Hail and Farewell
Looks like I picked a helluva week to get off the hamster wheel of crazy.
As you perhaps know, this is my last Morning Shots; I'm turning the keys over to the estimable Andrew Egger and the legendary Bill Kristol. Starting Monday, the duo will continue the Bulwark’s tradition of standing athwart the madness — in your inbox every morning. Tim Miller takes over the daily podcast and our extraordinary team will be right there with you for this wild ride.
But before we get to the good-byes, let’s catch up a bit.
The president won't be indicted for keeping classified documents, Gabe Schoenfeld writes in today’s Bulwark, but the special counsel’s report “puts his chief political vulnerability—his age—back in the spotlight.”
How bad was it? Here’s Schoenfeld:
ALL THIS WOULD NOT BE SO BAD FOR BIDEN if Hur had not characterized Biden in extraordinarily damaging ways. In particular, he makes out the 81-year-old to be senescent: “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited,” he writes. Biden had “limited precision and recall.” Biden “would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory.” In an extended passage, there is more:
In his interview with our office, Mr. Biden’s memory was worse. He did not remember when he was vice president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (“if it was 2013—when did I stop being Vice President?”), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (“in 2009, am I still Vice President?”). He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died.
Hur, it must be pointed out, is a Republican, and Biden supporters are already crying foul. Biden himself has pushed back hard, declaring in a Thursday evening press conference that his memory was just fine and that the special counsel’s comments were gratuitous—but then embarrassingly referring to Mexico when describing his policy toward Egypt. Whatever the case, at a moment when Republicans are painting Biden as senile, a finding like this in an official Department of Justice document is not helpful, to say the least.
And, no, Trump won’t be removed from the ballot. The case for disqualifying him under the 14th Amendment didn’t go well. Who says so? Everybody. Kim Wehle’s verdict in this morning’s Bulwark: “Based on the oral argument before the Supreme Court today… there seems to be no doubt that the high court will overturn Colorado’s decision.”
Shortly after the SCOTUS arguments concluded, Ben Wittes and I recorded our final episode of the Trump Trials.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
Ave atque vale
My good friend (and fellow Cheesehead) James Wigderson reminded me of the first show I did after stepping down from my daily radio show.
It was early 2017, and I found myself in New York hosting Indivisible on WNYC. Wigderson describes the show as “the beta version of what the Bulwark podcast would become.”
I never thought of it that way before, but he’s right. After Trump’s election, a lot of us found ourselves in the wilderness and were trying to work out how we got there and where we might be going. We recorded the first episode just days after former President George W. Bush described Trump’s Inauguration speech as “some weird shit.” Wigderson reminded me how I opened that show — and my conversation with George Will.
“I’m probably one of the most unusual political beasts around these days,” Sykes said. “I’m a conservative contrarian, or a contrarian conservative, however you like it. What that means is, I’m still an actual conservative. Yeah, a conservative on public radio. I’m a conservative who believes in things like freedom and limited government and constitutionalism. But I’m not part of what the conservative movement has become.”
“But we contrarian conservatives, we’re a very, very lonely band of brothers and sisters these days but I think a very important one. Especially if we’re ever going to break out of these alternative reality silos that we’ve all been in. So, one of the questions I’d like to talk about is: What now?
“What do we do now if we’re not going to get on the Trump train? What role do these independent conservatives play? Will Republicans ever draw the line? Will they ever stand up to Donald Trump?”
Sykes’ first guest was nationally syndicated Washington Post columnist George Will. In the “before times” (as before Trump became to be known) Will’s voice commanded attention and respect throughout the Right and beyond. His contract not renewed at Fox news, Will was in the wilderness, too, as a member of “the establishment” and therefore suspect.
Sykes asked Will the question that dogged the conservative movement since Trump came down the escalator in 2015: was Trump the natural result of the conservative movement up to that time?
“Absolutely not,” Will replied. “Donald Trump is the consequence of a progressivism that extends the faceless, meddling, incompetent, arrogant government over people who don’t want that. The conservatism that I joined with casting my first presidential vote, at the age I guess of 22, 23 it was for Barry Goldwater in 1964, talked about the rule of law, limited government, a certain modesty about the actual scope and competence of government – this is entirely different.”
Now, it’s seven years later, and we’re still asking that question. It has been a major theme of the Bulwark and our many podcast discussions. I think it’s safe to say that it’s been far worse than any of us imagined at the time.
But these fraught times have also given us the opportunity to think through issues that had gone unaddressed for far too long. It’s also been a time of testing, and we know now how Conservatism, Inc. has responded.
It’s also been a time of remarkable courage.
The ongoing crisis has created new alliances, strange bedfellows, and unexpected communities like the one that formed around the Bulwark. I’m deeply grateful for the opportunity that Sarah Longwell and Bill Kristol gave me when we founded this place.
Working alongside folks like JVL, Mona Charen, A.B. Stoddard, Will Saletan, Cathy Young, Jim Swift, Adam Keiper, Sonny Bunch, Barry Rubin, Tim Miller, Ben Parker, and Joe Perticone, has been the most rewarding professional experience of my life.
A special shoutout to our brilliant art director Hannah Yoest, who got up early every day to make the Bulwark the best-looking political website you’ll find anywhere; and to the best podcast team in the business — the absolutely incomparable Katie Cooper, who prepped and produced our daily show, and Jason Brown, our engineer who made us sound better than we deserved.
Extra special thanks to my brilliant wife, J.F. Riordan, who has taken time out from writing novels, books of essays (and children’s books about dogs) to copy edit Morning Shots every day. (You really should sign up for her outstanding website.)
Finally, I’m deeply grateful to all of you for joining us in the wilderness.
Remember: You are not the crazy ones.
And don’t stop believing.