Heather Cox Richardson

Is the Republican Party over?

The theme of the day was the palpable sense of rats leaving a sinking ship as Republicans, administration officials, and administration-adjacent people distanced themselves from the president.

There was a foreshadowing of that exodus on Wednesday, when Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) let loose about the president in a telephone call with constituents. Sasse was an early critic of Trump but toned down his opposition significantly in the early part of the administration. On Wednesday, he reverted to his earlier position, saying he had "never been on the Trump train." He complained about the way Trump "kisses dictators' butts," and went on: "The United States now regularly sells out our allies under his leadership, the way he treats women, spends like a drunken sailor…. [He] mocks evangelicals behind closed doors…has treated the presidency like a business opportunity" and has "flirted with white supremacists." He said: "What the heck were any of us thinking, that selling a TV-obsessed, narcissistic individual to the American people was a good idea?"The theme of abandoning the administration became apparent yesterday, when officials leaked the story that intelligence officials had warned Trump against listening to his lawyer Rudy Giuliani. This was a high-level leak, and suggests that more and more staffers are starting to look for a way off the S.S. Trump.

The audience numbers for last night's town halls was also revealing, as Biden attracted 700,000 more viewers on just one ABC outlet than Trump did on the three NBC outlets that carried his event. Biden's town hall was the most watched event since the Oscars in February. It appears that people are simply tired of watching the president and are eager for calm and reason.

Today, a group called "43 Alumni for Biden" released an ad called "Team 46." It says that they are all lifelong Republicans, but because they recognize the qualities of leadership—including empathy– everyone "on this team" is voting for Biden. "Let's put Joe Biden in the White House." The ad features a number of pictures of President George W. Bush, the forty-third president, and is narrated by someone whose voice sounds like his. Former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance notes, "This looks awfully close to an endorsement of Biden from George W. Bush."


Also today, the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Committee, Jennifer Horn, urged "my fellow Republicans" not to vote for Trump's reelection. In a piece in USA Today, Horn reminded Republicans of "the overwhelming sorrow and grief that this president" has inflicted on the country. Citing Covid-19 deaths, "cultural divides, racial unrest, economic disparity and constitutional abuses," all of which "are just tools to be used to feed his narcissism, advance his political ambitions and line his pockets," Horn indicted both Trump and the Republican Party that enables him.

"This election poses a unique challenge," she wrote. "It will test not Republican vs. Democrat or Trump vs. Biden, but rather, "We the People." It is our role in this constitutional republic, our leadership, and our dedication to the promise of America that is being tested. Trump or America," she wrote. "We cannot have both."

Under pressure, Trump changed course today and approved the emergency declaration for California that he denied yesterday. Such a reconsideration would normally have taken until after the election, but this one happened fast. Earlier this week, Trump tweeted: "People are fleeing California. Taxes too high, Crime too high, Brownouts too many, Lockdowns too severe. VOTE FOR TRUMP, WHAT THE HELL DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE!!!"

Today CNN began teasers for a special on Sunday that will explain how former senior Trump officials believe Trump is unfit for the presidency. According to former White House Chief of Staff, retired Marine General John Kelly, "The depths of his dishonesty is just astounding to me. The dishonesty, the transactional nature of every relationship, though it's more pathetic than anything else. He is the most flawed person I have ever met in my life."

Also today, Caroline Giuliani, the daughter of Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani, urged people to end Trump's "reign of terror" by voting for "a compassionate and decent president," Joe Biden. "[C]orruption starts with 'yes-men' and women, the cronies who create an echo chamber of lies and subservience to maintain their proximity to power," she wrote in a piece for Vanity Fair. "We've seen this ad nauseam with Trump and his cadre of high-level sycophants (the ones who weren't convicted, anyway)." Giuliani cheered Biden's choice of Kamala Harris for his running mate, and wrote, "in Joe Biden, we'll have a leader who prioritizes common ground and civility over alienation, bullying, and scorched-earth tactics." "[T]ogether," she said, "we can vote this toxic administration out of office."

And yet another story from the day: a third career prosecutor from the Department of Justice resigned after publicly attacking Attorney General William Barr for abusing his power to get Trump reelected. "After 36 years, I'm fleeing what was the U.S. Department of Justice," Phillip Halpern wrote. "[T]he department's past leaders were dedicated to the rule of law and the guiding principle that justice is blind. That is a bygone era, but it should not be forgotten." Noting that "Barr has never actually investigated, charged or tried a case," Halpern expressed deep concern over Barr's "slavish obedience to Donald Trump's will." "This career bureaucrat seems determined to turn our democracy into an autocracy," he warned.

Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler, who worked as a federal prosecutor under Barr when he was George H. W. Bush's Attorney General, told Katie Benner of the New York Times that such criticism is "unprecedented," and reflects Trump's pressure on the AG. "I have never seen sitting prosecutors go on the record with concerns about the attorney general," he said.

And yet, Barr's willingness to bend the Justice Department to Trump's personal will may, in the end, not be enough to keep Trump's favor. Angry that Barr did not produce a report attacking the Russia investigation before the election, Trump just yesterday said he wasn't happy with Barr's performance, and might not keep him on as AG if he wins a second term.

There are signs people in the administration are preparing for Trump to lose the election. His cabinet is rushing to change regulations to lock in Trump's goal of giving more scope to businessmen to act as they see fit. Normally, changes in regulations require setting aside time for public comment on the changes, but the administration is shortening or eliminating those periods over changes in, for example, rules allowing railroads to move highly flammable liquefied natural gas on freight trains, what constitutes "contract" work, how much pollution factories can emit, and who can immigrate to America.

Russell Vought, the director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a statement: "President Trump has worked quickly from the beginning of his term to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations," and that the current push simply continues that effort. But no one is missing the quiet distancing going on in Washington as Republican lawmakers are shifting away from public support for the president.

Meanwhile, at his rally tonight in Georgia, Trump told the crowd "You should… lock up the Bidens, lock up Hillary." The crowd then began to chant "Lock them up." But one thing about a bully: when people finally start to turn on him, there is a stampede for the exits.

Tonight, at his Georgia rally, Trump outlined all the ways in which he was being unfairly treated, then mused: "Could you imagine if I lose?… I'm not going to feel so good. Maybe I'll have to leave the country, I don't know."

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson's "Letters From an American" email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Heck of an October Surprise -- or is this just the first of many distractions?

This evening, I talked to a woman who said she cannot read the news any more. It's all just too much. If you feel this way, please understand that it is fine to look away when you need to. We are already exhausted, and we are entering a period that is going to be chaotic. Even a normal campaign year is crazy, but this year, the extraordinary chaos feeds the needs of this president to destabilize the country and emerge as a savior. The current chaos is designed to make you hopeless about creating change so that you give up. To combat that, look away and recharge your batteries. Focus on the things that ground you: family, friends, pets, gardening, movies, books, biking, church… whatever works. Just come back when you can… and remember to vote.

It's going to be nuts from here on out.

In the first draft of this October 1 letter, I wrote that presidential adviser Hope Hicks has tested positive for coronavirus. Trump tweeted that he and the First Lady "will begin our quarantine process!" CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood noted at 11:30 pm: "curious that neither Trump nor WH have disclosed any test results for him more than 3 hours after news broke that Hope Hicks tested positive. Trump's typical approach is boasting that he doesn't worry because he gets tested so much. He told Hannity he doesn't know if he has it." MSNBC justice and security analyst Matthew Miller tweeted "Thank god the White House has a history of being completely honest about the president's health. It would be awful if we couldn't trust them right now."

At about 1:30 am on October 2, the White House announced that Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have tested positive for coronavirus. This will be the first time I break my midnight rule—in the past, I have always cut the news off at midnight, no matter what happens at 12:01—but this has such huge implications for national security, the economy, and, of course, the election that it has pushed everything else off the media radar screen and I cannot justify leaving it for a day.

Stock futures plunged more than 400 points immediately after the news broke, but right now that's the only result of this news that we can measure.

The story has been coming clearer in the last three hours since the story broke. Apparently, Hicks tested negative on Wednesday before she boarded Air Force 1 with the president and most of his closest advisers, but developed symptoms during the day. A second test on Thursday morning was positive. Nonetheless, the president and his aides and advisers flew to New Jersey on Thursday, where he attended a fundraiser, gave a speech, and attended a roundtable with supporters, all without a mask. It was only the leaking of the Hicks story that shook loose the information that the Trumps are infected.

According to CNBC, those on Air Force 1 on Wednesday were White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; national security advisor Robert O'Brien; Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani; White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany; Ivanka; Jared Kushner; Donald Jr.; Eric; Donald Jr's girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle; Eric's wife Lara; Tiffany; campaign manager Bill Stepien; campaign official Jason Miller; White House social media director Dan Scavino; White House counselor Derek Lyons; political advisor Stephen Miller; Representative Jim Jordan, (R-Ohio), [and] Alice Marie Johnson, the criminal justice reform advocate Trump pardoned.

Trump also stood inside near Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden for an hour and a half on Tuesday, yelling and spitting—the very conditions that are most likely to spread the disease. At the debate, his entourage, which included Hicks, Jordan, and the four older Trump children, refused to wear masks despite the mandate that they do so.

This story proves how crucial it is to have a White House we trust. Immediately, Twitter users noted that someone had suggested this very scenario back in September as a way for Trump to steal headlines away from Biden, emerge victorious over the virus, and claim credit for a new treatment that had cured him. Elections almost always feature an "October Surprise" to move voters in the last few weeks of the election when it is too late for the other side to challenge that surprise move. And while this news certainly looks genuine—the White House doctor issued a statement after Trump announced the test results—there is plenty that the Trump campaign would like to distract us from.

On October 1, alone, we learned that a study of more than 38 million articles about the coronavirus pandemic between January 1 and May 26 published in English shows that Trump was "likely the largest driver of… Covid-19 misinformation." The Cornell University study found that 37.9% of misinformation mentioned Trump.

Trump's former national security adviser, retired Lt. General H.R. McMaster, told MSNBC that Trump is "aiding and abetting Putin's efforts" to disrupt the November election. Trump's refusal to acknowledge that Putin is engaged in a "sustained campaign of disruption, disinformation and denial" helps the Russian leader.

It turns out that Trump's pick for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, in 2006 signed an anti-abortion "right to life ad" near another ad from the same organization that called for putting "an end to the barbaric legacy of Roe v. Wade and restor[ing] laws that protect the lives of unborn children." While such a stance will thrill anti-abortion voters, in fact a majority of Americans do not support ending Roe v. Wade, and senators up for reelection have been saying that Barrett would not interfere with the law.

A former senior adviser to Melania Trump today released tapes of the First Lady complaining both about being criticized for her lack of involvement with the children held at the border and for having to decorate the White House for Christmas. "I'm working … my a** off on the Christmas stuff, that you know, who gives a f*** about the Christmas stuff and decorations? But I need to do it, right?… OK, and then I do it and I say that I'm working on Christmas and planning for the Christmas and they said, 'Oh, what about the children that they were separated?' Give me a f****** break. Where they were saying anything when Obama did that? I cannot go, I was trying get the kid reunited with the mom. I didn't have a chance — needs to go through the process and through the law." (Under President Barack Obama, children were separated from their parents or someone who presented as a guardian only when officials were concerned for their safety. Under Trump, such separations were routine until a judge stopped the practice.)

Don Jr.'s girlfriend Kimberly Guilfoyle, who was a co-host of a Fox News Channel show, was also in the news today. It turns out that she left FNC abruptly after an employee complained of sexual harassment. According to a story by Jane Mayer in the New Yorker, Guilfoyle required her former assistant to work at her apartment, where Guilfoyle would sometimes be naked, and would share with the assistant inappropriate pictures of men, discussing her sexual activities with some of them. Guilfoyle denies any workplace misconduct, but the story grabbed headlines. FNC settled the case against her for $4 million.

Tonight the House of Representatives, controlled by Democrats, passed a $2.2 trillion coronavirus relief measure. No Republicans voted for it.

Right-wing conspiracy theorists Jacob Wohl and Jack Burkman have been charged with four felonies in Michigan for intimidating voters, conspiring to violate election laws, and using a computer to commit a crime. The two allegedly sent robocalls to voters in five states to discourage mail-in voting. The calls falsely said that personal information of those people who vote by mail would be shared with police, credit card companies, and the CDC, which would then require vaccinations.

Finally, a story from Texas shows just how concerned the Trump campaign is about the upcoming election. Today Texas Governor Greg Abbott limited the number of locations for dropping off mail in ballots to one site per county. This hits Democratic Harris County the hardest. It is huge, and has the state's largest population count. Currently, it has 12 drop off locations. Democratic Travis County, which includes Austin, currently has four. Other large counties, more reliably Republican, only had one. Abbott argued that this measure would prevent voter fraud, but Democrats pointed out this is a "blatant voter suppression tactic." It should indeed reduce Democratic ballots in the state… and, mind you, this is Texas! That the Republican governor feels the need to suppress Democratic votes in Texas shows just which way the wind is blowing.

As I say, the next few weeks are going to be wild. But don't let it knock you off course.

Republicans' naked power grab will unwind the legal framework of the majority — and replace it with minority rule

September 20, 2020

The big story today is big indeed: how and when the seat on the Supreme Court, now open because of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Friday, will be filled. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) announced within an hour of the announcement of Ginsburg’s passing that he would move to replace her immediately. Trump says he will announce his pick for the seat as early as Tuesday.

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Trump's political henchmen are corrupting the administration to keep Americans in the dark

September 12, 2020

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The signs that democracy is under attack are growing increasingly dire

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Earlier this week, New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo warned that American democracy is ending. He pointed to political violence on the streets, the pandemic, unemployment, racial polarization, and natural disasters, all of which are destabilizing the country, and noted that Republicans appear to have abandoned democracy in favor of a cult-like support for Donald Trump. They are wedded to a narrative based in lies, as the president dismantles our non-partisan civil service and replaces it with a gang of cronies loyal only to him.

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Bill Moyers: Historian traces the influence of oligarchs in US democracy from the Civil War to Donald Trump

ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Moyers on Democracy. If you want to understand this moment in American politics, here’s a suggestion for you: It’s the must-read book of the year — HOW THE SOUTH WON THE CIVIL WAR, by the historian Heather Cox Richardson. Yes, the Civil War brought an end to the slave order of the South and the rule of the plantation oligarchs who embodied white supremacy. But the Northern victory was short-lived. Slave states soon stripped Black people of their hard-won rights, white supremacy not only rose again to rule the South but spread West across the Mississippi to create new hierarchies of inequality. That’s the story Heather Cox Richardson tells in HOW THE SOUTH WON THE CIVIL WAR, with echoes resounding every day in the current wild and fierce campaign for the presidency. Here to talk with her about America’s ongoing battle between oligarchy and democracy is Bill Moyers.

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The Republican Tax Bill Is a Poison Pill That Kills the New Deal

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Trump's Dangerous Strategy: How Inciting His Supporters Could Backfire

When Donald Trump tells his supporters that if he doesn’t get the Republican nomination: “It’s a rigged system; it’s a corrupt system, it’s 100% crooked,” he is resurrecting a theme that created some of America’s darkest hours. Trump is trying to solidify his support by attacking the legitimacy of the political system. While Movement Conservatives since Newt Gingrich have attacked the legitimacy of Democrats in Washington, Trump is going further: delegitimizing the government itself. Americans have been in this place before. In the late nineteenth century, when the nation’s economic and political tensions looked much like today’s, unpopular politicians trying to overcome overwhelming odds did the same thing.

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David Brooks Has Lost All Control: Can't Deal With How the Far Right Stole the GOP

Chaos and carnage are upon us as American voters make war on “the establishment.” On the Republican side, the hoary National Review has declared in a dramatic purple-covered issue it is “Against Trump,” while conservative intellectual David Brooks pines for “gray men in suits” to shut down both Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. On the Democratic side, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attacks former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for representing“establishment politics and establishment economics.

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