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Former President Donald Trump

The big question isn't whether Donald Trump plans to run for president come 2024. Assuming that he's alive, relatively healthy, and not under criminal indictment, of course he will. He pretty much has to.

Never mind that at age 75, Trump looks like a stroke or coronary event waiting to happen. The show must go on. He needs all the cash he can raise. Otherwise, his lifelong grift could come to an ignominious, if not farcical end. Tax fraud convictions and spiraling bankruptcies would be the least of it.

And if he runs, Republicans will surely nominate him.

What's left of the party he's torn apart won't be able to help themselves. Formerly apostles of "small government" conservatism, the GOP has morphed into a quasi-authoritarian cult of personality.

And despite the staggering incompetence and low comedy that marked his 2020 "Stop the Steal" campaign, it's worth remembering that people laughed at Mussolini too. Charlie Chaplin's merciless satire of Hitler in The Great Dictator didn't appear until October 1940, a full year into World War II.

So it's definitely worthwhile heeding thoughtful warnings that next time an electoral coup might work. Although there's almost no chance that Trump could come anywhere close to winning a majority of American voters, GOP skulduggery could put him back in the White House. Assuming that a complacent majority allowed it to happen.

Longtime neoconservative author Robert Kagan, has recently published a thought-provoking Washington Post essay arguing that a constitutional crisis is already upon us. Kagan, who left the GOP in 2016, warns that "Most Americans — and all but a handful of politicians — have refused to take this possibility seriously enough to try to prevent it. As has so often been the case in other countries where fascist leaders arise, their would-be opponents are paralyzed in confusion and amazement at this charismatic authoritarian."

Certainly, Republicans are doing all they can to game the 2024 presidential election. Should they retake Congress in 2022, they'll do even more. So while it's possible that efforts to prevent minorities from voting could backfire—discouraging older white voters while energizing African-Americans—putting Republican state legislatures in charge of certifying elections is an ominous development.

Had that been so in 2020, Trump's comic opera coup attempt might have succeeded. Bob Woodward and Robert Costa's book Peril, detailed a six-part plan dreamed up by right-wing law professor John Eastman, who harangued the crowd along with Trump and Rudy Giuliani on January 6. The scheme required Vice President Mike Pence to invalidate electoral votes won by Joe Biden on the grounds that seven states had sent rival sets of electors to Congress.

"If Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election," Trump told the mob before promising to march with them to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to save the country.

"You can either go down in history as a patriot," Trump reportedly told Pence "or you can go down in history as a pussy."

Meow!

Never mind the constitutional absurdity—how can the Vice President decide an election in which he's himself a candidate?—Eastman's scam failed for the simplest of reasons: no states sent rival delegations to the Electoral College.

Indeed, had they done so, the likeliest outcome would have been that Speaker Pelosi would have dissolved the joint session of Congress, leading to her temporarily assuming the presidency as the next in succession.

Oops!

As usual, Trump had neglected to read the fine print. The fact is, he probably can't. But that's another issue altogether.

Kagan's point is that, next time, Trumpist legislatures will definitely send those rival delegations. Or worse. Some Republican-dominated bodies are even considering overriding their state's popular vote, if necessary, to re-install Trump.

Purged of dissenters like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, today's Republicans have become what Kagan calls a "zombie party" in thrall to a cult of personality. "They view Trump as strong and defiant," he writes, "willing to take on the establishment, Democrats, RINOs, liberal media, antifa, the Squad, Big Tech, and the 'Mitch McConnell Republicans.'"

In other words, basically a list of cartoon enemies. If my own hostile reader emails are any guide, this is certainly true. To Trumpists, their rivals are fundamentally illegitimate. It's basically a pro-wrestling audience, excited by spectacle. To them, Trump's egomania is a feature, not a bug. He'll give no quarter to his enemies—and theirs.

"A Trump victory," Kagan concludes "is likely to mean at least the temporary suspension of American democracy as we have known it."

Which is exactly why it's not going to happen. Kagan is a learned and intelligent fellow, but he has a melodramatic imagination of his own. As a co-founder of the "Project for a New American Century," he pushed hard for remaking the world by invading Iraq.

His warnings are well-taken, but Kagan badly underestimates the determination of the democratic majority.

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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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