Very excited to welcome Aurin Squire back to our virtual pages. Don’t miss ‘The Incredibly Short Rise and Fall of a Black Republican.’
Today we are publishing in its entirety my recent Inside Briefing with Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat of New York University. Prior to the Trump Era, her main subject area was Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism, particularly the cultural dimensions of the fascist era. Since 2015 she has become a public commentator on the rising authoritarianism we see across the globe and with particular force right here in the United States. In our culture, discussions of right-wing authoritarianism and fascism almost always spur mentions of Adolf Hitler, if only as a canonical point of reference. But as you’ll see in our conversation, with Donald Trump, Benito Mussolini is a much better analogue. The parallels are more pregnant with potential insights into both men and their movements. Ben-Ghiat also explores this question in a new book coming out in November, Strongmen: From Mussolini to the Present.
I was really looking forward to this discussion with Ben-Ghiat who I’d come to know mainly through her Twitter presence. I was not disappointed. I hope you enjoy the discussion, which you can watch after the jump …
Now is a good time to remind ourselves that all this week and going through November numerous mainstream media reporters — most of whom aren’t consciously rooting for President Trump — will find themselves parroting Trump attack lines, amplifying Trumpite misinformation and more. In most cases they will do so because of the structural imbalance to the right which is built into political news coverage in the U.S. and in an effort to fairly cover “both sides” of the issue. I was inspired to note this for perhaps the 1000th time here at TPM when I saw this fairly mild example.
This is from a White House reporter for CNN …
As I’ve mentioned a few times, today it seems obvious that an evangelical leader like Jerry Falwell, Jr. would endorse and support President Trump. After all, almost every major conservative evangelical leader strongly supports President Trump. But it wasn’t like that back in late 2015. Trump’s irreligion and libertinism were obvious obstacles to becoming the candidate of conservative evangelicals. Perhaps the iron alliance we’ve now known for four years was always in the cards. But Jerry Falwell’s endorsement – in January 2016 – was a key bridge to getting there.
With that in mind I thought I’d go back and look at press coverage at the time, without the gloss and overlay of subsequent events. Remember that at this moment Trump was locked in a pitched battle for evangelical voters in Iowa with Ted Cruz, then a leading candidate of the evangelical right. Falwell had actually allowed Cruz to launch his campaign at Liberty University back in March 2015. Cruz would win the battle in Iowa – he came in first and Trump second. But of course he would lose the war.
Let me share a few snippets.
I’m now very curious to see the day-two stories about Jerry Falwell, Jr.
As you can see from the headline, after a day of equivocating, Falwell has now officially resigned his post at Liberty University. We now know pretty definitively what has been fairly obvious for a couple years about Jerry and Becki Falwell’s sexual practices. It seems highly likely that there will be other similar stories about other young men in the couple’s lives. But as we discussed yesterday, the really consequential news will be on the Falwell’s critical 2016 endorsement of then-candidate Trump and what role Trump and Michael Cohen’s knowledge of Falwell’s private life played in that decision.
Since I wrote the Falwell update below, Giancarlo’s story has been published and it’s about what most of us have long suspected: Giancarlo had a relationship with the couple in which he and Becki Falwell had sex while Jerry Falwell watched. Other than the hypocrisy and the payoffs (which were likely illegal since they used money from Liberty University) more power to them. But I want to zoom in on the 2016 endorsement that I mentioned in the previous post.
I imagine there are quite a lot of details to emerge. But let’s go just on what has been reported very reliably so far.
Yesterday, Jerry Falwell Jr., fresh off getting bounced from running his dad’s university, finally came forward to admit — or perhaps better to say “claim” — that his wife Becki Falwell had indeed had an affair with pool boy Giancarlo Granda.
But of course it’s not that simple. Falwell brought the story to one of the most reliably Trumpy and wingnutified journalists in the business, Paul Bedard, who now operates out of The Washington Examiner. In other words, a venue where Falwell was guaranteed a gentle touch — which is good since the lengthy statement Falwell released makes pretty clear this is an attempt to get out in front of what appears to be a much bigger and more damaging story.
To refresh everyone’s memory, back in 2012 the Falwells were at a luxury resort in Miami where they met a pool attendant named Giancarlo Granda. They were so impressed with his ambition and winning ways, so their story went, that they promptly started traveling with him, bringing him to Lynchburg, going to secluded vacation resorts with him and finally setting him up in business running a tumbledown youth hostel in Miami. Around the same time Michael Cohen shows up in the mix. Later, Cohen helps the Falwells make some nude photos of Becki disappear. (Apparently someone was blackmailing them with the threat of releasing them.) Then a few months after that Cohen brokered Falwell’s endorsement of Donald Trump in the 2016 election. Today it now goes without saying that white evangelicals are Donald Trump’s most reliable and intense source of support in American politics. And perhaps this was always inevitable. But it wasn’t clear during the 2016 primary season and Falwell’s endorsement was a critical moment in giving this critical demographic permission, sanction to rally behind Trump.
But I get ahead of myself.
It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump. That’s the title of the new book by Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican operative, chief strategist for Mitt Romney in 2012 and now a leading Never Trumper and one of the people behind The Lincoln Project. Recently we talked about Trump, the GOP, the Southern strategy and growing up in Mississippi in the final days of Jim Crow.
Watch our chat here after the jump.
Yesterday The Washington Post reported this study in The Journal of Pediatrics which suggests that children may play a more significant role in the spread of COVID than is widely believed. The gist is that they have comparable viral loads but are far more often asymptomatic. So they may be able to spread COVID just as easily as others but the fact that they’re sick is more hidden.
This was a very powerful speech from Joe Biden, better than I expected. I don’t think of Biden is a great public speaker. That’s not really necessary for the job. But this was very powerful. It matched powerfully with the historical moment. I was struck listening to Biden’s speech that it made Trump seem like such a vacant, meaningless man. Which is to say it accurately captured him … but it did so largely as an absence.
Trump was a central focus of Biden’s speech and yet he seemed like such a thin presence, almost not even there. This in itself is something because Trump’s chaotic, predatory presence has been such a dominating one in our public life – echoing in our heads – through his presidency.