The Morning Dispatch: The Groundhog Day Party

GOP leaders in Congress say they're moving forward from relitigating the 2020 election. But 2022 candidates are embracing Trump's handling of the results as a way to prove their MAGA bona fides.

Happy Wednesday! Congratulations to Guy Fieri, who just signed a contract extension with the Food Network that will pay him $80 million over the next three years. The Dispatch was willing to go to $85 million, but we respect Fieri’s brand loyalty.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who is on his first official Middle East trip as part of the Biden administration, said Tuesday that the U.S. will make “significant contributions” toward the rebuilding of Gaza, which suffered substantial damage from Israeli airstrikes in the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas. Blinken made the remarks in a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, adding that the U.S. would “work to ensure that Hamas does not benefit” from the aid.

  • CDC study published yesterday found that, among the approximately 101 million Americans who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by April 30, just 706—0.0007 percent—were reported to have been hospitalized due to “breakthrough infections” of the virus. The report noted, however, that “the national surveillance system relies on passive and voluntary reporting, and data might not be complete or representative.”

  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill this week intended to significantly curtail social media companies’ discretion to moderate content on their sites. The new law prohibits platforms from banning Florida political candidates and gives Florida residents a new legal pathway to sue companies that “deplatform” them. It is expected to face immediate court challenges. 

  • New data from Moderna’s Phase 3 trial of 3,700 participants aged 12 to 17 found the mRNA vaccine to be 100 percent effective at preventing COVID-19 infection without any “significant safety concerns.” The pharmaceutical company said it plans to submit the data to regulators in early June.

  • An American journalist working in Rangoon, Burma was detained by local authorities Monday and transferred to a nearby prison. Danny Fenster, a 37-year-old Michigan native, was boarding a flight to leave the country when he was taken into custody.

  • The Senate voted 51-48 on Tuesday to confirm Kristen Clarke as the head of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

  • The United States confirmed 24,678 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 2.6 percent of the 949,929 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 409 deaths were attributed to the virus on Tuesday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 590,925. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 23,183 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Meanwhile, 897,972 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, with 164,378,258 Americans having now received at least one dose.

Meet the New Litmus Test, Same as the Old Litmus Test

In the immediate aftermath of the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, there was a general consensus among Republican leaders about the cause of the violence: Supporters of Donald Trump had been deliberately misled into believing that their man was the rightful victor of the 2020 presidential election and was being denied a second term.

“The President bears responsibility for Wednesday’s attack on Congress by mob rioters,” GOP House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said on the House floor on January 13. “He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding.”

“There’s no question, none, that President Trump is practically and morally responsible for provoking the events of the day, no question about it,” Senate Minority Mitch McConnell said on February 13.

Even Sen. Ted Cruz—who has evolved into quite the MAGA enthusiast since encouraging Republican National Convention delegates to “vote their conscience” approximately six lifetimes ago—said the former president “plainly bears some responsibility” for the violence of his supporters who attacked the Capitol hoping to disrupt the certification of the Electoral College results. 

“I think it was reckless and I think he needs to recognize it,” Cruz—who himself was one of only a handful of senators to object to certifying the election results—told a local Texas TV station one day after the attack.

If uttered today, such statements—true as they may be—would be grounds for almost immediate political ostracization. In February, Rep. Liz Cheney still had the overwhelming support of her colleagues to remain House Republican conference chair after voting to impeach the former president—and making crystal clear exactly what she thought of him in doing so. But she got the boot three months later, despite her positions and rhetoric not changing a whit. So what did?

Republicans’ political reality had sunk in, with poll after poll showing Donald Trump’s grip on the GOP base wasn’t loosening as much as many congressional leaders privately hoped it would. 

In January, just after the attempted insurrection, 48 percent of Republican and lean-Republican voters reported in an Echelon Insights survey they would definitely or probably support Trump in the 2024 GOP presidential primary. That number has steadily rebounded as the events of January 6 have faded, and it now sits at 63 percent. In the same poll, 45 percent of Republicans classify themselves as “primarily” supporters of Donald Trump, compared to 44 percent who consider themselves “primarily” supporters of the GOP. 

Earlier this week, an Ipsos/Reuters poll found that 61 percent of Republican voters believe “the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump” and 53 percent “think Donald Trump is the actual President.” Just over half agreed that “the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad.”

So instead of confronting Trump’s election lies head on as some did in early January, top GOP officials have instead resigned themselves to downplaying or ignoring them in the hope that they will fade away on their own. McCarthy, for example, tried to speak his own reality into existence on May 12 when he told a group of reporters that he “[doesn’t] think anybody is questioning the legitimacy of the presidential election.”

McConnell, for his part, did not repeat anything close to his remarks from February when asked earlier this month about Republican in-fighting over Trump. “One-hundred percent of our focus is on stopping this new administration,” he responded, adding that he is “looking forward, not backwards.”

Worth Your Time

  • With antisemitic violence in the streets of major U.S. cities and antisemitic rhetoric in the halls of Congress, Blake Flayton’s recent piece for The Bulwark offers a timely reminder that both sides of the aisle must condemn hatred against Jews—even when doing so isn’t politically expedient. “Those so quick to (rightly) condemn Marjorie Taylor Greene for her theory about the Rothschilds’ secret space lasers can’t seem to concern themselves with throngs of ‘Pro-Palestinian’ demonstrators in Los Angeles attacking Jewish men on the street simply for being Jewish,” Flayton writes. “They’re not speaking up when marchers for Palestinian liberation attribute Israel to Nazi Germany and call for its destruction. They’re not speaking up when Jews are assaulted in Times Square for holding an Israeli flag, or when a firecracker is thrown in The Diamond District at visibly Jewish people.”

  • A Floridian himself, National Review’s Charlie Cooke is generally a fan of Gov. Ron DeSantis. But he’s not a fan of the bill targeting Big Tech that DeSantis signed into law this week. “Yes, Twitter, Facebook, and Google are precisely the hives of hypocrisy and inconsistency that their critics say they are. But, under present American law, those companies are allowed to be hives of hypocrisy and inconsistency—not only as a result of statutes such as Section 230, but as a result of the plain text of the First Amendment itself,” Cooke wrote a few weeks ago. “To force private entities to host or disseminate speech that they abhor is, ultimately, to force them to violate their conscience.”

  • Friend of Advisory Opinions Marina Koren breaks alien-loving hearts everywhere in her latest for The Atlantic, where she outlines a few very rational, very terrestrial explanations for unidentified flying objects ahead of the Pentagon’s UFO briefing to Congress next month. While the studies of ufology and extraterrestrial intelligence both occupy important places in academia, they’re largely distinct from one another. “Many mundane objects can masquerade as something otherworldly: experimental aircraft, atmospheric quirks, drones, balloons, even the planet Venus,” Koren writes. “Camera glitches and distortions can manifest something that isn’t really there. Consider these explanations, and the magic starts to dissipate.”

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Toeing the Company Line

  • In a short-and-sweet Tuesday Uphill, Haley offers an update on congressional haggling over a potential police reform compromise. Sen. Tim Scott “sounded optimistic about the talks on Monday night,” Haley writes, when he told reporters that he and Democratic Rep. Karen Bass and Sen. Cory Booker made progress over the weekend. The biggest question now might not be whether the working group can reach a deal, but whether it’s one progressives in the House are willing to support. 

  • Sarah’s latest Sweep offers a smorgasbord of recent Dispatch 2022 Senate campaign offerings: Andrew’s piece on Missouri, Audrey’s on Alabama, and Ryan’s on Pennsylvania. Sarah also walks through why the path back to a GOP Senate isn’t necessarily as easy as it might seem: “Republicans already have four big retirements to deal with … and that doesn’t count either Iowa’s Chuck Grassley (who is 87 years old) or Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson (who said in 2016 he wouldn’t run again), neither of whom have yet declared their intentions.”

  • David provided his own take on Florida’s new social media law in his French Press yesterday, and he didn’t mince words. “One of the incredibly bizarre developments of this dysfunctional modern time is the extent to which a faction of the Republican Party is now rejecting the crown achievements of the conservative legal movement,” he writes. “Increasingly, the GOP is looking at remarkable legal advances in the fight against speech codes, against government regulation of corporate speech, and against government-mandated viewpoint discrimination—and declaring that it prefers power over liberty. It wants more government control over speech. It wants speech codes.”

  • On the site today: Jonah confronts the disconnect between GOP arguments about last summer’s riots around the country and the January 6 attack on the Capitol. And Dan Lips writes about the Senate’s sweeping research and competition bill and potential new security measures for higher education.

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