I’ve written this before before, but it looks like we are on the cusp of a Republican civil war. This time, the GOP is choosing sides between Matt Gaetz and Kevin McCarthy. With both alternatives so uninspiring, I’m reminded of the great Georgia writer Lewis Grizzard’s rumination that the Iran-Iraq war was akin to a Harvard-Yale football game. In short, Grizzard explained relating his football parable, “You’re all a bunch of Yankees, and I hope you both lose.”
But until the sniping between Gaetz’s MAGA faction and McCarthy’s slightly less MAGA faction begins, I’d like to address a pattern that I’ve seen recently. Namely, that Republicans are getting more and more overt about their authoritarian tendencies and saying the quiet part out loud.
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I had hoped that after Trump was beaten the Republican Party would return to sanity. The problem was that Trump didn’t acknowledge his defeat and Republicans bought into his lies about the stolen election. An August CNN poll found that 69 percent of Republicans and Republican leaners thought that Biden’s victory was “not legitimate.” Now the belief in the stolen election conspiracy theory is feeding into rhetoric that is more and more bellicose and desperate.
One of the most egregious examples was Donald Trump’s Truth Social post that advocated executing outgoing Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley for treason. Trump was upset about Milley’s backchannel communications with China at a time during the upheaval of the 2020 post-election when the Chinese were concerned that a deranged Trump might launch an attack on them.
To most of us, this sounds like the rantings of a madman, but far too many Trump supporters take it seriously.
And more serious Republican politicians give it a pass. No mention of Trump’s veiled threat was made in last week’s Republican debate. The Washington Post explains why, noting that a leaked memo from Win It Back, a group aligned with the Club for Growth, detailed that the group’s research found that “Every traditional post-production ad attacking President Trump either backfired or produced no impact on his ballot support and favorability.… This includes ads that primarily feature video of him saying liberal or stupid comments from his own mouth.”
In other words, Republicans are tuning out any criticism of Donald Trump even when Trump is caught on video saying outlandish things.
Outlandish things that include saying that he will have robbers summarily shot. I’m not making this up. In a speech to California Republicans over the weekend, The Former Guy advocated killing robbers without a trial.
“We will immediately stop all of the pillaging and theft,” Trump said to cheers. “Very simply, if you rob a store, you can fully expect to be shot as you are leaving that store.”
It shouldn’t have to be said that there is a lot wrong with this. On the most basic level, it’s unconstitutional because criminal suspects have a right to due process. It puts the federal government in a position of interfering with local law enforcement. It will get people needlessly killed and some of those people will be innocent. Finally, in a country that is already deeply concerned about police brutality, it is tone-deaf.
Except for Republicans. They love this sort of talk. The only law enforcement actions that Republicans seem willing to question are those of the Capitol Police on January 6 and anything that implicates Donald Trump in wrongdoing.
Even somewhat respectable Republicans have gone down the rabbit hole. Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate (who I supported in 2008) Mike Huckabee said on his TBN show in September, “If these tactics end up working to keep Trump from winning or even running in 2024, it is going to be the last American election that will be decided by ballots rather than bullets.”
Seriously? If Republicans are foolish enough to nominate a four-times-indicted unpopular former president and he loses, they are going to go on the warpath? Maybe the better solution is to nominate a candidate who isn’t a criminal and who doesn’t think that windmills are killing whales (again, I’m not making this up). Maybe Republicans are losing because they nominate bad, scary candidates.
In another curiously veiled threat, Trump supporters allegedly left a birdcage at Nikki Haley’s hotel room door over the weekend. Trump supporters apparently claimed responsibility in a message to Marc Caputo of The Messenger.
Unsurprisingly, although Haley called the attempt at intimidation “pathetic,” she has not rescinded her pledge to vote for Donald Trump if he is the eventual nominee. The why is clear. Just refer back to the Win It Back memo. No Trump. No career.
The exact message behind the birdcage is unclear. Some suggested it was a reference to Haley being a “war hawk,” although she has not advocated involving the US in a war (unlike Donald Trump, whose MAGA supporters were cheering him on to go to war with Iran in January 2020 before he ultimately backed down). Whatever its exact intention, the cage seems sinister in the context of what Mike Davis, a possible cabinet member if Trump wins in 2024, is saying.
Mike Davis, founder of the Article III Project, a legal organization that notably incorporates the logo of the radical III Percenters into its own logo, is a former member of Chuck Grassley’s staff and a former clerk for Justice Gorsuch. He’s not some random internet wacko. He’s in the running for a cabinet position in the second (third?) Trump Administration and he promises a “reign of terror.”
In an August installment of “The Benny Show” on YouTube, Davis explained that he has five lists that he will put into use when Trump makes him attorney general.
“I have five lists ready to go and they are growing,” Adams said. “List number one, we’re going to fire a lot of people in the Executive Branch and the Deep State. Number two, we’re going to indict. We’re going to indict Joe Biden and Hunter Biden and James Biden and every other scumball, sleazeball Biden except for the five-year-old granddaughter they refused to acknowledge for five years until the political pressure got to Joe Biden. Number three, we’re going to deport. We’re going to deport a lot of people, 10 million people and growing, anchor babies, their parents, their grandparents. We’re going to put kids in cages. It’s going to be glorious. We’re going to detain a lot of people in the DC Gulag and Gitmo, and list number five, I’m going to recommend a lot of pardons. Every January 6 defendant is going to get a pardon.”
There’s a lot to unpack there and quite a bit wrong with that sort of plan. Again, to begin with, it is a clear violation of the Constitution’s due process clause to lock up and deport American citizens (a more accurate term for “anchor baby” is “US citizen”) without a trial and, in some cases, without any clear indication that they’ve committed a crime. Essentially what Davis is doing is advocating having the Republican Party do what Trump accuses Democrats of: Engaging in political prosecutions.
That is not what happened with Trump. Independent investigators found that Trump committed crimes ranging from improper handling of classified documents to fraudulently attempting to overturn election results.
January 6 defendants are not political prisoners either. They are common criminals who committed crimes for political reasons. January 6 prosecutions are about justice for broken laws, not persecuting political opponents.
But Republicans don’t understand that. If you don’t understand why, refer back a few paragraphs to the Win It All memo. Republicans refuse to believe - or even listen to - anything derogatory about Donald Trump. At this point, the Republican Party is a personality cult, not a principled political organization.
The other side of the coin is that some Republicans are doing their best to instill terror in their listeners by trying to convince them that Democrats will kill them if they win in 2024. This sort of talk has come from various members of the MAGA fringe including Marjorie Taylor Greene and Mike Cernovich.
This makes no sense on multiple levels. For example, since Democrats control the government now, why should they wait? Wouldn’t purging Republicans before the election make things easier? But logic and rational thought are not highly prized in the Republican Party right now so the alarmist grifters get the clicks and the fear and anger get ratcheted higher.
And given the statements by Trump and his minions, this is very dangerous for America. Rather than making America great again, Trump and his cohorts want to turn it into something unrecognizable. Barack Obama aimed at “fundamentally transforming the United States of America,” but his changes were nothing compared to what Trump says he wants to do.
In the past, we were told to take Trump seriously but not literally. I think we’re past that now. Numerous dictators in the past have laid out their authoritarian plans for the future and been ignored. No one should doubt Trump and his minions when they tell us what they want to do.
I’ve been critical of nutpicking and out-of-context exaggerations about the opposition in the past, but this is what Trump himself and his lieutenants are saying. They may not be able to implement their plans, but we should believe them when they say they want to execute officials who are disloyal to Trump and lock up political opponents in Gulags and that they are willing to terminate the Constitution. We should believe them and act accordingly, especially since more moderate Republicans seem to have given up on reining in Trump’s bad behavior.
I remember in the Trump years when my friend Steve Berman said that Trump was a stress test on American institutions. The institutions held, but it was a close thing. I’m not sure that they could withstand a second such assault. The thing about stress tests is that if the object you’re testing fails the test, it breaks and there’s no putting it back together.
I haven’t been a Republican since 2016, but I’m still a conservative. I’d like to see conservative policy implemented, but I don’t see conservatism coming from the presumptive Republican nominee and his lackeys.
2024 is not going to be a policy election. 2024 is going to be a referendum on whether America should remain a constitutional republic or welcome back a lawless executive and “wannabe dictator.” The conservative option is going to be whoever runs against Trump.
I’m becoming more and more concerned that this radical and dishonest MAGA rhetoric is ultimately going to cause more bloodshed. The words of Trump, Huckabee, Davis, Greene, Cernovich, and others may be garbage, but millions of Republicans (not all of them but too many) lap them up and believe them. Some have acted on these alarmist exhortations already and it’s only a matter of time before others do as well.
The irony is that these grifters and liars are helping to bring about what they claim to be trying to prevent. When their words inspire more attacks and end up with more Republicans in jail for violent and seditious acts, it will have been a self-fulfilling prophecy.
And a further irony is that their crazy talk is one of the things that is costing them elections in the first place. If the party nominated a traditional sane Republican, he (or she) would probably beat Biden handily, but Donald Trump and MAGA have steered the party into Cloud Cuckoo Land and it’s not coming back anytime soon.
AN OLD SOLDIER FADES AWAY BUT NOT QUIETLY: Gen. Milley, the man we needed at the helm of America’s military during the Trump years, ended his term last week. His short farewell remarks are worth watching. See them here:
GAETZ OPENS FIRE: Rep. Matt Gaetz filed paperwork to remove Kevin McCarthy from the speakership. Even though I’d like to see them both lose, consider me part of Team Kevin for this one since what got him in trouble what having the audacity to do his job.
NEW CALI SENATOR: Gov. Gavin Newsome appointed Laphonza Butler, president of the pro-abortion Emily’s List to replace the recently deceased Dianne Feinstein despite the fact that she is apparently a resident of Maryland. California does not have a durational residency requirement for US Senators.
SCOTUS PASSES ON 14TH AMENDMENT CASE; A few weeks ago, I wrote about the idea of challenging Donald Trump’s eligibility on 14th Amendment grounds. The Supreme Court has passed up its first chance to hear a case about the issue.
Reuters reports that Republican candidate John Castro (I haven’t heard of him either) filed suit to bar Trump from the ballot, but the Court denied certiorari, meaning that it will not hear the case. This may not be the end of attempts to block Trump based on his part in the insurrection, but it does mean that such attempts are increasingly a long shot.
JOHN KELLY RETURNS: One of “Trump’s generals,” former White House Chief of Staff John Kelly made an appearance on CNN in which he confirmed a number of rumored Trump stories. These included Trump insulting soldiers, lying about his pro-life beliefs, and refusing to have wounded soldiers with him in a parade.
Kelly is only one of the many Trump insiders who have come away from service in the Trump Administration believing that The Former Guy is an existential threat to our Republic.
“There is nothing more that can be said,” Kelly concluded. “God help us.”