Best of Morning Shots
Rather than leave you with empty inboxes while I’m in France, I’m sending out some notable flashbacks from the past year or so. This one is from March 30, 2022. And underneath, some Quick Hits from the Bulwark homepage.
(Photo by Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Trump asks Putin for a favor (again)
Donald Trump has exhausted our vocabulary of outrage and I’m trying to cut down on my use of obscenities for Lent. So, it is difficult to describe the sheer revolting awfulness of this:
Amid widespread criticism of his praise for Russian President Vladimir Putin, former President Donald Trump publicly called on Putin on Tuesday to release any dirt he might have on Hunter Biden, the president’s son.
This was not taken out of context, nor was it a gotcha take. His own spokeswoman enthusiastically tweeted out his plea to Putin:
And daring us to do something about it.
Trump, writes Aaron Blake, continues to play his greatest hits. “And the hits apparently include seeing just how long his party and supporters will tolerate his treating a man they hate as a legitimate political ally. Because, as always, the point is winning.”
In the interview, Trump focused on allegations that Hunter Biden received millions of dollars from the wife of Moscow’s late mayor, Yury Luzhkov.
Trump complains that Ukraine won’t dish the dirt on Biden — “Now, you won’t get the answer from Ukraine,” he says — but thinks that Putin might.
“She gave him $3.5 million, so now I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it,” Trump said. “I think we should know that answer.”
Even as Trump spoke, Putin was waging a war of unremitting terror that has killed thousands of Ukrainians. The West has rallied to oppose him, and nearly every American political figure — from both parties — has denounced the Russian thug.
And it is at this moment, amidst a brutal war of aggression, that Trump once again reached out for Putin’s help in attacking the sitting American president and, by extension, this country.
Here’s where we come to the treasonous smoking gun: Trump explicitly frames his request to Putin as an act of retaliation not just against Biden, but against the United States itself.
Some accounts leave out the key phrase that Trump uses when he explains why Putin might help him.
"As long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country... I would think Putin would know the answer to that. I think he should release it... you won't get the answer from Ukraine... I think Putin now would be willing to probably give that answer."
As long as Putin is not exactly a fan of our country... said the former and perhaps future president at a time of international conflict.
Now commenceth my rant.
Republicans, defend this. Go ahead. Try. Don’t dodge or hedge. Defend your leader’s partnership in slime and blood with Vladimir Putin.
Tell me again that he learned his lesson.
Explain again that you think the whole Russia thing was a hoax.
Justify putting this defeated, disgraced, twice-impeached deplorable back in the Oval Office.
And make the case for giving the nuclear codes back to this scabrous traitor.
Morning Shots is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Liz Cheney loses in Wyoming — but what she gains may end up more valuable
When she was ousted from her leadership position in the GOP, she didn’t waver. When she was censured by her state party and it became clear she would face near-certain defeat in the 2022 primary, she continued to warn that Trump continued to pose a clear and present danger.
Because not only did she recognize Trump’s existential threat to democracy; she acted on that threat. And that meant putting the defense of the Constitution ahead of every other political and ideological priority. Cheney had consistently voted with Trump, and she remains a staunch conservative — on everything from foreign policy to government spending — but (unlike some of her critics) she recognized that those goals and principles now needed to be subordinated to the fight for democracy.
And so she continued to vote with Republicans on many issues, but she was willing to find common ground with the Democrats who wanted to investigate Trump’s role in the attempted coup. She accepted Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s appointment to the special committee and took on a marquee role as Trump’s most relentless prosecutor.
She knew this would make her a pariah in her own tribe. She did it anyway, accepting that she would lose friends, colleagues, donors and many of the alliances she had built up over a lifetime in politics.
This earned Cheney a somewhat strange (and sometimes strained) new respect among Democrats but subjected her to the full fury of MAGA vitriol. She has spent tens of thousands of dollars on special security because of threats of violence.
Few Washington politicos can begin to understand the moral and physical courage this required. But this 56-year-old woman put all the strutting phonies of MAGA manliness and masculine “toughness” to shame.
She didn’t want or need a seat at this table. She didn’t think another two years sitting at the right hand of an invertebrate like Kevin McCarthy — in a caucus stacked with cranks, bigots, cowards and time-serving hypocrites — was worth the price of her silence.
And yet, she also didn’t back away from what appeared to be a losing fight.
Cheney could have retired and avoided Tuesday night’s shellacking. But, to quote Margaret Thatcher, the lady’s not for turning. In her closing ad this week, she looked directly into the camera and said:
“America cannot remain free if we abandon the truth. The lie that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is insidious. It preys on those who love their country. It is a door Donald Trump opened to manipulate Americans to abandon their principles, to sacrifice their freedom, to justify violence, to ignore the rulings of our courts and the rule of law.”
In a state like Wyoming, that argument was unlikely to win an election. But that wasn’t the point: Cheney wanted to have the last word.
And ultimately, she had a different kind of endgame in mind, anyway.
“Nobody would piss off the entire state of Wyoming without another plan,” a Wyoming GOP politico told Allen. But, as my colleague Sarah Longwell wrote, “What if … and try to stay with me here … the endgame is doing the right thing?”
For much of the new GOP, that is also incomprehensible. But Cheney has an eye on the verdict of history.
I imagine Liz Cheney has been thinking about Margaret Chase Smith lately. On June 1, 1950, Smith, the Republican freshman senator from Maine, took to the Senate floor to deliver what became known as her “Declaration of Conscience.”
Months earlier, her GOP colleague Sen. Joseph McCarthy had launched his conspiracy theories on the world, accusing unknown communist plotters in the deep state of trying to subvert the country. While many Republicans were privately appalled by McCarthy’s baseless charges, most of the men in the caucus kept silent.
In a state like Wyoming, that argument was unlikely to win an election. But that wasn’t the point.
The Senate’s official history recalls the moment Chase rose to speak:
“Mr. President, I would like to speak briefly and simply about a serious national condition. ... The United States Senate has long enjoyed worldwide respect as the greatest deliberative body. ... But recently that deliberative character has ... been debased to ... a forum of hate and character assassination.”
She spoke for just 15 minutes. She was a loyal Republican, she said, but she didn’t “want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.”
McCarthy dismissed Smith and those who agreed with her as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs.” But 4½ years later, in December 1954, the Senate censured McCarthy for conduct “contrary to senatorial traditions.” As the Senate history recounts: “McCarthy’s career was over. Margaret Chase Smith’s career was just beginning.”
Keep that in mind before you write Liz Cheney’s final political obituary.
1. DeSantis Sucks Up to the Anti-Vax Crowd
As DeSantis elevates vaccine skeptics and picks fights with vaccine manufacturers and public health officials, a new Wall Street Journal poll shows him significantly outpacing former President Trump as the preferred 2024 nominee among GOP primary voters. Is DeSantis making these gains because of his overtures to the fringe activists in the party, or because Republican voters see him as a more palatable alternative to Trump? Probably both, but sucking up to the anti-vaxers probably doesn’t play that well outside a very distinct slice of MAGA. Further, as the WSJ poll attests, DeSantis’s likely 2024 candidacy is already approaching liftoff. Running to the right of Trump on COVID is a high-risk maneuver without a clear political justification: It’s hard to see the payoff for someone in the governor’s position.
But regardless of the political calculations that brought DeSantis to this point, it’s important to recognize that his vaccine skepticism is relatively new. This is particularly odd considering that an overwhelming majority of Americans have been safely vaccinated—including millions of Floridians who received their shots when DeSantis was still advocating them.
2. Here’s Why the Fusion Breakthrough—Decades in the Making—Matters
[The team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] didn’t just achieve breakeven—getting more energy back that it put in—it achieved ignition. That is, they lit a thermonuclear fire in the lab. This has never been done. To understand the significance of the NIF experiment, imagine that you are a Stone Age human, living in a society whose only source of fire is from lightning strikes. You observe that if you rub two sticks together they get warm. So you hit on the idea of rubbing them really fast and hard in order to try to light a fire artificially. After many tries and much effort, you manage to light a dry leaf on fire. The energy the burning leaf releases is much less than what you put in with your muscle power. But now you have a way to produce fire on demand. By analogy, that is what was just accomplished at NIF.