A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
A NEWSLETTER FROM DAVID CORN
The Other Republican Civil War
By David Corn January 7, 2023
Ronna McDaniel, the GOP chair, speaking during the Republican National Committee winter meeting in February 2022 in Salt Lake City. Rick Bowmer/AP
By the time you read this, there may be a new speaker of the House. Or there may not be. But however that GOP civil war is resolved, another one is brewing. Later this month, the Republican National Committee is set to vote on its chair. Ronna McDaniel has served in that post since Donald Trump handpicked her after winning the White House in 2016. Though she has presided over GOP defeats in 2018 (lost the House) and 2020 (lost the White House and the Senate) and a dismal performance in 2022, this Trump toady who promoted the Big Lie and who assisted Trump in the arguably illegal fake elector plot is still in the job and the favorite for reelection. She is a symbol of how the Republican Party has operated in recent years: Loyalty to Trump is valued more than results or principles. Fun fact: She is a niece of Mitt Romney and dropped Romney from her name when that association became inconvenient.
In the absence of the much-anticipated Red Wave in the midterm elections—after the RNC spent almost $400 million on the 2022 campaign—McDaniel has drawn fire and challengers for the top RNC post. One of the aspirants is a joke candidate: Mike Lindell, a.k.a. the MyPillow guy. He is a man of delusions who has been claiming for two years that he’s moments away from obtaining conclusive proof that a diabolical cabal stole the 2020 election from Trump. He has accused the RNC of being “a big money-laundering operation”—which may be a more accurate allegation than his claims about the last presidential election. But even with the support of fellow delusionist and defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake—what a get!—Lindell is not a serious contender. McDaniel doesn’t have to lose sleep over him.
There is another contender who does have a shot at displacing her: California attorney Harmeet Dhillon, an RNC committeewoman. She’s offered a harsh critique of McDaniel, telling Fox News, “We pay hundreds of thousands of dollars this year to messaging consultants who are not providing good messaging. We have our small dollar donor program, which I think is sometimes…quite abusive to our donors. They're kind of harassing messages. I think we need to really change our tone and welcome people back into the party.” She has also accused McDaniel of improperly using the RNC to bolster her campaign.
There’s no ideological angle to the McDaniel-Dhillon face-off. Dhillon, a Fox regular, is a Trumpist, too. She represented Trump in his legal effort to quash the subpoena he received from the House January 6 committee. And she has been an election denier and a Trumpish promoter of conspiracy theories. When Paul Pelosi was attacked at his San Francisco home, Dhillon claimed the account of a break-in at the Pelosi home was “odd.” Her baseless speculation, not surprisingly, was embraced by Tucker Carlson.
Dhillon has long been a far-right provocateur. When she was an editor of the Dartmouth Review, she defended a satirical article that compared the college's Jewish president to Adolf Hitler and his policies to the Holocaust. As Los Angeles Times columnist Mark Barabak noted, after Trump lost the 2020 election, “Dhillon was among those backing his self-indulgent legal fight and promoting unfounded claims of voter fraud. Researchers who analyzed nearly 50 million tweets in a 3½-month period surrounding the 2020 election named Dhillon among the nation's top 20 spreaders of misinformation.”
Early subscribers to Our Land might recall something else about Dhillon. In one of the first issues of this newsletter—in June 2021—I wrote about her connection to a QAnonish Trump extremist who had publicly called for killing Trump’s political foes. That man was a Stop the Steal organizer named Alan Hostetter. In January 2020, I had uncovered a video of him at a pro-Trump rally in December in Huntington Beach, California, calling for the “execution” of Trump’s opponents.
As I reported:
A few weeks after that event, Hostetter, a police chief turned yoga instructor, was a key figure at the attempted January 6 uprising. Through a nonprofit organization he runs, the American Phoenix Project, he had helped organize a pre-march rally on January 5 in front of the Supreme Court, where many of the sedition-pushing stars of the Stop the Steal movement spoke. The lineup included Ali Alexander, who has proclaimed himself the movement’s leader; Alex Jones, the notorious conspiracy theory monger; Joe Flynn, the brother of retired General Michael Flynn; and Roger Stone, the dirty trickster and long-time Trump adviser whom Trump later pardoned. Hostetter and the others fired up the assembled with hyperbolic and false rhetoric about the election being stolen. The next day, Hostetter was in the crowd that besieged the Capitol.
In June 2021, the Justice Department indicted Hostetter for allegedly conspiring to “corruptly obstruct, influence, and impede an official proceeding, to wit: the Certification of the Electoral College vote.” The indictment claimed that he plotted with several persons associated with the Three Percenters militia and that this group planned to come to Washington to disrupt Congress’ certification of Joe Biden’s victory. One of Hostetter’s confederates, according to the indictment, on January 5 posted a photo on an encrypted messaging service showing gear arranged on a bed, including two hatchets, a stun baton, and a knife, with the caption, “Now getting ready for tomorrow.”
Dhillon became involved with Hostetter in May 2020. Her law firm, the Dhillon Law Group, and her nonprofit, the Center for American Liberty, hooked up with Hostetter’s American Phoenix Project to file a lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Golden State officials challenging Covid-19 lockdown restrictions implemented by the state. At that time, Hostetter was mounting protests against these public health measures. He was even arrested at a rally in San Clemente against stay-at-home orders and accused of inciting a riot, destroying city property, trespassing, and resisting arrest. Postings on the website for his American Phoenix Project suggested he was a fan of QAnon.
Dhillon’s Center for American Liberty accepted a $50,000 donation from Hostetter’s American Phoenix Project for the lawsuit. And the case was a flop. US District Judge Josephine Staton denied Dhillon’s request for a temporary restraining order, citing a Supreme Court precedent declaring that genuine public safety concerns can justify reasonable regulations that restrain individual action. She essentially tossed Dhillon out of court, saying the case raised “no serious questions.” Two weeks later, Dhillon filed to have the lawsuit dismissed.
This episode illustrates the overlap between the Republican establishment and far-right, conspiracy-driven extremism. But Dhillon’s involvement with Hostetter and election denialism will certainly be no disqualifier in a contest in which only the 168 committee members of the Republican National Committee vote. It’s unclear how divisive this race might become before the election on January 27. One hundred and seven RNC members have endorsed McDaniel. Still, some RNC committee members have pilloried her for losing recent elections. Carlson, who years ago worked with Dhillon at the right-wing Heritage Foundation’s Policy Review, last month gave her a shout-out at a conservative conference and lashed into McDaniel, saying, “You’re flying on private planes with the money that, like, sweet, terrified Republican voters have sent to you from the middle of the country. And you’re losing elections. No. If you win elections, well, we can talk about it. If you’re losing, get out. We cannot reward incompetence.”
Just as McDaniel has been the perfect choice for the Trump-era GOP, so, too, is Dhillon, a promoter of Trump-serving lies that undermine democracy who has hobnobbed with a Covid denier and violence-inciting January 6 thug. Neither McDaniel nor Dhillon can be expected to try to steer the GOP away from Trump, as Trump attempts to win the party’s presidential nomination for a third time. No wonder he’s neutral in this race. So far.
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Dumbass Comment of the Week
The judges bristled this week when they heard President Joe Biden praise Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell. At a ceremony held at a bridge that connects Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky, Biden, McConnell, and other Rs and Ds came together to celebrate the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that Biden passed and that McConnell and 18 other Senate Republicans supported. Biden hailed the legislation as a bipartisan achievement. As for McConnell, Biden declared, “He’s a man of his word. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank, you can count on it, and he’s willing to find common ground to get things done for the country.”
McConnell is, of course, the fellow who blocked a bipartisan effort to counter to the Russian attack on the 2016 election. He stole a Supreme Court seat, refusing to consider Merrick Garland’s nomination in 2016 and justifying this unprecedented move by saying it was an election year. (In the election year of 2020, though, he rushed through far-right favorite Amy Coney Barrett.) He blamed Donald Trump for the January 6 riot but then said he would support him in 2024 if he secured the Republican presidential nomination. He has not been a hero of bipartisanship.
We all know what Biden was up to. As the House Republicans turned the lower chamber of Congress into a circus this week, Biden wanted to come across as the adult in Washington and reprise one of his favorite roles: the bipartisan dealmaker. So he laid it on thick. Perhaps too thick.
Let’s move on from Biden’s wishful thinking to outright delusion. Appearing on a conservative television show on Wednesday, Kari Lake, the defeated Arizona gubernatorial candidate, referred to herself as “the real governor, the duly-elected governor.”
That same day, the conservative state Supreme Court denied her appeal of a December decision that tossed out her lawsuit claiming election fraud, saying she needed to go through a lower appeals court. She’s still a loser.
Another right-wing election denier was in contention this week. Conservative Trump fanboy Charlie Kirk, while interviewing Tucker Carlson, spouted this bizarre remark: “The same people that wanted to bomb Baghdad now want to blitzkrieg a female's body to change their nature from female to male.” This makes no sense. Was he suggesting that Fox News is now pushing gender transitions?
During the House debate, there was a steady stream of chutzpah, as Republicans who nominated possible speakers groused that Washington was broken. While nominating McCarthy, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) proclaimed that the US “government that has been weaponized” against the American people, and he called for greater accountability. Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), the leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus who initially opposed McCarthy, voiced a similar sentiment. “Washington is broken… We have an administration that has contempt for the American people.” Both these guys were collaborators in Donald Trump’s public crusade to promote the lies about the 2020 election that led to the January 6 insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, and both participated in Trump’s devious plotting to overturn the election and upend American democracy. Now they are complaining about the government and a lack of accountability? That sure takes nerve. (This week, I wrote about their roles in Trump’s attempted coup here.)
Elon Musk, who days ago amplified a QAnon influencer, was a contender for a graphic he tweeted out:
On Twitter, I noted this tweet was an act of “red-pill hysteria.” Does Musk truly believe that we’re living in a world of these dystopian novels? Peter Ramsey, the Academy Award-winning film director who made Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, had a sharp response: “This from the guy who wants to put chips in people’s heads.” Touché.
In this very strong field, commentator Glenn Greenwald won the prize for placing this graphic at the top of his Substack column.
As I pointed out, Greenwald was celebrating the election deniers, conspiracy-mongers, coup-plotters, and extremists who were forcing a debate over the House speaker. This includes people who disseminated the lies that led to violence and who colluded with Trump to overthrow the constitutional order, such as Matt Gaetz, Lauren Boebert, and Paul Gosar. It also includes Ralph Norman, who in January 2021 urged Trump to declare “Marshall Law” to retain power. For some perverse reason, Greenwald believes a dysfunctional GOP held hostage by far-right fanatics who sought to blow up American democracy is more admirable than a united Democratic Party that is committed to protecting voting rights, expanding health care for millions, and addressing climate change. It shows how far this once lefty columnist has descended into a black hole of liberal-bashing and anti-anti-Trumpism.
There was a dip in the mail this week. The result of a holidays hangover? We’re still all getting back into the swing of things? Or was everyone glued to their TVs watching the GOP trainwreck? Still, reader Mike Jozwiak, a retired CPA, wrote in about a matter that Republicans repeatedly raised during the House speakership debate: the Biden administration increasing funding to bolster staffing at the IRS and enhance its auditing and tax-collection operations. As we recently learned, the IRS seemed unwilling and unable to audit Donald Trump’s tax returns in the first years of his presidency. And it’s long been accepted that the IRS has failed to capture billions of dollars owed by wealthy taxpayers. Beefing up the agency seems like a no-brainer. Yet Republicans have repeatedly lied to say that Democrats have thrown money at the IRS to create a new army of 87,000 agents that will come after you. And House Republicans have referenced this false talking point during nominating speeches this week. With all this in mind, Mike emailed:
I have been continually confounded by how the supposed “party of business” can propose to run the country in such an unbusinesslike manner. Imagine a business person trying to defund/shut down their billing and collection departments! How long would that business last? In order to function effectively, the IRS needs to hire and train people to replace the numerous “legacy” personnel currently retiring and needs to upgrade its systems to meet the challenges of 21st-century issues. That will require a substantial amount of long overdue funding. I think that it’s disgraceful that the IRS has been effectively downsized to be incapable of auditing the very persons and business entities most in need of an audit.
The House Republicans intend to help tax cheats. Now that’s on brand!
Sharon Dennis wrote to explain why she is not subscribing to Our Land:
I would love to support all of the writers of note including you, but as I approach 80, money gets tighter, so I’ll continue to read what you send me free and support you by forwarding your articles to numerous friends in academia, law, medicine, science, etc.
I know Sharon will likely not see this response. (The Mailbag is a feature only available to premium subscribers.) I understand tight budgets and appreciate greatly those readers who do pay to get the full version of Our Land. But I also appreciate readers who spread the word about Our Land by forwarding the newsletter to friends, family, and foes. Please consider doing so and let people know they can sign up for a free trial subscription at www.davidcorn.com. Reader Jolly Hibbits reported that she bought two gift subscriptions for family members. That certainly works, too.
Carol Murray wrote in about an issue that came out a few weeks ago. She asked, “Can you make this article share-able? I am a broke retiree in Mexico. Brilliant article and reporting!” As I’ve noted before, this newsletter is produced as a newsletter because we hope to attract subscribers. Consequently, we do not routinely post the newsletter’s material. But please feel free to forward issues to others in your email address book and to clip items and re-post them on social media.
Jim Vespe shared this:
On page 483 of Maggie Haberman's Confidence Man is the statement: "Watching television, Trump told aides that perhaps Pence should be hanged.” I'm going to call talk show hosts on WABC radio in New York who've taken my calls...and ask them if this statement should disqualify Trump from ever running for president again. If they answer me, I'll tell you.
We are all ears.
“Can we go out and play?
“There’s another vote, Moxie.”
“But it’s the tenth vote! Nothing is going to change. Don’t you know the definition of insanity?”
“Okay, I’ll get the ball.”
“You won’t miss a thing.”
Read Recent Issues of Our Land
January 4, 2023: The House GOP and a year of hope or horror; a noirish novel of the East Village in the 1990s; Brian Ray and the “coolest” song of 2022; and more.
December 23, 2022: The connection between Trump’s taxes and the January 6 report; the weirdest congressional scandal in a long time; Dumbass Comment of the Week—and Year; the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
December 20, 2022: Have a merry (cracked) Christmas—a playlist; and more.
December 17, 2022: The GOP: still crazy after all these midterm elections; Mark Meadows’ lies; Elon Musk and the latest Big Lie of the right; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Shane Vaughn); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
December 13, 2022: Rachel Maddow and the rhymes of history; Amazon Prime’s The Peripheral does justice to William Gibson’s novel; twangy Americana from a new duo called Plains; and more.
December 10, 2022: Why the GOP establishment cannot save the GOP from Trump; Michael Pertschuk, thank you and RIP; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Rep. Paul Gosar); the Mailbag, MoxieCam™; and more.
December 6, 2022: How Trump-Russia denialism lead to Elon Musk’s dangerous #TwitterFiles failure; a Twitter exit strategy; Sonic Youth’s “Superstar”; and more.
December 3, 2022: The GOP and Nazis, nothing new; Dumbass Comment of the Week (Madison Cawthorn, for the last time?); the Mailbag; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 30, 2022: What I learned during my Thanksgiving in Italy; why Andor may be the best Star Wars spinoff; and more.
November 17, 2022: Herschel Walker should release his medical records; giving thanks early; The Last Movie Stars reveals Paul Newman’s and Joanne Woodward’s most notable performances—their own lives; MoxieCam™; and more.
November 15, 2022: Is this the end of Donald Trump?; where were you when the Senate was called (I was with Jackson Browne and Tim Robbins); and Neil Young and Crazy Horse keep on riding with a new album; and more.
Got suggestions, comments, complaints, tips related to any of the above, or anything else? Email me at email@example.com.