Discover more from The Bulwark
Steve Bannon Has Plans
Plus: Our weekend Bulwark mailbag
As we await Monday’s Bannon Perp Walk 2.0, a quick reminder about who we are talking about here.
This is not Bannon’s first trip to the orange suit rodeo. In case you forgot, this happened a mere 15 months ago:
Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former adviser and an architect of his 2016 general election campaign, was charged on Thursday with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster the president’s signature initiative along the Mexican border.
Mr. Bannon, working with a wounded Air Force veteran and a Florida venture capitalist, conspired to cheat hundreds of thousands of donors by falsely promising that their money had been set aside for new sections of wall, according to a federal indictment unsealed in Manhattan.
The fund-raising effort collected more than $25 million, and prosecutors said Mr. Bannon used nearly $1 million of it for personal expenses.
And who could forget the dazzling detail that “he was arrested at 7:15 a.m. on a $35 million, 150-foot yacht belonging to one of his business associates, the fugitive Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui, law enforcement officials said.”
(Despite ripping off the rubes of MAGAWorld, he received a full pardon from the Grifter-in-Chief himself.)
This seems like some relevant context, especially as the GOP rallies to his defense. Here’s Missouri GOP Senate candidate Eric Greitens:
As authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa recount in their book "Peril":
"Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.
"'People are going to go 'What the [expletive] is going on here?' Bannon believed. 'We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.'
"If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden's victory on January 6, Bannon said, it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again.
"'We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib,' he said."
Bannon was also a key player in the Willard War Room.
The participants in those meetings—Rudy Giuliani, Roger Stone, and John Eastman were among the others present—reportedly “discussed plans to stop or delay the January 6th counting of the election results and persuade Members of Congress to block the electoral count.”
And lest any of this was too subtle, Bannon told his podcast listeners on January 5, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's gonna be moving. It's gonna be quick. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow it's game day.”
In the months since, his podcast has continued to be a vector of disinformation about the podcast. As Thomas Lecaque and J.L. Tomlin wrote in the Bulwark:
Bannon’s podcast, “War Room,” continues to promote conspiracy theories about the 2020 election—the day after his subpoena running a segment titled “50k Illegal Ballots in One County Alone.” His guests have included Trumpist members of Congress, like Matt Gaetz and Marjorie Taylor Greene; conspiracy theorists Jack Posobiec and Mike Lindell; anti-vaxers; and other subpoenaed Trump administration figures. Topics run the gamut from the border to the debt ceiling to “how schools are indoctrinating kids” to “the battle of Lepanto” (sure to appeal to far-right Crusade-cosplaying insurrectionists and mass murderers alike). Perhaps most provokingly given his subpoena defiance, an episode on October 13 was entitled “The Continued Search for the Truth of January 6th.”
He’s also got plans for the Trumpist Restoration/Revenge Tour.
On September 29, Bannon appeared at the Capitol Hill Club—a Republican club on the House side of the Capitol—for the launch of a new organization, the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, founded to prepare future appointees “to optimize their tenure and ability to advance public policy goals.” In an interview afterwards with NBC, Bannon described his comments as, “If you’re going to take over the administrative state and deconstruct it, then you have to have shock troops prepared to take it over immediately.” He would double down on that sentiment on his podcast on October 4, saying “We control the country. We’ve got to start acting like it. And one way we’re going to act like it, we’re not going to have 4,000 [shock troops] ready to go, we’re going to have 20,000 ready to go.”
The latest indictment hasn’t slowed him down. This is from Friday’s episode of Bannon’s podcast:
We're taking action and that action is we're taking over school boards, we're taking over the Republican Party through the precinct committee strategy. We're taking over all the elections. Suck on this. Ninety-five percent of the billets in Virginia were occupied of election officials and poll watchers and that is a principal reason that we secured the election of Youngkin. OK?
And they know it, and that's all it is -- getting all these, you know, anti-democratic --no, they're there to have a free and fair count. And we're going to continue that and we're going to get to the bottom of three November and we're going to decertify the electors. OK? And you're going to have a constitutional crisis. But you know what? We're a big and tough country, and we can handle that, we'll be able to handle that.
David Frum reminds us that Bannon knows exactly what he is doing. Thanks to the right-wing media ecosystem, Bannon and other Trump partisans” don’t need to convince much of anybody of much of anything.”
It won’t bother the Trump partisans that their excuses are a mess of contradictions. They say that nothing happened, and that it was totally justified; that Trump did nothing, and that Trump was totally entitled to do it. Their argument doesn’t have to make sense, because their constituency doesn’t care about it making sense. Their constituency cares about being given permission to disregard and despise the legal rules that once bound U.S. society. That’s the game, and that’s how Bannon & Co. will play the game.
We Get Mail
Remember to keep your darts, laurels, rants, and raves coming to email@example.com. And make sure to check out the comment section of Morning Shots — open to Bulwark+ members.
I feel compelled to respond to your newsletter today.
I live in Saint Paul just across the river from Minneapolis and near the street which becomes Lake Street. You may recall that after the George Floyd murder, Lake Street became an epicenter of the rioting, looting, and violence.
We experienced the effects of the unrest in the form of low-flying blackhawk helicopters, curfews, boarded up shops, and warnings of roaming gangs of out-of-town anarchists looking to take advantage of the chaos. The gas station near my home was burned to the ground. We were otherwise unaffected and I found myself concluding that the spasm of destruction and violence was somehow "just" if not "good".
Reading your newsletter and that of Mr. deBoer has disabused me of that notion.
The only correct take is: when you condone chaos, you condone the consequences of chaos.
Thanks for the insight.
(Please withhold my identify)
Thank you, Charlie, for sharing the Freddie deBoer article. I had never heard of him, but this was a brilliant piece decrying riots and the consequences of same.
My mother and I watched Martin Luther King on our black and white tv as King linked arms with other peaceful marchers walking down the street. It was horrific seeing white southern cops beat them and attack them with their police dogs.
Those peaceful protests resulted in the civil rights bill. If King had promoted violence, there would have been a backlash against the movement. Instead America was appalled by the violence inflicted on these peaceful protestors and rallied around them.
I understand some groups get infiltrated by those who want to do violence. But too many times I have listened to some young woman or man say "we are going to burn it to the ground".
As deBoer wrote "you can burn down a Starbucks but you're not doing to burn down the Pentagon.” And destroying businesses only drives insurance premiums up and hurts the community.
Plus it makes people angry. Look, I embrace peaceful protest. I encourage peaceful marches. But once a person breaks a window, starts looting or burning buildings or police cars, I am done.
Kyle Rittenhouse is neither a hero or a victim. He should have never been in Kenosha. And yet he took a gun and drove to a community he didn't even live in. Rather than send him home, the cops welcomed him - a white teenager with a long gun.
There's blame all around. But the result is two people are dead who didn't deserve to die. The person wounded didn't deserve to be shot. And the shooter was a teenager from outside the community.
As deBoer states - chaos begets chaos.
Reading the Prepare for the Shock Troops article, I was reminded of Chekhov’s adage that if you introduce a gun in Act I, it will inevitably be used later in the play. It has felt for some time that we were going down a reckless path, allowing pretty much anyone who fetishizes owning a deadly weapon to buy one, and it was inevitable that we would suffer the consequences from people who have a power-hungry lust for the ability to kill other humans (whether they act on or even acknowledge this). The people least qualified to responsibly handle a deadly weapon are the same folks who are most likely to yearn for one, and for over a decade they’ve been able to readily acquire it. In that light the Heller decision and subsequent ‘constitutional carry’ movement are revealed as highly irresponsible in having effectively silenced the ‘well-regulated militia’ clause.
It is only somewhat alarmist to opine that between the antiquated 2nd Amendment and rules against domestic military activity, along with a disturbing MAGA presence in law enforcement (and add to it a broken Congress, a regimented justice system not up to the task, and politically motivated Supreme Court), that our system, against the intentions of the founders, includes the means to end itself. We are uncomfortably close to that occurring.
One of the results from [the November] elections that was mentioned several times on The Bulwark last week is that the incumbent mayor of Buffalo, who lost to a primary challenger from the DSA, won in a write-in campaign for the general. This is not substantially different from what Lisa Murkowski did in 2010 and Joe Lieberman in 2006. In all three cases, a subset of the electorate preferred a candidate who was more extreme than the preference of the full electorate. The question is how replicable is it to give the full electorate a chance to express its intraparty preferences.
Unfortunately, the current system limits the circumstances where this can be done. Most notably, if there is a challenger from the opposite party with significant support, the loser from the primary would not be able to get votes from that party and supporters from their own party would feel compelled to support either the party's nominee or the opposite party's nominee. The most discussed alternatives to the current voting system would do little to change this.
One suggestion to reduce the dominance of the extremes is to make primaries open. It is true that open primaries would allow voters to choose between opposite party alternatives. However, exercising that right comes at the cost of waiving their right to support someone from their own party. Very few voters pay that price in order to exercise that right.
A further suggestion is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), now called Ranked Choice Voting. Proponents claim that under IRV you can safely vote for the candidate who excites you, and if that candidate gets eliminated, you can have your vote for a tolerable second choice count. In party terms, the claim would be that you vote for a candidate from your own party, and if your party's candidate gets eliminated, your second-choice vote for a less offensive member of the opposite party can help prevent the election of the most offensive candidate. However, giving the least offensive member of the opposite party your second-choice vote does absolutely nothing to prevent that candidate's elimination in the first round. The result is that one candidate of that party might be eliminated before the preferences of voters from the opposite party are counted.
There is a system that would break the power that the extremes enjoy in the party nomination process, whether the hyper-woke among the Democrats or the Trumpists among the Republicans. That would be to have one-stage elections conducted using pairwise-rated voting. The most important aspect of that would be to describe how it would have affected the Buffalo mayor's race if that was the method used. First, the incumbent would not have lost to a DSA-challenger in the primary because there would have been no primary, and the only election where the DSA could challenge the incumbent would have been the general election in which all voters participated. Second, the addition of a Republican challenger would not have affected how the incumbent fared relative to the DSA-challenger. If a Republican voter rates the incumbent higher than the DSA-challenger, whether she rates the Republican higher or lower than both or in between, it would count as a vote for the incumbent over the DSA-challenger, with no requirement to eliminate the Republican for that vote to count. Since the incumbent won in the actual election when there was no additional challenger, the incumbent would have defeated the DSA-challenger in a pairwise-rated contest.
Pairwise-rated voting could change other races as well. For instance, Marjorie Taylor Greene won less than 60% of the vote in her primary contest against John Cowan. While that is sufficient to advance to the general election in the current system, consider that less than 75% of all voters preferred her over her Democratic challenger Kevin Van Ausdal. Now assume that all 25% of the voters preferring Van Ausdal over her and the 40% of voters preferring her over Van Ausdal would have preferred Cowan over her. That would mean that 55% of all voters prefer Cowan over her. Under pairwise-rated voting, that would mean that Greene would not get elected.
New York, NY
We Get More Mail
A couple of things...
First, what's happened to The National Review? That magazine informed most of my conservative views over the years. They published "Against Trump," but now they're not much more than a MAGA mouthpiece.
Second, with regard to Rep. Gosar and his video, there was a time when all conservatives would have been horrified by this. Now, none are. AOC and I have nothing in common from a political point of view, but I can't help asking: What if she was my daughter?
She won a seat in Congress at age 29. She did it through hard work, not clout or a lot of money. She got herself on the ballot, walked around her congressional district, talked to people, ran a campaign and won. If one of my kids did that, I can't tell you how proud I would be of him. I would be beside myself with pride. It wouldn't matter if I didn't agree with his political views. I'd cheer on the gumption, the grit, the work ethic, the commitment. And I wouldn't take kindly to some clown threatening violence against him.
But for all his "save our masculinity" talk, Josh Hawley couldn't care less. What could be more masculine than calling out this kind of behavior? Ted "I reacted like a Dad" Cruz doesn't see his daughters in AOC? How? I have no idea how many members of Congress have kids or grandkids or nieces or nephews. I'm guessing most of them do. Do they have so little empathy that they can't put their loved ones in AOC's place? Conservatives used to place great stock in civil behavior, respect for norms, personal achievement and respect for institutions, yet today they're silent as those around them behave like Paul Gosar.
Would love to hear your thoughts.
I'm sad to say the MAGA nonsense is being exported as far away as New Zealand.
We've just had thousands march on our Parliament in Wellington, protesting about covid vaccine mandates, yelling "freedom", "my body, my choice, abusing journalists and one woman was even wearing a red MAGA hat.
There were lots of NZ flags but also some Trump banners.
There were Q signs too.
Clearly, an uncomfortable number of Kiwis are falling down the Facebook rabbit holes.
The Speaker, a chap called Trevor Mallard, said he boosted security and closed off most of the access points into Parliament and the Beehive (our executive building is shaped like one) and that the place has never been so locked down to this degree in his nearly four decades of working in and around the building.
So I guess we learned something from Jan 6.
Hi Charlie - listening to your Bulwark podcast discussion with Bill Kristol on Nov. 5. Always appreciate your dialog with him. I agree wholeheartedly that the Democrats need a consistent message on race that is impactful across the spectrum of our pluralist society - but I’m not convinced that ignoring the human message that inspired the 1619 project is the way to do that. I reject the academic fringe of that argument - that the form of rational intellectual debate is itself a product of white supremacy, that America itself can only be understood as the fruit of a poisonous tree, etc.
However, the fact is that the taint of slavery does influence disproportionate incarceration rates and police brutality, inequities in hiring and promotion, and prejudice in other forms.
Neither you nor I really worry that a traffic stop will result in our death or injury - the same cannot be said for African Americans. My point is that of Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural Address; “If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which in the providence of God must needs come but which having continued through His appointed time He now wills to remove and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?” - when Lincoln then went on to say that every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid with another drawn with the sword he was talking about the need for contrition or, in the absence of contrition, sacrifice. Such is (in Lincoln’s view) the inevitable consequence of God’s judgement. Contrition is required, in the form of sackcloth and ashes, or truth commissions, or reparations, or some tangible acknowledgment that the taint of slavery remains and must be expurgated publicly. It can ALSO be true that America is the greatest experiment in representative democracy in the history of the world - and it is that heritage that enables us to expose and purge our sins and celebrate equality as it was intended. Just saying, ‘oh that back then was bad, but you don’t have to feel bad now’ will not cut it because it is untrue.
My name is Christopher Ahn and I wanted to send a note of very deep appreciation and thanks for all the work you and the Bulwark are doing to maintain a voice of sanity while all of the craziness is going.
I have been and always will be, a Never Trumper. Although I'm still registered as a Republican, I, like so many others, have hesitated to call myself a "conservative" or a "Republican" for the past few years, especially once the pandemic hit and Trump prioritized his repugnant self and goals over the lives of American citizens.
Like the millions of families that have been directly affected by Trump's policies in one way or another, I too have been acutely affected by his short sighted decisions and narcissism. In 2020, Washington Post Columnist, Max Boot, and the Senior Fellow for Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Sue Mi Terry, co-wrote a column about me in the Washington Post.
I have been told, by legal advisors and many in Washington, that if anyone else were President, I would have never been used as a sacrificial/expendable tool to appease North Korea. But the reality is Trump was President and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything, regardless of how unlikely success was, to make a deal with Kim Jung Un. So thus, here I am.
But it's not just my specific situation that has made me morally repulsed by all things Trump and the Republican party. Trump acting like a disgusting, fascist piece of shit isn't very surprising at all, it's the Republican party completely selling themselves out that has left me gobsmacked.
Like so many of your listeners, I have watched the Republican party devolve into this weird, racist, non-science, Trump sycophant organization and have been disgusted with so many people I had once respected, turning themselves into a pretzel trying to defend Trump while claiming to hold a moral foundation. Absolutely disgusting.
Seeing all of this has made me question all of my political beliefs and I've had a reckoning of sorts, and I find myself a far different person than I was just a few years back. So I pulled back from all things politics. I stopped reading NRO, WSJ and other publications that I used to religiously read. I stopped listening to political pundits because they were just feeding this racial ugly beast that was wagging the dog. I couldn't take it anymore. But that didn't mean I became an MSNBC Democrat. I find what the Democrats are doing to be baffling and just striaght dumb at times. So I tried to extricate politics from my life but in the end, it left me feeling lost.
After years of feeling isolated with no voice of reason to turn to, I recently looked up what the Weekly Standard folks were doing and to see if they too fell off the deep end.
I was so absolutely thrilled to then learn about The Bulwark and your podcast and I've been voraciously consuming everything you guys have been publishing. In particular, I love love love what Tim Miller is doing and I feel like he represents as close to my beliefs as anyone I've heard or met. Unfortunately, because of my legal situation, it's been tough for me to maintain a job so being a Bulwark Plus member is a luxury I cannot afford as of yet, but everything else, I've been reading, listening, and trying to support as much as I can.
Thank You, Charlie.