Heather Digby Parton

Republicans splinter: Trump clashes with the GOP establishment as it desperately grasps at straws

Two prominent conservative voices have finally decided they've had enough and quit their gigs at Fox News.

Stephen Hayes, author of "The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collaboration with Saddam Hussein has Endangered America," and Jonah Goldberg of "Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Change" fame announced that they resigned from the flagship right-wing network over "Patriot Purge," Tucker Carlson's fraudulent "documentary" about January 6th. I guess everyone has their breaking point, although it's kind of hard to believe it was Carlson's scurrilous project that did it rather than the event itself.

Considering their body of work, however, I suppose the news about Goldberg and Hayes is not too surprising. Goldberg told Ben Smith of the New York Times that "they had stayed on at Fox News as long they did because of a sense from conversations at Fox that, after Mr. Trump's defeat, the network would try to recover some of its independence and, as he put it, 'right the ship.'" Apparently, they were under the inexplicable impression that Fox wanted to change course — which is kind of hilarious. After all, their biggest star, Tucker Carlson, has been pushing increasingly extremist rhetoric and philosophy on his show for months.

Rupert Murdoch, whose News Corp runs Fox News, spoke to shareholders last week and pointedly said that Donald Trump should get over the 2020 election — which didn't stop Trump from appearing on the network on Sunday night to whine about the 2020 election. Neither does it seem that Murdoch is taking any action to rein in top talent like Carlson whose "Patriot Purge" just adds fuel to the Big Lie. As Bloomberg's Timothy O'Brien observed, perhaps the patriarch has actually handed over those reins to his son, Lachlan, who seems to be simpatico with the Fox flamethrowers and has backed Carlson to the hilt throughout his descent into far-right extremism.

Murdoch isn't the only one who wants to have it both ways.

I wrote about Chris Christie's rather pathetic attempt to carve out a "middle lane" for himself in a GOP primary, extolling Trump's allegedly super-impressive accomplishments while trying to distance himself from the Big Lie. He's also working hard to stay in the good graces of the Fox flamethrowers, so he winds up on the opposite side of people like Hayes and Goldberg. Watching Chris Christie walk that tightrope is not a pretty picture.

Meanwhile, we have a bunch of Republican governors who met this past week for their annual confab toasting their newest member, Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, while, according to Jonathan Martin of the NY Times, meeting furtively behind the scenes to privately gripe about Donald Trump's "cancel culture." They were referring, of course, to his penchant for gleefully bringing the hammer down on any Republican who looks at him sideways.

The head of the Republican Governors Association, Steve Ducey of Arizona, pledged to all the incumbents up for reelection in 2022 that the group would back them regardless of Trump's endorsement, which is probably not all that reassuring. Contrary to the conventional wisdom that has the Youngkin victory putting Trump on the defensive since Youngkin didn't openly embrace the former president, Trump sees the Republican victory in Virginia as a personal vindication:

Mr. Youngkin's success in a campaign in which his Democratic opponent relentlessly linked him to Mr. Trump has emboldened the former president to further tighten his grip on the party, one whose base remains deeply loyal to him.

Those poor GOP governors all thought it would show him that he needs to stay on the down low so the party can win. Naturally, Trump took the opposite lesson. And now he's feeling his oats:

Moving beyond the 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach him this year, Mr. Trump is now threatening to unseat lawmakers who voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill. He taunts Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as an "old crow" on a near-daily basis, while demanding that Mr. McConnell be removed from his leadership post. And, most alarming to the clubby cadre of Republican governors, Mr. Trump has already endorsed two challengers against incumbent governors and is threatening to unseat others.

For all the hand-wringing and pearl-clutching over the Democrats' chances in 2022, the desperate grasping at straws taking place among Republicans as they head into another election season with Donald Trump dominating their party is a story that should not be ignored. As Jonathan Martin quipped on Twitter:

And needless to say, the MAGA army is already gathering on the battlefield for 2024.

The Atlantic's Peter Nicholas attended the same meeting and reports that one of Trump's former advisers has a plan to make Trump back down: Teach him about Adlai Stevenson.

"I think that would resonate. Trump hates losers," the former advisor told Nicolas that he plans to explain to Trump that if he loses in 2024 he would be like Stevenson, one of history's serial losers.

That's the plan. I'm not kidding.

Apparently, some people on this planet have not yet discovered that Trump doesn't believe he lost in 2020 and will never admit to losing anything ever. He believes that he can create his own reality, simply by saying what he wants people to believe over and over again. Even former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who you'd think would know better, told Nicholas, "I don't think he wants to risk losing twice. Once, you can argue about the outcome. Twice, it becomes a repudiation." Actually, the twice impeached president who made a spectacle of himself on the world stage, played politics with a deadly pandemic, left the economy a smoldering wreck and incited a violent insurrection was rightfully repudiated in no uncertain terms by a majority of voters. The fact that he'll probably be given a mulligan after that dreadful performance is a sad comment on the Republican Party.

I suppose it's good news that two more Trump skeptics have finally reached their limit and walked away from Fox News. And yes it's a positive step that some Republican governors and other officials are criticizing Trump among themselves. But let's not pretend that this is some kind of trend. We just watched the entire GOP House caucus gather in support of a violent., white nationalist nut, Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, and then Trump immediately endorsed him for re-election. It's obvious which way the wind is blowing.

Chris Christie's comeback tour is a flop

Arguably the most famous comeback in American political history was that of Richard Nixon, who lost a close presidential race in 1960, followed up by a loss in the California Governor's race two years later. After that defeat, he famously whined to the press: "You won't have Nixon to kick around anymore." Everyone thought he was done for. Nixon was, after all, an extremely unlikable politician whose nickname, "Tricky Dick," said everything about his uniquely slimy character. But then he ran again for president six years later — and won.

Nixon's appeal to his voters was the fact that he was an asshole, there's just no other way to put it. He had no charisma or charm. But he was a ruthless operator who his supporters believed would do whatever was necessary to keep their political opponents and foreign enemies in line. We all know how that worked out.

It's tempting to see Donald Trump as a true heir to Nixon. After all, his appeal was similar in many ways. He too lied as easily as he breathed, stripped the bark off of anyone who crossed him and was seen as someone who would keep the hippies and the minorities in line. And Trump actually outdid Nixon in personal corruption. But that's where the similarities end. Nixon had a deep understanding of government and policy and a fully formed, sophisticated ideological agenda. Trump was a rank amateur with no interest or capacity for learning anything new. And say what you will about him, there is no denying that Trump managed to create a full-blown cult of personality, something poor old Dick Nixon couldn't even come close to achieving.

No, the true heir to Nixon in modern Republican politics is former New Jersey governor Chris Christie. Like Nixon, Christie's main appeal lies in the fact that he's an asshole which seems to thrill about half of America's voters at any given time. He's also got a record of political dirty tricks, deep unpopularity with his (former) constituents, a failed presidential campaign and what appears to be an attempt at a comeback.

As hard as it is to believe after his sad performance as a Trump toady, Christie has a new book out in which he is endeavoring to present himself as the one guy willing to stand up to Donald Trump. It's his bid to compete for the presidential nomination in 2024 — and the media is eating it up with a spoon. In fact, there has never been so much excitement over a book by a has-been politician who left office years ago with a 14% approval rating and whose main claim to fame since then was doing debate prep for the man who beat him. But the press can't get enough of this guy. As Aaron Rupar documented in his newsletter Public Notice, in the last week:

Following an interview published in the New York Times on Saturday, Christie has been doing a ridiculous number of TV hits. He's appeared on two ABC shows (This Week and The View), Fox & Friends, Fox News, Fox Business, the Daily Show, and CNBC. He appeared on MSNBC three separate times during a 24-hour period stretching from Monday evening into Tuesday.
On Monday evening, CNN ran an hour-long, soft-focus special about Christie. (The scandal that tanked Christie's standing in New Jersey, Bridgegate, wasn't even mentioned.)

That's not all. If you read Christie's Twitter feed, you'll see that he's doing late-night shows, radio, streaming interviews and podcasts as well. He is in great demand. And it's mind-boggling. As Late Night host Seth Myers quipped:

"Cable is so desperate to fill time that CNN even aired a ludicrous special focused entirely on Christie called Being Chris Christie...You guys are acting like he's some weird lifestyle-having guy that everyone wants to know about. He's not Harry Styles or Banksy, he's a loudmouth from New Jersey. If you want to know what he's thinking you don't need CNN. You just need to be within earshot, which is for him I think like a mile?

I suspect that's exactly what most people think of Christie, especially Trumpers who will only see him as disloyal — and no one else ever liked him in the first place. But apparently, the media is so hungry for some Trump-lite that they are lapping up everything he says as if he's some exciting, new political superstar.

To his credit Christie admits that the election was not stolen and mildly criticizes Trump for refusing to let it go, always suggesting that it's bad for "the party" rather than admitting that it's a grotesque perversion of American democracy. In his book, he even dishes a bit on the former president, revealing that Trump personally leaked to the press that he'd offered Christie the White House Chief of Staff job and revealing that Trump had offered him "just about every other position this side of White House chef." Unfortunately, he never offered him Attorney General, which Christie says was the job he really wanted.

But mostly Christie is trying to walk the line between Trump critic and Trump supporter, a position which Politico reported he sees as the road to victory in 2024. He distanced himself after January 6th and has not promised not to run against him, as others have done:

There is a strategic logic to that approach. Christie, according to those familiar with his thinking, would occupy a middle lane in a potential primary, positioned between those who embrace Trump without reservation and would never criticize him, and any candidate who sought to capture the Never Trump vote.

Christie says he wants to "rescue" the party. What he doesn't say is that he wants to rescue the party from Trumpism. In fact, it's quite clear that he sees himself as its rightful leader.

"He's very ambitious, always has been. And he's very, very smart and knows how to calculate the odds," said former New Jersey Gov. Tom Kean, who has known Christie since high school and whom Christie once called a mentor. "He felt the last election that Trump took his place. He thought he had carved out a space for himself, the rough-talking, tell-things-as-they-are position. But that was Trump. Now he thinks Trump is probably in the rearview mirror and what position can he get into now."

Trump stole his lane last time and now the voters are over him and will want to vote for the real thing? That's just sad. But this is even sadder:

No matter what, he's not going up against Fox News. Here he is belatedly responding to MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace after she cornered him about the real problems underlying Trumpism and the Big Lie:

Chris Christie's book is called "Republican Rescue: Saving the Party from Truth Deniers, Conspiracy Theorists, and the Dangerous Policies of Joe Biden." Wallace was 100 percent correct. It's pretty clear that the only thing Chris Christie is trying to save is his reputation and it's not going well.

As the (parody) Nixon twitter account put it:

Steve Bannon's criminal indictment is the best thing that's ever happened to him

So Steve Bannon, former Trump adviser and current podcaster, got indicted on federal charges again. Last time he was charged with defrauding desperate MAGA donors with a scam called "We Build the Wall" that siphoned off a million dollars to cover his own personal expenses. With no care for his duped followers, Donald Trump granted Bannon a full pardon on his last day as president. Now Bannon stands accused of contempt of Congress for his refusal to respond to a congressional subpoena. He turned himself into authorities today — and it's probably one of the best days of his life.

"We're taking down the Biden regime," he said with a sly smile facing a camera live-streaming his surrender in front of a D.C. courthouse. Bannon went on to promote Monday's lineup for his War Room: Pandemic podcast before addressing his followers directly: "I want you guys to stay focused and stay on message. Remember. Signal not noise. This is all noise. That's signal."

The bipartisan congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot subpoenaed Bannon because of the massive amounts of evidence that point to him being involved in plotting the attempted coup and his possible advanced knowledge of the insurrection. As Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Robert Costa point out in their book "Peril":

"Bannon told Trump to focus on January 6. That was the moment for a reckoning.
"'People are going to go 'What the [expletive] is going on here?' Bannon believed. 'We're going to bury Biden on January 6th, [expletive] bury him.'
"If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden's victory on January 6, Bannon said, it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again.
"'We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib,' he said."

Sure, Trump may have persuaded himself that the election was stolen from him and believes it will be the rallying cry that will get him back to the White House in 2024. And it's possible that Bannon had some advanced knowledge of some group like the Oath Keepers planning to invade the Capitol to stop the count. There's no public evidence for that, however, except for his typically overwrought, macho-dude, rhetoric on his podcast the day before:

"All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It's gonna be moving. It's gonna be quick. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow it's game day."

If you listen to his podcast, however, that's how he talks about everything.

Steve Bannon may or may not have thought that Trump could strong-arm Vice President Mike Pence to go along with their daft plan to refuse to certify the electoral votes of several states and send the issue to the House which would then certify the election for Trump. If he did, he almost certainly expected that the streets would immediately be flooded with angry Democratic voters, possibly leading to confrontations with police and maybe the military. And he wouldn't be crazy to think so. But predicting the storming of the Capitol? That's much more of a stretch. I'm not saying he couldn't have known of some master plan but I haven't seen any evidence of that.

Steve Bannon is not a stupid person. I suspect his goals were less dramatic, more strategic —and possibly even more consequential. He said it right out: The Big Lie makes it hard for Biden to govern because it denies him legitimacy in the eyes of half the country. This isn't just about restoring Trump. It's about destroying Biden's presidency and delegitimizing democracy. It's about creating chaos. And Bannon's been agitating for that for many years.

I think we all thought he had been banished from American politics once Trump kicked him to the curb after he got too much attention and bad-mouthed Trump to Michael Wolfe for his book "Fire and Fury." Bannon tried to make himself into a kingmaker during the 2018 primaries but saw dismal results so he spent the next couple of years wandering around the world, connecting up with leaders of other authoritarian regimes, acting as something of an alt-right entrepreneur. Nothing much came of it, at least institutionally. Bannon's ballyhooed global far-right movement he branded with an exceptionally catchy name, "The Movement," failed to ever get off the ground. Likewise, his hopes to start a far-right Catholic political academy in an 800-year-old monastery in Italy were thwarted last March when The Council of State ruled against it after years of court battles. Bannon was designing the curriculum for the Academy for the Judeo-Christian West for Catholic activists in which, as The New Yorker's Ben Munster put it, "a new class of right-wing 'culture warriors' would be trained." Bannon told Munster that he saw it preparing the next generation of Tom Cottons, Mike Pompeos and Nikki Haleys, which sounds wholly unimaginative to me. Surely there are boatloads of young influencers and podcasters champing at the bit to get media training and learn all about "Cultural Marxism, Radical Jihad, and the C.C.P.'s Global Information Warfare" and "The Early Church as a Business Enterprise."

Bannon's philosophy has been written about quite a bit, including by yours truly, because it is extremely radical and very, very weird. It's all wacky mysticism mixed with antediluvian, pre-enlightenment, authoritarianism posing as nationalism based upon the writings of an obscure French writer named René Guénon from the early 20th century and the teachings of one of his followers (and Mussolini adviser) Julius Evola. (If you're interested in going deep, these articles will fill you in.) The school of thought is called "Traditionalism" and it is like no tradition you've ever heard of. But Bannon is not alone with this philosophy. It's held by members of far-right leaders' inner circles throughout Europe and in places like Brazil and Russia. If there is an intellectual rationale for Trumpism beyond the Dear Leader cult of personality, this "traditionalism" is it.

It's hard to know if Bannon has some kind of overarching plan or if he's just winging it. He always sounds like he knows where he's going but he never seems to get there and his foray into defrauding MAGA followers certainly gives credence to those who say that he's just another Trumper on the grift. But it doesn't really matter. Bannon being a "political prisoner" martyr to the cause works for him either way. He can make a mockery of the law with his antics and potentially turn any trial into a spectacle in order to foment more chaos and disillusionment in the country while, no doubt, making a tidy profit at it. As I said, from his perspective, being indicted for defying Congress is the best thing that ever happened to him. It's made him relevant again.

America's torture regime faces a reckoning

With all of the hoopla this past week over the off-year elections, President Biden's foreign trip, and the ongoing drama on Capitol Hill, there was very little discussion of the latest chapter in one of the most important and horrific stories of our time.

The New York Times reported on an unprecedented sentencing hearing of a detainee held at Guantanamo Bay. It was the first time a prisoner detailed in public the torture he underwent at the hands of the U.S. government. There are no adequate words to describe the grotesque war crimes committed against this man. Times' reporter Carol Rosenberg, who has covered the Guantanamo legal proceedings for many years now, vividly detailed the story of 41-year-old Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen who graduated from a Baltimore high school and, as a lost young man, took a trip back to his home country in 2002 after his mother died. There he was seduced into joining a terrorist organization. As he put it, "I went willingly to Al Qaeda. I was stupid, so incredibly stupid. But they promised to relieve my pain and purify my sins. They promised to redeem me, and I believed them."

Khan was captured by American forces in 2003 and has been held in legal limbo ever since, despite the fact that he cooperated from the beginning. But according to his testimony, the more he cooperated, the more he was tortured. As with so many other victims of the brutal U.S. torture regime, Khan was compelled to make up tales in order to get the torture to stop. When his tales didn't pan out, he was tortured some more.

The maze of national security restrictions put on Guantanamo prisoners attempting to defend themselves (an almost 20-year long process) has generally made it impossible for them to speak out about what happened to them. But apparently, (it isn't clear from the reporting) Khan's lawyers found a way for him to publicly detail the torture he endured without specifically accusing any individuals. So last week, in open court, he took the stand and expressed remorse for his actions and forgave his tormentors. In front of his horrified father and sister, both of whom are American citizens, he laid out for the record what happened to him.

Kahn described in detail the primitive conditions in which he was held: naked, with his hands chained above his head or shackled to the wall crouching "like a dog," beaten and sleep-deprived to the point of hallucination. He was waterboarded repeatedly and nearly drowned. And then there was the sexual and "medical" sadism, as Rosenberg reports:

[A]fter he refused to eat, his captors "infused" a purée of his lunch through his anus. The C.I.A. called it rectal refeeding. Mr. Khan called it rape.
The C.I.A. pumped water up the rectum of prisoners who would not follow a command to drink. Mr. Khan said this was done to him with "green garden hoses."
"They connected one end to the faucet, put the other in my rectum and they turned on the water," he said, adding that he lost control of his bowels after those episodes and, to this day, has hemorrhoids.
He spoke about failed and sadistic responses to his hunger strikes and other acts of rebellion. Medics would roughly insert a feeding tube up his nose and down his throat. He would try to bite it off and, in at least one instance, he said, a C.I.A. officer used a plunger to force food inside his stomach, a technique that caused stomach cramps and diarrhea.

When CIA officers transferred Khan from one black site to another, they would insert an enema and then duct tape a diaper on him so he wouldn't have to be taken to the bathroom.

Kahn was eventually charged with four terrorism charges and pled guilty to delivering $50,000 from Pakistan to an Al Qaeda affiliate in early 2003 that was traced to the bombing of a Marriott hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. At the time of the bombing, Kahn was already in custody. He also worked with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the 9/11 mastermind, in some failed plots during his brief period with al Qaeda.

At his trial, the lead prosecutor conceded that Kahn got "extremely rough" treatment but told the jury he was lucky to be alive when the victims of al Qaeda are not. Kahn's lawyer said "Majid was raped at the hands of the U.S. government. He told them everything from the beginning."

The jury of eight military officers was required to hand down a sentence of 25 to 40 years. They gave him 26 years beginning from his guilty plea in 2012. But in an unexpected twist, obviously moved by the testimony, seven of the eight jurors wrote a letter to the overseer of military commissions asking him to grant Kahn clemency. They did not know of a secret deal that was struck earlier this year with the Pentagon in which the sentence could actually end early next year and no later than February 2025 because Khan turned government cooperator upon pleading guilty.

Some of the details of these monstrous tactics were known already due to the "executive summary" of the classified Senate Torture Report that the Obama administration ensured would be withheld from the public. You may recall that the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA were at each other's throats over that project with the CIA issuing criminal referrals against Senate staffers and the committee accusing the CIA of penetrating its computers. (As it turned out, the Inspector General found that the CIA was wrong on both of those issues and then CIA Director, John Brennan, was forced to apologize.) The Senate passed the McCain-Feinstein Anti-Torture Amendment, banning "enhanced interrogation techniques" the Bush administration's Soviet-style euphemism for torture. But no one has ever been held accountable.

In 2018, Gina Haspel, who was involved in the CIA's infamous destruction of CIA tapes that documented the practice and was personally involved in the torture of one terrorist suspect, became the head of the CIA under Donald Trump, the man who won the presidency in 2016 by declaring:

Would I approve waterboarding? You bet your ass I would — in a heartbeat, And I would approve more than that. Don't kid yourself, folks. It works, okay? It works. Only a stupid person would say it doesn't work.

Torture doesn't work. And the use of it, as well as the cover-up by two administrations and the crude endorsement by a man who would be president, is one of the greatest moral stains on America's reputation in its long history of moral stains. And this one happened on our watch.

Dr. Birx admits the truth about Trump's crime against humanity

Is playing politics with a deadly pandemic a crime against humanity? The Brazilian Senate thinks so, and has backed a report calling for charges against President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of COVID-19.

The committee that prepared the report had originally called for Bolsonaro to be charged with genocide and mass homicide against the indigenous people of Brazil as well but those charges were removed by the larger Senate before the vote. Whether the crimes against humanity charges will be sent to the International Criminal Court for investigation and adjudication is unknown. If they are, it will be a first.

The 1,300-page report also calls for eight other charges against Bolsonaro, including misuse of public funds and spreading fake news about the pandemic as well as falsification of documents and incitement to crime, which they referred to Brazil's top prosecutor, an ally of the president who is unlikely to prosecute.

Brazil's death toll is huge — second only to the United States — with over 600,000 deaths and counting. That nation's first wave was monstrous, with mass graves and overwhelming hospital overload. When the second hit, medical facilities were so ill-prepared that they ran out of oxygen. Bolsonaro's response has been to tell people to "stop whining" about "the little flu." He refused necessary lockdown measures from the beginning and relentlessly pushed snake oil cures like hydroxychloroquine. He has disparaged vaccines, masks and other public health measures.

Brazil is a signatory to the International Criminal Court so it could theoretically agree to hear the case should it be forwarded to them. The law seems pretty straightforward, according to this analysis by Jen Kirby at Vox:

A crime against humanity exists "when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack." "other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health."

Kirby spoke with David Scheffer, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, who told her that the "catchall nature" of the last part of the statute was deliberate:

It is obvious that other types of assaults on your civilian population are going to emerge in the future, and you have to provide for that in the statute. It's hard to think of a better example than intentional mismanagement of a Covid-19 pandemic or some other pathogen. And so I would argue that, yes, that's fair game.

Bolsonaro defiantly says that he is guilty of "absolutely nothing" despite his decisions to allow the virus to spread through the country in pursuit of "herd immunity" which basically translated to "let 'er rip." And he has continued to spread disinformation. Just this week, Facebook and Youtube removed a video in which the Brazilian president falsely claimed a link between COVID-19 vaccines and AIDS.

You will no doubt recall that Bolsonaro and Donald Trump were great friends and kindred spirits during Trump's term. They saw eye to eye on many things, but perhaps on nothing so much as the proper response to the pandemic.

In March of 2020, as the virus was starting to spread quickly, the Brazilian leader visited Trump's private club, Mar-a-Lago, and that became one of the earliest Trump super-spreading events when Bolsonaro's press secretary tested positive for the virus after meeting with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and others. Bolsonaro came away from the meeting inspired by Trump, telling his health minister "that life was normal at Mar-a-Lago, everything was cured, and that hydroxychloroquine was the medicine that was supposed to be used. From that time on, it was very hard to get him to take the science seriously."

We all saw the similarities between Bolsonaro and Trump's reaction to the pandemic in real-time.

They both downplayed the virus and were obsessively concerned with the economic fallout, leading them to lean on scientists to fudge the numbers. Both of them were constantly out in public exposing themselves and others to the virus and they each recommended unscientific cure-alls while ignoring the public health recommendations that actually mitigated the worst of the virus. Trump really wanted to take credit for the vaccines, but has been forced to downplay that achievement due to skepticism among his followers, while Bolsonaro just comes right out and says they don't work. Their record in the pandemic is astonishingly similar.

Here in the U.S., the task of investigating what happened with the pandemic has fallen to the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, which has kept a pretty low profile these last few months. But on Tuesday they took the testimony of Dr. Deborah Birx, Trump's COVID-19 coordinator. According to the New York Times, Birx reiterated her earlier shocking claim that at least 130,000 lives were unnecessarily lost because the administration refused to do everything it could to ensure the nation followed the public health recommendations to mitigate the spread of the disease.

But in her testimony this week she also said that as the pandemic wore on into the summer and fall, the administration became distracted by the presidential campaign and pretty much lost interest in the crisis. In other words, a lot of people died so that Donald Trump could get elected.

When asked if she felt Trump did everything he could to save lives, Birx replied, "no."

She also complained about the malign influence of Dr. Scott Atlas, the radiologist who caught Trump's eye on Fox News and was brought in to push the idea that the country should seek "herd immunity," just as Bolsonaro had tried to do in Brazil. Birx testified that Atlas even brought to the White House the three physicians who later authored the "Great Barrington Declaration," which called for deliberately hastening herd immunity. Trump was all in:

Bolsonaro and members of his family are under fire for corruption as well and there is a good chance he may face jail time as well as a tough re-election campaign next year. And then there is the little matter of the crimes against humanity charges that could be before the International Criminal Court.

His good friend and inspiration, Donald Trump, is in a similar situation — although he has three more years to try to make everyone forget his terrible response to the pandemic. Trump needn't worry about the ICC, of course. The U.S. isn't a signatory. The powers that be thought signing on to it might result in U.S. troops being accused of war crimes. I doubt they anticipated that a U.S. president might be accused of facilitating the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his own citizens. Donald Trump has always been a very lucky guy in that way.

Trump's 'get out of jail free' card

Donald Trump is "telling most anyone who'll listen that he will run again in 2024." That's according to Axios's Mike Allen, who also pointed out this weekend that all of the polling suggests that Republican voters are clamoring for the former president to do it. There is little doubt that he will win the Republican nomination easily. Allen reports that all of the Republicans he's spoken with say "it would take a severe illness, death — or criminal charges sticking — to stop Trump from walking away with the race before it even begins." I have never doubted it. They love him, they really love him.

Trump is reportedly watching any would-be rivals very carefully, particularly Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, as well as Mike Pence, his former vice president, and former secretary of state Mike Pompeo. Allen reports that, according to his sources, it's Pence who is Trump's most likely primary opponent — and he is not planning to defer to his former boss, which Allen pointedly says Trump "has noticed." Watching Pence get squashed like a stink bug doesn't seem very sporting, but it's probably all we're going to get.

Truthfully, there is no opening for a serious anti-Trumper and as long as the real thing's on the scene. Nobody can out-Trump Trump. You have to give DeSantis points for trying, though. The Florida governor is now contemplating offering $5,000 to unvaccinated cops who move to the Sunshine State and join departments there rather than submit to vaccine mandates in their home state. Trump must have raised his diet coke in silent salutation at that one. It's Trumpism at its crudest.

DeSantis and Pompeo are still playing the waiting game to see if any unfortunate events befall Trump, but they need to be careful lest they anger the boss and ruin their chances to run as his VP, which they will be happy to do, all the while winking and nodding at the right-wing power brokers that they'll be sure to keep Trump in line. Fat chance.

There are several obvious reasons why Trump is so dead set on running again.

The first is his obsession with vengeance, particularly for what he perceives as disloyalty. This explains why he spends just as much time slamming RINOs (Republicans In Name Only), whom he claims betrayed him, as he does Democrats. This is a deeply held philosophy that Trump has made plain for many years.

An even bigger motivation for Trump to run is the fact that his "grandiose narcissism" will not allow him to admit that he lost in 2020. Personality psychologist Evita March explained how this works shortly after election:

The grandiose narcissist is competitive, dominant, and has an inflated positive self-image regarding their own skills, abilities, and attributes. What's more, grandiose narcissists tend to have higher self-esteem and inflated self-worth. For the grandiose narcissist, defeat may compromise this inflated self-worth. According to researchers from Israel, these people find setbacks in achievement particularly threatening, as these setbacks could indicate a "failure to keep up with the competition".
Instead of accepting personal responsibility for failure and defeat, these individuals externalize blame, attributing personal setbacks and failures to the shortcomings of others. They do not, or even cannot, recognize and acknowledge the failure could be their own. Based on the profile of the grandiose narcissist, the inability to accept defeat may best be characterized by an attempt to protect the grandiose positive self-image. Their dominance, denial of weaknesses, and tendency to devalue others results in a lack of comprehension it's even possible for them to lose.

If you read the blizzard of statements he releases every day, it's clear that Trump spends most of his days obsessing over the Big Lie. He's now demanding that Republicans endorse his delusion or risk his wrath and his followers' rejection. It's not enough for him to believe it, he needs everyone else to validate that belief. And he has to run again — and win — in order to finally make the Big Lie true. To that end, he is working the system night and day to make sure he has loyalists planted in all the swing states to make sure that happens.

But while it's clear that he has deep psychological reasons for perpetuating the Big Lie and running again to avenge the loss he cannot accept, there are practical reasons for Trump to be desperate to get back in the White House. The Los Angeles Times' Doyle McManus reminds us that while Trump has always managed to squirm out of the endless legal and political problems he's confronted throughout his life he's facing some serious charges at the moment:

Throughout his epic, scandal-ridden career, Donald Trump has compiled an astonishing record of impunity, constantly staying one jump ahead of prosecutors, plaintiffs and creditors...[His] record of escapes would make Houdini envious. But Trump remains under the gun. He's still in search of escape routes.
A House committee is examining his attempts to overturn last year's presidential election, including his actions when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6. A prosecutor in Georgia is investigating whether he violated state law against soliciting election fraud when he demanded that officials "find 11,780 votes" — the number he needed to undo Joe Biden's victory in that state. And prosecutors in New York are looking into allegations that Trump, or at least the closely held family business he runs, committed tax and bank fraud.

I'm sure Trump enjoyed many things about being president, with the overwhelming amount of attention being the most important. But the Russia investigation made clear that as long as he was in office, he would not be prosecuted. Being president is literally a "get out of jail free" card. He knows that as soon as he declares his candidacy, any possibility of prosecution is unlikely. As McManus says, "it's a way to hold his troops together — and to make every prosecutor think twice."

I don't doubt that his desire to get back into the White House is mostly driven by his desire for revenge and the extreme personality defect that will not allow him to admit that he lost. But he's not insane. If he can get back into the White House, he will be completely out of the law's grasp for four years. And he knows it.

Steve Bannon's contempt case: Could the coverup lead to the truth of the crime?

On Thursday, the House of Representatives voted 229 to 202, with nine Republicans joining all the Democrats to hold podcaster and former White House adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to testify before the committee investigating the insurrection of January 6th and events leading up to it. The order was sent to the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, who will evaluate it and will likely put it before a Grand Jury to determine if Bannon should be prosecuted for criminal contempt, a crime which carries a possible fine of $100,000 and a year in jail.

It's not uncommon for congressional committees to threaten contempt of congress when they don't get the cooperation they believe they deserve and the committees even vote to take the case to the floor of the House from time to time. It's usually a sort of game to get the parties to the table to work out an agreement — which they usually do. Or, they will instead file a civil action, where the case slowly wends its way through the courts. And sometimes, the Department of Justice just says no and that's the end of that.

The last time the Department of Justice prosecuted such a case was back in the 1980s when it indicted then former Reagan administration Environmental Protection Agency official Rita M. Lavelle for failing to testify about the department's handling of the EPA's $1.6 billion "Superfund" to clean up hazardous waste. Reagan had fired her and the House voted unanimously to hold her in contempt but she was acquitted at trial. (She was later jailed for lying to Congress in a different case.)

The only person to be convicted of contempt of Congress in recent memory was none other than G. Gordon Liddy, who received a suspended sentence because he was already doing so much time for his other Watergate crimes. Even Nixon didn't have the nerve to pardon all of his henchmen before he left office as Trump did. (Liddy went on to have a lucrative career as a right-wing talk show host so it all worked out well for him.)

The vice-chair of the committee, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, made it clear what they want to discuss with Bannon and you can certainly see why Bannon wouldn't want to do it. She said in comments to the committee on Tuesday:

"Based on the Committee's investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans. The day before this all occurred — on January 5th — Mr. Bannon publicly professed knowledge that '(a)ll hell is going to break lose tomorrow.' He forecast that the day would be 'extraordinarily different' than what most Americans expected. He said to his viewers on the air: '(S)o many people said, "if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington."' (W)ell, this is your time in history."

Bannon also said on his podcast:

It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen. Okay, it's going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in. … You made this happen and tomorrow it's game day. So strap in. Let's get ready. It's all converging, and now we're on the point of attack tomorrow.

Before Thursday's vote by the full House, Cheney said,

"Mr. Bannon's own public statements make clear: he knew what was going to happen before it did ... The American people deserve to know what he knew, and what he did,"

She believes Trump did too:

Mr. Bannon's and Mr. Trump's privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th,

Trump was certainly involved in the planning. He invited people to come to the Capitol on that day tweeting, "it's going to be wild." And we know from the Bob Costa and Bob Woodward book "Peril" that throughout the post-election period, Bannon was pushing January 6th as the big event. (Some of that was, no doubt, Bannon's way of cozying up to Trump for a pardon, which he duly received on Trump's last day in office.) His involvement in the Willard Hotel "war room" with a group of Trump cronies on January 5th and 6th explains why he knew all about the John Eastman coup plot to have Mike Pence throw the election to the House where they could declare Trump the winner. (He alluded to Eastman's scheme in his podcast on the 6th.) What he might have known about any planning for subsequent violence remains unknown although his rhetoric certainly did sound like a call to arms.

As we know, Pence refused, but according to the book Trump later commented to others that there was a lot of anger "out there" and we all know what he said the next morning to his ecstatic and worshipful crowd. As he sat in the White House watching his people, carrying Trump flags, breaking windows and beating cops, it's not hard to imagine that he was thinking about how "cool" it was to have that power.

Bannon, meanwhile, is almost certainly "in heaven," as author Michael Wolfe put it to MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell earlier this week:

"Remember, Steve has been in the wilderness for the last three years since Trump forced him out of the White House. But the real pain in Steve's heart is that the attention has been on Donald Trump — who Steve regards as, as stupid, crazy and a crook — rather than the attention being on Steve Bannon. So, yes, it's a good day for Steve."

A good day, indeed.

I suspect Bannon will be happy to fashion himself as a "political prisoner," comparing himself to everyone from Nelson Mandela to Gandhi to Martin Luther King. He won't mention the one he really resembles, but he has certainly seen the parallels — and Steve Bannon certainly thinks it would be very "cool" to have that guy's power.

How the Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in 'disarray'

As anyone could have predicted, much of the media is once again obsessed with the "Democrats are in disarray" storyline, a perennial favorite that makes it easy to preserve the preferred conventional wisdom that says the right may be authoritarian bigots but at least they aren't the dizzy dingbats of the left. Republicans don't even have to make the trains run on time anymore.

Right now, the Democrats are doing the most tedious of all political tasks: trying to pass complicated legislation with a coalition that includes a handful of officials who look in the mirror every morning and see a superstar looking back at them. There is no politician on Earth who does not have a healthy ego, but these are people who live for headlines like this one: Manchin Lays Down Demands for Child Tax Credit.

This is hardly a unique characteristic of the Democratic Party. We only have to look back at the famous moment back in 2017 when GOP Senator John McCain of Arizona, dying of cancer and filled with loathing for President Donald Trump, dramatically gestured thumbs down and defeated the repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Still, it is true that Democrats are particularly prone to exceedingly tiresome haggling over legislation, but that's because they actually want to do things. The Republican agenda is pretty much confined to confirming judges and cutting taxes so they tend to get those things done quite efficiently, no negotiating required.

So the Biden Agenda may end up falling apart. It was always going to be a heavy lift to do big things with such a narrow majority. But they still might pull it off and if the process is messy and exhausting it's just how progress happens. If one wants an example of a political party that's in a state of full-blown internal chaos, just look to the right and check out what's going on in the GOP. Sure, Republicans are in lock-step obstruction mode in Congress, fighting anything and everything the Democrats are trying to do. But the party is actually eating itself alive, so energetically in fact that the media is beginning to take notice. What seems to have precipitated this new interest was this startling statement by Donald Trump last week:

There was no way to interpret that as anything but a threat. Trump was just making it clear that anyone who isn't in line with the Big Lie will be put on his "don't vote" list. And, not that he cares, but the statement also has the effect of telling GOP voters that unless the election fraud is "solved" (whatever he means by that) that they might as well not bother to vote.

There are plenty of people, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who believe that his caterwauling about voter fraud cost the Republicans two Senate seats last year. He wasn't the only one. Right wing personality Erick Erickson said at the time:

"Telling everyone that the race was stolen when it wasn't cost the Republicans two Senate seats. The going all-in on the cult of personality around President Trump hurt them as a result. They had to play up this, 'There's no way Donald Trump could have lost. It had to be stolen from him.' "

This is not just an assumption. In this Sunday New York Times piece, Jeremy Peters notes that even a vociferous supporter like Marjorie Taylor Greene was surprised to find in an internal survey that 10% of Republican voters in her Georgia district would not vote in 2022 if there was no "forensic audit" of the 2020 vote. Marjorie Taylor Greene's district will no doubt return her to Congress, unfortunately, even if 10% of her voters did lay out. But in districts and states with more competitive races, that rate of GOP apathy could be a serious problem.

There are a few rare dissenters left in the party and not just the usual suspects., Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Il, or Wyoming GOP congresswoman Liz Cheney. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-La, has shown some independence in the past and this week told Axios that he wouldn't vote for Trump in 2024 and hoped he wouldn't run because he lost the House, the Senate and the Presidency in four years and politics is about winning. I don't know if Cassidy had attended the National Republican Senatorial Committee retreat in Palm Beach, Fla. last week, but according to the Washington Post, if he did he heard Trump say that he had actually saved the party, telling the gathered GOP senators that "it was a dying party, I'll be honest. Now we have a very lively party." That's one way of putting it.

Trump went on to insult various "RINOS" in the party whom he felt betrayed him, naming Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse among others. It's a good bet Cassidy will also be name-checked soon, as will Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson who told Meet the Press on Sunday that "re-litigating" the 2020 election would be a "recipe for disaster."

Cassidy and Hutchinson are outliers in the party for openly embracing reality. Most elected Republican officials are falling all over themselves trying to prove their loyalty and the ensuing primary battles are already head spinning. Everyone is no doubt aware by now of Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley's humiliating descent into Trump cultism. Fred Hiatt in the Washington Post tells the tale of first term Tennessee Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, former Ambassador to Japan, a man once considered to be a man of integrity and independence who has instead become an energetic Trump sycophant for no real apparent reason other than a desire to please the man.

Nowhere is the tension more marked than the Virginia gubernatorial race, where the the Big Lie is the last thing GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin wants to talk about but it's the only thing his voters seem to care about. He is a man desperate to escape the clutches of Donald Trump but cannot risk offending his followers and it's tying him up in knots.

Still, the GOP primary races are where the real action is.

Amy Davidson Sorkin in the New Yorker reports on an astonishing Republican race in Alabama to fill retiring Richard Shelby's seat between an establishment candidate Katie Britt and Insurrectionist Congressman Mo Brooks. Brooks attacked Britt for saying that she feels it's important to stand with women and her reply was that Brooks was insufficiently loyal to Donald Trump because he had once supported Ted Cruz in the 2016 primaries while she was a Trump supporter from the get-go. It's getting very ugly, very quickly.

Democratic wrangling over their agenda is difficult and frustrating but at least they are trying to get something done for the people. The Republican Party is making the Democrats look like rank amateurs when it comes to being in "disarray" and it's all in service of keeping Donald Trump happy. It's not hard to see which process is actually serving the public interest and which one isn't.

Kyrsten Sinema doesn't need saving: GOP’s faux outrage about left-wing misbehavior is one of their oldest tricks

I have often observed that shamelessness is the American right-wing's superpower and that is never better illustrated than when they call for the smelling salts over Democratic "incivility." We are once again undergoing such a phony hissy fit in the case of Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema, a Democrat, who was accosted by protesters who followed her into a public restroom, in one instance, and asked her questions on an airplane flight in another.

Let me just say that I think the bathroom thing was ill-advised, and cornering anyone on an airplane is pretty aggressive since there is literally no escape. It's not like a business owner asking someone to leave the premises, such as what happened to Donald Trump's former press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders or when his former DHS Secretary Kirstjen Neilsen was taken to task by fellow diners in a restaurant in Washington, both of which also caused right-wingers to froth and fume. Sinema was in no physical danger from these protesters and neither were Sanders and Neilsen. As President Biden said when asked about it on Tuesday, "I don't think they're appropriate tactics, but it happens to everybody … it's part of the process."

The right-wing is staging this fit because they are currying Sinema's favor in the hopes that she will destroy the Democratic agenda. But this is a common tactic — hypocritical faux outrage about left-wing misbehavior is one of their oldest tricks.

As Salon's Zachary Petrizzo reported, former Trump adviser turned podcaster Steve Bannon railed about the fact that the protesters were "illegal aliens" (always a good bet to get the right-wing base riled up.) Breitbart News claimed that the protesters "stalked and harassed" Sinema and Red State wondered if a crime had been committed. A Fox News anchor declared that Sinema was "assaulted" on the airplane and wondered why the FAA didn't intervene. And in one of the more embarrassing examples of right-wing self-righteousness, the National Review's Charles Cooke wrote this:

If, instead of a left-winger berating a moderate Democrat in the loo, a right-winger had berated a moderate Republican, it would have been the biggest news of the year. Within minutes, the incident would have had a name — the "Arizona Attack," perhaps. Within a day, it would have been deemed to be representative of everything that was wrong with the American Right — and with the United States itself. Within a week, we would have been drowning in breathless TV segments, tendentious op-eds, and mawkish lectures about the sanctity of democracy in the United States.

I don't know how to break it to him but you don't have to imagine it. It's happened. A lot.

Last January, just before the joint session of Congress to certify the presidential vote, GOP Senator Mitt Romney was accosted in the Salt Lake City airport and rudely confronted by Republicans angry at him about his unwillingness to object to the electoral count. On the airplane full of people coming to the rally scheduled for January 6th, they chanted, "traitor, traitor, traitor!" and yelled at Romney to resign. (At the insurrection rally on January 6th, President Trump asked the crowd, "I wonder how Romney liked his flight last night," to the delight of the crowd.)

Likewise, Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., was angrily confronted by a mob of Trump supporters at Reagan National Airport a couple of days later. They called him a traitor too and crowded him to the point that airport security had to escort him to safety. In one of the videos of the incident, a woman was heard saying, "one day they will not be able to walk down the street; it is today."

Last month Republican Congressman Anthony Gonzales of Ohio dropped out of his race for re-election citing the fact that he had to have police escorts for himself and his family at airports due to threats from Trump supporters angry over his vote for impeachment. I'm sure Congresswoman Liz Cheney has similar stories. And while they didn't manage to find Vice President Mike Pence on January 6th, we know what they planned to do with him if they did, don't we?

Right-wing protesters aren't just attacking politicians. All over the country, they are threatening health care workers, election officials and school board members about everything from masks to vaccines to critical race theory. It has gotten so bad for local school officials and teachers that the Department of Justice has announced a plan to intervene. But yet, in another example of egregious shamelessness, Senator Josh Hawley took the other side of the argument in a Senate hearing this week, arguing that these were just fine examples of parents looking out for their children. MSNBC's Chris Hayes rounded up some examples of such civic protest for Hawley since he didn't seem to have the full picture of what's been going on:

Meanwhile, we have the predictable claims that the protesters who confronted Kyrsten Sinema were financed by the great leftwing boogeyman, George Soros. It's true that the group they belong to got money from Soros' foundation in 2017 and 2019, but there is no evidence that the foundation is involved in the protests in any way. It certainly isn't directing the protests with talking points and strategy as the Washington Post reported the Koch brothers network has been doing with the school board protests.

This is nothing new for GOP activists. In 2009, the very similar angry protests over the Affordable Care Act were likewise directed from on high by groups financed by big-money donors who bused activists all over the country with instructions to disrupt the town hall meetings. They put out a strategy memo that said:

— Artificially Inflate Your Numbers: "Spread out in the hall and try to be in the front half. The objective is to put the Rep on the defensive with your questions and follow-up. The Rep should be made to feel that a majority, and if not, a significant portion of at least the audience, opposes the socialist agenda of Washington."
— Be Disruptive Early And Often: "You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep's presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep's statements early."
— Try To "Rattle Him," Not Have An Intelligent Debate: "The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out and sit right back down. Look for these opportunities before he even takes questions."
Recall that all those nice "protesters" even gathered in Washington one day to yell racist epithets and spit on congressmen? Clearly, the right thinks that protesting masks and vaccine mandates will deliver them the same win that the Obamacare protests did in 2010, which is highly debatable. We have 700,000 people dead from COVID and the majority of Americans are not amused at these antics.
But no matter what, Trump or no Trump, the Republicans will still be wringing their hands about at the alleged incivility of the left and whining about the supposed denial of their rights even as they do everything they claim the other side is doing. As I said, shamelessness is their superpower.

A former Trump strategist hopes to make election-reversal possible at 'precinct level' — and the GOP is on board

One of the more memorable quotes from the 2020 post-election period was the one in which a Republican insider blithely told a reporter for the Washington Post that there was no harm in letting Trump cry himself out:

"What is the downside for humoring him for this little bit of time? No one seriously thinks the results will change," the official said. "He went golfing this weekend. It's not like he's plotting how to prevent Joe Biden from taking power on Jan. 20. He's tweeting about filing some lawsuits, those lawsuits will fail, then he'll tweet some more about how the election was stolen, and then he'll leave."

We all know how that turned out, don't we?

Today, the congressional Jan. 6 commission continues to subpoena witnesses and demand documents from various players in the post-election saga, and the press keeps reporting new information on exactly what went down during that bizarre period weekly. Last month, the new book from Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, "Peril," revealed the existence of a full-blown coup plot based upon a legal theory advanced by conservative constitutional lawyer John Eastman, formerly of Chapman College and a founder of the Claremont Institute, a right-wing think tank. They actually memorialized what they planned to do in writing.

The idea was to have Mike Pence refuse to acknowledge the electoral votes of certain states whose legislatures might be persuaded to send an alternate slate of electors and then declare Trump the winner based upon the remaining electoral votes. It was a cockamamie scheme, but the concept of Republican state legislatures declaring that the vote was rigged and sending an alternate slate to declare Trump the winner did not come from nowhere. I wrote this in November 2020, just a couple of weeks after the election:

Having lost over and over again in court, Trump and his team have switched to their Plan B, which, as longtime Democratic strategist Chris Marshall spelled out in detail in Salon on Thursday, is to delay the certification of the vote in certain states and try to get Republican legislatures to assign electors to vote for Donald Trump instead of the actual winner, Joe Biden. This is based on the theory that if they can create enough chaos around the election results, Republican loyalists will rise to the occasion and "save democracy" from the Democrats, who are allegedly stealing the election.

Trump's behavior with all these phony "audits," even in places like Texas where he won, is explained as an extension of that plan. They are attempting to create so much distrust in the electoral process that in the case of a semi-close election, the default "solution" will be for the (Republican) state legislatures to take over the process and decide the winner. Lest you think the courts would automatically reject such a clearly unconstitutional move, don't count on it. As the New Yorker's Jane Mayer noted:

Few people noticed at the time, but in … Bush v. Gore, Chief Justice William Rehnquist, along with Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, hinted at a radical reading of the Constitution that, two decades later, undergirds many of the court challenges on behalf of Trump. In a concurring opinion, the Justices argued that state legislatures have the plenary power to run elections and can even pass laws giving themselves the right to appoint electors.

Today, the so-called Independent Legislature Doctrine has informed Trump and the right's attempts to use Republican-dominated state legislatures to overrule the popular will. Nathaniel Persily, an election-law expert at Stanford, told me, "It's giving intellectual respectability to an otherwise insane, anti-democratic argument."

That's the legal argument. The implementation will require provocateurs to help foment the chaos and distrust on the ground. Enter Trump's former campaign chairman (and pardoned accused felon) Steve Bannon. You may recall that Bannon was heavily involved in the Jan. 6 planning, urging Trump to "kill the Biden presidency in its crib" and promising listeners of his wildly popular podcast the night before that "all hell will break loose tomorrow. It's them against us. Who can impose their will on the other side?"

ProPublica did extensive reporting last month showing that since then Bannon has been pushing a "precinct strategy," whereby MAGA followers take over the Republican apparatus at the precinct level, which in many states means they have influence over how elections are run, including the choice of poll workers and members of election boards. When Bannon announced this strategy, it "rocketed across far-right media" and suddenly people who had never before been involved in politics were volunteering all over the country, in blue states as well as red states, cities and suburbs and rural areas alike.

This strategy is the brainchild of Arizona activist Daniel J. Schultz, who has been pushing it for several years:

In December, Schultz appeared on Bannon's podcast to argue that Republican-controlled state legislatures should nullify the election results and throw their state's Electoral College votes to Trump. If lawmakers failed to do that, Bannon asked, would it be the end of the Republican Party? Not if Trump supporters took over the party by seizing precinct posts, Schultz answered.

Schultz is now a huge right-wing celebrity, has been on Bannon's show at least eight times and holds weekly Zoom calls with activists around the country. Last July he told his audience, "Make sure everybody's got a baseball bat. I'm serious about this. Make sure you've got people who are armed."

Bannon isn't confining himself to trying to destroy the democratic electoral system. NBC News' Jonathan Allen reported that he's also planning an assault on the government once he gets Trump back in the White House, as a continuation of his "deconstruction of the administrative state." To that end, Bannon held a meeting last week with "scores of former Trump political appointees" at the Capitol Hill Club and gave them their marching orders for the hypothetical day when Trump returns to power.

He was invited by a new group called the Association of Republican Presidential Appointees, which has the goal of having non-confirmable executive branch appointees ready on Day 1 to go in and take over. In practice, that means they would immediately set about systematically dismantling everything put in place under a Democratic president and deregulating everything in sight. Bannon aptly calls them his "shock troops."

Now maybe all this is just the lunatic fringe acting out and nothing will come of it. Bannon has been flogging this kind of anti-democratic strategy for a long time. But considering how radical the GOP establishment itself has become, it seems foolhardy to make that assumption. Inviting Bannon to address this ambitious new Republican group sends a clear signal that his previously outlandish ideas and strategies have become mainstream conservative thinking.

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