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The Morning Dispatch: The Intra-GOP Fight Isn't Going Away
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The Morning Dispatch: The Intra-GOP Fight Isn’t Going Away

Plus: An update on Myanmar's citizen protests against a military coup.

Happy Monday! Tom Brady is incredible. There’s not much else to say at this point.

And in case you missed it, we announced some Dispatch news on Friday … Chris Stirewalt, longtime digital politics editor at Fox News, is joining us as a contributing editor! We’re happy to welcome him aboard the pirate skiff.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The U.S. economy added 49,000 jobs in January, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics report published Friday. The unemployment rate dropped from 6.7 percent to 6.3 percent, in part due to a small decline in the labor force participation rate month over month.

  • A Commerce Department report released Friday found that the United States’ overall trade deficit reached its highest level since 2008 last year. The deficit in trade in goods, however, shrank 10 percent in 2020.

  • Both chambers of Congress voted along near-party lines Friday to pass a budget resolution that will be used as a vehicle to enact President Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief package through the reconciliation process.

  • Claudia Tenney won the last undecided congressional race in the country on Friday after a judge ruled the New York Republican defeated incumbent Rep. Anthony Brindisi by a mere 109 votes in a race marred by months of legal challenges. Democrats’ advantage in the House is now 221 to 212.

  • President Biden told CBS News over the weekend that his administration will not lift sanctions on Iran until Tehran ceases efforts to enrich uranium in excess of the limits established in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

  • Secretary of State Antony Blinken is revoking his predecessor’s last-minute decision to label Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels a foreign terrorist organization, citing the need for humanitarian aid in the region.

  • Fox Business announced Friday it had cancelled Lou Dobbs’ show on the network, one day after election systems company Smartmatic filed a $2.7 billion defamation lawsuit against Fox News and several of its personalities, including the pro-Trump commentator. Dobbs’ show was a regular source of false claims during the Trump era that Smartmatic conspired to steal the 2020 presidential election.

  • Actor Christopher Plummer died on Friday at the age of 91. George Shultz—who held four different Cabinet-level posts under Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan—died Sunday at the age of 100.

  • The United States confirmed 90,159 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday per the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, with 6.3 percent of the 1,439,085 tests reported coming back positive. An additional 1,295 deaths were attributed to the virus on Sunday, bringing the pandemic’s American death toll to 463,433. According to the COVID Tracking Project, 81,439 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 2,172,973 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered yesterday, bringing the nationwide total to 41,210,937.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

If you talked to them privately over the past four or five years, most Republican leaders—both in Washington and in state houses across the country—would have told you they had grave concerns about the direction of the GOP and the man leading it. But very few made the case publicly. The political fates of former colleagues Jeff Flake and Bob Corker haunted Senate Republicans like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come: Cross President Trump at your own peril.

Some officials would express disappointment with a particular Trump administration policy position or the most incendiary of rhetoric, but very rarely would anyone make a broader case against Trump’s presidency.

On an individual level, the calculations almost always made sense. Trump is more popular with my voters than I am. I could give a big speech denouncing his latest outrage, but it won’t change his erratic behavior, and will only make it more likely I’m replaced in my next election by a Democrat or a Trumpier Republican. Collectively, however, the strategic silence allowed Trump to redefine the party almost entirely in his image, and his worst impulses cost the GOP control of the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives in just four years.

But now Trump is in Palm Beach, not the Oval Office. His signature is no longer required to transform legislative priorities into law, and he can’t nominate anyone to the federal judiciary. Perhaps most importantly, there is no longer a risk of ending up on the receiving end of a dreaded Trump Tweet. In fact, we haven’t really heard from Trump since he left office three weeks ago (except, fittingly, for a statement he put out lamenting the end of Lou Dobbs’ show on Fox News, who once thanked Trump for allowing Americans to enjoy their weekends.) 

And after the events of January 6—with many elected Republicans holding Trump responsible for the lies that led to the riot, incitement of the assault itself and the failure to do anything to quell it while it was unfolding—more Republicans came to see Trump as a liability, even if many remain unwilling to hold him directly accountable through the impeachment and conviction process.

The result? Four years of unquestioned deference to Trump is over and new, post-Trump leadership is emerging.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the third ranking Republican in the House, released a forceful statement calling for the impeachment of Trump and then received an overwhelming vote of confidence from her colleagues last week after standing by her vote as one she cast on principle. Yesterday, in an interview with Fox News’s Chris Wallace, she went further. Trump “does not have a role as the leader of our party going forward,” she asserted, making a public case—to viewers of Trump’s onetime favorite network—that expanded on the one she delivered in the House GOP Conference meeting on Wednesday.

Cheney isn’t alone. Late last week, it became clear that Sen. Ben Sasse was headed toward another censure from the Nebraska Republican Party. Among his supposed offenses: accusing Trump of “pouring gasoline on these fires of division” that led to a riot at the U.S. Capitol and “persistently engag[ing] in public acts of ridicule and calumny” against the former president.

Sasse—who was just elected to a second six-year term—did not shy away from the confrontation, instead cutting a five-minute video response to the Nebraska GOP’s State Central Committee. “You are welcome to censure me again,” he said, “but let’s be clear about why: It’s because I still believe (as you used to) that politics is not about the weird worship of one dude.”

At the end of the message, Sasse, like Cheney, pointed to the future. “We’re gonna have to choose between conservatism and madness,” he said, “between just railing about who we’re mad at, versus actually trying to persuade rising generations of Americans again. That’s where I’m focused. And I sincerely hope that many of you will join in celebrating these big, worthy causes for freedom.”

On CNN yesterday, Sen. Pat Toomey reiterated his belief that an impeachment trial of President Trump is constitutional—breaking with most of his Senate colleagues—and expressed gratitude that Cheney held onto her leadership position last week. Reps. Anthony Gonzalez and Peter Meijer—two of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump—have defended their decisions in at-times contentious town halls with their constituents in recent weeks.

Meijer was asked by a voter, Cindy Witke, why he didn’t vote on impeachment the way his constituents wanted him to. 

“I obviously know that many of my supporters, many Republicans in the district—and probably a majority, maybe a strong majority—feel as you do, feel disappointed and feel this was not a vote that I should have cast,” Meijer responded. “The question is, should I be taking that poll, should I be trying to say, ‘What is the majority of folks in my district, what do they feel that I should do at this moment in time?’ Or how do I balance that immediate feeling with what we need to do as a country, what I feel my party needs to do, and where I hope we can go? I don’t know that there’s an answer to that.”

If Meijer did take that poll, he likely would have found his intuition was correct. Only 21 percent of Republicans in a recent Echelon Insights poll strongly or somewhat supported impeaching and convicting President Trump. 

But the same poll also found Trump’s stranglehold on the party’s voters loosening. In December, according to the survey, 61 percent of GOP voters said they hoped Trump would continue to be “the leading voice” for Republicans going forward. By January, that number had dropped to just 41 percent. After the events of January 6, only 45 percent of Republican voters said they wanted Trump to run for president again in 2024, down from 65 percent the month prior.

For the last half a decade, no Republican official was going to be able to overcome the outsized power of President Trump’s bully pulpit to make a sustained argument about the future of the party. Now that Trump is out of the picture, an opening has presented itself for Republican leaders to make the case for a principled approach to politics rather than blindly following a man who once captivated their voters. If they can do so convincingly, in a way that highlights the flaws of the Democratic Party and the strength of conservative positions without devolving into Trumpian ranting or conspiracy-mongering, then voters might just listen.

Burmese Citizens Push Back Against Coup

Planned regional demonstrations across Myanmar swelled into a nationwide call to end military rule over the weekend, as tens of thousands of pro-democracy advocates took to the streets chanting “Our Vote Matters.” The mass protests follow last week’s military coup that forcibly ousted Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and other leaders from their positions.

The gatherings were impeded Saturday, when mobile internet service in the country’s major metro areas went dark: The armed forces were attempting to stifle the spread of information and dissent, earning condemnation from Amnesty International and the United Nations Human Rights Office, among others. 

Internet and 4G services were partially restored Sunday, reinvigorating protesters who took to the streets in droves. In Yangon, the country’s largest city, thousands of demonstrators marched roughly 10 miles from Hledan Center to the Sule Pagoda traffic circle downtown. Large groups of people also congregated outside of Yangon University and the Yangon University of Economics, holding posters saying “Respect Our Votes” and “We Against Military Coup.” 

Demonstrations popped up in other parts of the country as well—including Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city. Hundreds of motorcyclists rode through the metro area, honking their horns in solidarity with pro-democracy protesters. In Naypyidaw—the country’s administrative capital and home to the military headquarters—similar scenes of resistance emerged.

As far away as Hakha, the underdeveloped capital of one of Myanmar’s poorest states, thousands turned out to demonstrate against the military coup. Mass gatherings in the southeastern city of Myawaddy were dispersed by gun fire before reassembling to successfully demand the release of 14 detained protesters. 

This wave of civil disobedience is notable. According to Gregory B. Poling—a senior fellow for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies—the country hasn’t experienced public resistance this widespread since 2007, before Myanmar had instituted democratic reforms.

“Myanmar then was already a pariah and there was very little that anybody could do to incentivize the generals one way or another,” Poling said. “This is a Myanmar that’s been opening and democratizing for a decade, so the incentive structure is shifted for the generals.”

But he noted that the armed forces are unlikely to be swayed by outside pressure, even as the idea of resuming U.S. sanctions on Myanmar is tossed around. (A State Department official told reporters last week that the vast majority of U.S. foreign assistance to Myanmar goes to humanitarian aid through civil society institutions, with “almost none” going to the government. The former will remain in place, the official said, while they “conduct a review” of the latter.)

Domestic opposition, Poling said, is “the only thing that could” force a concession from the country’s military leadership. 

“The thing that a lot of observers in and outside of the country have on their minds right now is the 2007 Saffron Revolution, which was the last time we saw an attempt by public pressure to force the military’s hand. Buddhist monks rose up and marched through the streets, and the military did the unthinkable: They opened fire on Buddhist monks,” Poling added. “This is the echo that’s reverberating for folks in the streets now. In a sense it shows just how brave these people are. They’ve been dealing with 50 years of extraordinarily brutal military dictatorships.”

Worth Your Time

  • We’ve been writing and talking a lot in recent weeks about the future of the Republican Party—because it’s a hugely important story. We’re not the only ones. Check out this FiveThirtyEight podcast with Kristen Soltis Anderson, Ramesh Ponnuru, and Henry Olsen, and then check out Yuval Levin’s appearance on the Ezra Klein show. In a piece for the Daily Beast, Matt Lewis argues that the last few weeks have proven that Republicans can “stand up to MAGA and live to tell the tale,” and Noah Rothman made a similar argument last week in Commentary. “It isn’t just the substance of Cheney and Sasse’s message which threatens the core premise of Trumpism; it is their defiant posture,” Rothman argues. “These are combatants spoiling for a fight, brimming with the confidence that comes with the knowledge that their ranks are fuller than their opponents think.”

  • The bulk of Friday’s TMD was devoted to Sen. Mitt Romney’s new plan to combat child poverty. Conservative New York Times opinion writer Ross Douthat covered it in his Sunday column as well. “The Romney plan offers something to left and right alike,” Douthat writes. “It would significantly reduce child poverty, a core left-wing ambition. At the same time it reduces the current system’s penalties for marriage and its tacit bias against stay-at-home parents, both social-conservative goals, and raises the current subsidy for middle-class families, usually a Republican-leaning constituency. Finally, it’s both deficit neutral and softly pro-life, with a benefit that starts while the child is still in utero.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • In his Sunday French Press, David argues that while a Biden administration will be a setback for pro-life policy, the pro-life movement shouldn’t despair: The personal cultural work that has helped push the abortion rate trending steadily downward, from supporting crisis pregnancy centers to foster parenting, is as pressing as ever. He also has some praise for Mitt Romney’s child allowance proposal.

  • On Friday, Mike Lindell—the Trump ally and martial law enthusiast who moonlights as the CEO of MyPillow—capped off four months of election rabble-rousing with the release of a 3-hour film which he claimed would provide undeniable proof the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump. Jonah uses this as a jumping-off point to discuss the entertainmentification of our politics, and how “the blood-brain barrier between fantasy and reality has been eroded,” in his Friday G-File.

  • In Friday’s Uphill, Haley dove into a thicket of allegation and misinformation to untangle a question that bedeviled much of the media last week: What actually happened to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez during the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol? Haley walks through the original account from Ocasio-Cortez, which was initially unclear and was then severely distorted in its retelling. Haley pulls out some lessons for the press to avoid similar situations in the future. 

  • In a new fact check, Alec looks at a claim from Joe Biden’s Super Bowl interview that “all the economics show” a raise in the minimum wage will boost the economy. That claim is false.

  • New Dispatch slugger Chris Stirewalt dropped by the Dispatch Podcast on Friday, and things went a little off the rails—with almost equal parts discussion and laughter. Before that, though, the team discussed the current intra-GOP fight, Joe Biden’s foreign policy agenda, and why “the way America is getting its news is not working for America.” 

Let Us Know

On a scale of one to 10, how would you rate the following aspects of yesterday’s Super Bowl?

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