Our Best Work From a Very Tense Week for America

The aftermath of the Capitol assault, Trump's second impeachment, and Biden's opening policy moves.

After Donald Trump surprised everyone by winning the 2016 election, I joked that “Well, if nothing else, the next four years should provide some interesting civics lessons.”

Folks, I’m sorry. I’m not usually right about such things.  

My joke wasn’t entirely a dig at the new president. But he had never held elected office, and some of his early priorities—a border wall that Mexico would pay for, a Muslim travel ban—seemed destined to invite legal and legislative challenges. And Democrats had not taken the election results well. In fact, on January 20, 2017, the Washington Post ran a story headlined, “The effort to impeach Donald Trump has begun.” Trump’s term began at noon that day; the story has a timestamp of 12:19 p.m. 

We’re quickly approaching our next Inauguration Day, and the civics lessons keep coming. On Tuesday, the House voted to impeach Trump on a single count of incitement to insurrection. Because the impeachment comes so close to the end of his term, and because the Senate won’t be back until Tuesday, there have been questions about convicting a president who is already out of office. Meanwhile, Trump is being investigated by both the Manhattan district attorney and the state of New York over his business practices, and the New York Times reported Friday that Georgia officials are considering investigating Trump over his phone call to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he pleaded for Raffensperger to “find” enough votes to overturn Biden’s victory in the state and threatened him if he didn’t.

We are learning more about those who participated in the riot at the Capitol. A few, including Jake Angeli (the “QAnon shaman” in facepaint and a Viking helmet) and Texas real estate agent Jenna Ryan (who documented her trip to D.C. on social media and filmed herself entering the Capitol) have asked Trump for pardons. Angeli says the president “invited him” to the Capitol and Ryan said “I listen to my president who told me to go to the Capitol.” Dozens of people have been arrested, including law enforcement officers, teachers, and even a member of the West Virginia House of Delegates. At a press conference on Tuesday, federal officials discussed the state of the investigation and said that people will be “shocked” by what we will learn.

We can only hope that the worst is past. But we don’t know. We’ve seen the photos of heavy fencing around the Supreme Court and the Capitol and National Guard troops on patrol.

There will be up to 20,000 such troops on duty in D.C. on Inauguration Day. If that seems like overkill, consider that the Capitol Police have already arrested a man with an unregistered handgun and 500 rounds of ammunition just a few blocks from the building. The FBI has reported that there are protests being planned for all 50 state capitols. Having witnessed what happened on January 6, states are taking precautions such as activating their National Guard troops and closing statehouses to the public. A friend of mine who covers state government posted on social media about the plans for sheltering in place and other measures she and other journalists will take to cover the events of this weekend safely.

These are trying times, and it will be months before we have a true understanding of how everything that has happened since the election has affected our country. We will continue to learn more about the riot at the Capitol. We’ll see how Republicans who supported Donald Trump—either sincerely because they supported his agenda or more reluctantly in hopes of keeping themselves in office—respond to his absence. We’ll find out if Joe Biden is able to implement any of his agenda in a narrowly divided Congress, or whether the final days of the Trump administration overshadow that amid an impeachment trial and inevitable hearings about the assault on the Capitol on January 6.

For now, we just have to wait and see. In the meantime, The Dispatch will continue to bring you the best reporting and commentary we can during this historic time in our country.

GOP Senators Must Take the Hard Path
David goes back in time, almost a year, and asks his readers to imagine if enough GOP senators had joined Mitt Romney in voting to convict Donald Trump upon his first impeachment. Had that happened, it would have been President Mike Pence who dealt with the protests that roiled our nation this summer; it would have been Pence who shaped our pandemic response. David isn’t yearning for what a Pence administration might have been like; instead he’s pointing out the consequences of having Republican leaders who failed to stand up to Trump. “With some notable exceptions, the Republican rule was clear: Checking Trump was someone else’s job. And every single time Republicans refused to check Trump, they kept putting leadership of the Republic into unfit hands. They made a gamble that the costs would not grow too great. They chose poorly.”

Popular Affront
We’ve spent the past four years talking a lot about the tribalization and polarization that have left so many Americans feeling divided. In his Friday G-File, Jonah warns that getting past all that will require “large generational efforts.” But while we’re working on those, he has a few words for the media, left and right. “Mirrors reflect images in reverse after all, and liberal media was as uniformly anti-Trump as conservative media was pro-Trump. Like two mimes pretending to be one person looking at his reflection, they presented parallel universes in real time. The problem is that neither image reflected reality.” 

Biden Proposal Hijacks Recession for Liberal Wishlist
President-elect Joe Biden released a $1.9 trillion spending package to tackle the pandemic and provide still more economic relief to Americans. As Brian Riedl indicates in his analysis of the program, it didn’t take long for Biden to adopt Rahm Emanuel’s mantra to “never let a crisis go to waste.” Riedl points to the provision for a nationwide $15-an-hour minimum wage, including for restaurant servers. He also highlights that for the $1,400 checks most Americans could receive, “there is no policy justification for these payments, given that most Americans receiving them have not lost income during the pandemic (indeed, personal income reached record levels after last year’s checks), and those who have lost their jobs have access to unemployment benefits replenishing 100 percent of their typical lost wages.” 

What Kind of Leaders Do Republicans Want?
Donald Trump’s second impeachment is historic for a number of reasons: No president has been impeached twice, obviously. And never so close to the end of a term. But it was also the most bipartisan, as 10 Republicans voted for impeachment, led by GOP Conference Chair LIz Cheney, the No. 3 Republican in the House. Steve shares some reporting from a Jan. 1 caucus conference call, during which Cheney cautioned her colleagues that it would violate their oath to the Constitution to back the effort to overturn the election. Speaker Kevin McCarthy quickly distanced himself from Cheney and sarcastically mocked a House member who told McCarthy that “we need leadership.” Steve lays out the case that Republicans have a stark choice to face in terms of the leadership they want for their party.

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Danielle Pletka looks ahead to the Biden administration and its intentions toward Iran. She predicts that Biden will try to return to the JCPOA—the Iran nuclear deal—and explains why he shouldn’t.

  • The Sweep is our campaign newsletter, but we’re lucky that Sarah is also one of our legal experts. She used her space this week to explain some of the constitutional issues around impeachment.

  • The effort led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz to object to the election results was always bound to fail. But it wasn’t the first time that Cruz, at least, resorted to such tactics. Michael Steel looks back at the 2013 government shutdown that happened when Cruz persuaded House Republicans to try to undo Obamacare.

  • Speaking of Cruz and Hawley … Scott Lincicome in Capitolism looks at their embrace of populism and how they “routinely discard basic facts in an apparent effort to convince an angry populist base that their problems (real or imagined) stem not from their own actions or complex cultural and macroeconomic forces but from ‘them’—immigrants, globalists, Big Tech, brunching elites, China, you name it. “

  • Lastly, the pods: The Dispatch Podcast has been killing it lately. On Wednesday, the gang had a spirited conversation about impeachment. And you won’t want to miss Steve and Sarah’s candid conversation with freshman Rep. Peter Meijer, one of 10 Republicans to vote for impeachment. On Advisory Opinions, David and Sarah ask whether the words of the president or other individuals might rise to the level of incitement. And on The Remnant, Jonah and Yuval Levin tackle the thorny question of “What should we do next?”

Our Best Stuff From an Unbelievable Week

The surreality of watching protesters storm the Capitol.

There was a time on Wednesday when it seemed like maybe everything was going to be OK. Moments before Vice President Mike Pence entered the House chamber for the joint session of Congress, he issued a statement explaining that the Constitution did not allow him to reject the electoral votes. Not long after, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stood and gave a powerful speech. He pointed out that the election was not particularly close, that the president’s legal challenges had been exhausted, and that trying to overturn the results would have devastating consequences.

“Our democracy would enter a death spiral,” he said. “We’d never see the whole nation accept an election again. Every four years would be a scramble for power at any cost.”

The message was clear. The House members and senators, led by Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz, who were about to object to votes from six states could carry out their little stunt. It would drag out the process and make for a long day, but it ultimately would prove futile. 

When McConnell fretted that “we’d never see the whole nation accept an election again,” he probably had no idea that we were about to witness exactly what that looks like. For two months, the president, his lawyers, prominent supporters, and right-wing media outlets had perpetrated the myth that the election was “stolen.” It didn’t matter that some of the conspiracy theories were farcical or that state and federal government officials repeatedly defended the legitimacy of the election.

We all know what happened next. Except that it was much worse than we thought in the moment. The early images we saw were disturbing. Protesters pushed their way into the Capitol building and some made their way into the House chamber. It was surreal to watch protesters in garish costumes stand on the speaker’s podium and raise their arms in triumph. It was unsettling to watch a man with a goofy smile carry a lectern over his shoulder like he was looting a TV from a Target. 

But Friday night on MSNBC, Chris Hayes did a segment that showed how dangerous and violent it was in the Capitol that day. It’s hard to watch and, fair warning, it includes footage of the woman shot by Capitol Police. It also shows protesters assaulting police officers, and mobs trying to push their way into secure areas of the building. Some in the crowd chant, “Hang Mike Pence.” It’s ugly, but you should watch it.

As I sat and watched the events unfold from afar, I tried to remember a day that left me similarly fearful for our nation. I’m sure for many on the left who were horrified by Donald Trump’s victory, his election or his inauguration come to mind. And, in a way, his inauguration day previewed what was to come during his term. His address was full of hyperbole about poverty and crime, and he vowed that, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” Some of the protests in D.C. that day did turn violent, with fires being set  and more than 200 people being arrested. 

But as much as I tried to fight the comparison, I have to admit that a different day came to mind: 9/11. Nothing—nothing—can truly compare to that horrifying day: the deaths, the destruction, the war it portended. But one parallel is the way both events upended our sense of security. Before 9/11, Americans thought we were largely invulnerable. We could not be attacked on our own soil. Before Wednesday, our democratic process seemed fragile but secure. The post-election period had been exhausting and frustrating, and it might end with some performative shenanigans, but order would prevail. But now we know that some people were prepared to do whatever it took to keep that from happening. 

I also mention that terrible day because there is one other parallel that gives me some optimism. Late in the evening of 9/11, members of Congress gathered on the steps of the Capitol and sang “God Bless America.” It was a symbolic gesture, but an important one, sending a message to those who had attacked us that we were unified. On Wednesday night, after hours of mayhem and uncertainty, after they had been whisked away to secure locations to wait out the threat, members of Congress returned to the floor. They picked up where they left off. And in the wee hours of Thursday morning, they finished their work. It was far more than a symbolic gesture, but the symbolism should not be ignored. 

We still have a ways to go. It’s possible that Donald Trump will be impeached again during his final days in office. The investigations into the breakdown of security at the Capitol will, or at least should, extend well into the Biden administration. But the center held. 

As challenging as this week was, we’re proud of the work we did. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Jonah’s G-File from Friday in which he called events at the Capitol to an American Benghazi or Yuval Levin’s fantastic essay in which he argued that the real threat to the republic came before the protesters stormed the Capitol. You may have heard that Twitter suspended Trump’s account on Friday. Did you know it came just a couple hours after David made the case for it in French Press? (Coincidence? Perhaps.) We thank all of you who sent kind notes, left us nice comments, or talked us up on social media. 

Impeach Donald Trump, Remove Him, and Bar Him From Holding Office Ever Again

We’ve never done a staff editorial before, but if ever there were a moment, it was this one. The events of the Capitol, and the president’s role in inciting them, made clear that it’s time for the president to go. “Today’s terrible events have made crystal clear what should long have been plainly understood—Trump is dangerous to the peace and security of the American nation. Indeed, he is exactly the kind of man the founders of the nation worried about when they gave Congress the power to impeach and remove the nation’s chief executive.”

Giuliani to Senator: ‘Try to Just Slow it Down’

The jokes would write themselves if the situation weren’t so grave. On Wednesday evening at 7 p.m., as Congress was trying to get back to work, Rudy Giuliani left a voicemail message for newly sworn-in Sen. Tommy Tuberville. Only he had the wrong number and reached a different senator. That senator forwarded the call to The Dispatch, and we thought you needed to hear it. Giuliani called on Tuberville to do what he could to show things down as Congress met. It was part of a broader plan to delay the count and continue the delusional effort to overturn the election. 

The Storming of the Capitol

It’s safe to say that when Audrey and Andrew expressed interest in covering Wednesday’s “Save America March” on the National Mall, they had no idea what the assignment would entail. What’s so amazing about this piece—besides the great reporting and the careful attention to detail—is how many attendees gave us their names. This is one illuminating detail: “With the grounds of the Capitol still empty except for the police ostensibly securing them, two men sat in camp chairs in front of the Capitol Reflecting Pool, white paper signs reading ‘militia recruiter’ taped to their seats. They were handing out flyers announcing the organization of a ‘national militia’ that would ‘occur throughout the morning,’ members of which would wear silver armbands ‘signifying that they are lawful combatants.’ Other paramilitary groups, like the Proud Boys, didn’t need signups: They’d arrived fully formed, marching down the Mall to the Capitol shortly before Trump spoke.”

The Consequences of Lying to People

Most weeks, Haley Byrd Wilt’s new newsletter, Uphill, will focus on the normal business of Congress and the people who are conducting it. Look for deep dives on procedure, a look at the sausage-making that goes into crafting legislation. Most weeks. But on Friday she inveighed against the danger presented by lawmakers who, whether they were true believers or were cynically perpetuating the notion for their own political gain, espoused the idea that the election was stolen and that the electoral votes needed to be objected to. We’ll be sending out Uphill every Tuesday and Friday. To make sure you receive it, be sure to opt-in on our account page. For the next few weeks, they’ll be sent to everyone who opts in. After that, Friday editions will be sent to paid members only. If you want to understand what’s going on in Congress, don’t miss out.

Believe it or not, we covered other topics this week. Here are a few things you might have missed:

  • Tom Joscelyn in Vital Interests calls attention to the fact that China is blocking a delegation from the World Health Organization from visiting a lab in Wuhan. Is it time to revisit the “lab leak” theory that claims the virus might have been released accidentally?

  • After Sen. Josh Hawley responded to an intemperate tweet that a Walmart social media staffer accidentally sent from the corporation’s account by accusing it of using slave labor, Scott Lincicome used his Capitolism newsletter to defend Walmart, Amazon, and e-commerce retailers that Hawley and other populists have blamed for destroying small businesses.

  • Oh, hey, the GOP lost control of the Senate on Tuesday night when both Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue lost their special elections in Georgia. In The Sweep, Sarah analyzes just how that happened, and she also takes a look at 2022.

  • The world doesn’t slow down while we’re working through our own problems. Charlotte explains how Iran’s announcement that it’s enriching uranium to 20 percent purity is a sign that it’s already challenging the incoming Biden administration.

  • On the pods: When talk swirls of the 25th Amendment being invoked or a second go at impeachment, you know you want David and Sarah to break it down for you on Advisory Opinions. There were two great episodes of Dispatch Podcast. On Thursday, the gang rehashed the events of Wednesday and talked to Audrey and Andrew about their reporting from the Capitol. And Steve and Sarah have a fantastic conversation with Politico’s Tim Alberta about why we shouldn’t have been as surprised as we were by Wednesday’s events. As for The Remnant, well, Jonah might be smarter than any of us because he was on vacation last week. But he was back in time to record a solo episode Friday night.

Our Most Memorable Stuff From a Year We’ll Never Forget

Ringing in the new year with the best stories we brought you in the old.

If you’re reading this, congratulations! It means we made it, and the final days of 2020 didn’t bring an extinction-level asteroid impact or zombie apocalypse. There weren’t even any aliens (that we know of).

In the news business, the last week of the year is usually dominated by best-of lists and reviews: the biggest stories of the year, the best films and TV shows, the best sporting events, the most influential people. Some insider info: These stories are easy to write ahead of time, which allows publications to look productive while staffers take time off. There’s been a smattering of that (and I’m going to indulge below), but 2020 being 2020, this hasn’t been a slow news week. On Wednesday, Sen. Josh Hawley announced that he would object to the counting of several states’ electoral votes on January 6. Various House Republicans have also vowed to object to the results, but Hawley’s gesture, as a senator, guarantees that an event that is usually a mere formality will be subject to drama and contention. We explain it all in the final Morning Dispatch of the year. And in his final French Press of 2020, David explained why this last-ditch effort to overturn the election is both frivolous and dangerous.

And the pandemic has about as much regard for calendars as it has had for state and national borders and other human constructs. Americans are dying in record numbers. Many of our hospitals are contending with full ICUs and burned-out physicians and nurses. We’re still fighting about lockdowns, in-person schooling, and masks. While the vaccines that are now rolling out promise hope for 2021, the rollout has been slow—for complicated reasons, as Declan pointed out in this article—and we aren’t done with the virus that upended our year in ways we could not have predicted in March.

Future historians will be able to make entire careers just from studying the past 12 months, but for now, I think we’ve all had quite enough, don’t you? This tweet by a friend says it all:

That said, 2020 was almost as rewarding as it was challenging for us at The Dispatch. We had a pretty clear mission when we started this adventure: We wanted to provide reporting and informed commentary from a conservative perspective, and we wanted to foster a strong sense of community with you, our readers. I’m going to say we went 2-for-2. Your support has allowed us to focus on our work, and it’s been a pleasure to engage with all of you. 

I use this space to share our “best stuff” from the previous week. That’s obviously a subjective standard, and I’m a little loosey-goosey on the definition of best. But I have good reasons. Maybe we had a piece from a new contributor we’re excited about, or we published a good story about some policy wonkery on a day that was dominated by tweets or scandal, and it didn’t get the attention we hoped. 

In a similar vein, today I’m going to share some of my favorite pieces from the last year. You may have your own favorites, but all of these represent good work that is in keeping with our mission: helpful explainers, solid reporting, information without hyperventilation. If I’ve left out something you think should have been included, don’t hesitate to mention it. 

Qassem Suleimani Is Dead

The Morning Dispatch is perhaps the best representation of our philosophy about news consumption. We want to give you what you need to know to start the day, with solid reporting on important topics. Some days, that is easier said than done. Especially when news breaks late, as happened a year ago tomorrow—when the U.S. took out Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps’ Quds Force, in Iraq. The crew tore up the newsletter and wrote through the night to provide an in-depth look at who Suleimani was, how many American deaths he’d been responsible for, and what the assassination meant for our relations with Iran. It’s a story with direct relevance to the news today. 

The Regulations—and Regulators—That Delayed Coronavirus Testing

In this piece from March, Alec Stapp of the Progressive Policy Institute did a deep, deep dive on the failures by the FDA and CDC that hampered our ability to ramp up widespread coronavirus testing. More than eight months later, it’s hard to reread this and not be angry. He details the lengthy and at times ridiculous process one virologist at the University of Washington had to go through to get a test approved, and how the FDA, by initially granting an emergency use authorization to only the CDC for testing, “put all its eggs in one basket.”

A Vigilante Killing in Georgia

Before George Floyd, there was Ahmaud Arbery. The cases aren’t exact parallels—Floyd died in police custody, while Arbery was shot by a man who suspected him of criminal activity—but Arbery’s death highlighted similar issues surrounding black Americans and our criminal justice system. David French wrote this in May, and was among the first national commentators to call attention to the story, but the shooting took place in February. Why the gap? The local prosecutor had declined to press charges since Arbery’s assailants claimed they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest. David pointed out the many flaws with that argument. 

Speech Is Not Violence, and Violence Is Not Speech

It’s nearly impossible to pick just one G-File to include. Jonah weighed in on the left’s hypocrisy on gender politics vs. racial politics, MAGA culture and Trump’s appeal, the culture wars, and, um, Jeffrey Toobin. But in this newsletter from June, at the height of the protests that followed George Floyd’s death, he deftly tackled two thorny topics: violence and racism. He started by criticizing the assertion by the New York Times’ Nikole Hannah-Jones that “Destroying property, which can be replaced, is not violence.” He went to make an important point about systemic racism: “I have no problem conceding that America has a systemic racism problem, which is not the same thing as conceding America is systemically racist.”

For Trump Superfans, Huge Rallies Can't Resume Soon Enough

Donald Trump’s surprising victory in 2016 launched a new genre of journalism, something a former colleague of mine derisively called the “Cleetus safari.” Journalists based in coastal cities ventured to the South and the Midwest in hopes of understanding the “real Americans” who voted for Trump. Too often these profiles were either condescending or boosterish, depending on the author’s own ideological biases. What happens if you just talk to Trump supporters without an agenda? That’s what Andrew did in this profile of the “Front Row Joes,” Trump superfans who traveled around the country attending as many of the president’s rallies as they could, at least before the pandemic hit.

The GOP’s Conspiracy Theorist Problem

What happens when a crazy conspiracy theory goes mainstream? One that holds there is a cabal of powerful people (including John Podesta and Hillary Clinton) running a child-sex trafficking ring, and only Donald Trump can save us? In this case, its adherents ran for Congress. In safe GOP districts. Which means they ended up on Capitol HIll. Back in June, Audrey Fahlberg introduced us to Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado, two of the GOP’s QAnon-curious caucus, both of whom went on to win their races.

Will the Vote Be Legitimate?

Welp, we tried. We knew that many states had modified laws to facilitate mail-in voting and early in-person voting to keep citizens safe while conducting an election during a pandemic. And we knew that President Trump was laying the groundwork to claim the election had been stolen via voter fraud by disparaging mail-in voting and telling his voters it made the process less secure. So, months in advance of Election Day, we called secretaries of state, county commissioners, and other officials whose job it is to carry out elections and asked what measures they were taking and how confident they felt about the election being safe and legitimate. As it turned out, the election WAS safe and legit—the most secure in our history, as some have noted—but that didn’t stop the president and his supporters from making false claims about votes being flipped and stolen. It’s worth going back to look at the hard work put in by local officials and rereading what they said about the process, before it became politicized in the post-election environment.

Analyzing Trump's Legal Challenges

Even though the election was secure, and even though Attorney General Bill Barr himself said there was no evidence of widespread election fraud, that did not stop the Trump campaign and the president’s supporters from launching an unprecedented number of legal challenges in an attempt to cast doubt on Joe Biden’s electoral victory. When we look back on the 2020 election, we will probably recall the “Kraken” lawsuits filed by Sidney Powell. We might chuckle about Rudy Giuliani’s runny hair dye or the fact that the campaign couldn’t tell the difference between a luxury hotel and a landscaping company when booking a press conference. But what we should take away is how the message that the campaign was putting out about voter fraud and a stolen election didn’t align well with the lawsuits being filed. Many of the claims were about small numbers of ballots or minor problems with procedure. The affidavits that made the boldest claims did not stand up to scrutiny. And in the end, Trump was turned away by courts at multiple levels, often helmed by judges appointed by a Republican president or even by Trump himself.

The Biden Agenda: What the Next Four Years Might Look Like

Ok, I’m cheating here, because if you click on this link, you’ll see a whole bunch of articles. Over the summer and early fall, we reached out to various center-right policy experts to weigh in on what a Biden administration might look like. There’s Reuel Marc Gerecht, warning that Biden will be inclined to try to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal; Scott Lincicome predicting that Biden won’t be much better than Trump on trade and suggesting that we “expect some improvement, some stasis, and maybe even some deterioration”; Abby McCloskey on Biden’s policies for working families; Scott Winship on how he might tackle poverty; and more. 

Endless Jihad

With everything else that happened this year, it’s easy to forget that the threat from Al-Qaeda and ISIS has not gone away. Especially when President Trump emphasized the need to end our “endless wars.” Tom Joscelyn is one of the foremost experts on the war on terror, and he cautioned repeatedly this year that we can’t let our guard down. “ No one should be foolish enough to assume that al-Qaeda, which was founded on an anti-American conspiracy theory, will suddenly lose interest in attacking the U.S. after forming one or more emirates.”

Our Best Stuff From a Week We Got a Dose of Hope

Plus, the GOP civil war, Russian hacking, and the Democrats’ slim House majority.

Call me crazy, but I’m feeling a little optimistic as we wrap up this week. It was impossible not to feel emotional watching delivery trucks pull up to hospitals and wheel out cases of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to be administered to the health care workers who have been putting themselves at risk for the last 10 months. If you didn’t feel so inspired, let me recommend watching one set to ESPN’s NBA theme. (But really, has no one out there dropped in “Eye of the Tiger” as background music?)

If this pandemic were a movie, we’d be approaching the denouement phase. We’d have a montage of people lined up for jabs in the arm, and maybe even some slo-mo video of people walking away, ripping off their masks, and pumping their fists in the air. As the credits rolled, we’d see people coming out of their houses and hugging their neighbors, shots of bustling town centers, and of kids pouring out of school buses and running into their teachers’ arms. 

This ain’t a movie. At best, we’re headed into the final act of this dark drama. The photos and videos of people getting vaccinated stand in contrast to the grim reality of full ICUs and unfathomable daily death tolls. In a movie, a vaccine or cure would be available everywhere at the same time. In reality, we know it’s going to take months to get enough people vaccinated even if everything goes flawlessly. 

And, well, it hasn’t. It took only a couple days for confusion to set in as states were told that their second rounds of shipments would be reduced, with Trump administration officials pointing to scheduling issues based on Pfizer’s production schedule and Pfizer pushing back with claims that it had enough vaccines but was awaiting shipment instructions. I’m with everyone who suggested that we should have let Amazon and Chick-fil-A handle the distribution.

We have yet to see whether this will be a hiccup or whether it portends real problems with vaccine distribution. Let’s hope it’s the former, because there are about to be millions more doses available: The FDA has approved the Moderna vaccine, which has nearly the same efficacy as Pfizer’s but has the advantage of not needing to be kept in super-cold storage. 

Even without hiccups, we were never going to get that dramatic movie-style ending to this crisis. Sure, I think many of us imagined there would be when this all ended. We’d “flatten the curve” in a couple of weeks or, at worst, a couple of months and the virus would vanish. That hasn’t happened, and it won’t. So we have to take our victories where we can get them. And the vaccines are real victories. 

Now, for our best stuff from the last week.

Begun, the GOP Civil War Has

Donald Trump has been a polarizing figure for the GOP since he descended that golden elevator and threw his MAGA hat into the ring in 2015. But his election loss last month has exacerbated those tensions to the point that some state Republican party operatives are in open conflict with their own elected Republican officials. Declan dives into what’s going on in Arizona, where party boss Kelli Ward has attacked GOP Gov. Doug Ducey, and in Georgia, where state party chair David Shafer has gone after Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. “It’s easy enough for Republican politicians and activists like Shafer and Ward to lob rhetorical bombs at election officials. It cements their MAGA bona fides, and forces someone else to deliver the base the bad news about Trump’s loss.”

2020 Has Been Bad, But Is It Worse Than the 1930s?

Gather round while Timothy Sandefur tells the story of a president who “had little if any governing philosophy at all. He was a brilliant manipulator of people, both in person and en masse, but he combined his affable demeanor with an almost total ignorance of economics and a cynical willingness to exploit his authority.” Did you guess FDR? You should have. To provide some context to the annus horribilis that 2020 has been, Sandefur takes readers back to the 1930s, when Roosevelt channeled his inner authoritarian and “closed banks, took the country off the gold standard, and began dictating arbitrarily how much the dollar would be worth,” among other things.

Self-Delusion on the Russia Hack

News broke this week Russia had managed to hack into the Defense, Treasury, and Commerce Departments, among other agencies. As tempting as it is to get our hackles up and demand a response, Jack Goldsmith asks us to take a deep breath and consider something important: Russia’s actions are no different from what the U.S. does, or attempts to do, to our adversaries on a regular basis. “Peacetime government-to-government espionage is as old as the international system and is today widely practiced, especially via electronic surveillance. It can cause enormous damage to national security, as the Russian hack surely does. But it does not violate international law or norms,” he writes.

Democrats Grapple With Slim House Majority

One of the more surprising results of the 2020 election is that the Democrats lost seats in the House of Representatives and are entering the 117th Congress with just a slim majority. What does that mean for their agenda? It could go a couple ways. In her first piece for The Dispatch, Haley Byrd Wilt (get used to that name) writes that we should expect to see Speaker Nancy Pelosi “impose an even more top-down, predetermined process than the chamber has seen in recent years.” But she adds that the narrow margin also means that small groups of legislators can band together to make their priorities heard.

And the best of the rest:

  • In Capitolism (🔒), Scott Lincicome tackles the thorny issue of farm subsidies. While it might sound like good news that farm incomes are at their highest level since 2013, there’s a big downside: “This year, farmers (on net) will derive almost 40 percent of their income directly from the U.S. government.” The problem with subsidies is that they go mostly to wealthy farmers, they create trade conflicts, and they harm poor countries.

  • In the midweek G-File(🔒), Jonah looks at the problems that crop up when people treat politics and government with religious fervor. It’s a complaint many on the right make about progressives, but conservatives have been guilty too during the Trump era. “I’ll put it this way: I have all the respect in the world for people who believe Donald Trump should behave more like Jesus. I am a total loss as to how people can want Jesus to be more like Trump.”

  • Robert Tracinski highlights the problems of telling people they are “selfish” when they disregard the precautionary measures most of us are taking during the pandemic. Yes, it’s inconsiderate not to wear masks. But selfishness also implies something that benefits one’s self interest, and, “If you tell people that self-interest is evil, they will tend to conclude that evil is in their self-interest.”

  • We don’t mention The Morning Dispatch enough in this newsletter. But if you didn’t see this week’s concise explanation of the FTC’s lawsuit against Facebook, do go check it out. And on Tuesday, the crew worked overtime to tackle both the Russian hacking and Attorney General Bill Barr’s resignation.

  • On the pods: Jonah talked to Scott Winship of AEI on The Remnant about the persistence of poverty in the U.S. and what can be done. The Dispatch Podcast gang welcomes Declan to talk about his GOP civil war piece in one episode and Haley to talk about her article on the Democrats in another. David and Sarah talked sports on Advisory Opinions, but don’t worry: It’s (mostly) in the context of legal nerdery.

Our Best Stuff From a Truly Unprecedented Week

Vaccines, COVID deaths, and Texas v. Pennsylvania.

Trump supporters after SCOTUS declined to hear Texas’ suit against four states that voted for Joe Biden. (Photo by (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images.)

It’s a good thing that 2020 is coming to an end, for lots of reasons. But especially for this newsletter: It so happens that I’m running out of analogies. There was the time warp (um, twice actually), the whiplash, and the roller coaster. I thought I’d been really patient in waiting for a really crazy week to reference the scene in State and Main where Alec Baldwin’s character flipped a car, crashed into a light post, and then laughed, saying, “So ... that happened.” That was February.  

But I’m not sure any of those rise to the level of the events of this week. We experienced the full complement of the good (Britain started distributing the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, and the FDA approved it for use in the United States last night), the bad (the U.S. experienced a single-day record of 3,124 COVID deaths on Wednesday), and the ugly (that little matter of the Texas attorney general trying to sue Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin at the Supreme Court to overturn the election).

We were just putting the finishing touches on Jonah’s G-File last night when the news broke that the Supreme Court had declined to hear Texas v. Pennsylvania. Jonah let out a bunch of frustration at the Republicans who had supported President Trump’s efforts to overturn a legitimate election and encouraged millions of Americans to believe in dangerous conspiracy theories. It was written before the decision came down, and we briefly discussed making some tweaks to account for the news. We decided that it was better to append an editor’s note and let you read it in full. We hope you will. (Speaking of analogies, he’s got a great one about the Kraken, courtesy of Game of Thrones.) 

One reason we did so, as he pointed out, is that the refusal of so many—including elected officials—to acknowledge the reality of Trump’s loss is both dangerous and unlikely to abate even though the Supreme Court’s rejection of the Texas case was unanimous. We’ll certainly have more on that in the coming days.

I don’t want to go on too long. We had a lot of great content this week, and it was tempting to find a way to pack all of it into this newsletter. Plus, I’ve reached the point in the holiday season where I’m Googling “What to get your kids when everything is sold out and only available on eBay for twice the price?” I’ll leave you with our coverage of the Trump legal challenges, Biden’s Cabinet picks, and some podcast highlights while I go try to find something more exciting than socks and underwear to put under the tree this year.

Analyzing Trump’s Legal Challenges

The sheer volume of lawsuits filed by the Trump campaign and his supporters have made it hard to keep up with all of the proceedings. They filed suits in several states, working their way through county, state, and federal courts. Some observers have kept “score” by reporting on every motion and every appeal. We wanted to give readers a bigger picture, so we went through 18 major cases and reported on the overall outcome--or where they stand. They show some clear trends: not just loss after loss for the Trump campaign, but arguments based on hearsay and reliance on witnesses who were ill-informed or making claims that simply did not hold up to scrutiny. 

The Case Against Xavier Becerra

Of course Joe Biden was going to appoint a pro-choice secretary of health and human services, David writes in The French Press (🔒). But Biden’s nominee, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, goes well beyond that and is in fact a “punitive progressive culture warrior.” David offers up a long list of actions Becerra took that show he’s a threat to the First Amendment and freedom of conscience: From forcing pro-life pregancy centers to advertise that the state offers subsidized abortions to trying to force churches to provide abortion coverage to employees, to prosecuting pro-life David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt for recording conversations with Planned Parenthood executives, to a relentless pursuit of the Little Sisters of the Poor. “America does not need a vitally important cabinet member to push up to and past the statutory and constitutional red line in suppressing free speech and religious freedom and in supporting abortion rights. Becerra is a bad choice,” David writes.

The COVID Vaccines Are a Triumph of Globalization

In response to the somewhat underwhelming news that Time honored Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as its Person (People?) of the Year, Dispatch contributor Scott Lincicome tweeted that the honor should have gone to Big Pharma. As it happens, in his Capitolism (🔒) newsletter this week he wrote about the COVID vaccines and how they should make us grateful for globalization. He details how Pfizer, Moderna, and BioNTech are led by immigrants and how global collaboration contributed to the speed with which the vaccines were developed before getting into the nitty gritty of the supply chain and distribution.

What’s Next for Chris Sununu?

New England is a fairly blue region of the country, but with Republican governors in three states. How do they get by? “Vermont Gov. Phil Scott stretches the definition of “moderate” in the current GOP, and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker would be in the center-left of the Democratic Party in most states,” writes Michael Graham, managing editor of New Hampshire Journal. But then there is Chris Sununu of New Hampshire, who has “has found a way to appeal to both his Trump-supporting Republican base and the affluent, college-educated suburbanites in places like Bedford and Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.” His pragmatic approach to governing and down-to-earth personality helped him win re-election with ease and have some hoping he’ll run for Senate. Graham argues that he might be better suited as a running mate for a 2024 presidential candidate. “Is there any other Republican who could bring a real shot at blue Electoral College votes with them to the ticket?” he asks.

And here’s the best of the rest:

  • Lots of people are talking about whether Congress will grant retired Gen. Lloyd Austin a waiver from the requirement that any defense secretary be out of the military for seven years. In Vital Interests (🔒), Tom Joscelyn has a few other questions, like: Why did Biden tout the general’s handling of the Iraq withdrawal? And: Why has the president-elect not shared how he thinks Austin will deal with the growing Chinese threat?

  • The conventional wisdom says that well, actually, sure, the Democrats won the White House, but they really lost the election. Political science professor Nicholas Grossman offers a few counterpoints, reminding readers most of the gains the GOP made in the House were in seats that the party held until 2018.

  • Georgia has been the target of many angry Trump supporters, who believe conspiracy theories that the state’s election was “stolen” for Joe Biden through widespread voter fraud. In The Sweep (🔒), Andrew interviewed DeKalb County elections officer DeKalb County Baoky Vu. “This, I think, is a very dangerous time for democracy. It’s extremely disturbing to me, and these threats of domestic terrorism upon the election officials, upon poll workers, that in itself is an attack on the foundations of democracy in my opinion.”

  • We’ve had a lot of good news on the vaccine front, but we need to take a wait-and-see approach on the efficacy of a third vaccine candidate, from Oxford and AstraZeneca. Kieran Allsop, James Capretta, and Scott Ganz explain the issues with the vaccine’s Phase III trial, in which some participants received an incorrect dosage. 

  • On the podcasts: On The Remnant, Jonah talks urban planning with his old friend Reihan Salam, president of the Manhattan Institute. David and Sarah talked all things Kraken and Texas v. Pennsylvania on Advisory Opinions. And Ilya Shapiro drops by The Dispatch Podcast to talk to Steve and Sarah about the House members who filed briefs in support of Texas’ Supreme Court case.

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