The New Face(s) of the GOP
Clowns with flamethrowers
“I am human. Politicians are human. We give all that we can, for as long as we can, and then it’s time.” — New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern
The news gods have been very, very good to us this week. And we’ll get to the latest George-Santos-was-actually-a-drag-queen story in a minute.
But let’s start with our looming political reality check. The country has hit its debt limit, and the House GOP seems intent on pushing us into a full-fledged financial crisis cum government shutdown.
What could go wrong? Since clearly we have sane, sober, responsible leaders at the wheel.
ICYMI yesterday, Kevin McCarthy continued to pay the bill for the deals he made to secure his gavel. This includes giving plum committee assignments to members of the chaos caucus — a menagerie of fringe-dwelling conspiracy theorists, election deniers, white nationalist sympathizers, and performative extremists.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the new faces of the GOP’s endless investigations. Via the NYT’s Annie Karni:
Several of the most extreme Republicans in Congress and those most closely allied with Mr. Trump have landed seats on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the main investigative organ in the House. From that perch, they are poised to shape inquiries into the Biden administration and to serve as agents of Mr. Trump in litigating his grievances as he plots his re-election campaign.
Their appointments are the latest evidence that the new Republican majority is driven by a hard-right faction that has modeled itself in Mr. Trump’s image, shares his penchant for dealing in incendiary statements and misinformation, and is bent on using its newfound power to exact revenge on Democrats and President Biden.
Many of the panel’s new Republican members — including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Lauren Boebert of Colorado and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania — are among Mr. Trump’s most devoted allies in Congress. Their appointments underscore that, while the former president may be a shrunken presence in the current political landscape, he still exerts much control over the base of his party…
The Biden White House is reportedly delighted by the picks, seeing them as “ideal figureheads for a White House eager to deride the opposition party as unhinged.” When McCarthy’s picks were announced, “the president’s aides sent texts to one another with digital high fives and likened their apparent luck to drawing an inside straight. One White House ally called it a ‘political gift.’”
“The English language runs out of adjectives to describe the debasement, cynical debasement of the whole process these appointments represent,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior Oversight panel member, said in an interview. “And it is, I think, a huge black mark on Kevin McCarthy.
Of course, a clown with a flamethrower still has a flamethrower, but it’s going to be impossible for Americans not to notice the bright red noses and floppy shoes of McCarthy’s new crew.
This was, of course, McCarthy’s choice. And these are going to be the new faces of the GOP for the next two years.
Along with this guy.
This is also a choice: “Republicans Are Giving Democrats A Belated But Huge Christmas Present.”
Another promise that McCarthy made was to hold a vote on a proposal called the Fair Tax, which is basically a 30% national sales tax.
The Fair Tax Act would replace income, payroll, gift, corporate, and death taxes with a federal consumption (sales) tax. To ensure that the legislation actually replaces rather than adds to existing taxes, the bill includes a provision that the new tax would expire in seven years if the Sixteenth Amendment, which allows for federal income taxes, is not repealed. (Keen-eyed readers will notice that this creates the bizarre possibility of federal tax revenue going down to zero after seven years, if income taxes are not collected but the Sixteenth Amendment remains on the books.)
In other words, the whole idea is fiscally and politically preposterous. As Swift reported: “The Fair Tax idea has never really had any serious support because it’s not a serious proposal, but a bit of niche talk-radio kitsch from a generation ago.”
But My Kevin is about to make it a marquee GOP initiative. And this is also a choice. A Real Man of Political Genius, he is not.
It’s a lose-lose situation: Vote yes, and the House Republican Conference looks frivolous, to say nothing of the messaging gift they would give Democratic speechwriters in 2024 (“Republicans want to instate a 30-plus percent federal sales tax!”). Vote no, and invite primaries by far-right candidates who will accuse you of siding with Democrats when given a chance to abolish the IRS. There’s a reason Republicans have never brought any of the previous versions of the Fair Tax to a vote before.
But before we get the Fair Tax, Kevin will be crashing the government over the debt ceiling…
So this is going well.
ICYMI: I had some thoughts.
The Bulwark Did L.A.
Fantastic turnout last night for our latest Bulwark live event. JVL, Sarah, and Tim rocked the house with their guest, former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau.
Favreau was one of the savviest early observers of the Trump style.
From my book, “How The Right Lost Its Mind”:
Favreau “recognized that Trump’s candidacy was the apotheosis of right-wing media culture. In an essay entitled ‘Longtime Listener, First-Time Candidate,’ Favreau pinpointed Trump’s central appeal to the talkers: ‘He won by doing a fairly good impression of a right-wing media celebrity.’”
Every issue, every conspiracy, every applause line has been ripped from their websites, radio shows, and television programs. It’s why he became America’s most prominent birther. It’s why he floated rumors that Ted Cruz’s dad killed JFK, and that Hillary Clinton killed Vince Foster. It’s why he talks the way he does about Mexicans and Muslims and women and African Americans. It’s why he’s been able to get away with knowing little to nothing about policy or government or world affairs— because Trump, like any good talking head, only speaks in chyrons and clauses and some-people-are-sayings
Favreau noted that Trump had learned some key lessons from studying the Right media:
These outlets have long been labeled the “conservative media,” but they don’t spend much time discussing tax cuts, free trade, entitlement reform, or school choice. They’re not weighing market-based solutions to urban poverty or debating the future of neoconservative foreign policy. . . . They have a lot more in common with the National Enquirer than they do with the National Review
Since then, of course, everything has gotten worse, and the center of the eight-wing ecosystem has shifted from talk-radio to Tucker Carlson. But Trump’s style remains unchanged.
Return of the Normies?
Are establishment Republicans about to make a come back? Maximum skepticism is, as usual, warranted, but over at Axios Josh Kraushaar reports:
Ohio state Sen. Matt Dolan, whose family owns the Cleveland Guardians baseball team, on Tuesday became the first Republican to announce he would challenge Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) in 2024. He ran as the most moderate candidate in the 2022 GOP Senate field, finishing in third place.
West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, a former Democrat, has been publicly teasing the possibility of challenging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). Rep. Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.), a member of the MAGA-oriented Freedom Caucus, is already in the race…
Businessman David McCormick, who narrowly lost to Oz in Pennsylvania's Senate race in 2022, is already mulling a comeback bid. He's publishing a book in March, "Superpower in Peril: A Battle Plan to Renew America," in a bid to burnish his political resume.
Perhaps the most interesting contest of all may be brewing in Indiana:
Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who just left his presidential perch at Purdue University, is expressing serious interest in running for the Senate. If he jumped in, it would set up a MAGA-vs.-establishment clash against Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), a Trump ally who announced his own candidacy Tuesday.
Meanwhile, watch this space. “Can Trump Count on Evangelicals in 2024? Some Leaders Are Wavering.”
On Sunday, the Rev. Robert Jeffress, a longtime supporter of Donald J. Trump who has yet to endorse his 2024 White House bid, shared the stage at his Dallas megachurch with one of the former president’s potential rivals next year: former Vice President Mike Pence.
The next day, Mr. Trump lashed out at Pastor Jeffress and other evangelical leaders he spent years courting, accusing them of “disloyalty” and blaming them for the party’s disappointing performance in the 2022 midterm elections.
We need to put this in some context. It’s worth noting that Pastor Jeffress thinks Islam is evil, Mormons belong to a cult, Catholicism is a product of Satan's genius and 'gay is not OK.'
Trump chose Jeffress to pray at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem, despite the fact that he has said that Jews are going to Hell.
“Not only do religions like Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism — not only do they lead people away from the true God, they lead people to an eternity of separation from God in hell,” Mr. Jeffress said. “Hell is going to be filled with good religious people who have rejected the truth of Christ.”
But, clearly, there is now trouble in parade.
1. At Soledar, the Battle of the Damned
Recruited convicts become the face of Russia’s war while the world rallies for more aid to Ukraine. Cathy Young has the latest in today’s Bulwark:
At the start of 2023, Russia is cementing its status as a totalitarian terrorist state. It is about to repeal (retroactively, no less) all of its agreements with the Council of Europe, including membership in the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Its citizens are being arrested for commemorating the Dnipro attack by laying flowers at public monuments to Ukrainian writers. Its lawmakers are discussing measures to strip emigres and expatriates who criticize the war and the state of their property in Russia, prompting a very Russian moment of dark humor from self-exiled poet and essayist Dmitry Bykov: “It makes sense. If murderers are being sent to war to expiate their crimes with bloodshed, perhaps burglars and robbers can be dispatched to earn their pardon by breaking into our apartments.”
The Putin regime is scoring impressive victories in killing off the remnants of post-Soviet civil society in Russia. The world must make sure it achieves no victories outside its borders.
2. New species discovered: Republicans who (sometimes) care about deficits
Breaking scientific news: Researchers have identified a previously unknown species in D.C. Like cicadas, this species stays underground for years at a time, typically in four- or eight-year intervals. Its members hide away until there is an auspicious change in the ecosystem. Then, they bust out and wreak havoc.
This species: Republicans who care about deficits.
From 2017 through early 2021, members of the species lay dormant. Coincidentally, though, a nearly identical-looking sister species, Republicans who love debt, ruled Capitol Hill in their stead. With unified control of the House, Senate and White House, these debt-loving Republicans gleefully spilled red ink across the nation’s capital and beyond.
The GOP’s budgetary bloodletting began with a 2017 tax cut that cost $1.8 trillion. Their fiscal rampage then continued over the next few years, mostly on the other side of the ledger. In fact, between 2017 and early 2020, President Donald Trump added roughly as much to deficits through new spending as through tax cuts, appending his signature to more than $2 trillion in unfunded spending program expansions, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
3. Judge Orders Trump and Lawyer to Pay Nearly $1 Million for Bogus Suit
“This case should never have been brought,” U.S. District Judge Donald M. Middlebrooks wrote in a 46-page ruling. “Its inadequacy as a legal claim was evident from the start. No reasonable lawyer would have filed it. Intended for a political purpose, none of the counts of the amended complaint stated a cognizable legal claim.”