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The Brutality Is the Point. Really.
Plus: A centrist surge?
If only they had been warned. “Denying the results of the 2020 election and casting doubts about the nation’s voting system cost statewide Republican candidates 2.3 to 3.7 percentage points in the midterms last year, according to a new study….”
All the best people. “George Santos survives yet another chaotic day.”
On yesterday’s episode of our special “Trump Trials” podcast, Lawfare’s Ben Wittes and I discussed the fact that what’s true in the Durham report isn’t new; and what’s new isn’t true. Also: Mayor Rudy’s latest, and the Mar-a-Lago investigation.
The Brutality Primary
A few months ago, in a particularly dark mood, I wrote a column suggesting that cruelty was no longer the point in MAGA World. “As he seeks a return to power in 2024, “ I wrote, “Trump has already pivoted to brutality, and there is nothing subtle about it.”
My prediction/concern/fear was that, as he has done so often, he would bring the rest of the GOP along with him, in a mad race to the brutal bottom.
Trump has long cultivated cruelty as a political weapon. But he has not confined his cruelty to mere rhetoric.
For Trump, this is hardly a new theme. His enthusiasm for violence — including torture, extra-judicial murder and shooting both migrants and protesters — has been a consistent feature of his politics for years.
As Serwer noted, Trump has long cultivated cruelty as a political weapon. But he has not confined his cruelty to mere rhetoric. Indeed, the “pro-life” former president makes no secret of his passion for actual violence — including the maiming, wounding, flesh-tearing, shooting and killing of human beings.
And this appetite for brutality will soon become a litmus test for right-wing politicians, including any of his GOP challengers.
Speaking to supporters at Mar-a-Lago in November, Trump threatened that, as president, he would send the military into American cities, even if local officials objected, and repeatedly stressed his eagerness for executing drug dealers and human traffickers after quick, summary trials….
And now, in his new campaign, he’s going to double down, daring his challengers to match his willingness to crush and kill opponents, protesters, or criminals.
His strategy is already having an effect. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has established his own cruelty cred by shipping migrants off to Martha’s Vineyard. For now, he seems determined not be outflanked by Trump on the right….
He hasn’t said yet whether he favors Trump’s proposal for quick summary trials for drug dealers or whether he endorses same-day executions.
But don’t be surprised if he does. Because in this GOP brutality, increasingly, is the point.
As it turns out, I may have understated the case.
Indeed, in April, DeSantis signed legislation to make it easier for juries to recommend the death penalty by eliminating the requirement that jurors have to be unanimous. The right-wing media ecosystem exploded with praise. But some wanted to go even further.
Via Media Matters: “Conservative pundits are increasingly open about who they think should be killed.”
The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh was among the biggest fans of DeSantis’s death penalty move, but now that his appetite has been whetted, he wants to widen the circle of those who need to be killed.
“If we have this weird rule that we've imposed on ourselves that we can only execute one, either murderers or child rapist, like if we had to choose between those two categories of people to execute, then I would say, well, if we don't do one, then I'd probably murder the — I'd probably execute, rather — execute legally the child rapist,” Walsh said. “But in fact, we don't have to choose. You know, that's the wonderful thing.”
“We don't have to make choices. We can execute all of them,” he continued. “We should be able to, anyway. Execute all the worst people, all of the worst criminals. Just execute them all. And this is the right first step. There's a lot more that needs to be done. I mean, this is actual criminal justice reform.”
Like Trump, Walsh was especially enthusiastic about carrying out the killings quickly, with no appeals process.
“And if we're really starting to understand that society — if we're really starting to reform the system, you know, then we're going to start talking about not only are we executing these people, but we're doing it quickly. We're not giving them 30 years to appeal, OK? The conviction is passed down, you're convicted, you're guilty, you've been found guilty, and then the execution is carried out the next day — how about, carried out at dawn following the conviction.”
It will not surprise you to learn that Alex Jones agrees with Steven Crowder on this.
“I say we take those people out after they've been given their jury trial, we hang them in the public square and let all the other pedophiles know you do this, you're dead,” Jones said.
“Yep,” Crowder replied.
The two ended the segment by distilling their argument: “Just to be really clear though, to go back and end on the point — someone who rapes someone 12 years old or younger, hang them in the town square?” Crowder said.
“Yes,” Jones responded. “If an adult rapes a child and there’s proof, we kill them.”
But, as it turns out, support for legal executions has been overtaken by a new fetish for extrajudicial killings. In Texas, after intense pressure from right-wing media, Governor Greg Abbott pledged to pardon a man who shot and killed a BLM protester. Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot and killed two men in Kenosha, remains a MAGA icon. And now, GOP politicians are vying with one another in their zealous support for a man who choked a homeless man to death in a New York Subway.
Trump, Nikki Haley, and Ron DeSantis have all rushed to celebrate Daniel Penny, the man charged with killing Jordan Neely. But DeSantis raised the ante, by calling him a “Good Samaritan,” and raising money for his defense.
As Greg Sargent noted, DeSantis “also cast the law enforcement apparatus prosecuting Penny as presumptively illegitimate.”
This, writes Sargent, is “particularly sobering,” because “it suggests the two leading contenders for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination — DeSantis and former president Donald Trump — are open celebrators of vigilante ‘justice.’”
“Law and order” and “tough on crime” rhetoric from Republicans goes back more than half a century and has a long history of shading into support for vigilantism in popular culture. (Think of Charles Bronson in “Death Wish.”) But in the Trump era, it seems that wide swaths of one of our major parties have taken to blatantly celebrating extralegal violence.
Because, it’s the brutality that matters.
Some conservative commentators put the incident in the larger context of urban crime, and acknowledged that the episode was a tragedy. (BTW: Stay tuned for a smart, nuanced deep dive on this by my colleague Cathy Young in The Bulwark.) But on the right, others openly celebrated Jordan Neely’s death. Stephen Crowder declared that the homeless man “forfeited his right to live.”
“The second that you are engaging in an activity where someone else is forced to make a decision to save their life or a life of their loved one — completely, by the way, not of their own volition; you've put them in that scenario — you forfeit your right to live.”
But this was hardly isolated. As Media Matters noted: “Right-wing commentators almost universally praised [Daniel] Penny’s actions, and several went even further than Crowder, referring to him as a hero.”
Not surprisingly, Matt Walsh also celebrated Neely’s death, calling the victim “a terrible person.”
“The community is better off without him — like, everyone is safer without him” Walsh said. “This community, pretending to mourn — you are better off without this guy. You’re all safer because he’s gone.”
Exit thought: Is the pro-life party, actually pro-life anymore?
The Centrist Surge
The folks at WelcomePAC (a centrist Dem group), remind us that the far-left is far smaller than it looks.
The Democratic primary for mayor in Philadelphia is yet another data point showing that ultra-progressive appeal is limited to 1 in 5 voters, even in the most Democratic geographies in the country.
Nonpartisan research has demonstrated that today’s outspoken and uncompromising far-left flank — the cohort of the party associated with uber-progressive leaders like Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Squad — constitute roughly 6% to 8% of the population.
Pew Research’s breakdown of political typology puts the “Progressive Left” at 6% of Americans. That share rises with engagement: to 7% among registered voters, 8% of 2020 validated voters, and 12% of Democrats.
More in Common found that “Progressive Activists” constitute 8% of Americans and are disproportionately white, well-educated, and not concerned with safety.
Recent election results show that even in the bluest battlegrounds, the far-left faction only appeals to 1 in 5 voters. Take the 2023 Philadelphia and Chicago mayoral contests and the 2021 New York City mayoral race, where far-left leaders such as Sanders and AOC were highly engaged, drumming up support online and hosting lively GOTV rallies.
Philadelphia: 21.3% voted for Helen Gym in Democratic primary (87% of vote reported)
Chicago: 21.6% voted for Brandon Johnson in the first round of nonpartisan election
New York City: 21.4% voted for Maya Wiley in the first round of Democratic Primary
Is the Belarusian Dictatorship Doomed?
Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko is the only European leader to have help power longer than Vladimir Putin—but perhaps not for much longer. His return to the public spotlight on Monday has not quieted suspicion that he is gravely ill.
Lukashenko, age 68, was reportedly hospitalized last week after appearing weak during Victory Day celebrations in Moscow on May 9. Reuters reported that he looked “tired and a little unsteady on his feet, and a bandage was visible on his right hand. . . though he otherwise showed no obvious signs of being unwell.” Footage of him on Belarusian state media Monday, likely intended to dispel speculation that he was incapacitated, instead reignited talk that he’s on his way out.
The possibility that Lukashenko’s days are numbered offers hope and opportunity, as well as concern and risk. The United States and its European allies should be prepared for the day when Lukashenko leaves power, however and whenever that may come.