On Saturday night, Republicans got a glimpse of the future that Donald Trump has in store for them, and it looks very much like the past, but even more deplorable. And, frankly duller.
It wasn’t just his performance at the rally — which was basically an “updated version of Trump’s usual America-first rhetoric, long on personal boasts and lacking in subtlety” — or the election lies, the white identity politics, or his continuing attempts to rewrite the history of the January 6th insurrection.
You could see the GOP future in the whole show: a rally that featured all the misfit toys embraced by the Once and Future God King. The My Pillow Guy, Mike Lindell, was there, and treated like a rock star rather than a mental patient off his meds. Indeed, Trump’s rally featured the whole pantheon of deplorability; Rep. Andy Biggs and Rep. Paul Gosar were there, along with the state’s batty party chair, Kelli Ward.
Even as he lashed out at Arizona Governor Doug Ducey — a “terrible representative of your state” — Trump embraced State Senator Wendy Rogers, one of the wooliest conspiracy theorists extant in American politics. And that’s really saying something.
And, of course there was the Trump-backed candidate for governor, Kari Lake, who seems to have a fetish for jailing people she doesn’t like:
And then there was the group “Blacks for Trump.”
The man was “Blacks for Trump” founder Maurice Symonette, a.k.a. Michael the Black Man, a former member of a violent cult who posts anti-Semitic screeds and racist conspiracy theories online, and yet has been a featured member of the audience at Trump campaign events since 2016.
Despite all of that, Trump’s Arizona rally had a stale feel to it.
“Call it the Andrew Dice Clay conundrum,” writes Matt K. Lewis. “If your entire shtick is based on shock value, eventually the audience grows inured, and the lack of substance becomes embarrassingly plain.”
“An old rock band can get away with playing the same hits over and over, but provocative clowns like Trump need fresh material to stay relevant.”
Instead, Trump is offering the GOP his endlessly recycled grievances.
Michael Brendan Dougherty notes that Trump no longer offers his voters anything like a substantive agenda. When he first ran, Trump “promised to do things that voters wanted, to make the country great, proud, and prosperous again.”
This time around, writes Dougherty, “he is essentially asking Republicans to do something for him, to restore his tarnished honor and make credible his belief in his own victory.”
All that is left of Trumpism are Trump’s grievances and aspirations.
This is not an agenda that will win him high office, help his party, or accomplish anything for his countrymen.
Worse for Trump: at some point the act becomes less edgy than boring.
The Trump-DeSantis spat
No, Ron DeSantis is not the One You Have Been Waiting For.
Back in November, I wrote about the odd notion that somehow Never Trumpers should embrace the Florida governor as the not-actually-insane alternative to Trump.
Nope. As in nope, nope, and … nope…
There are several obvious problems with the DeSantis gambit.
The first, is that it is impossible. DeSantis (1) won’t challenge Trump if he runs, and (2) has zero chance of beating him in a GOP primary.
The second problem is more basic.
Embracing DeSantis accepts and ratifies the permanent Trumpification of the GOP — the cultural grievance, crude demagoguery, anti-democratic contempt for constitutional norms, and the not-very-subtle embrace of identitarian politics.
And this is where Friedersdorf misreads the tattered remnant of Never Trumpers. I obviously can’t speak for all of them, but some of us who remain here in the political wilderness object not merely to Trump himself, but to the entire constellation of impulses that he has loosed on our politics.
Obviously Never Trumpers want to beat Trump (again), but the larger (and perhaps much more difficult) project is to stand against Trumpism and its continuing assault on the conservative mind (or what is left of it).
The alternative is to normalize political deviancy.
Since then the Trump-DeSantis tensions have intensified and the pseudo-rivalry is worth watching. Axios reports this morning that Trump “is trashing Ron DeSantis in private as an ingrate with a ‘dull personality’ and no realistic chance of beating him in a potential 2024 showdown….”
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said on a podcast episode that aired Friday one of his biggest regrets in office was not speaking "much louder" against the Trump Administration's calls for lockdowns in the early days of the pandemic, with the comments coming just days after former President Donald Trump appeared to label DeSantis "gutless."
Words can’t express how depressing it is that Trump being vocally pro-vaccine might become the most significant liability for him in a Republican primary but DeSantis rightly sees weakness there and is looking to fill that political space.
He’s worked hard over the past six months to ingratiate himself to anti-vaxxers in subtle and less than subtle ways, and now Trump has handed him an excuse to draw a distinction between them in which DeSantis is more closely aligned with populist opinion than Trump is. I’m dying to see where this goes.
About that conservative “mainstream”
On our podcast last week, Tim Alberta remarked that the lines between the fringe and the so-called mainstream of the GOP had dissolved.
Here’s another example of what he was talking about. In mid-December, a group of right-wing luminaries signed this open letter calling on the “GOP conference [to] meet immediately to vote on stripping Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger from their membership in the GOP conference.”
The “conservatives” explained:
The actions of Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger on behalf of House Democrats have given supposedly bipartisan justification to an overtly partisan political persecution that brings disrespect to our country’s rule of law, legal harassment to private citizens who have done nothing wrong, and which demeans the standing of the House.
As duly elected representatives, Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger are free to serve in the House, but they should no longer do so with the privileges granted to members of the House Republican Conference. They should no longer be given access to the benefits of a conference they actively seek to undermine.
Here is just a partial look at the signatories. Those of you not immersed in GOP politics might not recognize many of the names, but they represent a cross-section of Conservatism Inc. — from former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese to the Club for Growth to the Tea Party lady.
Also signing the letter calling for Cheney and Kinzinger to be expelled — Ginni Thomas, wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
1. The Electoral Count Act Is a Zero-Day Exploit Waiting to Happen
Finally, there’s the biggest—and most dangerous—bug of all: any party that controls both houses of Congress and has the necessary political will can install their candidate as president of the United States regardless of who actually won the election. The unpleasant fact is that, despite a nationwide vote, fenced with elaborate legal and technical safeguards, under the terms of the ECA as it now exists, the president of the United States is elected purely on the honor system by 535 members of Congress.
2. It’s Long Past Time to Prosecute Phony GOP Electors
I wrote about this in yesterday’s Morning Shots. In today’s Bulwark, Philip Rotner takes a much deeper look at the legal fate of the phony Trump electors.
The signing and transmission of the phony certificates were also standalone crimes in and of themselves, committed in broad daylight and easily prosecuted.
State and federal law enforcement should have been all over this for almost a year now. Worse, even for those inclined to think “better late than never,” it’s still not clear that they are on it now.
Start with state law. As you can imagine, every state in the union has criminal laws prohibiting all forms of election fraud. For present purposes, one example will suffice: In Arizona, a person who knowingly forges or counterfeits returns of an election is guilty of a “class 3 felony,” the minimum penalty for which is two and a half years in prison.
But the real action here is—or should be—at the federal level. These phony certifications were not isolated, one-off events. They were highly coordinated. A single glance at the five phony certificates shows that they are nearly identical in format and text, right down to the fonts. The strong implication: Somebody somewhere was running this show.
3. To Honor MLK, Focus on His Actual Work
Today, Martin Luther King III and other members of the King family plan on leading a march across Washington’s beautiful new Frederick Douglass bridge, urging Congress to pass some version of the election-related bills now before it. “We’re directly calling on Congress,” he said, “not to pay lip service to my father’s ideals without doing the very thing that would protect his legacy: pass voting rights legislation.” Later this week, another march in Washington, the March for Life, is likely also to see MLK’s name and image invoked on signs and in speeches; it’s not uncommon at the annual march to see his famous line about how “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” on placards.
As implausible as it is that Martin Luther King Jr. would have been entirely comfortable with either party in his day—let alone in ours—there is nevertheless something strangely heartening about the fact that so many members of both parties now feel comfortable claiming him as an inspiration, even if in doing so they only pick and choose from his words and deeds.