Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. We discussed President Biden’s mishandling of classified documents last week, but here we go again, with another batch of documents turning up in his Delaware home. Your thoughts?
Gail Collins: Sigh. Bret, I don’t think Joe Biden’s story resembles Donald Trump’s at all. Trump piled up tons and tons of documents under the theory that the term “classified” was less important than the term “souvenir.”
Biden’s seems to me like a genuine one of sloppiness that was reported to the authorities by the president’s own lawyers. But I can’t deny this is a very, very disappointing development.
Bret: For the sake of argument, let’s assume the documents are about nothing more serious than what he had for breakfast back when he was vice president. It still seems to me there are two really troubling aspects to this story. First, that the White House suppressed it before the midterms and then for two months after.
Bret: And second, that Biden thought he could get away with saying that there wasn’t a problem because the documents were locked in his garage. It’s a case of ethical misfeasance compounded by political malpractice.
Gail: I am not gonna try to excuse any of this, Bret. But it still doesn’t compare to Trump’s deliberate massing of classified documents and then trying to hide them from authorities. Which, I’d say, is a crime.
Bret: I’ll reserve judgment till we learn what the two special counsels have to say.
Switching to Republican embarrassments, Gail, we never got around to talking about George Santos, Republican of Long Island. I’m not sure there’s anything new to say about the sad, surreal, scuzzy, scamming, shameless, soulless man that he is. But boy, what a comment on today’s Republican Party.
Gail: Well, Bret, a lying, weird Republican who seems to have made up almost everything in his biography including his prowess at volleyball would have been your problem in a different era. But you’ve spent so much of your time crusading against the deficiencies in your old party, you’re the last one I could blame.
Bret: The G.O.P. should be renamed B.T.P., for Bermuda Triangle Party. Enter it, weird stuff happens, and you go straight to the bottom.
Gail: To be honest, he’s so terrible I’m kinda fascinated. And the writers for all the late-night comedy shows really do owe Santos some gratitude for making their lives so easy lately.
Pretty clear the House Republicans don’t think they can afford to lose him, though. Any chance they’ll take the high ground?
Bret: I’d be surprised. George Santos is what you inevitably get once you’ve already normalized Donald Trump, Roy Moore, Lauren Boebert and “Space Laser” Greene. After them, what’s another pathological liar, more or less? I know some Nassau County Republicans like the former congressman Peter King are demanding he step down.
Gail: Ah, I remember when Peter King was in office. Back then we sometimes felt the local Republicans in New York were a force against corruption in the Democratic mainstream. Oh, the days.
Back to Santos …
Bret: But Kevin McCarthy gave him a couple of committee assignments and seems in no hurry to get rid of him.
Gail: Right now, McCarthy would give committee assignments to a puppy torturer.
Bret: On a less amusing topic, Gail, we have … the debt-ceiling fight. Your thoughts?
Gail: Several, believe it or not. First is that parties with cut-costs-or-explode-everything strategies should not be parties that like to cut taxes without paying for the cuts.
Should I move on to No. 2?
Gail: Cut-costs-or-explode parties should make it very clear what costs they have in mind. “Excess spending” sounds great, but at the levels they’re talking about, you’re going to have to look at stuff like health care, which everybody likes, and stuff like the Pentagon, which are particular favorites with the G.O.P.
Bret: I’ll see your two thoughts and raise you by one. First, Republicans will be even dumber than I think they are if they get into a fight with the administration that triggers a default. Second, we really do need to put the brakes on spending. We have a federal debt in excess of $30 trillion, a debt-to-G.D.P. ratio that’s gone from below 40 percent in 2008 to 100 percent now, and rising interest rates that make it more expensive to service the debt.
Gail: Or raise taxes on high-income earners and corporations that have used the current laws to avoid paying their fair share.
But go on to No. 3 …
Bret: I would gladly exchange raising the capital-gains tax, which is what House Democrats say they want, in exchange for raising the retirement age for Social Security benefits to reflect increased life expectancy. We can also let in more migrants legally to ease our labor shortages, and, of course, deregulate, deregulate, deregulate. A stronger economy goes a long way toward making the overall burden of debt much smaller.
Assume you’re in total agreement, right?
Gail: You and I are together on the migrant issue. As to Social Security, there’s a vast degree of difference in the ability of folks to work in their later years, particularly if their jobs are on the hard-labor side. A construction worker who has to continue working in his or her 70s is a lot different from a writer or a … president.
Bret: A fair point, but people can still work less physically demanding jobs as they get older.
Gail: It’s useless even arguing about this in terms of our present situation. The Republicans are never going to agree to a bipartisan plan for budget balancing.
Bret: Sigh. You’re right.
Gail: Let’s go back to Kevin McCarthy. Am I right in feeling that he can’t do anything sensible because he’s terrified of his crazy flank? This is a man who appointed Marjorie Taylor Greene to the Oversight and Accountability Committee.
Bret: Also right. Except I wouldn’t call it a “flank.” In 50 years Republicans have gone from being the party of the silent majority to the Moral Majority to the deranged majority, at least in the House of Representatives. Just have to wonder what my kids will call it in another 50 years. The Whig Party?
Gail, on a totally different subject, what are your feelings about … gas stoves?
Gail: Wow, have to admit that was not a question I was expecting. But hey, why not?
Have to admit I’m a gas stove fan. Had no idea they might be responsible for some cases of childhood asthma.
This is useful information to have. But the right wing’s attempt to make it sound as if Joe Biden is going to ban gas cooking is just, yawn, another day at the office.
Bret: Well, it was a Biden appointee to the Consumer Product Safety Commission who suggested banning them, even though the head of the commission denies that a ban is forthcoming. And Kathy Hochul, the Democratic governor of New York, has proposed ending the use of gas stoves in new buildings, starting in the second half of this decade. And more than a dozen cities have already voted to ban gas appliances in new buildings in favor of all-electric mandates. So I don’t think this is a figment of my fevered conservative imagination.
Gail: A suggestion by a commission member that’s rejected by the commission head isn’t exactly an imminent transformation.
But go on, let the fever run wild …
Bret: The larger issue, I guess, is the progressive left’s amazing ability to shoot itself in the foot when it comes to making the case for its causes, including climate change. Instead of calling for banning stuff, how about expanding the menu of attractive alternatives?
Gail: Excellent option, and I suspect the best way to encourage the development of those attractive alternatives is to discourage the use of gas stoves in new construction. Which many officials are trying to do.
Bret: Gas cooks better than electric. People should have a right to choose without state authorities making the choice for them.
Gail: Admit it, Bret, this is just the right looking for something to have a fit about. And an excellent way to avoid talking about Kevin McCarthy.
Bret: What else is there to say about McCarthy? He’s a follower of Marx — Groucho, that is. “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others.”
My guess is that McCarthy and the rest of the House Republicans will wind up helping Democrats, politically speaking, since they’re too weak to accomplish anything but strong enough to obstruct everything. Not a recipe for enhancing their popularity, particularly among Gen Z’ers who are repelled by the party’s message and eager to go to the polls. You should be happy!
Gail: Yeah, I love it when all the nation’s problems are impossible to solve.
But give me a quick take on the potential presidential race, Republican side. Donald Trump or Ron DeSantis. Who’s more awful?
Bret: Seriously? Can that even be in doubt?
Gail: I dunno. We all know the Trump terribleness, but I’m wary of regarding DeSantis as a less awful option. Terrible right-wing governor and a boring politician besides. The idea of covering a Biden-DeSantis election fills me with deep, deep dread.
Bret: DeSantis, at bottom, is a fairly typical conservative who won re-election last year by a whopping majority because he’s pretty good at his job. There are things about him I don’t like, things he’s done that I don’t approve, parts of his personality that get on my nerves. Even so, tens of thousands of people from blue states like California and New York are moving to Florida because the place is hopping. Trump, by contrast, was the worst president since James Buchanan. He remains a clear and present danger to America’s democracy, the rule of law, the sanity of our fellow citizens and the stability of the world.
So I guess it’s not a hard call for me. More interesting question for us is which Democratic nominee is most likely to beat him. Something to grapple with next week …
Gail: OK, that’s going to be our starter. Presuming the House Republicans don’t find a way to melt down the economy before the week is out.