The Herd of Independent Minds Stampedes Off the Cliff
Ben Shapiro and the Denialists
Even with all the caveats about New Hampshire’s notorious unpredictably, we are likely to learn something today that we already knew:
The Party of Reagan is deceased, departed, demised, and no more. It’s Trump’s party; and the usual suspects are all stampeding to fall in line.
This herd mentality is worth noting for the moment: Before even a single vote was cast in a primary, Republicans rushed to declare their fealty to Trump and insist that the race was over. This required them to ignore (waves hands) all this, but if all of your friends — every one of them —are joining hands to jump off the cliff together, it’s so much easier.
The Invertebrate thirst for company, because it gives them cover.
We’ll come back to that in a moment, but as we wait for actual election results from New Hampshire, how about some mood music?
Here’s Brian Stelter’s latest piece in Vanity Fair: The Great Tune-Out of 2024
"Exhaustion may be the defining feature of the 2024 presidential election cycle.
"The news, the noise, the nonsense—the information saturation is overwhelming."
"The Great Tune-Out has implications for campaigns, media outlets, and the greater political-industrial complex."
"Trump, in not so subtle ways, exploits people’s disillusionment."
"Reporters are finding creative ways to illustrate the public’s disenchantment."
Today’s podcast guest, Michael Kruse, writes in Politico Magazine: “‘This to Him Is the Grand Finale’: Donald Trump’s 50-Year Mission to Discredit the Justice System.”
Also in Politico: Trump is bleeding moderate support. It could cost him the 2024 election.
Finally, a digression from the vibes: “Dow closes above 38,000 for 1st time, setting record high.”
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Will Saletan: A Rogue Presidency
On our Monday podcast: Trump wants to put his knee on the neck of America with a violent, illegal presidency. Plus, the self-abasement of DeSantis and Tim Scott; Nikki waits 'til the 11th hour to punch harder; and Stefanik readies for her close-up. Will Saletan is back with me for Charlie and Will Monday.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
The cool kid leader of the Herd of Independent Minds is wasting no time in catching up with his people: “Ben Shapiro Endorses Donald Trump.”
“It’s time for the party to coalesce around the guy who is going to beat Joe Biden. And that guy is Donald Trump.”
Because, of course, Ben is doing what Ben does. Once a solid Never Trumper, Ben has since become a master of shape-shifting logic. You might recall this blast from the Before Times:
Back in 2016, Shapiro declared that he would never, ever, under any circumstances vote for Donald Trump.
At the time, he seemed serious about it. He wrote:
I will never vote for Donald Trump.
I will never vote for Donald Trump because I stand with certain principles. I stand with small government and free markets and religious freedom and personal responsibility. Donald Trump stands against all of these things…
I stand with #NeverTrump.
Welp. Never mind. Shapiro evolved. By 2020, Shapiro was on board with both Trumpism and Trump. By the time the election had rolled around, Shapiro was a right-wing-media clickbaity juggernaut and a rock star of lib-owning in the MAGAverse.
Shapiro still has pretensions as a Serious Person, but his own tortured explanation for his flip-flop on Trump is a museum-quality artifact of rationalization and wrongness. In making his Trump endorsement, Shapiro insisted that he was “simply wrong about Donald Trump on policy.”
But it was his second argument that needs highlighting, especially in light of recent events.
“Whatever damage he was going to do, he's already done, and it's not going to help if I don't vote for him this time,” Shapiro said in October 2020….
What more damage could he possibly do with a second term? Shapiro asked. Hadn’t we seen the worst?
What could possibly go wrong?
Of course, that was before the Big Lie.
Before Trump’s attempt to overturn the election. Before he delayed the transition. Before he demanded that his vice president nullify electoral votes.
Before military leaders feared he might stage a coup.
“Whatever damage he was going to do, he's already done,” Shapiro argued.
Since then, he incited the January 6 Insurrection.
Since then, Trump praised the rioters as “patriots” and “peaceful people.” Since then, he made delegitimizing the election a litmus test for the GOP.
And since then, Ben Shapiro has ridden the wave.
I regret to tell you that it has actually gotten worse. Fortunately, it also has its moments of genuine comedy.
Ben Shapiro: “If you want Donald Trump not to screw with the elections anymore and you think he's really gonna screw with the elections, you ought to vote for Donald Trump”
Really, that’s a real quote. Not taken out of context. Here’s Jonathan Chait’s take:
Ben Shapiro, displaying his trademark combination of comic partisanship and glibness, offers his own novel dismissal of the threat. Trump can’t try to carry out a coup attempt if he’s in office and Constitutionally limited:
Donald Trump will have served two terms at that point. He will no longer be eligible for president. He will not be allowed to be on ballots across the United States. So, actually, if you want Donald Trump not to screw with the elections anymore and you think he’s really gonna screw with the elections, you ought to vote for Donald Trump, and then he’ll be in for another term, and then he’ll be done.
Sure, maybe Trump attempted a regrettable coup d’état to steal a second term, Shapiro concedes, but he’s gotten it out of his system because he’s forbidden from running again.
What could go wrong?
Shapiro, of course, is hardly alone in this sort of tortured denialism. As we noted in yesterday’s Bulwark, The NYT’s Ross Douthat is now reprising his role as high Priest of Nothing-to-See-Here. Quipped the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer, “Douthat understood exactly what a coup was, right up until the moment Trump attempted one.”
As the folks at Protect Democracy noted last week, the impulse to pooh-pooh Trump’s threats has been internalized throughout the right. Members of Congress laugh off Trump’s threats to become a “dictator for one day” as a particularly hilarious joke.
“It’s entertainment. And, you know, we’ve been around him long enough. It’s entertaining.” — Texas Rep. Michael McCaul
“I think it was a joke.” — South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham
“We all know Trump uses unique expressions when he explains things.” — Kentucky Rep. James Comer
Senator J.D. Vance wrote: “Trump’s superpower is that he’s the most quick witted leader in a generation. Every grown man hyperventilating about this clip needs to find a sense of humor.”…
The bright and beautiful billionaires in Davos are also shrugging off concerns.
One bank CEO “privately expressed annoyance with media exaggeration of the threat of a Trump presidency, stressing he’s ‘all bark and no bite.’ The bank chief also dismissed Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the 2020 election as bloviation.”
CNBC reports that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon also “echoed the sentiment that an apocalypse is unlikely, he did note he hopes ‘the country survives’ with either the reelection of President Joe Biden or the return of Trump to the White House, even as some fear American democracy would be threatened by his return.”
“I will be prepared for both, we will deal with both, my company will survive and thrive in both,” Dimon said.
As Protect Democracy notes, Trump also has his anti-anti-Trump media turd-polishers.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote in December 2023: “We think American institutions are strong enough to contain whatever designs Mr. Trump has to abuse presidential power,” while suggesting that the real “danger” that could come from a second Trump administration is that he would “set up the left for huge gains in 2026 and 2028.”
Others have adopted a fatalistic “both sides” approach to the looming crisis. As one writer at National Review asked: “[I]f our existing checks and balances under the Constitution aren’t strong enough to stop abuses of power by Trump … why would you think that they’re strong enough to stop abuses of power by Joe Biden or anyone else?”
Ex-CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, who covered Trump extensively in his former job, said that even though Trump made “life hard for my family,” he was open to voting for him in 2024 because “We survived a Trump administration. Would we survive another one? Yes. Yes…I don’t think there’s any greater risk to America with him than with Biden.”
But, writes Jonathan Chait, “The most elaborate rationale comes from conservative talk-show host Hugh Hewitt, who has written a mighty 3,000 word essay sneering at concerns over Trump’s authoritarianism.”
Despite its impressive length, Hewitt’s argument consists of two assertions, which he barely bothers to support. The first is that “the Constitution, as amended by the people and interpreted by the Supreme Court, governs this country and lawless presidents are simply not a threat.” It is simply impossible for an American president to weaken the fabric of liberal democracy, Hewitt asserts, because the Constitution forbids it.
Second, he insists that if Trump attempts to do anything illegal, his advisers will refuse. He does not mention that Trump turned viciously against figures like Mike Pence and Bill Barr for refusing to cooperate with his coup attempt, and that he is focused on finding enablers who will never put the Constitution ahead of his lust for power. Hewitt just hand-waves away the problem by insisting Trump’s appointees will all be good. “It is an inchoate slur on every future appointee that they would accept an illegal order,” he asserts.
Most of the rest of the text is padded out with name-calling and extended conjecture about the “real” motives of people concerned about Trump’s authoritarian impulses…
It’s Rhino shirt day
I read Eugene Ionesco’s play “Rhinoceros” over the weekend—or maybe I reread it. I am told I saw it once many years ago. If so, my memory of it was dim.
I picked up the play because of a conversation I had on the Bulwark Podcast with the estimable Charlie Sykes a couple of weeks ago in which the subject of Ionesco’s play came up.
It is astonishing how good a metaphor the play is for the allure of Trumpism to apparently sensible people.
The play was written in 1959 as a meditation on how people succumb to propaganda—turning suddenly to fascism or communism. In it, people in a small French provincial town start spontaneously turning into rhinoceroses. The main character watches as one after another of his friends and colleagues—people who were moments earlier fiercely opposed to the rhino transformation trend—suddenly morph.
It’s kind of a high-brow, absurdist theater version of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” the American sci-fi horror film which came out a few years earlier (1956). And it actually follows a similar narrative arc.
But the play nails a few key aspects of the experience of the modern attraction to Trumpist authoritarianism in a fashion that warrants particular attention.
Biden’s Low Approval Rating May Not Matter
The numbers make clear that Biden is a much weaker candidate than he was when he defeated Trump three years ago. It’s unlikely Biden’s approval will recover significantly before November. But—crucially—that doesn’t mean he will lose the election.
A Marist poll last week showed Biden beating Trump in New Hampshire by 7 points, and by 3 points with Robert F. Kennedy Jr. running as a third-party candidate. The president’s approval in the Granite State is a dismal 38 percent.
How the Right Lost Its Mind. An update.