Good Friday Morning! The last time I wrote this newsletter, a couple of weeks ago, the government shutdown was ending, and Trump had declared a national emergency. We’ve been through approximately 500 news cycles since that point. As I was jotting down notes and ideas for articles and this piece today, I laughed when I watched journalists get outraged over a story on security clearances and then it died in about 2-3 hours. I know I’ve said it numerous times, but it is positively astonishing to watch news cycles flare up and die on social media.
Michael Cohen is the 800 lb gorilla in the news this week, so I’m starting with that story this week. These hearings were the least essential news item this week, but they sucked up all the oxygen. Stories that deserve more attention:
- India and Pakistan relations sink to new lows with terrorist attacks, hostages, and more (Pakistani airspace closed for some time). The eruption in violence over the last week has both startled and alarmed the US, Russia, and China with all three calling for calm. India and Pakistan are both nuclear-armed neighbors.
- All but three Democrats vote against Ben Sasse’s “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.” This decision puts the Democratic Party, from state to national level, on the side of infanticide. The bill would have prevented doctors from killing a child outside the womb. I have a column at the Conservative Institute coming out on this today.
- Trump’s failed meetings with North Korea.
- The far left wing of the Democratic Party is clashing with their moderates, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez threatening to put all moderates on blast (Republicans are using the chaos to pick off moderates in the House). Watch this storyline mature in the summer. It should lead to some outright brawls.
But I’ll cover Cohen, and offer a few words on movements and splintering happening within conservative media. Links follow.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
For all the talk about how Democrats represent poor minorities when it comes to jobs, Democrats use NIMBY politics to reduce economic opportunity. It’s the new redlining.
Victimhood is the new social currency in American culture. We haven’t come to grips with how toxic that currency is, and how it’s transforming our culture. We should expect more like Jussie Smollett until victim culture goes bankrupt.
You can tell democratic socialism is a false promise because it has the word democratic on it for looks. Democratic socialism is like any other socialism — you can vote your way in, but you end up having to shoot your way out.
Michael Cohen useless testimony and the Congressional Charade
Ok, so here’s the quick and dirty explanation of what to make of Michael Cohen’s testimony: Nothing. It’s not important. Cohen isn’t believable, trustworthy, nor is he a John Dean. Cohen’s testimony did nothing on the collusion front, it does, however, signal a shifting strategy by Democrats.
David French boiled Cohen’s multihour testimony down into four substantial questions, and I agree with that assessment:
First, Cohen testified that Roger Stone told Donald Trump about the WikiLeaks document dump in advance of the Democratic Convention. Second, Cohen testified that he suspected Trump knew in advance about Donald Trump Jr.’s infamous meeting with a Russian lawyer. Third, Cohen asserted that Trump directed Cohen to make porn-star-hush-money payments and later reimbursed him while Trump was president. And fourth, Cohen claimed that Trump gave him implied directions to lie to Congress and that Trump’s personal lawyer edited his false testimony.
The first two claims grabbed headlines — taken together, they mark the first concrete, under-oath assertions that Trump was involved in any way with the various bumbling efforts of Trump-campaign officials and Trump allies to communicate with Russians or Russian assets. No, the claims are nothing like the collusion fever dreams of the hard-core conspiracy Left — and they don’t add up to anything criminal — but they would be improper and embarrassing nonetheless. Yet those first two claims are among Cohen’s least credible.
Along with those four broad assertions, Cohen’s statement shot down almost all the lines in the infamous Steele Dossier, including the claim he went to Prague. On the collusion front, Cohen served as a useful witness for Republicans, so I didn’t quite understand the tactics of attacking his credibility.
Outside of those key substantive points, the rest of the hearing was an absolute circus. Republicans and Democrats were a complete joke that made me embarrassed of our entire Congressional system. Congress is the weakest branch of government, and spectacles like the Cohen hearing underscore both that weakness and why both the executive and judiciary departments have picked up the slack.
When it comes to all things Trump and Russia, I will continue to repeat the same advice I’ve had for a while: wait for the Mueller report, and then wait to see which party wants to release the Mueller report more. Mueller is required to issue a final report to the DOJ — it’s not required to be public, or go to Congress. 28 CFR § 600.8 – Notification and reports by the Special Counsel state:
(c) Closing documentation. At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.
Congress can request or subpoena the report if it so wants, and the DOJ can turn it over to Congress without such a request. So when Mueller’s report drops, expect an immediate outrage about the DOJ hiding the report from the public or some other nonsense.
One way or another, I expect Congress to get the report. And that’s when we’ll learn both Mueller’s recommendations, the evidence he relied on (legal pro-tip: he won’t rely on a convicted perjurer like Cohen), and anything else interesting.
Politically speaking, I’ve watched with interest as conventional wisdom in Washington DC, on the left and right, has shifted towards a general belief that the Mueller report won’t corroborate anything on the collusion front. Everyone in positions of leadership and power has started downplaying the significance of the Mueller report and emphasizing other things. The expectation seems to be that the most Mueller will have on Trump will be a series of bad, and embarrassing facts, with the most legally significant charge being a campaign finance violation.
That’s why I don’t see the Cohen hearing as the beginning of the end of Russia stuff, but rather the first opening volley in investigating everything else in Trumpworld — starting with his business. That’s why the new hotness isn’t collusion, but generic corruption. The viral Daily Beast news item now: House Intel Will Call Trump Org Moneyman Allen Weisselberg To Testify: The intelligence committee has indicated for months it intends to follow Trump’s money. Allen Weisselberg keeps the Trump Organization’s receipts.
Investigating Trump’s businesses and family will give new life to the Democratic House’s ability to keep the heat up on Trump.
I’d be shocked now if Democrats pushed for an impeachment play. Pelosi wants Trump wounded and lame from the constant barrage of investigations before Congress. It doesn’t matter if they’re investigating collusion, taxes, or Trump’s golf course landscaping (or Sean Hannity), the key is continually throwing red meat to the media. Impeaching Trump gets rid of their most effective punching bag. The freshman class of Democrats may want impeachment, but they’re political morons.
Summary: Cohen didn’t change anything; Democrats won’t impeach; Democrats will investigate forever.
Post-Weekly Standard: New conservative media groups emerging
Two stories came out over the past week, detailing two new conservative media ventures. One is about The Bulwark, which I’ve shared a few links from recently: Naming and Shaming the Pro-Trump Elite: The Bulwark’s writers are the new outlaws of conservative media.
The Bulwark is Bill Kristol’s, former founder and Editor in Chief of the Weekly Standard, new website. It began as an aggregator site, and when the Weekly Standard went under, Kristol brought over former talk radio host Charlie Sykes and several other Weekly Standard writers and editors. They have a specific goal in mind: Attack the pro-Trump contingent in the Republican Party:
“We are the ultimate wilderness!” he declares to me.
But that doesn’t sound quite lonely enough for the political niche they’re occupying, so he tries again: “We’re on a desert island.”
Sykes continues to riff like this in his chirpy, midwestern accent, comparing The Bulwark’s writers to a band of “Somali pirates,” and then to a contingent of “guerrilla fighters.” He’s so enthusiastic about the exercise that before long I am tossing out my own overwrought suggestions. Perhaps, I muse at one point, they are soldiers on the final front of the Republican Civil War—making one last stand before the forces of Trumpism complete their conquest.
Sykes nods eagerly, and for a moment he seems caught up in the romance of this imagery. But then reality reasserts itself.
“The analogy [I’m] really afraid of,” he confesses, “is that we’re the Japanese soldiers who don’t know the war is over, and we’re still hiding out in the cave.”
The piece continues until it hits a section that launched a broad debate on the right:
But The Bulwark is pursuing a different kind of relevance. Rather than crafting coverage that aims to turn rank-and-file Trump voters against the president—an effort that would almost certainly fail—it wants to shame and stigmatize the “bad actors” in the conservative elite, as Sykes puts it.
Scroll through the home page on any given day, and you’ll find one lively polemic after another calling out Trump-friendly politicos by name—often in witheringly personal terms.
I confess I don’t know what The Bulwark is attempting to achieve with these attacks. They publish some writers I thoroughly enjoy, including some smart people who aren’t engaging in the personal nature the rest of the site adopts. But I don’t understand the full point of attacking your side, without establishing a set of ideas.
Jonah Goldberg and Sean Trende had a back and forth discussing the merits, and I tend to site with Trende on this argument. I don’t understand what the Bulwark thinks it will accomplish in defeating Trump. If they got what they want, defeating Trump, it means a Democrat would win the election. Do they think they’ll get welcomed back into the GOP fold?
It’s one thing to say you can’t vote for Trump while supporting other GOP candidates. It’s another to help the opponent.
Anyway, outside of that, The Bulwark isn’t the only new conservative media group entering the post-Weekly Standard landscape. The scoop went to Axios:
Jonah Goldberg is leaving National Review in the coming months to start a new conservative media company with Steve Hayes, who was editor-in-chief of The Weekly Standard when its owner shut it down in December.
Details: Goldberg and Hayes tell me they plan a reporting-driven, Trump-skeptical company that will begin with newsletters as soon as this summer, then add a website in September, and perhaps ultimately a print magazine.
- Hayes, the likely CEO, and Goldberg, likely the editor-in-chief, are the founders.
- Hayes tells me about the startup, which doesn’t have a name now: “We believe there’s a great appetite on the center-right for an independent conservative media company that resists partisan boosterism and combines a focus on old-school reporting with interesting and provocative commentary and analysis.”
- Hayes and Goldberg are seeking investors.
Goldberg joined National Review in 1998 and was the founding editor of National Review Online. He’ll continue as a fellow for the National Review Institute.
I tend to think this venture will be more successful, if only because I know Hayes and Goldberg will be able to line up donors to get a site off the ground. Also, their plan to focus on email newsletters and podcasts first, while building up a magazine presence is a smarter play than an ad or subscription-based site.
The demise of the Weekly Standard has created two sites so far while seeding former conservative writers in mainstream sites. Perhaps its death will lead to a new generation of writing talent on the right.
Links of the week
The #WhoCares Oscars: B-listers abounded at an almost completely glamour-free awards ceremonies – Kyle Smith, National Review
2020 Democrats voted against an anti-infanticide bill because the press will let them get away with it – Becket Adams, The Washington Examiner
Farewell, Tax-Refund Talking Point – Ramesh Ponnuru, National Review
He Was Part of a Twitter Mob That Attacked Young Adult Novelists. Then It Turned on Him. Now His Book Is Cancelled.: Kosoko Jackson, a gay black author writing about a gay black protagonist, gets taken down by the YA Twitterati. – Jesse Singal, Reason Magazine
They’re Not Even Pretending Anymore – W. Ben Hunt, Epsilon Theory
Mussolini and Misinterpretations – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
Michael Cohen’s Morality Play: Trite theater – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
Are Robots Competing for Your Job? Probably, but don’t count yourself out. – Jill Lepore, The New Yorker
How former ref Tim Donaghy conspired to fix NBA games – Scott Eden, ESPN
Ghosts in the House: How Toni Morrison fostered a generation of black writers. – Hilton Als, The New Yorker
Lincoln’s Great Depression: Abraham Lincoln fought clinical depression all his life, and if he were alive today, his condition would be treated as a “character issue” — that is, as a political liability. His condition was indeed a character issue: it gave him the tools to save the nation – Joshua Wolf Shenk, The Atlantic
Satire piece of the week
U.S.—After a recently elected democratic socialist politician suddenly began using authoritarian, elitist-sounding language mere weeks after getting her first whiff of power, every single person in the country who’s never read a history book expressed their shock and surprise at the sudden transformation.
The woman, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, tweeted “We’re in charge” in the context of a proposed sweeping government takeover of the economy, saying her critics who haven’t proposed an alternative were “shouting from the cheap seats.” She also declared “I’m the boss, how about that?” in a recent video interview. The statements shocked certain groups of people across the country, namely, those who haven’t been in the same room as a history book anytime in the past few decades.
Thanks for reading!