These Are Not Roosevelt’s “Four Freedoms”

This might be the best political comment ever left on a blog:

Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.

Jamelle Bouie of The New York Times (one of their columnists who is actually worth reading) offers evidence for that proposition in “The Four Freedoms, According to Republicans”:

On Tuesday, Republicans in North Carolina overrode Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto to pass a strict limit on bodily autonomy in the form of a 12-week abortion ban…. North Carolina Republicans are obviously not the only ones fighting to ban, limit or restrict the right to bodily autonomy, whether abortion or gender-affirming health care for transgender people. All across the country, Republicans have passed laws to do exactly that wherever they have the power to do so, regardless of public opinion in their states or anywhere else. The war on bodily autonomy is a critical project for nearly the entire Republican Party, pursued with dedication by [everybody] from the lowliest state legislator to the party’s powerful functionaries on the Supreme Court.

You might even say that in the absence of a national leader with a coherent ideology and agenda, the actions of Republican-led states and legislatures provide the best guide to what the Republican Party wants to do and the best insight into the society it hopes to build.

[Their] attack on bodily autonomy [is] part of a larger effort to restore traditional hierarchies of gender and sexuality. What else is on the Republican Party’s agenda, if we use those states as our guide to the party’s priorities?

There is the push to free business from the suffocating grasp of child labor laws. Republican lawmakers in Arkansas, Iowa, Missouri and Ohio have advanced legislation to make it easier for children as young as 14 to work more hours, work without a permit and be subjected to more dangerous working conditions. The reason to loosen child labor laws — as a group of Wisconsin Republicans explained in a memo in support of a bill that would allow minors to serve alcohol at restaurants — is to deal with a shortage of low-wage workers in those states.

There are other ways to solve this problem — you could raise wages, for one — but in addition to making life easier for the midsize-capitalist class that is the material backbone of Republican politics, freeing businesses to hire underage workers for otherwise adult jobs would undermine organized labor and public education, two bêtes noires of the conservative movement.

Elsewhere in the country, Republican-led legislatures are placing harsh limits on what teachers and other educators can say in the classroom about American history or the existence of L.G.B.T.Q. people….Nationwide, Republicans in at least 18 states have passed laws or imposed bans designed to keep discussion of racial discrimination, structural inequality and other divisive concepts out of classrooms and far away from students.

Last but certainly not least is the Republican effort to make civil society a shooting gallery. Since 2003, Republicans in 25 states have introduced and passed so-called constitutional carry laws, which allow residents to have concealed weapons in public without a permit. In most of those states, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, it is also legal to openly carry a firearm in public without a permit.

Republicans have also moved aggressively to expand the scope of “stand your ground” laws, which erode the longstanding duty to retreat in favor of a right to use deadly force in the face of perceived danger…. It should be said as well that some Republicans want to protect gun manufacturers and dealers from lawsuits. Gov. Bill Lee of Tennessee did just that this month — after a shooting in Nashville killed six people, including three children, in March — signing a bill that gives additional protections to the gun industry.

What should we make of all this? In his 1941 State of the Union address, Franklin Roosevelt said there was “nothing mysterious about the foundations of a healthy and strong democracy” and that he, along with the nation, looked forward to “a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.” Famously, those freedoms were the “freedom of speech and expression,” the “freedom of every person to worship God in his own way,” the “freedom from want” and the “freedom from fear.” Those freedoms were the guiding lights of his New Deal, and they remained the guiding lights of his administration through the trials of World War II.

There are, I think, four freedoms we can glean from the Republican program.

There is the freedom to control — to restrict the bodily autonomy of women and repress the existence of anyone who does not conform to traditional gender roles.

There is the freedom to exploit — to allow the owners of business and capital to weaken labor and take advantage of workers as they see fit.

There is the freedom to censor — to suppress ideas that challenge and threaten the ideologies of the ruling class.

And there is the freedom to menace — to carry weapons wherever you please, to brandish them in public, to turn the right of self-defense into a right to threaten other people.

Roosevelt’s four freedoms were the building blocks of a humane society — a social democratic aspiration for egalitarians then and now. These Republican freedoms are also building blocks, not of a humane society but of a rigid and hierarchical one, in which you can either dominate or be dominated.

They Sure Act Like Fascists

Polls suggest roughly half of Republican voters are big fans of the former president. (The misguided other half vote for him anyway.) Is it fair to call his deplorable true believers fascists?

From Noah Berlatsky for Public Notice (a newsletter that covers US politics and media):

On Tuesday, Dxxxx Txxxx was found liable for sexually assaulting writer E. Jean Carroll and defaming her. The $5 million dollar fine didn’t deter Txxxx for even a day, though.
At his CNN town hall in New Hampshire on Wednesday night, Txxxx again smeared Carroll, mocking her claims about how he assaulted her in the Bergdorf Goodman department store….

Txxxx’s cruel monologue was repulsive. But what was even more disgusting was the audience reaction. CNN had shamelessly filled the room with Txxxx supporters. And as the former president mocked Carroll, those supporters laughed like he was a witty comedian delivering a punchline.

Txxxx is Txxxx; he was a horrible person long before he was president, and he will go to his grave a liar, a bully, and a bigot. When CNN put Txxxx on the air for ratings and clout, they knew he would spread election lies. They knew he would demean E. Jean Carroll. They knew he would direct abuse at moderator Kaitlin Collins (he called her “nasty,” his standard epithet for women who challenge him).

But commentators like to think that most Americans are better than Txxxx. The college students, the small businesspeople, and even the Republican activists who vote for Txxxx do so, pundits hope, despite his manifest cruelty, rather than because those good Americans enjoy laughing at sexual assault victims.

But CNN’s town hall was a reminder that Txxxx supporters are in fact bad people — in the sense that to support Txxxx, and defend Txxxx, requires them to become their absolute worst selves. Probably most of Txxxx’s supporters did not tell themselves before the town hall started that they were there to cheer on sexual assault. But by the end they were doing just that. That’s how fascism works.

Pundits and experts have long scoffed at the idea that Txxxx’s supporters are actually implicated in his evil — or at least, they’ve insisted that saying they are is verboten. How can 74 million Txxxx supporters be fascists?

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton was widely excoriated when she said in 2016 that half of Txxxx’s voters were “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic” — a “basket of deplorables,” as she memorably put it.

In 2022, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute worried that “to say that tens of millions of supporters of the other party … are fascists, fascistic, or semi-fascistic is to use the language of national emergency.” That transforms the other party from “adversaries to enemies,” he argues, which makes it too easy “to justify taking extraordinary action to suppress the threat.”

Hamid is afraid of the effects of polarization. But the way he keeps incredulously insisting that tens of millions of Txxxx supporters can’t be fascists also suggests that he is just loath to believe that so many Americans — our fellow countrymen, our neighbors, our relatives — can be bad people. Fascism is evil. Americans aren’t evil. So how can Americans be fascists? Let us count the ways.

The CNN town hall was a 70 minute demonstration in the grim mechanics of how. Robert O. Paxton argues that a core characteristic of fascism is “an obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood” paired with “compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity.” Fascists claim that they, the pure bearers of the nation’s pride, are being assaulted, smeared, and debased (generally by marginalized people). They then use that as an excuse for extremes of violence in the name of revenge and purity.

You could see Txxxx enact this formula over and over again in the town hall as his fans cheered. In defending his violent coup attempt on January 6, for example, Txxxx quickly brought up Ashli Babbitt, who was killed while storming the Capitol. The former president’s voice got positively misty as he said her name, and then harsh as he called the Black police officer who shot her a “thug.”

“Cold blank range they shot her,” he stormed — as if she was deliberately executed, rather than killed in a violent melee as she and her cohort attempted to get their hands on members of Congress who were trying to count the electoral votes that would finalize Txxxx’s loss to Joe Biden. Babbitt becomes a martyr for the cause, retroactively erasing or justifying everyone else who took part in the insurrection.

Again, when Txxxx was asked about his policy of separating families at the border, leaving children alone in cages, he explained it was necessary to deter immigration. “We have to save our country,” he insisted. America is in danger from immigrants that Txxxx claims are spreading disease and terror. Any excess of cruelty is justifiable to save it.

Txxxx’s ugly discussion of E. Jean Carroll was even more illustrative, [suggesting] that Carroll was mentally ill, out of control, and determined to persecute him. Txxxx is again the innocent persecuted figure, and his innocence justifies his crude smears of Carroll, even after a jury of his peers found him liable for assaulting and defaming her.

In each case here — and in many more throughout the town hall — Txxxx gives the audiences little winks or asides to remind them that he’s on their side. At one point he bizarrely suggested he would give one questioner a job in his administration. At another he gave the audience a sincere look and told them rich people “do pretty well in a lot of ways” as they laughed. He’s a comedian. He tells it like it is. He’s their guy.

Txxxx’s voters empathize with Txxxx, and he in turn empathizes with them, assuring them that they are persecuted and under assault. And then, empathizing together in an organic community of amity, he tells them that the solution to their ills is atrocity. And they enthusiastically agree.

MAGA partisans don’t see themselves as evil, because they know they’re on the side of the noble victims. Txxxx gets people to feel like they’re backed into a corner with him, and that only through him can they break free and scourge their enemies. It’s a potent cocktail of fear and rage and righteousness. It’s addictive. It’s exciting. And, as all that laughter shows, it’s fun.

Fascism is a mass movement. That doesn’t mean that people are tricked or hypnotized by a charismatic leader. It means that people encourage each other to form a community based in cruelty, bigotry, lies, and violence. The community feels good and right, not despite the fact that it gives people license to be their worst selves, but because it does. And, yes, millions of neighbors, relatives, and good, pure people can participate in the rituals of victimization, bigotry, and blood. Who is fascism for, after all, if not the good, pure people?

Biden Needs To Be Ready To Act

“extort”: to obtain from a person by force, intimidation, or undue or illegal power.

In other words, if you don’t give me what I want, something very bad will happen to you. This is not the same as negotiation.

 “negotiate”: to confer with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter.

You’ll get something you want, I’ll get something I want, and neither of us will be too worse off.

Which brings us to the debt limit or debt ceiling:

Management of the United States public debt is an important part of the macroeconomics of the United States economy and finance system, and the debt ceiling is a limitation on the federal government’s ability to manage the economy and finance system. The debt ceiling is also a limitation on the federal government’s ability to finance government operations, and the failure of Congress to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling has resulted in crises, especially in recent years.

Prior to 1917, the United States did not have a debt ceiling, with Congress either authorizing specific loans or allowing the Treasury to issue certain debt instruments and individual debt issues for specific purposes. Sometimes Congress gave the Treasury discretion over what type of debt instrument would be issued.

Between 1788 and 1917, Congress would authorize each bond issue by the United States Treasury by passing a legislative act that approved the issue and the amount.

In 1917, during World War I, Congress created the debt ceiling with the Second Liberty Bond Act of 1917, which allowed the Treasury to issue bonds and take on other debt without specific Congressional approval, as long as the total debt fell under the statutory debt ceiling. [Wikipedia]

The story of the debt limit “crises, especially in recent years” begins in 2011. From Brian Beutler of Crooked Media:

Just as clear-eyed political analysts knew well before President Obama that Republicans would abuse the filibuster rule in an unprecedented way to stymie his agenda, they also recognized before the Democratic leadership that, after crushing Democrats in the 2010 midterms, Republicans would take the further unprecedented step of extorting Obama under threat of default. That’s why reporters asked then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid why Democrats, with their huge 2009-2010 majorities, wouldn’t neutralize the threat before Republicans took power. 

“Let the Republicans have some buy-in on the debt,” Reid said

This was the beginning of a fateful error that culminated in a significant shock to the economy, still hobbling out of the great recession, followed by years of indiscriminate, across-the-board discretionary-spending cuts, which Obama paid the Republicans in ransom.

This was supposed to be Obama-era Democrats’ biggest regret, one that they were committed never to relive. For the rest of Obama’s presidency he rightly refused to make unreciprocated concessions for further debt limit increases, and each time Republicans eventually caved. 

But it isn’t foreordained that Republicans will always cave, every time a Democratic president refuses to be extorted, from now through eternity. Republicans never forswore weaponizing the debt limit. Neither was their lurch further into extremism a piece of forbidden knowledge. Right out in the open, through the Obama and Txxxx years, Republicans have become significantly more aggrieved and vandalous, and because of that, permanently disarming the debt limit has become a matter of greater and greater urgency….

If Democrats were like Republicans, they would’ve treated turnabout as fair play, and held the debt limit hostage for ideological policy concessions after Txxxx took office. Of course, the parties aren’t similar, and Democrats never considered this, nor should they have: Extortion is extortion, and every bit as anti-democratic as stealing court seats, or elected offices. 

But I did think that when Republicans came to Democrats for help increasing the debt limit, Democrats should have made one demand: that in exchange for their votes, Republicans would have to relinquish the debt limit as a tool of extortion forever. This could have taken many forms: Outright debt-limit abolition, indefinite debt-limit suspension, a debt-limit increase of effectively infinite size, or the permanent delegation of authority to increase the debt limit to the executive branch. Either way, the idea was that Democrats should have had enough dignity to insist the parties be bound by a single set of rules, and make it the price of bailing Republicans out of a jam. 

Democrats instead gave their votes away for free….

By the end of the last Congress, with Republicans poised once again to control the House under a Democratic president, the idea that Democrats should use their narrow, lame-duck majorities to moot the debt limit grew into something like a clamor…. Democrats thus had to respond to it, and their response was: sorry, no. This time, they seemingly just didn’t have the votes. But Democratic leaders expended almost no public effort trying to whip them up. Instead they and their loyalists treated supporters to excuses ranging from ‘we don’t have enough time’ to ‘we are leaving the doomsday device armed and ticking on purpose!’ How better to force Republicans to produce a budget, which will contain unpopular policies, the better to run against?

So House Republicans have produced a budget. It’s filled with unpopular proposals they could never get implemented through the normal budget negotiations with the president and Senate that take place every year.

Their position is: give us all or much of what we want or we’ll create a financial crisis as bad or worse than the one in 2008. The government won’t have enough money to function and all hell will break loose. Extortion.

Biden’s position is: raise the debt limit, as Congress has always done before, and then we’ll negotiate the budget like we always do. Negotiation.

You might think it’s fine for Republicans to finally force Democrats to cut the spending Republicans want to cut and leave alone the spending Republicans want to leave alone. Do you think it would be fine for Democrats to do the same thing when there’s a Republican president? Regardless, letting a minority compel the government to meet its demands is not how a representative democracy is supposed to work. Democrats gave in to extortion before and they shouldn’t do it again.

Back to Mr, Beutler:

Democrats find themselves at a choosing moment once again, only this time, they lack the means to disarm the debt limit with new law. Their choice is between caving to Republicans and maneuvering aggressively to disempower them….

Biden should be prepared to leave Tuesday’s meeting with Congressional leaders and announce that if Republicans attempt to default on the national debt, his administration will protect the country.

… He can instruct the Treasury to continue auctioning bonds, and if Republicans then choose to sue the country into default, and the Republican-controlled courts choose to order the country into default, it will be on them. Biden could further justify this decision by referencing the 14th amendment, which holds the sovereign debt inviolable. [Other options have been proposed and are supposedly being considered.]

… We need Democrats who will stop treating the Republicans’ serial default threat as a prompt to outmaneuver them, and instead simply overturn the game board… Republicans are the minority, trying to impose their will on the whole country by threat of mass harm, and that isn’t compatible with freedom or self-government. It isn’t hard bargaining, it’s terrorism.

Anything less than continued, complete refusal to negotiate would, in a profound and troubling sense, represent a violation of the oath of office. In a more partisan sense, it would breach the trust of millions of voters who view the Democratic Party as the last line of defense against extremist depredations. It’s hard to imagine a clearer way to signal that, when push comes to shove, they’ll appease bullies, instead of standing up for us—and they’ll do it by handing over our lunch money.  

The country can’t survive in the long run if one shameless faction wields power in a consequence-free realm, while the other quietly acclimates itself to the mounting extremism. Eventually the trespasses will be incompatible with self-rule, and it will bring the whole republic down. 

Note: In a TV interview, when asked if he might cite the 14th Amendment in order to bypass the debt limit (the amendment says the nation’s debt should not be “questioned”), Biden said he’s “not there yet”.

Of Course, We’re Polarized. We Should Be!

Do a search for “America polarized” and you’ll see that serious observers are very concerned:

The Pew Charitable Trusts: “America Is Exceptional in Its Political Divide”

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: “What Happens When Democracies Become Perniciously Polarized?”

The New Yorker: “How Politics Got So Polarized”

The New York Times: “America Has Split, and It’s Now In Very Dangerous Territory”

The Atlantic: “The Doom Spiral of Pernicious Polarization”

And so on. But polarization is a symptom, not the disease.

The following is from “Political Polarization Isn’t the Real Problem in America”, an interview with two University of North Carolina political scientists at Salon:

There was a time, not all that long ago, when the idea that American political life was dangerously polarized was controversial, and often vehemently denied…. Today things look quite different…. Polarization research has exploded, exploring many different dimensions — social, ideological, affective — all resting on the premise that polarization is a big problem, if not the central problem, in American politics today. But this research too often tacitly yearns for a lost golden age of greater consensus, an age that was never golden for those effectively excluded….

Daniel Kreiss and Shannon McGregor, both at the University of North Carolina, … argue that the focus on polarization as such, while ignoring the actual content of politics that produces polarization, is fundamentally mistaken….

I was reading the Axios newsletter this morning and they used the language of polarization to talk about how college students are making choices on the basis of state laws around reproductive rights. Basically they bemoaned the polarization that means people aren’t going to go to school in red states if they value abortion access. But the problem there is not polarization, it’s that 18- to 24-year-olds, very logically, are like, “We want to be make sure that we have reproductive freedoms and can make autonomous choices for our own bodies when we go to school.” Polarization is beside the point….

It’s not to say that polarization is not something to be concerned about. There are all sorts of ways that citizens have skewed understandings of the other side, when it comes to the beliefs that citizens of different parties hold, and those things are all potentially concerning. But when you have an assault on our nation’s capital, as we did on Jan. 6, that was designed to prevent the peaceful transfer of power after a safe and a secure election, the problem is not polarization, it’s anti-democratic extremism. It’s unfair and illegitimate power grabs by a set of dominant groups in a white-dominant political party. It’s not the fact that we’re so divided. I just think a lot of scholars have been drawing the wrong conclusions and focusing on the wrong questions when it comes to what we should be concerned about….

One way to think about [this] is to ask: “Why is the contemporary right obsessed with trans issues right now?” I think this is a clear example of constructing identitarian appeals that work with white men in particular. That also came right on the heels of all the “critical race theory” bills that swept across the country, all with similar language about protecting, in essence, whites from feeling guilty from learning about racial history, from being accountable for racial histories….

If you’re considering the democratic consequences of polarization, you also have to consider what the poles you’re comparing really are. Polarization only says what’s of concern is that distance between two groups, whereas we’re arguing that one group is anti-democratic extremists and the other group is a multiracial democratic movement. The concern is not that they’re so far apart….

The polarization frame is the easy one. It’s politically neutral. It’s easy to be like, “Oh, we’re all so polarized!” Consider that Axios newsletter I mentioned: A more careful analysis is to say, “Maybe 18 to 24-year-olds are concerned about the fact that they’re going to have access to reproductive care while they’re in college.” Or to cite another issue, the problem isn’t that we’re polarized around guns, the problem is we have mass shootings once a week in this country. I think it requires having a much clearer diagnosis of what’s at issue. 

But that also means taking a stance. And I think a lot of journalists and a lot of social scientists, a lot of people in public life feel very uncomfortable with that. We can’t call out guns, but we can call out polarization. But from my point of view, the problem is guns. The problem is anti-trans laws. The problem is white supremacy. Those are the issues that I think we should focus on, and be clear-eyed about.

Polarization becomes a way to talk about politics without talking about politics at all, without actually getting at the underlying issues. We all just need to be much sharper in our analysis and much clearer in our commitments when we talk about these issues, without the lazy way out of relying on polarization speak.

The basic problem isn’t polarization. As the Salon article says, the basic problem is that one pole is a lot worse than the other. From Vox:

A 2019 survey of nearly 2,000 experts on political parties from around the world asked respondents to rate political parties on two axes: the extent to which they are committed to basic democratic principles and their commitment to protecting rights for ethnic minorities. The higher the number, the more anti-democratic and intolerant the party is.

The following chart shows the results of the survey for all political parties [among] wealthy democratic states, with the two major American parties highlighted in red. The Republican Party is an extreme outlier compared to mainstream conservative parties in other wealthy democracies….

Its closest peers are, almost uniformly, radical right and anti-democratic parties. This includes Turkey’s AKP (a regime that is one of the world’s leading jailers of journalists), and Poland’s PiS (which has threatened dissenting judges with criminal punishment). Experts rate the GOP as substantially more hostile to minority rights than Hungary’s Fidesz, an authoritarian party that has made demonization of Muslim immigrants into a pillar of its official ideology.

In short, there is a consensus among comparative politics scholars that the Republican Party is one of the most anti-democratic political parties in the developed world. It is one of a handful of once-centrist parties that has, in recent years, taken a turn toward the extreme….

Over the past decade and a half, Republicans have shown disdain for procedural fairness and a willingness to put the pursuit of power over democratic principles. They have implemented measures that make it harder for racial minorities to vote, render votes from Democratic-leaning constituencies irrelevant, and relentlessly blocked Democratic efforts to conduct normal functions of government.

And consider that this survey was conducted before the “Stop the Steal” bullshit, the attack on Congress, the Supreme Court’s forced birth decision, Republican extortion on the debt limit, etc. You’re damn right we’re polarized.

It’s Not the Same Old Gang

How long will it take for Republicans to be reasonably sane again? Maybe never. From Sarah Longwell for The Bulwark:

There are events so epochal that they create clear periods of before and after: Hiroshima; the fall of the Berlin Wall; 9/11. Eight years after he declared his intention to run for president, it’s now clear that we should consider Dxxxx Txxxx’s 2016 campaign not as part of America’s political continuum but as one of these temporal dividing lines.

In American politics, there were conventions and candidates that existed in 2015 Republican politics as the before times. 2015 B.T.. Before Txxxx.

Before the escalator and “grab ’em by the p***y.” Before Muslim bans and a wall Mexico would never pay for. Before we’d heard of Marjorie Taylor Greene, or Lauren Boebert, or the QAnon shaman. Before an American president sided with Vladimir Putin over his own government’s intelligence network. Before Dxxxx Txxxx became the first president to turn his back on the peaceful transfer of power.

This period has existed outside of nearly all established norms, yet many Americans seem to believe that it is an interregnum. An aberration. An accident of history that will undo itself—soon—as norms and the old equilibrium return.

I think this view misunderstands the true nature of what has happened to the Republican party because it does not see what has happened to Republican voters.

I’ve sat through hundreds of focus groups with Republican voters over the last four years and one thing is perfectly clear: The Republican party has been irretrievably altered and, as one voter put it succinctly, “We’re never going back.”

It’s easy to identify people who don’t realize the transformation undergone by GOP voters. Many of them, in fact, have been talking about running for president. Nikki Haley, Mike Pence, Chris Christie, Asa Hutchinson, Mike Pompeo—these are Before Txxxx (B.T.) politicians who don’t quite realize they’re living in an After Txxxx (A.T.) world.

Take Pence: the OG of B.T.. Voters tell me variously that the former vice president “became too entrenched in the establishment,” “alienated everyone,” “seems like a perfectly nice man, but [doesn’t] have a chance,” is “just a puppet,” and “doesn’t have a spine.”

As one voter put it, speaking for the group, a Pence presidency “would just be a return to pre-2016, which is what . . . the elite want. They want everything to go back to the way it was before Txxxx got elected. And that would be the wrong direction.”

Or Nikki Haley. The former South Carolina governor is currently running as far and fast as she can away from her signature accomplishment in office: taking down the Confederate flag after the massacre at a black church in Charleston in 2015. Instead, she’s reinvented herself as a hardline Txxxx devotee who loves to kick her enemies. But trying to sound Txxxxy doesn’t cover up the fact that she’s an avatar of the before times.

Haley is at 2 percent in the polls. Voters I talk to call her “a milquetoast Republican” and “a status quo politician, basically,” telling me “she’s just going to be a return to what everything was before 2016.”

Others say they “don’t think she’s anything different than the Republicans we’ve seen in the past. She’s just going to be more of the same cookie-cutter views.” And: “She would just be right back to the Paul Ryan, John Boehner kind of a thing. That’s a no-go for me.”

… If you forged your political identity pre-Txxxx, then you belong to a Republican establishment now loathed by a majority of the party’s primary voters. Even if you agree with Txxxx. Even if you worked for Txxxx. Even if you were on Txxxx’s ticket as his vice president.

Sure, you can still get applause on the think tank circuit, and donors will look at your candidacy hopefully, checkbooks out. But the actual voters live in a new world. You’re selling buggy whips to people who are buying cars.

Consider the case of Ron DeSantis. He is the only viable challenger to Txxxx at the moment. He has remade Florida in his image, becoming America’s premier culture warrior. He is notable primarily for:

  • Taking stands against vaccines
  • Hiring quack doctors for public health positions
  • Yelling at college kids
  • Demonizing gays and lesbians as pedophile groomers
  • Making it illegal to discuss race in schools
  • Attacking Disney’s corporate status because the company’s cartoons are too “woke”
  • Shipping refugees to Martha’s Vineyard

More than any other politician in America, DeSantis has labored to turn himself into a mini-Txxxx.

And what is DeSantis’s big weakness in his looming primary fight? It’s his B.T. political career.

Because before he became Txxxx’s handpicked governor, DeSantis was a normie mid-2010s Republican: … He was hawkish on Russia. He was a founding father of the House Freedom Caucus. And like all good Ryan-era conservatives, he wanted to privatize Social Security….

Txxxx is already trying to hang DeSantis with his B.T. record, attacking him as beholden to “Establishment RINO Advisors” and a “RINO in disguise!” who would gut Social Security and Medicare.

There are signs that these attacks are working….Voters I talked to recently say they’re “a little concerned” about DeSantis “because he’s still establishment,” and that “he seems like more of an open-borders, Paul Ryan kind of guy.” Others called him “more of a politician than Txxxx is” and said “he is very much one of those political, swampy guys.”

Words that stood out when we asked voters to describe DeSantis: “wishy-washy,” “a little shady,” and “not trustworthy.” One said, “I just don’t have a good feeling in my gut about him.”

… DeSantis realizes that his only chance to win the nomination is to convince voters that the optimistic, conservative B.T.-version of himself didn’t exist.

Yet whatever happens from here on out, I suspect that 2023 will be the year that puts to rest the view that the old days will return. By the time this campaign hits New Hampshire, everyone in America—even the conservative think tank donors—will understand that we aren’t living through an interregnum, but rather have passed into a new age….


Nobody knows if the Republican Party will ever go back to being reasonably sane. Losing elections by ever-increasing margins and/or older voters dying off might make it a relatively normal conservative political party again. Or it could get worse.

A more immediate question is: How long will it take for leading Democrats and the people in charge of corporate media to accept the fact that this is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan or even Dick Cheney?

Will it ever become obvious to everybody that the normal conventions of political negotiation — like trusting the other side to play fair — and journalism — like trying to achieve balance in your reporting — don’t apply when you’re dealing with people this radical, extreme, crazy, authoritarian and <insert your own adjectives here>?