The Doom Loop Of "Relevance"
Rich Lowry and I disagree about Liz Cheney and Ron DeSantis
Lindsey Graham, Then: (January 7, 2021) “Trump and I, we’ve had a hell of a journey. I hate it to end this way, oh my God I hate it. … All I can say is count me out. Enough is enough.”
Lindsey Graham, Now: (January 12, 2022)
Here’s Graham’s new litmus test, which is neither subtle, nor especially nuanced.
“Elections are about the future," Graham said. "If you want to be a Republican leader in the House or the Senate, you have to have a working relationship with President Donald Trump."
He added that he saw Trump as "the most consequential Republican since Ronald Reagan," though Trump doesn't currently hold any public office and has not officially declared a 2024 presidential bid.
"It's his nomination if he wants it, and I think he'll get reelected in 2024," Graham said.
"I liked Senator McConnell," Graham added. "But here's the question — can Senator McConnell effectively work with the leader of the Republican Party, Donald Trump?"
"I'm not going to vote for anybody for leader of the Senate as a Republican, unless they can prove to me that they can advocate for an America First agenda and have a working relationship with President Trump because if you can't do that, you will fail," Graham said.
Of course, by “working relationship” with Trump — the defeated, disgraced, twice-impeached former president — Graham means “doing Trump’s bidding.”
He means: “accepting Trump’s lies.”
He means: “becoming a fluffer like me.”
Kevin McCarthy, to no one’s surprise, is actually way ahead of him. Via Axios’s Jonathan Swan this morning:
Kevin McCarthy is signaling he'll institutionalize key Trumpian priorities if he takes over as House speaker next year — aggressive tactics targeting undocumented immigrants, liberals and corporate America…
McCarthy's vision would empower populists and pugilists to complete the Republican makeover Donald Trump drove this far.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what passes for “being ‘relevant,” in today’s GOP.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, because it came up in a discussion I had on a podcast with the NYT’s Jane Coaston and National Review’s Rich Lowry about Liz Cheney. (You can listen to our whole discussion here.)
Despite his criticisms of Trump, Lowry argued that Cheney was making a mistake by denouncing Trump’s lies and sedition. As you might expect, I disagreed and even dropped an f-bomb on the Times podcast, for which I suppose I should be deeply chagrined.
Here’s an excerpt from the transcript:
Rich Lowry: As a politician, you have to be aware of where your voters are. Doesn’t mean that you pander to them or play to their worst instincts or always say yes to anything they want. But to live is to maneuver. Especially if you’re a politician….
And look, Liz Cheney, I admire her integrity. She is a woman of principle. And she’s headed on a one-way road to a CNN contract. And that’s a price she’s willing to pay, and I respect that. But I’m not sure in terms of getting the Republican Party in a better place, whether that course actually helps.
Jane Coaston: Charlie, do you want to respond?
Charlie Sykes: I do think it helps. The suggestion that she should have done what other Republicans have done, which is to go silent to appease Donald Trump in order to keep their position — this is how we got to where we are.
This is why the Republican Party is now a cult of personality and why it’s a wholly owned subsidiary of Donald Trump.
It’s because people say, OK, you know what? I know that it’s wrong. I know that what happened was wrong. But if you speak out about it, you will lose your number three position in the House caucus.
Well at a certain point, who gives a fuck whether you’re in number three position in the House caucus? In the larger scope of history, it is important for people to speak the truth, to stand up for something. And I think this is the danger of getting caught up in that inside game where, well if you do this, you might lose your position. Well, OK, so you might have to go on and do something else with your life.
But the fact that the right wing punditocracy is saying that it would have been better for Liz Cheney to have kept her mouth shut. Because then, she would have been able to be on this one committee. I understand it, but there does come a time when you hope that people ignore that advice.
Afterward, it struck me that Lowry’s argument is circular.
He thinks that Cheney is making a mistake because she may lose her ability to influence the future of the Republican party. This is, of course a familiar argument: it’s the age-old rationalization of courtiers, time servers, and trimmers of all sorts, who convince themselves that the Greater Good is served by staying in the room.
And they tell themselves that they need to stay in the room, so they that can sound the alarm, but they refuse to sound the alarm so they can stay in the room.
This is where Lowry’s argument becomes a doom loop: Cheney wants to influence her party not to be crazy.
But Lowry argues that she should not warn the party against being crazy… because that lessens her ability to influence the party to be less crazy.
Cheney wants to influence her party to not embrace lies and sedition. But Lowry says, if she denounces lies and sedition she will lose a seat at the table where the party decides whether it will embrace lies and sedition.
So as the party descends into craziness, National Review stands aside wringing its hands.
During our chat, Lowry and I also discussed the future of the Republican Party and disagreed about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Rich Lowry: I think Mitch McConnell has played the whole thing pretty well throughout the Trump era. He got what he wanted out of Trump. He didn’t want Trump to win the nomination. Wasn’t his ideal. But once he was president, he had the option of totally blowing up their relationship and getting nothing done, or actually achieving important goals. He did that. Once the post-election happened, he had nothing to do with it. He gave Trump some leeway to pursue these court challenges. And then finally, pulled the plug and said it was wrong.
Didn’t actually vote to impeach, because that might have been the end of his career. But severely denounced the president. Doesn’t obsess over it, but whenever it comes up, it’s clear that he wants nothing to do with the guy and he thinks the party should go into a different direction.
Now DeSantis — an example. Practical politician. A lot of people cringed the way he pandered to Trump in the Florida gubernatorial primary.
There’s some people that just want that endorsement because they’re genuine Trumpists, or they want the endorsement out of just sheer ambition, have no idea what they’re going to do with it. He knew what he was going to do with it. He was going to become governor of Florida and pursue a very substantive conservative agenda, which is what he’s done. He obviously plays symbolic based politics. He has an eye on the potential of 2024.
But I think this key dividing line — where are you on DeSantis? If you’re anti-Trump, I totally get that. I’m in the same place. But if you’re anti-DeSantis, I think you have a deeper problem with the Republican Party.
Charlie Sykes: Well then, I have obviously a much deeper problem with the Republican Party.
And I think this, again, is part of what Donald Trump has done, that you have people like Ron DeSantis, who — let’s talk about conservative ideas. It’s not surprising that Republicans would be against government mandates of something…
But Ron DeSantis has turned it around. He’s passing legislation that would ban private companies from having these policies. Telling cruise lines that they can’t do these things.
This is, in fact, a reversal of most conservative principle, that you allow businesses to make these decisions. That you allow local governments to make these decisions. Not to mention the fact that he is an unusually, I think, crude culture warrior.
The problem with Ron DeSantis is that he’s one of those figures — you wonder like, what would he have been like had the Republican Party not insisted that you be this Trumpy? And I think that Ron DeSantis’s heavy-handed bullying of local government and private individuals who are trying to save lives is not something that we should be applauding.
So I know that you [Rich] think that they all deserve apologies. And maybe it’s a fact that I have a much deeper problem with the Republican Party, because [apologies to Trump and DeSantis are] not coming from me.
You can listen to the rest here.
A question about voting rights
CNN’s Jake Tapper raises a relevant point.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN: I generally, as an American, feel that in addition to guarding against fraud, which there is very little of in the United States, it should be as easy as possible for Americans to vote -- because we are the best Democratic-Republic when as many people as possible are represented, no matter who wins, Democrats or Republicans.
But going over a lot of these election laws, I went in, preparing for today, and I saw, you know what? New Jersey doesn't allow ballot harvesting and that's a Democratic state. Delaware doesn't allow the kind of early voting that a lot of other states do.
The journalist in me as well as the cynic says, well, how come Democrats only complain about the strict voting regulations in red states, in Texas and Georgia, and not in Democratic states like New York?
And about that speech….
Even Dick Durbin thought it was a bit over-the-top.
The Senate majority whip told CNN: "Perhaps the president went a little too far in his rhetoric."
Meanwhile, amidst all of the super-heated rhetoric…Nate Cohn reminds us:
Neither of the voting rights bills, nor the emerging bipartisan effort to reform the Electoral Count Act, is sure to close off some of the most probable avenues for election subversion.
While the various legislative paths might protect access to voting or hold the promise of clarifying how Congress counts electoral votes, the proposals are largely silent on a crucial time frame — the period between the polls closing in November to January, when Congress gathers to count electoral votes. This is when election administrators go about the once routine business of counting and certifying election results.
1. Aaron Rodgers Is the Perfect 2022 Oscars Host
Sonny Bunch in today’s Bulwark:
One of the most important qualities for elite quarterbacks is remaining unflappable under pressure, being able to roll out, improvise, and hit your targets. Rodgers wouldn’t be flummoxed by something like the La La Land / Moonlight kerfuffle that ended the show a couple of years ago when a pair of elderly presenters got confused after being handed the wrong envelope.
There are, admittedly, a few minor downsides to this plan. Having Rodgers as host would obviously hurt ratings in the Chicago and Detroit media markets, given his decade-plus of domination over the Bears and Lions. And having a 6′2″ NFL quarterback standing onstage with Hollywood’s famously diminutive leading men could shatter some illusions.
But at this point, the Oscars have nothing left to lose.
2. Here’s Why Capitol Insurrectionists Are Being Charged Under a Post-Enron Law
Kim Wehle writes in the Bulwark:
Of the over 700 defendants arrested in connection with last year’s insurrection at the Capitol, at least 275 of them have, according to a Department of Justice statement released last week, “been charged with corruptly obstructing, influencing, or impeding an official proceeding, or attempting to do so.”
This language comes directly from a federal criminal statute found at 18 U.S.C. § 1512. But because it was only added to the law in 2002 as part of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, defendants are balking that DOJ has misused it—a complaint that particularly matters because it’s the same criminal law that Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), vice chair of the Jan. 6 Select Committee, has publicly flagged as ensnaring former President Donald Trump himself.
3. This Ain’t About Freedom
Ryan Busse writes that the right’s gun fetish isn't about the Second Amendment. It’s about intimidation.
The first step back is going to require responsible citizens—especially gun owners—to wake up to the transformation of gun culture. They need to understand that the modern embrace of extreme gun radicalization isn’t about freedom, but about fear and intimidation.
I regret to have to tell you that there is trouble in paradise.
Please do not assume for a second that Ann Coulter grew a soul. Redemption for most of us, even after a small misstep, involves a continuous track record of good behavior, without fail. Here we have Coulter burp out something we agree with, and suddenly she is one of us? Yeah, no.
More likely Coulter has her hand up the pulse of MAGA, and she senses that Trump is skidding, especially after his pro-vaccination remarks. There is going to be a real showdown between the Trump and DeSantis camps, and she picked her horse. This is all it's about.
Lowry's rationalizations are the sort of thing fascist regimes throughout history have thrived on. They lead to nowhere good. The deniers, the rationalizers, they're the real reason fascists take over.