'Not enough': Iran may be disbanding its 'morality police' but women are skeptical of the motive

Iran's attorney general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, announced over the weekend that the country will be moving forward with the decision to disband their "morality police," which was tasked with enforcing strict Islamic dress code.

This move comes in the wake of a young woman named Mahsa Amini being detained and killed in September for breaking said dress code by refusing to wear a hijab in public.

Following the death of Amini, whose non-government first name was Jîna, which means "life" in Kurdish, protests broke out in and outside of the Middle East as others took up her position of doing away with oppressive dress codes for women and there's suspicion that the disbanding of the morality police is nothing more than an attempt to quiet protestors, leaving Iranian women fearful of what's to come once attentions are diverted.

"The morality police had nothing to do with the judiciary and have been shut down from where they were set up," Montazeri said in his statement on the disbanding of morality police. As BBC's coverage highlights, "control of the force lies with the interior ministry."

"Even the government saying the hijab is a personal choice is not enough," one Iranian woman said to BBC. "People know Iran has no future with this government in power. We will see more people from different factions of Iranian society, moderate and traditional, coming out in support of women to get more of their rights back."

"It's disinformation that Islamic Republic of Iran has abolished its morality police. It's a tactic to stop the uprising," said Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad on Twitter. "Protesters are not facing guns and bullets to abolish morality police or forced hijab.They want to end Islamic regime."

"No, morality police has not been abolished in Iran. This is a fake story cooked up by the regime to make you think everything is over," said comedian and activist Chelsea Hart in her own tweet. "Western media is publishing propaganda with zero fact-checking. Dozens of people, including children, have now been executed in their silence."

Put into further perspective by Aljazeera writer Maziar Motamedi, "the morality police were just one very visible tool of implementing mandatory hijab," and "no senior official has seriously signaled in public that a major change in hijab laws could be implemented soon."

'Bench slap': Legal experts say court 'eviscerated' Trump judge for 'interfering' in Mar-a-Lago case

A federal appeals court on Thursday overturned U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon's order appointing a special master to review secret government documents seized from former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence.

A three-member panel on the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, which included two judges appointed by Trump, issued a 21-page opinion blasting the decision by Cannon, another Trump appointee, to block the FBI from using thousands of documents until they are reviewed by a special master. The unanimous ruling said Cannon never had jurisdiction to order the review or to prohibit the FBI from using documents seized from Mar-a-Lago in its criminal investigation. The court also rejected the idea that Trump should be treated differently than any other target of a search warrant.

"It is indeed extraordinary for a warrant to be executed at the home of a former president — but not in a way that affects our legal analysis or otherwise gives the judiciary license to interfere in an ongoing investigation," the ruling said. "To create a special exception here would defy our nation's foundational principle that our law applies 'to all, without regard to numbers, wealth or rank,'" it continued.

Cannon's special master order riled legal experts, who noted that there is no precedent for a former president to invoke executive privilege after leaving office and to prevent the Justice Department, another part of the executive branch, from viewing executive branch documents.

"The law is clear," the judges added. "We cannot write a rule that allows any subject of a search warrant to block government investigations after the execution of the warrant. Nor can we write a rule that allows only former presidents to do so."

Former U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance called the ruling a "bench slap" of Cannon's decision to "interfere" with the criminal investigation.

"In a rather painful dismantling of Cannon and Trump's lawyers, the Court points out that they read the law wrong, badly wrong, in an effort to serve Trump," she wrote on Substack. "In fact, the Court notes that even Trump's lawyers don't use the badly wrong theory Judge Cannon used to decide she had jurisdiction over the matter."

"This is a smackdown," Palm Beach County Attorney Dave Aronberg told MSNBC. "It says that Judge Cannon should never have exercised jurisdiction over this matter. Remember, Judge Cannon is in a county, two counties away, 68 miles from West Palm Beach. She inserted herself into this case when it was in the hands of Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhardt. That's what Trump's team wanted. She took jurisdiction and then she gave them everything they wanted."

Other legal experts agreed that the ruling was a strong repudiation of Cannon, who was appointed to the bench in 2020.

"To say that the court of appeals today completely eviscerated Judge Cannon's ruling and Trump's arguments is an understatement," wrote conservative attorney George Conway, a frequent Trump critic.

"The Circuit Court's stinging rebuke of the loose Cannon means she has fully earned that title," Harvard Law Prof. Laurence Tribe wrote on Post.

"This Eleventh Circuit ruling is just dripping with venom for how stupid Judge Cannon's ruling was and it's beautiful," tweeted attorney Ken White.

"It is a complete takedown. Eviscerates the garbage fire arguments put forward by Trump's legal team and the clearly erroneous judicial analysis by Judge Cannon," agreed national security attorney Bradley Moss. "Trump did get one thing out of this: delay. Three months of it."

The 11th Circuit panel also took issue with Trump's arguments that he needs to protect documents that he designated as personal property, noting that the status of the document is irrelevant to whether the government can seize it during a legally authorized search.

"All these arguments are a sideshow," the ruling said, adding that Trump did not show that his rights had been violated in the search. "If there has been no constitutional violation—much less a serious one—then there is no harm to be remediated in the first place," the judges wrote.

"The 11th Circuit's ruling isn't just a stinging rebuke of Judge Cannon's special master order," wrote Norm Eisen, who served as Democratic counsel during Trump's first impeachment. "It's also a rebuke of Trump & his lawyers."

Trump could still appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, which already rejected his bid to overturn another 11th Circuit ruling knocking down part of Cannon's order that prevented the FBI from using about 100 documents marked classified.

"Trump can appeal this to SCOTUS, but I see about a 0% chance of even *this* court taking it up," tweeted Steve Vladeck, a Supreme Court expert at the University of Texas School of Law.

"This Trump maneuver backfired spectacularly," added former acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal. "Like all he touches."

Read the full 21-page ruling below:

Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes could become the new face of MAGA

Earlier this year, Nick Fuentes, the young leader of the virulently white nationalist, antisemitic and misogynist America First/"groyper" movement, announced during an obscure livestream that his "legacy is going to be, basically, Hitler 2, 3 and 4 in America." It was just one among thousands of intentionally inflammatory comments Fuentes has made over the years, including vulgar jokes denying the Holocaust, gleeful use of the n-word, calls to burn women alive, and more. Yet none of that was enough to stop Donald Trump from welcoming Fuentes to his Mar-a-Lago residence for dinner late last week, alongside apparent 2024 presidential candidate Ye (formerly Kanye West) and Ye's new campaign director, disgraced alt-lite star Milo Yiannopoulos.

Since the dinner, examples of Fuentes' vile comments have proliferated online, particularly his abundant antisemitic and Holocaust-denying statements. In one recent livestream, Fuentes warned: "When it comes to the Jews, here's the silver lining: it tends to go from zero to 60," and so therefore, "The Jews had better start being nice to people like us, because what comes out of this is going to be a lot uglier and a lot worse for them than anything that's being said on this show." In another, he said that Jews could be allowed to live in the "Christian country" that is America, "but they can't make our laws." In October, he told Jews to "get the fuck out of America," charging that they "serve the devil" and are "an antichrist."

Last February, when Fuentes presided over the third meeting of his America First Political Action Conference (AFPAC) in Florida, he praised Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine, praised the founder of the white supremacist group American Renaissance, and to top it off, praised Adolf Hitler himself.

In the aftermath of the dinner, Trump has tried to cautiously downplay the meeting, posting on his platform Truth Social that he didn't know who Fuentes was. Other Republicans have been equally tight-lipped. As Axios reported Monday, nearly two dozen Republican legislators asked to respond to the news declined to comment, and those lawmakers who did weigh in did so by equivocating, suggesting, for instance, that Trump needed to exercise "better judgment in who he dines with," as Kentucky Rep. James Comer said. Right-wing commentator Candace Owens, an ally of Ye's, posted on Twitter on Friday that she'd played no role in connecting him with Yiannopoulos or Fuentes, but took care to note that didn't mean she was taking "a personal shot at either of them."

This is hardly the first time that Fuentes has rubbed elbows with prominent Republicans. Over the last few years, Fuentes' AFPAC gathering has drawn a number of GOP leaders, and this year that number was higher than ever before. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., served as the surprise guest. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., who had addressed AFPAC before, spoke to the gathering this year by video. Appearances were also made by former Iowa Rep. Steve King, Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, Arizona state Sen. Wendy Rogers, former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and others. In the post-conference controversy, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., waded into the fray to defend Fuentes, describing the outspoken Holocaust denier and white nationalist as a "charismatic internet personality" who might be an ethno-nationalist but also had some "well-informed and thought-provoking" perspectives.

Fuentes' movement has also made other inroads, as Salon has previously reported. Last year, failed Texas Republican gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines hired a staffer from the groyper orbit. This spring, a Salon investigation revealed that the Catholic right media outlet Church Militant — which has also had close ties to Yiannopoulos — was working to recruit Fuentes' followers into its youth-focused activist arm, and that multiple Church Militant staffers had connections to the movement.

On Monday, in response to the controversy, Church Militant posted a statement on Twitter about Yiannopoulos, writing that "Milo has never been an employee" but that instead the outlet's relationship with him had "been of a spiritual/theological nature — helping him abandon a sinful life and return to his Catholic Faith." (In fact, Yiannopoulos wrote multiple pieces for the outlet, hawked its merchandise on Church Militant shopping shows and emceed a high-profile protest rally the outlet held in late 2021 to protest the church's leadership.) They had "no comment" on his return to political activism.

For Fuentes, the current controversy seems less like a setback than like the elevation of his hateful movement to its highest standing yet. Since the dinner, Fuentes and his allies have hinted that he is joining Ye's presidential campaign, perhaps as communications director. On Friday, Ye posted a short video clip of himself delivering the traditional opening line for Fuentes' show. The same night, Yiannopoulos posted a message during Fuentes' show suggesting that Fuentes would begin working on the campaign this week.

Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander — who also posted claims that Fuentes is joining Ye's campaign — has spent the last five days publishing a string of defenses of Fuentes on Telegram: He called Fuentes a friend, urged right-wingers who don't like Fuentes to "just remain silent," and called on groypers to help correct the "optics" around Fuentes by spamming Twitter with a video arguing that Fuentes is not, in fact, a racist.

In a livestream on Saturday, Alexander also defended Fuentes against charges of hate speech and antisemitism by adding some of his own — talking about the "fundamental disunity" between a "culture that is predominantly Anglo-Saxon in tradition and the Jewish people," and saying, "Ye is completely enamored with Nick because Nick is very talented at articulating what I think is the third way in dealing with the challenges that Christendom faces with Jewish power."

Jan. 6 organizer Ali Alexander — who also posted claims that Fuentes is joining Ye's campaign — has spent the last five days publishing a string of defenses of Fuentes on Telegram: He called Fuentes a friend, urged right-wingers who don't like Fuentes to "just remain silent," and called on groypers to help correct the "optics" around Fuentes by spamming Twitter with a video arguing that Fuentes is not, in fact, a racist.

In a livestream on Saturday, Alexander also defended Fuentes against charges of hate speech and antisemitism by adding some of his own — talking about the "fundamental disunity" between a "culture that is predominantly Anglo-Saxon in tradition and the Jewish people," and saying, "Ye is completely enamored with Nick because Nick is very talented at articulating what I think is the third way in dealing with the challenges that Christendom faces with Jewish power."

Continuing on to argue that the Mar-a-Lago dinner served as a reminder to Trump not to neglect his white base, Alexander continued, "Trump's got to choose: Which way, Western man? Which way? Are you going to try to do a toned-down, subdued announcement so you can run acceptable to Rupert Murdoch, or are we going to bend Fox News, bend Newsmax, bend [The] Post Millennial, bend Steve Bannon into realizing that this party is permanently the America First party?"

That seeming ultimatum resonated with the observations of other commentators, who noted that the entire story of the Trump-Fuentes dinner points to a larger shift on the right: A growing sense that the Trump coalition or movement of 2016 is gone, but that Trumpism as a movement should continue not only to survive, but push the party further rightward.

In two (since-deleted) posts on the far-right social media website Gab, founder and CEO Andrew Torba — himself a noted antisemite — declared, "2016 Trump is never coming back…The goal now is to shift the Overton Window further right, like 2016 Trump did. That won't happen with 2022 Trump, but it could continue to happen with Ye. We need to shift all of our memetic energy for the 24 primaries to Ye if he announces a run."

In another post, which Yiannopoulos subsequently shared on Telegram, Torba wrote, "Nick and Ye didn't discredit Trump's 2024 campaign with that dinner meeting. Trump did that himself by having the most boring low energy announcement speech in history. He did so by continuing to suck the boots of the Jewish powers that be who hate Jesus Christ, hate our country, and see us all as disposable cattle according to their 'holy' book. Trump WILL start putting Jesus Christ first in His campaign messaging or he WILL be left in the dust of someone who does. It's that simple. We're done putting Jewish interests first."

On Telegram, the official account has leaned heavily into explicit antisemitism since the dinner.on Monday. In one post on Monday, Torba wrote, "It really is this simple. We will destroy the GOP before we allow another Zionist bootlicker to 'represent us.'" In another, Torba forwarded a post from notorious antisemitic Catholic traditionalist E. Michael Jones, which read, "If Trump can't stand up to the Jews, there is no point in voting for him."

As Kris Goldsmith of Veterans Fighting Fascism put it on Twitter, "after that [Mar-a-Lago] dinner, Trump recognizes that if he doesn't show the neo-nazi part of his base a bigger platform, they'll leave him.

Ben Lorber, a research analyst at Political Research Associates who has tracked Fuentes and his groyper movement for three years, noted that Ye's presidential campaign, should it last, likely wouldn't have the traditional goal of winning or even necessarily getting the candidate on the ballot. Rather, he continued, it could serve as a new platform for a provocateur who has always described his ultimate goal as pulling the conservative movement as far right as possible — "kicking and screaming…into a truly reactionary party."

"Fuentes can use Ye as a platform to add open, explicit antisemitism into the Right's already toxic brew of Soros, 'groomer,' anti-globalist, cultural Marxist & other 'implicit' antisemitic conspiracy discourse — with the scaffolding of Christian nationalism," Lorber wrote on Twitter. "Conservative leaders can watch closely, see which interventions gain traction & adopt them for their own use."

In that context, Yiannopoulos gave voice to a sense of excitement on the far right around Ye's candidacy, writing on Friday: "It's real. Everything you are feeling is real. It's 2015 again and the best is yet to come."

'They are going to slam this judge': Experts say appeals court will shut down Trump judge’s 'circus'

Legal experts predicted that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals will soon shut down the special master process in the Mar-a-Lago probe that was ordered by U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon.

The special master process ordered by Cannon, a Trump appointee, effectively allows former President Donald Trump to challenge the search warrant at his office and residence before he is indicted — an extremely rare opportunity for a criminal defendant.

The oral argument by prosecutors, who are now under the direction of the newly appointed Special Counsel Jack Smith, shows that the 11th Circuit may be close to reversing Cannon's process. The three judges on the panel — two of whom are Trump appointees — shared their skepticism that Cannon had jurisdiction to take action before an indictment, and that even if she did, she had no factual predicate to appoint a special master.

Judge Britt Grant, who was appointed by Trump, asked the former president's legal team whether they tried to appeal Cannon's finding that the Justice Department did not demonstrate a "callous disregard" for Trump's rights. Trump's attorney, James Trusty, said that they did not appeal the finding and Grant responded that the finding required a reversal of Cannon's order.

Judge Andrew Basher also confronted Trump's attorneys with two questions that stumped them: whether there was any precedent to prevent the DOJ from using the seized materials in its investigation before any indictments and whether there is any reason that Trump should be treated differently in the case than other defendants other than his status as the former president.

Trump's attorneys were unable to give a satisfactory answer to the judges. After hearing the oral argument Trusty tried to keep the special master appointment by disparaging Cannon's injunction against the DOJ. He argued that the DOJ was not harmed by the injunction because of an order issued by the 11th Circuit that allowed the department to use the 100 documents that were originally labeled "classified" in the investigation.

"Then, in language that I have never heard an attorney use in the more than 25 years I have worked as an attorney in criminal law, Mr. Trusty said that the injunction was 'overblown' and that what really mattered was preserving the Special Master," wrote former federal prosecutor Mitchell Epner for The Daily Beast.

"The 11th Circuit judges and the DOJ attorneys jumped on that statement, noting that it was unprecedented for the DOJ to be barred by the judiciary from using documents seized by search warrant during their investigation," said Epner.

Epner added in his analysis that he rarely makes predictions on court rulings, but "this is the exception."

"I would be shocked if the 11th Circuit does not overturn Judge Cannon's order," Epner wrote, "I also think it will happen quickly. The judges have asked for the upcoming schedule in front of the Special Master."

Special Master Raymond Dearie has scheduled the next hearing for Dec. 1, when he is expected to hear arguments about the remaining 900 documents in the investigation. On Dec. 16, Dearie would be required to give his report and recommendations to Cannon, and the parties will then have the ability to object to Cannon or the 11th Circuit. This process would likely last months.

"I cannot imagine the 11th Circuit allowing this circus to continue until Dec. 1, and that's part of why I expect that the 11th Circuit will promptly overrule Judge Cannon, ending the entire process," Epner predicted.

Former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne on Saturday also said that she expects the 11th Circuit to come down on Cannon for her protection of Trump. Speaking with MSNBC's Ali Velshi, Alksne said that Cannon can expect to be reprimanded soon.

"It sounds like after reading the transcript of the appellate hearing in the 11th Circuit that they are going to get rid of the special master and they are going to slam this federal judge [Cannon] who put a wrinkle in the process that was totally unnecessary," she said.

"And that will speed up the process and allow the government to really dive into those documents because, remember, it is not only — when you look at this case to a prosecutor — it is not just does he have the documents, where they willfully maintained and did he not return them when he was asked to. You also have to have sort of a global outlook on it like, why did he do it?" she elaborated.

"In order to do the prosecution, you kind of want to know that," she added. "Is it an ego thing, as somebody leaked from the Justice Department or did those documents make it into the stream of his financial considerations? Is that why he ended up with these deals in the Middle East? Has Jared Kushner seen the documents? Who has touched them, who has seen them, who knows about them, who has used them?"

"The sooner we get rid of the special master process, or we complete it, the sooner we can get to that point and we can move forward with the prosecution," Alksne stated.

If the 11th Circuit does rule against the former president, there will likely be an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court which will be denied almost immediately, according to Epner. The former U.S. attorney predicted that Smith and his team will then quickly move in to indict Trump on multiple counts. Despite Trump's attempts to keep the case in the Southern District of Florida, the indictment will likely be issued from the District Court for the District of Columbia due to the removal of national security documents from the White House.

Trump's worst fears will be realized if the trial happens in D.C. where he received only 5 percent of the vote in 2020, the lowest total in the entire country, Epner wrote.

The indictment may also go beyond the Espionage Act to include a felony charge relating to Trump's demands that the IRS conduct audits of his political enemies. "I would not be surprised if each of those IRS employees cooperated with the DOJ, with all fingers pointing in Trump's direction," Epner said.

"The nice thing about prosecuting tax crimes is that the crimes are very clearly delineated. Few jurors have any sympathy for people who cheat on their taxes or wrongfully sic the IRS on an individual to carry out a personal vendetta," Epner concluded.

Early data shows big shifts in followers among Republicans and Democrats weeks after Twitter deal

Several high-profile Republican representatives gained tens of thousands of new followers on Twitter after billionaire Elon Musk acquired the social media network, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.

The report found that Democratic members of Congress have suffered a decline, with lawmakers like Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., all losing around 100,000 Twitter followers after three weeks on Musk's Twitter. In comparison, Republicans Marjorie Taylor Greene, Ga., and Jim Jordan, Ohio, both gained more than 300,000 followers in the same time span.

Follower fluctuation is affected by several factors, including the mass suspension of bot accounts, but the patterns found in the report suggest liberals are leaving the site in the tens of thousands while conservatives are enthusiastically joining, starkly changing the demographics of the site under Musk's control.

Republicans on Twitter gained an average of 8,000 followers while Democrats lost 4,000, according to The Post's analysis of data from ProPublica's Represent tool which tracks congressional Twitter activity.

The Tesla owner bought Twitter for $44 billion last month with the promise of free speech on the site without a "free-for-all hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences!" However, Twitter users have already started abusing the site's platform, with reports of hate speech rising.

Musk also declared — using an unscientific Twitter poll on Nov. 19 as a popular vote — that he would reinstate several accounts that broke community guidelines in the past, including former President Donald Trump who was banned following the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

"I'm fine with Trump not tweeting," Musk tweeted on Friday night after the former president said he would stay on his own site Truth Social. "The important thing is that Twitter correct a grave mistake in banning his account, despite no violation of the law or terms of service."

Shortly following the informal poll, Greene gained 45,000 followers while Warren and Sanders each lost more than 22,000. Jordan's follower count also increased by 290,000, nearly 10 percent more, in the past month. These trends continued for days according to the report.

Since Musk's acquisition, several advertisers and celebrities have left the site, raising concerns that they will be unable to make money to maintain Twitter's functionality. More than a third of the site's top marketers have halted advertising, according to an analysis from The Post.

While Musk has previously stated that he is a political moderate, he increasingly sided with far-right figures on the site who have claimed they were censored by Twitter in the past, despite producing no proof.

Since Musk's takeover, the quality of conversation on Twitter has "decayed" due to a surge of extremism and misinformation, according to a report from researchers at Tuft University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.

Social media CEOs rarely endorse political parties, but Musk has swiftly broken this tradition, tweeting on Friday night that he would back Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis if he runs for president in 2024, calling him a "sensible and centrist choice."

Musk also advised his 119 million Twitter followers to support Republicans the night before the midterm elections.

"While it's true that I've been under unfair & misleading attack for some time by leading Democrats, my motivation here is for centrist governance, which matches the interests of most Americans," Musk said after urging his followers to vote red.

Musk made his allegiance to the Republican Party clear long before his acquisition. While onstage at a tech conference in September 2021, Musk said Biden's White House was "not the friendliest administration" after Tesla was not invited to a meeting on electric car production. He later claimed that the Biden administration was "controlled by the unions," in apparent stark contrast to his own company, which has resisted unionization efforts.

In May, he also tweeted that while he previously voted for Democrats because "they were (mostly) the kindness party," they have since become "the party of division & hate, so I can no longer support them and will vote Republican."

During a company-wide meeting earlier this month, Musk claimed that he is undergoing a "moderate-wing takeover of Twitter," and proposed a "dual-headquarter" in California and Texas to cater to "people with a wide array of views even if we disagree with those views."

Musk has amplified several far-right accounts, spending his weekends interacting with people like Ian Miles Cheong — a Ron DeSantis supporter who falsely claimed the Buffalo mass shooter was a leftist — and the ultraconservative anonymous account Catturd. He also agreed with far-right fans such as Tom Fitton who tweeted: "[Musk] should prepare for increased attacks and retaliation from Biden administration, leftist politicians, media competitors."

"Sure as night follows day," Musk replied.

In addition to reinstating Trump's account, he has also restored Greene's account on the site. Greene was suspended in January after spreading misinformation on the pandemic, a violation of Twitter's policies.

Other account restorations went to self-described "misogynist" Andrew Tate, "anti-politically correct" speaker Jordan Peterson, and the anti-trans conservative satire account The Babylon Bee.

Furthermore, an analysis of hundreds of Musk's replies since he took control of the platform shows that he has created a "filter bubble" of right-wing opinions, according to French outlet Le Monde.

Musk has also given attention to several openly conspiratorial figures such as Kim Dotcom, who is wanted under an extradition warrant to the United States for his role as CEO of a Megaupload, a host server that spreads conspiracy theories about the pandemic and election. Dinesh D'Souza, an election denier, also got a personalized reply from Musk after claiming Twitter was censoring conservatives.

'Another criminal voting operation': Donald Trump demands Kari Lake be 'installed' as Arizona governor

Former President Donald Trump called for Arizona Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake to be installed as governor after falsely claiming that the elections in Arizona were a "criminal voting operation."

Lake, who repeatedly refused to say she would accept the results of the governor's race in Arizona if she lost, still hasn't conceded to Gov.-elect Katie Hobbs. Still, several of her allies, including Trump, are claiming that the election was fraudulent despite no evidence of voter fraud.

"Massive numbers of 'BROKEN' voting machines in Republican Districts on Election Day. Mechanics sent in to 'FIX' them made them worse. Kari had to be taken to a Democrat area, which was working perfectly, to vote. Her opponent ran the Election. This is yet another criminal voting operation - SO OBVIOUS. Kari Lake should be installed Governor of Arizona. This is almost as bad as the 2020 Presidential Election, which the Unselect Committee refuses to touch because they know it was Fraudulent!" Trump wrote on Truth Social.

Journalist Jeremy Duda noted that virtually everything Trump claimed is "inaccurate".

"Lake didn't have to switch voting centers because there were no printer issues at PV Town Hall. Her opponent didn't run the election. Technicians didn't make the printer problems worse. No 'voting machines' were broken," Duda tweeted.

Attorney Ron Filipkowski pointed out the time stamp on the post.

"2:30 AM post: 'Kari Lake should be installed Governor of Arizona,'" Filipkowski wrote.

On Election Day, Republican Maricopa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Bill Gates said that 60 polling sites experienced printing problems with the ink not printing dark enough to be readable by tabulators. But the issue was resolved before polls closed and all valid votes were counted, he said.

Maricopa County officials added that the malfunctioning ballot-counting machines did not indicate any instances of "fraud" and did not deny anyone the opportunity to vote.

But Lake and her allies have claimed that Arizona's "broken election system" disenfranchised Republican voters and stole her victory.

Her team filed a lawsuit against Maricopa County elections officials last week, claiming that they broke election laws. She called the 2022 election "the shoddiest election ever, in history" on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast, CBS News reported.

"We want some information," Lake said. "We're on a timeline, a very strict timeline when it comes to fighting this botched election, and they're dragging their feet."

Lake also added that 118 polling centers appeared to have a "printer/tabulation problem," even though officials previously said there were 60 polling centers with printer issues.

Her allies have continued to back her and have promoted false theories of voter fraud.

State Senator-elect Jake Hoffman told Reuters he will lead an investigation into the state's election when the legislature reconvenes in January.

Steve Bannon, Trump's former chief strategist and election conspiracy theorist, has urged Arizona officials not to certify the election and said that Hobbs "will never be considered legitimate" due to voting machine mishaps.

Bannon, who advised Trump to try to overturn the presidential election results, is also providing counsel to Lake.

The Trump-backed former news anchor denied the outcome of the 2020 presidential election. Since Election Day, she has been alleging problems in Maricopa County – Arizona's largest county.

In a video Lake released last week, she said she has "assembled the best and brightest legal team" to explore "every avenue to correct the many wrongs that have been done".

Lake's Republican colleague, Abe Hamadeh, who ran for attorney general and lost by 510 votes to his Democratic opponent, Kris Mayes, also filed a lawsuit against his challenger as well as state and local officials, seeking to overturn his defeat.

Is America’s infatuation with billionaires finally coming to an end?

It has long been evident that Elon Musk is a moron, at least to those willing to see it. Well before the Tesla CEO overpaid for Twitter in the throes of a tantrum, there was a chorus of mostly-ignored people pointing out, repeatedly, that Musk's mental maturity appeared to have stagnated around the sixth grade. There was the time he rolled out a "ingenious" idea for tunnel-based transportation, only to have people point out that the subway has been around for over a century. Or the time he tried to push a useless and overly complicated plan to rescue a group of Thai children trapped in a cave. Or the time shortly after that when, still angry at being dismissed, he falsely accused the man who actually did save the children of being a pedophile. Or the time he acted like such an idiot on Joe Rogan's podcast that Tesla stock took a dive. Or the time he named his actual child X Æ A-12.

There are infinitely more examples. (His childish feud with rapper Azealia Banks is a personal favorite.) Yet somehow, no matter how often Musk has shown his ass in public, the damage to his reputation was fleeting. The business and tech press would be startled at his dumb behavior, but within 48 to 72 hours, it was all forgotten and Musk went back to being covered as if he were a genius, if perhaps an eccentric one.

Such is the power of the American mythology of the billionaire. The infatuation with our richest capitalists is related to, but in many ways goes even beyond, the illusion that the U.S. is a meritocracy. The notion that to be very rich must also mean you're brilliant permeates our society, justifying both ridiculously low taxes on the wealthiest Americans and the undue influence they exert over our political system. It's a social fiction that dates back to the Gilded Age and has covered up the intellectual deficits of many famous Americans. (Henry Ford comes to mind.) But it's gotten a lot more juice in the past few decades, as the new class of tech billionaires, starting with Bill Gates of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple, forged the image of the singular mastermind who, with little education and limited resources, remakes the world through the sheer power of their intelligence.

This presumption that wealth equals brains has so permeated our society that it's sometimes hard to see how pervasive it is. But the past couple of years — and indeed, just the past couple of months — have really done a number on the belief that having a fat bank account somehow inoculates one from being a dumbass. Watching Musk lay waste to Twitter, for no discernible reason beyond his desire to impress the biggest losers on the internet, has been a wake-up call. It's hard to imagine there will be the same mass forgetting of who Musk really is that we saw after all his previous public face-plants.

But it's not just Musk. The same process is unfolding for the single person who has benefited more than any other from the myth that money means you're smart: Donald Trump.

For those of us who always thought Trump was a dingleberry, it may not seem readily apparent how much he's really gotten a boost from the widespread assumption that wealth comes attached to inherent smarts. Trump coasted on this for decades. The entire premise of his reality show, "The Apprentice," was that he was some kind of business savant. As with Musk, Trump's gross and idiotic behavior — such as pushing the "birther" conspiracy theory about Barack Obama — was largely shrugged off as quirkiness instead of idiocy.

In 2016, a distressingly large number of people were able to tell themselves that it was OK to vote for Trump because his wealth must mean he's smarter than he seems. When I went to the Republican National Convention in 2016, one delegate after another insisted to me that there must be an ocean of intelligence under that dimwitted exterior, and pointed to his real estate empire as proof. Years later, it became clear that his wealth had been handed to him by others, and his principal accomplishment was to piss most of it away.

That was on top of a record of public tomfoolery that reached its zenith when he publicly suggested that doctors had overlooked the possibility that injecting bleach into the human body might cure COVID-19. In true Dunning-Kruger fashion, Trump then congratulated himself on knowing more than the entire medical establishment, due to this insight.

Trump lost the 2020 election for a number of reasons, but we can't overlook the strong possibility that four years of his outbursts disabused some number of his 2016 voters of the claims about his supposedly superior mental acumen. Yet the notion that Trump is a political sage underneath the braying boob exterior continues to have a remarkable hold on the GOP imagination. The expectation that the 2022 midterms would be a "red tsunami" was based in large part on the confidence that the gallery of QAnoners, snake oil salesmen and bumbleheads endorsed by Trump had also been anointed with some secret sauce that only he, in his infinite wisdom, could perceive or understand. Those candidates ended up losing by an average of about five percentage points more than other Republicans not cursed with Trump's blessing. Now the GOP establishment is struggling with the same doubts creeping into the tech press around Musk: Is it possible this guy's success was more about luck and privilege than savvy?

(To be clear, I don't think Trump's a total imbecile. He's a skillful criminal with a certain low cunning. He's just bad at all the things his defenders wanted to believe he was good at: Business, governance, literacy.)

Two examples, even as big as these, do not a trend make. But there's another big sign that the American faith in the galaxy-level intelligence of our wealthiest people is being rattled: the dawning realization that many people have exploited this mythology for the purposes of plain old fraud.

Just this past couple of weeks, we've seen both former Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes sentenced to 11 years in prison and the total career implosion of Sam Bankman-Fried, former CEO of the cryptocurrency exchange FTX. In both cases, it should have been obvious that what they were selling to investors was pure nonsense. Holmes' alleged blood-test technology showed multiple signs of being a smoke-and-mirrors job, and numerous sensible people have been calling cryptocurrency a scam from the very beginning. However you slice it, a heavy dose of skepticism was warranted in both cases.

But both Holmes and Bankman-Fried managed to quash other people's doubts by leveraging the cult of the billionaire genius. Both expertly played to stereotypes to bamboozle investors. Holmes literally modeled her look and demeanor after Steve Jobs, which was such a weird thing to do that it only reinforced her image as a quirky brainiac. Bankman-Fried hyped himself as a relentless workaholic who slept at the office. Both images are meant to suggest a person too focused on changing the world to care about personal appearance. In reality, these personas were as carefully cultivated as Kim Kardashian's, and they were highly effective in convincing gullible people to part with their money.

Now that these two have been exposed, however, a lot more people are asking hard questions about whether the "grind culture" of Silicon Valley is a farce, akin to the illusion of Trump's business acuity built in the editing bay of "The Apprentice." Holmes and Bankman-Fried might have be written off as outliers a few years ago. But right now there's a growing sense that so much of self-congratulatory tech culture is just a digital version of the Wizard of Oz, especially as another crypto crash seems to happen every couple of weekw. Even Gates and Jobs, who were unquestionably brilliant at developing and marketing innovative computer technology, have lost a little of their luster. Jobs, of course, died of cancer after convincing himself that he knew better than doctors how to treat it. Gates, meanwhile, blew up his marriage by acting like a garden variety jackass. Even genuinely smart people can be stupid sometimes. More importantly, a bunch of people who have tricked everyone into thinking that they're geniuses are finally being revealed as the imposters they always were.

Trump launches Truth Social war on new special counsel's wife

Former President Donald Trump raged online after finding out that the wife of the special counsel appointed by Attorney General Merrick Garland is a Democratic donor who was involved in a documentary about former first lady Michelle Obama.

Justice Department career prosecutor Jack Smith was appointed by Garland to oversee investigations into Trump with the apparent goal of shielding the department from accusations of partiality.

Katy Chevigny, Smith's wife, was listed as a producer on "Becoming," the former first lady's 2020 documentary. She also donated $2,000 to President Joe Biden's 2020 campaign, according to FEC records.

Trump took to Truth Social to rant about Chevigny and Smith, attaching screenshots of her Tweets supporting the Democratic Party and accusing the Department of Justice of being biased in their investigation

"This is just a small amount of information from the wife of the hard-line Radical Left Special Counsel (prosecutor), an acolyte of Eric Holder and Barack Hussein Obama," he wrote on Tuesday night.

Eric Trump joined his father on the conservative social media website, attaching a screenshot of Chevigny's producer credit on the Wikipedia page for "Becoming" as proof of a supposed vendetta against the former president.

"The wife of the Special Counsel Biden chose to investigate @realDonaldTrump (his likely opponent in 2024) reportedly produced the Michelle Obama documentary," he wrote. "Yes America, you are reading this correctly."

Conservatives are up in arms over Chevigny's Democratic ties, claiming that Biden is using the Justice Department as a political weapon against Trump, though there are no federal laws that restrict spouses of federal law enforcement agents, prosecutors or other officials from political donations or campaign activity.

"You just can't make this stuff up," tweeted Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Ga., who infamously likened those who stormed the capitol on Jan. 6 to tourists. "America cannot stand with a corrupt, two-tiered justice system."

Former Trump spokesperson Taylor Budowich added on Twitter: "No wonder Jack Smith accepted this special assignment…The swamp is hard at work!"

"You would think that if the stated purpose to avoid any type of concern about bias were sincere, then they would at least check to see whether or not when you shake the family tree of the special counsel, any virulent Trump haters, Never Trumpers, Biden supporters fall out," Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said in an interview with Steve Bannon on Tuesday,

Notably, many conservatives did not express the same indignation when Virginia "Ginni" Thomas, the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, wrote to Wisconsin and Arizona lawmakers to overturn the results of the 2020 elections and begged Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in text messages to not concede.

The former president is currently in the middle of two separate investigations by the Justice Department: one regarding his involvement in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, and another into his keeping classified records from the White House in his Mar-a-Lago home after leaving office.

The Trump Organization, and several Trump family members, are also involved in a civil case involving tax fraud launched by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Trump continues to claim that the various charges brought against him in state and federal court are simply a witch-hunt perpetrated by his political enemies.

'Crystallizing into a kind of quasi-fascist politics': How postliberalism made inroads with disenchanted leftists

On a Friday night in early October, in a downtrodden city in eastern Ohio, a speaker laid out a grim vision. At the height of 2020's first, most terrifying wave of COVID-19, an employee at a Chinese slaughterhouse led his coworkers on a walkout. For years, the state-owned company had abused its staff with continual video surveillance, punishing production quotas and demerits for bathroom breaks. Now it was casually disregarding their safety during a once-in-a-century pandemic. Following the walkout, the employee was fired, and then vilified through a PR campaign that denounced his protest as immoral and possibly illegal.

This article originally appeared on

After a pause came the reveal: That hadn't happened in China, but in New York City's Staten Island; the hero wasn't a Chinese meatpacker, but a young warehouse worker named Chris Smalls; the villain wasn't the Chinese government but The speaker went on, quoting from Karl Marx about "masters and workmen" and the "spirit of revolutionary change" before clearing his throat to deliver another correction: Apologies, that was actually Pope Leo XIII.

Both jokes were preface to a larger punchline, one that's particularly relevant after the 2022 midterm elections: This wasn't happening at a Bernie Sanders rally or a Democratic Socialists of America meetup, but a decidedly conservative conference at Ohio's Franciscan University of Steubenville, a center of U.S. right-wing Catholic thought. The speaker (and conference organizer) was Sohrab Ahmari, a Catholic writer best known for his 2019 polemic against conservatives insufficiently committed to the culture wars. The conference, "Restoring a Nation: The Common Good in the American Tradition," was a showcase for the modestly-sized but well-connected Catholic integralist movement, part of the broader current of conservative thought known as postliberalism.

Over the two-day conference, 20 speakers, including then-Ohio Senate candidate J.D. Vance, hammered home the argument that the same faith used to justify abortion bans and curtail LGBTQ rights also demanded a different approach to the economy, one that might plausibly be called socialist. Laissez-faire capitalism, speakers said, wasn't the organic force conservatives have long claimed but the product of state intervention; ever-expanding markets hadn't brought universal freedom but wage-slavery and despair; Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal — demonized on the right for generations — was in fact a "triumph for Catholic social thought"; social welfare programs were good.

All that might be striking enough. But the conference also served as something of a rebuttal to another gathering of right-wing intellectuals that had taken place a few weeks before: the third major National Conservatism conference, held this September in Miami. The two conferences — one in a hollowed-out former steel town, the other in a $400-per-night golf resort — represented two sides of what some partisans recently called a "fraught postliberal crack-up." Broadly speaking, these are ideological kin: members of the Trump-era intellectual "new right" who see themselves as rebels fighting an elite "Conservative, Inc." But it's a family in the midst of a feud, and the public split signified by the two meetings comes after months of less visible infighting over questions only hinted at in headline Republican politics.

Earlier this month, after the midterms failed to deliver a promised "red wave," those fights spilled into the headlines, as Republicans' disappointed hopes led to some of the first open shots in what's been a cold civil war over the party's future. Partly that fight revolves around whether Donald Trump or Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will lead the GOP into the 2024 presidential election. But it goes much deeper than that, and the fight also has implications that go well beyond the right.

The midterms gave conservatives of all stripes something to claim, or to denounce. Activists who spent the last two years sniffing for "critical race theory" and "gender ideology" in public schools cheered DeSantis' re-election as proof that maximalist culture war is the key to Republican success. Anti-Trump conservatives pointed to culture warriors' widespread losses elsewhere as proof the GOP needs to come "home to liberal democracy." In a New York Times op-ed, Ahmari chastised conservatives who'd spent the run-up to the election mocking an overworked Starbucks barista as one likely reason that "the red wave didn't materialize." Vance's victory in Ohio was simultaneously touted as proof that right-wing populism remains viable and that "the culture war still wins."

Others called on Republicans to actualize their claim to be the new party of the "multiracial working class." The ecumenical religious right journal First Things exhorted conservatives to join picket lines. The conservative policy think tank American Compass unveiled a comprehensive "New Direction" economic agenda, repurposing lyrics from the Clash to propose things like realigning financial markets with the common good. In schmaltzier fashion, Trump strode into a Mar-a-Lago ballroom to announce his 2024 presidential candidacy to the "Les Misérables" anthem "Do You Hear the People Sing?"

And after days of lambasting "Washington Republicanism" for offering little of substance for the working class, Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., issued a proclamation: "The old party is dead. Time to bury it. Build something new."

* * *

The right-wing populist wave that elected Donald Trump in 2016, like the U.K.'s Brexit vote a few months earlier, is typically described as a watershed moment for conservatism. But the fact of the Trump revolution arrived before the theory. Something had clearly changed in the political order, but Trump's impulsiveness and lack of coherent ideology or policy agenda created a vacuum that needed to be filled, retroactively, by intellectuals on the right.

A variety of themes emerged from those efforts. One was an "America First"-inspired rehabilitation of nationalism, long tarnished by its association with authoritarian movements in pre-World War II Europe. Another was heard in Steve Bannon's call to dismantle the "administrative state" of unelected bureaucrats who might stand in Trump's way. A third was the conviction that classical liberalism — in the historical Adam Smith sense of that word, which prioritizes individual rights, pluralism and free trade and which guided both parties for generations — had been a catastrophe, replacing traditional norms with a destructive free-for-all.

As postliberals like Notre Dame political theorist Patrick Deneen, author of the influential 2018 book, "Why Liberalism Failed," argue, classical liberalism promised peace and prosperity but instead delivered an era of haves and have-nots, swapping good jobs for dehumanizing gig work, empowering corporations to enforce a homogeneous global monoculture and promoting social policies that led people — particularly working-class people — away from traditionalist values like church, marriage and parenthood. In that light, conservative regions' higher rates of divorce, teen pregnancy and opioid deaths weren't evidence of red-state hypocrisy but rather an unrecognized form of class warfare.

The right's retconned Trumpist ideology also made a meta-argument: that the conservative "fusion" that had defined the Republican Party since the 1960s — uniting religious traditionalists, Cold Warriors and free marketeers in opposition to communism — had ultimately failed.

In 2019, Ahmari and a cadre of mostly conservative Catholic intellectuals gave voice to that argument through a group manifesto, "Against the Dead Consensus," which declared (several years before Josh Hawley) that the old conservative coalition was over and something new must take its place. Two months later, Ahmari wrote a follow-up, declaring never-Trump National Review writer David French the poster boy of that dead consensus, for being the sort of conservative who would defend Drag Queen Story Hours on the grounds of free expression. There was no polite, pluralist way to fight such an abomination, Ahmari argued, only a zero-sum approach to fighting the culture war "with the aim of defeating the enemy and enjoying the spoils in the form of a public square re-ordered to the common good and ultimately the Highest Good."

Language like "the Highest Good" was a hat-tip to integralism, a right-wing faction of Catholicism that aspires to effectively re-found America as a Catholic "confessional state," where state power is subordinate to the church and government is devoted to fostering public virtue and the "common good." Part of that project aims to replace the longstanding conservative legal ideology of constitutional originalism (as championed by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and his followers on the current court) with "common good constitutionalism" (primarily theorized by Harvard Law professor and former Scalia clerk Adrian Vermeule), wherein the law works as "a teacher" to instruct, and enforce, public morality. In other words, if the actual public doesn't want to live by conservative Christian ideology, a new governing class should impose it.

That premise has led other Catholics (conservative and liberal alike) to condemn integralism as reactionary and authoritarian. When integralists weren't being intentionally vague about their plans, critics charged — in a widely-discussed 2020 Atlantic essay, Vermeule declined to specify what common good constitutionalism would mean in practical terms — those plans are frightening, as in one integralist text that suggests limiting citizenship and the vote to members of the faith.

James Patterson, a political science professor at Ave Maria University, has written about integralism's troubled lineage going back to pre-World War II European fascist or authoritarian movements, including the Spanish Falangists that supported dictator Francisco Franco or the antisemitic Action Française that grew out of France's Dreyfus Affair. On Twitter recently, a Catholic parody account posted a satirical book jacket for an "updated and honest" edition of Vermeule's latest book with images of combat boots and a tank and an invented blurb from Ahmari: "Finally we can stop pretending what we're really talking about."

But the postliberal critique resonated beyond the cloistered world of right-wing Catholic discourse, intersecting with another post-Trump project: the rapidly-growing national conservatism movement. Led by Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony, author of the 2018 book "The Virtue of Nationalism," the NatCons also see classical liberalism as fatally flawed — its central premise of a neutral public square, where no religion or culture reigns over any other, is nonsense, because liberalism is both a competing worldview and a slippery slope, inevitably leading to cultural revolution. As Hazony often argues, within two generations of the Supreme Court's ban on religious instruction in public schools, marriage rates and religious observance had plummeted and "woke neo-Marxism" took their place.

Since its first conference in 2019, NatCon has come to represent a series of positions: hostility to transnational bodies like the EU and UN; a quasi-isolationist skepticism of foreign entanglements; sharp reductions or a complete moratorium on immigration; realigning the free market with national interests (variously described); and, most importantly, replacing the illusion of a neutral public square with the conviction that, "Where a Christian majority exists, public life should be rooted in Christianity and its moral vision," as a recent NatCon statement of principles holds.

From the get-go, there were important differences between the integralists and NatCons. Catholicism makes a fundamental claim to universality (and some integralists speak wistfully of empire), which fits uneasily with NatCons' nation-centric vision. Integralists have far more ambitious economic plans than most NatCons would support.

But there were important commonalities too: a mutual opposition toward mainstream conservatism, a largely shared rejection of liberalism, a common desire to return Christianity to the center of American public life. Both camps swooned for Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and saw his avowedly "illiberal" "Christian democracy" — with its expanded government power, sharp restrictions on immigration, repression of LGBTQ rights and pronatalist family subsidies — as the primary model to emulate. Both sides also benefited, to one degree or another, from the largesse of right-wing donors who are funding numerous projects (and candidates) on the "new right."

"If anti-communism bound together the old conservative consensus," said Jerome Copulsky, a research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, the new right's coalition "is animated by antiliberalism and a belief that a high degree of religious and cultural uniformity is necessary for social cohesion and political legitimacy."

But there are problems with building alliances on the basis of shared enemies, Copulsky warned. "The coalition-building is about the Venn diagram of who they don't like: liberals, 'woke' multiculturalists, non-traditional sexuality and gender roles. But as they move forward, their different understandings of what they want to put into place will bring out the tensions and contradictions of their alliance. The 'enemy of my enemy is my friend' attitude only goes so far."

* * *

Over the last year, that exact problem has played out through quarrels fought on social media, in new right publications and on conference stages. It was even visible in the difference between this year's NatCon conference in Miami and the one held a year before.

In November 2021, multiple new right camps converged in Orlando for NatCon 2. The heart of the conference was an evening panel featuring the nationalist Hazony and integralist Ahmari, as well as "anti-Marxist classical liberal" Dave Rubin and British neocon Douglas Murray, all discussing whether a new alliance could be forged. Hazony, an Orthodox Jew, had a surprising suggestion: Bible instruction must be restored in public school, as a crucial first step toward reasserting America's identity as a Christian nation and a "conservative democracy."

There were tensions, most notably around the fact that Rubin and Murray are both gay: would there be room, Rubin asked, for him and his family in this new right? But after reaching apparent agreement that the problem wasn't gay people per se but rather expanded trans rights or LGBTQ representation in schools, the session closed as it had begun, with the PA system playing "We Are Family."

That unity was short-lived. This September, when NatCon reconvened in Miami, the only panelist who returned was Hazony himself, reflecting a number of upheavals in the preceding months.

One seeming result was that this year's NatCon — the movement's largest to date — reflected a marked increase in hostility toward not just "gender ideology" but LGBTQ rights in general. In one plenary address, a seminary president declared that in order for conservatives to resist "the fantasy and folly" of transgenderism, they must also reject same-sex marriage: "He who says 'LGB' must say 'TQ+.'" Another speaker argued that the failure of any major U.S. institutions to denounce "the LGBT agenda" proved that America has become "basically anti-American." NatCon's own statement of principles, released just months after asking two gay men to help build the new right, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman.

In part, this shift reflected some conservatives' belief that NatCons' tent had gotten "a little too big." One right-wing website used a photo of the 2021 panel to warn about "the quiet rise of LGBTQ influence in Christian and conservative circles." Rubin had also become the center of a conservative firestorm, after he announced that he and his husband were expecting the birth of two babies being carried by surrogate mothers — news that sparked not congratulations but widespread denunciations of both Rubin and any conservative who stood by him.

But the altered mood also reflected something else, Hazony told Salon: The Supreme Court's June decision overturning Roe v. Wade had opened a new world of conservative possibilities, and the sense that it might be "possible to restore an earlier constitutional order." Post-Dobbs, conservatives giddily discussed which Supreme Court precedents they might topple next, and the 2015 Obergefell decision that had legalized same-sex marriage nationwide was high on the list. To Hazony, it suggested a rapid revival of the desire to reassert biblical values in the political sphere. Conservatives wanted to go for it all.

In his own conference address, Hazony called on conservatives to commit to being "fully Christian in public," arguing, "The only thing that is strong enough to stop the religion of woke neo-Marxism is the religion of biblical Christianity." For the politicians in attendance — including DeSantis, Hawley and Florida's two Republican senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott — that meant not just mouthing platitudes about God-given rights, but insisting that American freedom comes from the Bible. Less than an hour later, Hawley happily obliged, declaring, "Without the Bible, there is no America," with a fervor matched by other speakers eagerly reclaiming the label "Christian nationalist" as a battle cry.

Perhaps even more conspicuous were the missing Catholic integralists, who in 2021 had provided much of NatCon's intellectual framework. This year, their absence prompted so many subtle, and less subtle, asides throughout the conference that one confused audience member raised his hand to request an explanation.

A British priest who said he'd been invited to affirm that, contra some people, Catholicism and national conservatism go together just fine, suggested that the integralists' seeming boycott amounted to useless theological squabbling: Who cared "how many integralists can dance on the head of a pin"? In a breakout session, another Catholic panelist suggested it was "cringe" for integralists to believe they'd ever set the moral framework for a "basically Protestant nation."

The biggest rebuke came from Kevin Roberts, the recently-appointed president of the Heritage Foundation, the great white whale of institutional conservatism, which has been shaping Republican priorities since the first years of Ronald Reagan's presidency. Roberts' presence at the conference was itself a coup. Two years earlier, Hazony said, Heritage had attacked him for "importing nationalism" into the U.S. Now the foundation had underwritten much of this year's conference, had met with NatCon leaders to discuss their statement of principles and had published a 20-page booklet recounting a conversation between Roberts and Hazony on "Nationalism and Religious Revival." In a line widely quoted after the conference, Roberts declared, "I come not to invite national conservatives to join our conservative movement, but to acknowledge the plain truth that Heritage is already part of yours."

Roberts, who describes himself as a Catholic populist, also admonished his missing coreligionists ("Integralists, heal thyselves!"), accusing them of rejecting "conventional constitutional" politics and seeking to "subordinate the state to an institutional church" in ways that would discredit both. Alluding to the fact that many prominent integralists are recent Catholic converts, Roberts continued that, while he shared many of their frustrations, "and I certainly rejoice in their religious conversion," their zeal had "led them into error."

The integralists fired back. At the start of the Miami conference, Ahmari tweeted that he was "emphatically not a 'NatCon.'" The movement's academic Substack published a long theological rebuttal to Roberts' claim that integralists wanted to establish a theocracy. Another writer asked whether NatCon's big tent still had room for integralists. When Gladden Pappin, cofounder of the conservative journal American Affairs and a professor at the University of Dallas, repeated the question on Twitter, Hazony responded with exasperation: Pappin could answer that question himself, since he'd spoken at a NatCon event several months earlier.

"In my view, conditions of ongoing animosity and hostility between NatCon and the five or six of you would be a colossal waste of time," Hazony wrote. "However, if you decide that a strategy of hostility, boycott or insults is the way to go — I can assure you that a wiser Catholic intellectual leadership will arise to take your place."

* * *

"There is clearly some kind of break," Hazony told Salon, but he saw it arising primarily from the integralists' side. Several had been invited to sign NatCon's statement of principles in June, but all had refused. Ideological differences that were "soft-pedaled a year or two ago" were suddenly getting "a high-octane emphasis."

For Hazony, the primary issue was about how conservatives understand China, the rising superpower that NatCons see as America's No. 1 rival. Their conference had banned all speakers who are "pro-Xi, pro-Putin, racists or antisemites," although that standard seems malleable at times. (As Political Research Associates' Ben Lorber reported, this year's NatCon included a meditation on the viciously xenophobic French novel "Camp of the Saints," approving mention of antisemitic Action Française leader Charles Maurras and an address by a former Trump speechwriter fired for alleged ties to white nationalists.) But some integralists, Hazony charged, had "always had a soft spot for dictatorship, for imperialism and for China," and in recent months that had become impossible to ignore, as members of the movement wrote articles praising China's government or culture.

Then there was Compact Magazine, the hybrid "radical American journal" Ahmari co-founded last March with fellow Catholic Matthew Schmitz and Marxist populist Edwin Aponte. Its professed agenda was to wage "a two-front war on the left and the right" and promote "a strong social-democratic state that defends community — local and national, familial and religious — against a libertine left and a libertarian right."

Although Compact has declined to specify who funds the magazine, a source familiar with its operations told Salon that it was launched with significant support from right-wing tech billionaire Peter Thiel — who has funded numerous other "new right" projects, from NatCon conferences to the political campaigns of J.D. Vance, Blake Masters and Josh Hawley — and Claremont Institute chair Tom Klingenstein (another top NatCon donor). Klingenstein did not respond to requests for comment. A source close to Thiel denied that Thiel has directly funded Compact, but couldn't rule out the possibility that an entity Thiel funds has in turn donated to the magazine. In a statement, Ahmari said, "Compact is an independent, for-profit publication supported by our subscribers. A group of investors helped us jump-start it. We respect their privacy and decline to name them."

Both Thiel and Klingenstein spoke at NatCon this year, and a handful of other NatCon speakers attended the integralist conference too. But on the whole, Hazony said, Compact was a bridge too far for most NatCons. While many in the movement were open to "rethinking the commitment to the free market as an absolute principle," and might even support targeted business regulations, he said, there was "no appetite, no capacity among nationalist conservatives to accept the ideal of social democracy as an alternative to the market mechanism."

Integralists had their own complaints. Some also involved foreign policy questions, like whether NatCons' enthusiastic defense of Ukraine amounted to a creeping neoconservative revival, or whether their strident hostility to China reflected warmed-over Cold War politics. But their main concern was more fundamental: NatCons, they charged, were abandoning the populist promise of Trumpism for a seat at the establishment table.

To be sure, NatCon 3 featured critiques of big business, but, with limited exceptions, most amounted to dragging "woke corporations." Ron DeSantis (introduced in Miami as "the future president") spoke dutifully about how free enterprise should be seen as a tool to help "our own people" rather than an end in itself. But his real firepower was saved for war stories: his battle with Disney over Florida's "Don't Say Gay" law, his resolution banning state pension funds from weighing environmental or social justice concerns in investment decisions, a promised law to help Floridians sue tech companies that commit "viewpoint discrimination."

Other speakers called for blacklisting banks that disinvest in fossil fuels; seizing universities' endowments; and making it illegal for employers to ask if applicants attended college, in order to disincentivize young people from entering the "inherently liberalizing environment" of higher education. (In a more recent example, after contrarian billionaire Elon Musk bought Twitter and numerous companies stopped advertising on the platform, Republicans suggested that congressional hearings into "leftist corporate extortion" might be in order.)

To Ahmari, this amounted to "fake GOP populism." "This may sound strange coming from me," he said — that is, the guy who made his name by denouncing "David Frenchism" — "but it's just culture war." He was increasingly convinced that whipping up Twitter wars over corporate gestures towards progressive politics was the kind of conservatism "designed to ensure" that nothing important ever changed. "It's easier to pick a fight over Disney than to take on corporate power as such."

"There is this emerging sense on our side," Ahmari continued, "that the old Reaganite establishment is reconsolidating itself under the banner of NatCon or populism, but the agenda and personnel haven't changed." For instance, he said, the Heritage Foundation's Kevin Roberts calls himself a populist, but this summer tweeted the Reaganesque claim that "Government is not the solution, but the obstacle, to our flourishing." If the new right wanted to "get in bed with Heritage," Ahmari wrote this summer in an essay lambasting "Fusionism 2.0," that was fine. But then it didn't get to call itself populist; he refused to be such "a cheap date."

Integralists also expressed a worry shared by radical movements since time immemorial: Their language and ideas were being co-opted and neutralized by either establishment Republicans or elements of the new right all too eager to go mainstream.

Now that postliberals had made certain policy ideas "trendy," said Gladden Pappin, who's written extensively about replicating Hungarian social policies in the U.S., others on the right were "trying to fill them with concepts that bring it back down to classical liberal conservatism." You'd see people suggesting, he explained, that the foundation of conservative family policy should be religious liberty and right-to-work laws, or libertarians saying, "You know what supports the common good? Radical free markets."

Postliberals weren't the only ones drawing that conclusion. When Roberts told NatCon that Heritage was part of their movement, supporters celebrated it as "the moment they went mainstream." But other attendees remarked that they were increasingly unsure of how NatCon actually differed from regular "con." New York Times columnist Ross Douthat warned that the movement risked being "reabsorbed into the GOP mainstream without achieving its revolution," so that a hypothetical President DeSantis might call himself a national conservative while pushing through more tax cuts for the rich. New York Magazine described this year's conference as having "the flavor of a party convention," albeit one headed toward a "middle ground between Reagan and Mussolini."

Perhaps this evolution was both natural and inevitable. If national conservatives originally intended to build a new right, James Patterson wrote recently, its current, apparent reconciliation with fusionism reflects changed political realities. In 2019, when NatCon held its first conference, the Trump presidency was in full swing and the movement sought to fill the ranks with true believers. By their next meeting in 2021, Republicans were newly out of power and eager to forge alliances to win it back. This year, Patterson noted, the Dobbs decision demonstrated that there might be life in the "dead consensus" yet, since a Supreme Court dominated by old-line originalists — not their "common good" critics — had just delivered the right's biggest victory in decades.

"They're learning the lessons of why the last fusion collapsed," said Jerome Copulsky: Different factions of the right can work together easily enough until their movement begins to gain power. Then they come to realize "that someone's policies will be implemented, that there will be winners and losers in this coalition."

The NatCons feel pretty sure which of those things they are. At one point during this year's conference, Hazony recalled, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Albert Mohler — perhaps the preeminent voice of the evangelical right — excitedly told him, "This is what it was like in the 1980s when the Moral Majority was first getting organized." In a midterm postmortem with British outlet The Spectator, Hazony sidestepped the question of whether Trump or DeSantis would win the right's civil war. NatCons would rally around Trump, or someone else, he said; either way, their ideology would lead.

* * *

In response, integralists vowed to build a coalition of their own. "NatCon is trying to put the constellation of right-wing organizations back together," said Pappin, "whereas I'm trying to articulate a political vision that could be successful at governing and also oriented towards the common good."

Considering various constituencies that have swung right in recent years — like law-and-order Latinos in Texas or the Midwestern white working class — Pappin said he was more interested in finding ways to keep them in the fold. That could happen through "something that a lot of Republicans would call left-wing economics," he suggested. "Can Republicans articulate a vision that might be more traditional morally, but also favor a supportive state?" Compared to efforts to reassemble the old right-wing fusion, Pappin asked, which was real coalition building?

"U.S. conservatism has so long been associated with pro-capitalist policies that we sometimes forget that conservative movements in other countries can look extremely different," said University of Michigan political scientist Matthew McManus, a progressive who's written extensively about the modern right. Postliberals' favored models in Hungary and Poland demonstrate that, he said, with expansive social welfare programs tied to "socially conservative and exclusionary practices."

It's not unthinkable that such a political gumbo might also work in the U.S., said University of Oregon professor Joseph Lowndes, co-author of "Producers, Parasites, Patriots." A clear lineage can be traced, he said, from the populist presidential campaigns of paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan in 1992 and 1996 through the Tea Party to Trumpism to projects like Compact today. "Not to put it in crude Marxist terms, but when you're under the material conditions of a second Gilded Age, when you have real gaps in wealth and neoliberalism becomes less and less credible," Lowndes said, "it opens up space for something that could wed the cultural politics of conservatism to a social order that seems more humane."

To that end, Patrick Deneen's forthcoming book, "Regime Change: Toward a Postliberal Future," calls for replacing "the self-serving liberal elite" with a "new elite devoted to a 'pre-postmodern conservatism'" that's aligned with the working class. Compact's own hybrid politics, said Ahmari, represents a similar attempt to forge a "positive vision" that is "liberated from the dogmas of the establishment right" and thus creates space for alliances with the left.

In practice, that has meant that Compact publishes essays on unions or trust-busting from conservatives and lefties who agree to disagree about cultural questions like abortion and same-sex marriage. Ahmari — who's undergone his own political odyssey, from socialist to neocon to postliberal, and increasingly these days, something like post-conservative — says he hasn't changed any of his positions on social issues but believes that building economic alliances can "lower the temperature" of those disagreements. "If you just have less corporate power," he proposed, "then whatever the corporate agenda is, wokeism or whatever, it doesn't bear down on ordinary people so much."

As for conservatives who dismiss their vision as a pipe-dream, Ahmari said there are "far fewer Americans than these folks think who favor the idea that the government is always an obstacle" and far more who might be mobilized by the resurrection of a mid-century conservatism at peace with the New Deal. After all, he said, "the last time Catholics voted as a united bloc was for the New Deal coalition."

That's not quite the whole story, argues James Patterson, recalling substantial Catholic infighting over FDR's agenda. But beyond historical quibbling, he says, the postliberal conviction that there is an untapped reserve of fiscally liberal, socially conservative voters waiting for something like integralism ignores the fact that most people who fit that demographic aren't the proverbial white working class but rather immigrants and people of color likely to be suspicious of a movement that "cites the Francisco Franco right." (Not coincidentally, Lowndes notes that Pat Buchanan's father was a legendary Franco fan and Buchanan himself called the dictator a "Catholic savior" and "soldier-patriot.") In an earlier critique of the new right's courtship of the working class, the left-wing journal Jacobin argued that right-wing populism is only viable in the context of "historic levels of demobilization and disorganization for the working class."

Perhaps, Patterson said, the integralists were setting their hopes on J.D. Vance (as of this month a senator-elect), and the possibility that their movement might influence, or even staff, his Capitol Hill office. After all, a sub-tenet of integralism is the contention that the movement doesn't need a majority, if enough believers can place themselves inside "the shell of the liberal order" to effect "integralism from within."

That's one answer, said Copulsky, to the question of how either side of the new right expects to "shape a culture when the majority of the public doesn't agree with you anymore." Neither the NatCons nor the integralists represent a majority position, "so they either have to go convert a bunch of people or use the coercive power of the state to make people follow their rules."

"People are always like, 'Who cares about the integralists? No one's going to vote for this,'" added Patterson. "But what if they don't know they're voting for it? What if J.D. Vance doesn't even fully know what he's getting himself into?"

* * *

Over the course of the new right feud, both sides have accused the other of betraying the cause. Integralists accused NatCons of being closet liberals and channeling populist anger towards safe external enemies. A NatCon speaker dedicated a podcast episode to arguing that "Catholic Integralism Is an Op," intended to "collect and discharge" Trumpist energies in ways "that are ultimately harmless." In short order, the allegations became as tangled as leftist infighting that dates back to the Russian Revolution. (Online, it became inscrutably meta, as when one "crypto-fascist" "anti-leftist Marxist" launched a Substack series charging that all dissident publications serve as an "exhaust valve for middle-class discontent.")

Shortly after Compact launched last spring, journalist John Ganz called the magazine an "unholy alliance" that recalled previous efforts to combine "socialism + family, Church, nation." Specifically, Ganz wrote, it sounded like a 19th-century proto-fascist French movement that synthesized left and right positions and whose adherents often called themselves "national socialists" — a term, Ganz notes, "that once sounded fresh and innovative."

Other observers pointed to a more recent analogue: the New York critical theory journal Telos, founded in the late 1960s by New Left devotees of Herbert Marcuse, but which by the 2010s was better known for its association with far-right thinkers who inspired the alt-right.

Telos' metamorphosis, explains Joseph Lowndes, who watched some of it happen, wasn't a simplistic example of "horseshoe theory" but rather the result of the people behind the project, frustrated by their search for an effective form of dissent, accepting "easy, far-right answers to complicated social and political questions." After Trump's election, Lowndes wrote about Telos' strange history as a warning: At this precarious moment in history, he argued, there were "two off ramps" from the vast inequalities of neoliberalism. One led to a very dark place.

Overall, Ganz views the postliberal movement as a "boutique intellectual project," a "tiny sect arguing with other intellectuals." But the possible inroads it might make with a disillusioned "post-left" were worrisome, he told Salon: "There's this broader thing going on where disenchanted leftists, who view their leftism as cultural revolt against liberalism, are becoming actually, substantially conservative. And they're crystallizing into a kind of quasi-fascist politics."

Beyond publishing articles about how the GOP might reconcile with unions, Compact has also published work by monarchist "neoreactionary" Curtis Yarvin as well as a number of leftists, or "post-leftists," who generally agree with the right on social issues: anti-immigration social democrats, anti-"gender ideology" radical feminists, leftists who see "wokeism" as "capital's latest legitimating ideology" (e.g., union-busting companies that fly Pride flags or post about Black Lives Matter). In September, the magazine published an essay exploring, with cautious sympathy, a hashtag movement called #MAGACommunism, which calls on leftists to abandon "toxic" social progressivism in favor of "the only mass working-class and anti-establishment movement that currently exists in America."

"[N]ot quite what I was going for," tweeted Compact cofounder Edwin Aponte in response. By then, Compact's resident Marxist had been gone from the project for several months, after disagreements over the leaked Dobbs decision forced him to conclude that his politics were irreconcilable with those of his colleagues and ultimately led to the dissolution of their partnership.

Aponte told Salon that when he first joined the project, as a Bernie Sanders leftist disillusioned with the collapse of that movement, he and his co-founders agreed to avoid issues like abortion "because, per them, they weren't interested in relitigating settled issues. But the second the Dobbs decision dropped, it was no longer a settled issue." When Compact published what Aponte saw as a "weirdly triumphalist article" proposing that Republicans respond to the fall of Roe by creating Hungary-style family subsidies, he had something of an epiphany.

"It revealed what they really cared about, and it was something highly specific and normative: that you can have a generous and materially comfortable state, as long as all these moral and cultural conditions are met," said Aponte. "On the surface, we wanted the same things. But the motivations behind it were different." It wasn't that he doubted their sincerity, he said, so much as that "the engine behind it is what goes unsaid, and is what actually matters more." For his right-wing partners, he said, "those material politics are a means to an end, rather than an end. And the end they have in mind is not something I think is good or just."

Exactly what that end is, Aponte doesn't feel sure, but he saw some troubling signs.

In late September, Compact held its first public event in an arthouse theater in downtown Manhattan: several dozen 20-somethings gathered in a basement screening room to listen as Anna Khachiyan, co-host of the quasi-socialist podcast Red Scare, introduced "heterodox economist" Michael Lind for an academic lecture about models of social organization.

It was one version of the weird, politically amorphous downtown scene where, as journalist James Pogue described in Vanity Fair last April, "New Right-ish" politics and converting to Catholicism "are in," and where Peter Thiel may or may not be "funding a network of New Right podcasters and cool-kid culture figures as a sort of cultural vanguard." (Earlier that month, the New York Times reported that a new Thiel network is channeling millions towards media projects, including journalism and "influencer programs.")

It's a scene suffused with a sense of ironic transgression, Ganz says, giving a "performance quality" to everything, "like part of this cultural revolt is about making yourself into a spectacle." For example: in recent weeks Khachiyan has promoted a "based literary journal" that includes an extended interview with her alongside a celebration of Kyle Rittenhouse and an exploration of whether the blood libel — the centuries-old conspiracy theory that Jews ritually murder Christian children — might actually be true.

"I don't think that white working-class voters who are even a little bit Trumpy are interested in this ideology," said Ganz. "It's a hipster thing trying to pass as working-class stuff, so it's kind of fake, but kind of scary. I don't really know where to situate it."

Throughout history, Aponte said, "Authoritarian reactionary movements have gained support and energy from such incoherence and contradictions." This movement seemed to have sufficient gravitational pull, he said, that "everyone starts falling in and gradually being converted. I've seen it happen with people I thought were really good leftists, who, next thing I knew, had turned into racists, transphobes and homophobes."

"Everyone's kind of on board, the specifics are blurry, but the direction is titled one way, whether anybody wants to acknowledge it or not," Aponte continued. "That's something we haven't seen in a long time. It's a vibe, and the kids love it, because the kids are not happy — justifiably so. It's a really spooky and dangerous time, and I feel foolish for participating. I feel bad."

In the end, what unites the right's various factions will likely hold more weight than what divides them. Generally speaking, said McManus, the right is better than the left at putting aside its internal differences to unite against a common foe. In J.D. Vance's speech in Steubenville, he called for a ceasefire in the new right's civil war. "We can't be so mean to one another," he told the audience, noting that all conservatives who challenge GOP orthodoxies are taking risks. They were right to be on guard against "Fusionism 2.0," Vance acknowledged, but perhaps the best way to prevent that was "being charitable to one another's ideas." After all, they had real enemies to fight, like transgender health care.

"We need to do more on the political left to inoculate people against the temptation to move in these radically right directions that can masquerade as a genuine critique of the status quo," said McManus. "Some people are being very foolish in toying around with these movements," perhaps because they don't take new right fulminations against trans rights or its idolization of Viktor Orbán seriously, believing "they won't actually go that far." In fact, McManus said, "There's a very large wing within these movements that wants to go exactly that far. Some of them want to go even further."

On Twitter, Aponte tried such an inoculation, addressing warnings to "all my heterodox former-leftist friends" that he'd "seen what lies behind the curtain." "[B]e careful with whom you ally," he wrote. "Their enemies might be your enemies for a just reason, but the devil is in their programmatic details."

It's not just Trump: Midterms show the religious right is an albatross around the GOP’s neck

A couple of weeks out from a midterm election in which Republicans dramatically underperformed, one major theme has emerged in the post-mortems: Donald Trump is to blame. Turns out that voters do not like efforts to overthrow democracy, like Trump's attempted coup or the January 6 insurrection. As data analyst Nate Cohn at the New York Times demonstrated, Trump's "preferred primary candidates" — who usually won a Trump endorsement by backing his Big Lie — fell behind "other G.O.P. candidates by about five percentage points." The result is a number of state, local and congressional offices were lost that Republicans might otherwise have won.

Republican leaders are struggling with this information because dumping Trump is easier said than done so long as he has a substantial percentage of their voting base in his thrall. But, in truth, Republican problems run even deeper than that. It's not just Trump. The religious right has been the backbone of the party for decades, but this midterm election shows they might now be doing the GOP more harm than good at the ballot box.

As with Trump, Republicans are in a "can't win with them/can't win without them" relationship with the religious right. Fundamentalists remain a main source of organizing and fundraising for the GOP, as well a big chunk of their most reliable voters. They can't afford to alienate this group any more than they can afford to push away Trump. Doing so risks the loss of millions of loyal voters. But by continuing to pander to the religious right, Republicans are steadily turning off all other voters, a group that's rapidly growing in size as Americans turn their backs on conservative Christianity. That's doubly true when one looks at the youngest voters, the ones Republicans will need to stay viable as their currently aging voter base starts to die off.

New data from the progressive polling firm Navigator Research shows how dire the situation is for Republicans. On "culture war" issues like reproductive rights and LGBTQ equality, the voters broke hard on the progressive side of things. Among Democratic voters this midterm, 48% said abortion was an important issue for them, showing strong pro-choice sentiment. But among Republicans, only 13% ranked abortion (and the banning of it) as a driving factor in their vote. When Democratic voters were asked their main reason for their voting choice this year, abortion rights was the most popular, cited by 49% of voters. But among Republican voters, only 24% cited support for abortion bans as a major factor.

Republican politicians may have been circumspect in talking about their anti-abortion views prior to Election Day, hoping to make the issue less salient to swing voters. But overall, the past two years have been heavily defined by Republicans catering to the religious right. It's not just that the GOP-controlled Supreme Court went out of its way to overturn Roe v. Wade this past June. Republican leadership in state governments rushed forward to ban abortion, to the point where the red states seemed to be competing over how draconian their abortion bans could be.

Nor were the attacks on reproductive health care limited to abortion. In July, the House of Representatives voted on a bill to codify contraception rights so state governments couldn't ban birth control. All but eight Republicans voted to allow contraception bans. Democratic fears about legal contraception are not misplaced, either. Last week, ProPublica leaked audio of a meeting between anti-choice activists and Republican legislators in Tennessee, where the assembled can be heard gaming out their next steps to ban female-controlled forms of contraception.

The situation was similarly dire on the LGBTQ front, as Republican politicians raced to oppress queer and trans people, especially kids. In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis championed the "don't say gay" law that forces queer teachers and students into the closet. In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott menaced parents who accept a child's trans identity by threatening to use Child Protective Services to break up their families. Republicans keep passing laws blocking trans people from receiving health care or playing on sports teams. In addition, there's been a dramatic rise in conservatives attempting to ban books featuring LGBTQ characters.

This rash of queerphobic policy has been accompanied by an escalation of bigoted rhetoric in right wing media, all aimed at painting LGBTQ people as perverts and child predators. From Fox News on down the entire conservative media ecosystem, it's become routine to accuse queer people of being "groomers," which is a not-especially-oblique way to call them child molesters. Groups like the Proud Boys routinely target drag shows with intimidating "protests," which are starting to get violent. Over the weekend, there was a gun massacre at a gay club in Colorado Springs. While the police are still not speaking publicly about the killer's motive, observers have pointed out that the murders happened mere hours before a drag brunch, the kind of event that conservative groups have been targeting for harassment.

All of this ugliness did not help Republicans in the midterms. On the contrary, it appears to have hurt them, especially with such high youth voter turnout. As a national youth poll run by Harvard shows, younger people reject the fundamentalism that animates the Republican party. Only 12% identify as "fundamentalist/evangelical," while 37% — by far the biggest group — say they have no religious preference at all. This comports with other polling that shows that Christian churches are becoming older and smaller all the time, as young people leave in droves. Overall, 71% of Americans support same-sex marriage. About two-thirds of Americans want abortion to remain legal.

Even among Republican voters, the religious right doesn't seem particularly popular. Along with the low enthusiasm for abortion bans, the Navigator poll shows that Republican voters weren't super interested in anti-LGBTQ policy positions. Only 20% of those voters cited anti-trans views as a motivator in voting this year, despite nearly two years of non-stop right wing propaganda on this subject. The top three issues that got GOP voter juices going were opposition to social welfare spending, demands that government be "tough on crime" and anger over immigration. In other words, they were all proxy issues for white grievances about a racially diverse society. The Republican party still appeals to racist voters, but even they've lost the enthusiasm for being the panty police.

Despite this hard, statistical evidence, religious right activists refuse to accept that their extremism is hurting the Republican party. As Rachel Cohen of Vox explained last week, anti-abortion leaders insist that banning abortion is a winning issue for Republicans. Instead, as Politico reported, they're claiming that it was Republicans who failed by supposedly "not running harder on abortion restrictions."

Whether these arguments are delusional or simply bad faith hardly matters. The desperation is palpable. Christian conservatives are used to the Republican party being dependent on them, and therefore bending over backward to please them. But this data shows that pandering to the religious right might be hurting the GOP more than helping. Fundamentalists are learning they're just as dependent on the Republican party as the GOP is on them. No wonder they're doubling down. As more and more people leave their pews, their only foothold in staying relevant is to maintain control over the Republican party. As with Trump, they will not leave quietly, but continue to hold the GOP hostage to their increasingly unpopular agenda.

PA GOP makes one last stand for MAGA after Dems win state House majority for first time in 17 years

As the Republican Party takes on its unexpectedly slim majority in the House of Representatives for next year, one question lingers: Did they learn a damn thing from the midterm elections? Yes, they won the House by a handful of seats, but overall the election was a massive disappointment for Republicans, who had swaggered into the midterms expecting not only a sweep of both houses of Congress but a whole bunch of state and local races across the nation. Instead, Democrats won key gubernatorial races in swing states like Pennsylvania, Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin. retained control of the Senate (and may end up gaining a seat) and if not for a redistricting fiasco in New York might well have held the House too.

It's no secret that this mostly happened because of Donald Trump and his MAGA nonsense. Indeed, an analysis by Nate Cohn of the New York Times tried to calculate exactly how much being a MAGA true believer cost Republican candidates: It was around five percentage points, Cohn says, easily enough to make the difference between winning and losing in many key races. This realization is kicking off a genuine civil war in the GOP. One side wants to cut Trump loose at last, stop touting the Big Lie about the 2020 election and scale back on the culture war antics. The other side, however, clings to MAGA dogma with religious fervor, believing that cannot fail but can only be failed by RINO phonies. All eyes are closely watching the newly minted House majority and their presumptive speaker, the ever-hapless Rep. Kevin McCarthy. Will they finally tone down the Dumpster fire a tiny bit, or can we expect the next two years to be nothing but bug-eyed conspiracy theories, frivolous "investigations" of Joe Biden's family and Cabinet members and threats to sabotage the world economy if Biden refuses to gut Social Security?

In the House, early indicators suggest that Team MAGA Forever is getting the upper hand. But for even more definitive evidence, it's useful to look beyond the Beltway and toward the normally sleepy state capital of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. In the state legislature there, Republicans have made it abundantly clear they have no intention of learning anything from the massive rebuke voters offered their party in the midterm elections.

Hours before it was announced that Democrats have won a majority in the state House for the first time in 17 years, the lame duck legislature in Pennsylvania made its last stand for MAGA by impeaching Larry Krasner, the district attorney in Philadelphia. While understandably unknown to most people outside Pennsylvania, Krasner has become a favorite punching bag in right-wing media, for his anti-racist and progressive views on fighting crime. Republicans paint him as "soft on crime" and blame him for the rise in gun violence in Philadelphia, even though a likelier culprit is the lax statewide gun laws passed by Republicans.

Krasner, for his part, is painting the impeachment as a direct attack on the right of Philadelphians to choose their own leaders. "History will harshly judge this anti-democratic, authoritarian effort to erase Philly's votes — votes by Black, brown and broke people in Philadelphia," he said in statement.

This impeachment of Krasner sews together two of the biggest and most racist themes that fuel the MAGA movement: A belief that anti-racist movements like Black Lives Matter are to blame for rising crime rates, and a belief that voters in racially diverse urban areas are "frauds" who are "stealing" elections from white conservatives.

Philadelphia was one of the cities at the center of Trump's false allegation that Democrats had stolen the 2020 election from him. During his drawn-out coup attempt following that election, Trump sent several of his surrogates — most famously Rudy Giuliani during the "Four Seasons" debacle — to paint the citizens of Philadelphia as illegitimate voters and demand that the state legislature throw their ballots out. In targeting Philadelphia — along with other cities with large Black populations, such as Detroit and Milwaukee — Trump essentially implied that those cities are less deserving of democratic representation than whiter, more rural areas of their state. (Biden also won Pittsburgh, but Trump wasn't nearly as interested in demonizing that city, which is more than 60% white.)

Along with Chicago, New York and other racially diverse cities, Philadelphia has also become central to right-wing media efforts to blame crime on the Black Lives Matter movement. Even in his supposedly "serious" campaign announcement speech Tuesday, Trump made the grotesque claim that "The blood-soaked streets of our once-great cities are cesspools of violent crime." In reality, the spike in crime in the past couple of years seems largely attributable to the pandemic. Gun sales rose during the lockdown and schools were closed, meaning the streets saw an influx of weapons and bored young people, an almost perfect prescription for rising crime. As the pandemic has begun to recede, homicides have also started to decline.

As a progressive prosecutor in a racially diverse city, Krasner makes the perfect hate object for the MAGA movement. He easily beat a Democratic primary challenger and then won the general election. Impeaching him is a hapless symbolic gesture, but also an omen of what's likely to come when Republicans take over the House of Representatives in January. Joe Biden will be subjected to endless investigations and may well be impeached, for the same reason Krasner was: Right-wing outrage over losing an election to a racially diverse coalition.

Perhaps no other state illustrated the voter distaste for MAGA politics in the 2022 midterms more than Pennsylvania. In the two biggest statewide races, Republicans nominated candidates tightly aligned with Trump: Dr. Mehmet Oz was his hand-picked candidate for the open U.S. Senate seat, and state Sen. Doug Mastriano, the gubernatorial candidate, is a hardcore Trump loyalist who helped foment the Jan. 6 insurrection and has numerous links to Christian nationalist causes. They both got creamed, even though Oz was running against Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who suffered a serious stroke that provoked ugly media coverage suggesting that he was unfit to serve. (Although Fetterman has some difficulty with auditory processing, his mental capacity is fine.)

Pennsylvania is a classic swing state in terms of demographics and party registration, but its legislature is controlled by the GOP and packed with Trumpers — including Mastriano, who literally paid for charter buses to send MAGA loyalists to D.C. ahead of the Capitol insurrection. As Spotlight PA reported, "Dozens of GOP state lawmakers — including those in leadership — also attempted to stop or delay Biden's electoral votes from being counted."

You might have thought Republicans would respond to losing their 17-year grip on the state House by dialing back the MAGA madness. Absolutely not: They forged ahead with their plan to impeach Krasner, who has not been accused of any crimes. This follows on the heels of a Republican threat to impeach Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf for implementing public health measures during the pandemic, and various impeachment threats against Philadelphia election officials, based on Trump's false claims of fraud during the 2020 election.

"They just don't think Philly has a right to govern itself," Krasner has stated. He's right, and that's pretty much the through-line of all these Republican efforts. Rather than engaging in self-examination when they lose elections, they attack the right of other Americans — especially those who aren't white — to participate in the democratic process. Krasner's impeachment is just a symptom of this larger problem. We shouldn't expect any Republicans, anywhere, to respond to these midterm losses by actively trying to deradicalize their party. If only. They'll just double down on conspiracy theories and lies, in a last-ditch attempt to delegitimize the voters who keep rejecting them.

Vladimir Putin's blunders and what it means to be Ukrainian: An interview with Lawrence Freedman

Since the Russian invasion last February, the Ukrainian military has spent months trading space for time. That has proven a successful strategy: U.S. and NATO military assistance, excellent civilian and military leadership, a determined and well-trained military and a population committed to total resistance has evidently turned the tide against the Russian forces.

The Ukrainian military first pushed the Russians back from the attempted siege of Kyiv. In late August and September, the Ukrainians launched a series of bold offenses in the northeast and southeast, liberating a considerable amount of Russian-occupied territory, including the strategically important city of Kherson. But these battles have been costly for both sides. The Ukrainians have lost many thousands of soldiers and expended a large amount of their artillery supplies, particularly the precision-guided, long-range U.S.-made munitions that have been integral to interdicting Russian supplies, targeting command and control, and generally creating chaos behind the front line areas.

The Russians have suffered far worse losses: Western intelligence agencies estimate that the Russian military may have suffered more than 100,000 casualties, and has seen its most modern and elite units decimated. Russia has also lost an unexpectedly high number of its best attack helicopters and fighter aircraft, making it even more difficult to turn back the Ukrainian offensive.

With winter arriving, it would be normal for the two armies to rest, consolidate their gains and prepare to fight again in the spring, especially in terrain where snow and mud will make maneuvering difficult for several months. So far, the Ukrainian military is defying those precedents, as it continues to attack Russian forces and reclaim lost territory. In response, the Russians are launching local counterattacks, digging in and bringing forward new conscripts to replenish their demoralized frontline forces. The Russians are also using drones and missiles to attack Ukraine's infrastructure and major cities in an attempt to break the Ukrainian people's will to resist by denying them heat, clean water and electricity.

The war in Ukraine is far from over and it would be foolish to make firm predictions about its outcome. But one thing is assured: This war will be studied for a long time as a type of lethal classroom where decades-old or centuries-old principles of strategy and tactics are being tested by the realities of the 21st-century battlefield.

Lawrence Freedman is one of the world's leading experts on foreign policy, war, strategy and international relations. He is emeritus professor of war studies at King's College London and the author of many books, including "Strategy: A History," "The Future of War" and "The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy." His new book is "Command: The Politics of Military Operations from Korea to Ukraine." Freedman's essays and other writing have been featured in such publications as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Statesman and the Times (U.K.).

In this conversation, he explains how the Russian military disregarded the fundamental basics of military strategy in its war against Ukraine, which is why Russia faces defeat on the battlefield. Freedman also contends that, contrary to Vladimir Putin's assumptions, in attacking Ukraine he strengthened that nation's resolve, sense of national unity and will to resist. This is especially true of the terror bombing campaign against Ukraine, which Freedman argues will do little or nothing to advance Russia's strategic goals or win the war.

Freedman also ponders counterfactual scenarios about the Ukraine war. How would a general from another time period adapt to modern warfare as seen in Ukraine? What would they do differently, or do the same? Freedman also takes on a question that has been much discussed online and in other forums: What would happen if the Russian military directly engaged in battle against U.S. or NATO forces?

Toward the end of this conversation, Freedman explains that Vladimir Putin's failures in Ukraine are an example of a larger dynamic: Authoritarian and autocratic leaders consistently make poor decisions because they are insulated from reality and accurate information.

I have very mixed emotions about the war. First, I always feel a bit guilty because my life gets more interesting and enthralling, in a way, whenever something awful is going on. Wars make me busy. It would be nice if peace made me quite as busy. I have Ukrainian friends, and what they are going through is awful. But on the other hand, they've shown enormous resilience and have made remarkable progress in fighting the war. In the end, I hesitate to say that I am optimistic because it is dangerous to predict the future. Yes, the Ukrainians have the initiative in the war. But even then, more people are going to die, be made into refugees, and generally life is going to be hard for the Ukrainians for the foreseeable future.

What does it mean to be Ukrainian right now?

I have spoken to a number of Ukrainians about this question. My feeling is that they are experiencing a much stronger sense of national identity than before the war. The idea that the Ukrainians were distinct from Russia is not that new. But I think what's striking about their sentiments now, and we see it in all the polling, is that there is a much clearer sense of solidarity with each other and a belief in the state and in Ukraine's leaders.

How do you balance your intellectual interests and curiosity about war and armed conflict with seeing the human cost and reality of it?

I have followed a number of wars pretty closely throughout my long career. I try not to look at wars as some type of spectator sport: War is about violence. The war in Ukraine is different in several ways. First, the Russian tactics are clearly very brutal, as they were in Syria. The amount of information about what is happening day to day in Ukraine is much more, as compared to previous wars. What we can see about war is just much more immediate and intimate.

I started paying close attention to wars with the Falklands in 1982. The amount of information that was coming back at any time was very small. There was radio commentary and very little television coverage of the Falklands — and even that was out of date. With social media today and the internet I can see tanks being blown up and actually watch the soldiers scurrying away, trying not to die. This is unprecedented in many ways. It is all so much closer than before.

A person can literally watch the war in Ukraine in real time. It is dystopian, it feels like a science fiction movie. To me, it's very unsettling. Our culture is already violent enough without that level of desensitization.

Vietnam was described as the first television war. I remember the Tet Offensive in 1968, for example. There was an immediacy in the coverage of the war as long as the TV crews were there to transmit images in near-real time, which meant, as in Tet, that fighting was taking place in cities. For a lot of the time this was about counterinsurgency, as also in Iraq and Afghanistan. What is unusual about the war in Ukraine is that this is a conventional war, and one fought at high intensity This isn't a walkover. This is a very serious fight for both sides. Yes, there was all the media coverage of the Gulf War in 1991, but no one really thought the United States was going to lose.

But we should still be careful in how we understand all this footage coming back from the war in Ukraine because we are not seeing everything, and the coverage is inevitably selective by nature.

When you look at the war in Ukraine, what is the simple story, and what is the more complicated one?

The simple story is quite straightforward: Putin ordered his military to invade Ukraine on the basis of a total misapprehension of the country he was taking on. It was that error — presuming the country to be an ineffectual non-state ruled by an illegitimate government — which was used to justify the invasion in the first place. The reason the initial assaults by Russia failed was because of arrogance and an underestimation of the Ukrainians. The first moves by Russia failed, and they never really recovered from that. The Russians could not take Kyiv, and then we had the stage where they moved to the Donbas region. Western support started to come in and that moved us to the next stage of the war, from late July and August to the present, where the Ukrainians are taking the initiative because they have better equipment and supplies from America and NATO.

What is happening now in the war is very much the consequence of the Russians suffering shortages in manpower because they expended them — quite carelessly, in my opinion — early on. The Russians are pretty thinly defended now and are trying to bolster their ranks through mobilizing reserves and a de facto draft. The Russians have gradually become a 20th-century army, while the Ukrainians are gradually becoming a 21st-century one.

On another level, we are seeing a coercive Russian strategy against Ukrainian society. This involves a wide range of war crimes. Russia is also trying to turn off the power and electricity in Ukraine. The Ukrainians cannot do the same against the Russians in terms of targeting infrastructure. The Ukrainians are winning on the battlefield, but they cannot hit back against the Russians on that strategic level.

The Russian military has been exposed as a hollow force. Before the war in Ukraine, it had a fearsome reputation. Now the Russian military looks like it may collapse in Ukraine. Are there other historical examples of such a thing?

It does happen that armies, when they are properly tested, just collapse. It's not wholly unusual. That can happen because of a lack of supplies or from poor leadership. The Iraqi army in Desert Storm is an example of this. Before Desert Storm, the Iraqi army was talked about as the fourth-largest in the world, battle-hardened from their war against the Iranians. The Iraqis believed their own reputation. But in the end the Iraqi military could not oppose the combat power of the United States.

As for Russia, they did quite poorly in the first Chechen war. They went in arrogantly and got hammered by the Chechens. But that was explained as being caused by the end of the Cold War and a lack of funding for the Russian military, which was demoralized. Russia had time to rebuild its military afterwards, and it was assumed they had used the money from oil to modernize their forces.

I believe that Putin was misled by the fact that their recent military operations were successful, such as the second Chechen war, their intervention in Georgia and, in particular, taking Crimea and bullying the Ukrainians in 2014, followed by their actions in Syria. This led Putin to believe that the Russian military was competent and professional. Of course, that turned out to be incorrect. Moreover, the war in Ukraine is on a different scale. The Ukrainians are professional, motivated, well-trained, determined and are fighting back in a sophisticated and effective way. The Russian military was not prepared for such opposition.

What is new about what we are seeing, in terms of the operational art of war in Ukraine? What is old?

Much of what is taking place in Ukraine would make perfect sense to a World War II commander. Drones, the communications technology, the intelligence-gathering technology and the satellites would be quite awesome to them. But the basics of attrition and maneuver and of where you hold the line and where you don't hold the line, especially the importance of logistics, are timeless. On that point, the Russians have really encountered problems with the basics of logistics. Keeping supply lines open is just fundamental to war.

The war in Ukraine is on a much smaller scale than what we saw in World War II. But the fundamentals are much the same. What is different from previous decades, and World War II in particular, is the precision of modern weapons. The Russians had a number of precision-guided weapons, but they did not use them effectively in the early stages of the war. Instead of hitting military targets, the Russians used them against civilian targets. That was painful for the Ukrainians, but it did not actually help Russia on the battlefield. By comparison, the Ukrainians have used the American HIMARS system and other long-range weapons to focus on specific targets of value, as opposed to the Russians. The Ukrainians have learned to use drones and other intelligence assets and specific targeting information very effectively. It really is quite impressive.

Many different narratives are being imposed on the war in Ukraine. Many of them are premature. One I have been following closely in the mainstream media is that Javelin and other ATGMs have somehow made the tank obsolete. That is an old and repeatedly disproved claim. What are your thoughts?

The tank has always been a subject of debate. For example, in the Arab-Israeli war in October 1973, many tanks were lost. How? From other tanks. The main anti-tank weapon is often another tank. The fact is, if you want to move a distance with firepower and have a degree of protection over difficult terrain, it is going to end up looking like a tank. Anything can be vulnerable on the modern battlefield, because if you can be seen you can be hit. That having been said, you still need to move people and firepower on the battlefield. Of course there are forms of deception and finding cover and using artillery and infantry to screen and protect your forces from short-range anti-tank systems.

This is why combined arms is critical on the modern battlefield; every system has a role to play. You can't isolate the tank and say that it's gone and everything else stays. There is always going to be a role for tanks. Will the balance of systems on the battlefield change in the future? Of course. UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] are now being used instead of manned aircraft for certain missions. But that doesn't mean you get rid of manned aircraft, because they can do things that a UAV can't. You use the best system for the mission.

Russia is waging a terror campaign using drones, missiles and artillery against Ukrainian cities and infrastructure. What do we actually know about the effectiveness of targeting civilians as part of a larger strategy to win a war?

Unfortunately, we know a great deal about this. This is a political question about terrorizing populations and whether to do so or not. The question is: Does targeting civilians and population centers actually make the public turn on their own government?

The Allies during the Second World War did terrible things against German cities, especially toward the end. But there wasn't much that the German people could do about it. They lacked the means to change their government. In the case of Ukraine, there's absolutely no evidence that the attacks on civil society have made a difference to popular support, if anything, the Russian attacks have encouraged popular support for the war. Attacking civilian populations can backfire in that way. Terror bombing and attacking civil society does not necessarily gain the attacker a political victory.

What are some of the main things the Russian military has done incorrectly in the execution of their war in Ukraine? By comparison, what have the Ukrainians done right?

The Russians' main error is that they strategically underestimated their opponent. That is always a basic mistake: Never underestimate your enemy. The Russians also did not have enough infantry and manpower, more generally. They do not give enough autonomy and flexibility to junior officers and others lower down the chain of command to make decisions, improvise and address problems.

The Russians also failed to anticipate what the Ukrainians could do with accurate artillery. The Russians didn't disperse their ammunition enough. The Russian logistics system was too rigid, which makes it an easy target. What did the Ukrainians do right? They delegated initiative to quite small groups of forces and junior officers. The Ukrainians had to rely on taking the initiative against the Russians; that was central to their strategy and tactics.

The Ukrainians have not wasted their weaponry. They have thought hard about the targets that they most need to hit. When possible and where it made sense, the Ukrainians have used maneuver warfare to encircle the Russians rather than go directly at them in frontal assaults. The Ukrainians' ability to maneuver and encircle the Russians has caused them to panic — it'a demoralizing. In total, the Ukrainians have waged a very astute campaign against the Russians.

Armchair generals and other students of military history love counterfactuals and "what if" scenarios. One of those scenarios we see in response to the war in Ukraine is that the U.S. military and NATO would easily destroy the Russians in a conventional war. I am suspicious of such a conclusion, because in my opinion the Russian military and its leadership would approach such a scenario much differently than they did with Ukraine. How do you assess that counterfactual?

We just don't know. Counterfactuals are useful for testing theories of causation. What variable made the difference? If the Russians genuinely thought they were protecting their homeland, what we are seeing with Ukraine might have turned out differently. The Ukrainians are much more motivated in this fight than the Russians. Nuclear weapons are a variable here too. If the Russians really did think they were fighting for their own territory, they'd be much more likely to use nuclear weapons if they were losing. I am of the mind that the Russians still won't do such a thing in this conflict. Those types of questions can be explored using counterfactuals.

To answer your question, in a straight fight between the Americans and the Russians, the Americans would have won. American equipment, supplies and overall forces are just that much better. One of the surprising things about the war in Ukraine is the limited impact of Russian airpower. By comparison, the Americans would dominate the battlefield with their airpower — or at least would try to do so. We reasonably assumed that the Russians would do this in Ukraine. They weren't able to do it. If the Russians cannot dominate the Ukrainians with airpower, they would not be able to do it against the Americans.

The United States does not lose conventional battles very often. The United States does have difficulty with insurgencies, because in the end it is not worth the effort. Americans get impatient. In the end, the Americans would not have had much trouble with the Russian military that we are seeing in Ukraine.

What are some of the lessons from the war in Ukraine for NATO members and European militaries?

The Americans are going to fight in all domains. The British, the Germans and the French, for example, are not going to fight in all domains in the same way. They must think as an alliance: The European countries are not able to do everything on their own. A huge lesson from the war in Ukraine is that the intensity of modern warfare means you go through material and supplies very quickly. The stockpiles are never sufficient. The NATO countries have greatly depleted their supplies supporting Ukraine.

That means more resources are going to be put into building back up supplies. This means more ammunition, shells, rockets, missiles and the like for the future. This is not a new lesson, but it has to be relearned. Logistics are critical because even if you are making more ammunition and other supplies, you still have to get it all to the front.

Your new book focuses on command and leadership. What does the war in Ukraine tell us about Vladimir Putin?

Autocrats tend to make very bad decisions. Democracies make bad decisions too, but the difference is that autocracies believe in the possibility of big, bold, decisive moves, and they don't have people who dare to warn them about all that can go wrong. There are sycophantic advisers who don't dare to criticize the autocratic leader. This can cause horrible outcomes.

What's happened in Ukraine is a good example of how autocrats make mistakes. This war was Putin's decision. Putin had a theory about Ukraine, and did not confirm that theory with real experts who would tell him that he was wrong. Putin believed that Ukraine would crumble if pushed hard enough, and that turned out to be very wrong.

Democrats made history with state-level gains. That could be crucial for democracy

Republicans have dominated state-level politics for over a decade, holding a large majority of both governorships and legislative chambers. But with the 2022 midterms, Democrats have begun to turn the tables — flipping legislative chambers in several states where partisan battles over democracy and abortion rights have dominated Democratic messaging.

In at least three legislative chambers, Democrats have apparently made history, taking control of both chambers in the Michigan legislature and the Minnesota state Senate. Democrats in Pennsylvania also claim they have won a majority in the statehouse, although votes continue to be counted and that result is not yet official.

In Michigan, Democrats haven't controlled the state Senate since 1984, but now hold a trifecta in Lansing with control of both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion. Incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer easily won a second term, largely vowing to fight "like hell" for abortion rights after the Supreme Court overturned the constitutional right to abortion. Her Republican opponent, Tudor Dixon, who was backed by former President Trump, supported a near-total ban on abortion and remained a prominent election denier.

Michigan also passed a constitutional amendment enshrining the right to abortion in the state constitution. Legislative Democrats have already started discussing their plans to codify that constitutional amendments and repeal a 1931 law that criminalizes abortion.

In Minnesota, the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (as state Democrats have been known since 1944) now control both the state House and Senate, along with the offices of governor, attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor, InForum reported. That combination hasn't happened since 2014.

DFL members have begun floating ideas about codifying abortion rights, passing paid family leave and approving marijuana for recreational use, according to CBS.

In one of the nation's most closely-watched gubernatorial races, Katie Hobbs became the first Democrat elected as Arizona governor since 2006, narrowly defeating former TV newscaster Kari Lake, a longtime Trump ally who falsely claimed the 2020 election was rigged and repeatedly refused to say she would accept the results of her race if she lost.

On the campaign trail, Hobbs promised to protect abortion rights in the Grand Canyon State, where a state judge ruled that a total abortion ban must be enforced after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Hobbs can also veto any dramatic election changes suggested by Trump allies in the Republican-dominated legislature, including getting rid of early voting and mail-in ballots.

In Pennsylvania, Democrats are inching closer to taking control of the state House for the first time in 12 years. Should they prevail, Democratic lawmakers hope to advance an agenda that will include laws enshrining abortion rights, increasing the minimum wage and allowing early counting of mail ballots, WHYY reported.

The pro-Democratic super PAC Forward Majority invested more than $20 million in state legislative races this year, with the majority of its funds going to support candidates in 25 districts across Michigan, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

"We got started in 2017 when we saw how much chronic underinvestment there had been in state legislative races and the consequences," said Vicky Hausman, a co-founder of Forward Majority. Those consequences were seen in multiple areas, she continued: "Both in terms of democracy with unprecedented gerrymandering on the Republican side and voter suppression, but also how these unrepresentative majorities were increasingly affecting every issue women care about."

With the Supreme Court set to rule in December on Moore v. Harper, a case that could grant state legislatures nearly unchecked authority over federal elections, Forward Majority wanted to focus on states "where there were the greatest threats to democracy," Hausman said.

Prior to the midterm elections, Republicans held full legislative control in every major battleground state, she added. If the "independent state legislature" theory is affirmed by the Supreme Court, it could become possible for legislators to throw out election results they don't like and appoint their own presidential electors.

"We saw that there was an opportunity to win majorities in the legislatures in Michigan. Pennsylvania and Arizona," Hausman said. "That would essentially bring the number of Electoral College votes where Republicans control the full legislature down under the 270 threshold" required to elect a president. "We had an opportunity to win these legislatures and build a bulwark against the worst threats of the independent state legislature theory."

Many legal experts believe that four of the conservative justices on the Supreme Court have issued opinions indicating that they are likely endorse the independent state legislature theory. The potential consequences could be chaotic: State legislatures would presumably then have the ability to bypass the popular vote in their states and send their own slates of electors to Congress, provoking an unprecedented political and constitutional crisis.

"The insurrection at the Capitol was version 1.0 of Trump trying to steal the election," Hausman said. "What he ran up against was his inability to have legislators actually change their votes. That's the weak spot, that's where a second potential coup and insurrection might succeed. Legislators have been core to Trump's plans to overturn the next election."

Democrats have underinvested in state legislative races for decades, Hausman added, often neglecting them entirely. When it comes to protecting and reforming democracy, she said, these races sometimes matter more than the headline-grabbing contests at the top of the ballot.

"I hope this election can be a demonstration of what's possible in terms of the wins themselves, but also what follows in the months and years ahead in terms of what we can do with power," Hausman said. "I hope that this is a galvanizing and helpful moment that leads to increased and sustained investment in these battlegrounds that matter so much, both for democracy and for all these issues we care about."

'That was my understanding, yes': Allen Weisselberg pins tax fraud scheme on Donald Trump

Former Trump Organization financial chief Allen Weisselberg took the stand in Manhattan State Supreme Court on Tuesday in the company's criminal trial on tax fraud charges. He testified that he received $1.76 million in untaxed, off-the-books perks from the Trump Organization, confirming several aspects of the district attorney's case against the former president's company.

Prosecutors allege that the Trump Organization was involved in an illicit compensation scheme that lined the pockets of executives like Weisselberg. After pleading guilty to a 15-count indictment in August, Weisselberg agreed to "testify truthfully" against the Trump firm.

He testified that Trump suggested in 2005 that he move into a luxury Riverside Drive apartment using company funds, and even signed the lease for the property. In addition to paying for Weisselberg's rent, the Trump Organization covered his utility and parking fees, according to the indictment.

"It's your understanding that was authorized by Mr. Trump?" Assistant District Attorney Susan Hoffinger asked about the payment of utilities at the rent-free apartment on Tuesday.

"That was my understanding, yes," Weisselberg responded.

"He said it would help me be able to spend more time at the office rather than sitting on a train for three hours back and forth [from Long Island] … and make my life easier," Weisselberg told the jury.

Trump's companies also paid for Weisselberg's "homes and for an apartment maintained by one of his children," including "new beds, flat-screen televisions, the installation of carpeting, and furniture for Weisselberg's home in Florida," according to prosecutors.

Weisselberg admitted that he knew he owed taxes on the Upper West Side apartment, as well as leases on two Mercedes-Benz and his grandchildren's private school tuition. He confirmed that he underreported his income and thus knew his tax forms were false.

When asked if Trump paid for the private schools personally, Weisselberg said "correct" and added that he knew that these perks should have been taxed, but both he and the Trump Payroll Corporation did not treat them as reported income on his W-2s.

"Did you know at the time you owed taxes on those amounts, sir?" Hoffinger asked.

"Yes," Weisselberg replied.

Hoffinger then asked whether Jeffrey McConney, senior vice president and controller for Trump Corporation, helped Weisselberg in the tax fraud scheme.

"In my mind, I absolutely felt that [McConney] knew it should have been reported," Weisselberg said. "I asked Jeffrey McConney to back those amounts out of my bonus and salary."

Weisselberg also told prosecutors that Trump entities would often provide cash to him around Christmas so he could give out "personal holiday gratuities."

He said he knowingly withheld information about the perks from accountants because he knew they were inappropriate. "They may not have wanted to sign my tax return and prepare my taxes," he said in court.

Weisselberg attested that the tax fraud helped both him and the company, as the Trump Organization would have had to give him a raise that was double the amount that they spent on his personal expenses in order to provide the same benefit if taxes were withheld.

Trump authorized Weisselberg's compensation and that of other senior executives, and had an "open door policy" within the company according to Weisselberg's testimony.

"Who authorized executive compensation?" Hoffinger asked Weisselberg.

"Donald Trump," he responded.

"Did you authorize compensation for Matthew Calamari?" she asked.

"No," he responded.

"Jason Greenblatt?" Hoffinger asked, referring to the Trump Organization's general counsel.

"No," he repeated.

As per the terms of his plea deal, after the trial ends, Weisselberg is expected to be sentenced to five months in Rikers Island prison, with an additional five years probation. However, if he violates the agreement, he could face up to 15 years, according to Judge Juan Merchan. He is also expected to return $2 million in unpaid taxes.

However, Weisselberg revealed that even after stepping down as CEO, pleading guilty, and testifying against the company, he is still receiving his full six-figure salary, and continues to show up to work in Midtown Manhattan. He still personally advises Eric Trump on business dealings and oversees company cash management.

Weisselberg even celebrated his birthday at Trump Tower after finalizing his plea deal. "It was a small cake. It was a cake. That was the party," he said of his birthday celebration.

Weisselberg is now on a paid leave of absence and told the jury that he will "hopefully" receive his $500,000 bonus in January in addition to his $640,000 yearly salary.

As for the Trump Organization, if convicted, they could be fined $1.6 million. Trump is not on trial, but prosecutors have closely connected him to the alleged illegal activity. In the opening statements on Oct. 31, prosecutors said that "when most of the criminal conduct occurred," between 2005 to 2017, the companies were "owned by Donald Trump."

Even after Trump became president, the enterprises "were still effectively owned by Donald Trump through a trust called the Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust," according to Hoffinger.

Trump's companies have pleaded not guilty, with his team dismissing the entire case as a political witch hunt. During her opening statement, Susan Necheles, who represents the Trump Corporation, said that Weisselberg was the guilty party when it came to the company's tax fraud, but that he was "paraded in front of cameras in handcuffs" and will endure "public humiliation."

"This was a man who had a beautiful life, he was a chief financial officer of a prestigious company, at his peak he made over $1 million a year and lived very well," Necheles said. "Allen Weisselberg had everything a man could want. But once he was arrested, he realized he was in danger of losing all of that and being sentenced to jail for years."

Necheles told the jury that the tax shenanigans "started with Allen Weisselberg and it ended with Allen Weisselberg."

"It was Allen Weisselberg who wanted to clean things up. Allen Weisselberg knew that he had been cheating on his personal taxes and all of a sudden the Trump Organization was going to get a lot of scrutiny," she claimed. "Donald Trump did not know that Allen Weisselberg was cheating on Allen Weisselberg's personal tax return[s]."

However, the prosecution dismissed this argument when they called Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney to the stand. Despite McConney's attempt to play dumb about his role in the tax scheme, assistant district attorney Joshua Steinglass was determined to get a straight answer out of him.

"You have a college degree in accounting, correct?" Steinglass asked. "You worked at an accounting firm for eight or nine years before you joined the Trump Organization, correct? You were in charge of payroll at a multi-billion dollar corporation for 30 years… you're a paid tax preparer. That requires at least some familiarity with the tax code, correct?"

McConney continued to insist that he wasn't aware the company needed to report untaxed corporate benefits.

Tensions have been rising since Monday, when McConney testified that he didn't know creating a fake job for Weisselberg's wife so that she could gain taxpayer benefits like Social Security was illegal.

"I knew it wasn't correct," McConney said. "Wasn't sure it was illegal."

Jurors also heard from Trump Organization accounts payable supervisor Deborah Tarasoff, who admitted that Weisselberg instructed her to go back and deleted evidence of a crime.

When asked why a copy of the company's ledger the DA's office obtained via a subpoena was missing the instruction "per Allen" next to a listed, untaxed company perk, Tarasoff responded: "somebody went in and deleted the name." Asked who, Tarasoff said "me." She also admitted that on Sept. 26, 2016, she and McConney deleted a dozen of those lines from the company's ledgers.

Ivanka snubs Trump’s speech and tries to distance herself from his campaign — after he 'begged' her to come

Former President Donald Trump's eldest daughter was notably absent from his 2024 campaign announcement on Tuesday and later issued a statement seeking to distance herself from his third presidential bid.

Ivanka Trump, who served as a key advisor alongside her husband Jared Kushner during her father's first two campaigns and at the White House, did not attend Trump's Mar-a-Lago campaign launch.

"I love my father very much. This time around, I am choosing to prioritize my young children and the private life we are creating as a family," she said in a statement released shortly after her father's speech.

"I do not plan to be involved in politics," she continued. "While I will always love and support my father, going forward I will do so outside the political arena."

She added that she was "grateful" to have had the honor to serve the country and "I will always be proud of many of our Administration's accomplishments."

Ivanka Trump also gave an exclusive interview to Fox News, which has had a notable turn against Trump after his candidates lost competitive races last week and cut away from his rambling speech on Tuesday.

Ivanka Trump told the outlet that she is "extremely close" with her father and "that hasn't changed and will never change."

"I've had many roles over the years but that of daughter is one of the most elemental and consequential," she said. "I am loving this time with my kids, loving life in Miami and the freedom and privacy with having returned to the private sector. This has been one of the greatest times of my life."

She added that she "never intended to go into politics."

"I'm very proud of what I was able to accomplish," she said. "I left it all on the field, and I don't miss it."

A source close to Ivanka Trump told Fox News that she was transparent with her father and did not decide to stay out of politics "yesterday."

"This is where she's been since she left Washington," the source said. "She felt she had served the country, and now she is going to focus on her family, and Jared felt the same."

Though Kushner ultimately attended the announcement without his wife, Ivanka Trump's refusal to get on board caused some "extra behind-the-scenes tension" ahead of the announcement, The New York Post reported on Monday.

Trump spent part of his youngest daughter Tiffany's wedding over the weekend "begging" Ivanka and Kushner to join him at the announcement, sources told the outlet.

"Trump thought he could convince Ivanka this weekend to come back and campaign for him as she was the most requested speaker after the president himself last time around … but so far she's resisting his entreaties and holding firm, as is Jared," a source told the Post. "They both feel they got burned in Washington and don't want to go back and expose themselves and their children to another bitter campaign."

Tiffany Trump was also absent from the event after traveling for her honeymoon, according to the report.

And while Eric and Barron Trump attended the event, Donald Trump Jr. was also missing from the announcement after his flight from a hunting trip out west was canceled due to weather, according to the Post.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., another close Trump ally, also canceled his plans to attend the event, blaming the weather.

Ivanka Trump and Kushner have spent months trying to distance themselves from their time in the Trump White House, The New York Times reported over the summer, rejecting Trump's election lies but apparently doing little to stop him from waging a campaign to try to steal the 2020 election. Though anonymous "sources close to the couple" frequently tried to paint them as a moderating influence in the White House, they stuck by his side through all of the campaign and administration scandals and played highly influential roles in domestic and foreign policy.

Ivanka Trump testified to the Jan. 6 committee that she did not believe her father's election claims but she told a documentary crew in December 2020 that her father should "continue to fight until every legal remedy is exhausted" because people were questioning the "sanctity of our elections."

The committee aired Ivanka Trump's testimony saying that she "accepted" the assessment of then-Attorney General Bill Barr, who called Trump's election claims "bullshit," prompting Trump to issue a statement dismissing her opinion.

"Ivanka Trump was not involved in looking at, or studying, Election results," Trump posted on Truth Social. "She had long since checked out and was, in my opinion, only trying to be respectful to Bill Barr and his position as Attorney General (he sucked!)."

Trump’s lawsuit against Jan. 6 committee is a sideshow — they've already won the war

On Nov. 11, to absolutely no one's surprise, Donald Trump sued the House Jan. 6 select committee to avoid having to testify or provide documents in response to its subpoena. That was just the latest chapter in Trump's long history of deploying lawsuits to stall — this time as the clock runs out on the current Democratic majority in Congress and its Jan. 6 committee.

Little matter: The committee has already won the war.

From the outset, the committee chaired by Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi — with the starring role played by Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming — had a threefold mission. First, to uncover facts and issues that would help the American people understand what led to the Jan. 6 insurrection and who was responsible, in order to shape a response through the democratic process. Second, to frame legislative proposals aimed at preventing a recurrence of that travesty.

As part of the legislative branch, the committee was never a route to initiate a criminal case against Donald Trump. But to the extent it established facts that could aid a potential prosecution, the committee's third and quite collateral function was to make the evidence available to prosecutors for their independent consideration.

Missions accomplished, on all counts

The committee's subpoena of Oct. 26 invited Trump to tell his story under oath. The committee surely knew the former president would decline the invitation. After all, he took the Fifth Amendment 450 times on Aug. 10 when deposed in New York Attorney General Letitia James' civil case against the Trump Organization.

This is not a man who has a story of innocence to tell, at least not under oath. So the committee's latest win is to have that fact confirmed yet again by Trump's Nov. 11 court filing, where the obvious aim is to avoid testifying until the committee's clock runs out.

Whether Trump was subpoenaed in May 2021 or October 2022, he was never going to give any substantive testimony. If he had been subpoenaed last year, he would have delayed, by fair means or foul. If actually required to testify, he would have taken the Fifth.

The committee understood from the start that it made little sense to waste time litigating with Trump about a subpoena that would eventually yield nothing. It was far better for the panel to spend its limited resources and ever-shortening lifespan building the case of Trump's guilt to present to the American people. There would be time enough at the end to subpoena him and show America that under no circumstances would he testify under oath.

It is important to focus on the committee's central triumph, not this last minor chapter. For weeks this summer, its hearings riveted the country and the media. The public was offered a coherent narrative laid out in hearing after hearing. It proved Trump's central role in inciting the Jan. 6 violence, his serial attempts to overturn the Constitution, first bloodlessly and then through violence, and his admissions to aides that he had lost the election he falsely claimed to have won. Brazenly, it was that false claim that he used to inflame the mob on the morning of Jan. 6.

The committee's powerful case became an important backdrop to last week's surprising midterms. Testimony before the committee demonstrated to any fair-minded person that Donald Trump was the central actor in the conspiracy to end our democracy. That was on the ballot and so was he. Democracy won. Trump lost.

The legal arguments in Trump's Nov. 11 lawsuit to avoid testifying are feeble.

The fact that Trump filed the suit in Florida reflects the same legal gamesmanship that worked for him in September. There Judge Aileen Cannon, whom Trump appointed, ended up handling his suit over the classified documents he improperly held at Mar-a-Lago after the end of his term. Even the conservative 11th Circuit Court of Appeals swiftly reversed Cannon's most egregious rulings.

No lawyer reading Trump's latest court filing could miss the rehash of already rejected legal claims about his purported executive privilege or the committee's alleged lack of legal authority.

Trump's claim based on the separation of powers is particularly hypocritical, coming from a former president who sought, according to compelling evidence, to corrupt and undermine the legislative branch's constitutionally assigned authority to certify the winner of a presidential election.

The stark fact that Trump is a former president dilutes his claim. The committee's letter accompanying the subpoena tellingly quoted President Theodore Roosevelt during his own congressional testimony after leaving office: "An ex-President is merely a citizen of the United States, like any other citizen, and it is his plain duty to try to help this committee or respond to its invitation."

That is simply common sense. As is the bottom line: If Trump had something to say that might be helpful to his own cause, he wouldn't be ducking his duty to come forward. He has already lost with the committee, just as he lost last Tuesday with American voters.

Republicans’ asinine theory on why single women vote for Democrats

After the heavily predicted "red wave" in the 2022 midterm elections turned out to be an illusion, it was really no mystery why Republicans failed to capitalize on the political tailwinds that — according to conventional wisdom and political history — should have given them much bigger wins. Blame Donald Trump and Justice Samuel Alito, for the one-two punch of inciting an insurrection (which was wildly unpopular) and overturning the right to abortion (which was highly popular). Americans, it turns out, are protective of democracy and their basic human rights and turned out in huge numbers to vote for Democrats or, more precisely, to vote against Republicans, who are a threat to both. The smart thing for Republicans to do is clear enough: Stop stoking Trump's election lies and scale back the tsunami of racism, sexism and homophobia currently fueling their party.

But there's no chance that will happen, of course. Let's remember that Republicans also flirted with moderating their message after losing the 2012 election, only to go in precisely the opposite direction by nominating Donald Trump in 2016. Looking inward and engaging in self-reflection is the antithesis of everything the modern GOP stands for. So instead, the right is looking outward for someone besides themselves to blame, and they've landed on a favorite scapegoat: Single women. Worse, in blaming single women for their own political failure, conservatives are wallowing in a ludicrous conspiracy theory based on the premise that having an "F" on your driver's license renders you incapable of autonomous thought.

Yes, it's true: Republicans are big mad that single women voted for Democrats, and their explanation for this is that Democrats of brainwashing those hapless, unfortunate women who don't have husbands to make their decisions for them.

"Unmarried women in America are lost, miserable, addicted to SSRIs and alcohol, wracked with guilt from abortion, and wandering from partner to partner," wrote Joel Berry, managing editor of the popular right wing site Babylon Bee. "They are the Democrats' core base now, and the Democrats will do everything possible to manufacture more of them."

Mollie Hemingway, the editor-in-chief of The Federalist, was less colorful in her language, but nonetheless aired a similar claim about "the massive political incentive Democrats have to keep women unmarried."

"No one benefits more from the destruction of the American family than the Democratic Party," announced a headline at the right-wing Washington Examiner.

Andrew Torba, who runs the far-right social media site Gab, sent out a newsletter declaring that democracy is illegitimate because "the Godless unmarried whores of Babylon select your leaders so they can continue to slaughter their children."

Fox News host Jesse Watters, in the most viral example of this talking point, said that "Democrat policies are designed to keep women single" and implored male viewers to get the ladies under control: "Guys, go put a ring on it." How male Fox News viewers are supposed to talk these unruly Democratic-voting women into marrying them was left unexplained, although Watters has previously hinted at the usefulness of coercion when it comes to romance.

While Republican politicians have generally been a bit more circumspect in their language, Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri tipped his hand on a not-that-subtle endorsement of this conspiracy theory, retweeting conservative sociologist Brad Wilcox — who prominently drew attention to single women's Democratic leanings — complaining that "fewer adults are opening their hearts, lives, and minds to marriage and children."

These accusations that Democrats are somehow preventing women from getting hitched are deliberately vague on the mechanics. Are Democrats crashing weddings and intervening when the officiant asks if anyone has cause to object? Are they rewriting dating-app software so liberal-leaning women only see video-game addicts who refuse to leave the house? Have they forced every eligible man to leave the country?

If you dig into the comments under these angry right-wing tweets, the outlines of the conspiracy theory these commentators are hinting at become a bit clearer. Reproductive rights, equal access to education and social welfare policies (which are always more generous in the right-wing imagination than in real life) are routinely blamed for somehow tricking women out of marriage. The idea is that Democrats use basic human rights to lure gullible young women away from their true destiny and most cherished desire, which is of course to be the doting helpmeet to a Republican dude. Democrats, the idea goes, get women hooked on a sinister cocktail of equality and freedom, and therefore hopelessly addicted to voting for Democrats.

In the real world, of course, what's going on is painfully simple. Single women are a constituency that benefits enormously from equal pay, equal education and reproductive rights. (Married women benefit from these things, too, but a lot of them are cross-pressured to keep the peace with Republican husbands, and/or are voting their resentments toward their single counterparts.) Understanding that they have a built-in advantage with single women, Democrats have constructed a platform designed to appeal to them.

But accepting that straightforward narrative means accepting the radical notion that women have minds of their own. That will clearly never do in the GOP universe. So a nefarious and unnecessarily complicated conspiracy theory must be created that reimagines basic constituent appeal as manipulation and brainwashing.

As with most accusations made by Republicans, the claims that Democrats somehow "control" women are pure psychological projection. It's pretty obvious that Republicans are the ones who want to control women, and when they start talking about "incentivizing" marriage, what they really mean is various forms of coercion. Stripping women of reproductive rights and economic equality is about trying to create a society where women feel they have to get married in order to survive, or at least to have any financial security. As a not-so-hidden bonus, a woman who is financially dependent on her husband is likely to feel even less room to disagree with him politically or vote her own conscience.

In fact, the theory that Democrats are brainwashing women into staying single is directly linked to the "great replacement" conspiracy theory, a white supremacist fiction proposing that liberal "elites" are somehow "importing" people of color to "replace" white conservatives. In both cases, the presumption that people who are not white men are lesser beings, incapable of independent thought.

As with the Big Lie, this is all about Republicans telling themselves that entire groups of Americans are not legitimate voters or citizens, and don't deserve a say in government. Conservatives' bitter retreat into this conspiracy theory after their disappointing midterm results strongly suggests that the Republican Party has no inclination to moderate anything about its policies or messaging. Instead, we can expect the right to double down on the fascistic assumption that people like them are the only real Americans, and nobody else gets to vote.

Inside the Freedom Caucus’ 2-step scheme to sideline McCarthy’s speaker bid unless he agrees to their demands

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., is preparing a bid for House speaker but conservatives on the House Freedom Caucus are plotting to block him from the position if he doesn't give into their legislative demands.

After the "red wave" failed to materialize in this year's midterm elections, Republicans have started to grapple with the idea that they will have a much smaller majority in the House next year than they anticipated. McCarthy's nomination is relatively straightforward, as he only needs a majority of House Republicans to support him, but many members of the pro-Trump Freedom Caucus are preparing a two-step plan to keep him from the speakership, according to reporting from Politico.

Conservatives are pushing to postpone Tuesday's scheduled leadership elections until the GOP is confirmed to control the House. If McCarthy doesn't comply, their plan is to nominate Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., as an internal candidate for speaker to prove that McCarthy does not have the 218 GOP votes needed for the full-chamber vote on Jan. 3 2023, an anonymous Republican source with knowledge of the plan told Politico.

If they are able to postpone the Tuesday election, conservatives would discuss an alternative candidate to put forward in consensus, said the anonymous Republican, who also added that Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, is the most likely choice for the Freedom Caucus. Biggs is acting as a symbolic alternative for step one, according to CNN.

"Kevin McCarthy has done nothing in two years to earn my vote," said Rep. Bob Good, R-Va.

Russ Vought — a former budget director for the Trump White House — made the end goal of their plans clear.

"This is about building to January," he told far-right host Steve Bannon in a Friday interview.

"And we have an opportunity to have a paradigm-shattering victory [on] the speakership, to either be able to get Jim Jordan in as speaker — I don't care if he's not running right now — or to have a coalitional-style government where every decision goes through HFC," Vought added.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who is not a member of the Freedom Caucus, also publicly backed Jordan as the best speaker candidate, despite Jordan's frequent statements of support for McCarthy. Speaking on Gaetz's podcast, Vought touted the need for a "wartime speaker" in the House.

The Freedom Caucus is also publicly pressuring McCarthy to concede to their legislative demands if he wants the speakership. Some of their demands include restoring the ability for lawmakers to depose the speaker, adding more Caucus members to the influential Steering Committee and ensuring a floor vote on any amendment if 10% of the GOP conference cosponsors it, among others.

According to Politico, these demands act as a strategy to allow members to oppose McCarthy even if all their conditions are met — they would also drastically reduce McCarthy's control over the legislative process if elected.

However, allies of McCarthy are not convinced that the Freedom Caucus will be successful, and are frustrated by their preemptive plans. They are also warning that McCarthy will not part quietly with the speakership role like he did in 2015; his supporters are encouraging him to push back against the caucus.

"These palace intrigue stories are premature and they are still counting votes," said Jordan spokesperson Russell Dye when asked about the anti-McCarthy plan according to Politico. "What I can tell you for sure is that Mr. Jordan looks forward to chairing the Judiciary Committee next Congress."

Other representatives that are rumored to be the Freedom Caucus' pick for speaker are House GOP Whip Steve Scalise, GOP Vice Chair Mike Johnson, and Good; however, few see them as legitimate opponents especially since Scalise and Johnson have already officially backed McCarthy's campaign.

"There's a point of leverage in these leadership votes," said House Freedom Caucus Chairman Scott Perry, R-Pa. "We want to have a conversation, devoid of the politics about who is leading, on how the House should operate, how legislation should pass."

"There's a fairly easy solution here," a source close to the Freedom Caucus told Fox News. "McCarthy can support popular reforms to decentralize the speaker's power and empower individual members, or he can roll the dice that someone else won't make that compromise and get the speaker's gavel."

House leadership aides also informed Fox News that McCarthy is expected to cut a deal with the Freedom Caucus to accept at least a few of their demands.

As it stands, the Republican majority is projected to be around 218 seats — the minimum for control of the House — to 230 seats if the GOP sweeps all remaining races, including some that Democrats are favored to win. However, these numbers still fall short of the 60 seats that McCarthy predicted from the failed red wave.

'I'll burn Arizona to the ground': SNL roasts election-denier Kari Lake

In the cold open for "Saturday Night Live," hosted by Dave Chappelle, SNL alum Cecily Strong brought back her near-perfect Kari Lake portrayal to rib the Republican's refusal to admit defeat in her race for Arizona governor.

In the sketch, Strong as Lake appears in a segment of "Fox & Friends" to answer questions about her run in the midterms, and flip flops between blaming Democracy for her loss, if she does in fact lose, and thanking Democracy for helping her win if that ends up being the unlikely outcome.

"Nearly every candidate Trump backed lost this week, except for one" says SNL's Mikey Day as Fox host, Steve Doocy, kicking it over to Strong as Lake.

"Greeting from Arizona, where the average age and temperature is 95," Strong says.

"Thanks for being here during what must be a very stressful time," says Bowen Yang as Fox host Brian Kilmeade.

"Hey, my campaign isn't dead yet," Strong says. "Even though my camera filter makes it look like I'm in heaven."

"Now, Kari, this seemed like a race you'd easily win, yet it's been a real nailbiter," says Heidi Gardner as Fox host Ainsley Earhardt. "You and your opponent are currently neck and neck."

"That is because the Maricopa County officials are incompetent," Strong says. "And it's my belief that the election is rigged and the results should be thrown out."

When the hosts break away to read off new numbers coming in, Strong's Lake changes her tune based on whether or not they're in her favor.

"I am 100 percent confident that I am going to win this election," Strong says. "And I won't stop fighting until every vote is counted and then some votes are taken away. Because who do Arizonans want leading them? Katie Hobbs, who's hiding in a basement? Or me, Kari Lake, who lives right here in this beautiful pool of vaseline. And who's out there every day at CVS asking Black customers if they work here."

"Well we are rooting for you, Kari. We know the votes will go your way," says Day as Doocy.

"Well if they don't, I'll burn Arizona to the ground," Strong says in closing.

As of Sunday morning, Lake is still dragging behind in her race at 49.3% to Katie Hobbs' 50.7%.

Watch the sketch here:

Fox & Friends Cold Open - SNL

What's behind Elon's Twitter disaster? A fundamental misunderstanding of 'free speech'

As was widely predicted, there's been a great deal of chaos since Elon Musk purchased Twitter: Advertisers fleeing, mass firings, hate speech spiking, a plague of fake accounts, even talk of bankruptcy. At this point it's easy to forget the early warning signal when Musk tweeted a link to a baseless anti-LGBTQ conspiracy theory about the Paul Pelosi attack from a known misinformation website that had once pushed a story that Hillary Clinton died on 9/11. But it was precisely the sort of telling, seemingly minor and idiosyncratic act that poets and playwrights since time immemorial have locked onto as character portents of destiny.

That came just a few news cycles after Musk assured advertisers that "Twitter obviously cannot become a free-for-fall hellscape, where anything can be said with no consequences," promising that "our platform must be warm and welcoming to all." Musk deleted the Pelosi link after it had already gotten more than 24,000 retweets and 86,000 likes — in other words, after the damage had already been done. Needless to say, there were no consequences for Musk, at least not right away.

That made me think of Chris Bail's book, "Breaking the Social Media Prism" (Salon interview here) and his ideas about how to build a better platform — meaning both one more civil and more likely to produce reliable information. If Musk genuinely wanted Twitter to "become by far the most accurate source of information about the world," he'd listen to Bail, a leader in the growing community of social science researchers who're developing a sophisticated understanding of our emerging online world. So I reached Bail what he made of the situation, before turning to others as well. While Twitter's financial woes and disastrous non-moderation policies have been big news over the past week, they remain rooted in the realities that Bail and his colleagues have studied intensively for years.

Bail suggested that Musk's retweet of the nonsensical Pelosi story was an attempt to "make a point," that being that "there's always two sides to every story, and seeing this as an opportunity to demonstrate that Twitter has some kind of bias in favor of liberals." But sharing such blatantly misleading information, he continued, "demonstrates what happens if any person tries to make content moderation decisions on their own. You get suboptimal outcomes, because drawing the line between what's acceptable and not acceptable is always going to inspire debate and criticism and disagreement."

What Bail found "particularly tragic" was that "Twitter already has mechanisms in place to promote effective content moderation. The one that's most important in my view is the Birdwatch initiative, which empowers Twitter's users to label posts misleading or false in a sort of crowd-source model, where people can then agree with those annotation, and they become boosted in the Twitter timeline." That sort of "community-led model," Bail said, can avoid the "hot take" mistake Musk apparently made.

Ironically, Musk pointed to Birdwatch (which he has renamed "Community Notes") when Jack Dorsey challenged his statement about accurate information by asking, "accurate to who?" But a Birdwatch note corrected him: "The stated goal of Birdwatch is 'to add helpful context to Tweets.' It is not to adjudicate facts or to be a universal source of information." An article in Poynter highlighted another problem:

"This feature is an absolute game-changer for fighting mis/disinformation at scale," Musk tweeted Saturday. However, as of Nov. 2, there were only 113 notes which were logged after Musk's purchase visible to the public — up from 34 before — which accounts for only 14% of the total notes submitted by Birdwatchers.

Of the community notes made public after the purchase, only one addresses misleading information about voting and elections. Dozens are about Birdwatch itself. One is about the vaccination status of a red panda at the Toronto Zoo.

Even if Community Notes takes off, it will have a tough time catching up with disinformation and misinformation spread by Twitter users, including the flood of $8 fake blue-check accounts he unleashed (and then apparently rolled back).

Then there's the issue of "whether the CEO of the major social media company should be chiming in on a case-by-case basis," Bail said. "I think the answer there is probably no, because it'll be impossible to appear objective by occasionally weighing in on stories of the day. That's not going to create the kind of environment that he seems to want to create, where equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats are upset."

Cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky, whose work I've drawn on repeatedly over the past decade, expressed similar concerns. Musk's actions since taking over Twitter "are problematic and do not augur well for democracy," Lewandowsky said via email. "To take just one example, consider moderation. Without moderation, platforms become a cesspit of misogyny, racial hatred and antisemitism, without any conceivable benefit for society. Holocaust denial is not free speech — it is hate speech, and at least indirectly incites discrimination or violence. It is, at best, a shallow and uninformed interpretation of free speech to want to abolish moderation."

Furthermore, Lewandowsky said, Musk is "completely out of step with the public on this issue." In a pre-print article with several co-authors, Lewandowsky added, he shows that "people in the U.S. by and large support moderation and content removal for disinformation (such as Holocaust denial) that is harmful."

Musk's seeming indifference to spreading misinformation "indicates that he really does not understand what free speech means," Lewandowsky continued. "Free speech does not mean the freedom to make things up or to intentionally create and disseminate false information in pursuit of political goals. When Hitler claimed that Poland was attacking Germany in 1939, he was not exercising free speech. He was using propaganda to justify his own war of aggression. Putin is now doing the same with respect to Ukraine," he said. "The important thing to understand is that speech can only be free if is protected from propaganda, hate speech and incitement to violence."

Bail suggested that the key to improving online discourse is changing the "incentive structure." In other words, "Rather than rewarding posts that get a lot of engagement, which tend to be those that have outrageous content, promote the type of content that produces consensus."

Cautions about misinformation and a process that allows for discussion and voting on content labels has proven successful, Bail noted — though it can't be seen as a sure thing. "The problem is that Republicans and Democrats may start to use the misinformation labeling as a political game," he said, and that's indeed what happened with Birdwatch at first. "But then Twitter implemented an algorithm that boosted those messages where both Republicans and Democrats appreciated the note, and this seems to have created an environment where people stop spreading misinformation. If you incentivize people to find consensus, it may have particularly good outcomes in the aggregate."

This dovetails with the findings in Lewandowsky's pre-print article cited above, that even in our current contentious political climate, there's an untapped potential within social media for bringing people together to have reality-based conversations rather than symbolic or identity-based feuds. Elon Musk apparently sees himself as a champion of democracy, fighting against the danger of "echo chambers." But Bail's book argues that the echo-chamber metaphor is misleading and leads into a dead end.

Consider Musk's widely quoted letter to advertisers:

The reason I acquired Twitter is because it is important to the future of civilization to have a common digital town square where a wide range of beliefs can be debated in a healthy manner, without resorting to violence. There is currently great danger that social media will splinter into far right wing and far left wing echo chambers that generate more hate and divide our society.

In the relentless pursuit of clicks, much of traditional media has fueled and catered to those polarized extremes, as they believe that is what brings in the money, but, in doing so, the opportunity for dialogue is lost.

There's a profound flaw in that reasoning, Bail argued. "Like many tech leaders," he told me, Musk seems to "believe that social media should be a competition of ideas where everyone should be allowed to speak their mind and as these ideas compete, the truth or the most reasonable opinions will naturally rise to the top," Bail said. "So the concern is that if ideas can't compete, if some are banned, or if conservatives are only having conversations with each other on places like Parler and Gab and liberals don't engage in those conversations, it's inevitably bad for democracy."

The first problem with that, Bail said, is that "the vast majority of people are not in echo chambers," because "most people don't care a lot about politics, and you can only be in a political echo chamber if you have political views." But it gets worse from there.

The second problem is that taking people outside an echo chamber of mutual agreement "doesn't necessarily make them more moderate," Bail continued. "To the contrary, there's some evidence that it may even make them more extreme. The goal of most social media users is not to engage in reasoned debate and convince others about their views. It's instead to gain status, often by taking down people from the other side. So the effect of getting people outside the echo chamber is sometimes, counterintuitively, to create more conflict."

In his book, Bail gets into the more subtle dynamics that can emerge in social media. But these broad lessons are enough to signal that Musk's preferred pathway isn't likely. Indeed, every social media platform seems to go through something similar, as Mike Masnick laid out in a hilarious SNL-skit-for-nerds account at Techdirt, "Hey Elon: Let Me Help You Speed Run the Content Moderation Learning Curve":

Level One: "We're the free speech platform! Anything goes!"

Cool. Cool. The bird is free! Everyone rejoice.

"Excuse me, boss, we're getting reports that there are child sexual exploitation and abuse (CSAM) images and videos on the site."

Oh shit. I guess we should take that down. ...

Level Twenty: "Look, we're just a freaking website. Can't you people behave?"

It's a wicked, hilarious piece of work that illustrates why Musk and people like him don't understand what they're up against.

Lewandowsky called it "spot-on," saying, "I suspect Musk considers himself the great technologist and disruptor who cannot fail — he certainly acts like that — and that prevents him from taking a break to actually study the world and learn from it. He may yet learn, or at least his lawyers will, but that doesn't mean Twitter will become benign. There is lots of barely legal speech that's extremely harmful. That's what we have to worry about and monitor carefully."

Bail characterizes the disconnect this way:

Many social media leaders have treated social media as an engineering problem and simply argued we just need better AI, we need better software engineers. That appears to be very much the technique that Mr. Musk is using. The problem is, social media is not really just a piece of software. It's a community of people, and a community of people often resists attempts at social engineering. Also, engineers just often lack the understanding of what drives human behavior in order to make design choices that will promote more civil behavior.

Bail wryly adds, "I would love for Mr. Musk to learn from the many talented social scientists inside Twitter, but also from the broader field of computational social science." What he might learn there could challenge "a lot of his own assumptions about social media," including the idea that it's biased against conservatives or "that allowing a broad range of views will naturally produce consensus."

Another expression of Musk's engineering-based mindset was in this Nov. 3 tweet: "Because it consists of billions of bidirectional interactions per day, Twitter can be thought of as a collective, cybernetic super-intelligence."

That led research scientist Joe Bak-Coleman to tweet a response thread (upgraded to an article here), where he traced the hive-mind idea back to Aristotle's "Politics," noting that neurons are a poor analogy for individual human behavior, since they have no competitive goals. A better model, he said, is flocks of birds or schools of fish. The way those work is "remarkably complex, but themes emerge: groups are constrained in size or modular+hierarchical, attention is paid to only a few neighbors, etc." In the article he concludes:

So, Elon's premise that Twitter can behave like a collective intelligence only holds if the structure of the network and nature of interactions is tuned to promote collective outcomes. Everything we know suggests the design space that would promote effective collective behavior at scale — if it exists — is quite small compared to the possible design space on the internet.

Worse, it might not overlap with other shorter-term goals: profitability, free speech, safety and avoiding harassment… you name it. It's entirely possible that we can't, for instance, have a profitable global social network that is sustainable, healthy, and equitable.

In short, it's ludicrous to suggest that a social media platform as dynamic and complicated as Twitter is just an engineering problem. Another key point "about collective behavior, networks and complex systems" was highlighted in a quote-tweet by Philipp Lorenz-Spreen, one of the co-authors of the preprint article cited above: "Self-organization does not mean anarchy, but that good things can emerge if the (micro) rules of interaction are well crafted. Neither top-down nor hands-off will work." I reached out and asked him to elaborate further:

The magic of Twitter (and most other online platforms that rely on user-generated content) are emergent phenomena. Communities form, discussions evolve, and trends arise when people network with each other, but the results are neither random nor easily predictable; rather, they depend on the implementation of those interactions. That's the beauty of self-organization, when something emerges that is greater than the sum of its parts, which is what makes social media so fascinating and exciting, but also scary. But don't make the mistake of thinking that self-organization doesn't have rules, it just works differently than laws. The current version of social media serves primarily commercial purposes, and that also drives the evolution of its interaction rules. These interaction rules are what make complex systems like social media so counterintuitive: they operate at the microscopic level, between two actors, but their effects scale up to the macroscopic dynamics in unpredictable but not random ways.

In the current version of social media, some of these emergent dynamics are great, funny memes but also important social movements have their origins in such phenomena, but also all the dangerous dynamics of radicalization, polarization and conspiracy theories are fueled by the collective dynamics that are only possible on social media. But they are largely byproducts of the way social media has been used to date.

He went on to say that redesigning social media to serve societal goals, rather than purely commercial ones, will take hard work — and some very familiar strategies. He used the analogy of automotive traffic, where most of us support "the regulation of individuals with top-down rules," such as speed limits, seatbelt laws and severe punishments for drunk driving:

The opposite, the choice of a supposedly neutral hands-off approach, will lead to emergent phenomena that will, however, be driven and dominated by those privileged by the connections they already have and who are active because they seek power and abuse the scale of social media. These will be given a tool that self-reinforces their positions through collective dynamics, a scenario that we already see in the current version of social media and that is not consistent with democratic principles (e.g., representation).

We're better off sticking to democratic principles, Lorenz-Spreen argues, "because democracy itself is a self-organized system whose rules have evolved over many centuries. We may still need new rules for interaction on the internet, because we can (and need to) design them in an unprecedented level of detail. But that will have to be done carefully, and certainly not by one guy."

Lewandowsky responded to a recent Washington Post article on "Musk's Trump-style management," which author Will Oremus summarized this way: "Inside Elon Musk's 'free speech' Twitter, a culture of secrecy and fear has taken hold. Managers and employees have been muzzled, Slack channels have gone dark, and workers are turning to anonymous gossip apps to find out basic info about their jobs."

"Appeals to free speech, and complaints about being censored, have been a major talking point of the hard right for decades," Lewandowsky told me. "So we now have commentators on Fox News or columnists in newspapers with an audience of millions complaining about being 'canceled,' just because someone opposed their views."

There are darker possibilities. Investigative journalist Dave Troy responded to Musk's "cybernetic super-intelligence" tweet with a thread that inquires whether Musk is describing "the concept of the Noosphere," which Troy links to Vladimir Putin's policy agenda and a heritage of relatively obscure Russian and European 19th-century philosophy and theology. Troy suggests that "Musk is aligned with Putin's agenda and will continue to use Twitter as part of an effort to challenge the dollar, the [U.S. government]. NATO, the EU and other governments."

Whatever lies ahead for Twitter — which may or may not survive Musk's chaotic early regime — there's a community of people there and elsewhere, who have a far more realistic grasp of the promise, possibilities and problems involved in social media than he does. Musk can clearly corrupt or destroy the platform he now controls, but he cannot control the future or the emergence of something better.

Is this the end of our national Trump bender? Yeah, we've heard that one before

Think back. We've been here before. In 2016, there was the famous "Access Hollywood" tape, when Trump bragged about his tendency to "grab'em by the pussy." Then WikiLeaks moved in to save him with the first of its dumps of hacked Democratic Party emails, these from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. Two days later, during a debate with Hillary Clinton, Trump was asked whether what he had talked about on the tape amounted to sexual assault. He shrugged off the question, calling his statements nothing more than "locker-room talk" and, amazingly, admitting, "I'm not proud of it." It was over. He was elected president a month later.

Then came the revelation by FBI Director James Comey in March of 2017 before the House Intelligence Committee that Trump and his campaign had been the subject of an FBI investigation since the previous July. Half the oxygen immediately got sucked out of the hearing room, and there were reports that nearly a tenth of the air in Washington proper had left, too. A special prosecutor was appointed to investigate the links between Trump, his campaign and the Russians. Then came leak after leak after leak, all of which Trump seemed to surf like perfect waves. The report by special counsel Robert Mueller was filled with evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump, but found no "collusion" – legally speaking, a meaningless term – between the Trump campaign and the Russians, and the story died right there.

Just four months later, a transcript of a telephone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was released, revealing in no uncertain terms that Trump had attempted to extort Zelenskyy into helping him with a phony investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. Another Washington lid blew into the skies. Just two months after that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an inquiry into impeaching Trump. A month later, three House committees held hearings about Trump's attempts to get Zelenskyy to aid his re-election campaign. Just over a month after that, on Nov. 13, the House of Representatives began impeachment hearings. On Dec. 10, the House Judiciary Committee voted two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power, the other for obstructing Congress. A week later, the House voted, mostly along party lines, to impeach Trump. In January of 2020, the Senate began the impeachment trial of Trump. On Feb. 5, the Senate acquitted Trump.

Dodged another one, you figured — but it wasn't over. Trump instigated the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, and after he had left office, the House again voted to impeach him, this time for "incitement of insurrection against the U.S. Government." The Senate in turn voted 57-43 to convict Trump of inciting insurrection, falling 10 votes short of the two-thirds majority required by the Constitution.

Talk about dodging bullets! Donald Trump is the American political tap-dancer of all time. Not only as a political figure, but as a businessman, Trump has had more lives than nine cats.

And now the midterm elections have failed to provide the red wave many pundits had predicted for the Republican Party. At this writing, control of both the House and the Senate is still up for grabs, and you-know-who is being blamed for the poor performance of Republican candidates in almost every state that doesn't start with "Fl" and end with "a." Trump-endorsed candidates went down in battleground contests for the Senate and governorships. Election-denying Trump-endorsed candidates for statewide offices like secretary of state and attorney general lost in multiple states. At least one state house was flipped from Republican to Democratic control, and Democrats held control of several other state governments with many candidates either endorsed by Trump or hewing closely to his election lies losing their races.

I have officially lost count of the number of stories I've seen with titles like "Conservatism Inc. is breaking up with Trump — again," and, in my own state, "It's time for him to retire: Some Pa. Republicans want to push Trump aside after their election losses." Another popular headline, encompassing not just Trump but House Minority Leader (and aspiring House Speaker) Kevin McCarthy, has "the knives are out" for its punchline. And then there are the stories trumpeting (intentional pun) stuff like "Trump's midterm meltdown is in full swing" and "Facing GOP blame for midterms, Trump pushes 'stable genius' line." Rupert Murdoch's New York Post broke with Trump with the headline, "Humpty Trumpty." Even the Wall Street Journal (Murdoch's upper-class rag) weighed in, calling him the midterms' "biggest loser."

There are an equivalent number of stories lauding the second coming of Ron "God chose me" DeSantis as the great Florida Man Hope of the Republican Party. DeSantis, educated at Yale and Harvard, is said to be a culture warrior in Trump's image, but smarter. His symbolic war with the Walt Disney Company for being "woke" is somehow considered "courageous." So is his "don't say gay" nonsense and the rest of his culture war pandering.

Trump, blamed for midterm losses by nearly every establishment figure in his party, has flipped the script and placed the blame on his eternal nemesis, Mitch McConnell, along with — get this — that piece of fluffy fleece in a royal blue vest, Glenn Youngkin! The only person who believes Youngkin stands a chance at the Republican nomination in 2024 besides Trump is Youngkin himself … and possibly his kids.

Haven't we been here before? The last time, it was Ted Cruz (Harvard, Princeton) who was the Great Cowboy Hope of the anti-Trumpers in the Republican Party. Or was it Marco Rubio? Rick Santorum? Chris Christie? I forget. It was one of them, or some combination of them, who was going to save the party from Trump, who was, you know, accused of sexual harassment and assault and extramarital affairs and who knows what else.

And now here we go again. This time Trump is damaged goods because he is under investigation in I-don't-know-how-many-jurisdictions, for committing I-don't-know-how-many-crimes. Yes indeed, he is facing likely indictment by the feds on multiple counts of conspiring to interfere with a legitimate government function (certification of electoral ballots) and mishandling of sensitive national security information (the hundreds of secret and top-secret documents he removed from the White House and kept in a basement storage room at Mar-a-Lago.)

And then there is the grand jury in Georgia looking into Trump's phone call with Brad Raffensperger, when he asked the Georgia secretary of state to "find" enough votes for him to be declared winner in the state. Seemingly half the people who knew Trump or worked for him in the White House or served at one time or another as his attorney have testified before the Georgia grand jury, so that investigation can reasonably be assumed to be going somewhere that is not good for the former president.

But what does all this amount to in the end? Looking back at Trump's tap-dancing around, through, over and under previous controversies, I am led to the conclusion that Trump will once again exchange his tap shoes for skates and, yes, skate.

One of the major problems this country has with Donald Trump is that despite how repellent he is, Trump is as riveting as a gruesome car wreck. The amount of trouble he gets himself into is so unbelievable, it's fascinating. How he screws up stuff like blackmailing a foreign president by having White House staffers listening in on the call is jaw-dropping. The legal problems all this stuff causes him are as complex as they are heinous. The court orders he manages to get issued on his behalf, like the appointment of a special master to review the Mar-a-Lago documents, are flabbergasting. The appeals of those orders by the Department of Justice are incredible. Even Trump's tussles with his many, many lawyers are fascinating, as is the way he has managed to get the Republican National Committee and one of his super PACs to pay his legal bills. He is a past master at laying off his debts as well as his moral responsibilities.

His diabolical slipperiness does more than keep him in the news and in the public eye. Nearly everything surrounding the man is grimly hypnotic. I've been covering politics for just over 50 years, and I cannot recall another American politician who has proved more spellbinding in the way he lives his personal and public life, not to mention the way he has sold himself, with his New York accent, multiple ex-wives and mistresses, business scandals and all the rest of it to the American public, or to 74 million members of it, anyway.

Will Trump be able to keep all his balls of grift, grab and go in the air? It's time for me to deliver the old chestnut that only time will tell, but my instinct tells me to add this: He may be on the canvas for the moment, but he'll be up at the eight-count, just like he has so many times before.

Election deniers lost key secretary of state races — but fight for election control is just starting: scholar

Thom Reilly, Arizona State University

Midterm voters in six states – Arizona, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico and Vermont – appear to have rejected extremist secretary of state candidates who denied the validity of the 2020 presidential election.

Secretaries of state serve key roles as chief election administrators who oversee elections at the state level. Most people holding these jobs are selected through explicitly partisan processes, such as elections or political appointments.

There were 27 secretary of state seats up for election on Nov. 8, 2022. This roster included nine Republican candidates who rejected the 2020 election results and proposed overhauls to how states should oversee elections. These potential changes include eliminating mail voting, ballot drop boxes and even the use of electronic voting machines, while giving more power to partisan election observers.

Final ballots were still being counted in some races as of Nov. 9, including in some key states like Nevada,, where the race remained too close to call.

In two other states – South Dakota and Wyoming – election deniers prevailed. But in the case of Wyoming, Republican Chuck Gray ran unopposed. Republican Monae Johnson, meanwhile, won, as expected, drawing on support from a series of heavily conservative districts in South Dakota.

These results show that people by and large rejected election deniers serving as chief election officials – but that doesn’t mean that people holding these typically apolitical election administration positions will go back to the old, nonpartisan ways of doing the job.

I am a scholar in local public governance, and I believe more hyperpartisan candidates will likely run for the chief election offices in more states in the future. This kind of partisan control of election administration poses problems at this point in the U.S., as it faces threats to democracy. It erodes public trust and intensifies partisan gamesmanship, which in turn further erodes public trust.

A spotlight on secretaries of state

The U.S. is the only democracy in the world that elects its election officials, and one of the very few to allow high-ranking party members to lead election administration.

In the past, these down-ballot, statewide offices generated little attention. After all, studies have shown both local Democratic and Republican chief election officials acted in impartial ways.

However, there is growing evidence that trust in this important office – often in charge of running and certifying elections of their local, state and national leaders – may be eroding.

It is important to keep in mind that a secretary of state or chief election officer can’t single-handedly change election’s results. But they do have a good deal of influence over elections and voting processes before, during and after an election in a state.

They can refuse to certify the results of an election, triggering a governor or courts to become involved. They influence which issues become ballot measures and how they are described, and they can decertify voting machines.

The power of the post

The influence of secretaries of state could matter in a place like Nevada, for example. Jim Marchant, the Republican secretary of state candidate there, has said that if he is elected, he would push to eliminate mail-in voting, ballot drop boxes and the use of electronic voting machines as a way, he says, of diminishing voter fraud risks. He has also promised to decertify Nevada’s 2020 presidential election result, because he believes former president Donald Trump won.

Given these comments, it seems possible that he would also attempt to interfere with the 2024 election. But these changes would require approval from the Nevada legislature, which appears to remain in Democrats’ hands.

The Washington state race is also of note because the Democratic incumbent, Steve Hobbs, remains in a too-close-to-call race with Julie Anderson, a candidate who ran as nonpartisan, without a political party affiliation. A win by the nonpartisan candidate could open the possibility of other states converting the secretary of state’s office into a nonpartisan election. This would align the U.S. with most other democracies.

In Pennsylvania, meanwhile, where the governor appoints the secretary of state, the Republican candidate, Doug Mastriano, who ran as an election denier, lost to Joseph Shapiro.

Looking ahead

It appears that voters have largely rejected the vast majority of chief election official candidates who ran their campaigns as election deniers. But this election season raises questions, and exposes flaws, about how senior election officials are selected in the U.S. The platforms of these election deniers who appeared on the 2022 midterm ballot illustrate the risk that this dynamic poses to ongoing voter trust and future election results.The Conversation

Thom Reilly, Professor & Co-Director, Center for an Independent and Sustainable Democracy, School of Public Affairs, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

It's nothing new for Republicans to promise a blowout victory. The question is why the media falls for it

One more day until the voting is done. Hallelujah! When the polls are so tight and the campaigning so intense you reach a point where you almost don't care who wins anymore and just want it to be over. But of course you do care, as we all must in this age of authoritarian right-wing, lunacy.

I wrote on Friday that nobody really knows anything about this election. It could go either way. It might be a close result or one side could sweep both houses of Congress with big wins. But if you just read the headlines and listen to the pundits and strategists on TV, you'd think the evidence showed clearly that Republicans were running away with it. There's a reason for that: Republicans plant this notion in the press and the sad-sack Democrats play into it by prematurely assembling the circular firing squad whenever a race is close.

You see headlines like "Democrats fear midterm drubbing as party leaders rush to defend blue seats," but the fact that Donald Trump held big rallies just days before the election in Florida and Pennsylvania, where the GOP is defending numerous seats, isn't framed the same way. There's "CNN panelist predicts 'bad night,' says Democrats didn't 'listen' to voters throughout the election" while the New Yorker publishes a widely-read article headlined "Why Republican Insiders Think the G.O.P. Is Poised for a Blowout."

Maybe it's all true. Maybe it will turn out that Democrats have blown the election (even though all the fundamentals and historical precedents suggest defeat was more or less preordained) and maybe the Republicans played a masterful hand (in winning an election everyone assumed was already in the bag). We will see. But let's not kid ourselves about what is going on in these final days. Republicans are playing the press for chumps, as they do every single time. Of course they may win, but this election is close and they're not soothsayers. It's a deliberate strategy.

The most famous purveyor of this strategy was Karl Rove, also known as "Bush's Brain," the strategist who eked out a history-changing victory for his guy in 2000. Rove was a big believer in the "bandwagon effect," which assumed that a significant chunk of the voting public wlli go with those they perceive as winners. So when a race is close you put on a big show to pretend that you're confident of winning, in the hopes of getting any last-minute wobblers or people who might not otherwise vote to get behind your team. It's fun to win! In close races, Rove reasoned, this strategy might just make the difference. But it's not scientific and nobody should take a GOP strategist's word for anything in the final days of a campaign. They're just spinning.

Rove even went so far as to send George W. Bush to California in the final days of the 2000 campaign, to convince the press that they were so confident of a blowout that they were hoping to expand the map into deep blue states. The New York Times blared, "A Confident Bush Says He Can Win California's Vote." As it turned out, Al Gore won the state by double digits, leading observers to wonder whether Rove should have sent Bush to Florida instead, the state he ended up "winning" by only 537 (disputed) votes. They did the same thing four years later by sending Dick Cheney to Hawaii, and the Los Angeles Times dutifully reported, "Aloha State Has Become a Surprise Campaign Battleground." Um, no. It hadn't. Democrats won Hawaii by nine points, as per usual.

Rove didn't just deploy this strategy for election campaigns. As Bush's senior adviser, he played the same game with public opinion over the war with Iraq:

In shaping their message, White House officials have drawn on the work of Duke University political scientists Peter D. Feaver and Christopher F. Gelpi, who have examined public opinion on Iraq and previous conflicts. Feaver, who served on the staff of the National Security Council in the early years of the Clinton administration, joined the Bush NSC staff about a month ago as special adviser for strategic planning and institutional reform.

Feaver and Gelpi categorized people on the basis of two questions: "Was the decision to go to war in Iraq right or wrong?" and "Can the United States ultimately win?" In their analysis, the key issue now is how people feel about the prospect of winning. They concluded that many of the questions asked in public opinion polls — such as whether going to war was worth it and whether casualties are at an unacceptable level — are far less relevant now in gauging public tolerance or patience for the road ahead than the question of whether people believe the war is winnable.

That helps explain the infamous 2003 Bush gaffe with "Mission Accomplished." That didn't work out in the long run because Republicans couldn't deny reality forever as the Iraq war began to go south shortly after that. But the press was gullible enough, and the public stayed on board long enough, for the Bush team to win re-election and support the "surge" that prolonged the war. It's simple enough: If you call yourself a winner, people will believe it (at least for a while) and will act accordingly.

We're in a new landscape these days with election denial prominently featured on the menu. (Karl Rove is actually getting booed as a RINO sellout at GOP rallies.) The bandwagon effect is still in play but they now have a back-up: the Big Lie. It's not overly cynical to suspect that a whole lot of the happy talk coming from Republican strategists whispering in reporters' ears about how great their private polling looks is just a set-up for the possibility that they won't do as well as they would like. As we already know, their voters are fully indoctrinated to believe that Democrats can only win if they cheat, and Republicans have created a full-scale election denial operation to challenge any negative results they don't like. In some instances, they have challenged election systems in counties Trump won by double digits! Election denial has become the party's primary organizing principle.

All of this has been aided and betted by Republican pollsters flooding the zone this cycle and right-leaning aggregators like Real Clear Politics which have helped to set sky-high Republican expectations. As the Atlantic's Ron Brownstein quipped on Twitter:

None of this is accident or coincidence. The strategy is clear: In a close race, pretend you're winning in hopes of enticing voters to jump on board. If that doesn't work, claim the election was stolen and deny the legitimacy of your opponent's victory. This is just what they do. Why the press allows itself to be manipulated this way, year after year, is another question. Media folks can't possibly fail to understand what's going on, after all this time. On some level, they fall for it because they like it.

'Admissible evidence': Legal experts warn Trump’s rally admission may be 'self-incriminating'

Former President Donald Trump's comments during a weekend rally about the FBI raid on Mar-a-Lago may be "admissible evidence" in court, legal experts say.

Trump lashed out at the FBI during a rally in Miami on Sunday over the "very famous raid on Mar-a-Lago," which he described as "the document-hoax case."

Trump claimed the court-approved search "violated my Fourth Amendment rights" and is "something that's never been done to another president."

"No other president's ever done this," he said. "Presidents leave, they take things, they take documents, they read them. Nobody else has ever gone through this."

Trump has repeatedly falsely claimed that past presidents have "taken" documents with them after leaving office. The National Archives and Records Administration issued a statement debunking his claim last month, explaining that the National Archives took custody of all presidential records and "securely moved those records to temporary facilities" before moving them to presidential libraries. Claims that "indicate or imply that those Presidential records were in the possession of the former Presidents or their representatives, after they left office… are false and misleading," the statement said.

Legal experts said that Trump's comments may amount to an admission of illegality.

"Here's Trump apparently admitting to illegally taking top secret documents when he left the White House," the government watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said on Twitter.

Conservative attorney George Conway said the comments could be "admissible evidence," suggesting a drinking game for every time "he says something self-incriminating" at a rally.

"Keep talking. Keep confessing," wrote national security attorney Bradley Moss, a frequent Trump critic.

Legal experts also called out another comment from Trump during a rally in Pennsylvania on Saturday.

"Every other president takes their documents. I'm the only one. I can't have a document," Trump complained during a rally in Latrobe before falsely suggesting that other presidents took and kept their documents in unsecure facilities.

"Did Trump just admit to taking top secret documents he was not supposed to have?" CREW said on Twitter.

Conway responded to the video of Trump's comments by posting a photo of Miranda rights, which note that "you have the right to remain silent."

Trump has claimed that former President George H.W. Bush "took millions of documents to a… bowling alley/Chinese restaurant" with "no security and a broken front door" and claimed that Bill Clinton "took millions of documents from the White House to a former car dealership in Arkansas."

"All of these Trump claims are false," CNN fact-checker Daniel Dale wrote last month, citing a National Archives statement confirming that the agency "securely moved these records to temporary facilities that NARA leased from the General Services Administration near the locations of the future Presidential Libraries that former Presidents built for NARA."

"All such temporary facilities met strict archival and security standards, and have been managed and staffed exclusively by NARA employees," the agency said.

Dale added that there is "no equivalence between Trump's handling of presidential documents and those of his predecessors."

"In the others' cases, the presidential documents were in NARA's possession and stored securely and professionally," he wrote. "In Trump's case, the presidential documents found in haphazard amateur storage at Mar-a-Lago were in Trump's own possession, despite numerous attempts by both NARA and the Justice Department to get them back."

'When is it enough?' Experts alarmed after Donald Trump lawyer emails inadvertently leak

Former President Donald Trump's lawyers believed that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was their best bet to overturn the results of the 2020 election, according to newly released emails.

Eight emails obtained by POLITICO revealed correspondence among Trump lawyers discussing legal strategies to convince Republican members of Congress to block the official certification of electoral votes on Jan. 6. The emails, which Trump legal adviser John Eastman tried to shield from Congress, were obtained after Eastman's lawyers accidentally uploaded the emails to be shared with the House Jan. 6 committee in a public Dropbox link.

In one email from Trump attorney Ken Chesebro to Eastman and others, Chesebro wrote that Thomas would "end up being key" to their plot to overturn President Joe Biden's win.

"We want to frame things so that Thomas could be the one to issue some sort of stay or other circuit justice opinion saying Georgia is in legitimate doubt," Chesebro wrote days before the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

Supreme Court justices are responsible for handling emergency matters in individual states, and Thomas is the justice assigned to handle emergency matters in Georgia – putting him in position to receive any urgent appeal of Trump's lawsuit to the Supreme Court.

Eastman responded to the email agreeing with the plan. Their emails further discussed filing a lawsuit that they hoped would result in an order that "TENTATIVELY" held that Biden's electoral votes from Georgia were not valid due to election fraud, CNN reported.

Eastman, who once clerked for Thomas, attempted to withhold the emails from the Jan. 6 select committee, but a judge ordered the emails be turned over, citing evidence of likely crimes committed by Trump and Eastman.

At least one email included correspondence between Eastman and Clarence Thomas' wife Ginni Thomas inviting Eastman to speak on Dec. 8, 2020, to a group of conservative activists to provide an update about election litigation, according to the Washington Post.

Ginni Thomas also lobbied state legislators in Arizona and Wisconsin via email, urging them to help overturn Biden's victory.

Following the release of the emails, legal experts raised concerns about Thomas' role on the Supreme Court and criticized him for not recusing himself from matters related to his wife's efforts to overturn the election.

"They had a damn insider on SCOTUS who they thought would help them overthrow our democracy. He's married to a deranged MAGA cult member. He won't even recuse himself," wrote former federal prosecutor Richard Signorelli.

"When is it enough?" wondered Rachel Sklar, an attorney and journalist. "His wife is an insurrectionist. He refuses to recuse. He's the Trump election-denial go-to? Come on."

The report comes as legal observers and government watchdog groups call for an investigation into Thomas' refusal to recuse himself from election-related cases.

"Hey look! It wasn't just critics of the Supreme Court who thought Clarence Thomas was corrupted - Trump's lawyers said so too in secret emails just revealed," tweeted journalist Helen Kennedy.

Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe wrote that Chesebro, who saw Thomas as Trump's "only chance" to stop the 2020 election, should be held accountable for his actions as well.

"Such abhorrent abuse of an attorney's license to practice law should be strictly disciplined and perhaps criminally prosecuted," Tribe tweeted.

Reporter Jacqueline Alemany, who covered the emails for The Washington Post, told MSNBC that the discussions also raise questions about why Eastman and Chesebro were so confident that Thomas "would be so sympathetic" to their cause and his wife's communications with Eastman and others about overturning the election.

"It's a very small world here," Alemany said. "There was no indication in the correspondence that either of the Thomases were [copied] on the e-mails, but you can clearly see why John Eastman was fighting hard to prevent the release of these e-mails."

Fascism in a nutshell: Is America ready to trade democracy for cheap gas?

This recent New York Times headline offers a perfect prospective epitaph for America's ailing democracy and its potential imminent demise: "Voters See Democracy in Peril, but Saving It Isn't a Priority."

The details are grim. Voters "overwhelmingly believe American democracy is under threat, but seem remarkably apathetic about that danger," with relatively few calling it "the nation's most pressing problem," according to a new poll conducted for the Times by Siena College. More than one-third of independent voters in the poll "said they were open to supporting candidates who reject the legitimacy of the 2020 election," because economic concerns were more urgent. While 71 percent of voters agreed that "democracy was at risk," only 7 percent said that was the country's most important problem.

The Times' analysis conformed to a depressing current of conventional wisdom, concluding that "for many Americans, this year's midterm elections will be largely defined by rising inflation and other economic woes," reflecting a deeply rooted "cynicism" about government. This particular portrait reinforces what political scientists and other experts have long known about voting and other political behavior in this country.

Most Americans are relatively unsophisticated in their understanding of politics and public policy, and tend to be disengaged on issues beyond the few that appear to be of immediate concern to them, their families or their communities, barring a national emergency or crisis that demands collective attention. But even that kind of increased salience does not necessarily translate into an accurate or factual understanding of the policies in question. For example, the COVID pandemic certainly became a major national issue, but also fueled widespread disinformation about vaccines and public health measures. The 2020 election transfixed the nation for weeks, but Donald Trump's Big Lie narrative about that election has not faded away.

There are exceptions. Because of their experience navigating the color line, the contradictions of American democracy and the country's long history of white supremacy and racism, Black Americans, as a group, often tend to be more sophisticated than white Americans in terms of political decision-making.

Most Americans are not ideological, meaning that they do not possess a coherent and consistent worldview that drives voting and other political behavior. In the aggregate, the American people tend to take their cues from trusted elites about how they should think about politics and what they should do about it. Partisanship and voting are proxies for other social identities, not independent of them.

It is often said that the American people are increasingly polarized on politics. That's true enough, but it fundamentally reflects how the political elites, opinion leaders, and a small percentage of highly politically engaged individuals drive mass behavior.

As the New York Times/Siena College poll and accompanying analysis reinforces, immediate financial concerns and judgments about the economy (aka "pocketbook issues") appear to influence political behavior for many Americans. But even this commonplace observation is more complicated than it appears. "The economy," as a political decision tool, is fraught with pitfalls and inconsistencies. In the aggregate, it may not even matter nearly as much in determining political decision-making as many experts and other observers have long assumed. Political scientists Christopher Achen and Larry Bartels make this intervention in their book "Democracy for Realists":

[I]t is by no means obvious that voters can ascertain how incumbents have performed simply by assessing changes in their own welfare. If jobs have been lost in a recession, something is wrong, but is that the president's fault? If it is not, then voting on the basis of good or bad economic conditions may be no more efficacious than killing the pharaoh when the Nile fails to flood or voting against Woodrow Wilson when sharks attack the Jersey shore…. Or, as Theodore Roosevelt put it while he coped with the Panic of 1907, "When the average man loses his money he is simply like a wounded snake and strikes right or left at anything, innocent or the reverse, that presents itself as conspicuous in his mind."

An even more fundamental problem is that voters may have great difficulty accurately assessing changes in their welfare — even with respect to national economic conditions, which are highly salient and carefully monitored by professional economists in and out of government.

Many Americans do not think systematically about politics, society or the economy and are not likely to make connections between an apparently abstract concept like "democracy" and the specific issues they care about. But it's also true that political elites, media commentators and other opinion leaders who claim to believe in democracy have failed to explain to a broad public audience how and why democracy has a substantive impact on the average person's daily life.

There is an even more cynical explanation: As a group, America's elites do not particularly want a well-informed and highly engaged public. Such a public might pose an effective challenge to the outsized power of those elites, and by doing so expose how far they have imposed their narrow set of interests on public policy. Here is Chris Hedges, in a recent essay republished at Salon:

The step from dysfunctional democracy to full-blown fascism was, and will again be, a small one. The hatred for the ruling class, embodied by the establishment Republican and Democratic parties, which have merged into one ruling party, is nearly universal. The public, battling inflation that is at a 40-year high and cost the average U.S. household an additional $717 a month in July alone, will increasingly see any political figure or political party willing to attack the traditional ruling elites as an ally. The more crude, irrational or vulgar the attack, the more the disenfranchised rejoice. These sentiments are true here and in Europe, where energy costs are expected to rise by as much as 80 percent this winter and an inflation rate of 10 percent is eating away at incomes.

The reconfiguration of society under neoliberalism to exclusively benefit the billionaire class, the slashing and privatization of public services, including schools, hospitals and utilities, along with deindustrialization, the profligate pouring of state funds and resources into the war industry, at the expense of the nation's infrastructure and social services, and the building of the world's largest prison system and militarization of police, have predictable results.

At the heart of the problem is a loss of faith in traditional forms of government and democratic solutions.

In a recent interview with me for Salon, social psychologist Shawn Rosenberg offered similar observations, saying that "the Achilles heel of democracy is that the people, meaning the citizenry, do not understand the larger political and governmental system and its values," and are therefore "susceptible to a populist message." He mainly attributes this to America's dysfunctional educational system, which has "failed to educate the public to understand complex questions of society and politics":

It's not that large parts of the American public are inherently evil or bad. It's just that when they look around at the world, they don't understand what's going on. They don't understand why it's so hard to solve some of these problems we're facing, why it's so hard to govern and why they're supposed to respect people who they believe are obviously wrong. ... Right-wing populism offers simple answers and simple solutions and simple characterizations of what the world is like. Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis and other such Republican leaders are offering that vision and those answers.

Meanwhile, members of the media and political classes often make the error of generalizing from their own experience and knowledge to the public as a whole, leading to a whole range of incorrect assumptions, misguided conclusions and overall misunderstandings. Thus we get the perpetual of real or feigned shock and surprise from pundits, commentators and mainstream political leaders when faced with the Republican Party's fascist campaign against American democracy. Political scientist Jonathan Renshon addressed this in an interview with Politico last June:

Absolutely nothing is stopping elites from using the same public opinion data that academics or the public has access to, and yet we still see compelling evidence that elites misread public opinion, either because of stereotypes they hold about the public, over-weighting their own preferences, or unequal exposure to particular constituencies or special interests. As we saw in the 2020 presidential election campaign, it's also not unusual for politicians to discount or dismiss public opinion polls when they don't like the results. In a larger sense, this is not surprising: There are many domains in which access to more or more accurate information doesn't necessarily reduce the tendency for bias to creep into our judgments.

In total, the recent New York Times poll just offers further evidence that the American people may claim to be concerned about "democracy," but are fundamentally unclear as to the cause of the crisis and have no idea what to do about it. It's actually worse than that, in that many Americans don't even pretend to care about democracy and are more concerned about lower prices for gas and groceries — and have no problem trading away their rights and freedoms for the promise of ending inflation.

In a similarly dark vein, a new CBS News poll finds that 63 percent of likely Democratic voters believe that a functioning democracy is more important than a strong economy, but that those numbers are more than reversed among Republicans, 70 percent of whom rank a "strong economy" (whatever that means) above a functioning democracy.

It's not hyperbolic or metaphorical to describe those numbers as a textbook example of how democracy gradually, and then more swiftly, rots away and succumbs to fascism. The naive faith that "it can't happen here" is severely misplaced: It's happening here right now.

North Carolina Republican wants 'rape panels' to decide whether victims can get abortions

A North Carolina Republican congressional candidate floated a proposal to create a community review process that would determine whether survivors of rape and incest can get abortions.

Bo Hines, the GOP candidate for North Carolina's 13th Congressional District, wants to outlaw all abortions unless the mother's life is at risk.

"He wants victims of rape and incest to be allowed to get an abortion on a case-by-case basis through a community-level review process outside the jurisdiction of the federal government," local news outlet WRAL reported.

The proposal was widely panned by critics.

Talking Points Memo editor Josh Marshall described the proposed review boards as "rape panels."

"Something from a nightmare," wrote civil rights lawyer Sherrilyn Ifill.

"The anti-choice agenda is about removing women's control over their own lives, and making them subject to the rule of others. They differ on who they think those others should be—fathers, husbands, random vigilantes, local jerks—but they agree that women will not rule themselves," wrote Moira Donegan, a gender and politics columnist for The Guardian.

Hines' comments are a backtrack on his previous remarks to the Raleigh News & Observer, in which he said he would support blanket prohibitions on abortion.

His changing stance on reproductive rights is an example of how Hines is trying to appeal to North Carolina's far-right conservatives, as well as more centrist voters who could be the deciding factor in the midterm election.

His more moderate statements on abortion and immigration also come after greater criticism from outside groups and his Democratic opponent, state Sen. Wiley Nickel.

After winning the May 17th primary, Hines removed the "life and family" section from his website, which previously included links to a fundraising page that claimed "life begins at conception" and the "rights of the unborn" must be protected, the 19th News reported.

Elon Musk’s epic bumbling is a daily reminder that America is not a meritocracy

"He really is the living embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger effect," a friend responded in a group text over the weekend. We had been sharing stories about the bouts of dumbassery on display, as Elon Musk starts his ill-advised reign of Twitter. And hoo boy, there was plenty to share. Did you see the one about Musk telling software engineers to print out 30 days of code, only to tell them to shred it when he likely realized this exposed how he doesn't know what he's doing? Or how he plans to take a bazooka to the content moderation team, even though doing so will likely send advertisers packing? Or how he thought carrying a sink around was a hilarious joke? Or how he tweeted an asinine conspiracy theory about the Paul Pelosi attack, only to delete it hours later?

None of this should be surprising. From day one, this entire saga has been a story of a man with far more money than brains. After all, this all started when Musk stupidly offered to buy Twitter at a price way over its valuation, for no other reason than a fit of trollish pique. It was only after he realized what a foolish idea it was to set $44 billion on fire that he started coming up with disingenuous excuses to escape the deal, only to discover that it was too late, legally, to back out.

Yet, somehow, much of this still feels surprising. The idea that Musk is "smart" has persisted through years of very public evidence to the contrary. Even now, many of his critics offer pre-emptive caveats that they don't think he's stupid, before explaining why the latest of his endless string of idiotic choices is a bad one. This notion of Musk's intelligence clings to the discourse around him for one simple reason: He is very, very rich.

The myth of the American meritocracy is a stubborn one. Americans can't help but believe that someone as rich as Musk must have something going on for him beyond dumb luck. To imagine otherwise is too unsettling. So many people block out what should be an obvious truth: You probably would have never heard of Elon Musk if he wasn't a white man from a wealthy family that literally owned an emerald mine in South Africa.

To be fair, it's entirely possible that, at one point, Musk wasn't a total birdbrain. His resume suggests there was a time when he was relatively competent at computer science, though there's no reason to think that such skills mean fluency in any other higher-functioning tasks. But regardless of what some IQ test from back in the day might have said about Musk, it's clear that in the past couple of decades, his brain has turned to total mush.

The irony is that the very wealth and privilege that tricks people into thinking he must be a genius likely contributed to the current state of affairs. Being surrounded by nothing but flattery makes it hard to distinguish between thoughts you have that are smart and useful and thoughts you have (such as right-wing conspiracy theories) that are idiotic. Either way, the people in your life — and for Musk, his legions of fanboys on Twitter — are swooning over what a super genius you are. The lack of meaningful feedback would damage most people's capacity for critical thinking. Musk's narcissism renders the diagnosis of his rational capacity terminal.

One can only hope the daily updates on Musk's antics will put some dent into the American myth of meritocracy. But then again, having to endure four years of a Donald Trump presidency didn't seem to make much difference, even as he shared moments of Trumpian wisdom like telling people to inject bleach into their lungs to cure COVID-19 and trying to "correct" a weather map drawn by actual meteorologists because he felt it would better serve his ego for a hurricane to make landfall in Alabama. Trump was elected in no small part because he had convinced large numbers of Americans that he was a successful businessman and therefore smart. In reality, he was a historically terrible businessman whose wealth exists because other rich white guys spent decades bailing him out of his self-inflicted financial woes.

The insidious nature of the meritocratic myth is on full display this week, as the Supreme Court heard arguments in a lawsuit over affirmative action at Harvard University. Unfortunately, polling shows that 63% of Americans oppose universities considering race in their admissions process, naively believing that ending affirmative action means some objective measure of "merit" will be used instead. In reality, the opposite is true: Far from being meritocratic institutions, Ivy League schools are largely devoted to elevating rich white kids at the expense of people who have more talent. As Mark Joseph Stern at Slate explains, "Harvard has a preference for four specific groups of applicants known as ALDC: athletes, legacies, those on the dean's list (frequently because of family donations), and the children of faculty." He continues:

In theory, ALDC preferences are colorblind. In practice, they operate as a massive affirmative action program for white applicants. Over a recent six-year period, 2,200 out of 4,993 admitted white students were ALDC—a figure significantly higher than the overall number of admitted students who are Black (1,392) and Hispanic (1,283). White ALDC students are not overrepresented because they happen to be more qualified; to the contrary, about three-fourths of them would have been rejected without the ALDC boost.

The existing race-based affirmative action program is mostly an attempt to make up for the diversity that is lost giving such a massive advantage to white applicants. And yet, somehow, you hear no complaints from most conservatives about the ALDC preferences. That's because they don't actually want a meritocracy. They want a system where white people can get twice as far while being half as talented. Or where the richest man in the world keeps getting called a genius, even as we can all see — if we're willing to look — that he's just another privilege-addled idiot who lost his capacity for critical thinking many billions of dollars ago.

Trump lawyers throw Allen Weisselberg under the bus as he prepares to spill the beans at trial

Lawyers for former President Donald Trump's companies on Monday threw former longtime Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisslberg under the bus during opening statements at a criminal trial over whether the company committed tax fraud.

Weisselberg and two of Trump's companies were indicted in Manhattan last year after prosecutors said the company's compensation to Weisselberg included perks like apartments, luxury cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren that were never reported on his taxes. Weisselberg in August pleaded guilty to 15 charges, including grand larceny, tax fraud and falsifying business records. He agreed to serve five months in prison, pay $1.9 million in back taxes and penalties and agreed to testify at the Trump Organization's trial.

Prosecutors on Monday detailed his offenses and vowed that Weisselberg would give jurors the "inside story of how he conducted this tax scheme."

"This case is about greed and cheating, cheating on taxes," prosecutor Susan Hoffinger said in court, according to Politico. "The scheme was conducted, directed and authorized at the highest level of the accounting department."

Lawyers representing two of Trump's businesses at the trial, meanwhile, threw Weisselberg under the bus and suggested that Trump may be the real victim of the scheme.

"Weisselberg did it for Weissleberg," Michael van der Veen, a lawyer for Trump's payroll company, said in court.

Van der Veen argued that Weisselberg abused the Trump family's trust after 50 years of working for the family.

"Given the decades he was there and the projects he worked on and that he was with this family when times were good and when times weren't so good—he was trusted by everyone, he was trusted to protect this company," he said, according to Mother Jones. "He was like family to the Trump family, and no employee was trusted more than he, but he made mistakes."

He went on to claim that Trump only found out about Weisselberg's efforts to avoid taxes when he was indicted.

"You were all here during jury selection and heard the D.A. repeatedly argue that Donald Trump was involved in or even knew what Allen Weissleberg was doing," he claimed. "You will learn that Mr. Weisselberg hid what he was doing from the company and from the owners of the companies."

But Weisselberg still remains on the company's payroll, which van der Veen suggested was out of the goodness of the Trumps' hearts.

"Since his crimes were discovered, he has been treated like a close family member who made serious and even criminal mistakes," he said. "We all know the Bible story of the prodigal son—a man who put his own personal goals and desires ahead of his family's—and when it all falls apart, he is taken back in by the same family and allowed to move forward."

Even though Trump signed the checks for things like private school tuition for Weisselberg's grandchildren, it was only Weisselberg's responsibility, he claimed.

"Allen Weisselberg has admitted to cheating on his taxes, his taxes!" van der Veen argued.

Susan Necheles, an attorney for the Trump Corporation, made a similar plea to jurors and argued that they should not let their opinion of the former president influence their verdict.

"You must not consider this case to be a referendum on President Trump or his politics," she said. "It started and it ended with Allen Weisselberg. Allen Weisselberg did this."

The two Trump companies are charged with nine felony counts, including criminal tax fraud, conspiracy and falsifying business records and could face a $1.6 million fine. Trump, his company and his three eldest children have also been accused of a decade-long tax fraud scheme by New York Attorney General Letitia James in a civil probe.

Trump himself has not been criminally charged in the Manhattan case but Hoffinger made clear that the alleged criminal conduct occurred between 2005 and 2017, when the companies were "owned by Donald Trump."

"The evidence will show that when Donald Trump was elected president at the end of 2016, these companies finally had to clean up these fraudulent tax practices," she said. "There was concern about extra scrutiny of these companies because of Donald Trump's election."

Hoffinger added that no one had more financial authority than Weisselberg "except for Donald Trump."

'Too soon?' Don Jr. mocks brutal hammer attack with 'Paul Pelosi Halloween costume' meme

Donald Trump Jr. mocked the attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's husband Paul on social media by sharing a "Halloween costume" intended to represent the hammer-wielding intruder.

Trump Jr. shared an image Sunday night showing a hammer lying on top of a pair of Hanes underwear with the comment: "Got my Paul Pelosi Halloween costume ready."

"The internet remains undefeated … Also if you switch out the hammer for a red feather boa you could be Hunter Biden in an instant," Trump Jr. wrote.

He also posted a screenshot of the image on his Instagram, racking 88,000 likes. The underwear in his post appears to reflect a debunked rumor that the intruder was in his underwear at the time of the attack.

Paul Pelosi was "violently assaulted" with a hammer in his California home on October 28, according to San Francisco Police Chief William Scott. He suffered a fractured skull and injuries to his right arm and hands and underwent surgery on Friday.

The intruder planned to keep him tied up until the speaker returned home, law enforcement sources told CBS News.

The suspect, who was identified as David Wayne DePape, had a list of people he wanted to target, according to law enforcement sources that spoke with CBS News.

DePape's social media revealed memes and conspiracy theories he posted about Holocaust denial, COVID vaccines, pedophiles in the government and claims that Democratic officials run child sex rings.

The speaker posted a statement on Twitter saying that her family is "heartbroken and traumatized" by the "life threatening attack" on her husband.

But right-wing personalities on Twitter mocked the attack on Paul Pelosi — with some even spreading falsehoods and amplifying misinformation.

Larry Elder, a conservative radio host, reacted to the assault by ridiculing Pelosi for his prior charge of driving under the influence.

"First, he's busted for DUI, and then gets attacked in his home. Hammered twice in six months," he wrote, adding, "Too soon?"

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., called the media a "source of misinformation" and continued to promote the falsehood that the intruder was Paul Pelosi's friend.

"The same mainstream media democrat activists that sold conspiracy theories for years about President Trump and Russia are now blaming @elonmusk for 'internet misinformation' about Paul Pelosi's friend attacking him with a hammer," Greene tweeted.

Others went as far as suggesting the attack was fake. Dinesh D'Souza, whose widely-debunked recent film "2000 Mules" pushed Trumpist election conspiracy theories, continued to spread misinformation on Twitter.

"The Left is going crazy because not only are we not BUYING the wacky, implausible Paul Pelosi story but we are even LAUGHING over how ridiculous it is. What this means is that we are no longer intimidated by their fake pieties. Their control over us has finally been broken," D'Souza wrote.

Arizona Republican lawmaker Wendy Rogers retweeted a post mocking the attack as "fake" and displaying a bloody hammer.

The skepticism regarding the incident seems to have grown after Evan Sernoffsky, a reporter at the Fox-affiliated local news outlet KTVU, tweeted that the attacker was in his underwear at the time of his arrest. Sernoffsky deleted the tweet and said that sources told him this was untrue.

Some people have even floated the baseless conspiracy theory that Paul Pelosi and DePape were lovers.

The Telegram channel for Bannon's "War Room" show shared a story from "The Republic Brief" that repeated some of "the same uncorroborated details about the encounter, including that the suspect was found in his underwear," the Washington Post reported.

D'souza also amplified the theory on his Twitter.

"Were Paul Pelosi and his attacker BOTH in their underwear? BOTH holding hammers? And the attacker didn't strike until AFTER police were on the scene? As a movie-maker, I gotta say this script must be rejected. Nothing about the public account so far makes any sense," he wrote.

Some conservatives have tried to spin the apparently politically motivated attack by tying it to crime in San Francisco. "Last Week Tonight" host John Oliver on Sunday called out right-wing claims linking the attack to bail reform after Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, complained on Fox News about letting "dangerous criminals" roam free and commit violence. McCaul suggested that the intruder who attacked Paul Pelosi was out on bail.

"Now, he's wrong about a few things there. Again, the suspect was not out on bail. Also, no one gets bailed out of prison—that's where convicted people go," Oliver said.

People have continued to spread falsehoods about the hammer attack, including new Twitter owner Elon Musk, who amplified a baseless conspiracy theory from a site suggesting that Paul Pelosi was drunk and in a fight with a male prostitute. "There is a tiny possibility there might be more to this story than meets the eye," Musk wrote before deleting the tweet hours later.

'This is the ballgame': DOJ winning 'secret court proceedings' in Donald Trump January 6th probe

Investigators are ramping up efforts to penetrate the "privilege firewall" former President Donald Trump has used to avoid scrutiny of his Jan. 6 discussions in "secret court proceedings" in D.C., according to CNN.

The Justice Department last week asked a federal judge to force Trump White House counsel Pat Cipollone and deputy White House counsel Patrick Philbin to testify despite Trump's efforts to block them from answering questions before a grand jury.

Trump has cited executive and attorney-client privilege to prevent disclosures and delay criminal investigations but the DOJ has already been successful in breaking through the privilege firewall, according to the report.

Prosecutors over the past three weeks have scored "significant court victories" in secret proceedings, securing answers from former Mike Pence advisers Greg Jacob and Marc Short. Jacob's testimony on October 6 is the "first identifiable time" that Trump's privilege firewall has been pierced in the criminal investigation, according to CNN. Short had his own grand jury appearance a week later.

All four former officials previously declined to answer some questions about discussions they had with Trump before the former president quietly lost court battles related to testimony from Jacob and Short before the chief judge of the trial-level U.S. District Court in D.C. last month, according to the report. Judge Beryl Howell refused to put the two men's testimony on hold while Trump's lawyers appealed, though the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals is still considering legal arguments surrounding the privilege claims.

Jacob, who testified before the House Jan. 6 committee, has been particularly vocal in condemning Trump's actions after the election and his scheme with attorney John Eastman to block the certification of President Joe Biden's win on Jan. 6, calling the lawyer a "serpent in the ear" of the president. After Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, Jacob wrote to Eastman, "thanks to your bullshit, we are now under siege."

"There is almost no idea more un-American than the notion that any one person would choose the American President, and then unbroken historical practice for 230 years, that the vice president did not have such an authority," Jacob testified to the House panel in July.

Prosecutors are now seeking to compel testimony from Cipollone and Philbin, who had extensive discussions with Trump leading up to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Cipollone previously appeared before the House panel but declined to disclose his discussions with Trump, citing privilege. The two men's roles in the White House counsel's office raise questions about whether Trump can "claim confidentiality over the legal adviser they gave him" and whether a former president can invoke executive privilege to "hold off criminal investigators," CNN reported.

The federal grand jury has also subpoenaed former White House officials Mark Meadows, Eric Herschmann, Dan Scavino and Stephen Miller as well as campaign adviser Boris Ephsteyn, who could also cite privilege to decline to answer questions in the probe. Trump has similarly used both executive and attorney-privilege claims to impede other probes, like the House Jan. 6 investigation, the FBI investigation into national security documents found at his Mar-a-Lago residence and the Fulton County, Georgia district attorney's investigation into election meddling. Some privilege questions have remained unresolved and could eventually reach the Supreme Court.

President Joe Biden has repeatedly declined to assert executive privilege over Jan. 6 related information and federal prosecutors who investigated former Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon were also able to overcome attorney-client privilege claims for White House counsel.

The DOJ is "getting A LOT done in under-seal proceedings," tweeted CNN legal reporter Katelyn Polantz.

"In a lot of ways, this is the ballgame for the January 6th criminal prosecutions and the grand jury investigation around Donald Trump and after the election," Polantz said on CNN, noting that investigators have gotten some answers from former officials but Trump is still "trying to block those final answers" from the grand jury.

Andrew Weissmann, a former federal prosecutor who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, said the report was a sign that the DOJ is pressing ahead in its probe of Trump's actions.

"Really important development," tweeted former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman, adding that the DOJ could also turn to the "biggest prize who has dodged testimony to date based on executive privilege argument: Mark Meadows," Trump's former chief of staff.

"Litigating privilege issues is some serious effort by DOJ to get to Trump's conversations with his inner circle," wrote former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade. "You don't do this unless you're determined to turn over every stone."

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