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Simon Maloy

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  • The staggering corruption of Dinesh D’Souza’s pardon

    A conspiratorial, racist fraud gets a reprieve from the like-minded president

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Dinesh D’Souza got off easy. Back in 2014, the right-wing crank was indicted for committing campaign finance fraud, and he pleaded guilty to illegally reimbursing “straw donors” to the Senate campaign of Wendy Long, his friend from college. Prosecutors wanted to throw D’Souza in prison for 10 to 16 months, arguing that the contrition he claimed to feel for his crime was belied by his many cable news appearances in which he said he was a victim of political persecution by the Obama administration. At his sentencing, the judge told D’Souza that “it is still hard for me to discern any personal acceptance of responsibility in this case.”

    The judge nonetheless showed leniency and gave D’Souza five years of probation, eight months in a “community confinement center,” plus community service. At the time, D’Souza said he was “relieved” and thanked the judge “for imposing a fair sentence.”

    Since then, D’Souza has tried to turn himself into a martyr. With the eager assistance of his friends in conservative media, he’s spun his conviction (he pleaded guilty, remember) and light sentencing as proof that Barack Obama’s administration pursued a vendetta to silence one of its conservative critics. That theory is based on precisely zero evidence.

    But it was good enough for President Donald Trump, who announced earlier today via Twitter that D’Souza (a vocal supporter of the president) will be receiving a full pardon.

    This is an obvious abuse of the president’s pardoning power and it follows a pattern of corrupt pardons. Trump pardoned former Maricopa County Sheriff (and current Republican Senate candidate) Joe Arpaio last year after he was convicted of criminal contempt of court for refusing to obey judicial orders to halt his department’s racial profiling of Latinos. Former Dick Cheney aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, who was convicted of lying to federal prosecutors in the Valerie Plame affair, got a pardon after his Trump-loving attorney pleaded his case to the White House.

    In all these cases, there are two common and related themes: Trump using his pardoning power to bestow favors on his cronies, and the insistence that the pardoned person was “treated unfairly.” Trump said Arpaio was “treated unbelievably unfairly,” his statement on Libby’s pardon said that “for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly,” and his tweet announcing D’Souza’s pardon said he “was treated very unfairly by our government.” What’s clear in all these instances is that “treated unfairly” means that the convicted person did not receive the sort of preferential legal treatment that the president feels his allies should enjoy.

    D’Souza’s pardon is also an expression of the corruption rotting away at conservative politics and the right-wing media. A healthy political movement would have long ago ostracized a bigot and fraud like D’Souza. He is a racist troll and inveterate conspiracy theorist who spends his days mocking school shooting survivors on Twitter. Leading up to the 2012 election he wrote a lie-filled book and produced a howlingly mendacious “documentary” arguing that Obama inherited a “Third World, anti-American” ethos from his absentee father. He wrote a book arguing that the “cultural left” was to blame for the September 11 attacks, and another book insisting that “the American slave was treated like property, which is to say, pretty well.”

    Rather than booting this extremist to the fringes, conservative media turned D’Souza into a cause célèbre. He was a fixture on Megyn Kelly’s Fox News program during his campaign finance fraud trial, where he was given an open platform to assert his persecution at the hands of Obama. His idiotic conspiracy theories about Obama’s father garnered an enthusiastic endorsement from Newt Gingrich, who argued that you can understand the first black U.S. president only “if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior.” D’Souza is a regular guest on conservative talk radio and routinely hits the lecture circuit with the backing of right-wing activist groups.

    Now this racist, conspiratorial fraud has been pardoned by another racist, conspiratorial fraud, and this long-simmering corruption is being lauded within the Republican Party -- Trump’s pardon of D’Souza was quickly celebrated by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who called D’Souza a “powerful voice for freedom.”

  • A short history of phony anti-Trump conspiracy theories

    Right-wing media help Trump spin lies about the Russia investigation, and it’ll only get worse

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    President Donald Trump has moved beyond Twitter griping and is using the powers of his office to try to discredit the Russia investigation. This past weekend, Trump demanded that the Department of Justice “look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration.” He met with top DOJ officials on Monday to pressure them to start an investigation into their own department’s investigation of Trump’s campaign.

    To observers outside the conservative media bubble, Trump’s directive was a critical moment of this presidency. “The president has now crossed one of the brightest red lines in the American rule of law: demanding the Department of Justice open a politically motivated investigation designed to sabotage the criminal and counterintelligence probe into the president’s own campaign,” MSNBC’s Chris Hayes said on his show Monday. Charlie Savage of The New York Times wrote that Trump “inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.”

    The significance of Trump’s action is compounded by the fact that even the president and his subordinates acknowledge that this notion that the Obama administration acted inappropriately is just speculation. But it would be extremely convenient for Trump and his defenders if it were true -- or perceived to be true -- which is why he’s ordered this investigation.

    It's crucial to view this attempt by the White House to assert the existence of an anti-Trump cabal within the government in context: It's the latest in a series of fraudulent and debunked attemps to push such a claim. Trump’s demand that his investigators be investigated rests on a foundation of lies that was built with the critical assistance of a credulous and complicit right-wing media.

    Let’s run through all the major conspiracy theories that brought us to this point.

    Wiretapping 

    The effort by Trump and his defenders to deflect attention from the Russia investigation onto the previous administration started with this early-morning tweet from March 2017:

    It was a deathly serious allegation for the president to make, and it was completely false. Top Justice Department officials denied the allegation, a DOJ court filing affirmed that there are “no records related to wiretaps as described by the March 4, 2017 tweets,” and the president has not produced any evidence to back up his accusation.

    Nonetheless, Trump’s defenders in the conservative media contorted themselves to try to prove Trump was right, especially following House intelligence committee Chairman Rep. Devin Nunes’ March 22, 2017, press conference (which Nunes secretly coordinated with the White House) announcing that “surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.”

    Unmasking 

    Speaking of Nunes, he became the driving force behind the allegation that Obama administration officials had improperly unmasked the identities of Trump associates whose conversations were incidentally captured by intelligence agencies. Once again acting on information provided by the Trump White House, Nunes accused former national security adviser Susan Rice and other Obama officials of abusing the unmasking process. Rice acknowledged that she had requested certain identities, but congressional investigators from both parties said she’d done nothing wrong.

    The “unmasking” nonsense permeated conservative media and was presented as evidence of an Obama-led conspiracy to undermine Trump as president-elect. Trump himself told The New York Times that he believed Rice had committed a crime.

    “Secret society”

    This was an especially stupid fiasco kicked up by Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) and Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX). The pair went on Fox News to reveal the existence of a text message exchange between two FBI agents sent the day after the 2016 election that referenced a “secret society” supposedly populated by anti-Trump law enforcement officials. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate homeland security committee, seized on the message to allege “corruption at the highest levels of the FBI.” Conservative media went absolutely crazy with the “secret society” allegation, holding it up as proof of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump.

    The “secret society” turned out to be nothing more than an inside joke between the two agents.

    Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing”

    The White House’s deflection strategy rests on the idea that Barack Obama corrupted law enforcement agencies by directing them to investigate Donald Trump’s campaign as a way of undermining his candidacy. To that end, Republicans and conservatives are invested in demonstrating that Obama actively meddled in politically sensitive law enforcement business, such as the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

    In February, Johnson’s committee released a report alleging that a text message from an FBI agent stating that Obama “wants to know everything we’re doing” raised “questions about the type and extent of President Obama’s personal involvement in the Clinton email scandal and the FBI investigation of it.”

    Once again, conservative media was driven to a frenzy, fueled partially by Trump’s tweet that the “NEW FBI TEXTS ARE BOMBSHELLS!” And, once again, it all turned out to be false -- the text in question referred to presidential briefing materials regarding the investigation into Russian election interference, not Clinton.

    FBI hid info from the FISA court 

    In February, Nunes’ committee released a memo that, according to the frantic hype that preceded its release, would reveal rampant surveillance abuses committed by intelligence agencies against the Trump campaign. Chief among the alleged abuses was the accusation that the FBI had illicitly obtained a warrant to surveil former Trump aide Carter Page by concealing from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court the political origin of some of the evidence it cited in its application.

    Right-wing media figures like Sean Hannity called this “Watergate times a thousand” and said the FBI “lie[d] to a foreign intelligence surveillance court.” Trump tweeted that the memo “totally vindicates” him and showed the Russia investigation to be “an American disgrace.”

    It was a lie -- the political origin of the evidence was indeed disclosed in the FBI application -- and Nunes and his Republican colleagues admitted as much in the days following the memo’s release.

    What emerges from all this is a damning picture of a Republican political operation -- involving the White House and key members of Congress -- to concoct blatant falsehoods and conspiracy theories, and a conservative media apparatus that readily absorbs and rebroadcasts that propaganda. At a certain level, behavior like this is to be expected -- these same characters spent all eight years of the Obama administration cobbling together ridiculous conspiracy theories about Benghazi, the former president’s birthplace, and a secret military invasion of Texas.

    There is a key difference, however, in all the lying about the Russia investigation. These conspiracy theories are defensive. Most conservative pundits will describe the Russia investigation as a threat to the very fabric of American government; they recognize the extreme danger it poses to Trump’s presidency. Trump himself has no discernible legal strategy. Instead, he’s fighting a public relations campaign and casting himself as the victim of a “witch hunt.”

    These attacks on the legitimacy of the investigation are the only weapon they have against it. And as the investigation exposes Trump to more and more legal and political peril, the conspiratorial attacks on the Justice Department and the Obama administration become more strident. Trump used to be content to vent on Twitter about the Russia investigation, but now he’s using the weight of his office to give life to an evidence-free accusation of political persecution.  

    Trump relies on the conservative media’s unthinking support as he wages this increasingly unhinged campaign. He needs to hear the hosts of Fox & Friends chirp every morning about how each new phony “bombshell” about the Russia investigation vindicates him. He needs to chat with Sean Hannity every night before bedtime about how Robert Mueller is out to get him. But Trump is only going to get more frustrated as each increasingly elaborate falsehood fails to produce the desired outcome, and that means the coordinated lying and conspiracy-mongering are only going to get worse as the investigation moves forward.

  • Donald Trump Jr.’s hilariously strained explanation for why there was “no collusion”

    Apparently collusion isn’t “collusion” if you’re totally nonchalant about it

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    The common refrain across Fox News, talk radio, and the rest of the conservative media is that the investigation into the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia is a giant waste of time because there’s been no evidence of “collusion” yet unearthed. It’s a message that’s driven primarily by President Donald Trump, who seldom wastes an opportunity to append the catchphrase “No Collusion” to his frequent, manic Twitter assaults on the special counsel investigation.

    The chief weakness in this narrative is the evidence lying everywhere that points to active and enthusiastic attempts by the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russians. Among the more damning incidents is the now-infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between several Russian nationals and senior members of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, including the president’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

    Trump Jr.’s position on that meeting has forever been in flux -- he went from denying it ever happened, to insisting that it was about adoption policy, to admitting that the real impetus for the meeting was an offer from sources linked to the Russian government to turn over damaging information about Hillary Clinton. At every step of this process, the president’s son (with some direct assistance from Trump himself) has lied and been determinedly vague in his recollections of what happened.

    The particulars of how this meeting came to be and what the parties involved discussed were a chief focus of Trump Jr.’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a transcript of which was released yesterday. During his testimony, Trump Jr. tried to explain how it was that a meeting he participated in between Russian officials and senior Trump campaign officials (pitched explicitly as an offer from the Russian government to help his father’s campaign) wasn’t “collusion”: He was “skeptical” of the offer and barely even thought about it at the time.

    Before we get too far into what Trump Jr. said before the committee, let’s quickly revisit what he wrote to Rob Goldstone, the publicist who pitched the meeting. Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. that the “Crown prosecutor of Russia … offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia.” The “very high level and sensitive information” was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” Goldstone added.

    Here’s Trump Jr.’s response, in full:

    Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?

    Best,

    Don

    In his opening statement to the committee, Trump Jr. led off by saying: “As will become clear, I did not collude with any foreign government and do not know of anyone who did.” Recognizing the trouble this email could cause him, Trump Jr. specifically addressed it in his statement. He said he was “somewhat skeptical of [Goldstone’s] outreach” but “nonetheless, at the time I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say.” Referring to the “if it’s what you say I love it” portion of his response, Trump Jr. tried reframing it as a sort of polite brushoff, a courtesy to someone he didn’t really take seriously. “It was simply a colloquial way of saying that I appreciated Rob’s gesture,” he said.

    Under questioning from Senate staff, Trump Jr. again insisted that “I love it” was actually a heretofore unknown New York colloquialism used to convey polite disregard. “As I said in my statement, it was a colloquial term used to say, hey, great, thank you. I didn’t want to deal with anything right now,” he said.

    That’s obvious nonsense. The correct, plain reading of that phrase is that Trump Jr. was excited at the prospect of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton from a foreign government source, and he basically acknowledged as much when pinned down by a Senate lawyer:

    LAWYER: All right, but more specifically you say "If it's what you say, I love it." What was the "it" that you loved in that e-mail?

    ...

    TRUMP JR.: Potential information about an opponent.

    LAWYER: Potential incriminating information on Hillary Clinton?

    TRUMP JR.: Yes.

    More inconsistencies abound. Asked if he was “surprised” or alarmed that someone had reached out to him with an offer of incriminating information sourced to a foreign government, Trump Jr. insisted he didn’t really take it seriously and barely even thought about it. “I don’t know that it alarmed me, but like I said, I don’t know and I don’t know that I was all that focused on it at the time,” he said. “I don’t remember thinking about it at the time.”

    That’s when the Senate lawyer pounced:

    LAWYER: So you responded in 20 minutes to an e-mail that on its face offered sensitive information but is part of Russia and you didn't think about it at the time?

    TRUMP JR.: I may have thought about it at the time. I don't recall thinking about it at the time. And I responded in 20 minutes because if I get an e-mail I respond to it. If I see it, I respond. And, again, I didn't follow up. I don't know that I ever followed up other than in response to Rob following up with me three days later.

    It gets still more confounding. After insisting that he was skeptical and not really invested in Goldstone’s offer, Trump Jr. acknowledged that a meeting was set up just six days later that involved the most senior-level staffers of the Trump campaign: himself, his brother-in-law Jared Kushner, and campaign chairman Paul Manafort. At the same time, though, Trump Jr. insisted that none of them knew what the meeting was about or who was going to be there, and no one really cared enough to figure it out, ask any questions, or even talk about it among themselves. “I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there since I did not know myself,” Trump Jr. testified. “Because we were in the same building Paul, Jared, and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings at a moment's notice.”

    Once again, Trump Jr.’s explanation fell apart under the slightest pressure, and he had to retreat into claims of forgetfulness:

    LAWYER: You got an e-mail with a title "Russia- Clinton, private and confidential," you didn't mention that to Paul Manafort?

    TRUMP JR.: Other than I forwarded the e-mail to him to invite them to the meeting, I didn't discuss it with him to my recollection, no.

    LAWYER: And you said you forwarded it. That was the only time you recall discussing it with him?

    TRUMP JR.: That's the only time I recall, yes.

    LAWYER: And Exhibit 1 which you reviewed with my colleagues indicates that you forwarded it on June 8, 2016. At that point there's just a reference to "Meeting got moved to 4:00 tomorrow at my office," Mr. Manafort responds "See you then." Had you not discussed the meeting with him before that time?

    TRUMP: JR.: I don't recall discussing it with him at that time, but I may have.

    LAWYER: How would he have known what this meeting was about if you had not discussed it with him?

    TRUMP: JR.: I don 't know.

    LAWYER: Did he ever ask you about it?

    TRUMP JR.: Not that I recall.

    Trump Jr. tried mightily to paint a picture of blithe disregard for the offer from Russia because he thinks it disproves the idea that the Trump campaign had any interest in or intention of colluding with Russians. But at each point logic and documentary evidence proved him wrong: He and the Trump campaign expressed clear interest and moved with alacrity to see what “very high level and sensitive information” they could get their hands on.

    They also proceeded without much in the way of caution, requiring Trump Jr. and everyone else involved to attempt a rewrite of what the evidence shows. That’s left them and their conservative media allies in the strained position of barking “no collusion” at their rigorously documented attempts at collusion.

  • Dick Cheney: Liar and proud torture advocate

    All the howling falsehoods the former VP told in his defense of torture

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    The torture program set up by the George W. Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks was a brutal, illegal, and slipshod travesty for which there has been no reckoning. All of the people who designed, implemented, and justified the brutal and useless interrogations of terrorism detainees have successfully ducked accountability for a variety of reasons: Republicans actively support torture, Democrats voluntarily abandoned their opportunity to impose accountability for the program, and both parties are apt to excuse flagrant abuses committed in the name of “national security.”

    This is why we have the grim spectacle of President Donald Trump (whose stated position on torture is that it should be used as sadistic punishment) nominating as CIA director Gina Haspel, who oversaw the torture of detainees and later led the effort to destroy videotaped evidence of interrogations. It’s also why former Vice President Dick Cheney can go on cable news and give lie-filled defenses of the horrific interrogation program he shepherded into existence.

    Cheney sat down with Fox Business host Maria Bartiromo this week and oozed out a series of falsehoods about his torture program -- lies that elicited precisely zero challenges from Bartiromo. Let’s run through the many misleading claims and outright bullshit Cheney spewed in defense of his shameful legacy.

    “It [the torture program] was set up in a way that what we did was, in fact, consistent with our fundamental statutes and agreements that were in place.”

    The legal basis of the torture program was a dishonest and contradictory memo, drafted and acted upon in complete secrecy, that put the United States in direct conflict with the Geneva Conventions and served primarily to protect the people who wanted to make torture the policy of the United States. To protect CIA officials and political appointees from prosecution under the War Crimes Act of 1996, the Bush administration pushed legislation to redefine which acts constituted a violation of the Geneva Conventions. Cheney and crew did not act within existing law -- they concocted bizarre secret legal rationales and sought to change laws where necessary to protect themselves.

    “And it [torture] worked. We were able -- waterboarding was applied, actually, to only three individuals. One of those was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind of 9/11.”

    Torture did not work. Torture does not work.

    The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence report on the Bush torture program found that it was ineffective at obtaining intelligence. The CIA officials who waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed quickly determined that the technique had “proven ineffective,” that they’d “lost ground” with Mohammed’s interrogation, and that “the potential for physical harm is far greater with the waterboard than with the other techniques, bringing into question the issue of risk vs. gain.” In the end, “no information provided by Mohammed led directly to the capture of a terrorist or the disruption of a terrorist plot,” per The New Yorker.

    And Cheney would like everyone to focus on Khalid Sheikh Mohammed because he is genuinely evil and a high-ranking Al Qaeda terrorist -- someone who, per Cheney’s obvious implication, deserved to be tortured. He’d be less enthusiastic to talk about Abu Zubaydah, who was waterboarded 83 times and nearly drowned because the U.S. government believed he was a top-level Al Qaeda operative. He wasn’t, and the government has since acknowledged as much.

    That’s to say nothing of detainees who were tortured and died while in U.S. custody. And let’s not forget the innocent people who were swept up by the government, like the Afghani man who was tortured so brutally that he begged his CIA interrogators to kill him, or the pregnant woman who was beaten in the abdomen and chained to a wall.

    “He’s [Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] the guy who got waterboarded more than anybody else. I think what we did helped ultimately produce the intelligence we needed to be able to get [Osama] bin Laden.”

    Nope. The Senate torture report debunked this claim, noting that “the most critical -- or the most valuable” information that led to bin Laden’s death “was not related to the use of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques,” that the CIA was targeting the courier who ultimately led U.S. forces to bin Laden before any of its detainees provided information on him, and that “CIA detainees who were subjected to the CIA's enhanced interrogation techniques withheld and fabricated information about” the courier.

    “If it were my call, I would not discontinue those [torture] programs. I’d have them active and ready to go. And I’d go back and study them and learn.”

    This is an interesting comment in that Cheney’s desire to go back and “study” the torture sessions “and learn” from them at least sort of recognizes that they were a beastly disaster. Unfortunately, the current nominee for CIA director led the agency’s internal effort to destroy videotaped evidence of its torture sessions, which makes it more difficult to “learn” from the abuses it committed.

    “If you know Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is the mastermind behind all of this, if you know he is number two to bin Laden in terms of the attack, if you know he’s probably the guy who knows more than anybody else except bin Laden what’s next, what’s their next target, how many people are they going to kill and how they are going to do it, and then you tell me that the only method we have is ‘please please pretty please tell us what you know.’ Well, I don’t buy that.”

    This is Dick Cheney, a liar and a villain, falsely arguing that the only options available to interrogators were a) asking nicely and b) torture. If those were, in fact, the only options, then the case for torture would seem more plausible. But the Army Field Manual lays out a whole range of permissible interrogation techniques and details how to effectively use them. Right now, all military and intelligence personnel are legally bound to follow the Army Field Manual when conducting interrogations. And, as has already been established, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s interrogators quickly determined that torturing him wasn’t productive.

    “I think the techniques we used were not torture.”

    They were.

    “A lot of people try to call it that, but it wasn’t deemed torture at the time.”

    It was.

    “The techniques we used are techniques we use on our own people in training. We didn’t go and make them up someplace.”

    Cheney is referring here to SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training. And he is correct that the torture program was based on SERE training techniques, which are used to prepare American military personnel should they be captured and … you guessed it … tortured. To that point, the SERE program was developed based on interrogation methods used by the Chinese military which were designed not to extract information, but to elicit false confessions.

    “The president signed off, I signed off, the National Security Council signed off. They did a good job, they got the intelligence they needed, and we were safe from any further mass-casualty attacks in the seven and a half years on our watch. Now people want to go back and try to rewrite history. But if it were my call, I’d do it again.”

    It’s an amazing thing that the former vice president of the United States can go on TV and declare -- proudly -- that he and the president he served with made torture the official policy of the United States. It’s a howling outrage that a statement like this isn’t viewed as a confession of culpability in grotesque human rights violations. But that’s what happens when no accountability is imposed for one of the most shameful chapters in the war on terror.

  • Newt Gingrich taught me the secrets of Defending America™

    A scammy online adventure with baklava, Ben Franklin, and lots of grifting

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    How much money would you spend to defend America? Before you answer, remember that we’re talking about America here. The America. It’s in need of defense, and good soldiers like you and me must heed the call and quite literally pay our dues. So how much cash would you lay down? A thousand dollars? Ten thousand? Can you even put a price on something so vital and necessary as the defense of America?

    Even if you can’t, Newt Gingrich certainly can. For just $50 you can sign up for Newt’s online course called “Defending America,” which consists of six video lectures delivered by Gingrich himself that “provide patriotic Americans like you with the historical facts and arguments you need to debunk the Left’s agenda in your own community.” Newt’s been all over Fox News of late reminding its viewers that “Defending America” is something that they, as patriots, can spend their money on.

    As a patriotic American who loves historical facts, I convinced my bosses (suckers) to hand over the company credit card so I could spend $50 on America Defense lessons from Newt Gingrich.

    Here’s what I learned.

    Newt just wants to eat baklava

    “The left didn’t like the concept of a singular civilization called America,” Gingrich declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. And as part of its war on the American cultural monolith, “the left” is making it impossible for good patriots to eat the pastries of their choice.

    “Think about the problem this gives you with baklava,” Newt says as part of a determinedly obtuse harangue about cultural appropriation. “Can you only eat baklava if you’re Greek or if you’re Turkish? Or if you’re Greek, do you eat Greek baklava but not Turkish baklava? And if you’re not Greek or Turkish, why are you even allowed to have baklava?”

    But it’s not just about the freedom to cram one’s maw with endless varieties of honeyed pastry, Newt explains. The key question of who can eat which type of baklava goes right to the very heart of the leftist conspiracy to destroy America. “While I’m making fun of it, this is not funny,” Newt says. “This is at the center of the intellectual corruption of the American academic community, and the news media, and the American entertainment communities that grow out of and draw from the academic community.”

    “The left” is mainly student activists and professors at West Coast colleges

    The conceit behind “Defending America” is that there exists “a deliberate strategy by the left to instill anti-American values to fundamentally change this country.” The primary movers in the nefarious, country-ending cabal, at least according to Newt’s estimation, are campus activist groups and academics who write op-eds. And as the baklava example makes clear, Newt’s shtick involves tweezing out what he believes are the most extreme examples of their behavior and presenting them as what “the left” writ large stands for.

    Newt’s “lessons” on “Defending America from the Multicultural Disaster” and “Defending Free Speech from Left-wing Censors and Thought Police” focus almost exclusively on various perceived outrages committed by student groups and the occasional professor. “Universities are increasingly becoming havens of resegregation and reverse racism,” he declares in his lesson on the evils of multiculturalism. “There’s a school in Washington state that wants to kick all white people off the campus for a day.”

    The school in question, Evergreen State, became a brief focus of national controversy when a faculty member proposed that, as part of a longstanding annual “Day of Absence” protest for minority rights, white students who chose to participate in the protest leave campus for the day as a show of “solidarity.” After a biology professor objected to the idea, student protests erupted. Conservative media seized on the story, threats were made against the school, the biology professor resigned, the faculty member who proposed the idea resigned, and the school canceled the “Day of Absence” protest in the face of dwindling enrollment numbers.

    From this and a handful of other cherry-picked examples of campus activism, Newt concludes that there is “a psychosis across our entire academic, news media, and entertainment world, which is a mass hysteria involving people who believe things that are crazy because all their friends believe the things that are crazy, and they need to be crazy together or they’d be alone, and then their friends wouldn’t like them.”

    “The left” is both a ridiculous joke and an urgent threat to America’s existence

    “There is no better evidence of the weakness of the left than the fact that they can’t debate,” Gingrich says at the beginning of Lesson Four. “They can’t defend their positions. Part of it is because they don’t know anything,” he adds with a mocking smirk. “There is no capacity on the left to have a serious debate about their values, and so they scream.” This is a running theme of all the lessons: “The left” is full of ignorant dopes whose whacked-out positions are worthy only of mockery and sneering disdain. “We have these college campuses that are totally subsidized, with people there full time who don’t teach very much, don’t learn very much, and don’t do very much,” Newt explains, “and so they’ve been gradually vegetating into weirder and weirder positions.”

    Somehow, though, these same indolent pontificators and mock-worthy extremists are simultaneously a nefarious and altogether implacable force for American destruction whose influence drives the highest levels of politics and entertainment. Newt wants to have it both ways: The left is a feeble joke, and the left is also an existential threat to the country.

    Not surprisingly, this lazy thinking leads Newt into mistakenly dismissing genuine threats to conservative political power as little more than leftist tantruming. The 2017 Women’s March stands out as one of the most important moments for left-wing activism and candidate recruitment in the era of Donald Trump. But Gingrich dismisses it as “a collection of nutcakes, gathered together, made important because The New York Times and The Washington Post covered them. Otherwise it would just be, sort of, a gathering of random weird people, sort of like a family reunion on the Mall.”

    This isn’t so much education as it is marketing. Newt wants his “students” to feel that they’re standing up against a dangerous enemy, but also that the enemy can be easily vanquished. It’s a message that’s tailor-made for someone who is already apt to believe that “the left” can be defeated with fifty bucks and a few Ben Franklin quotes.

    “The left” can be defeated with fifty bucks a few Ben Franklin quotes (or “quotes”)

    The key to dismantling the anti-Americanism of “the left,” per Gingrich, is rote repetition of a carefully curated suite of quotes from the Founding Fathers. Over the course of the six lessons, Newt laboriously sifts through the collected utterances of America’s founding statesmen (and other historical figures) to demonstrate that the United States is supposed to be a land of unrestricted gun access with no separation of church and state and a functionally useless social safety net.

    Newt isn’t breaking any new ground here; cherry-picking the Founding Fathers is a grand tradition of conservative “intellectuals” who grasp for historical gravitas in their quest to choke off public assistance for the poor. What Newt brings to the affair is the laziness and basic errors of scholarship that you’d expect from a $50 scam history course.

    “Benjamin Franklin said it perfectly,” Newt proclaims in his lesson on free speech, attributing to Franklin the following quote, which appears on the screen like so as he reads it:  

    “Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech; which is the Right of every Man, as far as by it he does not hurt and controul the Right of another: And this is the only Check it ought to suffer, and the only Bounds it ought to know. This sacred Privilege is so essential to free Governments, that the Security of Property, and the Freedom of Speech, always go together; and in those wretched Countries where a Man cannot call his Tongue his own, he can scarce call any Thing else his own. Whoever would overthrow the Liberty of a Nation, must begin by subduing the Freeness of speech.”

    That’s great quote! But it’s not Benjamin Franklin’s. It belongs to English essayists John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon, who wrote under the nom-de-plume “Cato.” Franklin quoted this passage in an essay he published in The New England Courant under his own pseudonym, Silence Dogood.

    Newt doesn’t actually read anyone on the left

    Given that the purpose of “Defending America” is ostensibly to instruct conservatives on how to effectively neutralize “the left,” it would be reasonable to expect that the person doing the instructing would be an expert and learned authority on what the left believes and how it operates. But, by his own admission, Newt Gingrich is not that expert.

    As part of a live Q&A session posted as part of the course last October, Gingrich was asked if there were “any liberal writers, any left-wing writers you would recommend reading to understand them.” After a moment’s pause, Gingrich responded: “No.”

    He went on to explain that he used to read liberal writers back when he was in grad school, but “the modern left is almost like a cancer that has metastasized” and has only “grown weirder and weirder and weirder, and so I think it’s really hard to look to the left to explain itself.” Instead, Newt recommended reading conservative pundits like Ben Domenech and Andrew McCarthy to understand what “the left” is all about.

    Newt wants to sell you other products by Newt Gingrich

    As a good American patriot, I paid my bosses’ $50 to Newt so he could teach me the secrets of how to Defend America. I assumed that would be the end of our financial relationship, but I was wrong -- embedded within these lessons for the preservation of American democracy were further opportunities for me to purchase additional products from Newt Gingrich.

    “I would urge you, if you come to Washington, take Rediscovering God in America, walk around to every single monument,” Newt says, hocking his 2009 book during the lesson on “Defending Faith-Based America from Secular Tyranny.” He also works in a plug for Five Principles for a Successful Life, which he co-wrote with his daughter, during the lesson on work and opportunity. “We developed the five principles and went out and talked to a number of people, a really wide range -- I mean, Gen. David Petraeus was one, Whoopi Goldberg was another.”

    A fulsome defense of America requires sending Newt Gingrich lots of money.

    Nothing

    Honestly there’s nothing that “Defending America” can teach you because it’s not actually meant to teach anything. It’s part of a scam that Newt Gingrich has perfected in order to make himself very rich. Like many other enterprising hucksters on the right, Newt understands that he can wring large sums of cash from conservative marks by nurturing and exploiting their senses of grievance and victimization.

    At no point throughout “Defending America” would you have any inkling that Republicans and conservatives have firm grips on the levers of power in this country. All the carping Newt indulges in about multiculturalism and attacks on “traditional” values pays no heed to the fact that the federal government (controlled by his ideological allies) is busily ramping up deportations, installing right-wing judges on courts, sabotaging social programs, and recklessly pursuing a hard-line conservative agenda. Rather, you’re made to believe that college professors and Hollywood are the real power in the country and are threateningly close to transforming America into a socialist dystopia.

    Newt evangelizes this fiction with the shamelessness of a man who has full confidence in the strength of his grift. Lesson Six of “Defending America” is titled “Defending ‘We the People’ From the Washington Swamp” -- a hilarious description given that Gingrich himself is the quintessential “swamp” denizen.

    “You have bureaucrats who are liberal,” Newt complains, “you have lobbyists and lawyers who are liberal, and you have the reporters who are liberal. That’s your national capital.” Newt has made a lucrative career in this supposed hellhole of swampy liberalism by monetizing his connections to lawmakers and collecting fees as an unregistered lobbyist. There are few people on this planet with less standing to rail against the corruption and “swampiness” of Washington, D.C., than Newt Gingrich, but here he is doing exactly that for $50 a pop.

  • Bret Stephens and the #NeverTrump farce

    Trump’s Iran belligerence conveniently mutes Stephens’ concerns about his mental fitness

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    New York Times columnist Bret Stephens believes President Donald Trump is likely mentally ill. As a self-identified member of the bafflingly influential clique of #NeverTrump conservative columnists, Stephens has at various times expounded on Trump’s manifest unfitness for high office. In March 2017, he asked in a (since deleted) tweet: “When will Republicans acknowledge that the President of the United States is mentally ill?” When he deleted the tweet, he backed off ever so slightly from that position, writing that he’s “not a diagnostician,” but adding: “That something is deeply amiss, I have no doubt.”

    Last December, in a conversation with fellow Times columnist Gail Collins, Stephens said that he goes “back and forth” on the question of whether Trump is mentally ill, explaining that he’s “not expert enough to say at what point mental decline slides into senility or dementia, but there’s clearly been a decline.” He ventured that perhaps Trump has “narcissistic personality disorder” and that the president’s “frequently unhinged and spasmodic tweets suggests a guy who isn’t in control of himself.”

    That damning assessment of Trump’s faculties, however, doesn’t stop Stephens from trusting that the out-of-control and potentially mentally unwell president can nonetheless competently pursue policy goals Stephens happens to favor.

    Under the headline “A Courageous Trump Call on a Lousy Iran Deal,” Stephens writes today that Trump was “absolutely right” to withdraw the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, “assuming, that is, serious thought has been given to what comes next.” After slogging through the rote right-wing criticisms of the deal and contradicting himself on the threat of Iranian nuclear enrichment, Stephens concludes that Trump’s withdrawal “will clarify the stakes for Tehran. Now we’ll see whether the administration is capable of following through.”

    Every indication thus far is that the administration has given precisely zero thought to what comes next. Trump pulled the rip cord and the White House is offering nothing but mealy-mouthed promises that everything will work out because a “better deal” can be made. The Washington Post reported that Trump’s decision was driven by his desire to fulfill a campaign promise and his “instincts to be a disrupter on the world stage.” Trump’s actions here more closely align with Stephens’ assessment of a president who acts without thinking and is driven primarily by the demands of his overriding egotism.

    But Stephens won’t say that. Instead, he calls Trump “courageous.” His analysis doesn’t grapple with what the administration is saying, what our European allies are saying, or the difficulties in negotiating a new diplomatic framework to replace the one Trump precipitously blew up. Stephens’ concerns about Trump’s mental fitness have conveniently evaporated because Stephens agrees that the Iran deal is bad. He just idly hopes that “serious thought has been given” to whatever policy will replace it.

    This is a feature of Stephens’ commentary and #NeverTrump posturing in general -- all the venting and sharp-tongue rebukes of the blundering and feeble-minded president disappear the moment #NeverTrump pundits spy an opportunity to advance their own interests. Just a month after Stephens called the president “mentally ill,” Trump fired his first salvo of Tomahawk missiles into Syria, prompting Stephens to urge the president he believed was mentally incompetent to launch a full-scale war against the Assad regime.

    Thus we have a curious situation in which a New York Times columnist feels that the president is too unstable to be trusted with a Twitter account, but is capable of renegotiating complex diplomatic frameworks and pursuing regime change in the Middle East

  • Hannity’s disclosure hypocrisy

    When ABC News was caught in a disclosure scandal, Hannity went nuts

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Media Matters

    Sean Hannity is the perfectly crystallized representation of Trump-era punditry. Much like the president he slavishly devotes his entire programming schedule to deifying, Hannity is aggressively dishonest, unencumbered by anything remotely resembling a principle, and eager to rigorously impose harsh standards of conduct on his enemies that he would never dream of applying to his allies or himself. And, as with Trump, Hannity thrives despite his toxic, corrupt behavior because he operates within the poisonous world of conservative politics where the myopic pursuit of power and wealth are the only things that matter.

    That brings us to yesterday’s revelation that Hannity was the mystery client of Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who is currently under criminal investigation by federal prosecutors in New York. Hannity never disclosed his relationship with Cohen, even as he railed against the FBI raids on Cohen’s home and office last week, calling them a declaration of “legal war on the president” and part of an “overreaching witch hunt.”

    This lack of disclosure comes nowhere close to being the worst abuse Hannity has committed, but it does help illustrate how Hannity exploits his utter lack of accountability and holds himself to a far laxer standard of conduct than he holds other media figures to.

    For example, in May 2015, the conservative Washington Free Beacon reported that ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos had donated money to the Clinton Foundation and “had not previously disclosed it to ABC viewers, despite taking part in on-air discussions about the Clinton Foundation and its controversial relationship with foreign donors.” ABC News and Stephanopoulos recognized this as a breach of journalistic ethics (made all the more thorny by Stephanopoulos’ previous work as a Clinton campaign and White House staffer) and it was covered as such by the media. Stephanopoulos made a public apology to viewers, and the network acknowledged that he had broken rules about charitable giving by “failing to disclose it when covering the recent reports about the foundation.”

    Hannity went wild with this story. “A major scandal developing tonight surrounding ABC News chief anchor George Stephanopoulos who was forced to apologize earlier today over a huge conflict of interest after it was revealed that he donated $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation from 2012 to 2014,” Hannity crowed at the opening of his May 14, 2015, show. After quoting the “embattled anchor’s” apology for failing to disclose his donations on air, Hannity responded with a snide: “Gee, George, you think?”

    Hannity interviewed the Free Beacon reporter who broke the story, kicking off his questioning by calling Stephanopoulos “such a hack” and asking: “How could he possibly have not known that he should reveal this? Do you believe that?” Hannity questioned whether ABC News “really did an investigation” and suggested that “George Stephanopoulos coordinated perhaps with the Clinton campaign here.”

    “He didn't think to disclose this? I don't buy it for one minute!” Hannity continued later in the program. “I think he thought he'd get away with it and didn't disclose it. And I think ABC News is going to take a credibility hit,” he said, adding: “This goes to the credibility of a news organization.” Hannity closed the show by asking viewers: “Should George Stephanopoulos be punished by ABC News, and if so, what should that punishment be?”

    Now let’s contrast the mocking attacks on Stephanopoulos’ lack of disclosure (and the attendant claims that the credibility of Stephanopoulos’ employer rested on how harshly it treated him) with Hannity’s self-serving and determinedly opaque explanation for why he neglected to disclose his own relationship with Michael Cohen.

    “For hours and hours, the media has been absolutely apoplectic and hyperventilating over some breaking news that I was listed in court today as a client for longtime Trump attorney Michael Cohen,” Hannity said at the beginning of his April 16 show, offering himself as the wrongly maligned victim. When his own guest, lawyer Alan Dershowitz, lightly chided Hannity for not disclosing his ties to Cohen “when you talked about him on this show,” Hannity refused to hear it. “If you understand the nature of it, professor -- I’m going to deal with this later in the show,” he shot back. “I have the right to privacy. … It was such a minor relationship.”

    When he finally did roll around to addressing the Cohen situation (at the end of the program) Hannity was by turns defensive and evasive, and he offered as little information as he possibly could. After once again slapping the media for its “wild speculation” and for going “absolutely insane” and providing “wall-to-wall, hour-by-hour coverage of yours truly,” Hannity claimed that he’d never paid Cohen and had only “occasional brief conversations with Michael Cohen … about legal questions I had, or I was looking for input and perspective.” Despite his earlier claim that he had in fact paid Cohen because he “definitely wanted attorney-client privilege,” Hannity insisted that “my discussions with Michael Cohen never rose to any level that I needed to tell anyone that I was asking him questions.”

    That was it: a vague excuse that offered no concrete details as to the extent of their relationship (Hannity said he sought Cohen’s advice on real estate-related matters) packaged in a wounded attack on the media for even covering it. Hannity, meanwhile, is as deeply immersed in Trump’s world as one can be without actually being a Trump employee and/or family member, but all those unseemly (and unethical) ties to the president apparently have no significance to this supposed non-story.

    Fox News (which, by Hannity’s standard, has its credibility on the line) has been silent on the Cohen issue, and there’s little reason to believe it will take any action against Hannity given that the network has already let him get away with stoking insane murder conspiracy theories. Network executives seem to be perfectly content to let Hannity tell whatever story he wants, and if it turns out later on that he lied, they won’t care about that either. Hannity, like Trump, thrives on lies, flagrant hypocrisy, corruption, and the promise of never facing serious consequences for anything he does.

  • Is Sean Hannity coordinating with the White House?

    Hannity denies it, but Hannity is also a liar

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    Every episode of Fox News’ Hannity follows a fairly basic formula these days: pugnacious cube-headed goon Sean Hannity serves up a monologue devoted almost entirely to the vituperative (and frequently incoherent) slander of President Donald Trump’s political adversaries, and then he lards out the hour with panel discussions featuring a small, rotating cast of like-minded Trump sycophants and the odd sacrificial liberal.

    As Donald Trump’s many scandals have mushroomed, Hannity has been forced to get louder and crazier. Last night’s episode was an especially psychotic exercise in Hannity-brand demonization as he attempted to counterpunch former FBI Director James Comey, who is ramping up a book tour for his forthcoming memoir. You can watch Hannity’s monologue below, in which the host places Comey, the Clintons, and special counsel Robert Mueller as the heads of their respective “crime families.”

    It’s insane. But being a crazy asshole is what Sean Hannity does. What was interesting about last night’s show, however, was the tweet that President Trump posted at 8:48 p.m. EST, 12 minutes before Hannity started:

    Big show! How would Trump know that last night’s Hannity would be a big show? Why would he want everyone to watch this specific episode of Hannity, which featured some of his favorite pundits calling for the heads of top Justice Department officials alongside an elaborate, acid-burned harangue against James Comey and Robert Mueller? What possible explanation could there be?

    Well, the obvious and extremely satisfying one is that Trump knew it was coming and this was all one big coordinated attack on the credibility of the Russia investigation. That, at least, was the explanation put forth by well-sourced Trumpworld reporters. We know that Trump is in regular contact with his favorite Fox News hosts/propagandists (some of whom are old friends) and even solicits their input on policy matters. And given that Fox News is absolutely critical to the White House’s PR war against the Russia investigation, it’s not crazy to assume some level of coordination.

    Hannity, however, is aghast and insulted that anyone would ever accuse him of such corruption.

    “No collusion,” as it were. One should take a moment to note the specificity of Hannity’s denial -- Trump had no advance knowledge of the monologue. What about the rest of the show? If Trump had no idea what was coming, then why was he boosting the program before it aired?

    Also, Hannity’s angry denials are not worth the flung spittle that accompanies them. He is so thoroughly compromised by his feral Trump advocacy that nothing he says can be taken at face value. Hannity has admitted to giving Trump advice on strategy and messaging in 2016 and described himself as “a little bit of a liaison” between the Trump campaign and Fox News. He has dinner with Trump frequently. Hannity has no core, no animating philosophy, and nothing of substance to say -- he’s a Rottweiler whose job is to bark louder than his master’s critics.

    But Hannity would have us believe that he comes by his maniacal Trump boosterism honestly, that he is beyond official influence in his straight-shooting mission to cover the president as an infallible sun god molested by foul heretics and despicable blasphemers. So, I guess denying or admitting coordination doesn’t really matter because his end product is already functionally indistinct from official propaganda. Hannity’s either giving us the official White House line or the line the White House just happens to agree with entirely.

  • Who cares if Trump’s reckless, dangerous Syria announcement is hypocritical?

    Pundits zero in on the least important aspect of Trump’s pledge to bomb Assad

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY

    This morning, the president pecked out an especially unglued Twitter tirade in which he announced that the United States would be taking military action against the Syrian government. According to Donald Trump, who very likely made this announcement because the lackwit bobbleheads on his favorite morning cable TV show were talking about Syria, his plan is to fire “nice and new and ‘smart!’” missiles as punishment for “Gas Killing Animal” Bashar Assad’s recent alleged chemical attack on the town of Douma.

    To add still more unnecessary drama to the announcement, Trump packaged it as a taunt to Russia, which backs the Assad government in its brutal war against Syrian opposition forces and vowed to intercept any U.S. missiles fired at Syrian government targets.

    It would be dangerous for any president to unilaterally escalate U.S. military involvement in the Syrian civil war, but for an erratic and unthinkingly bellicose president like Donald Trump to go down this path is reckless beyond measure. Trump promised to attack the Syrian government with no hint of strategy, no attempt at legal justification, and not even a whisper about what such an attack is supposed to achieve (the last time Trump bombed Syria, it was meant to deter further chemical attacks, which apparently didn’t work). The only things we know for sure about this planned military action is that Trump plans to go ahead without Congress’ input, and that he intends it to be a deliberate provocation of the nuclear-armed regional power that is deeply immersed in the Syrian civil war.

    Trump’s dashed-off pledge to strike against Syria raises critically important questions about U.S. Middle East policy, the power of the president to make war, and the dangers of a manifestly incompetent commander-in-chief making war plans based on what Fox & Friends chooses to cover. Faced with these weighty issues, however, the immediate reaction from the press was to focus on the least important aspect of Trump’s planned military action: whether he is a hypocrite for announcing it ahead of time.

    Immediately following Trump’s tweet, Twitter was full of pundits and reporters whose first reaction to the president’s announcement was to wryly poke at his past criticisms of presidents who telegraphed their attacks.

    NPR’s early reaction to Trump’s tweet was to focus on the hypocrisy angle. “This is a president who has made a big deal of not showing his hand, especially when it comes to really important decisions as commander-in-chief,” NPR’s David Greene reported shortly after Trump made the announcement. “He’s doing exactly what he criticized Obama for doing,” NPR’s Mara Liasson agreed.

    The reason reporters and pundits defaulted to the hypocrisy angle is because it’s an easy criticism that is ultimately meaningless and thus safe for them to have an opinion on. And it indicates how alarmingly comfortable much of the mainstream press is with the idea that the president can just up and decide to initiate military hostilities whenever, wherever, and for whatever reason -- even when there is no actual reason at all. It’s just another political game.

    The Trump administration has not offered a compelling legal rationale for its attacks on the Syrian government. It hasn’t secured or even asked for authorization from Congress. The administration hasn’t garnered the support of the U.N. or the international community. Instead, the White House is just barreling forward with the longstanding executive-branch practice of initiating hostilities and then slapping together a retroactive pseudo-justification that it confidently assumes won’t be seriously challenged.

    Few people seem especially bothered by this, and just about everyone is ready to accept that oafish hothead Donald Trump can bumble ass-first into another Middle Eastern quagmire because he’s the president and the president can do that. But as missiles careen into Syria and the U.S. lurches aimlessly into a broader military conflict involving Russia and Iran, at least we can say we called out Trump on Twitter for being inconsistent.

  • Marco Rubiowned

    There’s no great mystery to why Parkland teens pile on their senator

    Blog ››› ››› SIMON MALOY


    Sarah Wasko / Media Matters

    One of the unlikely stars of the post-Parkland political debate over gun violence has been longtime Second Amendment maximalist and NRA money hole Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). His high-profile role in this debate is due in part to the fact that he’s softened some of his stances on gun rights, but for the most part, people are talking about Rubio because he keeps getting relentlessly and savagely owned by the Florida teenagers who are leading the movement to curb gun violence.

    The student leaders of the Parkland movement are accurately and pointedly attacking Rubio as a tool of the gun lobby. They’ve demonstrated absolutely zero faith that Rubio -- whatever he says in public -- can be counted on as an ally in their cause. And it’s clear that they are not about to be mollified by his quarter-steps away from gun-rights absolutism.

    For some conservative pundits, this is a preposterous and altogether unconscionable defamation of Rubio’s character. At The Daily Beast, Matt Lewis complains that Florida’s junior senator is being unfairly attacked, observing that “there’s something about Marco Rubio that people just seem to hate” and that “it’s impossible to know, for sure,” what it is. There’s “something” all right, but it’s not some indefinable aspect of Rubio’s character that inspires such opprobrium. In fact, the reasons for the mistrust and anger directed at Rubio are easily identified; it’s just that certain conservatives choose not to recognize them.

    There is no mystery to who Rubio is or how he operates. The senator and those who support him eagerly promote the idea that he represents the next generation of conservative leadership: a youthful political phenom whose heritage, life story, and political talent put him on a steeply rising arc toward greatness. That, at least, was how Rubio campaigned for the White House in 2016, and he got smoked. The reason he got smoked is because that flimsy construct couldn’t conceal the relentlessly ambitious fraud that stood behind it.

    Take, for example, Rubio’s position on immigration. Lewis credits Rubio for having “worked hard to pass bipartisan immigration reform in 2013, taking on the role of selling the bill to conservative talk radio.” When Rubio “determined that the bill didn’t have a chance of making its way through the House, he walked away--a move that is hardly impractical but was nevertheless interpreted as cowardice,” Lewis added. That’s about as sanitized a retelling of Rubio’s history with the 2013 immigration reform bill as one could offer.

    Rubio did work to pass the legislation. He did those talk radio hits and pushed for border security amendments to make the bill more palatable to House conservatives. Then, almost immediately after the bill passed the Senate, he dropped the issue entirely and began blaming President Barack Obama for its floundering in the House. Rather than use what influence he had to twist arms and convince enough House GOP colleagues to join with Democrats in support of a bill that he called “the right thing for our country,” Rubio recognized how politically exposed his right flank was and tried to worm his way out of danger.

    When it came time for Rubio to position himself for a White House run, he started pushing a self-serving and dishonest history of the immigration bill in which he was a prophetic critic of flawed legislation that he never believed would become law. Under attack from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, he lurched hard to the right and tried to posture as a hard-line immigration opponent. The only consistency in Rubio’s persistent squirming on immigration was that he adopted whatever position he felt best served his ambition at that moment.

    This is a defining feature of the Rubio experience. As a presidential candidate, Rubio proudly identified as a #NeverTrump conservative, but also pledged to support Donald Trump if he won the nomination. While running for the White House, Rubio made a show of the fact that he wasn’t running for re-election to the Senate, which he lambasted as a sclerotic and ineffective vehicle for change. But shortly after ending his presidential campaign, Rubio discovered that maybe being a senator isn’t so bad after all and decided to run again. To win re-election, he promised Florida voters that he would be a “check and balance” on Trump, but as a senator he’s been a lockstep supporter of the president and an apologist for his self-destructive antics. The closest Rubio came to actually opposing Trump was his high-profile criticism of Rex Tillerson’s nomination as secretary of state. When it came time to vote, Rubio fell in line and voted to confirm.

    This is why people pile on Marco Rubio: His many attempts at standing on principle and providing moral leadership have been expeditiously unmade by his own ambition. At this point it’s just good sense to assume that whatever position he holds on gun violence won’t survive the next delicate shift in the political winds. The Rubio faithful, however, choose to view his track record much differently. “Marco Rubio is the living embodiment of a very old maxim,” writes Lewis: “No good deed goes unpunished.”

    Conservative pundits who saw Rubio as a transformational leader are still pretending that he’s something other than a vacant opportunist because they don’t really have much choice. Who else but Rubio can serve as the standard bearer for the consultant-class conservatism that Trump’s election revealed was a largely vestigial element of today’s Republican Party? Marco Rubio gets attacked so viciously because pretty much everyone has seen through his bullshit -- except the people who want to believe that the Republican Party they used to know is just a few Marco Moments away from roaring back.