The Morning Dispatch: The Great GOP Crack-Up

Plus: Christmas cooking with your Morning Dispatch crew.

Happy Thursday! And we hope all who are celebrating this week have a very merry Christmas. 🎄🎁🎅🏼 We’ll see you on Monday.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • President Trump issued pardons and commutations for 29 more people on Wednesday, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, his longtime adviser Roger Stone, and Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner.

  • Pfizer and BioNTech reached a $1.95 billion agreement with the federal government on Wednesday to provide the United States with an additional 100 million doses of their COVID-19 vaccine by the end of July.

  • As promised, President Trump on Wednesday vetoed the National Defense Authorization Act—a sweeping $740 billion defense bill that passed both chambers of Congress this month on a bipartisan basis—citing concerns over the renaming of military bases that honor Confederate soldiers and Congress’ refusal to repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The House will convene Monday to vote on a veto override.

  • Initial jobless claims decreased by 89,000 week-over-week to 803,000 last week, the Labor Department reported on Wednesday. More than 20.3 million people were on some form of unemployment insurance during the week ending December 5, compared to 1.76 million people during the comparable week in 2019.

  • Fox News acquired police body cam footage of the aftermath of a March 2020 domestic dispute between Raphael Warnock and his ex-wife Ouleye, in which Ouleye accused Raphael of running over her foot in his car. No charges were filed against Warnock, who denies the allegation, and the police report said medical examiners were “not able to locate any swelling, redness, or bruising or broken bones” in Ouleye’s feet. But the footage also shows Ouleye telling the police officer she has “been trying to be very quiet about the way that [Raphael] is” for the sake of their kids and his reputation during the Senate race. “He’s a great actor. He is phenomenal at putting on a really good show.”

  • Russian lawmakers in the State Duma passed new bills aimed at stamping out dissent by imposing tighter restrictions on internet content, establishing jail time for those convicted of slander, and blocking websites like YouTube and Twitter.

  • The United States confirmed 238,497 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 13.7 percent of the 1,742,930 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 3,503 deaths were attributed to the virus on Wednesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 326,088. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 119,463 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 9,465,725 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been distributed nationwide, and 1,008,025 have been administered.

Republicans Tried—and Failed—to Avoid a Post-Election Fight With Trump

With the Senate runoffs in Georgia poised to dictate control of both Congress’ upper chamber and the direction of the Biden presidency, Republicans in Washington have delicately tiptoed around the massive fissures in their party, hoping to keep frustrations in-house—at least until after January 5. But the tensions are growing, and the GOP seems poised to erupt into a full-on civil war at any moment.

In a piece for the site, Declan examines the dynamics at play: President Trump continues to deny the reality of his defeat last month, and is furious with the congressional leaders who have finally stopped playing along. Those leaders are looking to turn the page and position themselves as well as possible for the Biden presidency, and Trump is making it impossible for them to do so.

Here are some of the highlights:

Republican leaders hoped that after a cooling off period Trump would come around to his election loss on his own.

GOP officials admitted they didn’t really know where their offramp from the president’s election conspiracy theories would be, but they hoped to outsource the job of admitting Trump’s defeat. “Yeah, taking this one day at a time,” one strategist told The Dispatch on November 10. “Republicans are monitoring the court fights closely, and have confidence the conflict resolution process that’s worked for our country since its founding will produce a result both sides can respect.”

But that calculation fundamentally misunderstood the president and his most ardent supporters, who would never respect a result that rendered him a loser. And now with less than two weeks until Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue face voters in Georgia, the house of cards could very well come tumbling down.

Trump and Mitch McConnell have had an amicable working relationship for the past four years. That’s over.

The Trump campaign and its allies whiffed repeatedly in court for weeks, having their election lawsuits thrown out or dismissed by judges appointed by Presidents Bush, Obama, and even Trump himself. The Supreme Court—with its 6-3 conservative majority—neglected even to hear a case brought by the Texas attorney general seeking to overturn election results in four key swing states. Members of the Electoral College voted 306-232 in Joe Biden’s favor, officially sealing Trump’s demise.

McConnell undoubtedly hoped these developments would soften the blow when he finally acknowledged Biden’s victory on December 15. He even alerted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows before he first addressed Biden as president-elect on the Senate floor. “Many millions of us had hoped the presidential election would yield a different result,” he said. “But our system of government has processes to determine who will be sworn in on January the 20th. The Electoral College has spoken. So today, I want to congratulate President-elect Joe Biden.”

It wasn’t enough. Unless McConnell agreed to help Trump steal the election, it was never going to be enough. The president on Monday night sent a slide around to Republican lawmakers pointing to what he believed to be his own role in McConnell’s election victory, decrying the Kentucky Republican for being “the first one off the ship.”

After Sen. John Thune—McConnell’s No. 2 in the Senate—told reporters that a longshot bid to overturn the presidential election by House Republicans would “go down like a shot dog” in the Senate, Trump declared the South Dakotan’s political career over, promising “he will be primaried in 2022.”* Trump has in recent weeks made similar threats against Republican Govs. Doug Ducey in Arizona and Brian Kemp in Georgia, and his campaign is launching radio ads in the Peach State talking about election fraud.

Some argue there’s not much Republicans could have done differently. But the month and a half they spent humoring Trump will have lasting consequences.

Some Republican officials who were once confident about Sens. Loeffler and Perdue winning reelection are now beginning to waver. “The Georgia runoffs are all about blocking AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] from pushing Biden to the far left,” one senior GOP aide told The Dispatch. “It’s a winning message that Georgia voters get, but Trump doesn’t care about any of that. He’s attacking Gov. Kemp and turning our voters against us with conspiracy theories. Indulging his temper tantrum is borderline suicidal for a party that cares about its future.”

With relatively few exceptions, Republican leaders have indulged this temper tantrum for upward of seven weeks. And what has it gotten them? Pernicious conspiracy theories—including ones targeting GOP officials—are seeping deeper into the Republican electorate. More than 120 House Republicans put their names behind a lawsuit seeking to disenfranchise millions of voters in four states. This week, the president vetoed the Republican-supported National Defense Authorization Act, which directs military spending for the year. And on Tuesday night, he blew up a months-long negotiation over coronavirus relief that many Republicans believed they had won, siding with congressional Democrats and demanding larger stimulus checks. On a members-only call Wednesday, Rep. Don Bacon accused the president of throwing House Republicans under the bus: “The President’s Secretary of Treasury helped negotiate this bill and encouraged us to support it.”

If the goal was to limit the damage Trump could do to the party on his way out, it didn’t work.

But would the situation actually be different if GOP leadership had ripped the Band-Aid off in November? A large percentage of Republican voters trust Trump and Trump alone. “The reality is there’s no winning strategy here; whatever you do will be subject to the wannabe emperor’s whims of that day,” said Doug Heye, a longtime Republican operative who worked in House leadership. “This is the self-created box that they’ve all found themselves in.”

Maybe Trump is trying to reclaim his ‘outsider’ persona heading into his post-presidency. Maybe he’s looking for another avenue through which he can raise money. Maybe he’s simply thrashing around out of spite. But Republicans were deluding themselves if they thought they could avoid this fight with him. “It’s the natural progression of the Faustian bargain,” GOP consultant Rob Stutzman said. “You can’t just break up with the devil over text.”

Christmas Cooking With The Dispatch

Given the holidays, we wanted to try something fun—and a little off the beaten path—in today’s TMD. Whether you’re traveling to be with family or celebrating at home this year, we hope one thing remains constant: Lots and lots of food.

If you’re looking to try something new, we surveyed our Dispatch staff and asked them to share some of their favorite holiday recipes. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

Mama-Jo’s Peanut Butter Bars

In true Southern grandmother style, Charlotte’s Mama-Jo baked tins full of sweets each December. These peanut butter bars were the most coveted by friends and neighbors. Enjoy this surprisingly simple, Southern twist on the Reece’s peanut butter cup.

1 ½ sticks melted margarine

1 ½ c. graham cracker crumbs

1 lb. XXXX powdered sugar

12 oz. chocolate chips

1 (18-oz.) jar peanut butter

Work together margarine, cracker crumbs, powdered sugar, and peanut butter in a medium bowl. Pack the mixture firmly into a 9 x 13-inch pan. Melt chocolate chips in the microwave and pour them over the peanut butter mixture. Let cool and cut into squares. 

Aunt Lauren’s Spinach Pie

If you’re more of a savory person, be sure to try Audrey’s family recipe. For holidays spent down in Mississippi with her Aunt Lauren, this simple spinach pie is the perfect complement to turkey or ham (and also tastes great for breakfast leftovers).

2 double crust ready-to-use pie crusts

6 eggs (reserve 1 yolk)

1 lb. mozzarella cheese

20 oz. chopped spinach (thawed and drained)

2 lb. sausage (1 hot, 1 mild)

½ c. cottage cheese

2 cloves minced garlic

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Beat the eggs and cook the spinach. Heat a pan over medium-high heat and cook the sausage until evenly browned. Mix together all the ingredients and pour the mixture into the two pie shells. Cover with the top crusts and cut slits for ventilation. Mix egg yolk with water and brush the mixture on top of the pie. Bake for 40 minutes.

Sarah’s Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

This started out as Sarah’s grandmother's recipe (don’t they all), but she brought her campaign operative style to it and did some A/B testing. Her conclusions: Don’t bother with the super fancy chocolate or the generic stuff, browning the butter adds a nuttier flavor but isn’t worth the time, and be exact with the sugar measurements.

8 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature

¾ cup sugar

¾+ cup light brown sugar, firmly packed

1 tsp. salt

1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1 ¾ - 2 cups flour, until consistency is thick

1 ½ tsp. fresh baking soda

½ tsp. ground cinnamon

1 ½+ cup quick-cooking oats

2 c. chopped pecans

12 oz. Ghirardelli semisweet chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Using an electric mixer, beat the butter in a bowl until light and fluffy. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla, and beat until well mixed, about three minutes. Stir in eggs, one at a time. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, baking soda, and cinnamon together. Add half of the flour mixture to the butter with the mixer on low speed. Once the flour has been incorporated, add the second half. Stir in the oats, pecans, and chocolate chips. Drop the dough, by the tablespoon, onto the cookie sheet and bake for 12 minutes, or until golden. Add good salt on top. For extra crisp cookies, turn up the oven to 450° F for two to three minutes.

West End Richmond Brownies

Growing up, Catherine’s mother’s secret weapon in the neighborhood Christmas gift exchange was always these made-from-scratch brownies. Her mother grew up in Petersburg, Virginia and carried this crowd-pleasing recipe with her to Richmond, where Catherine was raised. To this day, Catherine’s childhood friends ask about her mother’s West End Richmond-famous brownies.

1 stick melted butter

4 oz. unsweetened chocolate

2 c. sugar

4 beaten eggs

1 c. flour

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 c. chopped walnuts or pecans 

Grease a 7 x 11-inch glass baking dish and preheat the oven to 350 F. Melt the butter with the unsweetened chocolate. In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, eggs, flour, and vanilla extract. Add in the cooled chocolate mixture and the chopped walnuts or pecans. Cook for 20 minutes and test the center with a toothpick. If it comes out clean, remove the brownies from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. Cut into squares and top with powdered sugar.

Worth Your Time

  • “I actually am in fear for my safety,” says Eric Coomer, who oversees product security and strategy for Dominion Voting Systems, the voting software company that Trump and his allies have baselessly accused of rigging the presidential election in Joe Biden’s favor. In a recent NPR story, Bente Berkeland and Miles Parks catalogue Coomer’s experience living in hiding for more than a month as he struggles to protect his immediate and even extended family members from online trolls who claim Coomer is the mastermind behind Dominion’s alleged vote total tampering. “I've been threatened more times than I could even count. Whether it's the standard online trolls, voicemails that are left almost on a daily basis, being called a traitor to this country,” he said. “I can't even begin to describe what effect this has had on my life.” 

  • As lawmakers continue warring with the president over the machinations of the forthcoming coronavirus relief bill, millions of unemployed Americans head into the holidays with nothing but pennies in their pockets. “There is a touch of Dickens in this year’s celebrations, except the relevant story isn’t ‘A Christmas Carol’ but ‘A Tale of Two Cities,’” write Nelson D. Schwartz and Gillian Friedman in the New York Times. “Even as the stock market notches record highs and waiting lists grow for luxury items like Peloton exercise bicycles, roughly 20 million workers were collecting unemployment benefits under state or federal programs at the end of November, according to the Labor Department.” Read their story for some personal anecdotes from jobless Americans who are struggling to pay rent, let alone put gifts under the tree.

Presented Without Comment

Presented Without Comment: Angry Senate Republican Edition

Presented Without Comment: Angry House Republican Edition

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his Wednesday G-File (🔒), Jonah explains why he has hope—but not optimism—for the future of conservatism in America. As members of the “burn it down” anti-Trump right point to Republican politicians’ complicity in the president’s effort to retain power, Jonah argues that “a prudent, controlled burn of the GOP’s dead weight would be wiser than an unmitigated act of arson.” The best place to start, he continues is with “the people who are actually participating, not performatively, but purposefully. I’m talking about people like Michael Flynn, Sidney Powell, Lin Wood, Kelli Ward, and anyone else who is telling the president to do whatever it takes to hold onto power. … As far as I am concerned, they are not simply traitors to conservative principles—they’re traitors, full stop.”

  • Last week, Kenyan national Cholo Abdi Abdullah was charged with plotting a plane hijacking inside the United States. Abdullah was a member of Shabaab—al-Qaeda’s highly active branch in East Africa—which is in the midst of an effort to overthrow Somalia’s U.S.-backed leadership and institute a sharia-based totalitarian regime. At the same time, Trump has ordered the withdrawal of the remaining American troops working with the Somali government to prevent such a coup. Thomas Joscelyn breaks it all down in his latest Vital Interests newsletter (🔒). “Trump and Biden can claim they want to ‘end’ the ‘endless wars’ all they want,” he writes. “That doesn’t mean the terrorists will stop fighting.”

Let Us Know

Put yourself in Mitch McConnell’s shoes. Hindsight is 20/20, but how would you have handled the post-election period, knowing that the majority of congressional Republicans were looking to you for guidance? Where would we be today if he was more unequivocal about Trump’s loss early on?

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Haley Byrd Wilt (@byrdinator), Audrey Fahlberg (@FahlOutBerg), Charlotte Lawson (@charlotteUVA), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Correction, December 24, 2020: John Thune represents South Dakota in the U.S. Senate, not North Dakota.