The New York Times Is Part of the Effing Problem
So much both sides.
1. Shade of a Gray Lady
James Bennet has written a long piece for the Economist about “When the New York Times Lost Its Way.”
Bennet was an editor at the Atlantic who went to the NYT to run the paper’s op-ed page and was fired for running a piece by Tom Cotton that called for the use of the Insurrection Act.
Bennet’s experience is shorthand for liberal-echo-chamber, information-silo complaints: Look at the NYT—they are so militantly progressive that they refuse to engage with both sides. How can you fire an editor for running an op-ed by a United States senator?
The truth about the Times op-ed page is actually worse. Yes, the paper will sometimes make dumbfounding decisions that cater to its progressive staff, as it did when it fired Bennet. Yet other times, the paper platforms bad-faith arguments for conservative/Republican political projects that are designed to purposefully obscure reality from readers.
It’s the worst of both worlds: Fitful progressive intolerance and braindead both-sidesism.
The Bennet piece in the Economist illustrates the first half. A Matthew Schmitz op-ed in the paper today illustrates the second.
The headline on the Schmitz piece is “The Secret of Trump’s Appeal Isn’t Authoritarianism.”
I’m linking to it only out of guilt. I hope you won’t give them your click. Because this piece is trash.
Schmitz, who is one of the Catholic integralist MAGA fans, fills his essay with euphemisms about Trump’s actions. Here are some of them:
Trump is “pragmatic if unpredictable”
He occasionally uses “incendiary language”
And “intemperate rhetoric”
And “provocative comments”
And makes “outrageous statements”
Because he possesses “braggadocio”
And has a “combative personality”
And an “irreverent demeanor”
And is “politically incorrect”
There are more. The piece is filled with both euphemism and the passive voice, all in an attempt to obscure reality from readers and present a sympathetic case for Trump.
Look at this passage:
To be sure, Mr. Trump’s wild rhetoric, indifference to protocol, and willingness to challenge expertise have been profoundly unsettling to people of both political parties. His term in office was frequently chaotic, and the chaos seemed to culminate in the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, 2021.
This might be the most misleading passage ever published in the paper of record.
It was not Trump’s “indifference to protocol” which was “unsettling” to people. And the “chaos” of Trump’s term did not “seem” to culminate in a “riot” at the U.S. Capitol.
Here is an accurate description of what happened in the waning days of the Trump administration:
Donald Trump falsely proclaimed that the presidential election was illegitimate. He attempted, through both legal and extralegal means, to overturn the result of the election. Trump’s maneuverings in both the Department of Justice and the Department of Defense were so dangerous that ten former secretaries of defense penned an op-ed warning that it was not lawful to use the military in an election dispute. Trump then called thousands of people to Washington, assembled them into a crowd which he knew was armed, and personally directed them to march to the Capitol and “take back” the country “with strength.”
If you came down from Mars and simply read today’s NYT op-ed, you would have absolutely no idea that any of this happened. Instead, you’d think that Trump was some kind of a ne’er-do-well or scamp.
In short: You would have an inaccurate understanding of reality because of a piece you read in the New York Times.
But you gotta have both sides? I guess?
The Times does this a lot—running cover for authoritarians by publishing outrageously misleading “opinion” pieces in the name of airing “both sides” of the debate.
That’s because the Times has a blinkered view of what constitutes “the debate.”
Here is the reality: In America right now, one political party is for liberalism and the rule of law; the other party is against it.
If the Times wanted to contribute to this debate, they could publish Adrian Vermeule arguing why it’s time to dispense with the Constitution and move toward monarchy.
But instead, the Times chooses—over and over—to publish bad-faith gaslighting designed to obscure both the seriousness and the aims of the illiberal project.
That they somehow achieve this outcome while being progressive scolds internally is kind of amazing. It would be impressive if it weren’t so toxic.
I admire the NYT as an institution. It does a great deal of essential reporting. It is home to a mind-boggling array of talent. Even the op-ed section—which is one of the weakest parts of the company—has a number of excellent writers and editors.
Also: Not every institution has to share The Bulwark’s mission. The NYT does something different than what we do here.
But the New York Times illustrates precisely how unprepared our liberal institutions are for dealing with the expressly illiberal threat of Trump 2024: A former president, who incited an insurrection, attempted a coup, is facing multiple felony indictments, and has expressly stated that he would like to be a dictator is planning to use the government to exact retribution on his enemies.
That’s the most pressing crisis in media today.
The Times has no idea how to handle this threat except to present two sides: One which warns about the danger and one which prevaricates and misdirects in an attempt to hide it.
The Bulwark is kind of an antimatter NYT: We are up-front about our ideological commitments, we do not present you with arguments that are made in bad faith, and we try to always add to your understanding of the world.
My mantra: I want to help you see around corners.
We can do this because we’re supported by our readers. If you’re not a member of Bulwark+ yet, come join us. This is the way media should be.
2. No Way Home
On The Focus Group this weekend, pollster Whit Ayres made the case that Donald Trump is not inevitable and that Nikki Haley still has a narrow path to the Republican nomination.
You should listen to the show, because Sarah and Ayres will make you smarter. But I want to push back on the Ayres case for Haley because when you look at it closely, it underlines just how strong Trump is.
Here’s a thumbnail version of the Ayres argument:
Trump is not inevitable. There are exogenous events—especially surrounding his criminal trial—which could blow up his candidacy.
Haley has a strong electability argument and would likely beat Biden by a large margin. Certainly, a much bigger margin than whatever Trump’s hypothetical ceiling is.
The GOP is split into three factions: Always Trump (35 to 40 percent); Never Trump (5 to 10 percent); and Maybe Trump (45 to 55 percent). If Haley unites somewhere between 90 and 100 percent of the Never and Maybe Trump voters, she will have a slim majority in the primary.
The order of the primaries leaves a path for Haley to go from third in Iowa, to second in New Hampshire, to first in South Carolina—a 3-2-1 route.
If Haley were to go 3-2-1, she would then have enough momentum to be competitive in the Super Tuesday states.
With a competitive showing on Super Tuesday, Haley might be able to beat Trump in a long delegate fight.
As unlikely as all of that sounds, that’s the optimistic view for how Haley could win the nomination.
Some of it obviously correct: Exogenous events could derail Trump. The Always Trump faction of the GOP isn’t a flat majority.1 Haley does have an electability argument.
But other parts of the case are debatable.
(1) 3-2-1 is a mirage. The 3-2-1 strategy might work in a heavily divided field with a weak frontrunner.
But in Haley’s 3-2-1 scenario, Trump will have won both Iowa and New Hampshire, probably by comfortable margins. Whatever momentum Haley might have will be dwarfed by Trump’s momentum.
When is the last time a former president won both Iowa and New Hampshire and then failed to capture the nomination?2
Let me tell you what will happen if Trump wins Iowa and New Hampshire: The entire institutional GOP will call for Haley to drop out so as not to damage him. The momentum will be on the side of consolidating around Trump and shutting down the primary process.
Here is the only viable strategy for Haley: 1-1-1.
If Haley wins Iowa and then parlays that into a win in New Hampshire and then demonstrates that she can beat Trump in a Southern state, too, then she might gain enough momentum to make up for a lack of organization in the Super Tuesday states and make a race of it.
There are two problems with this 1-1-1 strategy.
The first is that Haley is losing to Trump, badly, in both Iowa and New Hampshire.
The second is that she is not trying to beat Trump. Her campaign is not attempting to take voters away from the guy polling over 50 percent. She is simply trying to get to second place and then pray.
(2) No Republican is electable without Trump. Haley’s polling head-to-head against Joe Biden is very good.
I have yet to see polling with Haley in a three-way race against both Biden and Trump. I suspect she would do much less well.
The fundamental problem for normie Republicans is that it isn’t enough for them to beat Trump in a primary. They also have to keep Trump onside after they beat him. They need Trump to acknowledge that he lost, fair and square, and then encourage his low-propensity voters to turn out for the Team Normal Nominee.
This is a serious question: Pretend Haley runs the table. She wins Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina. After Super Tuesday she clears the delegate threshold to secure the nomination.
What are the odds that Trump recognizes her as the nominee and supports her candidacy in the general election?
What are the odds that Trump claims she cheated and then either tells his people not to vote for her or runs some sort of independent challenge?
What are the odds that Trump tells his people that even Sleepy Joe is better than the lying, cheating, Birdbrain?
(3) Ranked choice. Haley’s theory of victory supposes that she wins upwards of 90 percent of Maybe Trump voters and 100 percent of Never Trump voters.
I do not believe such a split is possible.
We tend to think of Maybe Trump voters as normie Republicans who are open to Trump. And that’s a lot them, sure. But voters are idiosyncratic. Some Maybe Trump voters will be people who liked Trump’s ideas, but thought he didn’t go far enough. Or who liked Trump as an insurgent, but now think he’s too establishment.
It is not clear to me that those voters—who might currently sit with DeSantis or Ramaswamy—would ever flow to Haley.
I suspect that Trump’s first- and second-place preferences add up to a flat majority.
Add it all up and what you have is this:
Yes, Nikki Haley has a chance to win the nomination. But only if some cataclysmic, outside event reshapes the race. She doesn’t need a series of small moments to all break her way—she needs the entire race to be upended by a health event, or a new scandal, or a criminal conviction. And it has to happen soon. Within the next 10 weeks.
Is that a “path”? I don’t think so. In every primary campaign in the history of American politics, you could say that Candidate X has a chance to win if Candidate Y dies or goes to jail. That’s not a pathway. It’s just standing around and hoping for an asteroid to hit the other guy.3
Which is precisely what Nikki Haley is doing.
And that—all by itself—is a clear indicator of Trump’s strength. His position is so dominant that the only way he can lose is via an act of God. He knows it. And his most serious opponent knows it, too.
3. Taylor vs. Lennon
Taylor Swift’s “Christmas Tree Farm” is not her best work—it doesn’t have a great hook or unexpected turns of phrase. But “not her best” on the Swift scale is still pretty good.
John Lennon wrote “Happy XMas (War Is Over)” with Yoko Ono and it’s absolutely one of the worst Christmas songs, ever. Made even worse by the fact that because it’s peacenik St. John, everyone genuflects before it. You can’t kill this song with a JDAM.
It may, however, be a plurality. Depending on what state you’re looking at, it’s not clear to me that the Maybe Trump faction is everywhere larger than the Always Trump faction.
I do not believe that any candidate who has won both Iowa and New Hampshire comfortably has not been their party’s nominee.
Does Nikki Haley have an appreciably better chance of beating Trump today than Pat Buchanan did of beating George H.W. Bush in 1992?
I don’t think so.