Discover more from The Bulwark
High Level Corruption. In Plain Sight.
Plus: DeSantis goes darker
Well, that was another unexpected plot switch: F-16s “decommissioned” four UFOs/Spy balloons/weather balloons before the Super Bowl. The game actually lived up to the hype and the halftime show triggered the orange recluse in Mar-a-Lago.
Lest we lose sight of the weekend’s other big stories: Jack Smith seems to be at ramming speed; a new report documents a staggering tale of corruption; Trump tries out a new nickname for DeSantis; and the College Board pushes back on Florida.
I’m still working through Covid, so I’m not doing a lot of heavylifting here. But here’s the stuff you need to catch up on, with the latest from the overworked script writers for 2023.
Let’s start with this:
The Atlantic’s Anne Applebaum, who has seen an awful lot, calls this new reporting on the Trump/Kushner Saudi deals “the most blatant example of high-level corruption in American history. Cannot think of a precedent.”
The day after leaving the White House, [Jared] Kushner created a company that he transformed months later into a private equity firm with $2 billion from a sovereign wealth fund chaired by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Kushner’s firm structured those funds in such a way that it did not have to disclose the source, according to previously unreported details of Securities and Exchange Commission forms reviewed by The Washington Post. …
A year after his presidency, Trump’s golf courses began hosting tournaments for the Saudi fund-backed LIV Golf. Separately, the former president’s family company, the Trump Organization, secured an agreement with a Saudi real estate company that plans to build a Trump hotel as part of a $4 billion golf resort in Oman.
The substantial investments by the Saudis in enterprises that benefited both men came after they cultivated close ties with Mohammed while Trump was in office — helping the crown prince’s standing by scheduling Trump’s first presidential trip to Saudi Arabia, backing him amid numerous international crises and meeting with him repeatedly in D.C. and the kingdom, including on a final trip Kushner took to Saudi Arabia on the eve of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.
Also: ICYMI: Via Wapo: “Trump campaign paid researchers to prove 2020 fraud but kept findings secret.” The report was never issued because “the firm disputed many of his theories and could not offer any proof that he was the rightful winner of the election, according to four people familiar with the matter.
Meanwhile, in today’s Bulwark: Dennis Aftergut writes, “One More Sign That Special Counsel Jack Smith Is Dead Serious.”
You know who else is serious?
TFG, who is hard at work coming up with new nicknames for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The NYT is reporting that Trump “has insulted Mr. DeSantis in casual conversations, describing him as ‘Meatball Ron’, an apparent dig at his appearance, or ‘Shutdown Ron,’ a reference to restrictions the governor put in place at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Both are better than “RonDeSanctimonious,” but still pretty weak stuff from the GOP Apex Predator.
Meanwhile, DeSantis is struggling with the question of how/whether to respond to Trump’s gibes and attacks.
“It’s a really tough situation for DeSantis,” said Tommy Vietor, a Democratic strategist who worked for Senator Barack Obama in his brutal primary race against Hillary Clinton in 2008. “If he starts punching at Trump, he’s going to anger a lot of the people he needs to vote for him.”
But, Mr. Vietor noted, “if you are viewed as weak and cower in response to attacks from Trump, that will be seen as a proxy for how you will be seen as a Republican nominee and how you’ll be as president.”
Give it a listen:
Find out why the Bulwark pod is consistently one of the Top 10 political podcasts in the country… check out our weekend chat with Tim Miller here.
DeSantis goes darker
DeSantis continues to pick off MAGA support, as he tries to outflank Trump on the right. His latest acquisition? A cozy new relationship with the Fever Swamp’s Most Prominent Think Tank — The Claremont Institute. Via the Daily Signal:
The Claremont Institute is expanding its state activities to Florida, praising Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for providing “the first template for any red state in America” through his leadership.
DeSantis met with Claremont Institute President Ryan Williams on Wednesday in the Florida state Capitol, where the conservative leaders announced that Claremont’s new activities will be based out of Tallahassee, Florida….
In a press release, the organization noted that the new Tallahassee outpost will “continue that work with a keen eye to using Florida as the first template for any red state in America.”
“We are bringing Claremont Institute state activity to Florida for a few reasons, not least of which is the bold executive and legislative leadership in the Sunshine State,” the release adds. “We are excited to help continue this work by educating allies and leaders alike on effective policy strategies to combat the woke regime in Florida and America at large.”
A few quick reminders about who, and what Claremont has become:
Laura K. Field: “What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute?”
The Atlantic: “The Conservatives Dreading—And Preparing for—Civil War.”
And, indeed, it’s easy to track the transformation of conservativism by tracing the decline of Claremont into Trumpism. It is a dazzling descent.
Once one of the most prestigious bastions of conservative thought, Claremont now spends its time putting lipstick on the Trumpian wildebeest….
But in recent years, Claremont has moved away from its intellectual roots. Its recent list of fellows includes some serious conservative thinkers, but also Fox News host Laura Ingraham, Ben Shapiro, radio host Mark Levin, and Trumpian activists like Charlie Kirk and Mollie Hemingway.
But, as Laura K. Field noted in her comprehensive analysis of Claremont, one of the clearest indications of its evolution was its 2019 decision to name "the conspiracist and 'king of fake news' Jack Michael Posobiec III' one of its Lincoln Fellows. You might know Posobiec for his role in the horrifying Pizzagate hoax and equally gross Seth Rich conspiracy. This year, one of Claremont’s so-called Publius Fellows is a legislative assistant for conspiracy theorist Marjorie Taylor Greene.
Claremont’s drift into racism or authoritarianism has similarly not been subtle.
As Field has noted, Claremont "knowingly provided cover to, and made common cause with, an alleged white supremacist named Darren J. Beattie." Beattie is a former White House staffer who had been fired for consorting with white supremacists. As the attack on the Capitol unfolded on Jan. 6, Beattie sent out a stream of tweets directed at various African Americans — including Sen. Tim Scott, S.C., and Kay Cole James, the president of the conservative Heritage Foundation — telling them they now had to "learn their place" and 'take a knee to MAGA."
Despite the racist tweets, Ryan Williams, the Claremont president, continued to tout Beattie on Twitter the next day. As Field noted, "Other Twitter users brought Beattie’s January 6 tweets to Williams’s attention, but Williams did not explain, retract, or qualify his promotion of Beattie, or apparently distance himself from Beattie in any way; only sometime later did Williams scrub his Twitter account."
Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident.
Earlier this year, Claremont’s online magazine, The American Mind, published a lengthy piece that declared that there was only one "authentic America" and that others who voted against Trump "do not believe in, live by, or even like the principles, traditions, and ideals that until recently defined America as a nation and as a people."
"It is not obvious what we should call these citizen-aliens," wrote Glenn Ellmers, "these non-American Americans; but they are something else.'
It is clear who he regards as authentically American and who he does not. At one point in his essay, Ellmers offers this advice to his readers: "If you are a zombie or a human rodent who wants a shadow-life of timid conformity, then put away this essay and go memorize the poetry of Amanda Gorman."
What was striking about this essay, wrote John Ganz, was that it was "not a product of the neo-Nazi netherworld." But despite its supposedly respectable platform, the intellectual roots of the essay were obvious. Its "themes of pervading national corruption and decadence, and the need for a counter-revolution and a national rebirth put this text firmly in the radical reactionary or fascist ballpark," Ganz noted.
But in fact, these are constant themes amongst the Claremonters. The infamous "Flight 93 essay" was also a product of Claremont — insisting that failure to elect Trump would be tantamount to allowing terrorists to crash the entire country. In author Michael Anton’s apocalyptic vision, conservatives needed to rush the cockpit, even it risked imminent destruction.
That tone still pervades Claremont’s message — along with its fascination for post-democratic strongmen. In May of this year, Anton spent two hours on his Claremont podcast fantasizing about an "American Caesar," who could seize the reins of power and defeat the radical left.
Speaking of Florida…
This is worth a read. “College Board accuses Florida of political motivations in AP course dispute.”
Taken aback by Florida’s attacks against its new AP African American studies course, the College Board late Saturday denounced the state Department of Education, saying it used the course to advance a politically motivated agenda.
Here’s the full push-back letter, with some detail about the interactions between the Board and the Florida Department of education:
We have made the mistake of treating FDOE with the courtesy we always accord to an education agency, but they have instead exploited this courtesy for their political agenda. After each written or verbal exchange with them, as a matter of professional protocol, we politely thanked them for their feedback and contributions, although they had given none.
In Florida’s effort to engineer a political win, they have claimed credit for the specific changes we made to the official framework. In their February 7, 2023, letter to us, which they leaked to the media within hours of sending, Florida expresses gratitude for the removal of 19 topics, none of which they ever asked us to remove, and most of which remain in the official framework.
Every time a Democrat says “socialism,” a voter swings to the right.
But voters’ concerns about socialism are real and the fact that so many Democrats engaged in Fox News Fallacy-style arguments for voting against Salazar’s resolution shows disrespect for these voters—especially the independents and crossover voters who decide today’s closest elections. It is precisely because voters are afraid of socialism that Democrats should not have fallen into the GOP’s messaging trap.
Former president, taking a shot at pregnant Rhianna on his failing social media site.