correction

An earlier version of this column incorrectly reported that the FBI had provided a warning to Rudolph W. Giuliani that he was the target of a Russian influence operation. This version has been corrected.

Over the course of the Donald Trump era, it was sometimes hard to keep two thoughts in your head simultaneously. On one hand, the president was an ignorant fool, a desperately insecure man-baby at whom one could never stop laughing. On the other hand, he was extraordinarily dangerous, causing unspeakable damage to our national spirit and the lives of Americans.

Though Trump may be fading, that combination of stupidity and malevolence is still the signature quality of the party he left behind.

Let’s consider two stories about voting, from opposite sides of the country.

The Florida legislature just passed another voter suppression law, one that places restrictions on absentee ballots and drop boxes, requires voters to reapply to receive absentee ballots every two years, and limits who can drop off ballots, among many other things.

Asked for evidence of the fraud Republicans claimed necessitated the measure, one GOP lawmaker said, “I don’t know, but I’m sure it was going on.”

Of course, Florida is just one of many states where Republicans have rushed in a panic to address the problem of too many citizens voting. While the Georgia voter suppression law garnered the most attention, the most restrictive effort may be in Texas, where Republicans are trying especially hard to make voting inconvenient in large cities where Democrats are strong. There, as in other places, Republicans are seeking to limit the power of local officials to determine how elections are run.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, where President Biden won a narrow victory last year, Republicans are determined to prove that something fishy went on. So the GOP-controlled state Senate turned over millions of ballots from Maricopa County to a company whose CEO has propagated conspiracy theories about the election, so it could conduct an “audit” and locate the fraud they’re all sure is there.

While the audit is being carried out largely in secret, it apparently involves shining UV lights on the ballots, for reasons that are unclear. Perhaps the lights will reveal the presence of satanic watermarks proving once and for all that the election was stolen by a cannibalistic pedophile conspiracy wielding Jewish space lasers.

So while the nincompoops in Arizona shine special lights on ballots (and will no doubt produce spectacular allegations of fraud that will disintegrate on a moment’s inspection), more clever and cynical Republicans are restricting the right to vote in real ways.

We see that same combination in the news that federal agents served a warrant on Rudolph W. Giuliani’s apartment in possible connection with his work in Ukraine trying to manufacture dirt on Biden to help Trump win reelection. Giuliani appears to have sat at the nexus where a corrupt president’s attempt to twist U.S. foreign policy for his own ends met the efforts of Ukrainian officials to twist U.S. foreign policy for theirs.

The renewal of this story served as a reminder of one defining feature of the Ukraine scandal: While seasoned government professionals such as Fiona Hill and Alexander Vindman raised alarms about the shadow foreign policy Trump had created, that shadow policy was being carried out by a band of lunkheads, including Giuliani and his buddies Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

It’s no surprise that the GOP senator most closely linked with that halfwit cabal is Ron Johnson, the conspiracy-theorizing, misinformation-touting Wisconsinite widely regarded as perhaps the dumbest member of that august chamber. Intelligence indicated that he, too, was the target of a Russian disinformation effort.

But while the whole episode was run through with buffoonery, it was also one of the worst presidential scandals in American history, an absolutely shocking betrayal of the president’s oath of office. The comical existed alongside the nightmarish.

And that is the essence of the GOP today.

It’s a party whose allegedly sensible members tolerate attacks on democracy and indulge the extremists in their ranks, then express surprise when the result is an assault on the U.S. Capitol. They spout hilarious conspiracy theories that lead to actual violence.

They try to undo legitimate elections with hair dye running down their scalps. Their most ambitious figures beclown themselves with laughable culture war posturing in an attempt to gain power that will be used for the most reactionary purposes.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t laugh at them when they deserve it, as they so often do. Laughter and mockery have always been powerful weapons. But never forget that the more ridiculous the GOP is acting, the more sinister its purposes probably are.

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