Start your day with National Memo Newsletter
The opinions that matter. Delivered to your inbox every morning
January 27 | 2022
On Monday, Rep. Tom Malinowski warned that his office was getting calls from Fox News watchers whose reliance on Tucker Carlson had led them to argue that the United States should be supporting Russia. Not just supporting Vladimir Putin in his plans to invade a sovereign nation, but supporting Russia’s “reasonable” position in their arguments that NATO is somehow the aggressor.
It’s not just Democratic lawmakers getting these calls. As Axios made clear on Thursday, Republicans are also hearing from their base. And, in the modern Republican tradition, those Republicans are doing what they always do when confronted by extremists in their own party — rolling over.
“Leery of the base, they are avoiding—and in some cases, rejecting—the tough-on-Russia rhetoric that once defined the Republican Party. GOP operatives working in 2022 primary races tell Axios they worry they'll alienate the base if they push to commit American resources to Ukraine or deploy U.S. troops to eastern Europe.”
Strangely enough, Axios gets through the whole article about Republicans being afraid to offend Vladimir Putin, without mentioning one little thing: The whole reason that this is happening, is because Russia interfered in U.S. elections to support Donald Trump.
Repeatedly, the Axios article comes close to spilling the beans. Republicans who are still willing to be critical of the idea that Russia should be allowed to swallow whole Europe’s second-largest nation while the U.S. cheers from the sidelines are described as “still making statements that sound more at home in the pre-Trump GOP.” This shift in the Republican base is attributed in part to “President Donald Trump's warmer posture toward Russia.”
But let’s go to the tape. Or, in this case, to the five-volume report on Russian interference in the 2026 election prepared by the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee, and finally released just three days after the election.
What does that report have to say about Russia’s actions in 2016?
- “The Committee found that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered the Russian
effort to hack computer networks and accounts affiliated with the Democratic Party and leak
information damaging to Hillary Clinton and her campaign for president. Moscow's intent was
to harm the Clinton Campaign, tarnish an expected Clinton presidential administration, help the Trump Campaign after Trump became the presumptive Republican nominee, and undermine the U.S. democratic process.”
- “The Committee found, that the [Russian intelligence operation] IRA sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election by harming Hillary Clinton's chances of success and supporting Donald Trump”
- "Russia's goals were to undermine public faith in the US democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency"
- “Russia's targeting of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was part of a broader, sophisticated, and ongoing information warfare campaign designed to sow discord in American politics and society”
- “The Russian government ‘aspired to help President-elect Trump's election chances when possible by discrediting Secretary Clinton and publicly contrasting her unfavorably to him’”
- “[Russian] social media activity was overtly and almost invariably supportive of then-candidate Trump, and to the detriment of Secretary Clinton's campaign”
- “Posing as U.S. political activists, IRA requested-and in some cases obtained-assistance from the Trump Campaign in procuring materials for rallies and in promoting and organizing rallies”
- “IRA employees were directed to focus on U.S. politics and to ‘use any opportunity to criticize Hillary”
- “[S]tories about Democratic emails might have mentioned that their release was part of a Russian influence campaign and that Donald Trump's repeated references to the releases, his stated adoration of WikiLeaks, and his solicitation of Russian assistance were taking place in the context of an ongoing influence campaign to assist him.”
- “Manafort hired and worked increasingly closely with a Russian national, Konstantin Kilimnik. Kilimnik is a Russian intelligence officer. … Prior to joining the Trump Campaign in March 2016 and continuing throughout his time on the Campaign, Manafort directly and indirectly communicated with Kilimnik, Deripaska, and the pro-Russian oligarchs in Ukraine.”
- “On numerous occasions, Manafort sought to secretly share internal Campaign information with Kilimnik.”
- “The Committee obtained some information suggesting Kilimnik may have been connected to the GRU's hack and leak operation targeting the 2016 U.S. election.”
- The Russians who Manafort and Donald Trump Jr met with at Trump Tower had “significant connections to Russian government, including the Russian intelligence services.” This included Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose connections to the Kremlin “were far more extensive and concerning than what had been publicly known.”
What Russia got for the few million it expended is priceless: Not just Trump in the White House for four years, defending Moscow’s interests from Ukraine to the Middle East, not just a greater-than-ever gap in American society, but a fundamental shift in the Republican base, and in right-wing media, that turned them into an extension of the Kremlin’s disinformation campaign.
In 2012, Mitt Romney took heat for the vehemence of his antipathy toward Russia. Romney’s warnings about Russian aggression drew scorn at the time, though soon after the election the Utah Republican actually got apologies from Democratic officials and candidates as Russia massed its forces on the border of Ukraine and staged an invasion with the assistance of Republican insider Paul Manafort.
Romney’s position wasn’t unusual at the time. In fact, most of the heat he took from his anti-Russia stance was based on the idea that the presidential candidate wasn’t putting any thought into his response. He was simply continuing a long Republican tradition of using the threat from Russia as an excuse to bolster U.S. military spending.
From the Cold War right up through the Obama administration, Republicans didn’t just maintain a solid front when it came to the danger represented by Russia, they built their foreign policy around that threat.
It should be noted that this isn’t the first time Putin has been handed a gift by the radical right. In 2014, with the invasion of Crimea underway, Mitch McConnell stood in the way of passing a bill considered vital for Ukraine. Why? As Politico explained at the time: “McConnell faces a tea party primary opponent in May.”
“Twenty, 25 years ago, if you told me McCain would be the leader of the Republicans on foreign policy and McConnell [would be] on the sidelines, I would never have believed you,” said one veteran of President George H.W. Bush’s administration. “Mitch was one of our go-to guys.”
Yeah, well, Mitch is always willing to go … wherever the wind blows him. When it looked like a Tea Party candidate might challenge him, McConnell threw away his “beliefs”
Republicans have been riding the whirlwind since those Tea Party days, banking on an anything-goes faux populism that champions hurting fellow Americans over anything else. They stayed on that whirlwind even when they knew their candidate was being backed and bankrolled by Moscow. And now they have a party that’s urging them to surrender an ally to Putin, arguing that the U.S. should just ignore military aggression from an expansionist authoritarian empire and it will go away. Because that’s worked so well in the past.
Putin bought Trump. Cheap. Now he owns the power-base of an American political party, with GOP candidates falling all over themselves to prove how much they don’t care about Russia tearing a chunk out of Europe.
It’s almost as if the Republican tough-on-Russia position was never real, to begin with, but just something they were doing to bolster donations from defense contractors and create the impression that they had a serious position on foreign policy.
Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos
Keep reading... Show less
With Justice Stephen Bryer announcing his retirement, President Joe Biden is set to nominate a new justice, and the White House has reaffirmed his campaign promise in 2020 to nominate the first Black woman to the court. Going forward, there is a long list of judges in respected positions currently under public scrutiny.
Meanwhile, conservatives are now treating Biden’s campaign promise like an unprecedented affront against the country — while engaging in plenty of blatantly racist and misogynist rhetoric — even though it was nearly identical to a campaign pledge made by Ronald Reagan in 1980.
Biden isn’t the first president to have made such a promise
At a Democratic primary debate in South Carolina in February 2020, Biden said: “I'm looking forward to making sure there's a black woman on the Supreme Court, to make sure we in fact get every representation.” Biden further reiterated at another debate in March 2020: “I committed that if I'm elected president, have an opportunity to appoint someone to the courts, will be — I'll appoint the first black woman to the courts. It's required that they have representation now. It's long overdue.”
But nearly 40 years before, in the closing weeks of the 1980 presidential campaign, Republican nominee Ronald Reagan made a direct promise that he would nominate a woman to “one of the first Supreme Court vacancies in my administration,” saying that it was “time for a woman to sit among our highest jurists.”
The Washington Post reported at the time that while Reagan said he opposed “tokenism and false quotas,” he further added: “I am also acutely aware, however, that within the guidelines of excellence, appointments can carry enormous symbolic significance. This permits us to guide by example — to show how deep our commitment is and to give meaning to what we profess.”
Reagan kept that promise at the very first opportunity he got, nominating Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981 to be the first woman to sit on the court.
Conservatives are now calling Biden’s pledge “discrimination,” “unconstitutional,” and even “tribal warfare”
Early on Wednesday afternoon, in a conversation with law professor and Fox News contributor Jonathan Turley, Fox anchor Harris Faulkner suggested that Biden’s campaign pledge was “discrimination.”
Turley then published a guest column that evening in Fox News’ corporate cousin The Wall Street Journal, claiming that this Supreme Court nomination would be “different from any in history” due to Biden’s promise to nominate a Black woman. He also alleged that the presence of such a justice on the court would set up a historically “jarring” moment in the court’s proceedings:
Mr. Biden is now going to create one of the more jarring and incongruous moments in the history of the Supreme Court. This fall, in the Harvard and University of North Carolina cases, the justices will hear arguments that the use of race in admissions is unlawful discrimination. One of them will have gained her seat in part through exclusionary criteria of race and sex.
National Review also furnished some concern-trolling that afternoon, its editorial bemoaning that Biden had “disqualified dozens of liberal and progressive jurists for no reason other than their race and gender.”
On Wednesday night, Fox prime-time host Tucker Carlson alleged that Biden’s pledge for the Supreme Court nomination was equivalent to “giving up the spoils like carrot cake.” He further added, very ominously: “You can see where this is going. It always goes there — identity politics always ends with tribal warfare. It's funny the Biden people can't see that. Maybe they can see it and don't care or maybe it is the entire point of the exercise.”
Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo declared Thursday morning: “What kind of qualification is that, being a Black woman? I mean is this our standards now, in terms of the highest court in the land?”
Turley appeared Thursday morning on Fox’s America’s Newsroom, during which co-anchor Dana Perino read a section from his Wall Street Journal column. Turley, at his own initiative, attempted to delineate the “subtle difference” between Biden’s promise in 2020, versus Reagan’s campaign promise in 1980 to nominate a woman to “one of the first Supreme Court vacancies” — claiming that Reagan “didn’t say he would only consider a woman.”
DANA PERINO (CO-ANCHOR): In your Wall Street Journal column today, though, you wrote this. “A college couldn't get away with Biden's high court criteria. His promise to appoint only a Black woman is the kind of quota the justices rejected in,” I believe it’s “ Bakke.” Tell me more about that.
JONATHAN TURLEY (FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR): Well, it's a great irony in that you’re admitting someone to the court based on an admission standard that the court itself has banned for schools. And indeed, the court just took two racial preference cases to add to its docket. So, those cases will be heard by a justice who was initially selected through the very type of racial preference rule. But in this case, it wasn't a preference rule — President Biden said he would not consider anyone who was not female or African American. That would not be allowed for a private company or a university.
Now, this may seem like a subtle difference. I mean, presidents like Ronald Reagan said that he wanted to put a woman on the court. But he said that he wanted to put a woman in one of his first vacancies, and he didn't say that he would only consider a woman. Ultimately, he did in fact select O’Connor — and Sandra Day O’Connor very much was a short list of one. So, the important thing here is just that presidents can emphasize diversity as an element the same way as universities can. But they don't go as far as Biden did, usually, and say, well, I'm not going to consider anyone who is male or not African American.
With or without a campaign pledge, the right would still attack Biden’s pick as somehow being “lesser”
On Thursday, The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro claimed: “They can overtly discriminate against people, which is really an amazing shift. By the way, it’s an amazing tonal shift in American politics. You wouldn’t have heard [President] Bill Clinton doing this in the ‘90s — you just wouldn’t have.” (In fact, Clinton promised in his 1992 campaign that his administration would be diverse and “look like America.”)
Shapiro further claimed that the “more amazing thing” was that Biden didn’t have to make the campaign pledge: “He didn’t have to say it in 2020. He could’ve just selected a Black woman. He would’ve gotten the same credit.”
In fact, it is easy to prove that Biden would not have gotten the “same credit” for simply nominating a Black woman in the absence of any prior pledge. Ilya Shapiro of the Cato Institute, in a now-deleted set of tweets, claimed that “we’ll get a lesser black woman” on the Supreme Court while there are other more deserving candidates and that Biden’s nominee “will always have an asterisk attached.”
In fact, as Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern pointed out, Ilya Shapiro had previously written a piece for CNN in 2009 lambasting then-President Barack Obama’s first Supreme Court nomination: “In picking Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama has confirmed that identity politics matter to him more than merit. While Judge Sotomayor exemplifies the American Dream, she would not have even been on the shortlist if she were not Hispanic.”
In that instance, Obama had never made any similar pledge to nominate a Latina to the Supreme Court. But the right-wing ire rained down just the same. This entire narrative is based on the assumption that representation and merit are antithetical to each other — and that such a nomination is always in some way “lesser.”
Reprinted with permission from Media Matters
Keep reading... Show less