Gail Collins: Well Bret, I feel obliged to start us off with Liz Cheney. Kicked out of Republican leadership, but not giving up on her Trump-lost-the-election message, and still attached to a party that seems doomed to never, ever get its act together.
Bret Stephens: I bet you never imagined you’d someday find yourself thinking: “What America really needs are more Republicans like Liz Cheney!”
Gail: Well, yeah, it hadn’t really come up. …
Bret: I’ve always liked her. She was one of the few elected Republicans willing to criticize Trump openly during his presidency. Our foreign policy views are hawkishly in tune. And she understands that the U.S. can’t hold itself up as some kind of paragon of liberal democracy when one party is in thrall to a mendacious Mussolini manqué whose only saving grace is that he lacked the guile of a Vladimir Putin to competently steal the election.
Gail: Mendacious Mussolini manqué is pretty good. At least for us elders. But go on.
Bret: What the vote says about the Reprobate-tarian Party — as it should now be called — is another story. What do you think?
Gail: Whatever the R.P. is, it’s all about Donald Trump. Being for or against. And most of those folks seem to be for, even if some of them, like the evangelical leader Franklin Graham, are thinking that come 2024 Trump might just be too, um, old.
So I’m figuring we’re careening toward an election next year that’ll be a remake of the last one. Just sorta worried that the people who lost will feel more energized than the people who won. Of course then we’ll slog onto 2024 and the real test of the system. But I don’t want to spend most of the interval under the thumb of a Republican Congress.
Bret: One of the interesting details in the Cheney saga is that while Trump still has high favorables among Republican voters, he also polls very, very badly in battleground districts. The National Republican Congressional Committee tried to suppress that fact at a recent G.O.P. retreat, but it is one of the reasons Cheney keeps insisting that her party needed to distance itself from the former president.
Gail: Very interesting, especially for Democrats who are used to the idea that in his party, Trump is all-powerful.
Bret: It suggests a lot of Republican members would rather keep their seats safe from a primary challenge by staying in Trump’s good graces, even if their devotion to him wrecks their chances of gaining a majority in the House or — as we saw with the twin G.O.P. Senate losses in Georgia — the Senate.
Gail: So the obvious answer is to run as a Trump supporter until the primary season is over, then announce: “Oh my gosh, I’ve been on a listening tour and have discovered our former president can be extremely … divisive. Change is needed!”
Bret: I’m counting on Elise Stefanik, the moral acrobat of the Republican House caucus, to show the way.
Gail: But the bottom line, I hope, is that Trump is ebbing a bit more every week, political power-wise.
Bret: Which should make you breathe a little easier. Speaking of which, how do you feel about being able to go about maskless for a change?
Gail: Can’t say I’ve really experienced much of it. My apartment building operators sent out a notice demanding that we stay covered in the public spaces. So even if I’m going to walk my dog in the middle of the night, I need a mask. Restaurants still want you to wear a mask if you’re headed for the ladies’ room.
Bret: Funny how a remark that, pre-Covid, would have sounded either weird or creepy now seems completely normal.
What should the Biden administration prioritize?
- Edward L. Glaeser, an economist, writes that the president should use his infrastructure plan as an opportunity to “break the country out of its zoning straitjacket”
- The Editorial Board argues the administration should return to the Iran nuclear deal, and that “at this point, the hard-line approach defies common sense.”
- Jonathan Alter writes that Biden needs to do now what F.D.R. achieved during the depression: “restore faith that the long-distrusted federal government can deliver rapid, tangible achievements.”
- Gail Collins, Opinion columnist, has a few questions about gun violence: “One is, what about the gun control bills? The other is, what’s with the filibuster? Is that all the Republicans know how to do?”
Gail: And I live in a neighborhood that’s so public-spirited, most of the people on the streets are still masking. Could be months before faces reappear.
But you’re an independent spirit. How’s the mask minimization going for you?
Bret: Wunderbar. Right before the C.D.C. announced we could finally take off our masks in most places, I was mulling a column with the title, “President Biden, Please Take Off Your Mask.” The idea being that continued mask-wearing was undermining confidence in the efficacy of the vaccines while diminishing the incentive for people to get the shot. It’s one of the few cases where I’m happy the government beat me to the punch.
Gail: Glad the administration pleased you, even if it was a pretty easy demand.
Bret: I have no issue wearing a mask in places where added precautions are sensible, like hospitals. But at least when I’m outdoors, I feel liberated from the dirty looks of the masked virtue-signalers, many of whom seem to be concentrated around your patch of the Upper West Side.
Bret: Thanks so much. I knew she was going to be OK when the nurse asked if she was comfortable and she answered, “Eh, I make a living.” If you’re ever in the market — or just the mood — for coronary bypass surgery, NewYork-Presbyterian is the place to be.
Gail: Writing on my memo pad.
Bret: Oh, and since we’re speaking of New York City, any thoughts on the mayoral race?
Gail: Well, they just had a debate and the one thing we learned for certain is that eight politicians on Zoom … doesn’t really work.
Bret: I couldn’t bring myself to watch. I read The Times’s coverage.
Gail: And of course those were only the top eight. The whole posse of possibilities could probably fill Madison Square Garden.
Ideally, you’d want someone with a Bloombergian ability to give the government a post-quarantine kick-start, along with an inclusive personality that would make the city rally to his or her side. Don’t know we’ve got all that in anyone. But we’re about to reach the point where choices must be made, so if you ask me this again I promise I’ll have a less weaselly answer.
Bret: Sounds to me that what you’re hoping for is some kind of combination of Eric Adams, the ex-cop, and Ray McGuire, the financier. For me, the main thing is a mayor who, unlike the current useless resident of Gracie Mansion, gets along with the Police Department and understands that the city isn’t going to heal if people are afraid of getting on the subway or pushing a stroller through Times Square.
Gail: The Times endorsee, Kathryn Garcia, has a sensible middle-road position on the cop question. And I should say that I haven’t run into any other candidate who seems superior.
Bret: I had been warming to her until The Times endorsement.
Gail: Well, we can return to that next week. Meanwhile, let’s get back to the Republicans for a minute. Any real chance at all that the rebellious anti-Trumpers will form another party, as they’re threatening?
Bret: My former colleague Peggy Noonan had a smart column in The Wall Street Journal the other day, arguing that the idea of a right-of-center anti-Trump party is a fool’s errand. The weight of historical experience is on her side, and it’s true that the electoral system is set up to favor a political duopoly. But this time I think she’s mistaken.
Every healthy democracy needs a morally decent conservative party as a kind of brake on, or counterweight to, its progressive party. Right now we don’t have one, and the lesson of the Cheney episode is that we aren’t going to have one for a long time so long as Republicans are in thrall to Trump and his minions. So my view is that it is worth trying to start something fresh, either to force the G.O.P. to reform or to provide an alternative to it.
On the other hand, Democrats might wind up saving Republicans from themselves, which wouldn’t be the first time that happened. What worries you these days about your own side of the aisle?
Gail: Nothing whatsoever. Everything’s pretty damned perfect.
Bret: Says Mary Poppins ….
Gail: Well, OK. Clearly there hasn’t been anything near a resolution of our immigration issue. And it needs to be merged with another problem — the nation’s declining birthrate. I’d like to see Biden come up with a program that reminds the country about that.
Bret: Couldn’t agree more on immigration. And it is one of the things that drives me nuts about the Tucker Carlson idiot-bigot wing of the Reprobate-tarians. Demographic growth is essential for economic health. It’s necessary if we are going to compete successfully against China. It’s indispensable if we are going to keep Social Security solvent. And the best way of maintaining a demographic edge is by opening our arms to immigrants, who also happen to be some of our most industrious, ambitious, entrepreneurial, creative and family-oriented citizens.
Gail: Chalk this up to agreement. Unless you have a “But …”
Bret: But I also fear that Biden is squandering the opportunity for immigration reform, just as I fear that Democrats are going to hurt themselves by shifting too far left on cultural issues. Mainstream America wants work, not woke.
Gail: There’s a difference between struggling to come up with a plan that will get healthy national support and squandering the opportunity.
Got to admit your last line … zings. Let me retort that Democrats want answering, not pandering.