Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I hope I’ve succeeded in turning you into a World Cup fan. In the meantime, any choice words about, or for, Kyrsten Sinema, former Democrat of Arizona?
Gail Collins: Well Bret, you’ve at least turned me into a fan of the Times coverage of World Cup … activities. I also sorta like times like this when there are a billion different games on TV — not just soccer — and for a while every day, people don’t feel obliged to think about the rest of the world.
Bret: Such as …
Gail: Such as Kyrsten Sinema. Not a fan of hers from the get-go. Always seemed as if her compulsive effort to prove she wasn’t really a loyal Democrat was less about political independence and more about making wealthy donors happy.
Bret: And this is on the theory that other politicians don’t care for what their wealthy donors think?
Gail: But her official spin is that the two-party system is broken, and virtue lies in standing outside as an independent. I hate that kind of thinking.
Bret: Whereas I love it. To me, the choice these days between Republicans and Democrats is about as appealing as a dinner invitation from Hannibal Lecter: either you get your heart cut out or your brain removed, and both get served with a side of fava beans and a nice Chianti.
Seriously, you don’t see any virtue to wanting to break this awful political duopoly?
Gail: Virtue, for me, lies in fighting to make the two parties better. Pick the one that’s closest to your beliefs and get busy. Fight for the good local leaders and nominees.
It’s way easier to just announce you’re superior to both of them and start your own group. The new gang probably won’t last long, and even if it does, its big achievement will most likely be to draw votes away from the major party candidates you most agree with.
Never recovered from Ralph Nader’s Green Party candidacy for president in 2000 — a noble quest on the issues front that wound up costing Al Gore the job.
Bret: A few years ago I would have agreed with you. But the Republican Party is pretty much irredeemable, while the Democrats are … just not the team I’m ever going to bat for.
Gail: Come on in. Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries are waiting with open arms …
Bret: Not so sure the Dems would ever want me in the first place: I heart Texas not taxes.
As for Sinema, having her join someone like Maine’s Angus King as an independent shows it’s at least possible to have an alternative. I realize she has some very self-interested political reasons for doing so, since the move will spare her a primary challenge from the left if she runs for re-election in 2024. But it also reminds the party establishments that they shouldn’t take their centrist voters for granted. Now I wish a few sane-minded Republicans might go ahead and join her. Lisa Murkowski, hello?
Gail: Hey, weird that of the two of us, I’m the one who thinks somebody should try to save the Republican Party.
Bret: Raising the dead is beyond our powers, Gail.
Gail: You know I don’t do foreign affairs, but I do feel obliged to ask you about Brittney Griner. Do you think Joe Biden did the right thing in making the trade that got her out of prison in Russia?
Bret: Well, obviously I’m happy for Griner and her family that she’s back after her 10-month ordeal. And it says everything about the moral difference between the United States and Russia that they will take a harmless person hostage so they can trade her for one of their most notorious gangsters.
On the other hand, I don’t understand why we didn’t prioritize the release of Paul Whelan, an American who has been wrongfully detained in a Russian prison for four years but doesn’t have the benefit of Griner’s celebrity. Nor should we forget Marc Fogel, a 61-year-old American teacher trapped in one of Putin’s prisons. My advice to the Biden administration is to tell Russia that $1 billion of its foreign reserves will be seized for every additional day these two stay in prison.
Gail: Hope they’re listening.
Bret: Oh, and speaking of dealing with gangsters — your thoughts on the current crop of legal cases against the former guy?
Gail: I’ve never thought — and still don’t — that a former president is going to go to jail, even for stealing federal documents or rousing violent crowds to march on the Capitol.
Bret: Agree. Alas.
Gail: But I’ve always had a yearning that he might wind up bankrupt and, say, living in a Motel 6. Knew that was impossible — told myself to remember all the money he can make just on speaking tours or hosting parties at Mar-a-Lago.
Bret: Pretty depressing how American culture has descended from “My Dinner With Andre” to that dinner with Kanye.
Gail: Now, though, I’m sort of wondering. Is there going to be a market for this guy — chooser of terrible Senate candidates and breaker of bread with neo-Nazis — even just as a celebrity?
Bret: I had nearly lost hope that the day would ever come, but I think we are finally watching Trump self-destruct before our eyes even faster than anyone else can destroy him. The midterm results seem to have persuaded a critical mass of Republican voters and politicians that he’s toxic for their chances. Dinner with his antisemitic pals seems to have been the icing on the cake — or whatever the exact opposite of “icing on the cake” is. Toxic algae in the cesspool?
Gail: Rotting rutabaga in the refuse? Sorry, that doesn’t actually make much sense. I was seduced by all the Rs.
Bret: Gail, would you mind if I rant for a minute?
Gail: Bret, I love it when you rant. Even when I hate it.
Bret: There’s a special place in hell for the Paul Ryan Republicans — let’s call them PRR’s. What I mean is a certain type of well-heeled, intellectually minded conservative who never liked Trump’s person or politics and who occasionally tut-tutted at his vilest excesses, but who consistently made excuses for him and his presidency while heaping scorn on Never Trumpers as a bunch of virtue-signaling prigs. These Trump-appeasing PRRs were prepared to defend and vote for him again until the day after the midterms, when they finally realized that he was a titanic political liability.
Gail: Well, I truly do love this rant. Go on …
Bret: To adapt something Winston Churchill purportedly said to Neville Chamberlain after Munich in 1938: In 2016 conservatives were given the choice between electoral defeat and personal dishonor. They chose dishonor. In the end, they still got defeated.
Gail: You know I’m going to ask who’s a Churchillian pick in the Republican world. For instance, Ron DeSantis was never a huge Trump pal, but I think that was only because he was eyeing his job.
Bret: So, weirdly, I have much less of a moral objection to those Republicans, like DeSantis, who liked Trump to begin with, whether because they agreed with most of his policies or appreciated his thumb-in-the-eye personality, or both. At least they came about their support for Trump honestly, without convoluted rationalizations and self-exculpations and various suspensions of disbelief. Of course I don’t agree with them, but I long ago stopped disdaining them.
Speaking of disdain, any views on all of these disclosures about Twitter’s speech policies?
Gail: Is there any way we can make it illegal for the richest man in the world to own one of the largest social networks? Guess not, huh?
Bret: Probably not, though I doubt Musk will profit from the acquisition.
Gail: Definitely felt sorry for the Twitter workers who discovered that Musk was putting beds in their work space. And his wild political seesawing would ruin the influence of anybody who wasn’t closing in on a quarter of a trillion dollars.
But here we are, and I don’t have any great strategy for making him behave in a more responsible way when it comes to things like … keeping violent hatemongers off his platform. Do you have one?
Bret: Violent hatemongers aside, I thought it was pretty appalling to see the lengths to which pre-Musk Twitter went to ban legitimate news stories, like the New York Post’s scoop about Hunter Biden’s laptop, and to downplay views that went against conventional wisdom, like the Stanford professor of medicine who warned about the ill-effects of lockdowns, and to coordinate its decisions with the Biden team — and then mislead the public about what it was doing. Even progressives like Ro Khanna, who represents Silicon Valley in Congress, warned Twitter about its anti-free speech attitude, which is entirely to his credit and not at all to theirs.
Gail: Bret scores …
Bret: I guess the point is, we don’t want giant corporations banning political speech, whether it comes from the left or the right, and that goes especially for companies whose entire business model relies on the principle of free speech. For exposing this, I have to give Musk credit.
Gail: We’ll pick this up again, Bret. Somehow I suspect Elon Musk will follow us into the new year.
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