Heather Digby Parton

Here's the insidious reason Liz Cheney angers Republicans

The biggest news in Washington continues to be Liz Cheney's ongoing refusal to bend the knee to the former president and formally repudiate her inexplicable fealty to the truth. It's one thing to be investigated by the FBI for paying for sex with minors or to be a blatant white supremacist — these are human foibles that can be forgiven — but to unapologetically assert that Donald Trump's insistence that the election was stolen is a Big Lie simply cannot be tolerated.

I've written before that I believe regardless of whether she is truly incapable of swallowing this election nonsense, Cheney also has a strategy. There is an open "lane" for a Republican woman, especially one with a pedigree like hers, to be the tough conservative who stood up to Trump in the event the magic veil ever falls from voters' eyes. So far that lane looks like it gets narrower every day, but kicking her out of the leadership for telling the truth in the face of massive dishonesty can only add to her heroic luster in the long haul. The worst thing that happens is she is remembered as the Margaret Chase Smith of her day, after the brave senator from Maine who denounced the Wisconsin demagogue Joseph McCarthy long before anyone else had the nerve. There are worse fates for a politician than that.

Meanwhile, the rest of the Republican establishment continues to run around in circles clucking furiously like a brood of barnyard hens, trying to keep Trump and his cultlike following happy. They appear to have decided that their voters require human sacrifices for the cause so Cheney must be thrown over the cliff. (And to think "Democrats are in disarray" used to be a perennial trope. They're amateurs compared to the GOP.)

But when I read Salon's Sophia Tesfaye's piece about former House speaker Paul Ryan, who reportedly really doesn't care for Donald Trump and his shenanigans yet remains glued to his chair in the Fox boardroom, unwilling to utter a peep about what's going on with his party, it occurred to me that it's giving them far too much credit to simply call them cowards. They are much more craven than that. It's not that they are afraid of their Trump-loving constituents who are metaphorically brandishing pitchforks and torches against anyone who dare call the Big Lie a big lie. It's that they are seeing the upside for them personally.

While Washington officials clutch their pearls about Liz Cheney's apostasy, consider all the anti-democratic activity that's taking place around the country which these people are either explicitly or tacitly endorsing.

The Republican Attorney Generals Association has been in turmoil since January 6th when some members objected to the group's sponsorship of the violent insurrection. The chairman resigned last month after being unable to handle the internal strife and is to be replaced this week by a hard-core Trump supporter who has promised to "take a blowtorch to Biden's agenda." In Florida, a state Trump won handily, they are nonetheless busily enacting voting restrictions which they belatedly realized might even suppress their own vote. They did it anyway. Ohio Republicans decided this week to censure Republican politicians who voted to impeach Donald Trump even though they are from other states. And the New York Times reports that the Texas GOP is now eating its own over "pandemic and voter-fraud conspiracy theories."

But the big story is in Arizona, where the state Senate has hired an untried company led by a man with a history of floating vote fraud conspiracy theories to "audit" last November's vote in Maricopa Country, which was won by Joe Biden. Despite the fact that the county was recounted twice by hand and found to match the machine count perfectly, Trump-supporting volunteers are laboriously examining the ballots without any proper monitoring, determined to prove that the election was stolen. The good news is that the Space Force is supposedly on alert to ensure that everything is done properly.

For his part, Trump is reportedly obsessed with this recount. He apparently believes it will prove the election there was stolen and that other states will follow. Here he is last week pontificating before his paying guests at Mar-a-lago:

What all these supposed successful "audits" would add up to is not immediately clear, but on Tuesday Trump did say, "I think people are going to be very, very happy when I make a certain announcement," so perhaps he believes having a bunch of his loyal fanatics falsely testify that they finally "found" the votes he wanted will somehow launch him back into the White House in 2024.

According to Tierney Sneed of Talking Points Memo, the Trump team expect these audits to take place elsewhere, starting next with Georgia:

Peter Navarro, a Trump White House advisor and the author of several reports asserting mass election fraud, told OAN last week that he believed the Arizona audit could precede a similar audit in Georgia, where the scale of voter fraud was, in his universe, "much larger." Speaking to Steve Bannon Thursday, Trump supporter Boris Epshteyn said that if the audit shows "even a small fraction" of what the former president's devotees expect, "the freight train of audit is coming down the way. It's on the train to Georgia."

All of this may very well be why even the Republicans who obviously know this is nuts are all climbing on board that crazy train. If they can stage one of these "audit" pageants in a place like Georgia they might just juice their turnout for 2022 and take out newly-elected Democratic Sen. Rafael Warnock. And there are dozens of House districts where that dynamic could play itself out as well.

It isn't new for Republicans to say that Democrats are illegitimate. They used to say that President Clinton only won with a plurality in a three-way race, so his presidency wasn't really valid. And we all know that Trump himself pushed the grotesque Birther lie which claimed that Barack Obama wasn't born in the U.S. and was therefore not qualified to be president. But this is taking all that to a much higher level. Republicans no doubt realize that this flurry of anti-democratic activity in the states —ostensibly on behalf of Donald Trump and his Big Lie — is really going to pay off for them.

So the House GOP's leadership apparent decision to purge Liz Cheney from their ranks is their way of telling all these rabid Trumpist activists in the states to have at it, the GOP establishment is with them all the way. They aren't afraid of Trump voters. They're grateful to them.

How Trump's Republican Party is helping Joe Biden build back better

People tend to think of "activists" as left-wingers who march in the streets against wars or organize rallies for civil rights and social justice. And there is a great tradition in America and around the world for such liberal activism. But it's not just the left that has an activist tradition. The right has one too — and it's often extremely effective.

In the post-WWII years, the right in the U.S. was focused on anti-communism and far-right groups like the John Birch Society attracted middle-class men and women to join clubs and meet to discuss how to fight the onslaught from inside their suburban cul de sacs. In the New Republic some years back, historian Rick Perlstein recounted a hilarious quote from a Dallas housewife in Time Magazine in 1961 saying, "I just don't have time for anything. I'm fighting Communism three nights a week." From the Goldwater campaign in 1964 on, right-wing activists focused much of their energy on getting Republicans elected to office, from school boards to the presidency, and were quite successful at it.

The right-wing grassroots has always organized itself around the idea that they are under siege and unless they pull together to defend themselves, everything they value will be destroyed. Whether it was fighting communism, secularism, terrorism, civil rights or whatever social justice movement that was supposedly threatening their way of life, the right has always been convinced that they are in imminent danger. And when they find themselves at odds with their own fellow Americans, as they so often do, this sense of victimization and martyrdom is what fuels the culture war at the heart of their complaints. As Perlstein wrote in that 2006 piece:

Conservative culture itself is radically diverse, infinitely resourceful in uniting opposites: highbrow and lowbrow; sacred and profane; sublime and, of course, ridiculous. It is the core cultural dynamic--the constant staging and re-staging of acts of "courage" in the face of liberal "marginalization"--that manages to unite all the opposites. It keeps conservatives from one another's throats--and keeps them more or less always pulling in the same political direction.

Donald Trump, however, has upended that longstanding dynamic — and the party establishment has no idea what to do about it.

Igor Bobick of the Huffington Post recently reported that Republican officials are anxiously awaiting a resurgence of the Tea Party, which they have been expecting to reconstitute in the face of Joe Biden's ambitious agenda. It was, after all, a smashing success back in 2009 and 2010 in opposing President Barack Obama's health care plan. You'd certainly assume that they'd be getting the band back together. But so far, it isn't happening. And there's a reason for it: people like what they are seeing.

Bobic quotes deficit hawk Republican Sen. Mike Braun saying, "even my counties back in Indiana are happy, which is a very conservative area. They're asking, 'How can I spend $15 million in a rural county?'" Braun ruefully admits that Biden's agenda is a smart political move and he's right. Biden and the Democrats are betting that people are hungry for some positive government action and they are determined to deliver it.

But there's more to it than that.

The Tea Party was a grassroots movement but it was also heavily subsidized by some of the wealthiest activists in the country. The Koch brothers' operation and other wealthy interests spent quite a bit of money to make the Tea Party a reality because their libertarian ideology really was on the line. But when you think about it, it was a bizarre set of issues for grassroots activists who usually organize themselves around a sense of victimization. And it didn't really fit their usual modus operandi. The "threat" was a total abstraction. How were they "victims" of other people getting health care?

Sure, the right has always opposed government programs if it would benefit those they believe don't deserve them (and I think you know who those people might be). But the outrage against Obamacare was really all about Obama. They had to sublimate their racist backlash into something and that was on the menu but the war the Tea Party was really fighting was against the election of America's first Black president.

Yet some Republicans in Congress are still operating under the illusion that their voters really did care about deficits and will be moved to protest despite the fact that they still adore Donald Trump, a man who didn't care about any of that. In fact, right-wing grassroots activists are already engaged in a battle that is far more energizing and interesting to them than any of that egghead economic stuff ever was: Donald Trump's Big Lie.

According to a new CNN poll, 70% of Republicans believe the election was stolen. And they are taking action. We all know about the flurry of restrictive voting laws that are quickly being enacted all over the country and the preposterous "audit" taking place down in Arizona by a bunch of Trump fanatics and conspiracy theorists is probably just the beginning. The explosion of GOP grassroots activity in the states isn't just about Joe Biden or the events happening in Washington. They are also working night and day to punish Republicans who dared to disagree with Trump's version of events and ensure that Trump will be able to win the next election.

The Washington Post took a look at some of the grassroots action taking place around the country. They interviewed one Michigan organizer who is trying to censure and remove a Republican Party executive who accepted the results of the election. She said, "I think I speak for many people in that Trump has never actually been wrong, and so we've learned to trust when he says something, that he's not just going to spew something out there that's wrong and not verified." That sort of cultish delusion is forcing official rebukes and purges of Trump apostates all across the country.

And then this happened to Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Ut., over the weekend:

The motion to censure the former GOP presidential nominee failed 711-798, which I'm sure softened the humiliating blow. But it's bubbling up to Washington as well. The House GOP caucus thought they had successfully managed the "Liz Cheney problem" but it's coming back. Axios reported that there may be another vote to remove her and from the behavior of the leadership, it seems as though the worm has turned, no doubt because these Representatives are getting an earful from their activist base. The party is now eating its own.

Republicans counting on the Tea Party zombie to rise again had better come up with a Plan B. The activists the GOP in Washington wants to organize against Joe Biden's program are already booked. They're busy fighting other Republicans three nights a week.

Biden's biggest threat is sabotage from his own allies

President Joe Biden gave his first speech to a joint session of Congress this week and by most accounts, it was a successful event. The TV ratings weren't high but according to snap polls, those that did watch liked what he had to say and the media were complimentary about his delivery and presentation — which is half the battle.

Biden introduced a new piece of legislation called the American Family Act which features items such as paid family leave, universal daycare and preschool, free community college, elder care, and a number of other initiatives that other developed countries have had for years but which Americans have been staring at longingly from afar. It's obvious that if we want a 21st Century economy, we're going to have to at least catch up to what other countries have been doing since the middle of the 20th.

His initiative comes on the heels of the previously announced American Jobs Act (aka Biden's infrastructure plan) and the already passed American Rescue Plan Act, as well as his administration's very successful vaccine roll-out. Considering that Biden had virtually no transition and came into office on the heels of an insurrection and in the middle of a global pandemic, that's not a bad first 100 days.

But the hard work is really just beginning.

The government has responded well to the pandemic crisis, which is a refreshing change from the previous administration. And the big COVID relief package has given the economy the boost it needed to recover (and it is recovering smartly). But Biden's platform is much more ambitious. Taking office at a time of great turmoil in the country after years of unnecessary wars, economic and social stagnation, as well as pent-up demand for racial justice, he and the Democrats have decided to try to enact a truly transformative agenda.

Of course, that is a very tall order. As we are all well aware, the Democrats have a very narrow majority in the upper chamber and there are a few senators who seem to be determined to pare down these ambitious goals in the name of "bipartisanship" and "fiscal responsibility." If that sounds familiar, it should. Centrist Democrats have been wringing their hands over deficits and taxes for the past 40 years, a form of inherited political PTSD from the Reagan Revolution. But there are fewer of them than there used to be and it's always possible that after much cajoling, sweet-talk and flattery, party leaders will find a way to corral them into going with the program without watering it down to nothing but a puddle of lukewarm water.

And then there is the GOP.

One of the reasons the first hundred days are often able to produce some big achievements is that the other party is usually back on its heels. There's a period of confusion about what went wrong, a jockeying for power, and indecision about how best to deal with the new majority. It takes a while to settle down and decide on a strategy. And in this case, all of that is magnified by the fact that Donald Trump refused to concede the election and his followers staged a violent insurrection to stop the peaceful transfer of power and the whole ordeal still looms over the party like a big nuclear cloud.

The stories about pilgrimages to Mar-a-Lago, Twitter selfies of House leaders groveling for forgiveness after suggesting that Trump's behavior on January 6th was irresponsible and the dispensing of phony "awards" to make him feel valued, all expose the ongoing illness at the heart of the party. Despite some attempts by Never Trumpers and some obvious positioning by ambitious politicians looking for an opening, the base of the party is still under the control of Donald J. Trump and that means everything is still really all about him.

Adding to the confusion is the fact that Republican dogma was pretty much discredited even before Trump came on the scene. He drop-kicked most of it into oblivion with his incoherent program of libertine values, trade wars, tax cuts, deficits and wall building. He had a hold on the voters the Republican establishment couldn't bear to cross so even aside from enabling his disgusting personal behavior, they gave up any claim to ideological credibility. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell can wax on about the Democrats' "court-packing" or attempting to usurp the sacred process of the Senate but it will just elicit laughter.

Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina tried to revert to the pre-Trump talking points in his rebuttal to President Biden on Wednesday night and it sounded downright bizarre, as if we were listening to a scratchy, old recording of some radio speech in the 1930s. He complained about the American Families Plan being "even more taxing, even more spending, to put Washington even more in the middle of your life — from the cradle to college" and called the infrastructure plan a "partisan wish list."

Yawn. After the Trump spending spree they all gleefully signed on to, those tired old saws have no credibility at all. Times have changed. Last Sunday's NBC News poll showed that 55 percent of Americans thought the government should focus on doing more to help people, while just 41 percent said it was already trying to do too many things. As the NY Times pointed out, "in the 1990s, it was the other way around; during the George W. Bush and Obama presidencies, NBC polls usually found the country more evenly split."

Still, Scott denounced Biden for dividing the country, disingenuously blaming him for the fact that Republicans unanimously refused to vote for his COVID relief bill when Democrats all voted for Trump's. He unctuously declared "COVID brought Congress together five times; this administration pushed us apart," giving Tucker Carlson a run for his money for the troll of the year award. But it was his Trumpian flourish on the issue of race that shows that the culture war is really all Republicans have left. Scott pulled out the "reverse racism" card, virtually guaranteed to make the Trump followers squeal with delight to see a Black politician defend their point of view.

The Republicans cannot credibly oppose Biden's agenda. Their arguments about debt and tax cuts have been refuted, their ideas about radical individualism have been shredded by our experience with the pandemic, their claims to moral authority in the wake of Trump are simply laughable. All they have is power and they will wield it mercilessly. But they have no way to explain it to the broader American public that makes any sense.

The only question, then, is whether or not that makes any sense to the centrist Democrats like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin or the two senators from Arizona, Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly. Sadly, there is a fair chance that other than the hardcore Trumpers who will believe anything they're told, these Democratic senators will be the only people in America to whom it does. They must be persuaded that now is the time, while the Republicans are ideologically spent and the economy is set to blast off, to do something real and meaningful for the American people.

These occasions don't come very often. It would be a crime if the Democrats let this chance slip from their grasp.

Why Joe Biden's popularity baffles the media

I'm sure you all remember the endless media forays into so-called Trump country after the 2016 election to find out what "the country" was really thinking. The media were fascinated by the fact that Donald Trump managed to pull off his narrow electoral win in places none of them had ever been so they sent out intrepid reporters to rural towns and small cities in the rust belt to find out what Real Americans™️ were thinking. And they went back every few months for years to take the temperature of these folks who always said the same thing: they just loved Trump and supported him no matter what. Trump's supporters believed with all their hearts that everything the press reported about him was a lie and the whole country was really with them if only the media would tell the truth about it. After all, just about everyone they knew and everyone on Facebook were in total agreement.

So sure, the media was fascinated by this phenomenon and that's understandable to some extent. It was quite weird. But one might have thought it would be at least somewhat interesting to check in with the other side to see what they were thinking in the months after the recent election. It was quite eventful, after all. Yet you probably won't be surprised to learn that there haven't been many forays into the same states that Biden narrowly won. When NBC News did take a trip into the wilds of Pennsylvania recently to see how Biden voters are faring, they found that rather than the worshipful adoration of the Trump voters, most Biden voters have a very different reaction:

Robin Westcott remembers her joy when Joe Biden was elected last fall. Not only had Biden won with a narrow victory in Pennsylvania, but he also had carried Erie County, where Westcott has lived for most of her 62 years. Once reliably Democratic in presidential elections, the voters here in 2016 broke for Donald Trump — the first time they favored a Republican White House hopeful since Ronald Reagan in 1984. The county, which pokes out from the northwesternmost corner of the state and into Lake Erie, became something of a Rorschach test for the Rust Belt...
Nearly 100 days into the Biden presidency, voters who backed him in this political battleground-within-a battleground say they feel a sense of relief.

Or, as one man told NBC News pollsters last week:

"I don't have to think about what Joe Biden is doing every day," said a North Carolina man who voted for Biden. "The best thing about Joe Biden is I don't have to think about Joe Biden."

In line with those anecdotal sentiments, a spate of public polls was released this past weekend in the run-up to Biden's 100-day mark, and they all show Biden to have an approval rating ranging from 52% in the ABC poll to 58% in the CBS poll. There is widespread approval for his COVID response, his infrastructure policy and the economy. Unsurprisingly, Biden does poorly on immigration and guns, both of which are intractable issues that have critics among both Democrats and Republicans. And he hasn't managed to unify the country which is, of course, something he should have been able to do with a flick of his wrist — or maybe a magic wand?

All in all, Biden is doing well, particularly considering that he was given almost no transition time to prepare and had to hit the ground running to deal with a historic catastrophe that killed over half a million people and isn't over yet. His handling of this issue, about which the vast majority approve, is an impressive accomplishment considering how badly the previous administration handled the crisis and the ongoing lack of cooperation from red-state governments.

One of the more disturbing results in these polls is the fact that so many Republican voters are still resisting the vaccine and frankly, don't seem to be willing to reconsider. If they don't, the U.S. is going to have a much more difficult time getting the caseload down to an acceptable level which could, perversely, affect the public's opinion of the rollout. The same dynamic that blames Biden for the GOP's refusal to cooperate in Congress could be at work here, but with much more lethal consequences.

That dynamic should also be informing the media's understanding of why Biden is not able to achieve the kind of approval rating that the presidents before Donald Trump were able to achieve in their first 100 days. Unfortunately, it isn't. ABC's headline, for instance, was:

Biden's 100 days: Low-end approval, yet strong marks on pandemic response. His April approval is lower than most of his predecessors, save Trump and Ford.

Newsweek's headline was similar: "Joe Biden Approval Rating Beats Only Donald Trump and Gerald Ford's 100-Day Score: Poll"

What a bizarre way of spinning it after four years of a president who could never get above 45% (and even that was very rare.) It shouldn't have to be said that none of the previous presidents came into office in the middle of a global pandemic with their predecessor spreading a Big Lie that the election was stolen and inciting an insurrection just days before the inauguration. Neither did any of those presidents have to deal with a level of political polarization not seen since the civil war, thanks to the radical partisanship of the opposition. I'd say that having a 53% approval rating under those circumstances is something of a miracle. Apparently, we are just going to pretend that Donald Trump was an anomaly and that nothing he did had any serious effect on the political system that might not make this administration directly comparable to what came before.

Still, there is some good news in all this. The media can pretend that Joe Biden's approval rating is a terrible disaster all they want. But nothing will make it as bad as Donald Trump's, which is currently at 32% in the NBC poll. That's a drop of 8 points since January, which is unusual because ex-presidents usually gain back some popularity after they leave office. Yet he will maintain control of the party with the supporters he has. And that's very bad. According to the CBS poll:

Republicans still do not say Biden was the legitimate winner of the election, and six in 10 of former President Trump's voters now want to see their congressional representatives oppose Biden at every turn. This isn't just politics. That particular group who wants opposition — while constituting a minority of Americans — also has very different views on issues from most Democrats, moderates and independents as well. For instance, most of them think efforts at racial equality are making American society worse; they say illegal immigration should be the top priority, as opposed to the pandemic or even the economy.

That isn't enough people to win elections legitimately. But Republican officials are happy to do whatever it takes to please them since they do represent the base of the party. Joe Biden could have a 70% approval rating and it wouldn't reduce their power. It would be nice if the media spin didn't obscure that fact.

Joe Manchin learned all of the wrong lessons from the Capitol riot

Those of us who've been watching politics for a while knew that the 50-50 Senate was going to be a challenge for the Biden administration. Yes, it's much, much better to have the majority and be able to set the agenda. But passing legislation with such a narrow margin is always very difficult. It's usually worse for Democrats because the small, conservative, rural state advantage in the US Senate makes it impossible to gain a majority without at least a few right-leaning showboaters who feel the need to demonstrate their "independence" from the libs who dominate the party.

Republicans have their "moderates" too, as we know, but generally, Democrats have a much more difficult task in these situations because they are actually trying to accomplish something rather than simply confirm judges, cut taxes and pretend to repeal popular legislation over and over again. Even when Democrats hold a large majority, the conservative senators in the caucus seem to always flex their muscles and make passing popular initiatives very difficult.

When Jimmy Carter was president and had a 57 vote majority in the Senate, his signature legislation was thwarted by Democrats who watered it down to almost nothing, stymying Carter's big initiative for the U.S. to attain energy independence. In 1993, when President Bill Clinton became the first Democratic president in 12 years, also with a 57 vote margin, the Democrats tried once again to raise taxes on the wealthy and pass a broad-based energy tax, this time in the name of "deficit reduction," and it was fought tooth and nail by different Democrats representing the same interests. Karen Tumulty writing for the LA Times back in 1993, wrote about the reaction of two Democratic senators, Oklahoma's David Boren and Louisiana's John Breaux, to Clinton's plan:

Sen. David L. Boren will happily admit to being the biggest thorn in President Clinton's right side. "Right now," he says, "I am perfectly at peace with my position." By virtue of his seat on the Senate Finance Committee, the Oklahoma Democrat holds the vote that could kill Clinton's economic program, and he believes he can use his extraordinary leverage to help redirect a presidency that has veered badly off course.
Also on the panel is Sen. John B. Breaux (D-La.), Clinton's longtime political ally and one of the earliest backers of his presidential campaign. He, too, has served notice that he will not support the plan unless it undergoes major revisions. Both senators insisted in interviews this week that their struggle goes far beyond their objections to an energy tax that could hurt industries in their states. They see it as nothing less than a war with the left for the soul of Bill Clinton's presidency.

Does that sound at all familiar?

Fast forward 16 years to President Barack Obama, who also enjoyed a large Democratic majority in the Senate. I'm sure we all recall the drama surrounding the passage of the Affordable Care Act. Not one Republican voted for it and the negotiations among Democrats were brutal with Senator Joe Lieberman, I-CT, successfully nixing the public option and Democratic members of the House holding up the bill over its provisions to provide abortion coverage. In the end, the Democrats passed the bill but lost 33 House Democrats and Sens. Blanche Lincoln, D-AR, Ben Nelson, D-NE and Mark Pryor, D-AR.

The point is that unless there is an emergency, "bipartisanship" on major legislation has been a pipe dream for a very long time. The political establishment harps on it like it's the norm but with the exception of some early bipartisan victories in the Reagan era, it hasn't been true for more than 40 years.

That brings us to Senator Joe Manchin, D-WV, the man of the hour.

Every political observer in the country has been waiting with bated breath to see which way the wind is blowing with him because he is the most conservative Democrat in the 50-50 Senate and he has made it clear that he has no compunction about dictating what the Biden administration will be allowed to accomplish legislatively. Theoretically, any senator could have this power and there have been rumblings from Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema and a few others, but Manchin is the man in the spotlight. Whether it's to provide the 50th vote to reform the filibuster or provide the 50th vote to pass a bill using reconciliation, it appears that he will be the decider in this congress.

This is not good news. He recently told Arthur Delaney of the Huffington Post that he believes congressional voting reform efforts in Congress should be designed to make Trump voters happy:

"The only thing I would caution anybody and everybody about is that we had an insurrection on January 6, because of voting, right? And lack of trust in voting? We should not, at all, attempt to do anything that would create more distrust and division."

Actually, we had an insurrection because the president propagated a Big Lie and incited his followers to storm the U.S. Capitol. I'm pretty sure that the only thing that would appease those people would be to remove Joe Biden from the White House and install Donald Trump. But Manchin, who told CNN, "January 6 changed me," seems to think insurrectionists are simply seeking bipartisan comity:

"So, something told me, 'Wait a minute. Pause. Hit the pause button.' Something's wrong. You can't have this many people split to where they want to go to war with each other."

I think it's fair to say that Manchin has somehow absorbed the circular GOP's talking points justifying their flurry of legislation to restrict voting all over the country in order to "restore trust in the system" after Trump lied about the election being stolen from him. Can Manchin be so naive that he doesn't know that this was on the GOP agenda long before Trump came down that escalator?

As with every Diva Democrat I mentioned in the fraught negotiations above, the big question always is, "what do they really want?" Is he posturing his mavericky independence image for the folks back home? Does he have a specific policy goal that he's negotiating for? Is he playing some multi-dimensional game in which he is acting as though he's demanding concessions from the Democrats but actually is forcing the GOP to demonstrate their obstruction so he can say he tried before voting with his party? Or does he believe the drivel he spouts about bipartisanship and just loves all the attention?

We really don't know. But it's always simplest to just take a politician at his word in cases like this and that would mean the op-ed he wrote for the Washington Post on Thursday is very bad news for the Democrats. In it, Manchin declared unequivocally:

There is no circumstance in which I will vote to eliminate or weaken the filibuster. The time has come to end these political games, and to usher a new era of bipartisanship where we find common ground on the major policy debates facing our nation.

It is very hard to see how he backs off from a Shermanesque statement like that and if he doesn't we are looking at total gridlock for the next two years and a probable wipe-out of the Democratic majorities in 2022.

Mitch McConnell has made it clear time and again that his philosophy in opposition is to block everything and then blame the Democrats for failing to get anything done. He has not changed his mind. Sure, they will pretend they want to negotiate but there will never be 10 Republicans willing to break a filibuster to pass major legislation under a Democratic majority. It's been completely unrealistic to expect that for the past 40 years. That Joe Machin thinks it is possible with the Trumpified GOP is downright delusional.

Inside the GOP's plot to hijack American democracy

Let's be honest, America has a long history of vote suppression going back to the founding of the republic. It tends to come in waves, usually following one of our regular paroxysms of racist hysteria. In the bad old days of Jim Crow, vote suppression was enforced by physical violence. Thankfully that hasn't happened in recent years. But our current surge of suppressive activity includes various forms of intimidation, from unscrupulous "poll watchers" to armed guards patrolling voting places as well as lots of propaganda and disinformation to confuse voters and try to frighten them out of voting. The most aggressive forms of vote suppression we face today, however, remain the same as they ever were: The law is still used to make it difficult for people of color to vote.

In the wake of Donald Trump's Big Lie about the 2020 election, Republicans have gone into overdrive, using his pathetic inability to admit he lost as an excuse to enact voting restrictions in the name of "restoring trust" in the electoral system. The Brennan Center reports that as of March 24, Republican legislators have introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states:

Most restrictive bills take aim at absentee voting, while nearly a quarter seek stricter voter ID requirements. State lawmakers also aim to make voter registration harder, expand voter roll purges or adopt flawed practices that would risk improper purges, and cut back on early voting. The states that have seen the largest number of restrictive bills introduced are Texas (49 bills), Georgia (25 bills), and Arizona (23 bills). Bills are actively moving in the Texas and Arizona statehouses, and Georgia enacted an omnibus voter suppression bill last week.

Georgia and Arizona are both states Trump narrowly lost. Texas Republicans sense an ominous shift in power with the formerly GOP-voting white suburbs voting Democratic for the past few cycles. Georgia's bill has gotten the most national attention, largely because Trump's crude attempts to strongarm the Republican election officials into cheating on his behalf became big news. Rather than praising the integrity of their state's election process, the state Republican-controlled legislature reacted by making it harder to vote.

The resulting decision by major Georgia corporations Delta and Coca-Cola to publicly protest these moves and Major League Baseball moving the All-Star game to Denver shows the highly controversial nature of the state's actions. It's 2021 not 1921, and a majority of the public does not approve of these actions. If corporations care about their brand and their bottom line they can't afford to not weigh in. These undemocratic, racist policies are being enacted after 60 years of public awareness of voting rights as a moral issue in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and a majority of the country is appalled.

This seems to have confused the Republican party. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the man who believes so strongly that corporations have a right to spend as much money as they choose to influence politics he took a case all the way to the Supreme Court, said on Monday, "my warning to corporate America is to stay out of politics!" He quickly added, "I'm not talking about political contributions," which is absurd. Basically, he is saying that corporations may support Republicans but not oppose them.

What this illustrates most vividly is not just the collapse of any ideological consistency in the Republican party — we've had plenty of examples of that recently — but also that their shamelessness knows no bounds. The power of that attitude is likely going to empower the GOP in ways that will test our democracy beyond the familiar vote suppression methods like intimidation.

The New York Times' Nate Cohn wrote a controversial analysis of the Georgia voting law that seemed to give short shrift to the immorality and total unacceptability of its attack on voting rights because it may have the unintended effect of boosting turnout among Democrats as a backlash ensues. It was a thoughtless take in many ways, suggesting somehow that the opportunity costs of voting rights groups having to expend massive amounts of energy and Black voters having to jump through ridiculous hoops, particularly based upon the lie that they are cheaters who must be restrained, was good for them. Voting should be simple, easy and accessible for every eligible citizen. All of these restrictions are nothing more than undemocratic, racist attempts by Republicans to hold on to power, even in the minority, by any means necessary. So Cohn wrote a follow-up analysis that makes a number of very important observations about the Republican efforts to hold on to power. In it he wonders what would have happened if Donald Trump had been successful in his attempt to get Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" the 11,789 voted he "needed"? We don't know. But we do know that Georgia has moved to make it more likely that someone will succeed in the future:

[T]rying to reverse an election result without credible evidence of widespread fraud is an act of a different magnitude than narrowing access. A successful effort to subvert an election would pose grave and fundamental risks to democracy, risking political violence and secessionism.
Beyond any provisions on voting itself, the new Georgia election law risks making election subversion easier. It creates new avenues for partisan interference in election administration.

Cohn goes into the details of the bill, showing exactly how it might have been used to overturn the 2020 election on Trump's behalf. It's chilling. And it's happening all over the country, not just in Georgia. He recalls that after the November election, "a majority of Republican members of Congress and state attorneys general signed on to efforts that would have invalidated millions of votes and brought about a constitutional crisis."

As we know, Trump had it in his head on January 6th that the vice president could refuse to certify the election and "send it back" to the state legislatures because someone told him they might overturn the results. That belief didn't come out of nowhere. The concept that state legislatures have supremacy over the state courts and other officials is one that's gaining currency on the right since they have managed to gerrymander themselves into majorities in many states. In places like Wisconsin if a Democrat wins the governorship they simply pass veto-proof laws that remove the governor's powers to do much of anything, In Kentucky last month, Mitch McConnell worked with the Republican-controlled legislature to remove the power of the sitting Democratic governor to name a temporary replacement to the Senate should the seat become vacant. It too was passed over the governor's veto.

This behavior demonstrates that they would not have any reluctance to use their power to overturn elections either. They are quite clearly setting the table to enact an "Independent State Legislature Doctrine" that would make that much more possible. Election expert Richard Hasen calls this "a ticking time bomb."

Unfortunately, as Nate Cohn points out, the big voting rights bills in Congress don't address this problem at all. The "For the People Act" was conceived before the 2020 election debacle and I don't think anyone anticipated Republicans' actions would be quite this extreme. The Democrats need to consider how to deal with it or all the provisions to protect voting won't be worth anything if partisan state legislatures have the power to throw out their votes after they've been counted.

The scam at the heart of Trump's 2020 campaign is still ongoing

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump happened to be in the middle of a major federal class-action lawsuit spanning several states over an allegedly fraudulent operation called Trump University. You may recall that one of his first racist scandals during the 2015 primary campaign came about after he claimed the judge in that federal fraud case was biased against Trump because of his Hispanic heritage. The Trump University suit was a big story during that campaign but, as always, there was so much chaos surrounding Trump that I'm not sure people really understood what it was all about. It should have been the biggest story because it was unfolding during the campaign and illustrated everything the people needed to know about Donald Trump. It showed, in living color, that Trump was a real, bonafide con artist, in the literal sense of the word.

The grift was pretty simple. It started off as an online operation that quickly morphed into one of those bait and switch operations where they entice you to come to listen to a free lecture from some "expert" to teach you the tricks of the trade (or tell you the secret of life) which turns out to be nothing more than a sales pitch to buy more expert lessons in the same subject — which also turn out to be sales pitches. It's what a lot of multi-level marketing schemes and frankly, cults, do to bilk people out of their savings. A 2017 report from the Center for American Progress explains further:

Near the end, Trump University focused almost exclusively on the seminars, both running them and licensing the brand name out to an organization called Business Strategies Group. These seminars often began with a free session to get people in the door. Once individuals arrived, salespeople often tried to upsell them the "Trump Elite Packages," ranging from the Bronze Elite Package for $9,995 up to the Gold Elite Package for $34,995.

Trump, of course, had a TV show in which he pretended to be a genius businessman and that was enough to get a lot of naive fans to sign on, apparently believing the lies in the brochures, which said that Trump had personally chosen the instructors and the so-called courses were credentialed by major universities like Stanford and Northwestern. The court case showed that none of that was true. And according to the Washington Post, Trump was personally involved in all the advertising that made those claims.

And despite pressure from the leaders of the seminars to write favorable reviews of the "course" there was an unusually high refund request rate from unsatisfied "students." Time magazine reported that it was 32% for the three-day seminar and 16% for the Gold Elite package.

Trump eventually settled the fraud case for $25 million after the election, successfully shutting it down before it reached a courtroom. In the end, 6,000 customers were eligible for a piece of the $25 million settlement.

How in the world could an advanced democracy ever elect someone who was so blatantly a con man? It wasn't as if it was far in the past or there was some serious dispute as to whether or not it was really a scam. It was obvious to anyone who looked at the case that there was no "university" and Donald Trump was running a grift. It wasn't the first or the only one but it was being litigated right in the middle of the campaign.

I was reminded of that astonishing story this weekend when I read Shane Goldmacher's shocking New York Times report on the Trump campaign's fundraising practices. If anything, they were even more deceptive than the Trump University con.

Goldmacher reported that the campaign and its online fundraising platform WinRed hustled its most loyal supporters out of tens of millions of dollars with deceptive donation links on their emails and websites. It's unknown to this day how many people unknowingly signed up for weekly recurring donations and "money bombs" (agreements to donate a lump sum on a future date), but there were so many requests for refunds that at one point, 1-3% of all credit card complaints in the U.S. were about WinRed charges.

The credit card companies told the Times that they were inundated with complaints and requests to cancel cards:

"It started to go absolutely wild," said one fraud investigator with Wells Fargo. "It just became a pattern," said another at Capital One. A consumer representative for USAA, which primarily serves military families, recalled an older veteran who discovered repeated WinRed charges from donating to Mr. Trump only after calling to have his balance read to him by phone.

The unintended payments busted credit card limits. Some donors canceled their cards to avoid recurring payments. Others paid overdraft fees to their bank. There is no way of knowing how many people just paid the bills, either thinking they had no recourse or failing to notice it.

The Times compared the GOP's WinRed donation platform to the successful Democratic site ActBlue that it is modeled on and the GOP's practices leading up to the 2020 election were much more unscrupulous. The refund request rate wasn't even close. In fact, "the Trump/RNC operation issued more online refunds in *December 2020* than the Biden/DNC operation issued in all of 2019 and 2020." But then WinRed itself is a product of Trump-affiliated henchmen who made their platform for profit, unlike the non-profit Act Blue, and even kept their fees when people demanded a refund which Act Blue does not. They made a lot of money on this scheme.

The sheer number of refunds to Trump donors amounted to a huge no-interest (and profitable for WinRed) loan to the campaign — a loan which required that the people loaning the money go to a great deal of trouble get money back which they didn't consciously agree to "loan" in the first place. Trump's post-election "Stop the Steal" fundraising at least partially went to pay off those "loans" from the campaign making the whole scheme very "Ponzi-esque."

It wasn't just the Trump campaign that did this. GOP candidates who used WinRed all used the same tactics including the Republicans in two Senate runoff campaigns in Georgia. There were many many requests for refunds of donations to both Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, the Times reported.

For his part, Trump is still doing it. He's been telling his supporters not to send money to the RNC and to send it to his Save America PAC where he can do pretty much anything he wants with the money. The PAC uses WinRed. Anyone who decides they want to throw money into that black hole should read the fine print very carefully. They could be signing up to give the billionaire Donald Trump a weekly donation for life.

How Fox News became the beating heart of the white nationalist movement

Political analysts are still trying to figure out just what has caused the Republican Party in this country to move so far to the right in recent years, and there are many theories. Much has been made of the Trump-loving white working class's perceived loss of economic success due to outsourcing and international trade and we've endlessly discussed their various grievances about losing the status and privileges they believe they are entitled to. We try to understand their confusion about changing cultural norms and the cascading disinformation that permeates social media. In the end, all we really know is that they are very upset and Donald Trump gave voice to their overwhelming anger and disdain for their fellow Americans.

Last week there was yet another congressional hearing with the top social media executives, this one focusing on the role of their companies in promoting extremism, misinformation, and cyberbullying. Republicans were most concerned about the companies censoring right-wing voices (although interestingly, they didn't complain much about Donald Trump's expulsion from all the platforms) and Democrats complained about disinformation and extremism being allowed to flourish on the platforms.

We don't really know at this point how much of that affected the 2020 election. As Kevin Drum pointed out, we are still awaiting data to tell us just how much people relied on social media for their political information during the election but judging by past analysis of election campaigns, it really isn't as influential as we might assume. There's no doubt that Facebook and Youtube and to some extent Twitter can lead people down the conspiracy rabbit hole, and there's little doubt that right-wing extremism has had a very comfortable home on all those sites. But according to the analysis that Drum cites, TV and talk radio are still where the action is. Fox and OAN and Newsmax may pick up ideas that percolate up through the fever swamps to social media. But really, it mostly goes the other direction.

Journalist Peter Slevin spent some months in Iowa before and after the election to get a sense of what the mostly rural, Republican voters were thinking. He reports in this piece in the New Yorker that basically, they are awash in disinformation and as a result have come to believe that Democratic voters are hardly even Americans anymore. Their own form of "identity politics" has been distilled down to "I am a Republican" in opposition to their enemies.

They believed that Donald Trump was the only person who could control the violent, socialist mob that was threatening their way of life. And they believed everything he said:

I met Kimberly Pont, the vice-chair of the Fayette County G.O.P., at a Mexican restaurant in the small city of Oelwein, and asked her what drove local residents to vote Republican. She said, "People could see the news. They could watch for themselves what was going on, when you have a party that's not going to denounce rioting." Pont believes covid-19 death figures are inflated, mail-in voting is dangerous, Biden is a "figurehead," and Harris is unqualified. "I'm terrified," she told me. "She is the most left-leaning of all the senators." When I caught up with Pont this month, she told me that the failure by the courts to identify widespread election fraud left her "disappointed and disillusioned."

Slevin noticed that in every house and business, right-wing talk radio was on in the background and the likes of the late Rush Limbaugh were saying things like this:

Obama's been running the Democrats' show since 2016. He ran the operation against Trump. He ran the Russia sting. He ran the Russian coup. He ran everything, and he's running this."

None of that is QAnon weirdness or Alex Jones and Infowars. It is standard issue mainstream conservative media, which millions of Republicans listen to every day and watch on Fox News and the lesser cable channels at night.

Throughout the Trump administration, there was an ongoing question about whether Fox News was the president's brain or vice versa. I came to believe that it was a feedback loop with disinformation coming from both sides. There were numerous examples of Trump tweeting out some outlandish insult or idea just seconds after it had aired on the network. And the Fox News universe was dedicated to ensuring their audience saw Trump as their savior, often cleaning up his misstatements and amplifying his most effective messages to the faithful. They were a team.

Trump has begun to call into the shows again, clearly unable to keep out of the spotlight any longer. He checked in with Laura Ingraham a few days ago and made this stunning comment about January 6th:

You will note that at the end he said of "the left": "they truly hate our country." That is the message those people in Iowa hear from him and all the talkers on the radio and right-wing cable news.

The question is where they go from here. It's unknown if Trump will maintain his influence. He intends to, of course, and unless he fades, these blatant lies will continue to be believed by tens of millions of people. He can draw an audience. But he can't last forever and there's little reason to believe that his offspring have whatever it is he has that appeals so much to these folks. But one Fox News celebrity is laying out a roadmap:

You'll note that this is all predicated on the notion that the liberals are making them do it. Carlson is the most flagrant white nationalist of the big-name Fox News celebrities and he gets the biggest ratings, which I suspect is not a coincidence. Before this guest joined Carlson, the host was nearly hysterical about the migrants at the border. He said:

You'd think that if you'd caused a crisis of this magnitude that was going to change your country forever, possibly for the worse, you'd feel a moral obligation to learn a lot about it because it's your crisis. You own it, you did it. But Biden hasn't."

A moral obligation to learn about a crisis? This is the same person who backed Trump's COVID response to the hilt and has been recently pushing anti-vax propaganda.

If you want to know what's fuelling right-wing extremism, you don't have to dig deeply into obscure corners of the dark web. Look no further than Fox News. It isn't just a ratings game for them and it isn't all about money. Fox News is the beating heart of the white nationalist movement in the United States and they are indoctrinating millions of people day in and day out. In fact, Donald Trump himself is one of those people, he just doesn't know it.

How Republicans are exploiting the media's big weakness

It was inevitable that a crisis at the U.S. border with Mexico would refocus the media away from the ongoing pandemic and the consequential economic fallout. Those are old stories and it appears that most people believe the nation is "rounding the turn," as Trump used to weirdly say. The immigration story, however, while one that repeats itself every few years, most recently in 2019, offers up a deeply satisfying new narrative for the media: "Donald Trump was right."

Never underestimate the overwhelming incentive for some in the press to seize on a storyline that allows them to prove that they are not the "liberal media" (or in today's parlance "the fake news media.") The situation at our southern border provides a perfect platform for them to show their even-handedness. Unfortunately, as with most such media moments, it's not even-handed in the least.

First of all, it is true that the situation at the border is a humanitarian crisis. The most acute aspect of it at the moment is the record number of unaccompanied minors — somewhere around 15,000 and growing — who are now under U.S. government protection as they await a judicial resolution to their asylum claims. This is a reversal of the Trump administration's cruel policy of forcing people to live in squalid refugee camps on the other side of the border. Needless to say, the Biden administration is scrambling to deal with this huge surge of children and teenagers. Obviously, they need proper shelter, medical care and expeditious resolution of their cases which, in most situations, means they are released into the care of family here in the U.S. or are placed with well-vetted sponsors. It is a challenge, to say the least. They are, by most accounts, moving as quickly as possible.

The main gripe from the news media is that the administration has refused to use the word "crisis" (they have since acquiesced to that demand) and they are not being transparent about how the children are being treated, raising suspicions even among immigrant advocates that they are hiding something. The administration says they are protecting the privacy of the children but it's obviously better to show the scope of the challenge and, hopefully, show that they are meeting it quickly. Worrying about "optics" in a situation like this is counter-productive. But let's be clear. The current hysteria is being ginned up by the shameless Republicans who are clutching their pearls over the alleged mistreatment of kids even as they are insisting that Trump's cruel policies should be immediately reinstated as if they were highly successful. They were not. This current surge has been coming on for many months, as MSNBC's Mehdi Hassan pointed out in this interview:

To the extent the border was "closed" under Trump, it was due to the pandemic and only applied to the normal cross-border businesses which, for all of the hand-wringing by Republican politicians about the economy, never seemed to come on their radar. These towns and the people in them from both countries have been suffering from the border being closed but the migrant surge was growing all through 2020. And, as we know, this isn't the first time this has happened. For a number of complicated reasons, there will from time to time be surges of migrants, often families or unaccompanied minors from Central America, to the border. From 2013 and 2018, between 300 and 450 thousand asylum applicants came to the border each year and generally speaking, there is more or less attention to the problem depending on where the crisis peaks in the election cycle. You may recall that in 2014 there was a surge of unaccompanied minors that caused a massive paroxysm on the right which led to the loss of one very powerful Republican House member as well as a disgusting display of racist rhetoric by the usual right-wing media suspects. In fact, that period was one of the leading factors in the rise of the demagogue Trump who rode to the White House spewing lurid fears about immigrant rapists. The "caravan" hysteria of 2018 was Trump's main mid-term tactic. It did not pay off at the polls but did manage to inspire a mass murder.

Today, the GOP is shrieking that Biden has declared the border to be open (it is not) and that it's his promise of a humane border policy that is driving people to apply for asylum. If that's true it would seem to be important for the press to at least address the fact that 2019 had by far the highest number of apprehensions in over a decade. And it sure as hell wasn't because of Trump's generous immigration policies.

Journalist Heather Timmons of Reuters offered some context on Twitter that shows why so many people who have followed this issue for years are frustrated with the current coverage. It's not that things aren't bad at the moment, they are. But put in historical context, this specific crisis is par for the course. She notes that apprehension levels are lower than in the Trump administration, peaking at that a massive number in 2019, and much lower than during the 2000s, a period when there was quite a bit of active bipartisan cooperation on the subject but which, sadly, came to an end as the partisan acrimony accelerated at the end of the Obama administration.

The Republican party is now solely committed to politics via culture war, using media, state legislatures and the federal courts. And nothing gets their culture warriors' juices flowing like racial unrest and immigration. Sure, rending their garments over Mr. Potatohead is lots of fun, but this is what goes directly into the right-wing lizard brain. They are the ones feeding this story which you can easily tell by such fatuous nonsense as the immigrant-hating extremist Stephen Miller declaring the Biden administration "morally monstrous."

The media must cover the story, of course. But it doesn't have to pull theatrical stunts as ABC did by sending its entire panel down to the border to absurdly seat them in front of the "wall" for its Sunday show. Neither does the Washington Post need to headline a big feature with the grossly provocative "'No end in sight': Inside the Biden administration's failure to contain the border surge" which ignores their own paper's own reporting last fall about the surge already happening under the Trump administration. They should leave this sort of thing to Fox News, which knows how to make a profit at it.

The mainstream media can educate the public without ratcheting up the hysteria by calmly providing the historical context for this surge and all the ones that came before. If they fail to do this we're going to see yet another surge of dangerous, right-wing anti-immigrant demagoguery injected into the mainstream of American politics at a moment when feelings are running very high and there is bloodlust in the air. They need to tone it down for the sake of the people who are going to pay the price if it gets out of hand.

McConnell's filibuster threats are already backfiring

During the Trump years, there was an excessive amount of hand-wringing over the fact that he and his administration were exploding all the "norms" that had previously held our government institutions together. His insulting behavior and crude lack of decorum woke up many a pundit to the idea that much of our system was dependent upon a good faith adherence to the spirit of democracy as much as any formal rules, regulations and laws. He came to Washington without any serious understanding of how government worked and he didn't care when it was pointed out to him. Many were left shocked at how feeble our institutions had turned out to be in the face of someone who had no respect for them.

But let's not kid ourselves. Those norms had always only been as strong as the people who were charged with upholding them and those agreements were unraveling long before Trump entered politics. So we should have seen it coming.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had been making a mockery of Senate norms for years as Majority Leader and he had made it quite clear those old-fashioned notions were no longer operative. There was a time when elected officials would express their support for a new president of the opposite party, wishing them success for the good of the country. McConnell broke that norm during Barack Obama's first term when he openly admitted that he considered it his top priority to deny Obama a second term. He didn't believe it was in his interest to accommodate or negotiate in good faith and instead began a campaign of total obstruction so that the president and his administration would fail and the Republicans would take back the White House.

While this sort of scorched-earth tactic wasn't unprecedented, it was unusual for a national political leader to flaunt his intentions so boldly. There used to be a penalty for being so openly ungracious but McConnell found that it didn't hurt him so he kept right on going, purposefully paralyzing the Obama administration, making it obvious that democratic norms were no longer functional. And left unable to confirm any members of the judiciary under McConnell's obstructive tactics, the Democrats had to eliminate the filibuster norm for everything but nominees to the Supreme Court. After he won the majority, McConnell brazenly blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama's choice for the high court, for months only to scrap the filibuster for the Supreme Court as well once Donald Trump won the White House and nominated a Republican to the seat. McConnell's excuse, which he made up out of whole cloth, was that in an election year the seat should stay empty because it should be up to the people to decide which president should choose the new justice.

It was an unprecedented abuse of Senate norms, signaling that McConnell had decided that anything goes. He used every trick in the book to keep Democrats from bringing any bills to the floor. He ignored all legislation that came from the House. And he spent virtually every minute confirming massive numbers of unqualified conservative judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. And when he was asked what he would do if a seat on the high court became vacant during the upcoming presidential election in 2020, he took a long drink of water and smugly said, "Oh, we'd fill it."

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., had been making a mockery of Senate norms for years as Majority Leader and he had made it quite clear those old-fashioned notions were no longer operative. There was a time when elected officials would express their support for a new president of the opposite party, wishing them success for the good of the country. McConnell broke that norm during Barack Obama's first term when he openly admitted that he considered it his top priority to deny Obama a second term. He didn't believe it was in his interest to accommodate or negotiate in good faith and instead began a campaign of total obstruction so that the president and his administration would fail and the Republicans would take back the White House.

While this sort of scorched-earth tactic wasn't unprecedented, it was unusual for a national political leader to flaunt his intentions so boldly. There used to be a penalty for being so openly ungracious but McConnell found that it didn't hurt him so he kept right on going, purposefully paralyzing the Obama administration, making it obvious that democratic norms were no longer functional. And left unable to confirm any members of the judiciary under McConnell's obstructive tactics, the Democrats had to eliminate the filibuster norm for everything but nominees to the Supreme Court. After he won the majority, McConnell brazenly blocked the nomination of Merrick Garland, Obama's choice for the high court, for months only to scrap the filibuster for the Supreme Court as well once Donald Trump won the White House and nominated a Republican to the seat. McConnell's excuse, which he made up out of whole cloth, was that in an election year the seat should stay empty because it should be up to the people to decide which president should choose the new justice.

It was an unprecedented abuse of Senate norms, signaling that McConnell had decided that anything goes. He used every trick in the book to keep Democrats from bringing any bills to the floor. He ignored all legislation that came from the House. And he spent virtually every minute confirming massive numbers of unqualified conservative judges to lifetime appointments on the federal bench. And when he was asked what he would do if a seat on the high court became vacant during the upcoming presidential election in 2020, he took a long drink of water and smugly said, "Oh, we'd fill it."

Mitch McConnell is not pleased.

On Tuesday, he angrily declared that if the Democrats were to change the rules as he routinely does when he is in charge, the Republicans would respond by defunding Planned Parenthood and loosening gun restrictions as soon as they get the majority, which he will do in any case if it pleases him.

Working himself up into a froth, McConnell warned that if the Democrats were to do this, there would be a "100-car pileup" and "nobody serving in this chamber can even begin, even begin to imagine what a completely scorched-earth Senate would look like." He threatened the Democrats with delaying tactics saying, "I want our colleagues to imagine a world where every single task, every one of them, requires a physical quorum, which, by the way, the Vice President does not count in determining a quorum."

Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, D-Il, remained unfazed by the threat, however, pointing out that McConnell "has already done that. He's proven he can do it and they'll do it again, I assume."

McConnell's extreme politicization of Senate norms, grinding the Obama administration to a halt and then confirming hundreds of extremist judges, including three onto the Supreme Court, demonstrated that he has absolutely no respect for democratic norms. He didn't try to hide it. And that was his big mistake. By being so smug and so flamboyant in wielding his power (remember "we'll fill it"?) he finally managed to get the Democrats to understand that they have nothing to lose by going around him to enact their agenda and letting the people decide if they like the results. If it works out they, will be re-elected. If not, they did their best. That's democracy, after all, the most important norm of all.


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