Well, that was quite a weekend, wasn’t it?
For a while there it looked as if Russian President Vladimir Putin might be overthrown by a monstrous mercenary warlord named Yevgeny Prigozhin. If that wasn’t strange enough, after taking over a couple of cities en route to Moscow, the plan was abruptly aborted and the warlord was quietly sent packing to Belarus while his mercenary troops were cordially invited to join the Russian army. Nobody knows why. Now it just remains to be seen if the Putin regime has been permanently damaged or whether it was just another surreal moment in the increasingly surreal era.
Meanwhile, back in the equally surreal USA, the Republican presidential candidates all attended the annual conservative evangelical gathering, The Faith and Freedom Coalition Conference. By all accounts, the crowd was very excited to see all the candidates make their pitch, but the keynote speech by former president Donald Trump was the star event by a mile.
They should rename their group the Bad Faith Coalition.
Former Vice President Mike Pence came out on Saturday, the one-year anniversary of the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe, in favor of a national abortion ban at 15 weeks, which GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina explained would be really great because they could start “saving babies in California.” Some of the faithful were reportedly disappointed because they want a full ban with no exceptions but most are willing to go along with this idea as a first step.
If you ever wondered about the sincerity of these folks, this move says it all. For years they said they simply wanted to devolve the abortion issue to the states. They insisted that all the alarm about banning abortion across the nation was overblown. I think we know better now, don’t we? They should rename their group the Bad Faith Coalition.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis only vaguely alluded to his main rival, Donald Trump, during his speech, reserving most of his ire for the woke and the woke and, of course, the woke. He did mention in passing that the wall never got built and that “some” of his opponents have criticized him for going after Disney — for being woke. I didn’t get the impression that the crowd saw him as any different than the other wannabes and he even signed a six-week abortion ban. That is a testament to just how little they think of him even if many of them share his agenda.
The biggest moment of the conference came from former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who had the temerity to criticize Trump. He told the startled crowd:
“Beware, everybody, of a leader who never makes mistakes. Beware of a leader who has no faults. Beware of a leader who says that if something goes wrong, it’s everybody else’s fault, and he goes and he blames those people for anything that goes wrong. But when things go right, everything is to his credit. I’m running because he’s let us down. He has let us down because he’s unwilling … to take responsibility for any of the mistakes that were made and any of the faults that he has and any of the things that he’s done. And that is not leadership, everybody. That is a failure of leadership.”
That was when the booing got very loud. If there’s one thing they won’t stand for it’s hearing the truth. Christie responded by saying,
You can boo all you want. But here’s the thing: Our faith teaches us that people have to take responsibility for what they do. People have to stand up and take accountability for what they do. And I, I cannot stand by.”
They were unmoved.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
Christie explained to the media afterward that he expected to get booed but that he thinks it’s important for people to hear what he said. The problem is that as important as one might think it is for Republicans with conservative credentials to stand before a group like that and tell them what they don’t want to hear, their beliefs don’t stem from never hearing it. They hear it. They just don’t believe it.
Trump once again proclaimed “I am being indicted for you” which, as expected, went over very well with the evangelicals. They love a messianic message.
They believe that Donald Trump is the victim of cascading witch hunts because he was so successful as president and won so hugely that the Democrats and the RINOs had to steal the election from him and indict him for crimes he didn’t commit. They don’t believe he made any mistakes for which he needs to acknowledge or apologize, so slamming his character is meaningless to these people.
Trump spent a lot of time confessing to the crime for which he’s been indicted under the Espionage Act by insisting that he had every right to commit it because he used to be the president. That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. And he once again proclaimed “I am being indicted for you” which, as expected, went over very well with the evangelicals. They love a messianic message.
But he also talked a little bit about politics too.
He took credit for ending Roe v. Wade by thoroughly politicizing the Supreme Court and bragged that “no president has ever fought for Christians as hard as I have —- I got it done, and nobody thought it was even a possibility.” He got a standing ovation for that. But he also pointedly did not endorse the 15-week national ban, instead saying that the federal government has a “vital role” in protecting unborn life and praising states for the great progress they are making in banning abortion. Trump’s smart enough to see how lethal the issue is for Republicans but he’s stuck just like the rest of them. There is no finessing this issue.
But he reserved much of his speech to push his strong wartime message:
“As we gather today, our beloved nation is teetering on the edge of tyranny. Our enemies are waging war on faith and freedom, on science and religion, on history and tradition, on law and democracy, on God almighty himself.”
In case you were wondering, the enemies he was talking about are Americans. But he also promised to keep out all the foreigners who are helping to destroy the nation. Back in 2016, it was Muslims and Mexicans. He’s casting a wider net this time:
Trump went to Michigan the next night and took it a step further. He pledged to “drive out” those who are already here:
DeSantis only promises to “destroy leftism.” Trump’s making it personal.
All of this was happening on a split screen, with a possible Russian coup attempt by a former chef turned mercenary general threatening to topple the Russian government on one side and a reality TV star defeated president who happens to be under both state and federal indictment vowing to purge all the alleged Marxists, Communists and fascists in America on the other. Surreal doesn’t begin to describe it.
about the Republican presidential primary field