The GOP’s Gossip Girls

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Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel is an astronomer living in Pennsylvania. He is on Twitter, blogs at his own site, and has written a novel.

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  1. Avatar InMD
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    says:

    The media lives in a Sorkinian bubble of narcissistic self-regard and delusion about its own role in our political landscape. Since roughly 2003 its been clear that very little that’s reported without a name attached should be taken seriously and that little that can be must come with an abundance of evidence supporting whatever was asserted, plus probably some willingness of politicians to actually act based on it.

    One thing journalists’ biases prevent them from seeing is that we have one rickety coalition that, while incoherent, trends towards solidarity due mostly to fear and another that, while more robust in theory, trends mostly towards circular firing squad due to hubris. In that context none of this ‘humbug’ matters or is worth the digital ink used to write it.Report

  2. Avatar Philip H
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    says:

    I’ve actually said the same thing numerous times on Robert Reich’s Facebook page, where he has publicly said numerous times that “Important Republicans” he knows are disgusted with the man and ready to dump him. They are all power drunk cowards, until they lose their seats or decide to retire so they don’t have to defend him anymore.

    Its also why the Republican led Senate Intelligence Committee can find no Ukrainian interference in our elections and LA Senator Joe Kennedy can lie about it multiple times. Richard Burr (R-NC) who chairs that committee will not slap his colleague down for lying about this because Burr believes he won’t survive a primary fight.Report

  3. Avatar pillsy
    Ignored
    says:

    I disagree that it doesn’t matter.

    It proves that the people saying this shit on the QT are even more pathetic and craven than their public statements suggest. Say what you will about the likes of Matt Gaetz and Louis Gohmert: at least they don’t know any better.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    “This is really, really bad.”

    “Would you rather have Warren?”

    “Well… it’s not *THAT* bad.”

    Iterate a thousand times and end up here.Report

  5. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    In order to be a Party member in good standing today, one must be able to embrace any story, no matter how fantastical or absurd. Even if it is contradicted by facts in plain view, even if it contradicts what was said yesterday.

    Kennedy’s bizarre insistence on plainly discredited conspiracies aren’t embarrassing to the Trumpists; Instead, they are proof of his loyalty and faith in the cause.

    Its like we’re living in one of Hannah Arendt’s description of Europe in the 30s:

    “In an ever-changing, incomprehensible world the masses had reached the point where they would, at the same time, believe everything and nothing, think that everything was possible and that nothing was true. […] under such conditions, one could make people believe the most fantastic statements one day, and trust that if the next day they were given irrefutable proof of their falsehood, they would take refuge in cynicism; instead of deserting the leaders who had lied to them, they would protest that they had known all along that the statement was a lie and would admire the leaders for their superior tactical cleverness.”Report

  6. Avatar James K
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    says:

    “News Ouroboros” is a truly excellent phrase.Report

  7. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    says:

    Here is my standard answer which I still believe is true despite or because it receives a lot of pushback, Trump is an unvarnished racist, reactionary, chauvinist, nationalist, and fascist in ways that have not been seen brazenly in this country for decades. Except at the margins perhaps. Now you have this uncouth blowhard in the bar as President of the United States and a good chunk of the country likes it. Somewhere between 30-40 percent of the nation depending.

    This is the elephant in the room (pun intended) that cranky partisan lefties like me will bring up but very few other people. There is a lot of motivated reasoning not to. During Rosh Hashanah, my rabbi gave a sermon about how there is a moral mandate to reach out and get along with people you disagree with strongly and see their humanity. Why is this? Is it out of hope that you can change their hearts and minds? Or is there a more cynical answer that people you strenuously disagree with will always exist in the United States and the World and there is noting you can do about it? I am more inclined to the cynical view.

    The Atlantic published a very long article the other day about Trump’s persistent base of support despite his raging mental health issues and unstableness. The author performed a huge number of mental gymnastics to avoid talking about Trump’s reactionary white supremacy, racism, and xenophobia. He said somethings that might be truish but still fail Occam’s Razor. The people who standby Trump do so because of his vulgarity, not despite it. They do so because of his rants and resentments. It is the same as their rants and resentments.

    The reason I think this gets ignored is multiple One a lot of pundits and people who can get published in the Atlantic have convinced themselves that their job is too champion the “common sense” of the American people and going out like Savonarella at the Bonfire of the Vanities is a threat to their cushy jobs and paychecks. There is also a psychological coping mechanism in wanting to see Trump as an aberration, not an opened genie bottle. The last and most extreme reason it might just be futile to admit that 30% to 40% of the United States are stone-cold racists and fascist because what is the solution to this problem of plurality? Do you have to cut ties with Trumpian friends and relatives? Co-workers? How do you contain the fascist instincts of 30-40 percent of the population?

    The GOP has played around for racist dogwhistles for decades to win elections and then ignored those voters that took them to victory on margins. Those voters got fed up and now Trump is here to give them their stuff in a raw format. More moderate GOPers have been primaried out and you have the lickspittles like Matt Gaetz around.Report

  8. Avatar Aaron David
    Ignored
    says:

    “Alas, how terrible is wisdom
    when it brings no profit to the man that’s wise!
    This I knew well, but had forgotten it,
    else I would not have come here.”

    ― Sophocles, Oedipus RexReport

  9. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    The interesting and disturbing thing about Jacob Wohl is that it is impossible to determine where is true belief ends and where is grift begins. Under Chip’s observation, he might be a 100 percent true believer and a 100 percent grifter at the same time. He and his colleague seem to live well, someone is paying them money but whom? Why? There are even lots of die-hard Trump partisans who consider Wohl to be an embarrassment and a joke.Report

  10. Avatar KenB
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    says:

    Wohl’s hipster coffee shop stories were implausible, while the stories about behind-the-scenes discontent are entirely plausible, even if they’re no more verifiable. But just because that discontent almost certainly exists doesn’t mean that we should expect any changes to happen because of it, at least until the underlying reasons for the facade change.

    Talk about courage all you want, but what would a GOP congressperson achieve by defecting, apart from destroying his/her own political career? Trump is popular on the Right, and defectors are easily replaced. Change can only come from the voters themselves.Report

    • Avatar JS in reply to KenB
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      says:

      It should be noted, in terms of plausibility, that a lot of recently retired or otherwise out of office Republicans are more openly and on the record unhappy with Trump.

      Of course that’s possibly sample bias — those who lost office would represent less deep red districts, up to R+5 or so, and anyone considering hanging up their hat and who dislikes Trump might find Trump the reason to pull the trigger.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to JS
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        says:

        The big issue is that a lot of these guys are choosing to retire instead of trying to save their party. So they are tankies but smart enough to realize they will lose reelection because of Trump. Or they are cowards who realize, they need to look sufficiently pro-Trump to get a sweet lobbying gig.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to KenB
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      says:

      They would achieve standing up for what is right and what they believe. They could theoretically be the start of changing a very nasty direction the country or the R party is going in thus becoming a leader. They would be placing the interests of the country over their party and their career. If they really believe what some of them may be saying behind the scenes then they should be leading. That may bring voters to them instead of waiting for someone else to say what many are thinking.Report

      • Avatar KenB in reply to greginak
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        says:

        Honestly that just sounds like wishful thinking and happy talk to me. Do you have any examples you can point me to where that actually happened? I.e. where bold party-bucking action by some politicians actually pushed the party away from an opinion held by a solid majority? Have you ever changed your mind just because some Dem candidates defected from the crowd?Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to KenB
          Ignored
          says:

          My instant thought was the “have you no shame” moment during the McCarthy hearings that is reputed to been a bit of a game changer. I assume, without doing extensive research, there was a first repub to say Nixon was a guilty SOB.

          Do i think R’s publicly saying what they are reputed to be saying in private will massively change things; no. But trump is, despite the endless bluster, sensitive to feedback. I dont’ think the kool aid drinkers will suddenly drop their juice boxes. But it could matter on the margins and with wavering independents. Also current R’s who are aghast will be judged by what they did now. They like their job now, but will they want a job in politics in 5 or 10 years. Welp, what did you do now?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
        Ignored
        says:

        They would achieve standing up for what is right and what they believe.

        See also: Kristin Gillibrand.

        Hey, whatever happened to her?Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird
          Ignored
          says:

          Ummm wow…zing… i guess. Huh. I believe she is a sitting US senator. She also helped to push Franken out, so high fives to her. Is your point that because she won’t be elected president that…something something???Report

          • Avatar CJColucci in reply to greginak
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            says:

            You’re assuming there’s a point. Don’t do that.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak
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            says:

            The point, if there is one, is that “standing up for what is right and what they believe” is worth… well, see, for example, your response to Kristin Gillibrand.

            It wasn’t “you know what? She was treated poorly by, yes, Democrats.”

            It was “she is a sitting US senator”.

            High fives to her, I guess.

            Let’s get back to talking about the importance of standing up for what is right and/or what they believe.Report

      • Avatar JS in reply to greginak
        Ignored
        says:

        As best I can tell, judging by Trump’s rather rock steady initial primary support, roughly a third of the GOP loves what Trump is selling. The racism, the sexism, the xenophobia, the rather unabashed white supremacy — he’s saying what they believe.

        They backed Trump from day one and not a thing swayed them. The other 70% sort of scattered themselves around multiple other candidates, preferring them to Trump — but as people dropped out, Trump slowly consolidated them as he it became clear there was no longer enough time for anyone to beat him.

        And it’s clear that most of that 70% might prefer another candidate, might dislike Trump, but not enough to stay home or vote for a Democrat. They’d prefer someone more Christian, or less openly racist, or more concerned about the deficit, or whatever their deal is — but they’ll take Trump as long as he’s got that “R”.

        So how do you buck that, as a party politician? Go against Trump, and you’re looking at a primary where a full third of your base is going to be furious with you and out to replace you — and the other 2/3rds are going to be torn between “I dislike Trump” and “I dislike Republicans that don’t support our Republican President” — all to gain what, perhaps 10% of your base that might firmly approve of you distancing yourself from Trump?

        Assuming you manage to get through the primary, now you’re in the general election — with a third of your base still furious with you and exactly who are you winning over? You might not support Trump, but your party does — and he’s the face of it. Not really a lot of crossover votes there — with a full third of your most reliable voters angry at you, the odds of that being a net win for you are really low.

        It could be 90% of the GOP politicians hate Trump and wish he’d have a heart attack. But they don’t dare say it or hint it — it’s political suicide, and after 2018, they can’t afford to lose a single vote. They’re looking at playing defense in R+8 districts — they’re looking at having to spend money to hold Texas, of all things. Wwhich they will, but having to do media buys and spend time campaigning in Texas for it’s electoral votes is not a great starting position for the GOP.

        They can’t anger their base, because Trump galvanizes Democratic turnout like nobodies business. They’re looking at an uphill battle as is — they can’t afford to lose even a tiny fraction of their own voters.

        Standing up for what they believe — if what they believe is anything but full-throated Trump support — will do nothing but cost them more elected offices. There’s a thousand ways to convince yourself that staying quiet is the correct thing to do — to keep being able to nominate judges, to try to steer Trump, to trying to stay in place to handle the post-Trump era, or just “If my voters love Trump, I should support him even if I don’t”.Report

        • Avatar greginak in reply to JS
          Ignored
          says:

          If a person believes something is deeply wrong and a danger to the country then the reason to stand up is because they see a danger. You don’t stand for something only when you can game out getting elected. If you think something is minor then whatever. You can negotiate on petty things. But for serious things you stand because you have to stand up to things that are wrong. That is how you lead. Maybe leading sucks. Maybe it doesn’t benefit your job prospects. That is the cost of standing up for beliefs.Report

          • Avatar JS in reply to greginak
            Ignored
            says:

            No point in trying to lead if the people you’re leading won’t listen to you.

            Look at what they’re faced with — the evangelicals support Trump. Heavily. Absolutely bedrock support for a serial adulterer, liar, and fairly obviously not even remotely religious.

            They back him to the hilt. They call him God’s chosen. A less Christian man than Donald Trump is hard to imagine, and yet Christian leaders — who are not politicians up for regular votes and beholden to a party — bend over backwards praising him.

            What chance has a mere politician, if such moral paragons sing his praises?Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to JS
              Ignored
              says:

              Yeah older socons are who they have always been. Younger socons, from what i’ve read, are more likely to be cheesed off about trump and pool boy settlements and such.

              Ultimately the reason to take a stand on a serious issue is just because it is right. You can hope to get praise and jobs and medals for that, but you better not expect or need that.Report

            • Avatar veronica d in reply to JS
              Ignored
              says:

              Speak the truth even as your voice shakes.

              I dunno. If you don’t have integrity, what else is there?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to veronica d
                Ignored
                says:

                Money and power, apparently.Report

              • Avatar JS in reply to veronica d
                Ignored
                says:

                That’s pretty easy for us to say. We are, by and large, not Republicans.

                It is not our party we are standing up, not our voters we are decrying, and not our careers we are losing.

                And mostly, it is not something we are doing that gains nothing in the end. Even if the entire GOP leadership stood as one and damned Trump — 30% of their base loves him, and that’s enough to mean every thing those leaders want is tossed aside.

                What’s the point of standing up if all it does is silence you and changes nothing?

                I’d like to think I’d stand for the right thing in their shoes, but I’m not in their shoes.

                Standing up or sitting down, they can’t change a damn thing. They’re not riding the tiger, they’re just struggling not to fall off.Report

  11. Avatar Saul Degraw
    Ignored
    says:

    Kamala Harris drops out as Democratic nominee. There was a time when I thought she could plausibly bridge that gap between the liberal and moderate factions but she ended up blowing it by either going too far to the woke left or coming out with plans that were too moderate like her college debt forgiveness plan. I think the Kamala is a Kop meme was mainly from libertarian dudes, Russianbots, and the overly woke and unfair but it probably did not help either.Report

  12. Avatar Mark
    Ignored
    says:

    You wouldn’t be much of a politician if you haven’t laid the groundwork for saying “I was his biggest supporter” and for saying “I was against him the whole time,” and then being able to trot out the right line at the right time.Report

  13. Avatar George Turner
    Ignored
    says:

    The number of problems with all these rumors is legion. Just as a start, when you’re a reporter or other cocktail circuit denizen, and you pop in to some restaurant to chat with this person and that person, they will amazingly, though quietly, agree with you on any topic that reflects the norms that result in more glowing interviews and party invitations. You could discuss Elvis, Kanye, Beyonce, the Kardashians, Trump, or the dust up on “America’s Got Talent” and the person across the table nibbling on French fries will drop into hushed tones and tell you that most people agree with what you just said.

    It means absolutely nothing except that people in social settings will try to smoothly get along instead of arguing and ruining their evening. You can say the most extreme things, even talk about how the Catholic Church and the mental health authorities have a bunch of psychologists stalking you from black vans, and the person you’re engaged with will nod sagely and empathetically before they figure out how to slip away. “See! Everyone agrees that I’m being stalked by psychologists!”

    I guess in the absence of real journalism, practiced in days of yore, these encounters are now offered up as newsworthy data points.Report

  14. Avatar Chip Daniels
    Ignored
    says:

    There has always been, I think, a reticence to admit the dark parts of the American experiment, where the people themselves freely made awful choices.

    So things like slavery or the ethnic cleansing of the Natives, Jim Crow are treated as aberrations, things that were done by a small handful of bad actors.

    Bu the sobering truth is that there is a plurality, sometimes even an outright majority of people in America for whom white male hierarchy is acceptable and nonthreatening.

    This is why I push back so much on the theories postulating that if only the Democrats were to do This One Weird Trick, like maybe nominating a white male Midwestern guy in a Carhartt jacket, well by golly, things would turnaround right quick. Or maybe stop talking so much about icky women’s stuff like abortion, or stop saying things that make middle aged professional men who squeeze their secretary’s butt uncomfortable.

    Donald Trump is honoring all his campaign promises which is why his base supports him. It was only the pundits and Beltway courtiers who refused to believe his words and insisted on creating some mythical Trump out of whole cloth.

    The same way they are trying to create some mythical Responsible Republican who will act as a comforting balance to the Democrats.Report

  15. Avatar Damon
    Ignored
    says:

    I’ll give a damn when the same people bitching about Trump acknowledge the crappy behavior Obama and Clinton committed. (you know–syria, lybiia, ukraine on obama’s watch….Until then it’s partisanship.Report

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