Discover more from The Bulwark
How Deplorable Is the Claremont Institute?
Plus: our Sunday mailbag
TODAY is the last day for our special offer —→ a trial Bulwark+ for 30 days, for free. So if you’ve been on the fence, this is the time to jump. Like, now.
The headlines give you an idea of how things are going in DC right now.
The NYT: Biden Throws In With Left, Leaving His Agenda in Doubt”; Politico: “Sinema slams Democratic leadership on infrastructure vote delay.” Axios’s Mike Allen: “Left seizes control; and from Politico’s Playbook:
Some progressive Democrats suggested to their colleagues that the White House — at its most senior levels — gave them a green light to tank the BIF vote if Pelosi went ahead with it, we’re told from three congressional sources….
In public, the explanation from Biden and party leaders is that a delayed BIF vote gives them time to strike a deal with moderates. But in private, the divisions within the party are no longer merely ideological or procedural; there is a deeper distrust — even at the most senior levels — that will make striking a deal all the more difficult.
Or as our colleague, Bill Kristol, summed it all up:
Exit take: It’s not like we haven’t been warning that this is a particularly bad moment for Dems to implode.… And, of course, we will continue warning until morale improves.
ICYMI, this piece in the Atlantic is worth your time: “The Conservatives Dreading—And Preparing for—Civil War.” Emma Green’s interview with Claremont’s deplorable president, Ryan Williams, is revealing on multiple levels. Here’s one exchange:
Green: Many on the right seem to no longer believe in reality. QAnon gets a lot of hype, but many people on the right promote stories and narratives that aren’t supported by evidence or facts, especially about the 2020 election.
Are you at all preoccupied with this problem? I’ve noticed, for example, that one of your Publius fellows this year is a legislative assistant for Marjorie Taylor Greene, whose views certainly do not line up with reality. Does that concern you at all?
Williams: We believe in truth and reason. The question is whose truth and whose reason. That’s part of the contested quality of our national politics. And it’s not just the right. A third of the country thinks the election was given to Biden fraudulently. That includes a lot of Democrats.
Our national standard at the elite-media level these days seems to be something far from the truth. We’re no Q fans at Claremont. But it should not be surprising that, in our ideologically divided times, we have real division over truth and reality….
It gets worse, because the reality is much, much worse, as Laura K. Field wrote in her comprehensive takedown, “What the Hell Happened to the Claremont Institute? How the once-distinguished conservative think tank plunged into Trumpism, illiberalism, and lying about the election.”
Her piece is essential background reading for this weekend’s other bombshell story about the role that Claremonter John Eastman played in Trump’s attempted coup. As you recall, Eastman wrote a detailed memo laying out the ways that VP Mike Pence could overthrow the elections. As the NYT reports, the Trump White House asked him to write the coup memo — and Eastman played a key role in a meeting two days before the insurrection. Via the NYT:
Shortly after New Year’s Day, the White House called Mr. Eastman and asked him to fly to Washington to meet with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence. Mr. Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and Mr. Pence’s legal counsel, Greg Jacob, first met with Mr. Eastman, giving them a sense of what Mr. Eastman was planning to argue to Mr. Trump in their meeting with the president the next day, Jan. 4.
In that subsequent meeting with Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, Mr. Eastman was the only adviser to the president in the room.
“It started with the president talking about how some of the legal scholarship that had been done, saying under the 12th Amendment, the vice president has the ultimate authority to reject invalid electoral votes and he asked me what I thought about it,” Mr. Eastman said.
The article also includes this interesting detail:
Mr. Eastman had put himself on the radar of Mr. Trump’s political aides during the election when Jenna Ellis, a legal adviser to Mr. Trump’s campaign, had shared on Twitter an article Mr. Eastman had written. The article, in an echo of racist questions stoked by Mr. Trump about where President Barack Obama had been born, questioned whether Kamala Harris, Mr. Biden’s running mate, could legally become president because her parents had not been born in the United States.
Now, confronting election results that showed Mr. Trump lost, one of Mr. Trump’s aides reached out to Mr. Eastman to see whether he could come over to the hotel to help Mr. Trump’s team.
And, in case it is needed, a reminder about Claremont:
Secession, you say?
A new poll is a reminder of why the talk of Civil War, secession, and coups is so dangerous.
— Significant numbers of both Trump and Biden voters show a willingness to consider violating democratic tendencies and norms if needed to serve their priorities. Roughly 2 in 10 Trump and Biden voters strongly agree it would be better if a “President could take needed actions without being constrained by Congress or courts,” and roughly 4 in 10 (41%) of Biden and half (52%) of Trump voters at least somewhat agree that it’s time to split the country, favoring blue/red states seceding from the union.
Meanwhile, in Arizona…
A Trump-backed candidate for governor is explicitly running on a platform of overturning the election.
We Get Mail
Once again, our inboxes overflowed. Here’s a small sample of the week’s feedback — and a reminder that Bulwark+ members can comment on any of our Morning Shots.
Keep your darts, laurels, rants and raves coming to firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks so much for your podcast and everyone’s work at The Bulwark. You all have been a refuge from the crazy on both sides throughout the last 18 months, which feels like 10 years worth of drama and national anxiety.
I wanted to share with you the recent goings on in my new home of Anchorage, Alaska. The city assembly, like many municipalities, enacted arguably draconian measures last year in the midst of the winter wave of Covid, and is now facing a backlash. However, our new mini-MAGA mayor, who won by less than 1% in a runoff election has, along with Governor Mike Dunleavy, has taken to whistling through the graveyard while Alaska runs #1 in per capita Covid-19 cases, refusing to enact any sort of face covering mandate and aligning himself with the Maga-World of the Last Frontier. This has resulted in the entire state moving to crisis care standards. Fast forward to Wednesday night’s continued (from Tuesday) assembly meeting which, during public comments about a proposed 3 month mask mandate ordinance, descended into a cesspool of Nazi references and hijacking of the Star of David for political purposes. Even the mayor got in on it, and has since had to release a half-hearted apology. Last night the assembly meeting continued with more public comments from enlarged Amygdala’s to additional Nazi references.
I’m saddened to know this is likely just a microcosm of our politics en masse these days. Keep up the great work you're doing.
Dear Tim Miller,
I’ve been wanting to write ever since your “Strange New Disrespect” column. I was sad that you got the kinds of feedback you described at the top of the column, and I’m at a loss to understand those responses.
I don’t read you guys because you’re anti-Trumpism; there must be thousands of websites for that. I read you because you’ve got the guts and integrity to challenge your own movement. (Also because your writing is fantastic.) When you or other thinkers like you say something conservative that I disagree with, I find it very reassuring — because it proves that this fight for reason and democracy is NOT a partisan thing.
You wrote (with, I thought, more charity than the situation merited) that “disagreement can feel like desertion.” Sure it can /feel/ like it, but aren’t we meant to rise above that? (or at least pretend to, so we don't stifle a productive conversation, knowing that we’ll feel better in the long run or at least we’ll look confident?) How is this supposed to work if we can’t disagree? How is any movement supposed to win if it chases everyone out of the tent who doesn’t toe the exact line?
You are doing a great job. I wish more people were doing for the left what you’re doing for the right. I hope you keep saying things I disagree with. It would be a dull damn world if you didn’t.
"The GOP will be dumber, meaner, and crazier." Yes, yes they will. But here's the thing: those politicians are not the GOP, they represent the GOP... all of the now-deplorable voters.
The conflation of the leaders with the party itself is a mistake and leads to time-wasting arguments about who's crazy or what's real.
I quit when George Will did, I didn't see the point anymore, and there are millions more like me. So when pollsters and pundits have opined over time about what the "Republican" voters say they want, they can only cite those who self-identify as such. There is no absolute count of who does this, how many there are, or what their motives are. The concentration of bile and idiocy has grown steadily more toxic over time, and will lead to... what? We don't really know yet, and can't know until we better understand all of it... down to the motherlode of Core Bubba. Bubba goes unmentioned and unexamined except in passing, and that is a mistake. Nobody wants to talk about holding him to account, lest he be "alienated", as if there were some lingering hope of inviting him back into the fold of intelligent, thoughtful citizens. How about this: Bubba is found, isolated, and defeated. Shamed into oblivion.
The country actually has a historical tradition of doing this. Ask the post-Scopes Trial evangelicals. Or the post-Pearl Harbor isolationists. Their day is coming.
George in Atlanta
The only thing that will temper the madness of Trump and his GOP is if Trump is prosecuted, convicted and sent to prison for at least one of the many crimes he has committed. AG Garland must do this without further delay.
Why don't you talk about this on your podcasts? This country needs this justice very badly.
We Get More Mail
Hi Charlie -
I think it was one the Bulwark's contributors that had an article about the intellectual GOP elite having failed us...and this immediately brought Hugh Hewitt to mind. I remember early on in the Trump Presidency that he was on Meet the Press and I was excited to hear what he had to say. I can't remember the topic other than it was about Trump and some corrupt behavior (surprise, surprise) but I remember hearing Hugh just pretzel some logic together and not only defended Trump but he brought some other random thing...and it clearly stopped Chuck Todd in his tracks for a moment and I swear he thought about it for a second and made a decision on the fly of "I'm not even going to go down that rabbit hole".
Anyway...the article fired me up and I went to Hugh's site and submitted an e-mail to him via their website. I just thought you might be somewhat interested since you probably know him pretty well, etc.
Hugh - I voted for Reagan via absentee ballot in 1984 from Navy boot camp. Voted the next 30 years for the GOP. Didn't vote for Trump in 2016 and 2020. Left the GOP in 2017.
I used to have such high regard for the intellectual side of the GOP but now I see you and the others like you as simply part of the GOP machine...that values winning over all other virtues.
We have an ex-President going around STILL claiming he won in a landslide...10 months AFTER an election. The stupid AZ audit only pounded the nail in the coffin more...at least to those of us willing to admit it.
If you truly loved this country as much as you want people to think you do...then how are you ok with this?
When the far right starts really going nuts...and making their own rules leading to chaos and mayhem across the country...are you really going to act like....you didn't have a role in it? Again...we have an ex-POTUS claiming he won an election in a landslide with ZERO proof.
Why don't you report on this? Is it not a HUGE story? Or...are you going to mind-pretzel yourself into believing that you wouldn't have been reporting it if Hillary Clinton had done something like this? Pffft...
Al Gore and Hillary Clinton aren't my heroes but they darn sure conceded an election when they didn't want to...for the good of the country. Yah...no surprise that Trump's not there with them...but there was surprise when Fox, GOP and the conservative media decided they were "all in" with Trump...NOT for the good of the country.
Please wake up and find your moral compass and conscience again...your country really needs it.
I am a Bulwark+ member and look forward to your daily destruction of my safe space as a center-left democrat.
Those at the B are fairly uniformly critical of the magnitude if not the content of the D's big reconciliation bill. To be honest, I really don't know what is in it either. But one thing which should be kept in mind is that this 3.5T (or whatever it ends up being) is the amount which is spent over 10 years. That is not talked about enough.
Finally, I can't remember the last time David Brooks said something I agreed with or even thought relevant, but you (and probably Amanda) should read his piece in the NYT today.
Thanks for keeping me sane,
Reading your tweets.
Only an hour ago I told my husband - the Dem Progressives are nothing more than the Freedom Caucus.
Another do nothing group that's main goal is to obstruct success.
Hell, another year and I'll be Charlie Sykes in leggings.
Hi Charlie - Having recently returned to Bulwark Plus, I am struck that, on your podcast, you only talk with people you agree with. This was highlighted by yesterday’s chat with Bret Stevens.
Yes, the weekly chat between Bret and Gail in NYT is a civilized exchange of opposing views. So why don’t you sometimes have Gail or some equally civilized left-of-centre opinionizer on your show to have an equally civilized disagreement?
I returned to The Bulwark largely because that’s where this long-time leftie hears opinions I sometimes disagree with presented amiably and rationally along with some unapologetic attitude. In that same spirit, why not have a chat with someone who sees politics somewhat differently than you do? You must know a fair number of people that you respect and maybe even like, who fly more to the left than you do but who know how to disagree without having a fight.
I’d love to hear that conversation. I think others would, as well. It’s not your usual format but why not give it a try? We all need to cultivate the art of friendly and respectful disagreement. It’s the only way we’re going to get out of this alive.
I wanted to address a general point that I hear reverberating around the Never Trumper universe (and other places such as in the MSM). We Democrats are bad at messaging. Specifically *negative* messaging.
I've heard folks like Rick Wilson say this before (9/23 pod, albeit a tad dated at the moment). However there is a long history of GOP messaging that Rick references. I was too young at the time, but as I recall an operative for Nixon accused Helen Gahagan Douglas of being "pink right down to her underwear"in the 1950 CA election for US Senate. (Let that sink in.)
Even after the Willie Horton ads, it seems that John McCain had to deal with certain accusations (which are too despicable to even describe) in the 2000 SC primary, merely because he and Cindy adopted a baby girl from Sri Lanka. As Tim Miller would say: "NOT MY PARTY."…
For now, I'll address the Q of negative messaging. Specifically, I'll argue that attacking the Trumpist GOP on two grounds will likely be of little electoral use at the moment.
Negative Messaging Strategy #1: bash the GOP over democracy: (a) voter suppression (i.e. making it harder to vote for no rationale grounded in sound public policy); (b) voter *nullification* (i.e. throwing out legitimately-cast ballots for purely partisan reasons as the John Eastman Memo recommends - this has also was tried by the GOP in 2020 at the local level in places like Wayne Co., MI); (c) violence as a tool of politics (see: Jan 6).
At the national level, we Democrats can only decry (a)-(c) as a messaging strategy (assuming the filibuster remains in its present form) since at least 41 GOP senators can be counted on to steadfastly oppose any legislative solutions to (a)-(c) - on the grounds that all plausible approaches are inherently "partisan" (viz., they make it harder for Republicans to win by cheating). The excuse, of course, will be "federal overreach."
The problem with using "democracy" as a (mere) messaging strategy is that very few persuadable voters find it particularly relevant. Support for democratic values has been waning in the US for decades, and took a huge hit after the 2008 recession. Trump and the GOP understand that, and have simply exacerbated this trend for political advantage.
If you're reading these words, then you're probably just as shocked as I am about the Eastman Memo and related Republican shenanigans - but just consider how much more attention that Gabby Petito's tragic homicide received relative to Eastman's Memo. (Or the situation at the southern border, for that matter.) Does anyone *genuinely* believe that average Americans are more likely to talk about the Eastman Memo or Gabby Petito in the break room??
Negative Messaging Strategy 2: paint the GOP as too "extreme." I.e., "Todd Akin-ize" the party. (You recall Todd "legitimate rape" Akin, doubtless.) So aren't we Democrats supposed to hang folks like Abbott, Cruz, DeSantis, Gaetz, Gosar, MTG, Tucker C. (etc.), as well as Trump himself like albatrosses around the GOP's collective neck. It sounds sensible at first, since Republican candidates, elected officials, party officials and opinion leaders seem engaged in an endless race to the bottom in order to see who can say the most outrageously mendaciously-childish vicious, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobically absurd things. It seems that every day, new folks join this contest. ("Replacement theory," for ex. is now considered mainstream on the right, as are notions such as political violence if not outright civil war.)
These execrable words are now augmented by equally execrable legislation passed in GOP-dominated states such as TX's abortion bill, SB8. (One can safely assume that additional incredibly extreme legislation will arise from red states on topics other than abortion: in fact, it already has.)
Charlie, While painting the GOP as too extreme worked for Newsom in the recent recall election, and has worked in a number of high-profile races in the past, I think you and Sarah L. correctly noted in the 9/24 pod that persuadable voters have become largely numb to this variety of extremism (both rhetorical and I would add - legislative).
Ever since the Orange Private-parts-Grabber-in-Chief correctly discerned that the "Access Hollywood '' audio would have no negative (and perhaps even a positive) effect on his candidacy, this variety of messaging is currently of relatively little value in purple America. Persuadable voters just don't care, and perhaps even less-reliable voters who might otherwise support us Democrats may also yawn. (What else can one expect from Republicans? That's just what they *do*.)
I don't have a solution other than better *positive* messaging and I'm waiting for the DC legislative logjam to be broken (if ever).
I'll close with a not-entirely-sarcastic question for Rick (Wilson). If "everything Trump touches, dies" ... has he touched *himself? Apparently the evil King Midas appears to be one of the undead. (Sorry for the vampire joke, but you get it.)
I couldn’t love your podcast more and to say it’s a breath of fresh (and precious) air in our troubled politics would be an understatement, and Bret Stephens is a really sharp guy I follow, but when he mentioned Rachel Maddow in the same breath with Tucker Carlson, Shaun Hannity and Lora Ingraham, and you said nothing, I was shocked. I get his argument that FOX and MSNBC are slanted in their coverage, that’s a no brainer, and I’m no disciple of Rachel or MSNBC, (like you, I’m probably center right), and while she’s clearly liberal and focused on that agenda, she doesn’t spread the malignancy and deadly, democracy ending misinformation that the others peddle, to throw her in with them is false equivalency on steroids.
I realize it’s a challenge to catch everything and you’re a Bret fan, but a diplomatic nudge from you would have been appropriate, even “Charlieesque”.
I still think you’re one of the smartest guy in the room, and certainly the nicest, in short a mensch, but just food for thought big guy.
I disagree with almost every policy you would favor if these were normal times. "Normal" times are when Americans are just getting ordinarily screwed by miseries they bring on themselves. I listen loyally to The Bulwark and agree with all of you that democracy's end is near. I fear for my children who also know we're headed to disaster worse than we even imagined. Seen the weather?
Personally, I'm actually not a liberal by contemporary standards and certainly not in the wokey woke crowd. I wish "Progressives"' could get their heads out of their asses long enough to learn how to win or even how to take a win. But their failures pale in comparison to "Conservatives." I am a tried and true Biden Democrat, a New Dealer, someone old enough to remember that Republicans have failed to favor every effort to make the country better: to wit, unions and child labor laws, the New Deal, the Great Society, even something as flawed but far better than nothing like Obamacare. You name it, Republicans have only successfully served rich white straight people. WTF have you ever gotten right? You've been so wrong on actual policy so often that you can't help but attempt to rationalize the "conservatism" that is at the heart of our country's failures: taxes, guns, the environment, all of this bullshit you call "conservatism" that sounds so sensible and moderate until the actual policies go into effect and everyone but RWP get screwed.
Most of what you call "conservative principles" I would call "who would disagree?" much like "love thy neighbor," which somehow Christians claim to be their own. (This is utter nonsense if you have ever read, well, anything else in the history of religions.) That said, I not only subscribe to The Bulwark but listen to you and even Kristol---now that guy has a lot to make amends for but of course never will. The younger people baffle me because they are obviously all smart and yet somehow think that being "conservative" is going to work for them. Well, it might. They have a good gig that is getting better for them. The rest of America is under educated, under employed, over worked, fat and tired and losing their shit. Have you noticed? …
Thanks for the therapy session,
Rochester, New York