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

Photo by Pierre Blaché

Even if November's electoral tsunami is still just a rumor on the horizon, that big blue wave already is rocking Republican boats. We can sense something different in the distance, not only because the polls say so but because political journalism has departed from its banal narrative.

Instead of the repetitious dullness of "Democrats in disarray," there is the freshly entertaining spectacle of "Republican civil war."


Indeed, the Democratic Party appears exceptionally united, following a primary season that threatened to erupt in division over its own ethnic, gender, geographic and ideological diversity. Instead of the angry and sometimes ugly recriminations that marred the aftermath of the 2016 primaries, which contributed heavily to Hillary Clinton's defeat in the Electoral College, the 2020 competition concluded with affirmations of common purpose. And unlike 2016, the followers of Bernie Sanders seem ready to fall in behind the nominee, as their candidate promptly and fervently urged them to do. Very few Sanders supporters are telling pollsters that they will vote for anyone except Joe Biden.

In this cycle, the Republican Party is tearing itself apart from within rather than marching in their normal obedient lockstep. The prospect of doom rarely unites any political constituency, particularly when that group is motivated by power rather than principle or patriotism. What was once the Grand Old Party is now merely Grifters on Parade — and as President Donald Trump's approval ratings decline, GOP elected officials are looking for someone to blame. This time they're aiming at each other.

Within the House Republican Conference, the ultra-right Trump cultists revolted this week, aiming to oust Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) the only woman in their leadership. Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, among others, accused Cheney of insufficient loyalty to the president and demanded that she step down. Although Cheney actually votes more reliably with Trump than either Gaetz or Jordan, she had the temerity to suggest that Republicans follow the advice of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's chief epidemiologist, since the coronavirus pandemic is now raging out of control across the red states.

Using science to stem a disease that has taken nearly 150,000 lives in four months is now Republican heresy.

On the other side of the Capitol, Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Rand Paul (R-KY) are furious with Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR). Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), and other members of their caucus for considering another round of economic assistance for families, and even states and municipalities. Confronted with the bankruptcy of fiscal "conservatism," the senators can't agree on whether to pass a new COVID-19 relief bill. Evidently, Cruz and Paul would let families and cities starve, while Cotton, McConnell — and presumably Trump — fear the political consequences of that cruel and destructive attitude.

So unemployment benefits are due to expire at the end of July, leaving tens of millions of Americans in potential destitution because the Senate Republicans fumbled this responsibility.

If the election were held today, the Republicans would risk losing the White House, the Senate majority and even more House seats. The peril to their party expands every day, as this president continues to fail in dealing with the pandemic and the economic ruin it has wrought. As public confidence in Trump vanishes, his most devoted followers in the House and the Senate only become more obsequious. But the brighter Republican officials are starting to realize that this disastrous presidency may destroy their party, and that obsessive loyalty to Trump may become a suicide pact.

The strife now erupting among Republicans is a product of Trump's incompetence and corruption, none of which disturbed his party until they noticed that their own hides might be in danger. For months and years, they have let him and his ruinous administration run wild, either too cowardly or too cynical to utter a word of dissent.

Now the waters are getting rough; the ship of state is starting to founder; and soon the rats will be leaping over the gunwales. Trump is perfectly cast as the mad and selfish commander of a sinking vessel.

If the fate of the nation weren't at stake, this would be highly entertaining. Bring popcorn anyway.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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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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