WTF Were They Thinking?
A walk down Hackery Lane.
Donald Trump’s $200,000 bail on his election interference and racketeering charges comes with pointed and rather specific conditions.
“Trump is not allowed to communicate with witnesses or co-defendants about the case, except through his lawyers, and he is barred from intimidating witnesses or co-defendants.
“He is also forbidden from making any ‘direct or indirect threat of any nature against the community or to any property in the community,’ including in ‘posts on social media or reposts of posts’ by others on social media.
“The defendant shall perform no act to intimidate any person known to him … to be a co-defendant or witness in this case or to otherwise obstruct the administration of justice,” the agreement says.
Feel free to place your bets on how long it will take TFG to violate those terms.
In other news:
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WTF Were They Thinking? (Redux)
As Trump preps his fourth perp walk of the year, this seems like a good time to once against re-up a piece I wrote a few years back:
Near the end of the miniseries Band of Brothers, the guys from Easy Company are shown riding in a convoy of trucks past a bedraggled column of German prisoners, some of whom are riding in carts drawn by horses.
Private David Webster is appalled by the scene and shouts at them:
Hey, you! That's right, you stupid Kraut bastards! That's right! Say hello to Ford, and General fuckin’ Motors! You stupid fascist pigs! Look at you! You have horses! What were you thinking? Dragging our asses halfway around the world, interrupting our lives. . . For what, you ignorant, servile scum! What the fuck are we doing here?
I woke up this morning thinking about him.
Admittedly, the parallels are hardly exact, but as I’m looking over the clusterfuck of American conservatism on this almost-Christmas Eve, I feel a kinship with Webster.
What were you thinking? You cowardly, ignorant, servile scum?
It’s not like you were not warned. Again and again.
It’s not as if it wasn’t obvious from the very beginning who Donald Trump was. You had to know it would come to something like this.
Now look at you. You have Trump.
Let me repeat this: none of this is new. As far back as August 2015, I wrote that Trump was “a cartoon version of every left-wing media stereotype of the reactionary, nativist, misogynist right.”
Back then there was still time to say no. Some of us desperately made the case that he was a disaster. In May 2016, on the last appearance I will ever make on Fox News, I said:
Donald Trump is a serial liar, a con man who mocks the disabled and women. He’s a narcissist and a bully, a man with no fixed principles who has the vocabulary of an emotionally insecure nine-year-old. So no, I don’t want to give him control of the IRS, the FBI, and the nuclear codes. That’s just me.
But you went along with it. You thought you could ride it out. You thought the tradeoffs were worth it. You thought you could Make America Great with this ignorant, petulant man-child.
One conservative commentator after another torched their reputations, if not their consciences, polishing the orange turds.
The anti-anti-Trumpers sat it out, or spent their time assuring us it wasn’t so bad and that the real threat was radical woke socialists like… Joe Biden. When they weren’t actually concocting elaborate defenses for Trump’s mendacity, they rationalized, or played an endless game of whataboutism.
Back in June, my colleague Sarah Longwell asked the same question that’s nagging me today:
Did they really think that putting a man bereft of character, decency, and empathy in charge of the country wouldn’t make a difference?
Did they really think that dismissing each instance of his racism, bullying, fecklessness, megalomania, corruption, lies, and stupidity it wouldn’t have a cumulative effect?
From the day he came down the escalator, Trump promised to burn it all down. And now Conservatism Inc. is surprised the country is on fire?
What did they think was going to happen?
Well, what did they think?
In Monday’s Triad, JVL takes a nostalgic trip back to 2017 to sample the wishcasting of the elite’s Trump turd-polishers.
My favorite entry in this category comes from Hugh Hewitt in a Washington Post column on January 19, 2017. Hugh told everyone to calm down because the adults were in charge:
My wife and I welcomed Mike and Debbie for dinner at our California home Tuesday night. Our longtime friends are not alarmists, and they are not liberal Democrats. . . .
Mike and Debbie are genuinely worried. Anxious. Even distressed by the inauguration of President Trump. I did my best to allay their fears, to point to people such as retired Gens. James Mattis and John Kelly, headed to the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, respectively, to Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., and former senator Daniel Coats, R-Ind., on the national security team . . .
Discount the rhetoric, I argued. . . .
The vice president-elect, Mike Pence, is a wonderful man, I explained, a conscientious person of compassion and action. I stressed how incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus possesses a perfect skill set for the job that James Baker defined in President Ronald Reagan's first term, and that he could grow into it. . . .
Those alarmed by Trump should recognize that those personality characteristics do not define the entire man or his agenda for the next four years -- and that, in fact, there are good reasons to welcome the brashness. . . . Trump is Thor's hammer in that regard. It could get loud, but we could also end up hashing some hard things out.
Finally, there is this: The Constitution is very, very strong. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., not to mention the independent judiciary, represent significant checks on Trump, who, as Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn likes to point out, has never raised a word against the Constitution's design or institutions.
Even by Hewitt’s standards of goal-post-moving hackery, that aged especially badly.
Mattis? The former defense secretary resigned in December 2018, citing irreconcilable differences with Trump’s policy in Syria. He was later quoted in Bob Woodward’s book, Rage, as saying, “When I was basically directed to do something that I thought went beyond stupid to felony stupid, strategically jeopardizing our place in the world and everything else, that’s when I quit.” When Trump used military force to disperse protesters in Washington, D.C.’s Lafayette Square, Mattis took the rare step of issuing a public statement on the matter, putting it in no uncertain terms that Trump has crossed an intolerable line.
Kelly? On Jan. 7, 2021, Kelly said he supported using the Twenty-fifth Amendment to remove Trump from office. Kelly said:
“I think that the Cabinet should meet and have a discussion. I don't think that it'll happen, but I think the Cabinet should meet and discuss this because the behavior yesterday and in the weeks and months before that has just been outrageous from the President. . . . What happened on Capitol Hill yesterday is a direct result of his poisoning the minds of people with the lies and the frauds.”
Woodward writes that Coats believed Trump has no moral compass, couldn’t shake the suspicion that Trump must be beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and that he – along with former Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – thought Trump was an “unstable threat to their country.”
The rest of Hugh’s reassurances?
Mike Pompeo says that Trump is incapable of “acknowledg[ing] reality.”
Paul Ryan was pushed out of politics by Trump and Mitch McConnell says that the criminal justice system should be pursuing Trump for his crimes.
Reince Priebus never quite became James Baker, did he? Younger readers may not know that Reagan did not fire Baker by tweet and did not leave him on an airport tarmac.
As for Mike Pence—indeed a wonderful man—at this point he is so hated within the ranks of the Republican party that I do not believe he could safely attend a Trump rally.
As for the Constitution?
And Trump has—explicitly—advocated “terminating” whatever parts of the Constitution he finds inconvenient.
It is stunning to see how specifically wrong Hewitt was.1
But he was generally wrong, too. In the end, Trump was defined by his personality characteristics. Entirely
And yet, the splendiferousness of Hewitt’s hackery lies not in his wrongness, but in the fact that after all these years — after the Big Lie, the coup attempt, the obstruction, the rape, the violations of the Espionage Act, the conspiracies, frauds, and racketeering — he will predictably fall back into line once Trump secures the nomination.2
Trusting the Chronic Liar Over the Pastor
New polls show that the GOP base gives Trump higher marks for speaking truth than they give to religious leaders; Vivek will be targeted at the debate; DeSantis turns on MAGA; Biden needs to tackle the issues of Hunter/age; and the media keeps both-sidesing political scandals. Joe Perticone and Mona Charen joined me on the podcast.
The Right’s Pay to Play
The grift really is endless, isn’t it?
Semafor has a revealing scoop about Newsmax’s apparent attempt to shake down GOP candidates: “Republican candidate told associates Newsmax tried to make him pay for coverage.”
If Vivek Ramaswamy wants to appear on Newsmax, he should pay to do it.
That was the message that network chief Chris Ruddy delivered to the Republican presidential candidate during a private call earlier this summer, according to two people to whom the candidate described the conversation. Ramaswamy had complained that the right-leaning network was sticking him in little-watched midday slots or ignoring him outright.
Ruddy also suggested a solution, Ramaswamy told associates: buy more television ads on the network. Ruddy, Ramaswamy told them, noted that such a transaction had helped Republican businessman Perry Johnson, a gadfly candidate who has thus far garnered only passing attention among mainstream and even conservative outlets covering the 2024 presidential cycle.
Newsmax is vigorously denying the charges. How dare anyone suggest that their coverage is tied to payoffs? But this seems relevant, don’t you think?
But Ramaswamy’s account of his conversation comes with a persuasive data point. Ruddy’s comments, as reported by the candidate, raise the question of why else Newsmax would be devoting so much attention to Johnson, who is more closely tied to the network than anyone except Trump.
Johnson pays for political ads on Newsmax, appears as a candidate in occasional interviews on the network, and is the focus of multiple recurring documentary-style shows on the cable channel about his campaign.
Over the past several months, the Republican businessman has hosted Backstage Pass, a reality TV show airing on the network that chronicles his presidential campaign. And according to a page on his campaign website, he has also hosted Perry Johnson in Prime Time, which airs on Sunday nights.
Johnson has been the beneficiary of some positive news coverage on the network as well. While he has received little mainstream coverage, Newsmax has run headlines including “Perry Johnson to Newsmax: Campaign Message Resonates With Young Americans,” Will Michigan’s “Quality Guru” Johnson Be to the Debt What Ross Perot Was in ’92?” and “Perry Johnson Is 2nd to Trump, but Who Is He?” a reference to Johnson’s second place finish in a Turning Point Conference straw poll that found Trump at 86% support and Johnson with 8%.
Despite his appearances on the network, Johnson has not gotten traction in the primary polls.
1. What’s the Endgame for Trump and DeSantis?
Let’s instead imagine the very-best-case scenario for the Florida governor winning the GOP nomination. (Note to reader: What follows is a fantasy.)
Ron DeSantis wildly surpasses expectations in Iowa and New Hampshire, figuratively kicking ass and slitting throats. In response to this overwhelming show of strength, most of the remaining candidates quit the race.
We’re into March 2024, and across America it’s Springtime for DeSantis. Donald Trump and his campaign battle with all their MAGA might, but it’s not enough. The Florida governor builds an insurmountable lead in delegates and starts planning for a media-saturated coronation at the Republican National Convention in Milwaukee.
All that’s left is for Donald Trump to concede that he was beaten fair and square. The rival campaigns make arrangements for Trump to deliver a historic nominating speech in prime time, where he asks his committed supporters to accept the will of Republican voters and unite the party behind Ron DeSantis. Trump raises DeSantis’s hand high in the air and pledges to barnstorm the country to rally the MAGA faithful.
Did I lose you somewhere in that last paragraph? I told you it was a fantasy!
But it does prompt the question: What is the strategy for DeSantis—or anyone who aspires to defeat Trump—to wrest the nomination from those grabby orange fingers? Have they even thought that far ahead?
2. How to Fight Disinformation and Denial
McIntyre believes the use of disinformation, which he distinguishes from misinformation as being more deliberate, is part of “a coordinated campaign being run by nameable individuals and organizations whose goal is to spread disinformation out to the masses—in order to foment doubt, division, and distrust—and create an army of deniers.” He sounds kind of paranoid, but for good reason.
What has happened in recent years, McIntyre writes, is that “the truth killers” have taken on a new target: reality itself. Consider, for instance, that two-thirds of Republicans still believe Trump won the 2020 election. How crazy does it get? You could put it in Ripley’s museum, but nobody would believe it.
JVL’s footnote: “That Hewitt column is Douthatian in its wrongness. But it wasn’t a one-off. Sample Hewitt headlines from recent months:
Reminder to Washington Post editors: You are paying Hewitt to subtract from your readers’ understanding of reality.”
Yes, “splendiferous” is actually a real word. You’re welcome.