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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Remember what Marco Rubio said at the first debate back in August — that the election “cannot be a résumé competition,” because if it were, Hillary Clinton would win?

That remark has reverberated throughout the Republican primary, which has been characterized by the astonishing rise of political amateurs like Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina, and the fall of party luminaries and experienced GOP statesmen, like Rick Perry and Scott Walker, who dropped out; or Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee, and Bobby Jindal, who were relegated to the warmup debate; or Lindsey Graham and George Pataki, who didn’t even make that humble cut.

From his very first campaign speech, Rubio has arranged himself in opposition directly with Clinton — with the senator from Florida casting himself as a new force for change, challenging the old, ineffective power structures in Washington, embodied by Clinton. He has successfully transposed his Senate absences and relative inexperience into an articulate message — that he is the candidate for the 21st century. In the fourth Republican primary debate, which aired Tuesday night on Fox Business Network, he communicated his narrative clearly, plainly, with minimal interference from his fellow candidates — and without having to open fire on his onetime mentor, the erst-frontrunner Jeb Bush, whose anemic performance can only spell bad news for the former Florida governor’s already flagging campaign.

Given the somewhat less crowded stage and more wonkish theme of the evening (a focus on tax policy and economics), there were fewer fireworks than in past GOP debates, but one moment stood out as a vintage piece of Trump-Jeb scuffling. As usual, Jeb had almost nothing to say when it occurred. By way of ignoring John Kasich, who repeatedly tried to get a word in edgewise in a conversation about budgeting — he once was, after all, chairman of the House Budget Committee — the magnanimous Trump deigned to play moderator and shut both men down succinctly: “You should let Jeb speak.”

Kasich resumed his role as the exasperated adult not only in matters of the budget, but also immigration, where he admonished voters not to believe Trump’s fantasy of mass deportation: “We all know you can’t pick them up and ship them back across the border,” he said. “It’s a silly argument. It’s not an adult argument. It makes no sense!”

Defending his immigration policy, Trump invoked President Eisenhower’s forced deportation initiative in the 1950s: “Let me just tell you that Dwight Eisenhower. Good president. Great president. People liked him. I liked him. I Like Ike, right? The expression, ‘I like Ike.’ Moved 1.5 million illegal immigrants out of this country.”

Trump failed to mention the operation, which is best remembered as “Operation Wetback,” was neither particularly humane nor effective.

Ted Cruz, as he did at the last debate, took aim at the debate format itself, and neatly served his social and economic conservatism in one (sound) bite-sized package: “There are more words in the IRS tax code than there are in the Bible,” he said.

Dr. Ben Carson, who has come under fire recently for reports that he may have fudged the truth to add gloss to the salvation narrative of his biography, emerged uninjured from the debate. No one seemed particularly inclined to discuss whether or not the retired neurosurgeon had lied about a scholarship to West Point or actually been violent as a young man, except for Carson himself, who in his opening remarks transmuted the controversy into a limp joke at the media’s expense.

Rand Paul beat the libertarian drum — accusing his fellow candidates of being false conservatives if they planned to place additional military spending on a credit card.

When Rubio responded, “I know that the world is a better and safer place when America is the strongest military force in the world,” Paul shot back that military action “wouldn’t keep America safe from bankruptcy court.”

As she did in the last debate, Carly Fiorina touted her business record, despite the damning reviews of her performance as a CEO that have come to light, and seemed to cite her own desire to challenge Hillary Clinton in a one-on-one debate as a qualification to be nominated. When asked why Democrats seem to have a better record at job creation, she slid back easily into a narrative, studded with talking points, which concluded, without explanation: “And yes, the Democrats do make it worse.”

They spent most of the evening affirming that very point, with varying shades of — and success at — charisma, but not disagreeing on much. And Marco Rubio did what he came there to do: He shone through as the fresh, young, best new hope for establishment.

Of course, it had less to do with substance than smiles.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate and former Governor Jeb Bush (L) speaks as U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R) looks on during the debate held by Fox Business Network for the top 2016 U.S. Republican presidential candidates in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, November 10, 2015. REUTERS/Jim Young

This post has been updated.


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Former President Donald Trump, left, and former White House counsel Pat Cipollone

On Wednesday evening the House Select Committee investigating the Trump coup plot issued a subpoena to former White House counsel Pat Cipollone, following blockbuster testimony from former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson, who said the lawyer had warned of potential criminal activity by former President Donald Trump and his aides.

The committee summons to Cipollone followed long negotiations over his possible appearance and increasing pressure on him to come forward as Hutchinson did. Committee members expect the former counsel’s testimony to advance their investigation, owing to his knowledge of the former president's actions before, during and after the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

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Mark Meadows

Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows wanted a presidential pardon. He had facilitated key stages of Trump’s attempted 2020 coup, linking the insurrectionists to the highest reaches of the White House and Congress.

But ultimately, Meadows failed to deliver what Trump most wanted, which was convincing others in government to overturn the 2020 election. And then his subordinates, White House security staff, thwarted Trump’s plan to march with a mob into the Capitol.

Meadows’ role has become clearer with each January 6 hearing. Earlier hearings traced how his attempted Justice Department takeover failed. The fake Electoral College slates that Meadows had pushed were not accepted by Congress. The calls by Trump to state officials that he had orchestrated to “find votes” did not work. Nor could Meadows convince Vice-President Mike Pence to ignore the official Electoral College results and count pro-Trump forgeries.

And as January 6 approached and the insurrection began, new and riveting details emerged about Meadow’s pivotal role at the eye of this storm, according to testimony on Tuesday by his top White House aide, Cassidy Hutchinson.

Meadows had been repeatedly told that threats of violence were real. Yet he repeatedly ignored calls from the Secret Service, Capitol police, White House lawyers and military chiefs to protect the Capitol, Hutchinson told the committee under oath. And then Meadows, or, at least White House staff under him, failed Trump a final time – although in a surprising way.

After Trump told supporters at a January 6 rally that he would walk with them to the Capitol, Meadows’ staff, which oversaw Trump’s transportation, refused to drive him there. Trump was furious. He grabbed at the limousine’s steering wheel. He assaulted the Secret Service deputy, who was in the car, and had told Trump that it was not safe to go, Hutchinson testified.

“He said, ‘I’m the f-ing president. Take me up to the Capitol now,’” she said, describing what was told to her a short while later by those in the limousine. And Trump blamed Meadows.

“Later in the day, it had been relayed to me via Mark that the president wasn’t happy that Bobby [Engel, the driver] didn’t pull it off for him, and that Mark didn’t work hard enough to get the movement on the books [Trump’s schedule].”

Hutchinson’s testimony was the latest revelations to emerge from hearings that have traced in great detail how Trump and his allies plotted and intended to overturn the election. Her eye-witness account provided an unprecedented view of a raging president.

Hutchinson’s testimony was compared to John Dean, the star witness of the Watergate hearings a half-century ago that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon for his aides’ efforts to spy on and smear Democrats during the 1972 presidential campaign.

“She IS the John Dean of the hearings,” tweeted the Brooking Institution’s Norman Eisen, who has written legal analyses on prosecuting Trump. “Trump fighting with his security, throwing plates at the wall, but above all the WH knowing that violence was coming on 1/6. The plates & the fighting are not crimes, but they will color the prosecution devastatingly.”

Meadows’ presence has hovered over the coup plot and insurrection. Though he has refused to testify before the January 6 committee, his pivotal role increasingly has come into view.

Under oath, Hutchinson described links between Meadows and communication channels to the armed mob that had assembled. She was backstage at the Trump’s midday January 6 rally and described Trump’s anger that the crowd was not big enough. The Secret Service told him that many people were armed and did not want to go through security and give up their weapons.

Trump, she recounted, said “something to the effect of, ‘I don’t f-ing care that they have weapons. They’re not here to hurt me. Take the mags [metal detectors] away. Let the people in. They can march to the Capitol from here.

As the day progressed and the Capitol was breached, Hutchison described the scene at the White House from her cubicle outside the Oval Office. She repeatedly went into Meadows’ office, where he had isolated himself. When Secret Service officials urged her to get Meadows to urge Trump to tell his supporters to stand down and leave, he sat listless.

“He [Meadows] needs to snap out of it,” she said that she told others who pressed her to get Meadows to act. Later, she heard Meadows repeatedly tell other White House officials that Trump “doesn’t think they [insurrectionists] are doing anything wrong.” Trump said Pence deserved to be hung as a traitor, she said.

Immediately after January 6, Hutchinson said that Trump’s cabinet discussed invoking the 25th Amendment to remove a sitting president but did not do so. She also said that Meadows sought a pardon for his January 6-related actions.

Today, Meadows is championing many of the same election falsehoods that he pushed for Trump as a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute (CPI), a right-wing think tank whose 2021 annual report boasts of “changing the way conservatives fight.”

His colleagues include Cleta Mitchell, a lawyer who pushed for Trump to use every means to overturn the election and leads CPI’s “election integrity network,” and other Republicans who have been attacking elections as illegitimate where their candidates lose.

Hutchinson’s testimony may impede Meadows’ future political role, as it exposes him to possible criminal prosecution. But the election-denying movement that he nurtured has not gone away. CPI said it is targeting elections in national battleground states for 2022’s midterms, including Arizona, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump did not give Meadows a pardon. But in July 2021, Trump’s “Save America” PAC gave CPI $1 million.

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, The American Prospect, and many others.

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