I was prepared for Mitch McConnell’s hypocrisy, but his brazenness left me breathless. He pledged a speedy Senate vote on a Trump-nominated replacement for Ruth Bader Ginsburg less than two hours after news of her death broke.
He couldn’t have waited, I don’t know, six hours? A day? Out of respect?
Silly question. Silly me. I sometimes forget the era we’re living in and the president we’re living under. McConnell understands that neither is about propriety, procedure, precedent. They’re about taking whatever can be taken and exploiting whatever can be exploited.
Rules are for fools. To the cheaters go the spoils. That’s President Trump’s credo. And he hasn’t been proven wrong yet.
Technically, yes, it’s Trump’s right to nominate a new Supreme Court justice as soon as he wants and for as long as he’s in office — and he indeed signaled in a tweet on Saturday morning that he wanted to move forward “without delay.” McConnell, for his part, can absolutely try to hustle that nominee through Senate confirmation.
But McConnell would be violating his own code, the one he adopted after Justice Antonin Scalia died in February 2016. McConnell then decreed that with an election just nine months away, President Obama should not be allowed to fill a court vacancy. The American people should first be allowed to speak through their presidential ballots in early November.
Now an election is little more than one month away. And that code — poof! — is gone. McConnell’s quickness to abandon it arises principally from his own unscrupulousness but owes something as well to his confidence about Trump’s ethically inverted inclinations, which are that it matters only whether you win or lose, not how you play the game.
Look at the unfolding election. President Trump and his allies have been stubbornly trying to prevent Americans from voting by mail, which is known to be more popular with Democrats than with Republicans. While you can call this an attack on democracy, you can instead be blunter and truer to its intent. You can call it cheating.
On his own or with the aid of apparatchiks like Michael Caputo, the president has sought to manipulate, minimize or repudiate statistics and studies that render a withering verdict on America’s battle against the coronavirus. This has been characterized, rightly, as an insult to science and to the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It’s also cheating.
It could be that each enjoys basking at high altitudes in the other’s affluence. Or it could be that Kushner was conniving with West in violation of federal election law: in other words, cheating.
“The only way we’re going to lose this election is if the election is rigged,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Wisconsin last month. He has repeatedly made versions of that claim, at one point exhorting North Carolinians to monitor polling sites and “watch all the thieving and stealing and robbing” by Democrats, who will work to lift Biden to victory by “doing very bad things.”
And it’s a perfect example of Trump’s tendency to assign his own motives and methods to others. He worries that they’ll cheat because he has always cheated — on his taxes, on his wives, in his business dealings, in his philanthropy. He imagines them cheating because he actually is cheating.
He considers it their only hope because it may well be his only hope, given his persistently underwhelming approval ratings and some 200,000 Americans dead from causes related to the coronavirus. And when you step back and take in the scope of his cheating, it’s shocking.
But exactly no one is shocked. This is Trump, after all. He will wipe his memory clean of Merrick Garland, the Obama nominee whom Republicans refused to consider for the court, as he races to wipe the court clean of Ginsburg’s memory. He’s the bearer of double standards. Trump approaches “cheating as a way of life,” his niece Mary, a clinical psychologist, once explained. She has recordings of one of Trump’s sisters, Maryanne Trump Barry, a retired federal judge, saying that he had someone else take the SAT for him.
He is infamous for stiffing creditors and being sued by them, for using bankruptcy laws to lessen or evade the personal financial impact of corporate disasters, for inflating his net worth when that suited his image, for undervaluing his assets when that suited his tax returns, for assuming the fictive identity of a publicist to call journalists and whisper flattering secrets about himself. These behaviors could variously be tucked under the subheadings of hard-nosed business tactics, creative public relations and egomaniacal pathology. But the banner over them all? Cheating.
The presidency has no more altered that ethos than it has ennobled him. The White House is just a highfalutin stage for the same old huckster, a fact made crassly clear by his exploitation of those trappings for his big convention speech. The fireworks at the finish spelled more than his name. They spelled cheating.
Under the Hatch Act, which forbids federal employees from engaging in overtly political activities while on the job, that whole climactic evening (Ivanka as Evita!) shouldn’t have happened, and Mike Pompeo shouldn’t have stumped for Trump while on a diplomatic trip abroad, and Chad Wolf, the acting secretary of homeland security, shouldn’t have been swearing in new citizens as Trump-burnishing convention theater.
But Trump’s cheating is its own virus, infecting everyone around him. Trump’s cheating is its own ecosystem. Abandon all scruple, ye who enter here.
Trump was impeached because he tried to cheat, pressuring Ukraine to do a political hit job on Biden. But the cheating didn’t stop there: As John Bolton revealed in “The Room Where It Happened,” Trump pleaded with the Chinese president to buy more American agricultural exports, because that might help his prospects for re-election.
By refusing to condemn Russian interference in American elections — an orientation evident in the diluting of intelligence reports about Russia’s aims and activities — he’s essentially inviting a fresh round of Russian cheating in 2020 on his behalf.
Meanwhile, he and his administration take various tacks to fool voters about the pandemic’s severity. His health department, not C.D.C. scientists, schemed to change coronavirus testing recommendations in a manner sure to depress the number of recorded cases. He and his administration have tried to intimidate and discredit the C.D.C. in additional ways. And he promoted a bogus claim that the coronavirus death toll was just 6 percent of the correct figure.
But his and his Republican allies’ most flagrant cheating is in the realm of voting. Republicans in multiple states have fought against secure drop boxes for ballots that give people concerned about exposure to the coronavirus an alternative to traditional polling sites. They have opposed the expansion of such sites.
Although voting by mail makes by far the most sense during a pandemic and has gone smoothly in states that have long used it, Trump is determined to thwart it. His campaign has filed suit against three states that are trying to institute universal mail-in voting. He has advocated a slowdown in the United States Postal Service precisely because it could impede the timely arrival of ballots.
And, knowing full well that many mail-in ballots may not be counted until the days immediately following Nov. 3, Trump tweeted: “Must know Election results on the night of the Election, not days, months, or even years later!” To translate: Trump doesn’t want a full tally. He wants a partial one that’s partial to him.
And he wants the whole process shrouded in doubt. As Richard Hasen, the author of “Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust and the Threat to American Democracy,” wrote in The Times last month, “The most benign explanation for Mr. Trump’s obsessive focus on mail-in balloting is that he is looking for an excuse for a possible loss to his Democratic opponent, Joe Biden, in November. The less benign explanation is that he is seeking to sow chaos to drive down turnout and undermine the legitimacy of the election, laying the groundwork for contesting a close election if he loses.”
“Laying the groundwork” is euphemistic for cheating, and what a grand form of cheating at that: the prophylactic invalidation of any outcome displeasing to Trump. He went so far as to suggest postponing the election, and while he had to know that the idea was a non-starter, he also knew that it further seeded cynicism among some voters about a trustworthy process.
In the context of cheating as epic as that, jamming yet another of his nominees onto the Supreme Court as the clock runs out is nothing.
Graham’s words couldn’t be clearer, nor could those of Senator Chuck Grassley, the former chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who blocked Garland. Just last month, Grassley said that he “couldn’t move forward” with a Trump nominee this year because of the 2016 standard. If Republicans force a justice on us, it’s because they believe that standards are for suckers, and people who hold power need not be constrained by any pledge or institutional tradition.
According to Ginsburg’s granddaughter, the justice made a dying wish: “My most fervent wish is that I will not be replaced until a new president is installed.”
It doesn’t matter how exhausted we are, or how difficult the odds. In this hell-spawned year, we can either give up, or give everything we can to stop some of America’s worst men from blotting out the legacy of one of our very best women.
No one should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution.
I was a Republican for most of my adult life. I came of political age in 1980, and although I grew up in a working-class Democratic stronghold in Massachusetts, I found a home in Ronald Reagan’s GOP. Back then, the Republicans were a confident “party of ideas” (a compliment bestowed on them by one of their foes, Democratic Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York), optimistic boosters of the American dream at home, and fierce opponents of the Soviet Union overseas. While the Democrats were the party of recrimination and retreat, the Republicans were the party of the future.
I understand the attachment to that GOP, even among those who have sworn to defeat Donald Trump, but the time for sentimentality is over. That party is long gone. Today the Republicans are the party of “American carnage” and Russian collusion, of scams, plots, and weapons-grade contempt for the rule of law. The only decent, sensible, and conservative position is to vote against this Republican Party at every level, and bring the sad final days of a once-great political institution to an end. Then build the party back up again—from scratch.
I’m not advocating for voting against the GOP merely to punish Republicans for Trump’s existence in their party. Rather, conservatives must finally accept that at this point Trump and the Republican Party are indistinguishable. Trump and his circle have gutted the old GOP and stuffed its empty husk with the Trump family’s paranoia and corruption.
Indeed, the transformation of the GOP into a cult of personality is so complete that the Republicans didn’t even bother presenting a platform at their own convention. Like a group of ciphers at a meeting of SPECTRE, they nodded at whatever Number One told them to do, each of them fearing an extended pinkie finger pressing the button that would electrocute them into political oblivion.
Some Republicans, even while they grant that Trump is a sociopath and an idiot—and how unsettling that so many of them will stipulate to that—are willing to continue voting for Republican candidates because the GOP is nominally pro-life or because the administration’s judicial appointments show that the people around the president are doing what conservatives should want done.
But Trump’s few conservative achievements are meaningless when compared with his war on American democracy, a rampage that few Republicans have lifted a finger to stop. Trump and Attorney General Bill Barr have turned the constitutional order and the rule of law into a joke. If you’re Roger Stone or Michael Flynn, the White House will arrange pardons, commutations, or even the outright betrayal of the Justice Department’s own lawyers. Felony convictions are for the little people. The Constitution is just busywork for chumps.
GOP representatives in the people’s house sneer at concepts such as oversight and the separation of powers. Rather than demand accountability from the executive branch on COVID-19, on the Hatch Act, on the Postal Service—on anything, really—they either repose in sullen silence or they take up the lance for the president and overwhelm committee hearings with Trumpian word salad.
Meanwhile, senators who swore to be “impartial” jurors refused to hear actual evidence during an impeachment trial. They confirmed a rogue’s gallery of incompetent henchmen and cronies to important positions. They continue to downplay Russian attacks on the U.S. political system and are now outfoxed by the likes of John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, a nonentity who has ruled that none of them, Republican or Democrat, should be allowed to ask any pesky questions about election security in person.
“But Gorsuch,” Republicans chirp when pressed about their party’s demise, as if Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh will saddle up and save us when elected Republicans refuse to stop Trump from finally turning the FBI into his private police force or Barr from using the Department of Homeland Security as the White House’s own Belarusian interior ministry. (Kavanaugh, who warned during his confirmation hearings that “what goes around comes around,” might be exactly the justice to put his stamp on such moves.)
Conservatives must also let go of fantasies about saving the “good” Republicans, a list that is virtually nonexistent. (You can’t count Mitt Romney more than once.) The occasional furrowed brow—a specialty of the feckless Susan Collins of Maine—is not enough. The few, like Romney, who have dared grasp at moments of sanity have been pilloried by Trump and other Republicans. In any case, Romney is chained to the GOP caucus, a crew that includes the jabbering Louie Gohmert and calculating Elise Stefanik in the House, and the sniveling Ted Cruz and amoral Mitch McConnell in the Senate.
Would-be Madisonians among the Republicans warn that no party should have untrammeled access to the levers of power—and especially not the Democrats. Yes, they say, we understand that Trump must go, but if Joe Biden is allowed to run the executive branch without a Republican Senate, America will become a one-party state that sooner or later will fall under the boot of the dreaded Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This faux constitutionalism is naked hypocrisy: I do not recall, during my days in the GOP, anyone on the right ever pleading that Americans should leave at least a few Democrats in office so that we Republicans would not go crazy and start force-feeding Ayn Rand or Friedrich Hayek to impressionable schoolchildren.
America needs two healthy political parties. So if the Republicans suffer a full-spectrum defeat in 2020, what comes next? At the least, a shattering loss should result in a wholesale purge of the Republican National Committee. Even donors who like what they got from Trump will not pour money into a losing proposition.
In the long term, sensible conservatives—who believe in limited government and the prudent, constitutional stewardship of national power and resources—might feel safe to run for national office as Republicans again. Those at the local level who were bullied into silence by their state organizations might be able to come out of hiding and challenge the people who led them to disaster.
Reconstructing the GOP—or any center-right party that might one day replace it—will take a long time, and the process will be painful. The remaining opportunists in the GOP will try to avert any kind of reform by making a last-ditch lunge to the right to fill the vacuum left by Trump’s culture warring and race-baiting. In the short term, the party might become smaller and more extreme, even as it loses seats. So be it. The hardening of the GOP into a toxic conglomeration of hucksters, quislings, racists, theocrats, and cultists is already happening. The party gladly accepted support from white supremacists and the Russian secret services, and now welcomes QAnon kooks into its caucus. Conservatives must learn that the only way out of “the wilderness” is first to vanquish those who led them there.
No person should ever get a second chance to destroy the Constitution. Trump has brought the United States to the brink of civil catastrophe, and the Republican Party has protected him from the consequences of all his immoral and illegal actions more ably than even Fred Trump did. Conservatives need to put the current Republican Party out of its—and our—misery.
WaPo’s Robert Costa, AP’s Jonathan Lemire, former DOJ spox Matt Miller, NBC’s Carol Lee, and MSNBC contributor Karine Jean-Pierre on the divide within the Republican party over Trump’s continued attacks on the late Sen. John McCain
He is prone to unhinged Twitter eruptions. He can’t handle criticism. He scolds the news media for its purported dishonesty and threatens to create a Soviet-like apparatus to keep tabs on it. He suckers people to fork over cash in exchange for promises he hasn’t kept. He’s a billionaire whose business flirts with bankruptcy. He’s sold himself as an establishment-crushing iconoclast when he’s really little more than an unusually accomplished B.S. artist. His legions of devotees are fanatics and, let’s face it, a bit stupid.
I speak of Tesla chief executive Elon Musk, the Donald Trump of Silicon Valley.
And you, Donald, are getting a reputation as a sucker. And worse, a sucker who is a tool of the D.C. establishment.
Your whole campaign was mocking your rivals and the D.C. elite, jawing about how Americans had turned into losers, with our bad deals and open borders and the Obamacare “disaster.”
.. You knew the Republicans were full of hot air. They haven’t had to pass anything in a long time, and they have no aptitude for governing. To paraphrase an old Barney Frank line, asking the Republicans to govern is like asking Frank to judge the Miss America contest — “If your heart’s not in it, you don’t do a very good job.”
.. Instead, you sold the D.O.A. bill the Irish undertaker gave you as though it were a luxury condo, ignoring the fact that it was a cruel flimflam, a huge tax cut for the rich disguised as a health care bill. You were so concerned with the “win” that you forgot your “forgotten” Americans, the older, poorer people in rural areas who would be hurt by the bill.
.. You were humiliated right out of the chute by the establishment guys who hooked you into their agenda — a massive transfer of wealth to rich people — and drew you away from your own.
You sold yourself as the businessman who could shake things up and make Washington work again. Instead, you got worked over by the Republican leadership and the business community, who set you up to do their bidding.
.. That’s why they’re putting up with all your craziness about Russia and wiretapping and unending lies and rattling our allies.
They’re counting on you being a delusional dupe who didn’t even know what was in the bill because you’re sitting around in a bathrobe getting your information from wackadoodles on Fox News and then, as The Post reported, peppering aides with the query, “Is this really a good bill?”
You got played.