe hunt to prove that poor Donald Trump was the victim of a Deep State conspiracy. Jordan and his henchmen are taking up the same mission — and it's likely to fail in exactly the same way.

Before the election, Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., spoke to Politico about what to expect from Jim Jordan in the new Congress. He said:

"Jim sort of had several roles: You know, point man for spreading right wing poison. You know, cheap underminer of prominent Democrats, character assassin. Those are his skill sets that he would bring to whatever the status of the Republicans is in the new Congress. But legislating, working across the aisle, are not among those skills."

Being a serious, thoughtful leader of a credible bipartisan investigation are not among his skills either. The idea that he is suddenly transformed into a statesman along the lines of Frank Church, who led the investigations into the Intelligence agencies back in the 1970s, is simply ludicrous. But I suppose by today's standards he's probably the best they can hope for. Jim Jordan is now what passes as a respected member of the GOP establishment.

A monstrous abuse of power

One of the most mysterious chapters of former Attorney General Bill Barr's tenure at the Department of Justice got a little sunlight last week when the New York Times published a deeply reported piece on the Durham Investigation, Donald Trump's "investigation of the Mueller investigation." We knew that Special Counsel John Durham, a man whose reputation was one of seriousness and rectitude, had only brought two prosecutions but failed to win convictions in both. And we knew that there had been turmoil in his office with several people resigning at what seemed to be pivotal moments in the case. But, until now, we didn't know the details — and they are explosive.

The Times story, reported by Charlie Savage, Adam Goldman and Katie Benner, essentially reveals that the investigation which was supposed to blow the lid off of the Russia investigation by proving that it was a "partisan witch hunt," was itself a witch hunt — only on behalf of Trump. Barr was enabling and covering for Trump throughout his tenure as we saw with his preemptive press conference to diminish the Mueller Report and mislead the public as to its conclusions and his willingness to back Trump's strategy to discredit Vote-By Mail during the 2020 campaign. Even when he finally deserted the sinking ship in December of 2020, his letter of resignation showered Trump with praise even as he knew he was plotting to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power. But the Durham investigation was his personal project and it turns out that it was a monstrous abuse of power.

The whole point of naming a Special Counsel is to remove the taint of political interference by keeping a distance between the politically appointed Attorney General and the investigation. Barr did not do that. In fact, he directly participated in the probe by traveling overseas to the United Kingdom and Italy with Durham to interrogate their intelligence officials about whether they helped American investigators frame Trump which apparently offended them to no end since they did nothing of the sort. Durham and Barr became bosom buddies, throwing back scotch together at the end of the work day and having dinner on a regular basis. And Barr, who was convinced that the CIA had created the whole "Russia hoax," eagerly ran interference with the Intelligence agencies for him as needed. Evidently, Durham was very taken with Barr and agreed from the get-go that Trump had been set up.

We had previously heard that Barr and Durham went to Italy on some sort of Hardy Boys expedition, but now we learn that they had been told by Italian authorities about some very credible information that Trump had committed serious financial crimes. Barr and Durham realized that it wasn't something they could completely ignore (as much as they probably wanted to) so Barr assigned that case to Durham instead of another prosecutor and opened a criminal investigation. This was then leaked to the public in a way that implied they had found evidence of criminal behavior on the part of the FBI, the intelligence agencies or possibly even Hillary Clinton. They certainly didn't let on that they were investigating Trump.

Bill Barr was enabling and covering for Trump throughout his tenure.

From what we know, Durham quietly closed that "investigation" without much fuss. Considering the rest of their behavior one can't help but suspect that he and Barr either didn't look too closely or decided that revealing Trump's crimes wasn't worth jeopardizing their crusade to expose the "deep state."

This is stunningly unethical behavior by an Attorney General. But we shouldn't be too surprised. After all, Barr got the job in the first place by sending an unsolicited letter to Trump in which he criticized the Mueller investigation by claiming that a president can't obstruct justice. In fact, Barr pretty clearly believes former president Richard Nixon's famous line "when a president does it it's not illegal" since his view, according to legal expert Marty Lederman, was that "the president has absolute constitutional authority over actions by executive branch officers in carrying out law enforcement powers given to them by Congress." If you ever wondered where Trump got the idea that the Constitution gave him the power to "do whatever I want," look no further than Bill Barr.

He and Durham colluded together for months and came up with zilch. There simply was no evidence that the FBI, DOJ, CIA or the Mueller team had done anything untoward. But that didn't stop Durham. He decided to focus on Trump's bête noire Hillary Clinton and he brought a couple of cases designed to show that she set Trump up with bogus claims of Russian collusion. That blew up in his face too. He's still in business today doing what we don't know, yet Attorney General Merrick Garland doesn't seem to be willing to pull the plug.

The Durham investigation was Barr's personal project and it turns out that it was a monstrous abuse of power.

As a New York Times op-ed by David Firestone points out, this exposè pretty much destroys Barr's attempt to rehabilitate himself with the public. He famously dissed Trump repeatedly in his January 6 Committee testimony and wrote a book in which he turns on his former boss, calling him "detached from reality" and urging Republicans not to nominate him for the presidency in 2024. But he narrows his criticism to the post-election period conveniently forgetting the previous four years of incompetence, corruption and mental instability which Barr encouraged. It's a little too little and way too late.

Unfortunately, while Barr's lame attempt at rehabilitation may have finally been put on ice by these latest revelations, the conspiracy theories that fueled it have not. As Firestone notes:

Republicans in the House are launching a new snipe hunt for proof that these same government offices were "weaponized" against conservatives, an expedition that is likely to be no more effective than Mr. Durham's and Mr. Barr's.

In fact, now that I think about it, this might be the one thing that will make Bill Barr and John Durham look good by comparison. These House extremists will air every half baked, fever dream of twitter randos and QAnon weirdos in public hearings and present them as facts. At least Barr and Durham mostly kept their conspiracy theories to themselves over scotch and prime rib. That's about the best you can say for them

DeSantis gets under Trump's skin — and distracts him from the Big Lie

He's back and angrier than ever.

I'm talking about Trump, of course. In what is being billed as his first official event since he announced his run for the 2024 GOP nomination, Trump said so himself:

"They said he's not doing rallies, he is not campaigning. Maybe he's lost his step. I'm more angry now and I'm more committed now than ever."

He was referring to the fact that most of the media have been commenting on his lackluster performance ever since that boring announcement speech more than two months ago. The growing consensus is that he's lost his mojo. So when he scheduled two small events this past weekend, first in New Hampshire at the annual GOP meeting and then at South Carolina's Capitol building, both before crowds of about 400 people each, it reinforced that assumption. Gone were the days when he would land in his shiny Trump jet or Air Force one to rapturous crowds numbering in the tens of thousands. Now he's just another Republican presidential hopeful hanging around diners and glad-handing the local officials.

His speeches in these two early voting states were vintage Trump rants including many greatest hits. He even did the tired riff on how windmills are killing all the birds, adding a flourish that they're also killing planes and oceans which is a bit baffling. He complained about the border, of course, even reprising the line about how they're sending murderers and rapists and bragged that he'd come up with the word "caravan" to fearmonger about people seeking asylum. He rambled on about "renegotiating" the debt with China, making no more sense today on that subject than he did back in 2016.

The most interesting aspect of Trump's emergence back onto the campaign trail: He seems to have forgotten the Big Lie.

Trump's clearly has been working on new material as well.

He complained about "mandatory stoves" and gave an especially tart riff on electric cars that is sure to thrill his fan Elon Musk to no end:

"The cars go for like two hours. What are you going to do? Everyone's going to be sitting on the highway. We're all going to be looking for a little plug-in. Does anybody have a plug-in? My car just stopped. I've been driving for an hour and 51 minutes. It's ridiculous."

That would be his update of the "hard to flush" toilet line he loved so much in the 2020 campaign.

This new one's probably not going to make it into the act:

He was all-in on the latest culture war obsessions, thundering, "We're going to stop the left-wing radical racists and perverts who are trying to indoctrinate our youth, and we're going to get their Marxist hands off of our children --- we're going to defeat the cult of gender ideology and reaffirm that god created two genders called men and women." That got the crowd very aroused.

Of course, he attacked Biden as one would expect. But his inevitable stab at Biden's son Hunter was downright weird:

He went on about the "witch hunts" against him for some time and deployed the new House GOP jargon — "weaponization of government" — to declare that he plans to finally "drain the swamp" and fire massive numbers of federal employees when he takes office to ensure that this can never happen again. He whined about the Mar-a-Lago warrant claiming that the National Archives are a "radical left" agency. The usual.

All of that breathless horse race coverage also omitted the most salient fact about Trump: He planned a coup and incited an insurrection.

Probably the most disturbing moments, as is so often the case with Trump's campaign speeches, are his discussions of foreign policy and national security. In the days before these two speeches, he posted a video in which he said that President Biden is starting WWIII and promising to build an impenetrable dome to protect America from nuclear war if elected president:

He has said repeatedly that Russian President Vladimir Putin would never have invaded Ukraine had he remained in office. He insisted that he could simply pick up the phone and solve the conflict in 24 hours (raising the question of why he doesn't do it.) His delusional, grandiose belief in his international acumen remains intact despite the dozens of reports since he's left office, even from some of his closest aides and allies, that he was even more of an embarrassing, dangerous dolt than we could see while he was in office.

The mainstream media reported these appearances as being somewhat dull, which is fair enough. It's not as if there's any novelty in watching Trump blather on for an hour. Their big takeaway, instead, was the horse race, with endless references to a poll in New Hampshire showing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis leading Trump, and discussions about how local GOP officials aren't rushing to endorse the former president.

Trump himself made his first foray into the primary battle — but did so with reporters instead of behind the podium. He said that former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, whom he appointed as the US ambassador to the UN, called him and he told her to go with her heart, but then made sure to mention that she'd previously told him that she wouldn't run "against her president." For Desantis, Trump had harsher words:

On Saturday, Trump took his sharpest swings at DeSantis to date, accusing the governor of "trying to rewrite history" over his response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Trump said DeSantis, who has been openly skeptical about government efforts to vaccinate people against the virus, "promoted the vaccine as much as anyone." He praised governors who did not close down their states, noting that DeSantis ordered the closure of beaches and business in some parts of the state.

Trump considers DeSantis to be very disloyal. He insists that DeSantis wouldn't be a two-term governor if it weren't for him. As we know, Trump is very offended by disloyalty to him despite his total lack of loyalty to anyone else.

But for all the horse race coverage there was virtually no mention of the most interesting aspect of Trump's emergence back onto the campaign trail: He seems to have forgotten the Big Lie.

What was once the dominant theme of every speech, sometimes in tedious detail that would go on for hours, has all but disappeared. One has to assume that this is the result of the thrashing his election-denialist candidates got in the November elections. Even Trump seems to have realized that the message had penetrated as much as it was going to penetrate and nobody wants to hear about it anymore.

Perhaps most disturbingly, all that breathless horse race coverage also omitted the most salient fact about Trump: He planned a coup and incited an insurrection.

It doesn't appear that the media considers that to be particularly relevant to his candidacy, which is a stunning development. How quickly they have decided that today Donald Trump is just another Republican, standing in front of a crowd, asking them to love him.

This is the startling truth about the GOP 'establishment'

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy made good on his promise this week to exact revenge on Democrats for denying committee assignments to far-right extremists Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Paul Gosar, R-Az. He booted two California congressmen, Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, from the Select Committee on Intelligence. As Speaker, McCarthy has the power to make this move unilaterally. But he is also proposing to kick Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar off the Foreign Relations Committee, which will require a vote of the full House.

The cycle of revenge has officially begun.

It should be noted that the removal of Greene and Gosar, both of whom have addressed white nationalist gatherings and publicly advocated for the deaths of Democratic officials, was decided by a bipartisan vote by the full House. But that was an earlier, more innocent time. A golden era when death threats against Democratic colleagues were considered bad form by at least a handful of Republicans. It was all the way back in 2021, a lifetime ago. In the Republican Party of 2023, Kevin McCarthy's clown show, such behavior is rewarded with plum committee assignments while prominent critics of Donald Trump are politically sacrificed in ritual acts of retribution.

There is no difference now between McCarthy, Jim Jordan of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus founder, and Florida's Matt Gaetz, a former MAGA gadfly. They are all the Republican establishment now. And nothing illustrates that better than the relationship between the Speaker of House McCarthy and his rightwing-woman Greene, whom he vowed to never abandon:

"I will never leave that woman. I will always take care of her ... If you're going to be in a fight, you want Marjorie in your foxhole. When she picks a fight, she's going to fight until the fight's over. She reminds me of my friends from high school, that we're going to stick together all the way through."

That's an interesting thing to say about the woman who recently told a Republican audience in New York that if she had organized the January 6th Insurrection, "we would have won, not to mention it would've been armed."

The New York Times describes this new MAGA establishment this way:

Their political union — a closer and more complex one than has previously been known — helps explain how Mr. McCarthy rose to power atop a party increasingly defined by its extremes, the lengths to which he will go to accommodate those forces, and how much influence Ms. Greene and the faction she represents have in defining the agenda of the new House Republican majority.

It feels as if this has all happened overnight.

The whole Tea Party phenomenon seems sort of quaint now but it had a powerful influence on the Republican Party.

Greene was just elected to the House in 2020. She never even served when Trump was president. During his tenure, she was just an average QAnon housewife pushing conspiracy theories on Facebook. A scant two years later she's being discussed as a possible running mate for Donald Trump in 2024. How on earth did it come to this?

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Well, it was actually a long time percolating in the party.

We can go all the way back to Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, and then Barry Goldwater, Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich to see the evolution of what was once the party of Main Street into an ideologically extreme political faction. The seeds were sown all through those eras. But this new MAGA establishment is a direct outgrowth of a specific movement of the past decade or so: the Tea Party.

The whole Tea Party phenomenon seems sort of quaint now but it had a powerful influence on the Republican Party. There were a lot of rationales for its formation, springing up as it did in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, but the real impetus was the election of the first Black president which seemed to send a good number of Republicans into a frenzy of revolutionary zeal.

As is usual when a Democrat wins the White House after a GOP president has run up the national debt, Republicans suddenly claimed to be intensely concerned about deficits, spending and the size of government, which soon came to be symbolized by their rabid opposition to the Affordable Care Act. It was a heavily astroturfed movement, supported by big-money donors like the Koch Brothers, but it was a genuine grassroots movement as well, largely enabled by the right-wing media and emerging social media platforms.

Their organizing was impressive with big marches, cross-country bus tours and, once they got rolling, riotous Town Hall protests against the health care reform. And soon they were electing people to Congress carrying their message. In 2010, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Marco Rubio of Florida were both Senate Tea Party candidates. In the House, there were a number of Tea Party winners who signed something they cleverly called "The Contract From America" and went on to form the Freedom Caucus. (Founding member Jim Jordan was a back-bencher elected in 2006 who joined this new "revolutionary" movement.)

The anti-tax, government-slashing extremists are one with the revolutionary MAGA culture warriors.

The Freedom Caucus went on to engineer the ousting of the Speaker of the House John Boehner, shut down the government more than once and refused to negotiate in good faith or compromise on anything. They were drunk with power and did what they wanted damn the consequences. But then Donald Trump came along and the Freedom Caucus rebels, with their hardcore adherence to free market capitalism, global trade and slashing government programs got very, very quiet. They did get some massive tax cuts in the first year of Trump's term but they were passed by acclamation — there were suddenly no dissenters in the party on that one.

Meanwhile, the MAGA movement, under Trump, took up what was once the undercurrent of the Tea Party movement, the culture war, and brought it to center stage. No longer did anyone have to pretend that all they cared about was spending cuts. They could hate on immigrants and Black people and gays and liberals right out in the open and could do it in the crudest terms possible. Conspiracy theories were encouraged to flourish and loyalty to Trump was the only "issue" they needed to care about.

This new Congress finally brings it all to the fore. It's all come together. The anti-tax, government-slashing extremists are one with the revolutionary MAGA culture warriors. Today Speaker Kevin McCarthy embraces Freedom Caucus member and MAGA heroine Marjorie Taylor Greene while Freedom Caucus founder and MAGA leader Jim Jordan leads a crusade to "take down the deep state" and Freedom Caucus member and MAGA superstar Matt Gaetz plots ways to destroy the economy if they don't get their way. They are all one. These former gadflies and bomb throwers are the establishment now. They are the Republican Party. The metamorphosis is finally complete.

The disturbing truth about the new House GOP agenda

After spending the Trump administration cutting taxes for the wealthy and massively raising military spending, congressional Republicans are back to caterwauling about deficits. This was as predictable as the sun coming up in the morning. When Republicans are in power they give away the store and then when the Democrats are called in to clean up their mess, Republicans immediately rant and rave about government spending and the debt. This has been going on for decades and it would have been short-sighted to expect anything different from them this time.

Naturally, they're putting the safety net programs on the chopping block. The Washington Post reports:

In recent days, a group of GOP lawmakers has called for the creation of special panels that might recommend changes to Social Security and Medicare, which face genuine solvency issues that could result in benefit cuts within the next decade. Others in the party have resurfaced more detailed plans to cut costs, including by raising the Social Security retirement age to 70, targeting younger Americans who have yet to obtain federal benefits.

If that immediately brings to mind the words "Simpson-Bowles" (and makes you break out in a cold sweat) you might be like me and have PTSD from the last time this was introduced back in 2012. It didn't make it into law but only because the Freedom Caucus refused to take yes for an answer when the Obama team opened the door for some serious reductions in benefits. That wasn't the first time Democrats offered up cuts to those programs and were rebuffed. Back in 1995 when the House Republicans shut down the government to force spending cuts, Bill Clinton offered cuts to Medicare and speaker Newt Gingrich said it wasn't enough and walked away.

Opposition to any and all safety net programs is in the right's DNA.

Republicans have been trying to do away with these vital programs from the moment they were introduced. When Social Security was passed in 1935, only 2% of Democrats voted against it (ironically because it didn't go far enough) and 33% of Republicans voted against it. In those days it was out of fealty to corporate America which was appalled at the prospect of "destroying initiative, discouraging thrift and stifling responsibility." The program became popular and difficult to dislodge but Republicans never gave up. It wasn't long until the libertarian thinkers on the right were coming up with a new plan to replace the program with private investment accounts. This long-standing dream was finally formally proposed by George W. Bush in 2005 and it went down in flames. When the stock market crashed three years later in the epic financial crisis of 2008, that idea mercifully died a quiet death.

Medicare had the same trajectory. Former president Ronald Reagan helped to make his name as an opponent of Social Security and Medicare back in the early '60s. In those years before social media, he had a big hit with a spoken word record album entitled "Ronald Reagan Speaks Out Against Socialized Medicine" which came out in 1961, as the program was still in the proposal stage. He said:

One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine. It's very easy to disguise a medical program as a humanitarian project, most people are a little reluctant to oppose anything that suggests medical care for people who possibly can't afford it... it's simply an excuse to bring about what they wanted all the time: socialized medicine.

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The GOP's opposition never ceased.

When he was a congressman, vice president Mike Pence voted against Medicare Part D, the program's drug benefit, along with dozens of other Republicans. And I don't think I need to recapitulate the hysterical opposition to Obamacare, which they also claimed was a swift descent into socialist hell.

This new House majority is driven by one thing and one thing only: owning the libs.

Opposition to any and all safety net programs is in the right's DNA. The problem for them, however, is that these programs are popular so they have been unsuccessful in eliminating them altogether. So instead they've managed to protect their wealthy benefactors from having to kick in more money, which they could easily afford, to shore up the finances. If they can slowly starve the programs (and the people who depend upon them) they may just win in the long run.

What's different with the new Republican majority's plans is that there is no ideological rationale for doing it anymore.

In the past you had the likes of Reagan and Gingrich, influenced strongly by anti-communism and libertarian, free-market dogma, proposing to end these so-called entitlement programs because they were evidence of creeping socialism. In the words of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, the federal government must be shrunk to a size so small it could be drowned in the bathtub. "Small government" and "local control" were their watchwords. Today, what we have known as the modern conservative movement barely exists in any recognizable sense. They constantly throw the words "freedom" and "socialism" around, but they have no discernible meaning except as weapons in the culture war. GOP governors like Florida's Ron DeSantis require businesses to bend to his will or risk state sanction while books and topics that Republicans don't like are being officially censored by the government in public schools and universities. They are full-blown authoritarians --- their supposed "live or let live" libertarian ethos (always pretty weak in my opinion) drowned itself in the bathtub when Donald Trump came down that golden escalator.

This new House majority is driven by one thing and one thing only: owning the libs. Shutting down the government or holding the debt ceiling hostage for the ostensible purpose of lowering the deficit is just a power play to them for the purpose of showing they can do it. If they have to crash the world economy in the process, so be it.

It remains to be seen if this new House majority will use the safety net as leverage in their debt ceiling game of chicken. Donald Trump is adamantly against it because his feral instinct tells him that even attempting to do it is unpopular with older voters, his base. The fact that instead of putting it directly into their negotiations and instead creating some "special panels to look into it" suggests that even the House crazies understand that the risks are high with no chance of reward. (President Joe Biden will never sign a bill cutting these programs in an election year.) But they'll put on some kind of show for the Fox News crowd anyway. After all, if the whole point is to own the libs, the mere threat is all it takes to give their followers a thrill.

Republicans plan to make Trump earn the GOP nomination this time — and it won't be pretty

It's begun. And just as we once assumed, it's a tired re-run of 2020 with former president Donald Trump hopping from rally to rally repeating his boring recitation of the Big Lie and the perpetual "witchhunt" and "hoax" mantras. Only this time, the Republican presidential primary is starting early with what's shaping up to be a crowded field. Whether any of Trump's rivals will be able to knock him out remains to be seen — but there's no doubt they think he's weakened enough to chance it.

We've all been closely watching Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who hasn't yet made any overt moves to run but is nonetheless clearly positioning himself to do it. At the moment he is the only serious contender who still holds office which gives him the opportunity to demonstrate his right-wing bonafides. And boy is he ever doing that.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the list of his aggressive authoritarian policies is already a mile long, each one designed to curry favor with the far right by provoking everyone else. Just last week he added to the pile by overseeing his hand-picked education curriculum watchdog's denial of high school AP classes in African American history, saying that "the content of this course is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value." They will still be able to offer AP classes in European, Japanese and Chinese history, it's just Black history that doesn't have educational value in Florida. Can they be any more obvious?

DeSantis is running a very assertive, hard right Fox News-centric, culture war campaign. I suspect he and his advisers may believe that he can solidify the MAGA base and then move to more substantive issues like taxes and spending and foreign policy once he jumps into the fray. If that's the case, he's dreaming. This stuff may be red meat to the base but it's four-alarm fires to the Democrats and they will make sure that every voter in America knows about it all. DeSantis' hardcore extremism is way over the top even by Trump's standards which always have an element of farcical bluster that allows people to think he might not be serious. DeSantis, on the other hand, doesn't have a humorous bone in his body.

And now DeSantis has some serious competition getting ready to make the jump. Former Governor Nikki Haley, Trump's first UN Ambassador, once promised she wouldn't run if he was running. She appeared on Fox News last week and came as close as you can get without actually saying it:

"When you're looking at a run for president, you look at two things. You first look at, does the current situation push for new leadership? The second question is, am I that person that could be that new leader, that, yes, we need to go in a new direction? And can I be that leader? Yes, I think I can be that leader...
"So, do I think I could be that leader? Yes. But we are still working through things, and we will figure it out. I have never lost a race. I said that then. I still say that now. I'm not going to lose now. But stay tuned."

The question is whether proclaiming yourself a leader over and over again convinces anyone that you are one after you spent years sucking up to Donald Trump.

And speaking of Haley being Trump's VP, yet another former Trumpie has emerged as a contender for the top spot, former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. He's got a new book called "Never Give an Inch: Fighting for the America I Love" coming out on Tuesday and among the spicy excerpts is one accusing Haley of conspiring with Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump to replace Pence with her on the ticket in 2020. She claims it's "lies and gossip to sell a book" but she's obviously given up on any idea of being Trump's VP this time if he wins the nomination because he'll never forgive her for reneging on her pledge.

Pompeo's book, from what's been reported in the media so far, takes on Trump as well. He claims that Trump told him to "shut the hell up" about Chinese Premiere Xi Jin Ping during the early days of the COVID crisis because it would upset his trade deal. And he discusses Trump's disastrous Helsinki press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin:

To be clear, Trump's language there was neither accurate nor helpful.To stand next to Putin and say that he believed Putin's claims that he didn't meddle in the U.S. election was very Trumpian. It was also a mistake. It lacked the depth to address the question that had come from the American reporter: "Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular?" Trump's answer reflected his inability or refusal to separate the Russia Hoax from the fact that Russia had tried to sow chaos in the 2016 election. For Trump, every question about Russia and the elections was poisoned by the narrative of the Russia Hoax.

It's unclear from that if Pompeo agrees with Trump that the Russia Investigation was a "hoax" but I don't think that will matter to Trump if he does. This is the kind of betrayal that will make him see red. But Pompeo does take a very hard line against Putin in his book apparently, which will put him at odds with a large portion of the MAGA base as well. The foreign policy fights in this primary campaign are going to be very interesting with the candidates all over the place.

And then there's Trump, the only officially declared candidate. Sounding like a mob boss he made it obvious last week that he is ready to take off the gloves against DeSantis:

The question is whether proclaiming yourself a leader over and over again convinces anyone that you are one after you spent years sucking up to Donald Trump.

No one knows exactly what he has in mind but it no doubt involves a nasty nickname, insulting his wife, saying he fixed the 2018 election among other things. And he'll attempt to dispatch the others in similar fashion.

He's going to be making his first campaign appearance this week in South Carolina and according to the Washington Post, he's having a rough time lining up endorsements. He's got his homeboys, Senator Lindsey Graham and Governor Henry McMaster, but all the other Republican officials in the state are balking because there are two locals, Haley and Senator Tim Scott, who are thinking of jumping in the 2024 race. Trump doesn't have the juice anymore to threaten them with retaliation for not bending the knee. So much for "clearing the field."

It looks like Trump's going to have to earn the nomination and it's not going to be pretty. Once he gets over having his feeling hurt, I suspect he will relish the fight. It's in his nature.

Trump is inadvertently smothering the religious right​

There was a time in American life when it was considered bad manners to talk about politics or religion at the dinner table. There were good reasons for that — those subjects tend to get people upset and angry and that's always rough on digestion. But I doubt it was ever something that was practiced much because when people aren't gossiping or talking about work, politics and religion are the most likely topics whether we like it or not. Still, I don't think the merging of religion into partisan politics has ever been quite as thorough as it's been in the past 40 years or so. Sure you can go back in history and see many examples of religious leaders being politically influential from Cotton Mather to Brigham Young to Martin Luther King Jr. And various religious movements have been deeply involved in social reforms forever. But the emergence of the Christian Right under the auspices of organizations like the Moral Majority led by the Reverend Jerry Fallwell and Pat Robertson's Christian Coalition was explicitly formed as a faction of the Republican Party for the purpose of electing officials who would carry out their political agenda. That was unusual and it has been wildly successful.

Ironically, the first evangelical president was a Democrat. Jimmy Carter wore his religion on his sleeve – not that it did him any good with the burgeoning conservative evangelical political movement. In 1980, when Carter ran for re-election, two-thirds of white evangelicals voted for the twice-married, un-churched, matinee idol, Ronald Reagan. It was clear even then that the Christian Right was very serious about enshrining their socially conservative beliefs into law and they weren't picky about how they got it done. Until then religion had operated more or less outside the ugly sausage-making of politics and government, then the Christian Right dove in head first. That movement became one of the most, if not the most, dominant political movements of our time. It completely co-opted the GOP, forcing their agenda as a requirement for office and ensuring that their demands cannot be ignored. In a few decades, they managed to get a religious right majority seated on the Supreme Court and even have an active lobbying effort to sway the justices.

Throughout this era, the Democrats spent massive amounts of money and energy trying to win this group over to their side under the belief that since they adhere to the teachings of Jesus Christ that they must see the altruistic ethos of progressivism as a strong component of their beliefs. But for forty years they have been rudely rebuffed, just as Jimmy Carter was.

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For quite some time there was what I like to call a Religion Industrial Complex whose mission was to scold Democrats for that failure and advise them that all they needed to do was adopt social conservatism and they would win every election. They didn't say it that way, of course. They talked about "outreach" a lot and advised that their politicians should seek "common ground." And abortion was always at the center of it. Back in 2004 columnist Melinda Henneberger wrote:

"The Democrats are likely to lose the Catholic vote in November—and John Kerry could well lose the election as a result. It's about abortion, stupid. And 'choice,' make no mistake, is killing the Democratic Party."

Actually, the Christian right is killing religion in America, bleeding it slowly for quite some time although few seemed to notice.

As FiveThirtyEight pointed out a few years back, during this period of conservative Christian dominance the country has been growing much less religious and studies have found that this is mainly a result of public distaste for the GOP's merging of religious social conservatism with politics. And nothing has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right more than its ecstatic embrace of the lying libertine Donald Trump. They have been among his most fervent admirers, accounting for the single largest bloc of support in the GOP. But a survey of 1,000 US adults conducted back in 2021 found that half of Americans believe evangelical leaders' support of Trump hurt the church's credibility and 25% say that the church's embrace of Trump soured them on participating in religion. They may have won some battles but they're losing the war.

The New York Times reported this week that some conservative evangelical leaders were starting to hedge on supporting Trump in 2024. Big-time Trump supporter Pastor Robert Jeffress appeared publicly with former Vice President Mike Pence last week, prompting Trump to go on the attack. He appeared with commentator David Brody on the Christian Broadcasting Network and said that such behavior is disloyal after all he's done for them. And he blamed them for the GOP's 2022 midterm losses, suggesting that once they got what they wanted they didn't bother to turn out.

Nothing has exposed the moral bankruptcy of the Christian Right more than its ecstatic embrace of the lying libertine Donald Trump.

This was not well received by some of the leaders who clearly think that they can do better with a new face like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or maybe former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Ohio evangelical activist Bob Vander Plaats complained, "you're not going to gain any traction by throwing the most loyal base under the bus and shifting blame." The one Christian Right leader the Times quoted agreeing with Trump is the experienced, longtime political operative, Ralph Reed, founder of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, who thinks Trump is right that the Republicans didn't go on offense and attack the Democrats as abortion extremists — and that until they do, they'll be in trouble on that issue and in trouble at the ballot box.

I won't be surprised if they all end up back in the fold one way or the other. The Times notes that after Trump slammed Jeffers for meeting with Pence, the Pastor went out of his way to smooth those ruffled orange feathers. He explained that while he previously indicated that he would remain neutral, it was only because Trump had not asked for his endorsement which he anticipated he would give because he "is most likely going to be the 2024 nominee." He knows his flock and realized that they would not like anyone dissing their favorite president.

But that won't stop the rest of what is shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary field from trying to pry them out of his clutches. They will all go out of their way to make the one pitch that gets them out to the polls: they must confirm that conservative Christians are under siege from everyone else in the country, all of whom are trying to destroy everything they care about. Republicans for the last 40 years have basically run on that message and Religious Right voters voted in lockstep with their leaders all that time. But nobody did it quite like Trump. He spoke their language of grievance and resentment in ways that sent a tingle up their legs and they fell in love. There is no evidence they're ready to abandon him for a boring mainstream politician. They finally got what they wanted: a bad boy.

Will Republicans blow up the global economy? Here is what to watch for

We barely had time to catch our breath from the wild spectacle of the Republicans finally electing a speaker when their next spectacle started with a bang. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen abruptly announced that the U.S. will hit the so-called debt ceiling on Jan 19, putting the issue immediately on the front burner. The government can move money around to keep paying its bills until some time next summer, but this is already shaping up to be an exhausting, months-long battle royale. It's probably a good thing that they're getting an early start since the MAGA House majority seems to need some serious remedial instruction on how the world works.

That's not to say that debt-ceiling standoffs are some core tactic of the MAGA movement. In fact, Republicans raised the debt ceiling three times during the Trump administration with no fuss at all. They never felt it necessary to try to persuadeTrump to cut spending, and the Freedom Caucus didn't utter a peep as he massively increased the deficit. These hostage situations are reserved for times when the GOP holds the House and a Democrat is in the White House. Shocking, I know.

This debt ceiling vote is a ritual with no real purpose. The government made the decision during World War I, for reasons that should have been temporary, to require a vote to agree to pay the nation's bills. This makes no sense: Congress already voted to spend the money, so it's ridiculous to require another vote to pay it out. In fact, after the Civil War, the drafters of the 14th Amendment, concerned that Southern Democrats (pretty much the MAGA types of that day and age) would make good on their threat to disavow the national debt incurred during the war, explicitly wrote into the Constitution the words, "the validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned."

There were some brief confrontations in earlier years, but it was really Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich who pioneered this modern right-wing terrorist strategy and it was perfected by the Tea Party members during the Obama administration. The Tea Party standoffs in 2011 and 2013 are still vivid in the minds of many in Washington who endured both the battles and the consequences, which were at once political and substantial. Those were among the ugliest fights in modern political memory and came distressingly close to crashing the world economy. This new crew, most of whom were not round for those bruising confrontations, is champing at the bit to see if they can get that done this time.

Not only are payments for necessary services, from Social Security and Medicare to food safety and even the sacred-to-Republicans border security at risk, as the Washington Post's Catherine Rampbell explains, this could tip the entire global economy, already in a fragile state, over into crisis:

Until now, U.S. debt has been considered virtually risk-free. The riskiness of all other assets around the world is benchmarked against the relative safety of U.S. Treasury securities. If the U.S. government reveals itself to be an unreliable borrower, however, expect to see shockwaves course through every other financial market, as many question how safe (or not) those other investments might be. This is the last thing the economy needs amid fears of a global recession.

The bottom line is that this debate is ridiculous. Unfortunately, the Republican Party is even more ridiculous these days, so we are destined to play chicken with the good faith and credit of the U.S. government every time these circumstances present themselves.

It should be noted that all of this was evident when the Democrats still had the House majority, which was more than willing to raise the debt ceiling during December's lame-duck session. Unfortunately, the Diva Twins, meaning Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, refused to eliminate the filibuster or use the budget reconciliation process to get it done.

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Luckily, not all Democrats fail to grasp the moment. Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii phrased things perfectly, channeling Michael Corleone in "The Godfather Part II," when asked what Democrats might be willing to offer Republicans: "In exchange for not crashing the United States economy, you get nothing." Regarding demands that Democrats sit down with their opponents at the negotiating table, he replied, "We have to tell them there is no table."

Previous debt ceiling standoffs came perilously close to crashing the world economy. This new GOP crew is champing at the bit to see if they can get that done this time around.

You can't negotiate with people who behave the way these Republicans are behaving. They aren't just delusional but also massively ignorant about what they're attempting to do. Take, for example, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, just named to the House Oversight and Homeland Security committees, who said this on Steve Bannon's podcast shortly after the November election:

What we have to do is, Republicans, when we're in control of the purse and we're setting these appropriation bills, and our budget is — we have to refuse to raise the debt ceiling. We have to get spending back under control and we have to do that by any means possible. And if that means a government shutdown, then I'll be calling for a government shutdown. Because this government — and you can see the people support what I'm saying, Steve – because this government shut our country down with those COVID shutdowns.

That is literally gibberish, completely incomprehensible. Rep Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., made an even dumber comment:

That doesn't make any sense either. Our currency is not "devalued," and that's got nothing to do with the debt ceiling in any case. He apparently doesn't even grasp that taking the debt ceiling hostage is about trying to force Democrats to agree to massive spending cuts in the future, in exchange for paying the bills today. Evidently he doesn't want to pay them at all.

Here's some more gibberish from the actual speaker of the House, when asked about Democrats' demands for a clean debt ceiling increase:

Would you just keep doing that? Or would you change the behavior? We're six months away? Why wouldn't we sit down and change this behavior so that we would put ourselves on a more fiscally strong position?

Here's another idea that's always popular on the right — which would be necessary if they really plan to eliminate the national debt completely, as McCarthy apparently promised in his backroom deals during the speakership saga:

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio is at least a bit more coherent, recognizing that Republicans may have stepped on the third rail with talk about cutting military spending, which one of the backroom negotiators, Rep. Chip Roy of Texas, says was never on the table. Jordan said, "Military cuts could be made by eliminating 'woke policies' & re-examining aid to Ukraine, allowing the government to focus more on troops and weapons systems." There's also been talk about eliminating much of the officer corps, which would be an interesting experiment.

Hilariously, Republicans are trying to spin the impending mess this way:

That's cute, but it's not going to fly. Republicans have already shown the whole country that they are wildly unhinged, and nobody will mistake which party is being reckless and which isn't.

It's also clear that they don't care. Donald Trump, their battered spiritual guru, explains what it's really all about:

It's about putting on a spectacle to own the libs, of course. What else would it be? Trump may have lost some of his mojo but his legacy is secure. The Republican Party is still MAGA all the way down.

GOP claims it's creating a new Church Committee — this is what's really going on

During the George W. Bush years, as the nation waged the "global war on terror," there was massive concern among civil libertarians about the government's indifference, if not hostility, to human rights and civil liberties. While the "Bush Doctrine" held that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists" and professed a commitment to spreading democracy (at the point of a gun) around the globe to defeat them, Vice President Dick Cheney articulated an even darker vision in a "Meet the Press" interview five days after the 9/11 attacks:

We have to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion.

It wasn't long before it became clear what he meant. Eventually, the press and other investigators uncovered evidence that the government had gone very dark indeed. It had unleashed the FBI on innocent American Muslims, while military units and the CIA were kidnapping and torturing supposed terrorism suspects in secret "black sites" all over the world. There were secret no-fly lists and warrantless surveillance of U.S. citizens, nearly all of this occurring in total secrecy without oversight by the courts or the Congress.

Many civil libertarian organizations, from the ACLU to the Brennan Center, protested all this blatantly illegal or unconstitutional government activity and those voices grew even louder after the 2013 revelations by Edward Snowden, which showed the vast scope of these programs. From the beginning there were calls for a "new Church Committee" to investigate the vast overreach of the intelligence community. That was a reference to the semi-legendary committee led by Sen. Frank Church, an Idaho Democrat (!), in the wake of Watergate, whose unwieldy official name was the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities.

Although it was associated with Richard Nixon's scandals, the Church Committee was truly bipartisan — conservative hero Barry Goldwater was among its five Republican members — and examined the excesses and illegal activity of the FBI, CIA and NSA during the entire postwar period, much of which had been revealed in the press during that era of aggressive investigative journalism. That committee, along with the similarly aligned Pike Committee in the House, uncovered information about such programs as COINTELPRO, which involved the surveillance and infiltration of American political and civil rights organizations, and Family Jewels, a covert assassination program aimed at removing foreign leaders the U.S. didn't like. One of the most shocking discoveries was Project MKULTRA in which the government used torture and drugs on unwitting Americans for illegal experiments in mind control. Several other programs were revealed involving a cooperative relationship between Intelligence agencies and the news media to disseminate government propaganda both domestically and overseas.

It may all sound like something out of a dystopian science fiction novel, but it all actually happened right here in the good old USA. These astonishing revelations led to the passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which created the (still secret) FISA court, and to the creation of the standing committees on intelligence in both houses of Congress. But while the Church Committee has a historical reputation as having substantially reformed the Intelligence agencies, the truth is that its effect was limited. It wasn't easy to get any significant reforms through Congress, and it didn't take long before those changes began to erode.

Nonetheless, the Church Committee stands as a symbol of strong bipartisan investigative oversight and reform of the most powerful and secretive law enforcement and Intelligence agencies. So when civil libertarians called for a "new Church Committee" a decade or more ago, that made sense.

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Throughout the post-Church era, the American right has almost entirely been on supportive of government secrecy and the intelligence agencies (as with the notorious Dick Cheney quote cited above), allowing for a handful of self-styled libertarians like Sen. Rand Paul and his dad, former congressman Ron Paul. In fairness, most Democrats have been as well. It has mainly been progressive Democrats (like Rep. Barbara Lee and Sen. Ron Wyden, for instance) who opposed these programs while the rank-and-file right enthusiastically endorsed torture and mass surveillance and asked for more. But ever since Donald Trump and his inexplicably Russia-friendly campaign came on the scene seven years ago — cheering on illegal hacking of his opponents by foreign agents — the right has worked itself into a frenzy about the "deep state" abusing its power by investigating Trump's suspicious behavior.

The true leader of the new House majority, Fox News host Tucker Carlson, came up with a plan to turn the tables, now that the GOP has subpoena power:

The real name of this Republican snipe-hunt committee gives away what this is all about: The Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. The New York Times reports it will have "access to information on par with the House Intelligence Committee," and Republicans say they have a mandate "to scrutinize ... a concerted effort by the government to silence and punish conservatives at all levels, from protesters at school board meetings to former President Donald J. Trump." You can see why they'd need the highest security clearances for such important work.

This latest "investigation of the investigators" will specifically go after the law enforcement officials investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection and will be chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who was intimately involved in the attempt to overturn the election results in 2020. In other words, this neo-pseudo-Church Committee has been tasked with investigating the law enforcement agencies that are investigating them.

This bears almost no resemblance to the bipartisan Church Committee, which was established by a nearly unanimous vote in the Senate to look at systematic abuses going back decades under administrations led by both parties. But it does bear great resemblance to some earlier committees that purported to be rooting out abuses in the U.S. government. Ironically enough, the name McCarthy is associated with both of them.

Jim Jordan's jury-rigged "investigation of the investigators" bears no resemblance to the bipartisan Church Committee. But it does resemble an earlier effort to root out alleged government abuses by hurling wild, made-up accusations.

Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin first made his name in a 1950 speech claiming that he had a list of communist sympathizers in the State Department. He spent the next half decade accusing hundreds of federal employees, including members of the military and the Truman administration, of being Soviet spies or "fellow travelers." His investigations and public hearings were a cavalcade of lies and spurious accusations. He was coddled and enabled by Republican leaders, all the way up to President Dwight Eisenhower, who were too timid to confront him lest they anger his multitude of online fans. (Joe McCarthy would have been sensational on social media.)

There is no single figure like that McCarthy leading the charge in this new GOP majority. There are dozens of them, and they have no genuine interest in abuses of power or the excesses of the "deep state" (which most certainly have continued under both parties). They simply want to avenge their leader Donald Trump and intimidate the authorities into backing off from any potential prosecution of Trump and his closest allies. So they intend produce a full-blown televised McCarthy-esque spectacle aimed at proving that Trump was the innocent victim of liberal (perhaps communist?) cops and spies within the federal government who seek to ruin everything America stands for.

Joe McCarthy was washed up and dead from alcoholism at the age of 47. These heirs to his legacy will end up clowning on Fox News and fundraising big bucks online from suckers who will themselves into believing it's all real. As the O.G. commie Karl Marx famously observed, "all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. The first time as tragedy, the second as farce."

Worst Republicans of 2022? It's just so hard to choose!

It's fair to say that the Republican Party of 2022 is a much broader coalition than it used to be. Once upon a time it was defined as the party of Main Street and the country club: white middle-class and upper-middle-class guys in gray flannel suits. But in recent years they've opened the doors and invited in a whole bunch of other Americans who don't fit that mold. Starting in the 1960s they willingly veered into overt racism mantle and with their embrace of the Christian right in the '80s, all the anti-gay, anti abortion flock began to move their way as well. The new Trump majority within the party captured a chunk of the previously nonvoting public that believes in fringe conspiracy theories and far-right ideologies and worships at the altar of vapid TV celebrity.

That said, the Republican coalition still isn't very diverse. It's nearly all white, of course, with only a tiny fraction of racial and ethnic minorities. It's almost all Christian and most are non-college-educated and rural. And since virtually everyone who now votes Republican is indoctrinated with lies and propaganda, by watching and listening to the same information sources, there isn't an independent idea to be found anywhere among them.

Let's face it: The Republican Party has gone crazy and not in a fun, madcap, "let's get nuts" way. It has adopted the most extreme attitudes and beliefs of its new adherents and pushed them into mainstream. With that in mind, I thought we could take a look at some of the worst Republicans of 2022. This can't possibly be a comprehensive list because there are so many awful options. But we can certainly highlight some of the more memorable, in no particular order.

Of course we have to start with the main man, the avatar of all that is horrible about the GOP. I don't think there's any need to belabor the point: We all know what Donald Trump is at this point. But for all his authoritarian, racist, crotch-grabbing, Constitution-flouting, election-denying lunacy, Trump deserves a special shout-out in 2022 for inviting a famous antisemitic rapper to dinner (yes, that's already confusing) and telling him that the full-blown fascist he brought along "gets me." That may be the most frank and honest thing Donald Trump has ever said, and it says a great deal about him.

Another rich and famous Republican of even more recent vintage is Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and other high-tech ventures who became the sole proprietor of Twitter this year. I'm classifying Musk as a Republican not because he urged people to vote GOP in the midterms (ostensibly because he believes in divided government) but because his sole mission with Twitter is apparently to own the libs. He's in the process of turning the site into yet another propaganda vehicle for every right-wing nutjob on the planet, so no matter how he identifies politically (Elon apparently didn't even vote) he is objectively pro-Republican. His worst moment so far, and there have been quite a few, was tweeting out rumors to his millions of followers that the vicious attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's 82-year-old husband was the result of a down-low affair while his wife was out of town.

Another Republican who only recently admitted he was one despite decades devoted to trashing Democrats, is the King of Fox News, Tucker Carlson. He's been mentioned as a potential GOP presidential candidate (perhaps because he keeps giving speeches in known presidential campaign venues). More important, Carlson is the most influential voice on the most influential right-wing network in the country, an is a uniquely odious human being. The list of his offenses is a mile long and goes back many years, but 2022 has been especially heinous with his relentless flogging of the white supremacist "great replacement" theory. But the absolute worst has been his repulsive assaults on the LGBTQ community, culminating in a final atrocity with this week's interview with the proprietor of Libs of TikTok, the social media account reportedly responsible for inciting bomb threats against hospitals who provide care to young trans people. Take a look:

It doesn't get much worse than that. But there are some other definite contenders. How about Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, who asked a state medical board to discipline the doctor who provided an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim last summer, even though it was legal in the state at the time, claiming that she had "exploited" the victim despite never naming her? He's an anti-abortion zealot who supports the law banning all abortions in his state (now under litigation) and seeks to revoke the licenses of all Indiana medical providers who perform abortion procedures.

For sheer repulsiveness, it's hard to top Tucker Carlson's interview with the proprietor of Libs of TikTok, who has incited bomb threats against hospitals that provide care to young trans people.

Then there's the clown car of potential GOP presidential candidates, led by the Cruelty Twins, Govs. Greg Abbott of Texas and Ron DeSantis of Florida. Abbott gets the Grinch award for his despicable decision to send busloads of asylum seekers, including children, to Vice President Kamala Harris' house to score political points on Christmas Eve. Abbott has been doing this all year, apparently believing that liberal hypocrites will explode with anger at the invasion of foreigners into their cities and demand that Trump's wall be built immediately. Along with draconian abortion policies that have caused untold suffering to the women of Texas, that makes him one of the very worst Republicans.

But the worst of the worst in 2022, without a doubt, was DeSantis. He not only employed the usual extreme-right rhetoric we've come to expect from every popular GOP leader these days, but also deployed the long arm of the state to humiliate and destroy anyone who got in his way. From embarrassing teenagers for wearing masks in public to targeting the state's largest employer for opposing him to dictating that teachers cannot mention LGBTQ issues to suspending elected officials who speak out against his policies, DeSantis showed that he will use his power to punish his enemies and reward his friends. His latest nihilistic assault is to petition for a grand jury investigation into the development of COVID vaccines, suggesting they are killing mass numbers of people. And he's doing this for purely political reasons — the only reason he ever does anything.

In fact, these boldface names and their misdeeds are just the tip of the iceberg. The reality is that the entire Republican Party has gone over to the dark side. All these people are sailing along without even the slightest condemnation from party officials. In fact, with the exception of some whining about Trump having caused them to lose too many seats in 2022, leading Republicans are positively giddy about all of them. This is the Republican Party today — at its worst.

Trump and the IRS: A massive tax cheat and a hapless, corrupt agency

Back in February of 2019, then-President Donald Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, testified before the House Oversight Committee that his former employer had once shown him a big refund from the IRS and told him "he could not believe how stupid the government was for giving someone like him that much money back."

It turns out that the man who once claimed in a presidential debate that not paying any taxes made him "smart" was right about that. The IRS is stupid, or at least lazy and incompetent. It let Donald Trump off the hook for years.

On Tuesday the House Ways and Means Committee finally broke its silence and announced that after years of legal battles and delays it would release Trump's tax returns to the public, as they are authorized to do by the same law Republicans invoked when they investigated the IRS back in 2014. That probe, which was supposed to show that the IRS had targeted conservative organizations, actually made clear that the agency had targeted progressive groups as well. But this investigation looks like it exposed a real scandal. The only question is whether the IRS will take the fall for this entire mess or whether Donald Trump will finally be fully exposed for his egregious pattern of tax evasion.

The committee released a report on its findings Tuesday night, as did the Joint Committee on Taxation, which delved into some of the details of the returns themselves. The first big takeaway is that the IRS, which is supposed to audit all presidential tax returns under the Mandatory Presidential Audit Program, never even got around to looking at Trump's. It was only after the committee began its inquiries in 2019 that the IRS finally opened an investigation of Trump's 2016 returns, even though it had been tasked by that time with auditing him from 2015 through 2018.

That's very strange, to put it mildly, and it certainly validates the committee's stated premise for opening the case. Its members are now recommending that the Mandatory Audit Program, which has been in place since the Carter administration, be codified into law.

John Koskinen, who was IRS commissioner during Trump's first year as president, told the New York Times that he knew nothing about all this. The committee's report obliquely suggests that it might be a good idea to vet individual agents more carefully, mentioning the "substantial discretion an I.R.S. revenue agent possesses in conducting the audit of presidential returns and the absence of guardrails to ensure that such employee is not subject to undue influence by a president or his representatives." After all, such an agent might turn out to be a Trump loyalist, like Beverly Hills tax attorney Charles P. Rettig, who defended Trump's decision not to release his tax returns in a 2016 op-ed — after which Trump appointed him IRS commissioner.

So what we now know is that the IRS did not even begin its mandatory audits of Trump's taxes until 2019 and has completed none of them. So the returns the committee finally has in its possession are missing the backup information that would routinely have been requested of any return under audit to prove the legitimacy of its claims. So there are many unanswered questions about the validity of Trump's numbers, although we already knew about his sleazy tax avoidance schemes through the myriad lawsuits and criminal proceedings he has faced, as well as voluminous reporting by the New York Times and others.

Back in 2018, the Times reported on a trove of Trump family financial documents, including tax returns of Fred Trump, the ex-president's father. Fred had evidently gone to huge lengths to pass large sums to his children through dubious or outright illegal methods, mostly to evade paying taxes over many years. His son has apparently followed that tradition for many years. That issue has come up both in the investigation of these tax returns and in the recent criminal case against the Trump Organization, in which the family business was found guilty of nine criminal counts including tax fraud. It also features prominently in the New York attorney general's civil case against Trump and three of his adult children.

In 2020, the Times came into possession of more Trump tax returns, including some of those the committee will be release this week. The story they told was pretty stunning:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750. He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

Perhaps the most intriguing detail in that story was that Trump was in fact still embroiled in an audit from 2009, with the IRS questioning the validity of a $72.9 million tax refund he received after declaring huge losses. If the IRS eventually ruled against him, the Times reported, he could end up owing more than $100 million. So here's one thing we can say for Trump: When he said that his taxes were still under audit throughout his presidency, he was telling the truth, That audit long predated his presidential campaign, however, and he never had any legal reason or legitimate excuse for not releasing his returns to the public.

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But it's clear enough why he didn't want to. The story those returns clearly tell is of a man who publicly bragged that his businesses were hugely successful even as he claimed massive losses. He was afraid of being seen as the phony he is and was worried, reasonably enough, that the audit would expose him as a tax cheat who owed the government $100 million that he probably doesn't have.

For once Trump was telling the truth: He really was under audit the whole time he was president. But that audit went back to 2009, and was never a legitimate excuse for not releasing his tax returns.

This has always been a potential political vulnerability for Trump. Polling in the summer of 2020 showed that 66% of Americans believed he "should release his tax returns from earlier years," and 68% said that "Americans have a right to see each presidential candidate's financial records before the election." Fortunately for Trump, there was so much distraction with the pandemic during the 2020 campaign that the New York Times exposé never really penetrated the public consciousness.

There was a fair bit of hand-wringing among the chattering classes on Tuesday night over the committee's party-line vote to make Trump's recent returns public, which is just daft. There should be no question that any president must release their tax returns for the years they serve as president. which accounts for those the committee intends to release. This is the man who refused to divest himself of his businesses the whole time he was in the White House, which is also massively unethical. If Trump was hiding something during his tenure, as he pretty clearly was, the public has a right to know about it. After all, he's running again. I think we can feel fairly confident that he'll never come clean voluntarily.

The committee's report also shows that something is very wrong at the IRS, which appears to be understaffed and unqualified to deal with big-money malefactors' labyrinthine financial schemes. That can theoretically be fixed by staffing up the agency and recruiting people who know what they are doing and have enough oversight so there's less chance of corruption and cronyism. Perhaps the bigger problem is with the tax code, which favors rich cheaters like Donald Trump (and many others) who pay next to nothing in income taxes while the rest of us struggle to make ends meet and pay our fair share. We don't know yet whether Trump actually committed tax fraud on his personal tax returns. But there can be no doubt that much of what he did that was legal was deceitful and unjust.

Trump World is imploding as he aimlessly wanders around Mar-a-Lago

Donald Trump may be very wealthy, but he's rapidly turning into a sad and pathetic figure. According to this report in the Washington Post, the former president tends to wander aimlessly around Mar-a-Lago, bored and lethargic, depending on his attendants to call around to allies to ask them to deliver "affirmations" and cheer him up. One former adviser characterized his new life as sad, saying he wanted to replicate the grandeur of the White House but it's more like "a Barbie Dream House miniature." Ouch.

This is not a picture of someone gearing up for an arduous presidential campaign. It's a picture of an old man trying to grapple with the fact that he's retired and doesn't have much of a purpose anymore.

To say that his campaign rollout has been a disaster is an understatement. In fact, it hasn't been a rollout at all. There have been no campaign appearances or rallies, no speeches, no interviews, no book tour — none of the things you'd expect any declared candidate to do in the early phases of the campaign. Last week, Trump teased a "big announcement" that turned out to be another one of his tawdry grifts, selling NFT trading cards. As far as we can tell, he's just been playing golf and showing up in the dining room each night to receive obligatory applause from his paying guests.

This is not someone gearing up for an arduous presidential campaign. It's more like a retired guy who plays a lot of golf, trying to grapple with the fact that he doesn't have much of a purpose anymore.

Meanwhile, there's a new circus ringmaster in town: Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, who's been sucking up all the outrage oxygen by banning people left and right (but mostly left) from Twitter in the name of free speech. The right-wingers are very excited — or at least they were before Musk ran one of his patented "polls" asking whether he should step down as Twitter boss, and a clear majority of users voted yes. While Musk is jetting off to Qatar to watch Sunday's World Cup final with Jared Kushner and some Saudi pals, Trump is yelling at the clouds and nobody even notices.

But I've learned never to count Donald Trump out. When it comes to getting attention, he has a special set of skills. He may be a bit rusty but he's about to get a big boost without having to lift a finger. On Monday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection will hold its last hearing before the Republicans take over next month and dissolve the entire operation. Members are reportedly preparing to refer former Trump to the Department of Justice for criminal prosecution. So he's been ranting all weekend on his tiny social media platform:

They say that the Unselect Committee of Democrats, Misfits, and Thugs, without any representation from Republicans in good standing, is getting ready to recommend Criminal Charges to the highly partisan, political, and Corrupt 'Justice' Department for the "PEACEFULLY & PATRIOTICLY" speech I made on January 6th.This speech and my actions were mild & loving, especially when compared to Democrats wild spewing of HATE. Why didn't they investigate massive Election Fraud or send in the Troops? SCAM!

That particular tantrum was in response to news reports on Saturday that the panel will vote to refer charges for Trump for violating "18 U.S.C. 2383, insurrection; 18 U.S.C. 1512(c), obstruction of an official proceeding; and 18 U.S.C. 371, conspiracy to defraud the United States government." Just as Trump was the first president to be impeached twice, he will be the first ex-president ever to be referred for criminal conduct by the Congress. What a legacy.

The Justice Department has no obligation to do anything with the coming referral, but is already conducting its own investigation, now led by special counsel Jack Smith, whose team will no doubt be very anxious to see the report and all its underlying evidence, which the committee plans to release by Wednesday. You never know what they might have turned up that the DOJ doesn't know about.

Trump is lashing out to get attention from his followers as much as anything else. He knows that portraying himself as the victim of government persecution usually provokes sympathy from the right-wing media and some quick cash in the campaign coffers. I think he's still convinced that the government will never actually indict him — and he may be right. Right now, however, he needs to be back in the spotlight — and in that respect, this criminal referral is just what the doctor ordered.

His cronies may not be so lucky. The committee is said to be contemplating referring several GOP members of Congress who were involved in the attempted coup plot to the House Ethics Committee and some of Trump's lawyers may be referred to various bar associations. Quite a few of these people are also under investigation by the Justice Department.

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Trump's just getting started, however. After the Supreme Court finally cleared the way for the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump's tax returns, members finally have them. According to the New York Times, that committee will meet on Tuesday for a closed-door discussion on what to do with them, and let us fervently hope its members vote to release them to the public. Every president since Richard Nixon has voluntarily released their tax returns and since Trump is still the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination, this is likely the only chance the public will ever get to see them.

Trump wrote on Truth Social that his "GREAT COMPANY" has great assets and little debt but is "very strong on deductions and depreciation" promising that we will "see these numbers very soon but not all from the tax returns which show very little." Have any of his supporters asked themselves why he took the case all the way to the Supreme Court twice to stop Congress from seeing his tax returns if he had nothing to hide?

Axios reports that Trump's Republican henchmen in the House are plotting to release their own rebuttal report from the "shadow" Jan. 6 committee, which has never done anything until now. It consists of the five Republican members who voted to overturn the election on Jan. 6, whom Speaker Nancy Pelosi later refused to seat on the real committee. This pseudo-panel is led by Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana, who says the report will "focus on security failures" which they claim the select committee didn't bother to investigate. (In fact, it did, and those findings will be included in the final report.)

It may seem astonishing that Donald Trump could actually benefit from all these political, legal and financial troubles bearing down on him all at once, but that's how it is. He badly needs a reboot of his campaign rollout and this is exactly the sort of boost that could get the media talking about him again and get his followers re-engaged. For him it's always been about attention, and he's never much cared what kind. So what if he's the first former president in U.S. history to be referred for possible federal prosecution? That just makes him even more special than he already is! Perversely enough, this could be the start of Trump's latest comeback.

Kevin's dilemma: Even if McCarthy finally wins the speakership, it won't be much fun

Kevin McCarthy is having a very rough time. Like the rest of the Republican Party, he had anticipated a big win in November that would have given the GOP a comfortable majority in the House (and probably control of the Senate as well) which would have swept him into the speaker's office in January. But in the event, Republicans barely squeaked out a win in the House (as well as losing a seat in the Senate). That gives tremendous leverage to a handful of Republican malcontents, showboaters and fringe fanatics — and they determined to make McCarthy's life miserable.

This article first appeared in Salon.

This is the second time this seemingly mild-mannered glad-hander from one of California's few remaining deep-red districts has been in line for the speaker's gavel, and just like the last time he's having trouble closing the deal. You'll recall that back in 2015, McCarthy was the presumptive heir to Speaker John Boehner — who was essentially forced out by the right-wing fringe — but shot off his mouth in spectacularly dumb fashion, earning the ire of the House Freedom Caucus. That was when the party persuaded the supposedly reluctant Paul Ryan to step in, leading to the premature end of his political career. This time around McCarthy has pissed off some members of the Freedom Caucus once again, including its current chairman, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona — who says he too will run for the speakership — and at the moment he just doesn't seem to have the votes. So what happens now?

Here's what we know: When the new Congress convenes on Jan. 3, the full House of Representatives will hold an election for speaker of the House. The winner must get a majority of all those who are present and do not abstain (an important detail, and that does happen.) Most or all Democrats will vote for Rep. Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the party's newly anointed House leader, although a few may vote for someone else for eccentric reasons. None of them will vote for Kevin McCarthy, however, barring some bizarre and unlikely backroom deal. Bear in mind that if all Democrats are present and voting, McCarthy can afford to lose only five votes.

Curiously enough, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi faced exactly the same margin when the current Congress convened in 2021 and had to navigate a narrow path to ensure her re-election. But she is a much more skilled legislator than McCarthy and there was never any serious doubt that she would pull it off. McCarthy's skills are weaker, to put it mildly, but in fairness he is faced with a much more difficult challenge: His party is in total chaos. As the New York Times reports:

The past week has brought a few developments — many of them baffling even to Capitol Hill insiders. On Friday, seven conservative hard-liners issued a lengthy list of demands to the would-be speaker, mostly involving obscure procedural rules. On Tuesday, a group of nearly 50 moderates aligned with McCarthy said they would oppose some of those ideas. Then on Wednesday, news broke that a different group of five anti-McCarthy members led by Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona had made a pact to vote as a bloc, one way or another. If they stick together, those five are enough to deny McCarthy his gavel, and it is not clear how he gets them to yes. But it's also not clear that Republicans have another viable option. To reinforce that point, McCarthy's allies have begun distributing buttons saying "O.K." — as in "Only Kevin.

The reality is that while Biggs may be too far out on the fringe to be a real threat, there is a viable option: McCarthy's right hand man, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana. Every single member of the Republican caucus voted for Scalise as majority whip while 36 members declined to vote for McCarthy as party leader. That was a secret ballot so we don't know for sure which members didn't vote for McCarthy — and he doesn't know either. If McCarthy can't pull together a majority on Jan. 3, Scalise would be the logical consensus candidate, although Rep. Patrick McHenry of North Carolina has also been mentioned as an alternative.

The worst-case scenario for McCarthy would that Republicans can't get their act together at all and the Democrats offer to step in and rescue him — for a price, perhaps a power-sharing or concessions on committee membership. That is highly unlikely in this climate of extreme partisan division, but the way things are going, Democratic leaders had better be prepared for the possibility.

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Despite all this drama, the smart money is still on McCarthy. He has secured the support of some far-right members, including the immensely influential Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, and has been cutting deals with anyone who wants one. The main sticking point seems to be the insistence from crazytown on bringing back the provision that any member, at any time, can force a snap floor vote to ditch the speaker, known as the "motion to vacate." McCarthy is opposed to this, since he understands how weak he is and remembers that the chaos that finally drove Boehner out of the job. McCarthy may not be the brightest bulb on the Capitol Christmas tree, but he's well aware that his enemies in the party wouldn't hesitate to stage a floor vote against him every time he tries to do anything they don't like. (Imagine trusting Greene, for example, with that kind of power.)

But what happens once McCarthy finally gets the gavel? He's got a small rump of moderate members in states that Joe Biden carried in 2020 who will next face re-election during a presidential year. To his right, there's the larger faction of wingnuts pushing him to go nuclear on the administration and the Democrats. These are the folks the New York Times characterizes as "chaos agents":

[McCarthy] has to contend with something that no Democrat has had to face: a sizable group that was sent to Congress explicitly to obstruct. Some of the people he is attempting to bargain with don't seem to have a price. They're not motivated by legislating as much as they are about shrinking the federal government, or upending it completely.

That report observes that Pelosi has the relative luxury of being able to negotiate with her members, whether they're progressives or moderates, and respond to specific demands. The only thing McCarthy can do is hand his members the matches so they can blow the place up.

What happens if and when McCarthy finally gets the gavel? He's stuck between a rump faction of moderates from Biden states and a larger faction of wingnuts who want to go nuclear immediately.

This explains why Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are working furiously with the White House to get the government funded for the next year during the lame-duck session that will conclude next week. They know exactly what the House extremists are likely to do and it appears that enough Senate Republicans recognize that it would be a disaster for the country if they are allowed to stage their confrontational politics right out of the box.

McCarthy is out there rending his garments over this possibility, exclaiming that the Senate should wait until his new majority is sworn in and "allow the American people what they said a month ago, to change Washington as they know it today," whatever that's supposed to mean. (In fact, McCarthy's slim majority resulted from just 6,670 votes across the five most closely contested House races. A mandate it is not.)

Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., told Semafor that all of this was for McCarthy's own good: "I just think for Kevin's sake, even though he's not asking for it, I think some Republicans just feel like we should relieve him of that burden." That's one way of putting it, I guess.

Keep in mind that all of this disarray and tumult is happening before the Republicans actually assume the House majority in the House. Even if Kevin McCarthy survives this challenge in the short term, it's clear as day that he doesn't have what it takes to control the situation. The chaos agents are in charge. All he can do is hang on for dear life and hope the maelstrom doesn't swallow him whole.

Elon is the new Trump: But how long can he hold the No. 1 Troll title?

Poor Donald Trump must be feeling especially unloved right now. Practically everyone in the Republican Party is blaming him for their losses in the midterm elections, and few of his usual media supporters are defending him in his latest legal woes. At least some recent polls have him trailing Ron DeSantis in the forthcoming race for the GOP presidential nomination — and if he pulls it off anyway, suggest that he'd lose the general election to Joe Biden. But what has to hurt more than anything is that his title as chief MAGA troll has been usurped by a man who has outstripped him in virtually every way: Elon Musk.

Now, it's true that Trump can brag that he was used to be president of the United States, but that's getting old considering that everyone knows that he lost his re-election bid and has spent the last two years whining like a tired toddler that it was stolen from him. That accomplishment is irrevocably tarnished. But Musk's business career leaves Trump with his old fashioned real estate fortune in the dust. Musk has nine children by three different women, and iss still working on it. Most important, Musk has way, way, more money than Trump, even if as of this week he's been demoted from the richest man in the world to No. 2.

Trump is a principal in the Truth Social platform and Musk is the outright owner of Twitter, if you squint you could claim they are ostensibly on equal footing when it comes to social media power. But once again, it's not close and Musk is the big winner of the platform wars. Twitter has massive media influence and helps set the political agenda, while Truth Social is just a relatively tiny echo chamber for Trump fans. Trump had 75 million Twitter followers. Musk has 120 million.

In other words, Elon Musk is the man Trump has been pretending to be.

Trump's 2024 Revenge Tour is off to an extremely slow start, and that's putting it generously. He has hardly left the private residence at his Florida beach club except to come downstairs and eat dinner with a couple of antisemites. His social media feed is mostly re-posts of worshipful memes about him and some all-caps primal screaming about his legal difficulties. Every once in a while he says something about present-tense politics but mostly it's just kvetching about the 2020 election. There have been no rallies, no real interviews, no ads, no press conferences, nothing. Let's just say it's an unusual way to start a presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, Musk has completely taken over the political conversation that Trump used to dominate. He's mastered the art of the right-wing troll, openly courting the most extreme denizens of the fever swamps and delighting in shocking normal decent people with crude, over-the-top statements. There is a new outrage almost every day as he dives head first down the wingnut rabbit hole and revels in the fuss he causes. Rich Lowry, writing for the New York Post, says Musk has "trumped Trump as the nation's foremost culture warrior." There you have it.

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A sampling of Musk's recent tweets show someone who is completely immersed in some of the craziest right wing arcana, including anti-vax and QAnon conspiracy theories. He's also shown that he has a mission that's driving him and likely explains why he bought Twitter in the first place. For example:

Many battles remain, but, yes, the tide is starting to turn on the mortal threat to civilization that is the woke mind virus.
Humor relies on an intuitive & often awkward truth being recognized by the audience, but wokism is a lie, which is why nobody laughs.

He appears to believe he has been called to save humanity by owning the libs, which mostly amounts to relentless trolling, and allowing all kinds of fascists, racists, dirty tricksters and snake oil salesmen free rein to spread their "ideas" in the online public square. No doubt they're enjoying themselves, at least until the objects of their derision and cruelty simply decide to leave. Will humankind have been rescued from the evil of wokeness if that happens? It appears we are going to find out.

Musk appears to believe he has been called to save humanity, which mostly amounts to endless trolling and allowing all kinds of fascists, racists, dirty tricksters and snake oil salesmen free rein to spread their "ideas."

Musk has released some of the internal Twitter correspondence regarding the infamous "Hunter Biden laptop" story and Donald Trump's post-Jan. 6 Twitter ban to a couple of contrarian journalists. Musk and his allies have evidently reached the conclusion that Twitter committed unpardonable sins that resulted in Trump losing the election, in the first instance, and then being unfairly railroaded, in the second. Those conclusions are highly contested, to put it mildly.

It's ridiculous to claim that one news story about a presidential candidate's adult son being suppressed for a couple of days on one social media platform made any difference in the election (which up until now we've been told had been stolen at the ballot box). And as for Trump's Twitter ban, he should have been thrown off the platform long before he was. He lied incessantly, blabbed classified information and put people's lives in danger with his big mouth, including his own vice president on Jan. 6.

Trump sees the "Twitter files" as ultimate vindication, of course, and demanded that the Constitution be terminated so he can be reinstated as president immediately. For a moment, he got the attention he craved when the political world reacted as it typically does whenever he says something insane. But mostly he's being ignored, which has to have him intensely frustrated.

But Donald Trump has an ace in the hole. Musk may be creating daily entertainment with the endless chaos of his Twitter takeover and all the hiring and firing at random, but Trump may be about to vault back into the spotlight in operatic fashion. He has one thing going for him that Musk with all his money and success doesn't have. He may be looking at a criminal indictment, and perversely enough, that might be exactly what he needs. There's nothing that turns on the American right more than grievance. Elon Musk's greatest weakness, at this point, is that he's got nothing to complain about.

Kevin McCarthy makes a devil's bargain

You may be under the impression that the most important high-society event in New York is the Met Gala, where celebrities from the world of entertainment, media, fashion and politics dress to the nines in avant-garde couture and come together to get their pictures taken and be seen mingling with their fellow famous people. It's quite a spectacle. But it has nothing on the demented carnival of the New York Young Republican Club's annual gala, which was held this past weekend. It didn't have the glamour of the Met's event, but it had its own luminaries in attendance — and while the fashion may not have been avant-garde the politics were certainly striking.

According to a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center, it was a gathering of some of of the most divisive figures of the far right including Steve Bannon, Donald Trump Jr., the white nationalists Peter Brimelow and Lydia Brimelow of VDARE, provocateur Jack Posobiec of "Pizzagate" fame and Project Veritas founder James O'Keefe, among many others, including elected Republican officials:

Republican speakers repeatedly voiced an anti-democracy, authoritarian ideology, and extremists in the audience cheered wildly. White nationalists such as the Brimelows of VDARE and leaders from extreme far right European parties like Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland, AfD), whom German officials placed under surveillance for their ties to extremism, and Austrian Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ), ate and drank in the same room as newly elected Republican congresspeople, such as Long Island and Queens-based George Santos, Georgia-based Mike Collins and Florida-based Cory Mills.

It sounds like the speeches were exciting, starting off with the address by the organization's president, Gavin Wax, who declared:

We want to cross the Rubicon. We want total war. We must be prepared to do battle in every arena. In the media. In the courtroom. At the ballot box. And in the streets. This is the only language the left understands. The language of pure and unadulterated power.

That seemed to set the tone for the evening. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia made the threat explicit when she said that if she and Bannon had been in charge of the Jan. 6 insurrection, they "would have won." But she didn't stop there:

There was a time when a member of Congress might think twice about making a comment like that. Even today, you can sense that there were people in the crowd, despite the cheers and whistles, who understood that she had pushed beyond even the boundaries of this chummy right-wing gathering by saying such a thing in public. Basically, Greene said that if it had been up to her, the insurrectionists would have stormed the Capitol with guns blazing and executed the coup plot successfully. Fortunately for all of us, she was brand new in Congress at the time and was not intimately involved in the planning, so that didn't happen.

Greene is now one of the most powerful and influential members of Congress and she hasn't quite completed her first term. She has been working the levers of the power effectively, agreeing to endorse presumptive Speaker Kevin McCarthy, reportedly in exchange for investigations, committee assignments and her ability to keep the extreme right on board. She's been pretty clear about what she expects, telling the New York Times, "I think that to be the best speaker of the House and to please the base, he's going to give me a lot of power and a lot of leeway. And if he doesn't, they're going to be very unhappy about it."

Greene, who tweeted last September that "Joe Biden is Hitler," with the hashtag #NaziJoe, is on a roll and there's no way any member of the GOP House leadership will dare to cross her.

If it had been up to her, Greene suggested, insurrectionists would have stormed the Capitol with guns blazing and the coup would have been successful.

So where does this leave Kevin McCarthy? The oddsmakers and pundits believe he's unlikely to lose the speakership contest, but it isn't going to be the cakewalk he was expecting. He's got Greene's endorsement, with all the baggage that entails and the inevitable trouble it's likely to bring him down the road. But at the moment, there are at least five Republican members who say they definitely won't vote for him. That means if every member shows up that day, he can't win. The GOP margin is that thin.

Now McCarthy has an announced opponent, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, who leads the far-right House Freedom Caucus. Biggs can't get anywhere close to the necessary 218 votes either, and he knows it. But according to HuffPost's Arthur Delaney, Biggs has a theory: If the right can defeat McCarthy, another candidate will emerge to take over, much like what happened back in 2015, when McCarthy was shoved aside for "consensus candidate" Paul Ryan. This is a total fantasy: There's no nationally-known boy wonder just waiting around — as Ryan, a former vice-presidential nominee, was seen at the time — and Greene, along with several other Freedom Caucus members, are already backing McCarthy. In fact, she has thrown down the gauntlet, saying: "The Freedom Caucus is responsible for making Paul Ryan speaker. Is this group going to do something like that again?"

You can see McCarthy moving closer to Greene in real time. On Sunday he pledged to drag 51 former Intelligence officials in front of a House investigative committee to answer for a letter they signed about the brouhaha surrounding Hunter Biden's laptop. Their letter didn't directly claim that the infamous 2020 New York Post article was Russian disinformation, but suggested that, given what had happened during the 2016 campaign, it might be. McCarthy and friends are reacting to the "Twitter files," with the so-called revelations about Twitter's decision to suppress the Post story for a couple of days, which Republicans now claim was the reason Trump lost the election. (These things don't have to make sense, they just have to "feel" right.)

McCarthy knows that all of this is ridiculous, and knows that continuing to relitigate the 2020 election is a losers' game for Republicans. (We can see how well that approach played out in the midterms.) But he's trapped. He has to do everything he can to keep Greene on his team while desperately trying to persuade other far-right fanatics not to sabotage his narrow majority. The result is that he's being forced to move further and further to the right just to remain standing. The extremists don't much like him, but they're all he's got.