Discover more from The Bulwark
Biden Is Old, But Trump Is Crazy (and Dangerous)
Plus: Why you should be alarmed. But not panicked.
Quick Note: It was great meeting so many Bulwark readers/listeners at this weekend’s Texas Tribune Festival! We had a standing room only crowd for our “No Bull**** From the Bulwark” panel (with Bill, Tim, Mona, and me… moderated by Evan Smith.) I also moderated a discussion on ‘Trump Ever After” with Olivia Nuzzi. from New York Magazine; Bret Stephens from the NYT; and Berris Terris from the Washington Post. Didn’t make it to Austin? You can listen to the whole thing on today’s Bulwark podcast.
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Catching up on this Day of Atonement
Let’s start with some relevant context:
In the last few days, the leading GOP candidate for president — the twice impeached, defeated former president, who is facing four criminal indictments — suggested the execution of General Mark Milley; demanded a federal shutdown unless the prosecutions against him are defunded; called on all Senate Democrats to resign; and threatened to use the powers of the federal government to retaliate against news outlets like NBC that had criticized him.
This is the same former president who has called for terminating provisions of the Constitution; orchestrated a coup to overturn the last presidential election; and absconded with military secrets. Lest you have forgotten, he has also been found liable for rape; and faces more than 90 felony counts for (among other things) paying off a porn star, conspiracy, obstruction, and defrauding the federal government.
And just a few days ago, we got a new report reminding us of the depths of the former president’s contempt for disabled and wounded veterans.
At his welcome ceremony at Joint Base Myer–Henderson Hall, across the Potomac River from the capital, Milley gained an early, and disturbing, insight into Trump’s attitude toward soldiers. Milley had chosen a severely wounded Army captain, Luis Avila, to sing “God Bless America.” Avila, who had completed five combat tours, had lost a leg in an IED attack in Afghanistan, and had suffered two heart attacks, two strokes, and brain damage as a result of his injuries. To Milley, and to four-star generals across the Army, Avila and his wife, Claudia, represented the heroism, sacrifice, and dignity of wounded soldiers….
After Avila’s performance, Trump walked over to congratulate him, but then said to Milley, within earshot of several witnesses, “Why do you bring people like that here? No one wants to see that, the wounded.” Never let Avila appear in public again, Trump told Milley. (Recently, Milley invited Avila to sing at his retirement ceremony.)
For anyone else that grotesque display of insensitivity would be disqualifying. But this is the GOP circa 2023, and Trump is extending his lead, while even more GOP hollow men are pledging to support him next year despite (waves arms) all of this.
Meanwhile, the Congressional GOP seems to have given up any pretense of being a serious governing party as it lurches from disarray to dysfunction, to derangement. This is the House Kevin beclowned.
Here’s how Semafor’s Jordan Weissman described last week’s serial pratfalls:
House Republicans plunged their way into previously unexplored depths of dysfunction on Thursday, after a group of hardliners sank Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s latest attempt to pass some sort of budget legislation before a government shutdown.
The fiasco began when a vote to begin debate on the party’s defense spending bill unexpectedly failed 214-216 for the second time in a week. Five Republicans voted against the measure, including McCarthy’s close ally, Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., who sought to strip out a small amount of funding for Ukraine. Another, Rules Committee Chair Rep. Tom Cole, flipped to no as a procedural move that will allow him to revive the bill later.
Afterwards, GOP leaders called off votes for the rest of the week as they sought to regroup…. Republican members described the state of their party as “chaos” and “a total shitshow.” “We are very dysfunctional right now,” Rep. Tim Burchett, R-Tenn. told NBC, adding that leadership “obviously can’t count” votes.
“At this moment, House Republicans can’t govern,” tweeted Punchbowl’s Jake Sherman, the semi-official chronicler of McCarthy’s speakership. “This isn’t just an opinion, at this point. It’s a fact that’s been borne out in the Capitol all week.”
MORE THAN THIRTEEN MONTHS before next year’s election, fatalism has infected the House GOP conference. Democrats have only a slight edge heading into next year’s House contests, but Republicans are behaving as if they have no hope of staying in power. As one former member told me: “Many would say, ‘We’ve squandered this and we’re going to lose.’”
All day long, House Republicans go on television to trash McCarthy and other members of their party. Even McCarthy let loose after the rule vote for a defense appropriations bill failed on Thursday, the second time it happened this week: “This is a whole new concept of individuals that just want to burn the whole place down. It doesn’t work.”
“This isn’t conservative Republicanism. This is stupidity,” Rep. Mike Lawler said on CNN Tuesday, after the rule vote failed the first time….
“We’re dysfunctional. . . . It’s that simple. We are so dysfunctional,” Rep. Tim Burchett, another hardliner, said on Wednesday. Note that his admission came a day before the second vote to proceed to the defense spending bill failed during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the Capitol.
The Polls and the Bedwetting
Despite the GOP’s muddled chaos and insanity, this is also the season of Democratic agita; and the latest polls have triggered yet more bed-wetting. A new ABC/Wapo poll shows Trump leading Joe Biden by 9 points. The NBC poll has the race tied.
So much for the Trump-can’t-win argument.
But what should we make of these polls? First, I think it’s safe to set aside the ABC SHOCK POLL (!)… because it is obviously an outlier. How do we know? Trump’s massive lead includes the claim that he is dominating the…. wait for it…. youth vote. I kid you not.
Mr. Trump, 77, leads Mr. Biden, 80, among voters under the age of 35 by 20 points in the latest poll by the Washington Post and ABC News.
Mr. Trump had the support of 53 per cent of the 18 to 35-year-olds surveyed, while Mr. Biden was backed by just 38 per cent.
We rate this: Highly Unlikely.
But that doesn’t mean the polls can be brushed off. As The Cook Report’s Amy Walter noted: “In 2016, Electoral College was decided by about 79K votes - In 2020 it was 42K votes. In ‘20, D’s held House by 30K votes. In ‘22, R’s won House by 6K votes. This is going to be a close race. No one is winning by 10pts. No one is winning by 5 pts. Accept it and move on.”
The Bottom-line: Be alarmed. Not panicked.
Biden is old. But Trump is nuts (and fascist-adjacent).
Unless all of the laws of political gravity have been repealed (which may actually be the case), this ought to weigh in the balance at some point, don’t you think?
The Death Penalty for General Milley
Rep Paul Gosar also likes the idea of killing the American general, and even threw in a bit of homophobia to spice up his bloodlust:
In a better society, quislings like the strange sodomy-promoting General Milley would be hung. He had one boss: President Trump, and instead he was secretly meeting with Pelosi and coordinating with her to hurt Trump. That is, when he wasn’t also secretly coordinating and sharing intelligence with the Chinese military. How this traitor remains in office is a question we need answered.
“UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN!”
The Republicans lost big on Debt Ceiling, got NOTHING, and now are worried that they will be BLAMED for the Budget Shutdown. Wrong!!! Whoever is President will be blamed, in this case, Crooked (as Hell!) Joe Biden! Our Country is being systematically destroyed by the Radical Left Marxists, Fascists and Thugs – THE DEMOCRATS. UNLESS YOU GET EVERYTHING, SHUT IT DOWN! Close the Border, stop the Weaponization of “Justice,” and End Election Interference – WE MUST HAVE HONEST ELECTIONS. It’s time Republicans learned how to fight! Are you listening Mitch McConnell, the weakest, dumbest, and most conflicted “Leader” in U.S. Senate history? HE’S ALREADY GIVEN THE DEMOCRATS EVERYTHING, THEY CAN’T BELIEVE HOW LUCKY THEY GOT. WE NEED NEW, & REAL, REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP IN THE UNITED STATES SENATE, NOT A CLONE OF MITCH, & WE NEED IT NOW!!!
All Democrats should resign.
Trump is coming for the Enemy of the People.
Another Trump bleat, because free speech, amirite?
They are almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC, often and correctly referred to as MSDNC (Democrat National Committee!), should be investigated for its “Country Threatening Treason.” Their endless coverage of the now fully debunked SCAM known as Russia, Russia, Russia, and much else, is one big Campaign Contribution to the Radical Left Democrat Party. I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!
The Identity Trap
Our democratic order is facing a two-front war. While the immediate crisis may be from the right, the left is presenting its own threats—which only help make far-right populism stronger. Political scientist and democracy hipster Yascha Mounk discusses his new book on Friday’s Bulwark podcast.
BONUS: Yascha Mounk’s op-ed in the NYT, “How to Argue Against Identity Politics Without Turning Into a Reactionary.”
There is a way to warn about these views on identity that is thoughtful yet firm, principled yet unapologetic. The first step is to recognize that they constitute a novel ideology — one that, though it has wide appeal for serious reasons, is profoundly misguided.
In recent years, parts of the right have started to denounce any concern about racism as being “woke” or an example of “critical race theory.” This right-wing hyperbole has, in turn, persuaded many reasonable people that critical race theory amounts to little more than a commendable determination to teach children about the history of slavery or to recognize that contemporary America still suffers from serious forms of discrimination. Critical race theory, they think, is simply a commitment to think critically about the terrible role that race continues to play in our society.
This soft-pedaled depiction of their ideas would come as a shock to the founders of critical race theory. Derrick Bell, widely seen as the father of the tradition, cut his teeth as a civil rights lawyer who helped to desegregate hundreds of schools. But when many integrated schools failed to provide Black students with a better education, he came to think of his previous efforts as a dead end. Arguing that American racism would never subside, he rejected the “defunct racial equality ideology” of the civil rights movement,
According to Mr. Bell, the Constitution — and even key Supreme Court rulings like Brown v. Board of Education — cloaked the reality of racial discrimination. The only remedy, he claimed, is to create a society in which the way that the state treats citizens would, whether it comes to the benefits they can access or the school they might attend, explicitly turn on the identity groups to which they belong.
To take critical race theory — and the wider ideological tradition it helped to inspire — seriously is to recognize that it explicitly stands in conflict with the views of some of the country’s most storied historical figures. Political leaders from Frederick Douglass to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. recognized that the Constitution was not enough to protect Black Americans from horrific injustices. But instead of rejecting those documents as irredeemable, they fought to turn their promises into reality.
1. Gold Bullion and Halal Meat: Inside the Menendez Investigation
What unfolded in the next four years is what prosecutors described on Friday as a sprawling corruption scheme that would ensnare the halal meat industry, American military aid to Egypt and the appointment of a top New Jersey law enforcement official. Prosecutors accused Mr. Menendez, 69, of abusing his power to influence arms sales to Egypt and to attempt to interfere with criminal investigations into Mr. Hana’s web of business associates.
An F.B.I. search last year of the couple’s New Jersey home revealed some of the fruits of their scheme, prosecutors said. Federal agents found more than $480,000 in cash stuffed throughout the house in envelopes and in the pockets of jackets that were embroidered with the senator’s name. Inside the home were more than $100,000 worth of gold bars, some of which had unique serial numbers that traced back to Mr. Hana. A shiny Mercedes-Benz convertible sat in the garage.
The 39-page indictment — which laid out in painstaking detail a series of deleted text messages, encrypted phone calls and shell company payments — painted a portrait of a couple motivated by relentless greed.
2. Shutdown Politics: What Trump Wants, Who Gets Blamed
On September 20, Trump egged on his MAGA House acolytes with a Truth Social post: “Republicans in Congress can and must defund all aspects” of the government.
He makes no effort to hide his self-serving motivation. A shutdown, he wrote, is “the last chance to defund these political prosecutions against me.”
2. Kevin McCarthy’s Sham Impeachment
McCarthy’s tenure as speaker is in a precarious position, with a government shutdown looming. People like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) have reportedly demanded investigations into Biden in exchange for a vote on a short-term spending bill. For regular Americans, these machinations are too in-the-weeds to warrant a side glance. But we must all keep our eyes on the big picture, and see clearly what these impeachment proceedings against Biden mean: that for congressional Republicans, the Constitution that they have sworn to support and defend—and the structure for American democracy it established some twenty-three decades ago—has come to mean nothing.