Saturday, May 8, 2021

Notations On Our World (W-End Edition): On The Way That Was in America


We present a snapshot of discourse throughout in the week on the week that was in America on this Mothers' Day Week-End in America.   Happy Mothers Day to all the Wonderful Mothers': 

On Politics

May 5, 2021

Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, at the Capitol last week.Jonathan Ernst/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

When Senator Joseph McCarthy was caught on national television pressing a case built on falsehoods against the supposed threat of communism in the U.S. Army, it was his breaking point.

Edward R. Murrow gave voice to a frustrated public as it awoke to the bamboozling, and McCarthy’s political career was done.

When President Donald Trump perpetrated the false narrative that his re-election had been stolen from him, leading his supporters into what became a fatal attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, he was booted from Twitter and Facebook. But he didn’t lose most of his support.

And for the Republican Party’s rank-and-file, whose modern-day Murrow is Tucker Carlson, that falsehood is still the dominant narrative.

That fact is hitting home hard today for Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House, whose refusal to bow to Trump’s lies has put her on the brink of being purged from G.O.P. leadership. In a tweet on Monday, Cheney called out Trump and anyone promoting his stolen election narrative for “spreading THE BIG LIE, turning their back on the rule of law, and poisoning our democratic system.”

For House Republicans in thrall to a Trump-loyalist base, and who just weeks earlier had voted down an attempt to depose her, Cheney’s challenge to the story line was a bridge too far. The effort to remove her regained momentum, and today Representative Steve Scalise, the Republican whip, became the highest-ranking member of his party to publicly support Cheney’s ouster.

Cheney has not shied from the fight: Late this afternoon, she published an op-ed in The Washington Post entreating her fellow Republicans to respect “the rule of law,” and to be mindful of the eyes of history. “The Republican Party is at a turning point, and Republicans must decide whether we are going to choose truth and fidelity to the Constitution,” she wrote.

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In the process, they will decide on her fate: House Republicans are expected to hold a vote as early as next week on whether to relieve her of her leadership post.

“This is not good for the party, certainly not good for a party that has had problems with suburban women, educated women — to go at somebody because they’re speaking what most of them know is the truth,” said Barbara Comstock, a former Republican congresswoman who represented a district in suburban Virginia until she was swept out by the anti-Trump blue wave in 2018. “Ronald Reagan, who is why I became a Republican, certainly allowed for dissent in his own party, and for people to be critical. I think it’s a very disturbing development.”

Representative Elise Stefanik, who hails from an upstate New York district, has emerged as the party’s choice to replace Cheney, and her own history works as a metaphor for what’s going on with the G.O.P. more broadly.

Stefanik flipped her district red in 2014, and she had amassed a relatively moderate record until her aggressive questioning of Democratic witnesses during Trump’s first impeachment trial, which earned her direct praise from him. She took his endorsement and ran with it, and in the past year-plus has become a staunch ally to his cause. She disputed the election results in Pennsylvania in a House vote on Jan. 6, and she later voted against impeaching him.

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Her policies, of course, are another thing entirely. The 36-year-old Stefanik actually voted with Trump less often during his four years as president than Cheney did. Notably, she voted against his signature tax cut bill, which Republicans are now hastening to defend.

But the line that’s being drawn in the Republican sand isn’t about policy. It’s about loyalty to a narrative of Trump’s creation, and in G.O.P. primaries across the country, contravening can be fatal.

“The challenge is that members don’t want to be primaried,” said Glen Bolger, a veteran Republican pollster. “These seats are mostly drawn as Democratic or Republican seats, so the way to lose isn’t in November, it’s in a primary.”

Still, he added, “the difference between being a majority or a minority is decided in November. But politicians, understandably so, think of themselves first, and what’s good for me is good for the party.”

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In Texas, a primary election last weekend in a suburban House district set up a confrontation between the two wings of the party. A Trump-backed Republican, Susan Wright, won nearly 20 percent of the vote, while Jake Ellzey, a Republican who has the endorsement of former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, came in second place. The two candidates now advance to a runoff, and here’s the rub: All the district’s voters will be eligible to participate, not just Republicans.

In the Senate, most Republican lawmakers have done their best to look away from the 211-car pileup taking place in the House Republican Conference, and have mostly moved on from discussions of the 2020 election. But there’s far less willingness to do so among House Republicans, whose every-two-year election cycle keeps them in closer conversation with the party’s base.

And a flamboyant coterie of relatively young Republican lawmakers in the House has begun to emerge, led in part by Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, a frequent presence on Fox News and prominent Trump ally, who has helped put Stefanik in position for her ascent.

Just a month ago, Cheney seemed to have survived the attempt on her political life; her allies in the Wyoming state legislature beat back an effort to change election rules that would have imperiled her in the 2022 primary. The former Republican speakers Paul Ryan and John Boehner committed to helping her fund-raise.

Cheney had decided against a run for Senate last year because she saw an auspicious future in the House leadership, possibly even as speaker.

But now she finds herself at odds with a party whose leader is silent in the press but still a fan favorite among the party faithful. “A guy who got 47 percent is not the future of our party,” Comstock said, referring to Trump’s total in the 2020 election. “The toxic personality divided our country and is now dividing our party.”

Pool photo by Caroline Brehman

A Facebook board upholds the platform’s ban of Trump.

By Mike Isaac

Facebook-appointed panel of journalists, activists and lawyers on Wednesday upheld the social network’s ban of Donald Trump, ending any immediate return by the former president to mainstream social media and renewing a debate about tech power over online speech.

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court over the company’s content decisions, ruled that the social network was right to bar Trump after the insurrection in Washington in January, saying he “created an environment where a serious risk of violence was possible.” The panel said that ongoing risk “justified” the move.

But the board also kicked the case back to Facebook and its top executives. It said that an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate” because it was not a penalty defined in Facebook’s policies and that the company should apply a standard punishment, such as a time-bound suspension or a permanent ban. The board gave Facebook six months to make a final decision on Trump’s account status.

“Our sole job is to hold this extremely powerful organization, Facebook, accountable,” Michael McConnell, co-chair of the Oversight Board, said on a call with reporters. The ban on Trump “did not meet these standards,” he said.

The decision adds difficulties to Trump’s attempts to rejoin mainstream social media, a key source of his clout that he used during his White House years to directly cajole his tens of millions of followers, exploit their grievances, set policy and criticize opponents. Twitter and YouTube had also cut off Trump in January after the insurrection at the Capitol, saying the risk and potential for violence that he created were too great.

But while Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended, he may be able to return to the social network once the company reviews its action. Trump still holds tremendous sway over Republicans, with his false claims of a stolen election continuing to reverberate.

In a statement, Trump did not directly address the board’s ruling. But he slammed Facebook, Google and Twitter — some of which have been major fund-raising platforms for him — and called them corrupt.

“Free Speech has been taken away from the President of the United States because the Radical Left Lunatics are afraid of the truth,” he said.

Trump’s continued Facebook suspension gave Republicans, who have accused social media companies of suppressing conservative voices, new fuel against the platforms. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has testified in Congress several times about whether the social network has shown bias against conservative political views. He has denied it.

POLITICO Nightly logo

BY RENUKA RAYASAM

Presented by Facebook

With help from Myah Ward

AFTER CHENEY — Rep. Liz Cheney’s (R-Wyo.) seemingly imminent ouster from her spot as the No. 3 Republican in House leadership will reverberate inside the GOP in 2021 and beyond.

Her probable successor, New York Rep. Elise Stefanik, made her reputation when she defended Trump during his first impeachment hearing. But Stefanik wasn’t always a Trump loyalist. How might she help shape the Republican Party’s future? Nightly chatted with campaign editor and Ithaca native Scott Bland , who covered her first campaign for the House, in 2014, over Slack today about his fellow upstate New Yorker’s rise. This conversation has been edited.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.)

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) | Anna Moneymaker/Pool via Getty Images

How is Stefanik seen in New York State?

She came into Congress in 2014 with this kind of moderate, new-ideas sheen about her. At the time, she was the youngest woman ever elected to the House.

Still, there wasn’t anything particularly striking about her. She was a pretty conventional Republican at the time, and she had a deep Republican résumé in Washington to go with her upbringing in the area. She was a staffer in the Bush White House and the Romney-Ryan 2012 campaign, among other things, before she moved home to run for Congress. And when she did, she got a lot of support from D.C., including from Ryan and a big super PAC.

How did she vault her way from that to House leadership?

Before she became nationally known as a Trump defender, she was seen as a rising star among a smaller group of Washington Republicans. She certainly wasn’t a big Trump fan in 2016 — she was, for a time, one of those Republican officeholders who would say “I plan to support the nominee” without explicitly saying his name. But, without getting into motivations or anything like that, it’s clear that coming around on Trump has been good for business for Stefanik.

Something I thought was really interesting while thinking about Stefanik’s rise was the evolution of her district, which is basically the northeast corner of New York State. When she first won it, Barack Obama had just carried it twice — and he actually improved his performance slightly in 2012 compared to 2008, even though his overall national vote share declined.

That seems to me like kind of an indictment of the traditional Republican Party that she was aligned with at that point, and specifically of the Romney-Ryan campaign. But Trump carried the district by double digits since then. It’s an Obama-Trump district.

Are you surprised to see her star take off?

Ha, I wouldn’t say surprised. This doesn’t really crack the list of the most surprising things that have happened since Stefanik broke into Congress. It’s always been clear that she’s talented.

But this situation, specifically, is just such a surprising way to rise, isn’t it? Liz Cheney just defeated an effort to remove her from leadership pretty resoundingly a few months ago, and now here we are. That’s the surprising part to me.

Totally. What does it say about where the GOP is headed?

Trump is obviously still a huge factor in every little piece of internal party politics. You can see this in everything from contests for state and local party chair positions to the upper echelons of Congress. I know it’s a basic fact of life right now, but it still is worthwhile to sit back and think about how remarkable that is, considering he just became the first president to lose reelection since 1992.