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Conservatives Admit ‘Quid Pro Quo’ — But Insist That’s Not ‘Impeachable’

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

As Democrats are preparing to begin public hearings in the House of Representatives laying out the evidence of President Donald Trump’s misconduct, his more intellectually inclined defenders head toward consensus on a key fact: The White House did, indeed, propose a quid pro quo with Ukraine, leveraging military aid in exchange for investigations of the president’s political opponents.

Andrew McCarthy, one of Trump’s breathless propagandists when it comes to the Russia investigation, recently wrote a piece for the National Review telling fellow defenders of the president: “Stop Claiming ‘No Quid Pro Quo.’” Rich Lowry, also writing in the National Review, similarly wrote:

The line that there was “no quid pro quo” has become steadily less plausible as more testimony has emerged suggesting that Trump withheld security aid to Ukraine in the hopes that Ukraine would announce an investigation into the 2016 election and the gas company Burisma and/or Joe and Hunter Biden.

Ben Shapiro of the Daily Wire also argued Friday: “The White House should stop saying there was no quid pro quo. There was a quid pro quo.”

The idea we’re now supposed to accept, these right-wingers argue, is that despite the fact that there was, undeniably, a quid pro quo, it wasn’t impeachable. Never mind that this may amount to one of the biggest goal-post moves in history. Trump himself has been proclaiming “no quid pro quo.” Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, after having clearly admitted that there was a quid pro quo a couple weeks ago, immediately denied that he had said what he said and blamed the media for reporting on his comments. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson, who has argued on Oct. 3 that the improper request for an investigation into former Vice president Joe Biden was wrong, had then claimed that it wasn’t impeachable in part because “The president did not, as was first reported, offer a quid pro quo to the Ukrainians.”

But now that a quid pro quo is expected to be demonstrated before the American people beyond a shadow of a doubt, don’t expect Trump and company to admit defeat.

They’ll likely adopt the tactics of Shapiro, McCarthy, and Lowry, who all say, for various reasons, that Trump nevertheless shouldn’t be impeached.

One move proponents of this argument like to make is to argue that Democrats were always looking to impeach Trump, and Ukraine is just an excuse, as McCarthy argued:

They have never accepted the voters’ election of Trump. They are not seeking to deduce unfitness from impeachable offenses. They predetermined the unfitness finding and have spent three years looking for some misstep — any misstep — that might pass the laugh test as an impeachable offense.

This is a common refrain, but in many ways, it is obviously false. Democrats were not committed to impeaching Trump no matter what. Were that true, they could have begun impeachment proceedings much earlier on any number of counts, or right after Special Counsel Robert Mueller released his report. Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — to much criticism — held back her party from embracing impeachment. She didn’t change her mind until September when the scale of Trump’s misconduct in the Ukraine affair became clear, and a wave of moderate House Democrats began vocally supporting an impeachment inquiry.

Interview: Historian Rick Perlstein On The Conservative Roots Of Trumpism

This interview with historian and author Rick Perlstein originally appeared in the Berlin daily Neues Deutschland

After Trump won the election you published an essay titled “I Thought I Understood the American Right. Trump Proved Me Wrong.” How did Trump’s election change your view of American conservatism?

The conservatives’ own story about their evolution has been that there were two streams of conservative political activity in the US: one that was extremist and conspiratorial, often viciously racist and even violent. And then there was a mainstream movement that policed those boundaries, associated with the figure of William F. Buckley and the magazine National Review. That mainstream conservatism, as the story goes, had largely prevailed, and the extremist elements were pretty much vestigial. What Trump demonstrates is that those much more feral streams in the movement never really went away. Knowing about Trump, it was a lot easier to see in retrospect how often that extremist underbrush was part of the story.

Is Trump even a conservative in the traditional sense? The National Review published an issue during the 2016 primaries titled “Against Trump,” in which various conservative intellectuals stated that a true conservative could not support Trump, because he violated conservative principles.

Yes, but if you look at the National Review website in the years before that, pretty much everything nasty and politically grotesque that we associate with Trump could be seen in National Review, too.

But weren’t there also actual policy disagreements, regarding the economy or trade for example? Did Trump in that sense violate the principles of US conservatism?

The problem with that idea is that if you survey self-described conservatives, about 90 percent identify with Trump. So you have to question the conservatives’ own story about what was at the heart of their movement. Conservatism, in the basic sense of valuing authority and hierarchy over equality and fluidity, has taken different forms in different times and different places. In the US in the 1920s, the strongest conservative force was the Ku Klux Klan; they ran some states. I saw KKK pamphlets from that time that supported universal government-provided healthcare — because of the fear that dirty immigrants would bring disease with them. The precise policy formulae that conservatism has exhibited over time have to be analytically subordinated to the bottom line: That they are the forces of order, hierarchy, and frankly, the strong leader.

You have used the term “Herrenvolk Democracy” to describe this kind of right-wing social populism.

Yes, but Trump seems to have largely abandoned that by now. Herrenvolk democracy would have been, if he had spent a lot of money on infrastructure, which he promised to do, and provided blue-collar construction jobs; if he had worked to shore up programs that serve mostly middle-class and elderly people, like Social Security or Medicare. But instead he has gone with the more traditional right-wing laissez-faire economic program.

Tucker Carlson of Fox News, one of the most vocal supporters of the President, has recently aired a segment which was very critical of neoliberal capitalism, which he said destroyed families and the social fabric of the country.

Tucker Carlson is a proponent of “herrenvolk democracy”. This has always been a tradition in American conservatism, but very minoritarian. You would never see this kind of thing on Fox News until now. But American right-wing populism has always seen the white middle class in kind of a pincer movement between the rich liberal elites from above, and the rent-seeking, parasitic poor from below.

Steve Bannon often speaks of the Davos Class.

The form that this “herrenvolk democracy” takes seems to be a dog-whistle for anti-Semitism: the idea that unseen, mysterious moneylenders and financial elites are determining the fate of ordinary Americans.

As you said, the actual practice of the Trump administration is not much different than how a traditional Republican would have governed. Traditional, more libertarian Republicans like Paul Ryan found a lot of common ground with Trump, regarding tax cuts, cuts to welfare programs, or gutting environmental protection.

Yes, but there are important differences, too. Ronald Reagan, for example, was actually quite reverent about the idea of immigration to the United States. He was very sentimental about it, he loved the idea of people wanting to come tot he US. That was a central form that his patriotism took.

But mobilizing white racial resentment has always been central to US conservatism, such as Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy.”  Is this racial politics under Trump more central to the GOP, or is it just different, or more honest and open?

It’s more central and it’s more open. Historically, elite conservative politicians did a much more careful job of stoking racial resentment without actually using the language of racial resentment. There is a civil religion in America that includes equality and a rejection of ethnic particularism. You see this in figures like Reagan and Newt Gingrich and generations of conservative politicians. And then you see Donald Trump, starting his campaign in Trump Tower by saying that Mexico is sending us their rapists. He ripped off that skin of civility and was perfectly willing to show the ugliness that other people were careful to hide.

After the election, there was lots of talk about how Trump was very successful with the “white working class,” which maybe hadn’t been voting Republican before. Do you think that the social base of Trump is different than the one that elected George W. Bush or Reagan?

That’s been exaggerated a bit. He got plenty of support from richer white suburban Republican voters as well, even though that is the most vulnerable part of his support. But he did receive an enormous emotional affection from this white working class in the areas of the country that were ruined by neoliberalism. Ronald Reagan had a lot of affection in those areas, too, where his voters were called “Reagan Democrats”: unionized workers who were doing very poorly in the international economy in the late 70s. So it’s an acceleration of a trend that’s been going on for a long time.

In Nixonland, you describe how Nixon in the 1960s engineered a realignment by using racial and culture war issues to split the Democratic voter coalition and create this new social base, on which the power of conservatism rested in the next decades. Is this still the basic split in the population?

Yes, it’s still indispensable to understand our time. In fact, I have a placard from a Donald Trump rally I went to that said: “Donald Trump Stands with the Silent Majority,” which of course was the central slogan that Nixon used back then. And Trump used the same slogan as Nixon did in 1968 in his acceptance speech: “Law and Order.” Donald Trump came out of that world, the early 1970s.

The way you describe Richard Nixon’s emotional appeal seems very similar to Trump today, how he presented himself as the advocate of the common man against the arrogant liberal elites.
To quote Nixon’s vice-president Spiro Agnew, “an effete corps of impudent snobs.” He was talking about the press, but the idea is that people who are more liberal are part of this Davos Class of international ruthless snobs who look down on everyone else.

 One central concept in this regard is resentment.

Resentment is contempt mixed with envy. And even though Trump is a very wealthy man, his habits of mind are very status conscious. He constantly talks about how he went to an Ivy League school, because he felt condescension by the intellectual class that also went to Ivy League schools. Trump went to a college that was very much on the lower rung of the Ivy League. This game started with Richard Nixon. This kind of class politics is very surreal, because Trump wraps himself in all this refinement, but it’s been said that Donald Trump is a poor person’s idea of what a rich person looks like. His aesthetic is very much a brutish, arriviste flaunting of wealth.

And very vulgar too, like when he ordered cheeseburgers for his guests in the White House. It’s almost like he is doing it on purpose, to provoke the liberal condescension.

That was a call back to Michelle Obama, who had a vegetable garden in the White House, and made her big public issue healthy food for children. You see Republicans rebelling against this idea, as in “eating what you want to eat is what a real American does.” While Obama was eating all this fancy food that no one knows how to pronounce. It’s very much part of the class template of American politics, and Donald Trump is playing it to the hilt.

Very few Republicans still criticize the president, Mitt Romney for example. Did Trump take over the Republican Party, or is there any chance that it could revert back to more traditional, less populist styles?

No, these people have no popular constituency. They have a lot of articulate spokesmen, but no bodies on the ground.

Rick Perlstein is the author of the New York Times bestsellers The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan and Nixonland:The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America, and Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus, which won the 2001 Los Angeles Times Book Award for history. 


Trump Releases List Of 11 Possible SCOTUS Nominees

Donald Trump released a list of potential Supreme Court picks Wednesday following months of speculation over who he would nominate to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat should he win the presidency in November.

The list is widely seen as a strategy by Trump to placate the “movement conservatives” actively resisting his candidacy, by committing to place sufficiently right-wing justices on the court.

Trump has named a total of 11 possible candidates for the position, according to a list obtained by the Associated Press. Those candidates were: Steven Colloton of Iowa, Allison Eid of Colorado, Raymond Gruender of Missouri, Thomas Hardiman of Pennsylvania, Raymond Kethledge of Michigan, Joan Larsen of Michigan, Thomas Lee of Utah, William Pryor of Alabama, David Stras of Minnesota, Diane Sykes of Wisconsin and Don Willett of Texas.

Three of the candidates, Hardiman, Kethledge, and Pryor, were appointed to their seats by George W. Bush, a move that could be seen as an attempt to placate anti-Trump conservatives who claimed he was not really a conservative. Republican political donors and social conservatives who have so far been dismayed by Trump’s takeover of the party may hold their noses if he settles on an explicitly pro-life and pro-business pick.

Trump wasn’t always set on naming judges who could placate Republicans accusing him of being too liberal. Before Trump had to get serious about who he would nominate to the court — or, realistically, before he had to reassure conservative donors that he was really a Republican — infamous Trump surrogate Roger Stone said in March, “I can’t think of anybody who’d be a more fitting replacement for the late Judge Anton ‘Nino’ Scalia than [Fox News host and 9/11 truther] Judge Napolitano … I think that’s exactly the right spot for him.”

Trump also floated his sister, Maryanne Trump Barry, who is a senior judge in the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. “I would love to,” he said during an interview on Bloomberg. “But I think she would be the one to say, ‘No way, no way.'”

Two of the judges currently on Trump’s list, Pryor and Sykes, were previously named as potential nominees, and their judicial records show they would be a peace offering to conservatives opposed to Trump. Pryor is a stridently pro-life candidate who said Roe v. Wade allowed for “a constitutional right to murder an unborn child.” He has also supported strict voter ID laws, which time and again have been proven to suppress the voting rights of minorities. Similarly, Sykes, the ex-wife of #NeverTrump radio host Charlie Sykes, penned a court decision that broadened religious objectors’ ability to deny women health coverage for contraceptives.

The National Review, a standard-bearing conservative publication home to many anti-Trump conservatives, is one in a chorus of conservative voices that have said Trump’s Supreme Court picks are just as important as his blatant nativism and racism.

“If there were a way to be absolutely certain that Trump would appoint two, three, or four Antonin Scalia clones during his presidency, a lot of Trump-skeptic conservatives might immediately see one giant reason to vote for him,” swrote Jim Geraghty on the magazine’s website yesterday. “If nothing else, they could rest easy knowing that the Second Amendment wouldn’t be effectively nullified or curtailed, that Citizens United would remain the law of the land, that voter-ID laws would be upheld, and that pro-lifers could continue to make progress in the courts.”

The Heritage Foundation, a right wing think connected to many deep-pocketed conservative donors, is said to have had a role in the list’s creation. Trump indicated in March that the think tank would have some role in picking his list, saying he had “authorized the Heritage Foundation to work on the list of names.”

Meanwhile, Trump has called upon Republicans to continue blocking Merrick Garland’s nomination hearing, ostensibly on the grounds that the next president should choose the ninth supreme court justice. “I don’t think so, no I think they should do what they’re doing,” said the likely Republican nominee on “Good Morning America.” “I think they should wait until the next president and let the next president pick.” He continued, “the ideal would be Scalia reincarnated.”

Landing on Trump’s list may have come as a surprise to at least one candidate. A year ago, Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Willet penned a revealing poem on Twitter:

‘National Review’ Goes To War Against Donald Trump

National Review, the most prominent conservative magazine of the past 60 years, has now gone to press with a new issue dedicated to a single topic: Stopping the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, declaring him to be a fraud and a danger to the republic itself.

“There are understandable reasons for his eminence, and he has shown impressive gut-level skill as a campaigner,” the editorial states. “But he is not deserving of conservative support in the caucuses and primaries. Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones.”

From a magazine that in its founding era officially supported white supremacy and segregation — as well as endorsing the fascist Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, among many other sins — these are certainly strong charges.

The editorial signifies a greater problem for the right, beyond just one candidacy: Once upon a time, the inmates took over the asylum — and now after all the paranoia, ginned-up outrage, and barely-veiled racism they have engineered over these many decades, a whole new generation of inmates are revolting against them.

Trump was quick to respond — on Twitter, of course:

In its editorial, the magazine declares:

If Trump were to become the president, the Republican nominee, or even a failed candidate with strong conservative support, what would that say about conservatives? The movement that ground down the Soviet Union and took the shine, at least temporarily, off socialism would have fallen in behind a huckster. The movement concerned with such “permanent things” as constitutional government, marriage, and the right to life would have become a claque for a Twitter feed.

Trump nevertheless offers a valuable warning for the Republican party. If responsible men irresponsibly ignore an issue as important as immigration, it will be taken up by the reckless. If they cannot explain their Beltway maneuvers — worse, if their maneuvering is indefensible — they will be rejected by their own voters. If they cannot advance a compelling working-class agenda, the legitimate anxieties and discontents of blue-collar voters will be exploited by demagogues. We sympathize with many of the complaints of Trump supporters about the GOP, but that doesn’t make the mogul any less flawed a vessel for them.

Some conservatives have made it their business to make excuses for Trump and duly get pats on the head from him. Count us out. Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.

NR has also included a “symposium” piece, composed of short notes from various conservative activists decrying Trump and what he stands for — many of them carrying their own levels of irony, from people who helped to foment the paranoia that now fuels The Donald’s rise.

As just one example, let’s take a look at this plaintive cry from Bill Kristol:

In a letter to National Review, Leo Strauss wrote that “a conservative, I take it, is a man who despises vulgarity; but the argument which is concerned exclusively with calculations of success, and is based on blindness to the nobility of the effort, is vulgar.” Isn’t Donald Trump the very epitome of vulgarity?

In sum: Isn’t Trumpism a two-bit Caesarism of a kind that American conservatives have always disdained? Isn’t the task of conservatives today to stand athwart Trumpism, yelling Stop?

Recently, Kristol has been talking up the “semi-serious” notion of starting a whole new party of breakaway Republicans, to run their own ticket if Trump were to win the GOP nomination — so outrageous does he view the idea of Trump as the conservative standard-bearer.

But on the subject of American conservatives having allegedly always disdained vulgarity, Kristol is overlooking a very salient point: He, Bill Kristol, was one of the original, key boosters of Sarah Palin, promoting her selection as John McCain’s running mate in 2008. And as recently as 2014, Kristol was still touting Palin as a potential candidate for president in 2016.

This week, of course, Palin endorsed Trump with a cry of “Hallelujah.”