On Monday, when Biden signed the hard infrastructure bill at a showy media ceremony, he said "The bill I’m about to sign into law is proof that, despite the cynics, Democrats and Republicans can come together and deliver results." The bill is inadequate and was written by a gaggle of corrupt conservative senators with no input from normal Democrats. It's better than nothing, but it's all a weak president was able to get. And Trump has declared the handful of Republicans who voted for it be be RINOs and has vowed to defeat them in primaries.
This morning, writing for The Atlantic, Ron Brownstein contrasted the knee-jerk, destabilizing obstructionism and incipient fascism of the majority of Trump-fearing Republicans with Biden’s soothing, naive assurances about bipartisanship. "The Wyoming GOP," wrote Brownstein, "voted last weekend to expel staunchly conservative Representative Liz Cheney from the party, largely because of her criticism of Trump over the insurrection and his unsubstantiated election-fraud claims. Meanwhile, former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich publicly called for unseating Georgia’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, in a primary because of his conflicts with Trump, which are rooted in Kemp’s refusal to endorse the former president’s conspiracy theories about Biden’s victory in the state last fall." The Republican Party, as an entity, has become unhinged and is no longer part of the American mainstream.
Where a new national poll by Marquette Law School, released this morning, shows that 71% of Americans do not want Trump to run again; only 28% of us do. That 28% is virtually all Republicans. 60% of Republicans want Trump to run again. Only 32% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Trump; 65% have an unfavorable opinion. And as unpopular as Biden is, a 2024 rematch would still have him beating Trump 42% to 34%. Like myself, 24% said they would either not vote for either of them or not vote at all.
Back at Brownstein's piece, he noted that "Biden’s repeated emphasis on his ability to cooperate with Republicans has stirred concerns among some Democrats, anti-Trump Republicans, and nonpartisan democracy advocates, that he is obscuring the threat mounting against democratic institutions as Trump strengthens his hold over the GOP, and extremists such as Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar solidify their beachhead in it. The overriding fear is that more Republicans appear to be radicalizing by the week and Biden is making the GOP seem normal."
Charlie Sykes, the former conservative talk-radio host and a co-founder of The Bulwark, an online publication for anti-Trump Republicans, wrote recently that although Biden “was elected to restore a sense of ‘normalcy’… these are not normal times, and perhaps the reality is that a normal approach to politics in profoundly abnormal times is a formula for political disaster.” Similarly, Jenifer Fernandez Ancona, a co-founder and the chief strategy officer of the liberal group Way to Win, told me she worries that Biden’s “focusing on bipartisanship undermines our argument… when we are trying to point out the GOP’s extremism.”
...Way to Win’s research found that Democratic House candidates in 2020 spent substantially on advertising that touted their willingness to work with Republicans, while Republicans ran ads that painted Democrats as dangerous radicals. Democrats, she said, must abolish that imbalance. “If Biden wants to focus on bipartisanship, then we need other parts of the Democratic family to make sure we are telling that story about GOP extremism,” Fernandez Ancona said. Leaning into bipartisanship inhibits Democrats’ ability to convince voters that Republicans are obstructing popular proposals and programs, she added.
In fact, all evidence suggests that the infrastructure agreement-- which drew support from 19 Republicans in the Senate and 13 in the House-- is very much the exception to a pattern of intractable partisan resistance. Every House and Senate Republican is expected to vote against Biden’s broader Build Back Better bill. Filibusters supported by all or nearly all Republican senators are blocking a long list of bills that passed the House, including measures to block discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or identity, tighten controls on sales at gun shows, codify the legal right to abortion, and reform policing. Every Republican senator this week backed a congressional resolution to overturn Biden’s mandate that large employers require their workers to receive a COVID vaccine or be subject to regular testing.
Most important have been the Republican unification around Trump’s Big Lie conspiracy theory about widespread voter fraud in 2020; the ongoing tilt in the party toward whitewashing the January 6 attack on the Capitol; and the further erosion of barriers between the party mainstream and anti-government and white-nationalist extremists.
How is Biden supposed to respond to such behavior?
Already, a steady procession of Republican-controlled states this year have responded to Trump’s discredited claims by passing laws making voting tougher, increasing partisan influence over vote-counting, or both. Every House and Senate Republican has opposed Democratic legislation that would undo many of those changes and create a nationwide floor of voting rights-- and every Republican in both chambers except Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska has opposed a parallel bill to reauthorize the Voting Rights Act. Every House Republican except Liz Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois voted against creating the House’s special committee to investigate the January 6 commission, and when the two accepted appointments to it, caucus members pushed to strip them of all other committee assignments. Just this month, Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, refused for days to publicly criticize Gosar after he posted an anime video showing him killing Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and yesterday Cheney and Kinzinger were the only House Republicans who voted for a resolution to censure Gosar for it.
More Trump acolytes who echo his fraud charges are seeking positions that provide control over election administration. At the same time, threats of violence, many from hard-core Trump supporters, have grown more routine against public-health, school-board, and local-government officials.
While all of this is happening, polls show that a clear majority of Republican voters have internalized Trump’s claims. In a late-October NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, three-fourths of Republicans said Trump continues to contest the 2020 outcome “because he is right, there were real cases of fraud that changed the results.” Nearly three-fifths of Republicans said they will not trust the results if their presidential candidate loses in 2024. A comparable number of Republicans in a recent Pew Research Center poll agreed that too much attention had been paid to the January 6 riot. In polling earlier this year by the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a majority of Republicans agreed that “the traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it.”
Trump’s hold on the GOP is growing “more complete,” says the longtime conservative strategist Bill Kristol, a leader among the embattled band of anti-Trump Republicans. In many respects, Kristol notes, that’s a surprise after Trump’s defeat and the shattering events of January 6. “Having gone through what we went through, the reasonable, hopeful thing was he loses, he goes away or he is discredited, the party breathes a massive sigh of relief and moves on,” Kristol told me. Instead, he said, what’s clear now is that any attempt to free the party from Trump’s gravitational pull, particularly around his continuing threat to the basic rules of democracy, will be “a long slog.”
The debate over Biden’s approach to handling Republicans centers on whether he’s responding sufficiently to these threats. At times, he’s sharply criticized the red-state assaults on voting rights and voting administration, but he’s generally placed much greater emphasis, as he did this week, on his determination to work with the GOP. On the policy front, the Justice Department has filed lawsuits against the Georgia and Texas voter-suppression laws, and it did undertake the contempt charge against Bannon. But the DOJ has also faced criticism for failing to seek harsher penalties against the January 6 rioters and rumbles of discontent from people such as Representative Adam Schiff of California that it has taken no apparent steps to investigate potential criminal liability for Trump or other former officials around the insurrection or his broader effort to overturn the election result. Legislatively, Biden has sublimated the passage of Democrats’ voting-rights legislation to the completion of his economic agenda-- a process in which the finish line remains stubbornly out of sight.
Despite everything Trump and his supporters in the GOP have done since last November, the recent Marist poll found Americans split almost exactly in half over which party represents “the bigger threat to democracy.” Partisans in each party overwhelmingly blamed the other, and independents were slightly more likely to pick Democrats (41 percent) than Republicans (37 percent) as the greater threat.
...Kristol wonders if Biden would serve himself better by subtly shifting how he discusses bipartisanship. Rather than touting his ability to cut deals with Republicans-- which makes him look as though he has failed when they don’t come together-- Kristol thinks Biden might get more benefit from emphasizing that he has long worked across party lines and still hopes to do so, but can’t because so many in the GOP are taking hard-core positions, particularly about the protection of democracy. Biden has “tried to reassure people that he can,” work with Republicans, Kristol said. “That’s not wise. We don’t need reassurance. We need a little more alarm.”
...Today, there’s no sign of a popular front for democracy coalescing; almost all elected Republicans are defending the red-state voting bills and looking to minimize both January 6 and the continuing revelations about Trump’s broad plan to subvert the 2020 results. The prospects for either voting-rights bill remain caught in the prolonged uncertainty over whether Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona will accept changes in Senate rules that would allow them to overcome Republican filibusters. Biden may hope his calming words at Monday’s signing ceremony point toward a less contentious political future, but without more urgency from all quarters about fortifying democracy, Bannon’s feral mix of conspiracy theories and snarling belligerence could offer a more telling forecast of American politics’ next stage.
Orlando progressive, Alan Grayson taking the argument in a different direction, pointed out that "Hypocritical bloviating by the GOP about 'bipartisanship' has been a propaganda tool of theirs since the Nixon Administration. The only difference now is that it’s 100% hypocritical, not 99%." Recently back from Orlando, for the National Conservatism Conference, David Brooks wrote a piece
published this morning, looking at the problem from a mainstream conservative perspective, The Terrifying Future of the American Right. He wrote about a sociopathic fascist woman, Rachel Bovard, who had helped Rand Paul get elected and who complained at the conference about conservatives she says are naive because they think "liberals and conservatives both want what’s best for America, disagreeing only on how to get there. But that’s not true, she believes. 'Woke elites--increasingly the mainstream left of this country-- do not want what we want,' she told the National Conservatism Conference, which was held earlier this month in a bland hotel alongside theme parks in Orlando. 'What they want is to destroy us,' she said. 'Not only will they use every power at their disposal to achieve their goal,' but they’ve already been doing it for years “by dominating every cultural, intellectual, and political institution.' As she says this, the dozens of young people in her breakout session begin to vibrate in their seats. Ripples of head nodding are visible from where I sit in the back. These are the rising talents of the right-- the Heritage Foundation junior staff, the Ivy League grads, the intellectual Catholics and the Orthodox Jews who have been studying Hobbes and de Tocqueville at the various young conservative fellowship programs that stretch along Acela-land... Bovard has the place rocking, training her sights on the true enemies, the left-wing elite: a 'totalitarian cult of billionaires and bureaucrats, of privilege perpetuated by bullying, empowered by the most sophisticated surveillance and communications technologies in history, and limited only by the scruples of people who arrest rape victims’ fathers, declare math to be white supremacist, finance ethnic cleansing in western China, and who partied, a mile high, on Jeffrey Epstein’s Lolita Express.' The atmosphere is electric. She’s giving the best synopsis of national conservatism I’ve heard at the conference we’re attending-- and with flair!"
The idea that the left controls absolutely everything-- from your smartphone to the money supply to your third grader’s curriculum-- explains the apocalyptic tone that was the dominating emotional register of this conference. The politicians’ speeches were like entries in the catastrophism Olympics...
rump destroyed the Reagan Republican paradigm in 2016, but he didn’t exactly elucidate a new set of ideas, policies, and alliances. Trump’s devastation of the old order produced a grand struggle on the right to build a new one on Trumpian populist lines.
The NatCons are wrong to think there is a unified thing called “the left” that hates America. This is just the apocalyptic menace many of them had to invent in order to justify their decision to vote for Donald Trump.
They are wrong, too, to think there is a wokeist Anschluss taking over all the institutions of American life. For people who spend so much time railing about the evils of social media, they sure seem to spend an awful lot of their lives on Twitter. Ninety percent of their discourse is about the discourse. Anecdotalism was also rampant at the conference-- generalizing from three anecdotes about people who got canceled to conclude that all of American life is a woke hellscape. They need to get out more.
...One big thing the NatCons are right about is that in the Information Age, the cultural and corporate elites have merged. Right-wing parties around the world are gradually becoming working-class parties that stand against the economic interests and cultural preferences of the highly educated. Left-wing parties are now rooted in the rich metro areas and are more and more becoming an unsteady alliance between young AOC left-populists and Google.
NatCons are also probably right that conservatism is going to get a lot more statist. At the conference, Ted Cruz tried to combine culture-war conservatism with free-market economic policies—free trade and low taxes. Marco Rubio countered by, in effect, arguing that you can’t rally cultural populists if you are not also going to do something for them economically. Cultural populism leads to economic populism. Rubio’s position at least has the virtue of being coherent.
Over the past few decades there have been various efforts to replace the Reagan Paradigm: the national-greatness conservatism of John McCain; the compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush; the Reformicon conservatism of the D.C. think tanks in the 21st century. But the Trumpian onslaught succeeded where these movements have so far fizzled because Trump understood better than they did the coalescence of the new American cultural/corporate elite and the potency of populist anger against it. Thus the display of Ivy League populism I witnessed in Orlando might well represent the alarming future of the American right: the fusing of the culture war and the class war into one epic Marxist Götterdämmerung.
The progressive Democrat running for a congressional seat in northwest Washington state, Jason Call, told me this afternoon that his favorite George Carlin quote is on bipartisanship. Carlin said "Whenever you hear the word bipartisanship you can rest assured that some greater than usual deception is taking place." Call said "And for the most part he was right. What bipartisan usually means is simply that the corporate owners of both parties agree that (whatever it is) works in their best interests. It means progress for the ownership class and usually precious little for anyone else. Bipartisanship does not benefit the majority of people because Congress actually does not represent the majority of people. So we’re usually left with-- like BIF and BBB-- something is better than nothing (and that’s not even the case much of the time, because it usually includes more tax breaks for the wealthy). In fact there’s a strong case to be made that the climate provisions in BBB are actually worse than nothing, first because the amount of money committed to climate action is 7% of the military budget AND the military itself is exempt from any pollution mandates (while being the biggest non-state polluter on the planet), and second because the feeling will be 'we did climate!' so when we come back for more needed action, they will (in bipartisan fashion) say just that 'We did climate.' So bipartisanship involves doing some bare minimum while giving themselves a big pat on the back because the real success (and they’re not shy about saying it) is that they got anything done at all. But this is the dysfunction of the corporate duopoly. It will always be insufficient to address the needs of the majority because it is only designed to address the needs of the oligarchy. The oligarchy buys their corporate representative, sometimes they are blue, sometimes they are red depending on the bent of the district. And you’ll notice, anytime someone beats a corporate incumbent it’s a big deal (whether left or right) because corporate media (or anyone, really) knows how corrupt our elections are so nobody expects it to happen. Bipartisan is a dirty word, and resistance to corporate corruption needs to be the norm." This is the kind of thinking that has made Rick Larsen, the corrupt conservative running against Jason Call, cause his hair fall out.