Donald Trump has announced his candidacy and the Republican right is getting ready to investigate the president’s son. Daniel Lazare expects the results to be interesting
The old news is that the US midterm elections were a let-down for the Republicans and a modest win for the Democrats. The long-expected ‘red wave’ failed to materialise, Trump-backed candidates lost, and the Dems succeeded against all the odds in holding onto the Senate, while keeping Republican gains to a minimum in the House of Representatives. Everyone said so, from giant organisations like The New York Times right down to this writer as well.1
But the new news is different. According to statistics that are still being updated, Republicans did not underperform at all. On the contrary, they won by an impressive 50.9%, according to the broadest democratic measure, while the Dems received only 47.6%.2 That is a gap of 3.5 million votes - a roaring comeback for a party that two years ago trailed by nearly 4.8 million. If the United States were a modern democracy based on strict proportional representation, the Dems would be sulking on the sidelines, while the GOP went about forming a new government.
But America is not a democracy. Rather, it is an 18th century republic, in which elections are purposely fragmented and balkanised, so as to prevent the people from speaking with anything resembling a single voice. So, while journalists zero in on individual House races, the total vote is officially ignored. Whether Republicans won by 3.5 million or 3.5 billion is immaterial as far as the corporate press is concerned.
Yet the news has a way of filtering through regardless. If Republicans performed better overall than previously believed, that may be why they are now going on the offensive and why the ultra-right is more aggressive than ever.
In fact, to the degree Republicans underperformed, it was only by winning fewer House seats than the overall tally suggests they were entitled to. The difference is minor - only seven or eight seats so far - but the effect is to undercut ‘moderate’ leaders, while providing the so-called Freedom Caucus (40 or so ultra-rightists from hard-core Republican districts) with added leverage. Last year, top Republicans were so fed up with Marjorie Taylor Greene - a Georgia firebrand famous for parroting just about every conspiracy theory that QAnon has to offer - that they stripped her of all committee assignments. Since congressional committees are where the real power lies in America’s secretive legislative system, it was the equivalent of exiling her to Siberia. But, now that she has won re-election by nearly two to one, her banishment is over and it looks like she will be the power behind the throne, once Kevin McCarthy, a senior Republican from California, takes over as speaker of the House in January.
It is quite a step up for a rightwing insurgent, who enjoys being photographed with an assault rifle and who once speculated that Rothschild-owned space lasers were setting fire to California brushlands.3 A former Republican congressman named Joe Walsh observed:
The crazy caucus … is going to increase in numbers. There will be another 20 Marjorie Taylor Greenes in that Republican caucus … They will dictate what this Republican caucus does, and there’s not a damn thing that Kevin McCarthy can do about it.4
An anti-Trump Republican campaign strategist dismissed McCarthy as a ‘SINO’ - ‘speaker in name only’ - adding: “Marjorie Taylor Greene runs the Republican caucus.”5 If so, she now runs the House - or will shortly.
Needless to say, this is Joe Biden’s worst nightmare. A House under the thumb of the extreme right is one that will block just about every legislative initiative he comes up with. Military aid for Ukraine - Biden is set to ask for another $37.7 billion - is all but certain to run into stiff conservative resistance. So will proposals to lift the debt ceiling - an annual ritual that is always an occasion for political fireworks, but this time may well elicit an even more serious response. Congressional investigative machinery will go into overdrive, as Republicans vow to do to Biden what Democrats used Russiagate to do to Donald Trump. After 30 years of near civil war, the political temperature on Capitol Hill is about to heat up even more.
The far-right political offensive - an offensive that was not supposed to happen - began a week after election day, when Trump formally announced his candidacy in 2024. The speech, which he delivered at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, was filled with the usual Trumpisms about highway fuel prices reaching “the highest levels in history”, about millions of undocumented aliens overflowing the Mexican border, and about the country in general going to hell in a handbasket.
It is a spiel that Trump has given at so many ‘Make America Great Again’ rallies that he can all but recite it in his sleep. But it is not ineffective, since the result is to tie military setbacks, needless wars, drugs and violent crime into a single narrative about national decline. He said:
My opponents made me out to be a warmonger and just a terrible person who would immediately go into war. They said during the 2016 campaign that if he becomes president, there will … be a war within weeks, and we will have wars like you’ve never seen before. It will happen immediately. And yet I’ve gone decades, decades without a war.
Considering that Democrats have sparked one war in eastern Europe and are seemingly intent on provoking another in the western Pacific, the comment drew blood. Trump added that Biden “is leading us to the brink of nuclear war - a concept unimaginable just two short years ago”. This was another comment about Democratic bellicosity that drew blood.
Still, the response was negative, even in the Murdoch-owned press. “The irony is that more Democrats than Republicans will be elated because they see him as the easiest candidate to beat one more time,” The Wall Street Journal said.6 The New York Post - a sensationalist tabloid that functions as a direct Murdoch mouthpiece - published a front-page illustration of an egg-shaped “Trumpty-Dumpty” alongside a headline about the “Grand Old Party”, as the Republicans are known: “Don (who couldn’t build a wall) had a great fall - can all the GOP’s men put the party back together again?” But there was an undercurrent of uneasiness with The New York Times worrying that a third Trump candidacy “poses even greater dangers to American democracy” than the first two did.7
That was on November 15. Additional shoes dropped two days later. First, a newly-emboldened Taylor Greene introduced a resolution calling for a congressional audit of military aid to Ukraine - a sign that bipartisan pro-war sentiment is at last breaking down. Next, James Comer of Kentucky and Jim Jordan of Ohio - conservative Republicans who are about to take control of the powerful House oversight and judiciary committees respectively - announced dual investigations into Hunter Biden and his dubious business affairs, in which the president clearly had an interest. Comer told a press conference:
This is an investigation of Joe Biden, the president of the United States, and why he lied to the American people about his knowledge and participation in his family’s international business schemes. National security interests require that the committee conduct an investigation, and we will pursue all avenues.8
Jordan said that his committee would look into whether the FBI tried to suppress news that one or more Hunter Biden laptops contained incriminating information, just as the 2020 presidential campaign was heading into the final stretch.
Political interference is a sore point with Republicans, since it is what Democrats accuse Russia of doing on behalf of Trump in 2016. So they are determined to make the most out of claims that anti-Trump FBI officials interfered on behalf of Biden in 2020.
Several things about the Hunter Biden investigation stand out. One is that it is a Republican declaration of all-out war, while another is that the scandal is far meatier than Democratic conspiracy theories about Russian collusion were at their height. The latter was “a big nothing-burger”, as a CNN host named Van Jones once admitted9 - a collection of rumours and alleged links that even a JFK assassination buff would view askance.
But there is nothing the least bit outlandish about the Hunter Biden claims. Instead, there is every indication that he mounted an all-out effort to monetise his relationship with his dad, who was, of course, vice-president from 2009 to 2017 and then president beginning in January 2021. After all, Hunter was experiencing the mother of all mid-life crises by the time he reached his mid-40s. He was a coke-addled mess whose marriage was falling apart, whose career was in ruins and whose sole asset was his close proximity to the topmost rungs of the US power structure. So how could he resist trying to make a profit? And, considering Joe Biden’s own modest means, how could he resist letting him?
The investigation promises to be excruciating. Payments to prostitutes, business partners’ numerous visits to the White House, a no-show job at an energy company owned by a top Ukrainian oligarch, a deal with a Chinese energy company in which 10% of the profits were to be set aside for “the big guy” (ie, Biden himself) - Comer and Jordan vowed last week to look into all of it.10
“I think the American people are … going to be shocked by those facts,” Tony Bobulinsky - a highly credible navy veteran who partnered with Hunter before undergoing an acrimonious split - told Fox News.11 If the president has ever wondered what it is like to be flayed alive, he may soon find out.
As bad as this is for the White House, the laptop angle could prove even worse. This is the third thing that stands out about the Comer-Jordan investigation. If Republicans are the least bit competent - a big ‘if’, considering the embarrassing mess they have made of previous investigations - they could find themselves plumbing the deepest recesses of the Democrats’ relationship with the FBI-CIA ‘deep state’ that we heard so much about during more than two years of Russiagate.
The reason is an open letter that 51 former intelligence officials issued just four days after the laptop story broke, charging that it “has all the classic earmarks of a Russian information operation”. The officials - who included former national intelligence director Jim Clapper and three former directors of the CIA - emphasised “that we do not know if the [laptop] emails … are genuine or not and that we do not have evidence of Russian involvement - just that our experience makes us deeply suspicious that the Russian government played a significant role in this case”.12
Instead of evidence, however, there was only a hunch on the part of intelligence operatives known for their paranoia. But it was enough for Facebook to ban the story and for Twitter to suspend the New York Post’s account. Yet not only has independent forensic analysis determined that the laptop contents are genuine, but the material has turned into a goldmine for Republican scandal-mongers.
Jordan told last week’s press conference:
The specific focus [will be] on what the FBI was doing. We know these 51 former intel officials … got security clearance. How often are they talking to the FBI? … Who’s doing the talking? Who’s doing the briefing? Were they briefed? There are so many questions that need answers, so that we can get to the bottom of this.
In other words, did the FBI encourage the former intelligence officials to go public, so as to enhance Democratic prospects in an election that, as Jordan points out, was just 15 days away? Not only would that be a far greater abuse than anything Trump was accused of doing in 2016, but it would be an indication of political dirty tricks reaching a new level in America’s broken-down electoral process.
Yes, Jordan is a rightwing extremist who opposes abortion, voted to overturn the 2020 election results, condemns Covid-19 vaccine requirements as “unAmerican” and opposes climate-mitigation measures, such as limits on carbon-dioxide emissions and tax incentives for renewable energy. But he is the sort of political barbarian who is doing better and better at the polls, according to the latest election data.
However, just because he is a bad guy does not mean that Democratic warmongers are good. On the contrary, their closet is stuffed with skeletons that could well emerge as a result of the Comer-Jordan probe. It will be fascinating to see what happens if they do.
A 31-page summary of the findings to date is available at republicans-oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/Interim-Staff-Report-A-President-Compromised-The-Biden-Family-Investigation.pdf.↩︎