August 24, 2017: Who's Crazier? | GOP Civil War | ACLU Cowers


Good Thursday to you. We hope the solar eclipse gave you a brief respite in our ongoing national melee. Here, in New York, the eclipse barely made it to three-quarters full. Still, we enjoyed every minute. But as soon as it ended, we returned to the madness:

We noticed a change in the Right media this week, an amping up of the idea that the Left and the Mainstream Media has, you know, just lost it and become unhinged. Again, not just wrong or biased, mind you, but unhinged. Examples arrived one after another: Overwrought CNN panelists, voices cracking, calling our president mentally and morally unfit. ESPN pulling an announcer from a University of Virginia football game because his name is Robert Lee. Officials considering removing not only Confederate statues but monuments dedicated to Christopher Columbus and Frank Rizzo, the mayor of Philadelphia back in the 1970s.

So while Trump's compos mentis is openly questioned, the conservative media is firing right back on the sanity issue. Maybe that's a legacy of Charlottesville: We not only disagree, but now we see each other as off our rockers. If you have comments and questions, please write us at

Reminder: We’re publishing only on Thursdays this month.

1. Trump vs. Mainstream GOP

Trump has been on the attack against leaders of his own party -- even expressing support on Twitter for Kelli Ward, the opponent of Jeff Flake, the Republican senator from Arizona who has been a Trump critic. Naturally, Trump is making plenty of folks angry. We are watching the conservative media closely to see whose side they will take, especially in Trump’s feud with Mitch McConnell. The radio host Mark Levin, typically for the far right, attacked the Senate majority leader on his show Tuesday night. “Time to Make Mob Boss McConnell Heel” blared a headline on his website Conservative Review.

Conservative Review Editor-in-Chief Mark Levin endorsed both Judge Roy Moore in Alabama and Kelli Ward in Arizona for U.S. Senate.

Moore and Ward are each running in primaries against incumbent Republican senators backed for re-election by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. In the second hour of his program, Levin harangued McConnell’s failed leadership and dirty campaign tactics, vowing to rally the nation to unseat McConnell in 2020.

“McConnell has been threatening the conservative agenda and Trump’s agenda from day one,” Levin said. “He has nothing but contempt for the American people … nothing but contempt for you.”

(According to The Washington Times, even with the presidential nod, Ward will have her work cut out for her. A super PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, launched its first attack ad against her on Tuesday.)

Levin was joined by a chorus of McConnell/Paul Ryan haters on Twitter:

Laura Ingraham‏ @IngrahamAngle made this cut:

Prediction: The "sage of the Senate" Mitch McConnell will get to 2018 and still not be able to pass a tax bill.

She added after Trump’s Phoenix rally:

Listen to the reaction--BUILD THE WALL. Are you listening@SpeakerRyan? @SenateMajLdr?

Fox’s Lou Dobbs‏ @LouDobbs, with 1.4 million followers, wrote:

Should Republicans remove Senator Mitch McConnell as majority leader if he can't get tax reform done?

Radio host Bill Mitchell‏  @mitchellvii  with 288k followers wrote:

Mitch McConnell at 18% approval rating back home. America wants #MAGA!

But Fox’s Halftime Report warned that it will be Trump, not the GOP leadership, who will get his head handed to him when Congress returns after Labor Day and faces some tight budget timelines:

This month as Trump will face a series of deadlines on borrowing and spending, as well as what to do about ObamaCare benefits for 2018. He is quite likely to face at least one ultimatum from Congress, which looks increasingly likely to ignore the president on the issues and proceed on its own.

This sets up a moment at the end of next month when, under pressure from top aides as well as business and financial leaders, Trump is forced to sign a pile of legislation passed in contravention of his stated demands. He’ll make it clear it doesn’t make him happy, that he’s not to blame and he’ll do it in a damaging way, but he will sign on the line.

It is tempting to think that at some point Trump would come to see the connection between his acting out and his policy misses – that he is really the one being inconvenienced here.

But the president so far has shown no evidence that he’s ever going to give up the wheelbarrow in favor of the debit card.

What We’re Reading:

How big is the Steve Bannon wing of the GOP? FiveThirtyEight tried to break down  how many Republicans fall into the former White House chief strategist’s rebellious and anti-establishment school. After looking at polling related to five defining positions -- pro-police, anti-free-trade, pro-isolationism, anti-immigration and favoring infrastructure spending -- the website concluded that 15 percent of Trump voters supported all the above. Fewer than 2 percent disagreed with all these positions. So Bannon-Trumpism is not going to stop haunting those mainstream Republican leaders anytime soon.

2. Attacking Antifa

Now that mainstream indignation over Charlottesville has settled down, the Right is fighting hard to take back the moral high ground. As Trump defended his Charlottesville response as “perfect” at a rally in Phoenix, the Right media was upping its attack on the Antifa in particular and the “hysterical” left in general. The escalating critique was shared not just by far-right and alt-right media but by many mainstream conservatives. Holman W. Jenkins Jr., a Wall Street Journal columnist, complained Tuesday that the Antifa were the real political threat to the nation. In a piece (subscription only) headlined “The Great Nazi Scare of 2017,” he wrote:

Well, that was a bit embarrassing. Antifascist liberals mounted thousand-strong counter-rallies all weekend against a Nazi threat that proved nonexistent or thin on the ground. Leftists imagined themselves to be modern-day versions of the Czech resistance or the Warsaw uprising, but it turns out they were the majoritarian mob shouting down a handful of losers who’ve been an execrable but small part of the American pageant.

Daniel Payne, an editor at The College Fix, a rising conservative publication focused on intolerant political behavior on campuses, wrote an article for The Federalist headlined  "Our Post-Charlottesville Narrative Is a National Embarrassment: Why have the tragic events of Charlottesville transformed so many people into irresponsible, violent, censorious, and hysterical lunatics?”

This is shameful and humiliating for America: elected officials and members of our press are apparently tacitly advocating mob rule and vicious, primitive might-makes-right public discourse. The world should look at us and laugh for such crude and shocking behavior coming from the nominally elite and educated members of our political and media classes.

Meanwhile, John Daniel Davidson also of The Federalist argued that much of the reaction to Charlottesville shows that liberals just think all Republicans are racists. He pointed particularly to an op-ed by former Democratic Senator Russell Feingold as vindication for his case. Feingold had written that Charlottesville was an unmasking of the racist nature of the Republican policy agenda of anti-immigration and increased incarceration:

Finally, finally, someone on the Left just came out and said it. Being a Republican is apparently no different than being a white supremacist. Supporting a lower marginal tax rate puts you in the same company as the Ku Klux Klan. Therefore, punching a Nazi is the same as punching someone wearing a MAGA hat.

This is the logical endpoint of what social justice warriors have been arguing since before Charlottesville. Everyone who opposes their political agenda does so out of hatred and bigotry, and there’s little difference between the GOP establishment and fringe neo-Nazi groups.

Brent Bozell, the president of Media Research Center, a conservative group that sniffs our liberal bias in mainstream news organizations, berated the media in HotAir for normalizing Antifa extremism:

The antifa movement, or anti-fascist movement of far-left-leaning militant groups, is justifying violent action in the streets to beat back racists and neo-Nazis. Violence -- not as an accidental outburst but as an explicit strategy -- used to be seen as a beyond-the-pale extreme. Now [NBC’s Chuck] Todd & Co. are ushering antifa's extreme into polite society. The NBC referees believe rioting is worth at least some respect as a way to jolt the debate to the left. On the streets, the real referees, the police, are getting injured with rocks and urine-filled bottles to the head. We've lost count of the number of cops who have been murdered by Black Lives Matter supporters.

The Red Twittersphere concurred and went ballistic when a Reuters reporter described Antifa protesters outside Trump’s Phoenix rally as “peace activists” in a tweet.

3. ACLU Cowers Before the Left

Meanwhile, this week, the Right was quite vocal in its criticism of the ACLU, accusing it of cowering in fear after it received an angry backlash for defending the right of white supremacists to march in Charlottesville.

The Daily Signal expressed concern over the ACLU’s statement that it would no longer defend the First Amendment rights of “hate groups” seeking to lawfully carry firearms openly. Wrote the author:

No matter how disgusting most Americans find the viewpoints of the tiki torch-carrying white nationalists who descended on Charlottesville, even they have a constitutionally protected right to espouse their repugnant views...

It is not only disheartening for the ACLU to demand that socially ostracized groups forego their Second Amendment rights or forfeit the organization’s defense of their First Amendment rights. It is dangerous.

It emboldens counterprotesters who would fight subjective offense with objective violence, and it perpetuates the notion that those with socially disagreeable viewpoints are entitled to a lesser level of constitutional protection.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, pundits and influencers had a field day over the ACLU’s apology for tweeting a photo of a caucasian child holding an American flag, with the words “this is the future America wants.” The post received a number of angry backlash tweets (including one that featured a photo of a child dressed as Hitler with the words “This is the future the @ACLU wants”) and the organization tweeted this correction: “When your Twitter followers keep you in check and remind you that white supremacy is everywhere.”

Ben Domenech‏ @bdomenech, publisher of the Federalist, tweeted what was a good representation of the reactions we saw:

1. ACLU posts a cute picture of a kid with a flag
2. ACLU dragged by people triggered by kid
3. ACLU cowers in fear because it's 2017

4. Afghanistan: It’s Complicated

So what did the Right make of Trump’s speech on Afghanistan? Well, as can be predicted, initial reactions showed a split between hawkish moderate conservatives who supported his decision to extend the war, while his base was far more critical. Meghan O’Sullivan, former deputy national security adviser to President George W. Bush, expressed her support  in Bloomberg and made a point of differentiating Trump’s strategy from Obama’s:

Trump’s new strategy discards the timeline under which Obama’s Afghan strategy always labored. The significance of returning to the conditions-based approach of President George W. Bush -- that is, tying U.S. military presence to improvements in security, not domestically driven political timelines -- cannot be underestimated.

Similarly, while Jonathan S. Tobin, in National Review, expressed disgust towards Trump’s crowd-pleasing antics at the rally in Phoenix, he was in full support of his Afghanistan decision. He wrote:

The last week was the Trump presidency in a nutshell. When faced with a situation that called for him to do one of the many easy things Americans expect of their president, he repeatedly failed. But when asked to do something very hard, he succeeded. He showed he was capable of making a tough, smart decision that keeps our nation safe. But it remains to be seen if doing the right thing on Afghanistan will wind up having a greater impact on his place in history than will his inability to get beyond the mess he made for himself after Charlottesville. Unfortunately for Trump, it may be the easy things — forthrightly and consistently condemning neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and other alt-right extremists without trying to assert a false moral equivalence between them and their opponents — that may have more impact on the public’s view of his dysfunctional administration.

Meanwhile, reactions from Trump’s base, as exemplified by Raheem Kassamin Breitbart on Monday, were less than supportive:

Today’s Afghanistan speech by President Trump may be equally alien to his electoral base, though it was not difficult to figure out whose influence led to the speech’s neoconservative bent.

HR McMaster’s voice was clear to hear. It’s a voice that appears to have been carried over from the George W. Bush administration, and even the Obama White House.

Today, President Trump tried to explain himself, and even excuse himself, to the base who voted for his non-interventionist streak.

And on Tuesday, Laura Ingraham also expressed her displeasure on Fox:

“I am not a big fan of a surge of troops in Afghanistan, personally. I think it’s very hard to imagine how we win a peace, a lasting peace in Afghanistan if we couldn’t do it with 100,000 troops. Now we’re going to have about 13,000 troops…”

In the same segment, she also referred favorably to the pessimistic piece by Jed Babbin in The American Spectator. Here’s an excerpt from his article:

Unless and until we defeat the Salafist-Islamist ideology, the war in Afghanistan will go on indefinitely until we withdraw altogether. Then, Afghanistan will return to its pre-9/11 form. If the president chooses any of the options he has — withdrawal, a residual U.S. force aimed at terrorist suppression, or one of the three mercenary army proposals — he will do no more than continue to play “whack-a-mole” in Afghanistan for the remainder of his presidency.

And we will continue to spend lives and treasure in indefinite amounts for the rest of our national existence.

What We’re Watching:

So, with no easy answer in Afghanistan, is the base starting to be convinced? Yesterday, Breitbart published an essay by Lieutenant General Keith Kellogg, in which the chief of staff of the National Security Council made a plea to Trump’s base to give the president a chance. He wrote:

Undoubtedly, you will hear the hue and cry from the President’s detractors recalling a need to withdraw from Afghanistan and their rallying cries of failed campaign promises and abandonment of America First. Do not listen to them…