Hackery, Sophistry, and Cant

Who had the worst takes on Liz Cheney?

Bad politics makes for bad punditry, and this week did not disappoint.

The GOP’s purge of Liz Cheney has inspired more than its share of tendentious logic-twisting from the usual suspects. As we’ve seen repeatedly, the sophistry of politicians is quickly mirrored by the rationalizations of the commentators of Conservtism Inc.

There were notable exceptions, and some surprises. The Wall Street Journal editorial board took a break from indulging conspiracy theories to warn against the defenestration of Cheney. National Review’s editors also denounced the move to cancel Cheney over her failure to embrace Trump’s “mendacious claims” about the election.

But others have rushed forward to insist that even though she may have been telling the truth, it is, in fact, a brilliant stategery for the GOP to make the embrace of Trump’s Big Lie the litmus test for leadership in the party.

As Tim Miller notes, Republicans are once again deciding to humor a bitter and vindictive Donald Trump and asking themselves: What could possibly go wrong?

So we get this kind of sage punditry: Back in January, the veteran anti-anti-Trumper, Dan McLaughlin (perhaps better known as the Baseball Crank) penned a full-throated denunication of Trump:

Casting him into the outer darkness to wail and gnash his teeth, whence he can never return as a candidate for office, is the only way to put an end to this and resume the business of focusing the Republican Party again on winning elections and on using public office to deliver what voters want from government.

But Crank has evolved.

A few days ago, he argued that “Liz Cheney is no longer the leadership House Republicans need, or deserve.”

As for Trump? Baseball Crank now thinks we should just basically wait for him to die. (Not a parody.)

 Waiting for Trump to die is obviously not a pleasant way to look at the party’s future, to say the least, even aside from the fact that it requires awaiting a deus ex machina event the party cannot control. But there is not any other clear blueprint for how to get him to make way for a successor.

So, the least-bad option for now is just to give Trump as little attention as possible. 

As Miller writes in today’s Bulwark: “The very people who misjudged the consequences of letting Trump’s lies spread, who hid in the Capitol as it was sacked by a mob, who lost their majority in the Senate—are now arguing that the party’s only choice is to act the exact same way they did before all of this shit went down.”

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The bad takes were not, of course, solely the provenance of the right. Jack Shafer’s silly piece, How Democrats Learned to Love the Cheneys, has already been roundly dunked on, but there were quite a few others in the mainstream media/left media.

No stranger to bad takes, the NYT’s Charles Blow argues that all-conservatives-are-evil-especially-Cheneys so we shouldn’t think of her heroic stand as heroic.

But her present position does not expunge her past positions. The sword she’s falling on is one she has spent her political career brandishing.

If Cheney is punished by her own party, I will not applaud, but I also will not sob. I sit silently in acknowledgment, as one does, when karma swings low and performs its function.

John Nichols, in the Nation takes a similar tack:

Liz Cheney is not some moderate maverick Republican who is breaking with her party on policy. She is a right-wing warmonger whose crude attacks on people of color, immigrants, Muslims, and progressives carry the same venom as those of the most extreme members of her caucus…

So, no redemption for her. No need for allies on the right (which seems to be the consensus throughout the Woke Twitterverse).

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But it pains me to say that once again, the truly bad takes generally came from the right, which has offered us a parade of sophistry, hackery, and cant.

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Eliana Johnson has the swampest of swampy takes, arguing that the real problem is is not Trump, but Cheney who is being an “a-hole” —and, no, that is not a paraphrase. She actually wrote that.

Cheney might have understood her colleagues’ thinking better if she spent some more time hearing them out. POLITICO’s John Harris made the point in a column in March that asked, pointedly, why some politicians are such a--holes. He contrasted the friendless and scandal-plagued New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, with the late presidential adviser Vernon Jordan, a man of a thousand close friends. At the time, I wrote Harris telling him that Cheney was another example of the former…

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Byron York blamed Cheney for being excessively mouthy.

But she couldn't seem to stop talking about Trump. And, of course, many in the media loved asking her about the former president, which led to a flood of "divided GOP" stories. At this point, nearly four months after the impeachment vote, Cheney could have developed a stock answer for the inevitable media inquiries: I voted to impeach. I explained my vote. I stand by it. But now it is time to move on to the pressing issue of opposing the Biden-Pelosi agenda and winning back the House in 2022. Instead, Cheney has seemed to relish fanning the flames.

Meanwhile, of course, Trump himself continues to issue daily attacks on (1) the 2020 election and (2) Republican critics.

And look who was out there yesterday re-litigating the 2020 election:

So, yes, Elise Stefanik turns out to be even worse than you thought.

As Daniel Dale notes she endorsed efforts to overturn the election; said people “rightly” worried there were “unprecedented voting irregularities”; falsely claimed Georgia eliminated voter verification; claimed there were 140K illegal votes in Fulton; and raised “concerns” about Dominion.

And all of that was before she went on Steve Bannon’s show yesterday to embrace the bogus Arizona “audit” by guys who call themselves the Cyber-ninjas.

But this did not stop Henry Olsen from writing “Elise Stefanik could be just what the GOP needs” calling her “an unusually canny and precocious politician.”

(Olsen seldom diappoints.)

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Mark kept the Hemingway family tradition alive with this take:

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No rundown of bad takes would be complete without a cameo appearance by Kurt Schlichter.

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But, this, from Jon Gabriel, may be the worst of the worst. (And it is not a parody.)

“On substance,” he writes, “I agree with Cheney. The election was not stolen and Trump’s Jan. 6 incitement merited impeachment. But all that is history. The GOP’s job today is to stop Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer. In that fight — the only fight that matters six months after the election — Cheney is AWOL.”

And then he offers this, um, analogy:

Say I bought a sweet 1967 Ford Mustang. Candy apple red, 320 horses, lovingly restored. But six months ago, my wife borrowed it, ran a stop sign, and totaled the car. I would be upset. We would have a long, painful talk. I would sulk for a few weeks then buy a boring used Honda to replace it.

Then my wife asks me to drop off the kids at school, I reply, “Oh, should I bring them in my crappy Accord I had to buy because you destroyed my beautiful Mustang?!“

When she asks if I want anything from Starbucks, I say, “how about a hot Venti Ford-uccino? Do they have one of those?“

“Ugh, Jon. the stylist wrecked my hair.”

“Speaking of wrecks…”

“Jon, that was six months ago. Can we please move on?”

“We can’t embrace the notion that you didn’t wreck my car. It’s a poison in the bloodstream of our marriage. We can’t whitewash what happened to my Mustang! What you did to my car was a line that cannot be crossed!”

Everything sulky Jon said above was accurate. Nothing was helpful, intelligent, or useful to our relationship.

The wife would be right to file for divorce. And it’s time to file papers on Rep. Cheney.

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Quick Hits

1. Not My Party: Your Q to Leave

Make sure you watch Tim’s latest: Q-drops, frazzledrip, and the crazy conspiracy coming to South Carolina—and Republican politicians near you.

By now y’all must have heard about QAnon, the insane web of conspiracy theories that grew on 8chan and then took the Republican base by storm.

In the Q world, JFK Jr. is alive. The Pope might be dead. Democrats like Hilary Clinton are frazzledripping, which apparently means skinning babies’ faces and wearing them for restorative powers. (I’d recommend a rose face mask from Sephora instead. Wow! Just $25!)

But here’s the main thrust of the theory: At the highest levels of government there’s a cabal of child-sex predators and Donald Trump is leading the charge to stop it. So when Trump, you know, lost, the conspiracy twisted and expanded to explain it. QAnon followers became swept up in Trump’s stolen-election lie.

Which led brainwashed people to try to take matters into their own hands.


2. The Roots of “Replacement Theory”

Keith Osmun explains that fiction featuring ‘replacement theory’ has given the racist ideology new life.

What makes Raspail’s The Camp of the Saints especially concerning is that the book was recommended in leaked emails by then-White House adviser Stephen Miller to writers at Breitbart. Steve Bannon is also a fan of the book, and he gave it new interest when ISIL and the Syrian civil war forced millions of refugees fleeing conflict into the arms of European countries. On more than one occasion Bannon actually called the migration a real-world “Camp of the Saints.”


3. Three States and a Funeral (for the Republican Party)

Burdett A. Loomis and Marc C. Johnson say if you want to see the next version of the GOP, look at the states where it dominates the legislatures.

If you want to see the future of the Republican party, there’s no need to wait. It’s happening right now in state legislatures across the country.

Political sorting has created a country in which even local elections are highly polarized. In practice this means that divided government is uncommon even at the state legislative level. Forty-seven states have both branches of the legislature controlled by the same party. (The exceptions are Minnesota, Alaska, and Nebraska’s unicameral.),

Of these, Republicans overwhelmingly dominate—meaning either complete control of both branches or veto-proof legislative majorities with a Democratic governor—in 25 states, giving party leaders carte blanche to set the agenda and pass bills.

What you see in these instances is indicative of where the GOP’s priorities are. And more often than not, what you see are not public policy proposals, but grievance-based attacks on vulnerable populations or that amount to performative political theater.

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Cheap Shots

Memo to Paul Ryan: