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February 13, 2020

Bully Wannabes

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative (cough) Union, which hosts the annual CPAC conference, tweeted that he was disinviting Mitt Romney from the confab this year because he “could not guarantee his physical safety” after the senator voted to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial.

Matt Schlapp, chairman of the American Conservative (cough) Union, which hosts the annual CPAC conference, tweeted that he was disinviting Mitt Romney from the confab this year because he “could not guarantee his physical safety” after the senator voted to convict Donald Trump in the impeachment trial.

A number of commentators on the left have responded to this by dismissing CPAC attendees as a bunch of brown shirts. I don’t think that’s right. I spoke at CPAC in 2018 and courted trouble by criticizing both Roy Moore and Donald Trump for their documented histories of sexual misconduct, as well as CPAC itself for inviting the niece of Marine Le Pen, Marion Marechal Le Pen, a right-wing nativist from France.

I was jeered; it’s true. So what? I’ve been booed before (though, admittedly, not before a conservative audience). I didn’t feel threatened or intimidated. Some in the crowd even offered a thumbs up. It was Schlapp, observing from a control room, who apparently decided to have me ushered out by beefy guards. Thus was born the “Charen had to be escorted out of CPAC under guard” story.

It occurs to me, now that Schlapp is playing the bullyboy with Mitt Romney, that he enjoys the whiff of menace. It is he, not the audience, that is dangerous. But, of course, when leaders stir grievances and hint that mob violence is possible, they tend to get the followers they deserve.

Schlapp is representative of the bully chic that has come into fashion in Trump’s party. Senator Martha McSally snapped at a CNN reporter, calling him a liberal hack. Anyone can lose one’s cool, but instead of apologizing when the moment passed, McSally used her lapse of manners as a publicity opportunity on Fox News and was fundraising off it before you could say “Trumpian.”

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, who graduated first in his class at West Point and served honorably as a tank platoon leader in the U.S. Army, has sniffed the air and decided that behaving completely unprofessionally is fine if you are subjected to tough questions from reporters. When Mary Louise Kelly of NPR asked whether he had stood up for Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch, Pompeo surrendered to his inner toddler. He ended the interview abruptly. Not content with that, he then called Kelly into his private office and screamed at her, demanding, “Do you think Americans care about f—— Ukraine?”

That alone would have been bad enough. But Pompeo wasn’t finished. Calling an assistant, he asked for an unmarked map of the world and then challenged Kelly to identify Ukraine. She did. Nevertheless, Pompeo put out the story that she had pointed to Bangladesh. Okaaay. Kelly has a master’s degree in European studies from Cambridge, and has reported from Ukraine. You decide.

But why does the secretary of state keep unmarked world maps in his office anyway? Wonder how it would go if he challenged his boss to point out key sites?

Members of Congress loyal to Trump seem to take notes from mob movies. When former Trump lawyer/fixer Michael Cohen was preparing to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Rep. Matt Gaetz tweeted out a threat: “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends? Maybe tonight would be a good time for that chat. I wonder if she’ll remain faithful when you’re in prison. She’s about to learn a lot.”

During the president’s impeachment trial, Senator Rand Paul repeatedly attempted to get the chief justice of the United States to read aloud the alleged name of the whistleblower. When Justice Roberts demurred, Rand Paul pronounced it himself on the Senate floor. Whistleblowers are shielded from retaliation by law, and under the circumstances, with death threats flying, revealing his or her identity could be called retaliation. In any case, it’s a thuggish message to any future whistleblowers: Nice career you’ve got there, be a shame if anything were to happen to it.

Never to be outdone, the first son was ready with a cloddish put down of Mitt Romney. Photoshopping the senator in ill-fitting jeans, Donald Trump Jr sneered, “Mom jeans, because you’re a p—-.”

Trump Jr. comes by his loutishness honestly. For the rest, it’s a gang symbol.


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