Bret Stephens: Gail, last week I argued that what the Republicans need this November is “the political equivalent of an unsedated colonoscopy.” Several readers, including a couple of medical professionals, wrote in to say that unsedated colonoscopies actually aren’t all that bad. (I’ll take their word for it.)
We’ll have to come up with some other unpleasant procedure.
Gail Collins: I just found a description of transurethral microwave therapy (TUMT). It’s a little … personal for conversation purposes, but I’m just putting it out there. Give the Republican Party a TUMT!
… OK, let’s just go for unsedated lobotomy.
Bret: Unsedated lobotomy seems to assume the presence of a brain, which is a lot to ask of the G.O.P. these days. So here’s hoping Kamala Harris can deliver the political equivalent of an unsedated TUMT to Mike Pence when they debate this fall. How are you feeling about the race now?
Gail: I was kind of surprised by how absolutely blissful Democrats seem to be feeling. But the choice says a lot that’s good about Biden. He picked someone who’s young, attractive, with a strong personality. He seemed to have no fear that she might pull the spotlight away from him.
You could imagine a presidential candidate wanting a boring, uncharismatic veep who would never grab any attention. Not that I have anyone particular in mind.
Bret: You mean a certain somebody with the facial expression of a rock, the emotional texture of gravel and the moral weight of a pebble? Whoever could you have in mind?
Bret: As you know, I was hoping that Joe would choose Val Demings, especially because she could help win Florida while neutralizing the Trumpian argument that Democrats are against the police. But now that the choice is made, I’m perfectly happy with Harris. Biden showed maturity by refusing to hold a grudge against a primary foe. And there’s something deeply inspiring about a candidate who’s the daughter of two remarkable immigrants and whose life story is a reminder that the term “only in America” can still mean something wholly unexpected and hopeful. The fact that Donald Trump has gone full Birther on Harris is proof that he’s worried.
Gail: He came into national politics claiming a Black candidate wasn’t actually an American. Seems right he should go out on the same rail.
Bret: My concern with the California senator is what our friend Frank Bruni articulated so beautifully in his latest column: that, in the primaries at least, “the experience of Harris didn’t live up to the idea of Harris.” Does that primary record make you at all nervous?
Gail: We’re talking about a Donald Trump second term — everything makes me nervous. And Frank rules when it comes to political commentary. But a lot of Harris’s problems had to do with her inability to organize a campaign. Others will take care of that this time. Let’s hope the Biden team can also help her put together some speeches that bring out the best in her biography and personality. We’ll get a good idea of how that’s going on Wednesday when she addresses what would have been the Democratic national convention.
Bret: There ought to be a support group. Knucklegnawers Anonymous.
Gail: All this, of course, presumes we have an election. Trump is basically threatening to destroy the postal system to keep mail ballots from being counted. Are you worried?
Bret: You know, I really am.
Obviously there are longstanding issues with the Postal Service business model. And there are legitimate concerns about voting by mail, both in terms of potential fraud and the timeliness of results. But in any normal administration, the president would be making every effort to ensure the system is insulated from abuse, people can vote in safety, ballots are secure and there’s confidence in the result. Trump’s purpose is the opposite: to undermine the system and delegitimize the result — that is, assuming he loses.
Gail: Assuming, please God.
Bret: There’s really no way to describe this other than as a demagogic assault on democracy. Notice that Trump has also been dropping big hints that he wants to fire Mark Esper, the secretary of defense, because the man refused to support his effort to call out troops. I feel like we are living in an episode of “House of Cards.”
Gail: And Esper’s managed to stay in the job for over a year. That’s a heck of a lot longer than a lot of cabinet members with a far more toadying temperament. Maybe we can get him a special medal.
Now if you were a Friend of Esper (a FOE?) — would you hope he doesn’t get canned? Or would you feel pretty certain that history will find the people Trump ticked off to be the heroes of the administration?
Bret: No matter how much anyone might hate Trump, it’s important to have a solid secretary of defense who puts the Constitution first. That’s why no sane person faulted Jim Mattis when he took the job. And it’s why I’m rooting for Esper to hold on for as long as he can.
Gail: That reminds me of the theory that there’s a cadre of good men and women at the highest ranks in government and the military who will step up if Trump tries to cancel the election — or reject the results.
You’re a believer right?
Bret: In the armed services, definitely. It’s one of those unthinking liberal biases to assume that the upper reaches of the armed forces are one uniform bloc of Trump voters. Most general officers I know are pretty moderate in their views and deeply committed to the idea of a depoliticized military and civilian control. I’m also guessing they weren’t exactly impressed by the bone spurs deferments.
Gail: It’s been ages since I thought about those bone spurs …
Bret: As for Trump’s inner circle, isn’t the lesson of all these years that those who have seen him up close also hate him most? I mean, “Anonymous,” Steve Bannon, John Bolton, Michael Cohen, Gary Cohn, Fiona Hill, John Kelly, Jim Mattis, H.R. McMaster, Reince Priebus, Richard Spencer (the former Navy Secretary, not the white nationalist), Rex Tillerson, Mary Trump, Alexander Vindman — I’m just going in alphabetical order here.
Gail: You rock.
Bret: I’ve got to assume a lot of the people who are still in the administration feel pretty much the same way, but just haven’t gotten around to saying so.
That being said, if there is an attempted coup or a civil war this fall, what’s your game plan? Amtrak to Alberta? Or Barricades on Broadway?
Gail: Knucklegnawers Unite!
Bret: Yes, but only on Zoom. By the way, are you sorry you won’t be attending the party conventions this year? I have to admit, if Covid puts an end to these political circuses, I won’t be entirely sorry. How about you?
Gail: I kinda liked the conventions. Sort of like a party for the non-cool kids in junior high. You got to talk for hours about issues and state canvassing strategies nobody would ever listen to in normal life.
At conventions you prove your dedication to the party by hanging out for hours chatting and checking your phone while ignoring the speech from the lieutenant governor of North Dakota. But this year it’s almost all big celebrities speaking and nothing for us to do but listen.
Bret: Gail, you’d better not show your face in Bismarck ever again.
Gail: It’s a challenge, but I know next week you’ll ask me who I liked best. Maybe we’ll disagree and we can be models to all America by having a fight over whether Michelle Obama was better than Barack. Or whether Billie Eilish was better than The Chicks.
Bret: Knowing us, we’ll probably agree on most of that too. And then we can proceed to throwing food at the screen for the Republican convention the following week.
Gail: At least it’ll take our minds off the post office.