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The GOP Goat Rodeo Bumbles On
Plus: Mitt's burn book.
Rich as it may be, the English language groans under the weight of the daily shambolic chaos served up by the House GOP.1 Today is no exception.
For those of you keeping score at home: Jim Jordan is still running for speaker and will likely suffer yet another humiliating loss this morning, which will extend our cycle of schadenfreude into the weekend, at least.
This comes after yesterday when:
Jordan seemed to tap out and endorsed a measure to empower the acting Speaker Patrick McHenry until January.
Jordan would have remained “speaker designate,” which is really not a thing, but would have made meetings of what passes for the GOP “leadership” a thorough goat rodeo.
The whole deal blew up in an angry, screaming, shouting-in-your-face GOP House Conference gaggle where pretty much everything went to sh*t.
The result: The House has no speaker and remains an expensive, air-wasting, legislative potted plant.
Jordan gave a pointless “bully pulpit” press conference this morning and then headed to the floor to see whether he has succeeded in browbeating, threatening, and coercing enough normies to get to 217. (Spoiler alert: He hasn’t.)
Punchbowl’s invaluable Jake Sherman sums it up: “The House Republican Conference is a complete and utter mess. Can't elect a speaker. Can't elect a speaker pro tem. Has no actual leader who people are listening to. What a disaster for the House GOP.”
Of course, things could be worse for the majority party. But it’s hard to see how.
BONUS: A short shot on YouTube:
Why is Jim Jordan considered so obnoxious and disliked? Why is he losing? Is it the relentless assh*lery? The legislative incompetence? Or is it because the MAGA playbook of bullying isn’t working anymore?
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Mitt’s Burn Book
This sounds delicious. Via the NYT: “Mitt Romney’s Sickest Burns: Book Reveals Harsh Views of Fellow Republicans.”
Mitt on RON DeSANTIS: “There’s just no warmth at all.”
On DeSantis posing for selfies with Iowa voters: “He looks like he’s got a toothache.”….
On NEWT GINGRICH: “A smug know-it-all, smarmy, and too pleased with himself" …
TED CRUZ: “Frightening,” “scary,” “a demagogue” …
MIKE HUCKABEE: A “huckster,” a “caricature of a for-profit preacher” …
BOBBY JINDAL: A “twit” …
RICK SANTORUM: “Sanctimonious, severe and strange” …
RICK PERRY: “Republicans must realize that we have to have someone who can complete a sentence.” …
JOHN KASICH: “Lack of thoughtfulness, lack of attentiveness, ego. No wonder he and CHRIS [CHRISTIE] spark.”
Mr. Romney’s advisers in 2012 suggested that he consider Chris Christie, then the governor of New Jersey, as a running mate, according to the book.
But Mr. Romney had reservations about Mr. Christie’s “prima donna tendencies,” and worried that the governor was not “up to the physical demands” of being on the ticket and was plagued by “barely buried” scandals, Mr. Coppin writes.
The two also came into conflict in 2016 after Mr. Christie became one of the first establishment Republicans to back Mr. Trump.
“I believe your endorsement of him severely diminishes you morally,” Mr. Romney wrote in an email. He added: “You must withdraw that support to preserve your integrity and character.”
Evaluating Mr. Christie’s 2024 campaign, Mr. Romney labels him “another bridge-and-tunnel loudmouth” like Mr. Trump, saying it would be “a hoot” to watch the two of them spar on the debate stage.
For just the second time in his presidency, Joe Biden delivered a prime-time Oval Office Address, rallying support for Israel and Ukraine.
“History has taught us that when terrorists don’t pay a price for their terror, when dictators don’t pay a price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and death and more destruction,” Mr. Biden said from behind the Resolute Desk. “They keep going. And the cost and the threats to America and the world keep rising.”
The president delivered the speech as his administration braces for opposition to his request for $74 billion in assistance for the two countries. The money would pay for weapons and other military equipment as Israel responds to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas and Ukraine fights on in its 600-day war to expel Russian invaders.
Predictably, some Fox News hosts were critical of the speech, but Brit Hume — clearly no Biden fanboy — had high praise for the address.
The Fox News chief political analyst opened the Fox News reaction to Biden’s address to the nation on Thursday, calling it “one of the best, if not the best, speeches of his presidency.” It was a notable bit of praise on a network dedicated mainly to criticism of the president.
I was struck by the fact that he spent as much time as he did on Ukraine and I think it was a good thing that he did because the aid for Ukraine package that he’s talking about, and further aid to Ukraine beyond that, is in jeopardy. And I think that he was hampered a little bit in that effort by the fact that he dare not really mention the best reason— I mean, he mentioned broadly speaking the best reason for sticking with it in Ukraine, which is, “What would the rest of the world and its evildoers think if we pulled out of there?” because that comes on the heels of his having pulled out of Afghanistan, which arguably emboldened all of our adversaries around the world, particularly Vladimir Putin.
A Bad Day For the Kraken
On the latest episode of the Trump Trials with Lawfare’s Ben Wittes: Sidney Powell pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the state in Georgia making Trump’s legal woes take a turn for the worse. Plus, Jim Jordan’s bad day, and a plea for social media types to wait for the facts before weighing in on the Israel-Hamas war.
Morality, law, and war
On Thursday’s podcast, I asked Ben about the piece he wrote in Lawfare, “On Strategy, Law, and Morality in Israel’s Gaza Operation.”
Ben: The problem in a lot of the dialogue about Israel and Palestine is that people pervasively confuse morality with law [and] with strategy. And I want to insist that they are in dialogue with each other—they're importantly interlinking—but they're actually different. And so, there's a lot of things that we think of as immoral that are actually perfectly lawful.
For example, killing civilians is not a violation of the laws of war. Targeting civilians is a violation of the laws of war. And when you conduct a military operation in Gaza that is pristinely legal, you are going to kill civilians. And that should morally discomfort everybody.
Charlie: Okay, this is complicated because when you bomb a city, there may be terrorists in Gaza City. When you begin bombing residential apartment blocks, is that targeting civilians? How does this fall on the continuum? When the United States Air Force bombed Cologne, was that a war crime?
Ben: Well, let's bracket the World War II examples, because first of all, they predate the modern Geneva Conventions and the additional protocols. The laws of war were pretty different then.
Charlie: Okay, fair enough.
Ben: But let's take as your general legal rule that you are never allowed to target civilians. You are allowed to target combatants or belligerents of the other side. And when those two are not necessarily distinct from one another, because a base is next to a civilian facility or in the case of Hamas—because they're literally basing themselves in the same buildings that civilians live in—you have to weigh factors like the necessity of the military strike, the expected military gain against the expected civilian harm. And you have to look at the question of whether the expected civilian harm is proportionate to the expected military gain.
Charlie: Is that subjective or objective? … This sounds more art than science.
Ben: Well, it has elements of both. So broadly speaking, the US military and the Israeli military have similar attitudes toward what strikes are lawful. There are important differences that get technical really fast. The Israelis are conservative in certain situations in which we are aggressive, and they are aggressive in certain circumstances in which we are conservative. …
But broadly speaking, rule-of-law militaries are mostly aligned on what are lawful strikes in theory. Now, what happens in a place like Gaza is that the theory becomes very, very muddled in practice. And so, my first point is that if you're trying to ask, is Israel committing war crimes? You cannot answer that question right now. And the reason you can't is if Israel were committing pervasive war crimes and targeting civilians, it would look exactly like this: You'd have a lot of apartment buildings bombed, you'd have a lot of people buried in the rubble, it would be awful looking, just as it is. And if Israel were conducting a pristine, perfectly law-of-armed-conflict-compliant operation, it would also look like this. Conducting a pristine, perfectly law-of-armed conflict-compliant operation, it would also look like this. And anything in-between would look something like this too. And so, it's actually a bit of a mug’s game in real time.
Ben: And something like the hospital bombing is a very good example of this, right? So you have a catastrophic civilian strike … that there [is] no apparent military reason for.
And then within a couple hours of it, the Israeli army is saying, ‘It's not us.’ And the US military or US intelligence the following day backs that up. And so, sometimes when you have these operations … you don't know whether the target was military or civilian, and you don't necessarily know who's responsible for the strike at all.
Oh, and by the way, nobody knows how to count Palestinian civilian deaths because Hamas controls the health department and they assiduously don't distinguish.
Charlie: So, let's talk about that for a moment, because there was this rush to judgment. And there's a lot of second guessing now, and I'm engaging in this as well, both politically on the street and in the media, where you had the big headlines: “Israeli airstrike kills 500 civilians, Palestinians say.” Well, not Palestinians. [It’s] Hamas.
So, the New York Times, rather famously—and it's getting dragged for it—and this is true of Reuters, and AP, and the BBC as well, they basically went with the Hamas storyline. So just in terms of like how we navigate all of this, because you're pointing out how difficult it is in the fog of war, and the complexity of all of this, and how muddled it all gets. And yet in real time, people have to react to these things or feel they have to react. So how bad was the media acceptance of the Hamas propaganda? How damaging was that yesterday?
Ben: It was a mistake. I think in all situations like that, you start with the fact that you know to be true, which is that there was an explosion at a hospital, many people killed, Palestinians allege Israeli airstrike would be fine with me, as long as you're prepared to update it when it turns out to be something else.
Charlie: Shouldn't it be “Hamas”? Make it very clear. You're talking about Hamas. We're not just talking about Palestinians, okay?
Ben: Sure. To me, the more upsetting thing than the media reaction was the reaction of international organizations, which were extremely quick. These are organizations that are supposed to be authoritative on these matters, and they are just very fast out of the box to assume the facts.
Charlie: Who are you talking about here?
Ben: Human rights groups, UN organizations..
Charlie: Well, they were playing off the media narrative though. I mean, so Hamas puts out this story. When the New York Times goes with it, and AP goes with, the BBC goes with it, that fuels the reaction of the Arab street. It fuels the politicians who canceled their meetings with the president of the United States. And so everybody's going off of this grotesquely misleading narrative.
Ben: Right, so I agree with that, but I also think that The New York Times has to run a story immediately. And in the fog of war, if a hospital blows up—or it turns out a parking lot next to a hospital—blows up in Gaza, The New York Times doesn't get to wait and not run a story. It's a question of how responsibly it says it. The UN can wait. You know, it can say, something awful's happened, we're going to wait until we know what we're talking about before we say anything. And by the way, that's what you did. That's what I did. I think the news organizations are in the dicey-est situation because they actually have to report it right away. But nobody else does. Nobody else has.
Charlie: But going back to what you said, you have to report what you actually know. There's an explosion on or around the hospital. Hamas is claiming various things, make it very clear what the attribution is— probably should include the fact that Hamas has not always been a reliable narrator. We certainly do not know that 500 civilians were killed. I have no idea what the actual number is. What we know is much, much smaller than what was claimed. So, this is where I think the news desk had to go, okay, let's cut through all the spin. What do we actually know here?
Ben: I agree with that, and I don't think very many news organizations shrouded themselves in glory with this. That said, I feel their plight more than I feel the plight of the groups that piled on. And by the way, jumped to allege that it was a war crime … by Israel, rather than say an accident by Islamic jihad in the course of attempting to commit a war crime, a different war crime, right? And so, the story is going to be more complicated. My big point in the piece is that we have a rush to think about these things in terms of law, and the better way to think about our biggest anxieties is in terms of morality.
Ben: And Here's my basic moral argument. I think a lot of what the Israelis are doing is entirely justifiable, as long as there is a strategy.
Charlie: Which is not clear.
Ben: Which is not at all clear, by the way. If there's no strategy, a lot of it looks much more like a reprisal strike. And I have a moral problem with reprisals in which a lot of civilians get killed. I have no problems with reprisals in which you're killing only Hamas.. But if you're gonna kill a lot of kids, even lawfully, I wanna know that you're accomplishing something, that you have a long-term strategic objective. And I do fear, although I don't know, that the strategic thinking has not been adequate.
1. The perfect gift for someone who assures you Cancel Culture is a hoax
On Tuesday, my new book, “The Canceling of the American Mind”, co-authored by Rikki Schlott and with a foreword from Jonathan Haidt, officially hit bookshelves. The book conclusively establishes that Cancel Culture not only exists but also thrives on college campuses at an unprecedented scale, that it is part of an unhealthy approach to "winning arguments without winning arguments," and that it wreaks havoc on institutions and erodes public trust in authority and expertise.
I've found that those who attempt to downplay its existence typically lack knowledge about the history of free speech and academic freedom. So if you've ever felt gaslit by a friend, podcast host, or pundit who dismisses Cancel Culture as a non-issue or a hoax, this book makes for the perfect early stocking stuffer.
2. What Sidney Powell’s Guilty Plea Means for the Case Against Trump
Powell’s counsel claims that she “did not represent President Trump or the Trump campaign” following the election, although Rudy Giuliani introduced her as one of “the senior lawyers” representing Trump during his 2020 campaign. Having participated in a news conference shortly after the election at the White House, at a minimum Powell can testify as to conversations she had with Trump that could reveal what he knew about the true election results and what he intended to have happen in the lead up to the January 6th insurrection.
Powell’s testimony could be important to Special Counsel Jack Smith, too, as she’s believed to be one of the unindicated co-conspirators in the federal January 6th case. According to testimony obtained by the House January 6th Committee, Trump privately described her as “crazy.”
Clusterf*ck, omnishambles, FUBAR, quagmire, snafu, goat rope, massacree (sic), shit storm, hot mess, trainwreck, shipwreck, imbroglio, foul-up, fizzle, SNAFU…