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Cindy McCain and Colin Powell on one side. Laura Loomer on the other.

So which side do you think is crazy?
August 19, 2020
Cindy McCain and Colin Powell on one side. Laura Loomer on the other.

The long quarantine is taking a toll. “What we’ve all found out the hard way the last five months is that we are working harder and it’s more intense and there are no breaks, or community,” an executive tells Politico. “And it bleeds into weekends and you are kind of on 24/7. We are having rolling nervous breakdowns.”

Welcome to the Daily Countdown. We have 76 days to go until the election; and then 78 days after that until Inauguration Day.

Tuesday’s split screens:

On Tuesday, there were 1,358 American deaths from the coronavirus and millions remain out of work. But the S&P 500 hit a record high.

Cindy McCain and Colin Powell made appearances at the DNC, which formally nominated Joe Biden. Meanwhile in Florida, Laura Loomer, an anti-Muslim, conspiracy theorist and certifiable crackpot from the Alex Jones-Roger Stone corner of the right-wing fever swamps, won a GOP primary for the congressional seat that represents Mar-a-Lago.

Back in February, Amanda Carpenter wrote that Loomer’s plan to run as “a politically incorrect social media martyr-turned-Trumptastic tribute is practically foolproof.”

Whereas Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Lyft, Venmo, GoFundMe, Medium, Uber, and UberEats have standards of behavior for members, the United States Congress does not. “Member of Congress” is one of the few jobs where Loomer’s anti-Muslim tweets, musings that mass shootings are false flag operations, and outlandish protests aren’t automatic disqualifications. In fact, those positions will probably help her attract a committed, albeit nutty, base of support. But Loomer is after more than a seat in Congress. She’s using the race to test whether election laws can be used as an end-around the gag social media has placed upon her.

On Tuesday, Republican voters chose her over five rivals. This comes a week after Republican voters in Georgia nominated a QAnon follower in another congressional race. It is worth noting that Trump did not make this happen. Voters did. Which suggests the depths of the Republican rot.

Trump, not surprisingly, is all-in, embracing the crazy.

Meanwhile, the Republican-run Senate Intelligence Committee released a nearly 1,000 page long report documenting the extent of the Trump campaign’s connections with Russia. It is remarkable because it is a bipartisan report and many of the details are new.

An exhaustive investigation led by members of President Trump’s own political party portrays his 2016 campaign as posing counterintelligence risks through its myriad contacts with Russia, eager to exploit assistance from the Kremlin and seemingly determined to conceal the full extent of its conduct from a multiyear Senate probe.

The long-awaited report from the Senate Intelligence Committee contains dozens of new findings that appear to show more direct links between Trump associates and Russian intelligence, and it pierces the president’s long-standing attempts to dismiss the Kremlin’s intervention on his behalf as a hoax.

The report strongly suggests that Trump lied to the special prosecutors about his Wikileaks conversations with Roger Stone, and lays out “an extensive web of contacts between Trump campaign advisers and Kremlin officials and other Russians, including at least one intelligence officer and others tied to the country’s spy services.” The report includes this dazzling detail:

Kremlin-directed operatives opened champagne when Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016…

“We uncorked a tiny bottle of champagne … took one gulp each and looked into each other’s eyes …. We uttered almost in unison: ‘We made America great,’” one operative at the St. Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency said in the message obtained by the Republican-led committee.

None of this is likely to make much difference, since everyone is already locked in on Russiagate, but it reminds us of a central reality of 2020: We know who Donald Trump is.

There are undoubtedly going to be more revelations in the future about Trump’s behind-the-scenes dealings, but the fact is that most of the worst of them are right there in plain sight. Even when the details seem ambiguous or fuzzy, Trump often simply blurts out the the truth.

Trump’s biggest scandals—his fawning servility to Russia, his attempts to blackmail the Ukrainians into helping his campaign, his relentless self-enrichment schemes—have all played out in real-time for everyone to see. I can’t remember who said it, but with Trump there may be some secrets left, but there are no mysteries.

Unfortunately, it is easy to forget how weird all of this is.

When I started this countdown to the election, I went back and read Elizabeth Drew’s Washington Journal, an account of Watergate and the fall of Richard Nixon. At one point she wrote this:

But I wonder whether the enormity of his lying has sunk in yet—whether we have, or can, come to terms with the thought that so much of what he said to us was just noise, words, and that we can no longer begin by accepting any of it as the truth.

This is a total reversal of the way we were brought up to think about presidents, a departure from deeply ingrained habits. One’s mind resists the thought that our president is  a faithless man, capable of looking at us in utter sincerity from the other side of the television camera and telling us multiple, explicit, barefaced lies.

This feels like a missive from a kinder, more naive age. Back in 1974, you could still be shocked by presidential lying. But for us, it has become a way of life so normal that it seems like a constant background noise. Our minds no longer resist the thought that “our president is a faithless man,” because that’s been drilled into us thousands of times over the last four years.

Occasionally, we can be shocked, but we are incapable of being surprised anymore.

I think this goes to the heart of the differences between Never Trump and the anti-anti-Trumpers. The question is how to think of Trump: as a somewhat unsavory conservative with ghastly manners, or as someone who is fundamentally dangerous—and therefore off the normal axis of right/left politics.

This is really the debate: If Trump can be located on the normal political spectrum then, of course, conservatives can overlook his grotesqueness, because he is one of them and the left is always, always going to be worse. That is basically the position the anti-antis have adopted and cling to with fierce defensiveness.

In contrast, Never Trumpers see him as something abnormal and dangerous, something wholly off the continuum. Normal categories don’t apply, the usual playbook no longer works, and unusual alliances need to be formed.

Under intense pressure, Trump’s postmaster general seems to be backing down from his plans to “reform” the postal service before the election. But a lot of damage has already been done, especially to the public’s confidence in mail-in voting, which may have been the point all along.

The Democrats’ virtual convention continues. Ratings are down, but some things  (the roll-call) seem to be working better than expected. But, as a Milwaukeean, I still find this report from Dave Weigel sad

MILWAUKEE — There is nothing to see here. The arena that Democrats initially reserved for their 2020 convention is empty; the Wisconsin Center, where an AV team is anchoring the “virtual convention,” is open to only staff. Fences and concrete walls circled a few downtown blocks, but there were no lanyard-checking security gates, because there were no delegates to check in. Protests, which had occupied entire city parks at the party’s last convention, consisted of a few dozen people with repurposed signs.

This felt like a postcard from another era, because it was:

There are 76 days to go.

Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes is a founder and editor-at-large of The Bulwark and the author of How the Right Lost Its Mind. He is also the host of The Bulwark Podcast and an MSNBC contributor.