All The GOP’s Faustian Bargains
Plus: Lindsey steps on Biden’s bad day.
Stop me if you’ve heard this story before, but Trumpist election deniers appear to have won GOP primaries in New Hampshire, probably nudging the Granite State into the D column.
Meanwhile, more evidence that perhaps the “Russian Hoax” wasn’t a hoax after all: “Russia spent millions on secret global political campaign, U.S. intelligence finds.” The new report doesn’t include interference in U.S. politics, but — just in case you may have forgotten, or get your news from Fox — “Assessments by both U.S. spy agencies and a bipartisan Senate investigation concluded that Russia under President Vladimir Putin launched a campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election to assist then-candidate Donald Trump.”
And Lindsey Graham steps on Joe Biden’s Bad Day.
Actually, Tuesday looked like a Very Bad Day for the Biden administration. There were ghastly inflation numbers, a horrific drop in the Dow, and Republicans were relishing a news cycle dominated by the dire economic news. A Thousand “Let’s Go Brandon” memes were readied.
Then along came Lindsey Graham.
Just last month, Graham had declared: “"I've been consistent — I think states should decide the issue of marriage and states should decide the issue of abortion."
On Tuesday, however, the ever-malleable Graham proposed a federal ban, because… well.
“There’s a narrative forming in America that the Republican Party and the pro-life movement is on a run. No, no, no, no, no, no,” Graham, who in the past favored a 20-week ban, told reporters. “We welcome the debate. We welcome the vote in the United States Senate as to what America should look like in 2022.”
To be fair, Graham thought he was helping his fellow Republicans by proposing a federal ban on abortions after the first 15 weeks — a less extreme position than taken by some state legislatures. (A reminder that a 15-week ban polls much, much better than absolute bans.) It would, however, leave the more draconian state bans in place.
The NYT illustrates how Graham’s proposal compares to what’s been happening in the states:
But Graham’s proposal was greeted like a rabid skunk at a garden party — except by Democrats who saw it as a political gift, both for its substance, and its timing.
Here’s Politico’s coverage:
The South Carolina Republican’s 15-week national abortion ban immediately diverted and divided Republicans and left Biden’s aides shocked at the political lifeline they’d just been handed.
Administration officials and presidential allies — including some anxious about appearing jubilant on a day when markets were crashing — leaned hard into the split screen: denouncing Graham’s bill in increasingly harsh terms while Graham’s Republican colleagues pronounced themselves downright vexed over his decision to offer up a plan more conservative than his previous proposals.
It took only hours Tuesday for fellow Republicans to trash Sen. Lindsey Graham's bill to ban abortion after 15 weeks nationwide.
From the halls of Congress to the campaign trail, Republicans attacked the bill as a distraction that divides the GOP and reminds voters that most of them see the party as too extreme on abortion.
"Bad idea," said Chris Mottola, a GOP strategist and ad maker. "It rips open a political sore. The political environment was moving back to economic issues. It further nationalizes an issue that works against Republicans generically."
Mitch McConnell immediately distanced himself from Graham’s bill. “I think most of the members of my conference prefer that this be dealt with at the state level,” McConnell said.
But it didn’t matter. Graham had nationalized an issue that has been breaking badly for the GOP seven weeks before the mid-term elections.
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Unleashing the Furies
On Tuesday’s pod, I spoke with David Corn about his new book, “American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy.”
Corn asks the question we have discussed at great length: “Was the current GOP, with its cultlike embrace of Trump and his Big Lie, and its acceptance of the fringiest players . . . [really] a break from the past?” He argues that for seventy years, the party “has stoked animus and conspiracies, often capitalizing on unfounded apprehension about internal enemies subverting the nation.”
I think it’s fair to say that we have a somewhat different perspective and I have my quibbles. But Corn documents all the times the GOP has bowed to, depended on, and promoted far-right extremists and conspiracists to win elections.
The GOP’s Faustian Bargain with Donald Trump was hardly the first pact with the political netherworld.
In each case, the GOP made a deal with the fringe — hoping and expecting that the crackpots could be safely locked in the basement after the election. As we now know, it didn’t work out that way.
Some highlights that stuck with me [with assistance from my incomparable producer, Katie Cooper]:
Eisenhower’s surrender to Joe McCarthy.
In 1951, McCarthy had accused President Truman of scheming to deliver the nation to “disaster,” and he accused George Marshall — author of the post-WWII Marshall Plan — of intentionally weakening the United States to deliver it to the Soviet Union.
Dwight Eisenhower knew McCarthy was a dangerous demagogue and fabricator — and wanted to assail McCarthy and defend Marshall, but top Republicans pointed out that he might need Wisconsin to win the election. Ike ended up dropping his plans to say anything critical of McCarthy, and instead decried the left-wing “contamination” in every department of our government, and he called for the right to “call a Red a Red.”
My old newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal, called Eisenhower out for “surrendering ethical and moral principles in a frenzied quest for votes.”
[It’s worth noting that other Republicans, including Margaret Chase Smith, denounced McCarthy; and, in 1954, Republican senators joined with Democrats in censuring the Wisconsin demagogue.]
The Southern Strategy.
In 1968, Richard Nixon worried that third-party candidate George Wallace would win Southern conservative votes in the electoral college, and that Ronald Reagan was a threat to win the GOP nomination.
So, Nixon made the decision to ally with segregationist Strom Thurmond, who agreed to campaign against Wallace and to keep Southern delegates from going with Reagan at the convention.
According to Corn, Nixon promised a running mate who would “lay off pro-Negro crap,” and said he would work to win over the “ethnics” — “Irish, Ital, Pole, Mex,” because “they’re afraid of Negroes.”
Reagan and the Moral Majority.
The Moral Majority was founded by Jerry Falwell, who had railed against integration in the Fifties. Corn writes that Falwell also waged “a crusade to demonize homosexuals, who he contended literally threatened the existence of the United States. Gay people, he said in 1977, would ‘kill you as quick as look at you.’”
In August 1980, Reagan appeared at a fundamentalist event in Dallas, where a fiery pastor, James Robison, “blasted liberals, homosexuals, and communists, lumping them all together into one giant threat to American families. ‘We’ll either have a Hitler-type takeover, or Soviet dominion, or God is going to take over this country.’”
When Reagan spoke, he said, “I know that you can’t endorse me, but . . . I want you to know that I endorse you,” and the crowd roared.
After Reagan decisively beat Carter, pollster Lou Harris said that “Reagan would have lost the election by one percentage point without the help of the Moral Majority.”
George H.W. Bush appeases the crackpots.
In September 1992, Corn writes, Bush “appeared before the Christian Coalition and lauded founder Pat Robertson for ‘all the work you’re doing to restore the spiritual foundation of this nation’ — even though the previous year, Robertson had alleged Bush was part of a Satanic plot. Literally.”
When Robertson ran for president in 1988, he accused Bush of being allied with a diabolical cabal of international bankers. In 1991, Robertson claimed that Bush had unwittingly carried out the mission of a cabal whose goal “is nothing less than a new order for the human race under the domination of Lucifer and his followers.” Despite that, Robertson got a prominent speaking spot at the RNC.
While the coalition couldn’t help Bush enough in ’92, Corn writes, it helped Newt Gingrich in 1994, and six years later, helped rescue George W. Bush when McCain threatened to defeat him.
McCain picks Sarah Palin…
. . . and “unleashed the furies.”
The GOP embraces the Tea Party.
In 2009, the Tea Party introduced “death panels,” Confederate flags, a secret Muslim born in Kenya, Glenn Beck, and Michele Bachmann.
“Yet,” Corn writes, “this crowd was welcomed by the top leadership of the GOP — House Republican leader John Boehner, Reps. Eric Cantor and Mike Pence, and other House Republicans.”
The alliance with the Tea Party helped propel the GOP to control of the House in 2010. But five years later, Boehner retired, just steps ahead of a conservative mutiny against him — devoured by the extremists he had exploited to attain power.
And so many more…
Mitt Romney’s embrace of Trump in 2012, despite his Birtherism; Newt Gingrich; Barry Goldwater’s flirtation with the Birchers; Paul Ryan’s capitulation to Trumpism after 2016. . .
No one thought it would come to this, but as Corn makes clear, Trump was not a Black Swan event for a party that has flirted with the crazies for decades.
1. Conservatives Are the New Useful Idiots
The pro-Putin, pro-authoritarian voices in the GOP are not yet a majority—about a quarter of House Republicans and 11 of 50 Senators voted against the $40 billion aid package for Ukraine in May—but they’re not a small minority either, and the wind is at their backs. CPAC has all but canonized Hungary’s strongman Viktor Orban, and in the first hours after Putin rolled into Ukraine, Trump reveled in the murderer’s “savvy” and “genius.” The 2022 election could bring more authoritarian-friendly Republicans to Congress, and meanwhile, hatcheries of conservative orthodoxy like Fox News and The Federalist are doing the spade work of persuading the base that Kremlin propaganda is more trustworthy—pravda, if you will—than the New York Times.
2. On Gay Marriage, Senate Republicans Are Out of Step With the Republican Base
In this morning’s Bulwark, Will Saletan notes that the GOP electorate has shifted toward widespread support for same-sex marriage.
Over the next decade, it’s likely that support for gay marriage will continue to grow among Republicans, making it the clear majority position within the party. Trend data compiled from NBC/Journal polls show that since 2009, among Republican adults younger than 50, the percentage who favor “allowing gay and lesbian couples to enter into same-sex marriages” has more than doubled, from 25 percent to 55 percent.
As these younger Republicans replace their elders, who grew up in a different era, Republican politicians who oppose same-sex marriage will find themselves out of step even in primaries. And it will become increasingly awkward for Republican senators to explain not why they voted for the Respect for Marriage Act, but why they didn’t.
Our geriatric politics.