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Are They Liars? Or Fools?
Plus: Congress's embarrassing Fight Club
The good news is that Congress won’t be shutting down the government this week. The bad news, ladies and gentlemen, is that this is your Congress:
The former G.O.P. speaker elbowed one of the Republicans who had voted to oust him. A Republican senator rose to challenge an organized labor leader to a brawl during a hearing. Across the Capitol, the chairman of a different panel compared a member of his committee to a cartoon character.
In his Press Pass newsletter, our colleague Joe Perticone chronicles yesterday’s juvenile meltdowns, including Kevin McCarthy’s apparent sucker-punch-in-the-back of a GOP colleague. And he adds this detail:
There is well-documented evidence that McCarthy engages in this kind of behavior. He reportedly shoulder-checked former Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) and nearly fought Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) in the bathroom during a recent address to Congress by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“I went from being one of the boys he treated with big smiles and pats on the back to outcast as soon as I started speaking the truth about the president who would be king,” Kinzinger writes.
McCarthy “responded by trying to intimidate me physically. Once, I was standing in the aisle that runs from the floor to the back of the [House] chamber. As he passed, with his security man and some of his boys, he veered towards me, hit me with his shoulder and then kept going.
“If we had been in high school, I would have dropped my books, papers would have been scattered and I would have had to endure the snickers of passersby. I was startled but took it as the kind of thing Kevin did when he liked you.
“Another time, I was standing at the rail that curves around the back of the last row of seats in the chamber. As he shoulder-checked me again, I thought to myself, ‘What a child.’”
How embarrassing was yesterday’s GOP performance? It was so embarrassing, even Fox’s Laura Ingraham was embarrassed. Which is really saying something.
“Everything you just saw was a complete and utter embarrassment,” [Ingraham said.] “It shouldn’t be what is projected to our kids from our nation’s Capital. Reminder to all of you, yeah, the children are watching. You’re supposed to be the adults in the room.”
Exit take: Unfortunately, all of this has led to a great deal of commentary that is deeply unfair to middle-schoolers and clowns, who are actually held to a much higher standard of conduct.
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Knaves or Fools?
In case you haven’t seen it, you really should check out Tim Miller’s extraordinary tête-à-tête with Arizona’s election-denying governor-in-exile Kari Lake.
Once again it raises the age-old question: Knaves or Fools? On Monday’s podcast, Will Saletan asked: "Are people like Kari Lake in the Republican party nuts, or are they just pathologically dishonest?"
This led to a fascinating discussion on Reddit, including this commentary by Tristan Penafiel:
I've written as much as I can think of about how to answer this question, because I think answering it is essential to understanding MAGA. But, here I will just point Charlie and Will to a paper (over a decade old at this point, but still amazingly explicative) by the MVP of conspiracy belief research, Karen Douglas at the University of Kent: Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.
From the abstract:
"The more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered... the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive...
...mutually incompatible conspiracy theories are positively associated because both are associated with the view that the authorities are engaged in a cover-up (Study 2). The monological nature of conspiracy belief appears to be driven not by conspiracy theories directly supporting one another but by broader beliefs supporting conspiracy theories in general."
You can apply the same phenomenon to conspiracies about covid or the 2020 election:
* There were millions of fake votes for Biden and the vote totals were flipped.
* Covid is a hoax and it's a Chinese bioweapon.
*The rioters who broke into the capital were peacefully demonstrating patriots and they were violent FBI/Antifa agitators.
To MAGA conspiracy theorists, all of these things are true - all of them - at the same time, in the same way.
But it's not because they're crazy, necessarily. It's because each of those specific conspiratorial beliefs validates what they most truly believe.
If you believe that American democracy illegitimately takes power from the right, then millions of fake ballots for Biden confirms that belief and the vote totals being switched confirms that belief. If you believe that elites lied to us about covid to control our lives, then covid being a hoax confirms that believe and covid being a bioweapon confirms that belief.
But all these beliefs are just steps on a hierarchy, with all of them together confirming the belief at the very top of all conspiracism: We are innocent. They are evil.
So, when you ask, "Does Trump actually believe that the 2020 election was stolen from him or is he just a pathological liar?" the answer isn't really one or the other.
The answer is this: The only thing Trump ultimately believes that he is always the victim, he is always innocent. And he believes it so that he can always justify his perpetuation of fraud and hatred and violence against his enemies (as suggested by another fascinating Douglas paper: Endorsement of conspiracy theories is influenced by personal willingness to conspire). Any specific belief about conspiracies against him are just subsumed into a frothing narcissism where the distinction between truth and lie is meaningless. The only thing that exists is Trump.
As for Lake, all lying grifters have to exist in a world something like this, otherwise they would have to feel shame.
George Conway: Trump Knows He’s a Criminal
On Tuesday’s podcast: Deep down, Trump knows the truth, and is running again to stay out of jail—just like authoritarian leaders do in other countries. Plus, the new anti-MAGA initiative to protect the rule of law.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube:
Plus: Should there be cameras in the courtroom for Trump’s Trials; and a debate over the best way to stop Trump 2.0.
Heads up: Today’s Bulwark podcast features Peter Wehner with a deep-dive into the GOP’s embrace of nihilism.
Biden’s Kennedy Curse
Because you don’t have enough to worry about, now comes Peter Hamby in Puck with a warning about RFK, Jr.:
Washington might be fixated on Manchin and No Labels, but I’ve found it curious that he’s been getting more attention lately than the more realistic threats to Biden’s candidacy coming from his left flank—Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Cornel West and Jill Stein. All three of them are swimming in a pool of leftist populism, anti-establishment thinking, antiwar dogma and a dash of conspiracy theory. Each of them has the potential to siphon support from disaffected young people, progressives, and younger Black voters—core Democratic voting blocs that have soured on Biden since 2020.
Among those three, though, Kennedy is the candidate that Democrats should be most concerned about. I find it strange that the alarms aren’t louder. Democratic anxieties about Kennedy’s campaign seem to have faded since he dropped out of the Democratic primary and launched an independent bid for the White House. Maybe it’s the vaccine conspiracies or his ideological Venn diagram overlap with Joe Rogan listeners, but recent polls have shown that Republicans now like Kennedy more than Democrats do. Kennedy has also started to pull support from both Biden and Trump. But Democrats shouldn’t suddenly rest easy. If anything, the fears about Kennedy should be growing.
Monday’s video included footage of a piece of paper taped to a wall in the hospital’s basement. Admiral Hagari said the paper — a grid with Arabic words and numbers within each square — could be a schedule for guarding hostages “where every terrorist writes his name.”
The paper included a mark that appeared to be an illegible signature, but did not seem to otherwise include people’s names — the Arabic words were days of the week and numbers underneath dates. The Gazan Health Ministry said in a statement that the paper, including days and dates, was nothing more than “a regular work shift timetable, a standard administrative practice in hospitals.”
The ministry, however, failed to address one key detail: The calendar begins on Oct. 7, the day of the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, and an Arabic title written at the top uses the militants’ name for the assault: “Al Aqsa Flood Battle, 7/10/2023.”
1. We Should Be Thanking Chris Christie
SAVE FOR TAYLOR SWIFT’S THE ERAS TOUR MOVIE, nothing in our shared American experience in 2023 has uplifted me like Chris Christie’s campaign joy ride.
Yes, many of us haven’t forgiven the former New Jersey governor for cementing Trump’s path to the nomination back in 2016, normalizing him at a critical stretch of the primary contest.
No, Christie has no chance of winning the nomination this time around; he is the candidate the base hates more than anyone, and he will not end up in anyone’s cabinet at the end of this.
The best outcome Christie can hope for would be a surprise New Hampshire victory that—because of the nature of the state’s primary rules—would be considered an outlier and would not alter Trump’s momentum in the remainder of the primary. Christie knows that, and he knows that we know that.
Yet Christie has defied expectations, running an error-free campaign, visiting two war zones, and performing well consistently….
2. Trump’s Next Big Lie is Already Here
Amanda Carpenter and Deana El-Mallawany write in the Bulwark: With false claims of “weaponization,” Trump is inflaming the same sentiments that led to January 6th.
In 2020, Trump’s big election lie was that Biden’s victory was illegitimate. His tall tale about “weaponization” is his next big election lie, and its aims are similar to those of the old lie. He is using his fake victimization story to mobilize allies to reject any form of political accountability for his actions and reject the results of the election if he loses—just as they did after the 2020 election.
3. All the Single Ladies
ECONOMIST MELISSA KEARNEY ISN’T ANYONE’S idea of a conservative culture warrior. A self-described “hard-headed albeit softhearted” economist, she has studied poverty, inequality, and family structure for more than 20 years and come to the conclusion that America’s drift away from the two-parent norm has “contributed to the economic insecurity of American families, has widened the gap in opportunities and outcomes for children from different backgrounds, and today poses economic and social challenges that we cannot afford to ignore.”
3. The Problem With Hating ESG
THE MODERN REPUBLICAN PARTY HAS MET THE ENEMY and the enemy is . . . any and all efforts to use the levers of government to address the existential threat of climate change, advance social issues, or promote the common good.
The enemy has a name: ESG. That stands for environmental, social, and governance. It is pegged as a concerted leftist plot, onerous to businesses and disastrous to the economy. It has become a rallying cry for conservatives and a litmus test for political candidates, including the men and woman seeking the Republican nomination for president.
But what were you thinking when you hired her in the first place?
A video making the rounds on social media appears to show Daily Wire founding editor Ben Shapiro slamming his colleague Candace Owens for her “disgraceful” commentary on the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas.
“The question is about Candace Owens,” acknowledges Shapiro at the start of the video before declaring “I think her behavior during this has been disgraceful, without a doubt.”
His next few words were mostly drowned out by the audience, but he did grudgingly acknowledge that Owens “still works at my company” before again turning his attention to her views on Israel.
“I think that her faux sophistication on these particular issues has been ridiculous,” continued Shapiro who expressed his displeasure with her “disreputable” statements.