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Tales of the Weird
We live in strange times.
As the House slouches toward a vote on the debt deal and My Kevin tries to quell a rebellion in his ranks, let’s take a moment to contemplate a series of stories that reflect our bent zeitgeist.
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Remember Tara Reade?
For a brief and shining moment in our horseshoe politics, Reade was a heroine to both the far right and the far left after she accused Joe Biden of sexually assaulting her. Biden denied her allegations, and her story was shaky from the beginning. When the story emerged in the midst of the 2020 campaign, her credibility was immediately challenged.
And some of us noticed something odd about her behavior.
In the deleted post, she had written:
"President Putin’s obvious reverence for women, children and animals, and his ability with sports is intoxicating to American women. "
"President Putin has an alluring combination of strength with gentleness. His sensuous image projects his love for life, the embodiment of grace while facing adversity. It is evident that he loves his country, his people and his job."
The right-wing troll site, Twitchy, immediately jumped to her defense. What could I possibly be implying about Reade by posting about her Putin-philia?
That she was a Putin suckup? That we should regard her with a healthy dose of skepticism? (Talk about aging well…) On Tuesday, Reade announced that she was officially defecting to Russia. Russian spy Maria Butina is helping her get citizenship. Because, of course.
Reade, a self-proclaimed “anti-imperialist,” made the stunning announcement during a Russian state press conference streamed on Twitter Tuesday, while sitting next to Kremlin spy Maria Butina..
Reade used the podium to apologize to Russia for the U.S. backing Ukraine in the war.
“To my Russian brothers and sisters, I’m sorry right now that American elites are choosing to have such an aggressive stance. Just know that most American citizens do want to be friends and hope that we can have unity again,” she said….
Reade has publicly supported Vladimir Putin on social media, and “promoted Russian officials” on her YouTube channel, including posting an interview with Russia’s Deputy Permanent Representative to the United Nations in 2022.
Woke Ted Cruz
Here are some words that you probably thought you would never read in The Bulwark: Ted Cruz is right. ICYMI, on Monday the Texas senator tweeted out his reaction to Uganda’s new law criminalizing homosexuality. The law, which includes the death penalty, is one of the most punitive and restrictive anti-gay measures in the modern world.
“This Uganda law is horrific & wrong,” Cruz wrote. “Any law criminalizing homosexuality or imposing the death penalty for ‘aggravated homosexuality’ is grotesque & an abomination. ALL civilized nations should join together in condemning this human rights abuse.” And he finished with the hashtag: “#LGBTQ.”
The reaction from Cruz’s base was… instructive. Some of Cruz’s followers questioned why he was standing up for human rights in Uganda, rather than, say, the J6 rioters; while others seemed to actually support the new law. And then there was this from a prominent right-wing evangelical pastor:
Who is Tom Ascol? This guy:
Ascol is now considered one of the primary leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention’s most radical hard-right wing—so much so that he was able to win 34 percent of the votes for the denomination’s 2022 presidential election, forcing a runoff…. Ascol was able to do this through one simple strategy: stoking culture war fears about creeping liberalism—inside the ultraconservative convention.
And he is now all-in for Ron DeSantis:
On Jan. 3, almost two months after Donald Trump first started to attack Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as “Ron DeSanctimonious”—acknowledging the ascendance of a new political rival—the pastor Tom Ascol took to a stage in Tallahassee, Florida, to thank God.
“In your wisdom, goodness, and power, you have once again established Gov. DeSantis to serve the people of Florida,” he prayed, arms stretched out. It was inauguration day for the governor. Ascol declared him “God’s servant for the good of Floridians.”…
[While] Ascol isn’t a household name, he is one of a number of figures with significant sway inside the evangelical world, and it’s no minor thing that he has portrayed DeSantis as a savior, much in the way other evangelicals have with Trump.
The MAGA ethos in Texas
Even in a world of sleazy political actors, Ken Paxton is a steaming stew of corruption and extremism. How bad is he? Too squalid even for the Texas GOP.
In the eight years since he was indicted on charges of securities fraud, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has overcome a mountain of legal troubles and accusations of wrongdoing while becoming a Republican official entrenched in the party’s culture wars who has the support of former president Donald Trump. On Saturday, his luck changed. The Texas House of Representatives voted 121-23 to impeach Paxton on Saturday afternoon. He now faces a trial in the Texas Senate.
But the outcome of the trial is uncertain, because Trump is coming to his defense and mobilizing his MAGA ranks to protect Paxton. “Hopefully Republicans in the Texas House will agree that this is a very unfair process that should not be allowed to happen or proceed,” Trump wrote. “I will fight you if it does.” Ted Cruz quickly fell into line. “No attorney general has battled the abuses of the Biden admin more ferociously — and more effectively — than has Paxton,” Cruz gushed.
“Why is Donald Trump spending political capital on Ken Paxton?” asks the Wapo’s Philip Bump. Maybe Trump recognizes a kindred spirit who faces the same kind of legal problems that are dogging the former president.
But in the end, the MAGA ethos comes down to loyalty:
Paxton has, in fact, been one of Trump’s most fervent defenders. Before the 2020 election, he successfully sued the state’s most-populous (and heavily Democratic) county to prevent the use of universal mail-in ballots. Speaking to former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon in 2021, Paxton pointed to this and other lawsuits as the reason Trump won the state.
After the election, when Trump was scrambling to retain power, Paxton filed a cringey lawsuit aiming to invalidate the results in several other states. Trump pinned all of his pre-Jan. 6 hopes on the lawsuit only to see the Supreme Court quickly dismiss it. But Paxton wasn’t done: He showed up at Trump’s Jan. 6, 2021, rally to offer his support.
As Bump notes, that kind of “fealty does not necessarily guarantee Trump’s reciprocity. The past few years are littered with people who pledged their allegiance to Trump only to see him decline to offer loyalty in return.”
But here’s the kicker: Although Paxton has been temporarily suspended pending his impeachment trial, he is, as Bump writes, “still attorney general and therefore retains the ability to influence the 2024 election.” This is one loyalist whom Trump “actually cares about retaining.
Speaking of loyalty…
Remember Kayleigh McEnany? Trump’s loyal, dogged defender? His former press secretary? Fuggedaboutit.
Real man of genius UPDATE
Twitter is now worth just one-third of what Elon Musk paid for the social-media platform, according to Fidelity, which recently marked down the value of its equity stake in the company.
Musk has acknowledged he overpaid for Twitter, which he bought for $44 billion, including $33.5 billion in equity. More recently, he said Twitter is worth less than half what he paid for it.
1. DeSantis Won’t Deliver the GOP from Trumpian Abuses of Power
Because Trump has so often used his pardon power as a political tool, as Gabriel Schoenfeld noted in The Bulwark yesterday, it is appalling but certainly no surprise that he has repeatedly floated pardons for hundreds of people convicted in connection with the Capitol attack, most recently at the CNN town hall. Now we have DeSantis, so far the only potential intra-party threat to Trump’s comeback plan, holding out the possibility of pardons on “day one” for January 6th defendants—including Trump himself.
2. Roger Stone and the Key to Trump’s Evangelical Support
For those who may have intermittently followed Stone’s oddball, cynical career at the heart of modern Republican politics, this declaration of piety might sound odd and new. But Stone’s rhetoric reflects an identity shift he has undertaken over several years: Though he was raised Catholic, Stone claims he experienced a born-again awakening following a conversation with the evangelist Franklin Graham at a January 2020 revival meeting. He’s been sharing this story for years now, including in an interview last March with Charisma magazine, an influential publication among Charismatics and Pentecostals. Stone now identifies as a “nondenominational Christian.”