Note To Banter Readers: A Fantastic Take On The GOP's Fealty To Putin
"As bombs were falling on Ukraine, Sen. Cruz was partying hard with Trump at Mar-a-Lago along with other GOP senators, having already sabotaged Biden's efforts against Putin"
Dearest Banter reader,
I recently reached out to my friend and progressive giant Thom Hartmann about sharing some content from his fantastic newsletter. Thom is an author of multiple books, hosted a TV show (that I used to be a guest on frequently), runs a highly popular radio show, and now writes a must-read newsletter on Substack called ‘The Hartmann Report’.
Below is a great piece he wrote on the GOP’s truly repulsive fealty to Vladimir Putin. I’d highly recommend subscribing to his newsletter (you can do so here).
Wednesday night as bombs were falling on Ukraine, Sen. Cruz was partying hard with Trump at Mar-a-Lago along with other GOP senators, having already sabotaged Biden's efforts against Putin
About a month ago, Senator Bob Menendez introduced legislation in the Senate that would have both strengthened Ukraine’s ability to fight back against an invasion and given President Biden some truly powerful sanction tools to use should it happen.
Much of it turned on the Lend-Lease Act that FDR got pushed through Congress in 1941 to help England at the height of “the Blitz,” the German bombardment of London, in a way that avoided his having to declare war on Germany.
It also would have freed up billions to make up for the money Congress authorized but Donald Trump froze when President Zelensky refused to make up lies about candidate Joe Biden, an extortion attempt that got Trump impeached the first time.
As The New York Times noted:
“The bill also would have authorized President Biden to use the Lend-Lease Act of 1941 to lend military equipment to Ukraine, on top of the $2.7 billion in security assistance the United States has committed to Kyiv since 2014.”
The bill died, however, when Senator Ted Cruz (R-Cancun) had a hissy fit and put a hold on it in retaliation for the administration not supporting his grandstanding effort to interfere in German negotiations around the Nordstream 2 pipeline. Or some excuse like that: if it hurt the Biden Administration’s ability to be successful and effective, that was apparently enough for Cruz.
Instead of aid and money, the Times said, “senators could muster only the legislative equivalent of a strongly worded letter scolding Mr. Putin…”
Wednesday night while bombs were falling on Ukraine, having accomplished his sabotage of both Biden and Zelensky, Senator Cruz was partying hard with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago along with Republican senators Marsha Blackburn (who was blocking funding the US government over “free crack pipes”) and Trump lapdog Lindsay Graham.
Trump told his guests that Russian President Putin’s behavior reflected brilliant governance, the way nations should be run by truly competent leaders:
“Putin is smart,” Trump told the awe-struck group of sycophants. “He’s taken over a country for $2 worth of sanctions. I’d say that’s pretty smart!”
Similarly, Trump’s former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said about Putin the day before, “Very shrewd. Very capable. I have enormous respect for him.”
From the Republican point of view, Pompeo and Trump have a point. Democracy kinda sucks for them, just like it once did for Putin.
The only national vote the GOP has won since 1988 — thirty-four years ago — was Bush’s 2004 re-election, which happened before Americans fully realized he and Cheney had lied us into the war with Iraq. American voters just aren’t that into Republicans any more.
So what should Republicans do? President Putin faced opposition in his last election, but his solution was simple: put his opponent in prison.
Back in 2016 candidate Trump championed a similar solution, leading almost-daily chants of “lock her up” against his opponent, Hillary Clinton. His efforts to imprison Clinton continue to this day with his Special Prosecutor John Durham — still hanging onto his office — continuing to turn out legally meaningless but headline-worthy red meat for Fox and the GOP base.
Establishment Republicans, however, aren’t quite as brutally direct with their efforts to stay in power. Instead of imprisoning their opponents, they’re threatening American voters and those who would help voters with imprisonment. Even the League of Women Voters has been marginalized by the GOP imprisonment threats.
In their voter intimidation efforts, Republicans are turning up the heat.
Crystal Mason was sentenced to five years in prison in Texas for trying to vote when she was on parole. Pamela Moses got six years in Tennessee for the same crime. Neither successfully cast a ballot, but both are Black.
Every white person convicted of voter fraud — almost all of them people who actually succeeded in casting illegal votes for Republicans — avoided any jail time at all.
This massive, nationwide Republican effort to disparage elections and frighten voters has thrown American democracy into a full-blown crisis.
Freedom House released their new Freedom in the World 2022 report this week, proclaiming democracy is under assault all over the world.
Noting that “democracy’s defenders sustained heavy new losses in their struggle against authoritarian foes, shifting the international balance in favor of tyranny,” the report singles out the United States for Republican assaults on voting rights and the rule of law:
“After four years of condoning and indeed pardoning official malfeasance, ducking accountability for his own transgressions, and encouraging racist and right-wing extremists, the outgoing president openly strove to illegally overturn his loss at the polls, culminating in his incitement of an armed mob to disrupt Congress’s certification of the results.
“Trump’s actions went unchecked by most lawmakers from his own party, with a stunning silence that undermined basic democratic tenets. Only a serious and sustained reform effort can repair the damage done during the Trump era to the perception and reality of basic rights and freedoms in the United States.”
This destruction of democratic norms in our country was not bipartisan, according to Freedom House. After cataloging how Trump “sowed doubt among a significant portion of the population” about our election system, they added:
“Nationally elected officials from his party backed these claims, striking at the foundations of democracy and threatening the orderly transfer of power.”
But Republicans, having sabotaged American democracy so badly the world is noticing, aren’t resting on their laurels.
This week Florida’s Senator Rick Scott, the former CEO of a company convicted of the largest Medicare fraud in American history, released his 11-point plan to “rescue” America; predictably, it included rants about screwing down our elections even harder.
(Scott is one of the few Republicans who have a good shot at being the GOP nominee in 2024: he’s navigated the Trump era without running afoul of the Orange One, is the head of the NRSC that passes out millions in re-election money to other GOP senators, is fully bilingual Spanish/English, and is richer than Midas from all that Medicare money.)
As Scott demonstrates, dissing American democracy, hating on our government, and embracing autocratic election-rigging is now the through-line that ties Republican politicians together and keeps them in alignment with foreign autocrats like Orbán, Bolsonaro and Putin.
And the reason is easy to figure out. Just like the party hasn’t won an initial presidential election in thirty-four years, their positions on issues that matter to Americans are also uniformly rejected by the voters.
Scott’s plan, for example, is supposed to represent “new ideas” for the GOP in the upcoming elections.
They include the old Reagan ideas of privatizing Social Security and Medicare (a job now already half done with the Bush’s Medicare Advantage scam), trashing young LGBTQ+ people, replacing American history with white supremacist history, raising taxes on the half of Americans making poverty-level wages (so, Scott says, they’ll “have skin in the game”), and fully tearing down what’s left of the First Amendment’s wall of separation between church and state. Scott calls it “God’s design for humanity.”
Outside of the very wealthy and the occasional Libertarian zealot who thinks everything except the police should be privatized and this country should resemble Somalia, most Americans consider such ideas insane.
So, Republicans’ plan to gain and hold power falls back on the autocrat’s playbook: purge Democrats from voter rolls and lie about your opponents and the issues while making it really, really hard for average people to vote. All while changing election laws so your legislature can simply throw out votes you don’t like, as more than a dozen Republican states have now done or tried to do.
When Republican support for Putin and other autocrats around the world, and CPAC’s decision to hold a conference in strongman Orbán’s Hungary this year, are viewed in this context they make perfect sense.
Spend millions on “think tanks” and websites that crank out reams of propaganda every day, support networks of thousands of rightwing talk radio stations and podcasters, damage faith in democracy and the elections that are its foundation, field an army of trolls on social media, and threaten Democratic voters with prison.
As Freedom House points out, “The exposure of US democracy’s vulnerabilities has grave implications for the cause of global freedom.”
But it also keeps Republicans in power, and, to them, that’s all that matters.