Becoming The Swamp

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Hello, it’s the weekend. This is The Weekender ☕

In this week’s episode of The Insurrectionists Are Running The Show, NBC News reported on Friday that the RNC recently hired a big time supporter of the “Stop the Steal” movement to work on the party’s policy platform-writing committee.

Ed Martin is now the RNC’s deputy policy director of the platform committee. But before that cushy gig he was chairing the Missouri Republican Party and encouraging Trump supporters, or “die-hard true Americans” as he called them, on Jan. 5, 2021 to fight until their “last breath” to “stop the steal.”

Martin was among the crowd of MAGA fans who attended Trump’s speech at the Ellipse before marching to the Capitol. He was reportedly not involved in any illegal storming-of-the-Capitol activities, according to NBC News.

But it’s not hard to imagine where a policy writer — with “Stop the Steal” roots — for a political party that currently has few values outside of Trump’s grievances might turn when drafting a platform for the fall.

Here’s what else TPM has on tap this weekend:

  • Hunter Walker explores the new marshland metaphor Trump is employing to try to convince everyone he convinced four years ago to hate mail-in voting to, this year, vote by mail.
  • Josh Kovensky unpacks why Senator RonJon was pushing Kremlin talking points at a Christian nationalist conference.
  • Kate Riga theorizes about why the Supreme Court is dragging its feet to release decisions this June.
  • Khaya Himmelman prepares us for the next threat against mail-in voting and Emine Yücel tries to make sense of Rep. Byron Donalds’ (R-FL) outrageous Jim Crow remarks this week.

Let’s dig in.

— Nicole Lafond

I Am Become Swamp

After years of promising to “drain the swamp” while maintaining coziness with lobbyists and engaging in unprecedented self dealing, former President Trump has a new awkward marshland metaphor. Trump is now asking his supporters to become the “swamp” themselves as part of his continued flip flopping on early voting and mailed ballots.

On Tuesday, Trump’s campaign and its newly-launched turnout effort “Trump Force 47” announced a program called “Swamp The Vote USA.” The announcement included a statement from Trump himself that echoed his false claims that Democrats have somehow stolen votes from him.

“We must swamp the radical Democrats with massive turnout. The way to win is to swamp them, if we swamp them with votes they can’t cheat,” Trump said. “You need to make a plan, register, and vote any way possible. We have got to get your vote.”

Per the announcement, Trump’s plan to go from draining swamps to creating them involves promoting “the use of absentee and mail ballots and early in-person voting.” Of course, these very voting methods were part of Trump’s debunked narratives about voter fraud in the last election. 

Trump’s past suggestions that mailed ballots and early voting were somehow sources of nefarious activity sowed deep distrust among his base. That contributed to Democrats having a major edge with these methods. This latest launch is the culmination of a monthslong GOP effort to reverse this collateral campaign damage caused by Trump’s election conspiracies. 

Dearly departed former Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel launched an awkward initiative to embrace early voting last year. Since McDaniel was deposed in favor of a Trump loyalist and the former president’s daughter in law, the dramatic Republican 180 on early voting has accelerated. However, after Trump’s steady drumbeat of efforts to question the election, some of the more conspiratorial elements of his base have had trouble getting their heads around the new direction. While McDaniel’s early voting push didn’t exactly light up the base, this new one comes with more direct participation from Trump. It also offers distinctly Trumpian branding complete with odd capitalization and a hint of election paranoia. Now, rather than reviling the swamp, Trump wants his supporters to be part of the biggest one ever. And, rather than the cause of election issues, his people are suggesting early voting can fix them. As the initiative’s site puts it, “All Republicans must SWAMP THE VOTE in 2024 to make our victory TOO BIG TO RIG!”

— Hunter Walker

Reading RonJon

The most surprising thing about the GOP’s anti-Ukraine cohort is not how decisively it breaks from decades of hawkishness; not that it’s overtly dismissive of the concerns of the country being invaded, or that it rejects what’s a key American interest in preventing Russian imperial expansion from smashing into a NATO ally, which we’d be treaty-bound to protect. Rather, it’s that they’re not ignorant. You can look at their public remarks on the war, and see people who have learned real, troubling facts — and promptly assimilated them into a worldview that holds America responsible for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Take one example of this: Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI).

Sen. Johnson spoke recently at an event jointly hosted by American Moment, a think tank and personnel farm for the MAGA youth, and New Saint Andrews College, a Moscow, Idaho institution linked to the burgeoning view on the right that federal policy needs more Christianity in order to be effective. The two have been putting on a series of events titled “Theology of American Statecraft” in which former Trumpworld figures and Republican elected officials gather with others on the right to articulate exactly what that kind of Christianity-influenced vision would be. I wrote earlier this year about former OMB acting director Russ Vought’s appearance at a “Theology of American Statecraft” event devoted to immigration, where he used biblical language to argue for Trump’s border proposals.

Johnson’s talk was titled “Theology of American Statecraft: Just War.” It was less biblical: he began with an encomium to “national strength” and “national unity” before moving to the point: U.S. support for Ukraine is not just, and should end.

This focused on a few key points: Ukraine’s 2014 revolution was “fomented” by the U.S., the regions Russia seized in its aftermath “wanted to be ruled by Russia,” Russia’s invasion was legitimate because of NATO’s eastward expansion (Was Ukraine’s defense a “just war?” That’s left unanswered).

Johnson showed an awareness of the counterarguments to these points in his talk. He claimed that James Baker had promised Russia that NATO would not expand “one inch” eastward, before instantly becoming contrite: “he didn’t exactly say that, but that was certainly the implication.” It’s true. Baker never promised that to the Russians. Later, Johnson suggested that Ukraine’s fight was futile in part because Russia is outproducing the West in artillery shells — this is also true. Both cases are interesting however because they demonstrate that Johnson, and those who agree with him, are assimilating facts given to them as senators, and counterarguments made against them, to make their points. It’s not blithe shouting; it’s a more considered view, even if it’s one that parrots Kremlin talking points while advocating for the U.S. to prod Ukraine into capitulating.

— Josh Kovensky

The Ominous Supreme Court Silence Of June

Traditionally, the Supreme Court term ends in June. Tell that to the ~25 outstanding cases, which include the biggest of the term on issues including domestic abusers’ right to have guns, the accessibility of abortion drug mifepristone and Donald Trump’s immunity in the Jan. 6 prosecution. 

Some experts contend that this is a sign of a Court too willing to intercede in bombshell, culture war cases that take a long time to decide and often engender many splits. In some cases, like Trump immunity, it’s hard not to feel that the foot dragging is purposeful. And some are just plain alarming: The case concerning whether or not domestic abusers can have firearms was argued on November 7. A seven-month delay does not indicate ringing consensus that such a gun right is, blindingly obviously, catastrophically dangerous.

— Kate Riga

Now It’s Dangerous Just To Count Mail-In Ballots

Election workers are preparing for the upcoming presidential election with new training to protect against the possibility of fentanyl-laced mail-in ballots. 

In response to recent incidents involving suspicious substances being sent to county clerks’ offices in Oregon, Washington, and elsewhere, election officials across the country are now training staff on how to use Narcan, instituting new policies around glove-wearing while opening mail, and in some jurisdictions, even using drug-sniffing dogs to suss out suspicious mail. 

In Lane County, Oregon, as previously reported by TPM, after an election worker opened an envelope containing an unknown suspicious powdery substance following a 2023 special election, the county clerk’s office implemented in–person training on administering Narcan and new policies regarding how to open mail to minimize risk in the event of an exposure to a dangerous substance.  

These updated processes, which are now standard for many election offices in the country ahead of 2024, are yet another grim reminder of the dangerous environment election workers find themselves in in a post-2020 world. 

“Election officials are risk averse and they tend to try and prepare for all possible scenarios, and you have to prioritize,” Tammy Patrick, Chief Executive Officer for Programs of The Election Center told TPM this week. 

“This is yet another thing that they [election workers] have to be concerned about,” she said. “In the same way that for the last 20-plus years, election officials have policies in place for active shooter situations or have policies in place for a bomb scare — they have disaster recovery plans, they have continuity of operation plans. This is just yet another chapter.”

Patrick also noted that election offices are working closely with the United States Postal Inspection Service to investigate these matters, if they do occur. 

In an email to TPM, a representative for the United States Postal Inspection Service explained that as a member of the Department of Justice’s Election Threat Task Force, the agency, in addition to conducting mailroom security reviews for election offices, also works closely with federal, state, and local law enforcement to investigate these incidents.

— Khaya Himmelman

Words Of Wisdom

“You see, during Jim Crow, the Black family was together. During Jim Crow, more Black people were not just conservative — Black people have always been conservative-minded — but more Black people voted conservatively.”

That’s Rep. Byron Donalds (R-FL) earlier this week speaking at a “Congress, Cognac, and Cigars” GOP outreach event in Philadelphia.

It’s hard to not interpret those words as Donalds insinuating Black Americans were better off during an era of explicit and violent racial segregation. It’s so unthinkable, that I was wary of over-interpreting what he might have meant. 

But it seems I wasn’t the only one taken aback by Donalds’ remarks — it prompted immediate backlash from Democrats, including members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“It has come to my attention that a so-called leader has made the factually inaccurate statement that Black folks were better off during Jim Crow,” Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) said on the House floor. “How dare you make such an ignorant observation? You better check yourself before you wreck yourself.”

Amid the widespread backlash, Donalds defended his words, saying he never said Black people were doing better under Jim Crow.

“What I said was is that you had more Black families under Jim Crow, and it was the Democrat polices under H.E.W., under the welfare state, that did help to destroy the Black family,” Donalds said in his defense.

That’s one way to spin it. 

Regardless, it’s hard to defend a speech during which Donalds also claimed Black women are turned off by Democrats’ positions on transgender policies in the most outrageous way: “Black women are looking at their sons and saying, ‘Now, wait a minute. You’re telling me that my young son can become a girl? Nope.’”

— Emine Yücel

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