It’s a question that comes up more and more in American politics.
Is this person or that really so gullible or kooky or conspiratorialist — or, to be blunt, dumb — that they actually believe what they’re saying? Or are they just hoping to dupe others who might be one (or more) of those things?
And this is one of those rare weeks when you can arrive at a confident conclusion. Why? Because the overarching conspiracy theory that has sustained President Trump and his GOP has just collapsed like a decrepit casino in a controlled implosion. That is the notion that the FBI was determined to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign and, once he was elected, tried to conduct a “deep state” coup to drive him from office.
That claim was always well north of the unmarked border that separates a suppositional but reasonable interpretation from blatant conspiracy-theory-mongering. And yet for months, conservatives have been saying, just wait, Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz will bring all this to light.
Horowitz’s report is now out and the big headline is clear: Yes, some mistakes were made, but no, the FBI’s leadership wasn’t out to get Trump, and no, the investigation wasn’t improperly begun or driven by political bias.
And how did Trump respond?
“Far worse than I would have ever thought possible,” the president said of Horowitz’s findings.
That’s utter rot and Trump obviously knows as much. After all, he was shortly attacking FBI director Christopher Wray for underscoring Horowitz’s conclusion that the FBI probe was, in Wray’s words, “opened with appropriate predication and authorization.”
I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
Now to Fox News. First, credit where it’s due. Chris Wallace noted in a clear-headed if understated way that “the idea of a major, politically biased conspiracy to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president and then to oust him once he became president, didn’t seem to be born out.”
But what of the Fox News personality who has been one of the principal propagators of the “deep state” nonsense.
On Monday night, Sean Hannity doubled down on duplicity.
“Nothing but outright lies, corruption, abuse of power, a massive political bias — it is right there, in black and white for all to see,” he said. And this: “Everything we have been reporting for years was dead on accurate. We were right every step of the way.”
Here’s how you know Hannity doesn’t actually believe that: After cherry-picking a few things from the Horowitz report, he then emphasized politically cynical statements by Attorney General William Barr and his hand-picked shadow IG John Durham that they disagree with the crucial aspects of the Horowitz report.
What can one say? Hmm. How about this: Completely shameless.
Let’s now turn to Doug Collins, ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee. On Monday, the Georgia Republican did his best to uphold the GOP pretense that then vice president Joe Biden had demanded an improper quid pro quo of Ukraine.
That would be Biden’s 2016 declaration that unless Ukraine dismissed a prosecutor, it would not receive $1 billion in US loan guarantees. This is a useful counter-narrative for Republicans, who are pretending that Biden did so to protect his son Hunter and the energy company Burisma from investigation.
But that spurious storyline falls apart once one learns Biden’s demand that Ukraine fire that do-little prosecutor was official US policy.
Still, Collins hammered away at Daniel Goldman, Democratic counsel to the Intelligence Committee, demanding a yes-or-no answer on whether Biden had made that dismissal a condition of Ukraine getting US aid.
Goldman tried to provide some context. Collins would have none of it.
“Did he or did he not? Just answer.”
“He did it pursuant to official US policy,” replied Goldman.
“You can whitewash it all you want,” Collins retorted.
Ponder that: telling the truth is now a whitewash in Collins’s proffered-for-public-consumption comment. But he clearly knows better. One can say that with certitude because of his strenuous attempt to solicit an answer absent crucial context.
So this week, we can confidently say this: No, the president and his defenders don’t really believe this nonsense. They aren’t that gullible or conspiratorial. Or dumb.
They just think some of the American people are.