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Hi there, here’s what you need to know for the week of November 20, 2020, in 9 minutes.

THIS WEEK INSIDE THE BIG TENT:


① Donald Trump’s buffoonish coup attempt is still a coup attempt, and should be resisted as one

② How Democrats’ passive response to Trump’s antics creates an unacceptable moral hazard

③ Why an anti-corruption campaign in the Georgia Senate runoffs could pay huge long-term dividends

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SEE DUMB THING, SAY SOMETHING

The three biggest stories of the week are Donald Trump’s clownish-yet-horrifying efforts to overturn the election, the Biden transition’s public anguish over whether and how to hold the outgoing administration accountable for crimes against the republic, and the Senate runoff elections in Georgia. But I mostly see them as one story. A darkly comic morality play about clashes between good and evil, denial and resolve, facts and Rudy Giuliani. 

We see Trump showcasing all the reasons why a thorough airing of his administration’s secrets is necessary, while Democratic leaders wish away the reality they’re about to inherit, and the campaign Georgia is the only thing on the horizon that might shake them out of their stupor. That’s the blurb; here’s the full synopsis:

TRUMP’S FINAL CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE UNITED STATES

This may be a conspiracy of buffoons, but it’s still a conspiracy. When we aren't howling over Rudy at Four Seasons Total Landscaping (plus, also, its neighboring dildo shop) and the gooey dye weeping out of the tufts of hair on his temples, we have to be clear eyed about the fact that Trump really does want to steal the election, and almost every Republican office holder in the country is happy to let him try. Buffoonish or not, it’s a vast and proud seditious conspiracy premised on the notion that Republicans can simply reject election outcomes, because one day they might lose more narrowly than this and the stolen courts will overturn the results for them. They’re playing along with it when it’s hopeless in part because the next time it might work out. 

Transpose a narrower election on to this one, and the scheme no longer seems comical at all. If this election had been a half-point closer, and the outcome hinged on a single tipping-point state, split by a few hundred or a few thousand votes, what’s currently playing out as reckless, antic nonsense would instead be playing out as a successful coup. Giuliani would be holding press conferences at a real Four Seasons, next to a fancy dildo shop.

Trump is serious about trying to undo his defeat, because everything, including perhaps his wealth and liberty, turns on stealing the election—or at the very least leaving the country as broken as possible for Joe Biden. If he must leave power, he must also sabotage the team that beat him (that is, he must harm the population at large) so that the Biden administration lacks the bandwidth to hold him accountable, let alone govern the country. 

Republicans are now attacking the transfer of power on two fronts: the shambolic pseudo-legal one playing out in a handful of states, and an administrative one. The former involves an endless stream of lies about fraud, frivolous lawsuits, the public and private pressuring of state-level Republican officials to deem whole categories of ballots deficient, or even just toss all the returns and declare that Trump won. 

The latter centers on GSA Administrator Emily Murphy, who has abused her ministerial power to initiate the transition process, which would allow the Biden team access to money, office space, briefings, and the federal bureaucracy itself.

In a closer election, these actions would work in tandem: Hold the winners at bay until the courts did what Trump asked of them. In this one the consequence is the rending of the democratic compact and the hobbling of the incoming administration—including, perhaps, of its capacity to vaccinate the public from coronavirus, and protect it from foreign threats.

DEMOCRATS PLAY SPECTATOR

Against the backdrop of this astounding betrayal, the Democratic leadership has chosen a course of passivity. It’s a synthesis of Democrats' larger Trump opposition strategy with the defining theme of Trump’s life: be abusive and litigious and intolerable enough that people decide to bend the rules just a little to make the nuisance go away, until at some point everyone looks back to find that he’s made off with all the jewels. But “people” in this case include the leadership of the Democratic Party, and “the jewels” are the peaceful transition of power after a legitimate election. 

The Biden team could petition the courts to order Murphy to initiate the transition; the House could subpoena her (and any other participants in the clown coup) for testimony and documents pertaining to their abuses of power—this time under the credible threat that incoming Justice Department leadership would pursue criminal contempt of Congress charges against them for failure to comply. If Democrats were like Republicans a large group of party actors would storm agency buildings with cameras and reporters in tow to loudly demand full access to the premises and transition materials, so people don’t die unnecessarily of COVID-19. Sheldon Whitehouse would be wearing a gas mask for some reason.

Instead, they have collectively decided to hope public pressure prevails before Republicans do too much damage. Unfathomably, their first resort has been to turn to donors to help them fund a shadow transition.

These are symptoms of the same tendency that drove Democrats to soft-pedal congressional oversight, and fueled this alarming NBC report, sourced to five Biden associates, that says Biden wants to avoid retrospective investigations of Trump, his administration, and his inner circle.

This is all eerily reminiscent of early 2009, when then-President-elect Obama signaled he didn’t want federal prosecutors doing retrospective investigations of the Bush torture regime. The connections between that decision and the rise of Donald Trump are real but tenuous. The connections between it and the ascendence of Gina Haspel, torture architect, to the directorship of the CIA, are incredibly direct. But the other lesson from that episode is presidents don’t have to tweet like maniacs to impress their will upon the Justice Department—they can do it indirectly, and in the voice of reason.

NBC assigned three of its top reporters to the Biden story, so we should assume their five sources know what they’re talking about, and that the article reflects Biden’s true feelings. If that’s right, it’s a problem. Biden shouldn’t be signaling a preference here either way, particularly at a juncture where Trump basically spends all day screaming “I would rather destroy American democracy than surrender evidence of my crimes.” But quite apart from any particular corrupt act Biden might or might not uncover, the party’s stoic response is helping Republicans establish an awful precedent.

Democrats have dispatched their best lawyers to slug it out with Trump’s goons in court, and those lawyers are performing an admirable service. But legal defense has been the extent of the party’s resistance so far, when this isn’t principally a legal fight: It’s a political fight over the sanctity of the vote, and of important norms governing the transfer of power. Republicans almost certainly can’t stop Biden from moving into the White House on January 20, but they can make the early days of his administration hell. If they pull it off without consequence, we can bet that there won’t be a smooth transition of power to a Democratic president, free of attempted theft and sabotage, ever again.

A DIFFERENT PATH RUNS THROUGH GEORGIA

Meanwhile, down in Georgia, Democratic Senate candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock face runoff elections against the Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler, both of whom traded stock based on inside information about the severity of the coronavirus threat, while publicly echoing Trump’s lies about how well he had the situation under control. 

Democrats were unable to topple these incumbents outright during the general election, when the party ran principally on kitchen-table appeals, behind Biden, who ran principally against Trump. Perhaps sensing that they can’t replay the exact same campaign over again and expect different results, or that they need to pull down Loeffler’s and Perdue’s poll numbers, Ossoff and Warnock have made greater issue in recent days of their opponents’ appalling corruption

I think this is a good strategic development: If Democrats point out that Perdue and Loeffler oppose pre-existing conditions protections, Perdue and Loeffler will lie and say they support those protections, then pivot to picking a fight over court packing. If Democrats talk relentlessly about the fact that these are two huge crooks, all they can do is pretend to be offended (because they are, in fact, huge crooks) which will entice reporters to dig deeper in their closets.

This would cut against the advice the party receives from its pollsters and data analysts, who say the ads and messages that test best center on issues like health care. But the ad testing that underlies their strategic guidance often doesn’t measure the demobilizing effect negative information has on opposition voters, and it can’t measure the so-called earned-media effect that hard-hitting anti-corruption ads (scandal, basically) can have on how the press frames what particular races are “about.”

(Think an anticorruption message can’t be effective? Tell that to these losing Democrats)

I think the disconnect here helps explain why anti-Trump Republican groups like The Lincoln Project had so much traction with grassroots Democrats during the general election. The founders of those groups might have been enriching themselves by producing web-native ads that barely ran anywhere, but the ads themselves channeled both desperation among Democratic activists for someone to make issue of Republican corruption, and excitement over the gut appeal of the content—people don’t need pollsters to tell them when a punch has landed. It makes sense that grassroots Dems had some faith that Republicans who play shameless hardball for a living know how to throw effective punches. Democrats can take that instinct, and use it to fuel real campaigning, rather than leave it to rich consultant types working a side hustle. 

On narrow strategic grounds, that's a risk I think Ossoff and Warnock should take.

But more importantly, I think running and winning an anti-corruption campaign is the only thing that might shake the national party out of its defensive crouch and convince it not just to confront the abysmal corruption of the Republican Party, but to capitalize on it.

There’s a lot of frustration in Democratic ranks over down-ballot results right now (though not enough, apparently, to defrock the congressional leadership). It stems in part from a realization that the party’s relentless focus on normie politics wasn’t enough to deliver the GOP the landslide defeat it deserved. If Georgia Dems make Republican corruption the story of the runoffs, and it works, the national leadership might finally accept that the Republican Party being chockablock with crooks and liars is a huge liability for the Republican Party. That’s the only way we get the housecleaning we so desperately need, and the only way to discourage Republicans from trying to steal everything, from tax dollars to elections, all over again next time they have a chance.

President-elect Biden has reportedly winnowed his list of potential budget directors, and the remaining candidates suggest there are too many pro-austerity Democrats in his orbit for comfort. Particularly for a job as central to Biden’s economic and regulatory agenda as the budget director.

Bernie’s former campaign director Faiz Shakir has wise words for the Biden team, as it prepares to helm divided government.

Democrats’ down-ballot struggles don’t undermine the case for party-building. They reinforce it.
It’s time.

The 2020 election proved Georgia is winnable. While the race hasn’t officially been called yet, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were able to win more votes from Georgia voters than Donald Trump did. And so many voters turned out on both sides that neither candidate in Georgia’s two Senate races finished with over 50% of the vote, which is why we’re headed to two Senate runoff elections in January. 

Control of the Senate is riding on these two races, and they’re tight. But Jon Ossoff and Rev. Raphael Warnock have a shot to win and flip the Senate.

That’s why Vote Save America is back with Adopt A State: Georgia Edition. Sign up to Adopt Georgia at votesaveamerica.com/georgia and keep an eye on your email for the best ways to help organizers on the ground. 

They flipped this state for Biden and Harris, let’s help them finish it out.


 

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