This New Book Reminds Us Tom Cotton Is One to Watch With a Very Wary Eye

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Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images
Photo credit: Bill Clark - Getty Images

Remember back in June of 2020, when Senator Tom Cotton, the bobble-throated slapdick from Arkansas, recommended that El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago set the military on protestors in Washington, D.C.? The column was such pure Pinochet that it set off an internal rebellion inside the New York Times. But it got Cotton’s name splashed across virtually every news platform in the country, including this one. However, now that he’s clearly out there on an extended rehabilitation tour in anticipation of an inevitable presidential run, we should keep in mind something this prospective president allowed to be published under his name:

This venerable law, nearly as old as our republic itself, doesn't amount to "martial law" or the end of democracy, as some excitable critics, ignorant of both the law and our history, have comically suggested. In fact, the federal government has a constitutional duty to the states to "protect each of them from domestic violence." Throughout our history, presidents have exercised this authority on dozens of occasions to protect law-abiding citizens from disorder. Nor does it violate the Posse Comitatus Act, which constrains the military's role in law enforcement but expressly excepts statutes such as the Insurrection Act.

We pan forward to May of 2021. In the interim, Cotton condemned the January 6 insurrection in a statement in which he patted himself on the back for his previous column. Five months later, Cotton helped chloroform the idea of a bipartisan commission to look into the events of that day. In other words, he was perfectly willing to let soldiers grab up people, but having a bunch of congresscritters explore what had happened was a bridge too far. From the AP:

During the day of the attack, Senator Tom Cotton sent a tweet, stating, "This violence is unacceptable and needs to be met with the full force of the law. God bless the Capitol Police who are keeping us safe." In a statement released later that day, Cotton said those who mobbed the Capitol should "face the full extent of the law." Also saying, "It’s past time for the president to accept the results of the election, quit misleading the American people."

Leadership!

Cotton is back in the news again because there is a new book by David Drucker that presents him as a behind-the-scenes hero when Camp Runamuck was threatening to take the republic down with it. From a book excerpt in Vanity Fair:

In the weeks after the 2020 election, as Trump’s aggressive, multistate effort to overturn his defeat foundered in court after court, the outgoing president and his supporters zeroed in on a new remedy: overturning the Electoral College. To say that Cotton was not swayed by Trump’s theory of the case is an understatement. But as is his habit, he wanted to be thorough. In early December, Cotton directed legislative aides on his Senate staff to research the matter extensively and prepare an exhaustive memorandum. As the senator suspected, it made plain that the Constitution had not, in fact, built in a secret back door for Congress or the vice president to invalidate presidential election results. In mid-December, after the states had certified their results and the Electoral College had voted, Cotton read in McConnell. Together, they plotted to countermand Trump’s bid to overturn the election and neutralize interest in objecting to Biden’s victory that was developing in some quarters of the Republican conference.

Drucker spends the early part of the excerpt explaining how deftly Cotton had supported the president* while trying not to get any of the crazy on his good suits. Now he was trying to stop a coup without getting any inconvenient liberal cooties on his good suits.

Publicly, Cotton remained noncommittal, worried that Republican infighting could tank the party’s chances in two January 5 runoff elections in Georgia that would determine the balance of power in the Senate. So even as he privately counseled colleagues to follow the majority leader’s prompts and ignore Trump’s pleadings, he urged that they all keep their powder dry until January 6 to avoid an intra-party row that might blow up in their faces in Georgia.

That was Cotton’s original strategy: say nothing until the 6th. That morning, in an op-ed the senator planned to publish in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, he would argue that objections to state-certified electoral votes were unconstitutional and threatened the viability of the Electoral College, and declare his intent to support certification.

But Cotton’s strategy was derailed. On December 30, [Josh] Hawley became the first fly in the ointment. Despite harboring little desire to run for president, the young, intellectual populist is often mentioned as a 2024 contender because of his telegenic looks, Ivy League pedigree, and attempts to channel Trumpism into a coherent ideological framework and tangible legislative agenda. One week before certification, Hawley announced that he would object.

Damn that Josh Hawley. And just when Tom Cotton was ready for his close-up, too. And then Ted Cruz jumped his claim by agreeing with Hawley. The man just couldn’t catch a break. Clearly, it was time for some strategic ambivalence.

On Sunday, January 3, two days before the Georgia runoffs and three days before the certification vote, the senator dropped his bombshell statement. It read in part: “I share the concerns of many Arkansans about irregularities in the presidential election, especially in states that rushed through election-law changes to relax standards for voting-by-mail. I also share their disappointment with the election results...Nevertheless, the Founders entrusted our elections chiefly to the states—not Congress. They entrusted the election of our president to the people, acting through the Electoral College—not Congress...I’m grateful for what the president accomplished over the past four years, which is why I campaigned vigorously for his reelection. But objecting to certified electoral votes won’t give him a second term.”

The entire excerpt is a testament to the incredible influence Tom Cotton wields behind the scenes in the Senate, in case you thought he was just an entitled grandstanding product of the wingnut-welfare machine. (Pro Tip: He is.) It is quite clear what is going on here, and it’s the same thing that’s been going on with Tom Cotton ever since 2016. He is styling himself not as the anti-Trump, but as the Trumpism-without-Trump candidate. And now, with this book, and with its attendant publicity, Cotton is firing the first shot in a possible 2024 presidential run. He’s trying to eliminate Donald Trump as the Trumpist candidate. He may just succeed.

After all, the former president* is 75 years old and in utterly wretched health. Cotton is Trump without any baggage. He’s young, healthy, a combat veteran, married only once, and, as far as we know, has not had sex with any porn stars. But he’s still the bobble-throated slapdick who wasn’t in the Senate for 15 minutes before he was undermining President Obama by writing letters to the mullahs in Iran, and he’s still the guy who advocated sending the armed military in against his fellow citizens. He is one to watch with a very wary eye. There’s a lean and hungry look to him.

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