You Are Really Not Sufficiently Alarmed
A few alarming weekend reads.
Let’s start with some palate cleansers as we roll into December:
It’s always the ones you
leastexpect: “Florida GOP Chair Christian Ziegler Accused of Rape.”
The unidentified accuser told cops she and Florida Republican Party Chairman Christian Ziegler, along with Ziegler’s wife, Moms for Liberty co-founder Bridget Ziegler, had been in a “longstanding consensual three-way sexual relationship prior to the incident. . . .”
The undercard debate you probably didn’t watch: “DeSantis v. Newsom debate devolves into messy thirst-fest.”
The debate between Ron DeSantis and Gavin Newsom was a big mess. There was even some poop. Fox News moderator Sean Hannity didn’t help clean things up.
From the pen of our new
normieHouse speaker: “Johnson wrote foreword for book filled with conspiracy theories and homophobic insults.”
Written by Scott McKay, a local Louisiana politics blogger, the book, “The Revivalist Manifesto,” gives credence to unfounded conspiracy theories often embraced by the far-right – including the “Pizzagate” hoax, which falsely claimed top Democratic officials were involved in a pedophile ring, among other conspiracies.
The book also propagates baseless and inaccurate claims, implying that Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts was subjected to blackmail and connected to the disgraced underage sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein.
George Santos is headed for the exits (and probably prison). But at least we will always have this moment:
Hundreds of threats against Engoron and the law clerk were made public last week. Engoron’s clerk has received 20 to 30 calls per day to her personal cell phone and 30 to 50 messages daily on social media platforms and two personal email addresses, according to court papers.
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You really aren’t alarmed enough.
Let’s start with Robert Kagan’s extraordinary warning: “Would Trump be a dictator? And can he be stopped?”
Spoiler: The answers are (1) Yes, absolutely, and (2) Maybe not.
Kagan begins by noting that “the magical-thinking phase is ending. Barring some miracle, Trump will soon be the presumptive Republican nominee for president.”
When that happens, there will be a swift and dramatic shift in the political power dynamic, in his favor. Until now, Republicans and conservatives have enjoyed relative freedom to express anti-Trump sentiments, to speak openly and positively about alternative candidates, to vent criticisms of Trump’s behavior past and present. Donors who find Trump distasteful have been free to spread their money around to help his competitors. Establishment Republicans have made no secret of their hope that Trump will be convicted and thus removed from the equation without their having to take a stand against him.
But when he seals the nomination, all that comes to an end. At that point the GOP will fall into line behind a Trump 2.0 presidency. As Kagan notes, Trump is making no secret of his agenda of revenge and retribution.
Trump has already named some of those he intends to go after once he is elected: senior officials from his first term such as retired Gen. John F. Kelly, Gen. Mark A. Milley, former attorney general William P. Barr and others who spoke against him after the 2020 election; officials in the FBI and the CIA who investigated him in the Russia probe; Justice Department officials who refused his demands to overturn the 2020 election; members of the Jan. 6 committee; Democratic opponents including Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.); and Republicans who voted for or publicly supported his impeachment and conviction.
But here we get the genuinely alarming part. If Trump wins this time, he will be largely unconstrained.
Not only will he wield the awesome powers of the American executive — powers that, as conservatives used to complain, have grown over the decades — but he will do so with the fewest constraints of any president, fewer even than in his own first term.
Who, Kagan asks, will stand athwart Trump’s attempts to subvert the constitution?
The institutions of justice? “The most obvious answer is the institutions of justice — all of which Trump, by his very election, will have defied and revealed as impotent.”
Congress? “The one check Congress has on a rogue president, namely, impeachment and conviction, has already proved all but impossible — even when Trump was out of office and wielded modest institutional power over his party.”
The federal bureaucracy? “That was a problem for Trump is his first term, partly because he had no government team of his own to fill the administration. This time, he will. Those who choose to serve in his second administration will not be taking office with the unstated intention of refusing to carry out his wishes. If the Heritage Foundation has its way, and there is no reason to believe it won’t, many of those career bureaucrats will be gone, replaced by people carefully ‘vetted’ to ensure their loyalty to Trump.”
The desire for re-election? “Trump might not want or need a third term, but were he to decide he wanted one, as he has sometimes indicated, would the 22nd Amendment block him any more effectively from being president for life than the Supreme Court, if he refused to be blocked? Why should anyone think that amendment would be more sacrosanct than any other part of the Constitution for a man like Trump, or perhaps more importantly, for his devoted supporters?”
Republicans? “A Republican Congress will be busy conducting its own inquiries, using its powers to subpoena people, accusing them of all kinds of crimes, just as it does now. Will it matter if the charges are groundless?”
Fox News? “Will Fox News defend them, or will it instead just amplify the accusations? The American press corps will remain divided as it is today, between those organizations catering to Trump and his audience and those that do not. But in a regime where the ruler has declared the news media to be ‘enemies of the state,’ the press will find itself under significant and constant pressure.”
Public opinion? “How will Americans respond to the first signs of a regime of political persecution? Will they rise up in outrage? Don’t count on it. Those who found no reason to oppose Trump in the primaries and no reason to oppose him in the general are unlikely to experience a sudden awakening when some former Trump-adjacent official such as Milley finds himself under investigation for goodness knows what. . . . Will the great body of Americans even recognize these accusations as persecution and the first stage of shutting down opposition to Trump across the country?”
The resistance? “Americans might take to the streets. In fact, it is likely that many people will engage in protests against the new regime, perhaps even before it has had a chance to prove itself deserving of them. But then what? Even in his first term, Trump and his advisers on more than one occasion discussed invoking the Insurrection Act. No less a defender of American democracy than George H.W. Bush invoked the act to deal with the Los Angeles riots in 1992. It is hard to imagine Trump not invoking it should ‘the Communists, Marxists, Fascists, and Radical Left Thugs’ take to the streets. One suspects he will relish the opportunity.”
You get the idea. And, yet, writes Kagan, we seem to be sleepwalking toward a worst-case scenario.
We are closer to that point today than we have ever been, yet we continue to drift toward dictatorship, still hoping for some intervention that will allow us to escape the consequences of our collective cowardice, our complacent, willful ignorance and, above all, our lack of any deep commitment to liberal democracy. As the man said, we are going out not with a bang but a whimper.
In the Atlantic, David Graham is also sounding the alarm: “The Dual Threat of Donald Trump.”
A candidate who is running to potentially stay out of prison is a dangerous candidate. He is not just running for his own ideology or pride; he’s running for his very freedom. That warps his incentives, making him more likely to employ demagogic tactics, less concerned about the way history might judge him, and more inclined to use every avenue possible to win the election—even if it means bending or breaking the law.
Yet Trump may not be alone. In recent weeks, the former president has been more explicit about his intention, if reelected, to prosecute Joe Biden. And that means both leading candidates could have their freedom at stake.
Via Axios: “The Trump job applications revealed.”
Now we have copies of the exact questionnaires Trump allies are using — and that then-President Trump used himself during his final days in office.
*Trump insiders are planning a far more targeted and sophisticated sequel to his haphazard first term, when internal feuding deterred policy wins or permanent changes to government.
An alumnus of the Trump White House told us both documents are designed to test the sincerity of someone’s MAGA credentials and determine “when you got red-pilled,” or became a true believer.
“They want to see that you’re listening to Tucker, and not pointing to the Reagan revolution or any George W. Bush stuff,” this person said.
Trump’s first term will look benign compared with what we can expect from a second. “The gloves are off,” Trump has declared.
Still, the Democrats act as if everything is normal. They talk about why to support Joe Biden’s campaign for re-election: He has done a pretty good job, they say. He led the country out of the pandemic and avoided a deep recession. He beat all other primary candidates last time. And he beat Trump before. We should go with a proven contender.
But even if Biden has done a pretty good job as president, most Americans don’t see that. His approval ratings have just hit a new low. Biden may want another term, but the obvious if unchivalrous response is, “So what?” Not every person, whether young or elderly, wants what is in his own best interest, let alone in the interest of a nation. Democrats can’t afford to take a version of the “It’s Bob Dole’s turn” approach this time around.
The Banality of Crazy
On the latest episode of The Trump Trials: From Elon to Trump to Kanye, public decompensation is a part of our culture now. Plus, Georgia’s inadequate investigation of the potential Trump-related conspiracy to copy election software, and the uncertainty of a verdict before Election Day. Lawfare’s Ben Wittes and Anna Bower join me.
You can listen to the whole thing here. Or watch us on YouTube.
6 Takeaways From Liz Cheney’s Book Assailing Trump and His ‘Enablers’
After Ms. Cheney spoke out against Mr. Trump and voted to impeach him, she faced a backlash from fellow Republicans accusing her of disloyalty. At a meeting called to decide whether to vote no confidence in her as head of the Republican Conference, the third-highest spot in the party’s House leadership, a host of male members assailed her.
The men, she wrote, did not like her “tone” and thought she was not “contrite enough” for breaking with the party — and effectively embarrassing them and putting them on the spot for questions about why they still supported a former president who had tried to overturn an election and hold onto power.
“You’ve just got such a defiant attitude,” Representative Ralph Norman of South Carolina told her. Representative John Rutherford of Florida said she was too recalcitrant and not “riding for the brand.”
“John,” she recalled replying, “our ‘brand’ is the U.S. Constitution.”
Representative Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania made a memorable analogy in describing how betrayed he felt. “It’s like you’re playing in the biggest game of your life and you look up and you see your girlfriend sitting on the opponent’s side!” he complained.
Several astonished women in the conference started yelling, “She’s not your girlfriend!”
Ms. Cheney agreed. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m not your girlfriend.”