December 6, 2023
In the Washington Post today, Marianne LeVine, Isaac Arnsdorf, and Josh Dawsey reported that the Trump camp is eager to get people to stop focusing on Trump’s authoritarian talk, noting that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says the presidential candidate was just joking when he said he would be a dictator on the first day of a return to the White House. While the Republican base appears to like Trump’s threats against the people they have come to hate, two Trump advisers told the reporters that “recent stories about his plans for a second term are not viewed as helpful for the general election.”
Republicans have also moved quickly to cut ties with Florida Republican Party chair Christian Ziegler, who is under police investigation for rape. Ziegler’s wife, Bridget Ziegler, co-founded Moms for Liberty, an organization that has focused on removing from schools books that they find objectionable, generally books by or about racial or ethnic minorities or LGBTQ+ people. Often Moms for Liberty members have implied, or even claimed, that those trying to protect school libraries are sexual predators or “groomers.” Ziegler herself has been active in shaping anti-LGBTQ+ policies in the state.
But the police and court documents about the case revealed that the Zieglers and the woman Ziegler allegedly raped had participated in a three-way sexual relationship in the past. The rape allegedly occurred after they had set up another encounter that Bridget could not make. The woman then canceled, telling Ziegler “I was mainly in it for her.” He went to her home anyway.
The story of a key anti-LGBTQ+ activist engaging in same-sex activity as part of a threesome sent Moms for Liberty hurrying to say that Bridget Ziegler was no longer on their board (although both Zieglers were still on their advisory board) and purge her name from their website. And though no charges have yet been filed, Florida governor Ron DeSantis has called on Christian Ziegler to resign from his position at the head of the state Republican Party.
The Zieglers helped to tie the Republican Party to Moms for Liberty shortly after the organization formed in January 2021, and DeSantis was very much on board, apparently seeing their message of taking the war against “woke” to the schools as a political winner. But, as Amanda Marcotte pointed out in Salon, the 2022 midterms revealed that most voters did not like the extremism of that group and that it was a political liability.
The fact that DeSantis is dropping his former ally Ziegler so fast suggests that DeSantis is eager to divorce himself from both the story and from the extremism of Moms for Liberty.
The Trump Republicans took another hit today as well, when a grand jury in the state of Nevada charged six people who falsely posed as electors in 2020 in order to file fake electoral votes for Trump to replace the state’s real votes for now-President Joe Biden. The six Republicans charged with filing false documents include the chair and the vice chair of the Nevada Republican Party. If convicted, they face up to nine years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
Nevada is the third state to charge the fake electors with crimes. Georgia and Michigan have also done so.
Ten fake electors in Wisconsin today settled a civil lawsuit over their own participation in Trump’s false-elector scheme. The settlement involved correcting the historical record. The ten agreed to withdraw their paperwork with the false information, explain in writing to the federal offices that the filings had been “part of an attempt to improperly overturn the 2020 presidential election results,” and acknowledge that Biden won the 2020 election. Going forward, they agreed never again to serve as presidential electors in an election in which Trump is running.
But while there are signs that even leading Republicans recognize that the extremism of the Trump Republicans is unpopular in the country, Trump Republicans are tightening their hold on Congress. Today former House speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) announced that he will resign from Congress at the end of this month. Far-right MAGA Republicans ousted McCarthy from the speaker’s chair in October.
Representative Patrick McHenry (R-NC), a McCarthy ally who took over as acting House speaker after McCarthy’s removal, announced yesterday that he had changed his plans from earlier this year and will not run for reelection.
While hardly moderates—both refused to work with Democrats either to pass legislation or to elect a speaker—they appear to be ceding ground to the MAGA Republicans.
Tim Dickinson of Rolling Stone reported today that one of those MAGA Republicans, House speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA), spoke freely Tuesday night at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C., at a celebration for the National Association of Christian Lawmakers. Although the address was being livestreamed, Johnson apparently believed he was speaking privately. He told the audience that the Lord called him to be “a new Moses.”
Johnson, an evangelical Christian, told the audience that the U.S. is “engaged in a battle between worldviews” and “a great struggle for the future of the Republic.” He said he believed far-right Christians would prevail.
The influence of Trump is also evident in the Senate, where there is broad, bipartisan support for supplemental funding for Ukraine, but where Republicans are refusing to pass such a measure without attaching to it an immigration package that overrides current law, replacing it with Trump’s immigration plans. Such plans could not pass on their own, as Democrats would stop them in the Senate. But by attaching them to a bill that is imperative for national security, Republicans hope to force Biden into it.
Democrats have repeatedly called for new immigration legislation, but their refusal to remake immigration policy as the hard-right wants has made Republicans balk. Now Democrats are still offering to negotiate a reasonable package, but as Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) said earlier this week: “I think there’s a misunderstanding on the part of Senator Schumer and some of our Democratic friends…. This is not a traditional negotiation, where we expect to come up with a bipartisan compromise on the border. This is a price that has to be paid in order to get the supplemental.”
In a speech this afternoon—just a day after Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) finally permitted the Senate to fill 425 senior positions in the U.S. military and while he is still preventing 11 top-level positions from being filled—President Biden called it “stunning that we’ve gotten to this point…. Republicans in Congress…are willing to give [Russian president Vladimir] Putin the greatest gift he could hope for and abandon our global leadership not just to Ukraine, but beyond that.”
“If Putin takes Ukraine, he won’t stop there,” Biden warned. “It’s important to see the long run here. He’s going to keep going. He’s made that pretty clear. If Putin attacks a NATO Ally—if he keeps going and then he attacks a NATO Ally—well, we’ve committed as a NATO member that we’d defend every inch of NATO territory. Then we’ll have something that we don’t seek and that we don’t have today: American troops fighting Russian troops—American troops fighting Russian troops if he moves into other parts of NATO.
“Make no mistake: Today’s vote is going to be long remembered. And history is going to judge harshly those who turn their back on freedom’s cause.”
“Extreme Republicans are playing chicken with our national security, holding Ukraine’s funding hostage to their extreme partisan border policies,” he said.
Biden reiterated that he and the Democrats are eager to pass new immigration legislation, but “Republicans think they can get everything they want without any bipartisan compromise. That’s not the answer.... And now they’re willing to literally kneecap Ukraine on the battlefield and damage our national security in the process.” He begged Republicans to get past partisan divisions and step up to “our responsibilities as a leading nation in the world.”
Hours later, Senate Republicans voted against the supplemental aid package.