Dana Milbank

Washington, D.C.

Dana Milbank is currently on book leave from The Post. A nationally syndicated op-ed columnist, he also provides political commentary for various TV outlets, and he is the author of three books on politics, including the national bestseller “Homo Politicus.” Milbank joined The Post in 2000 as a Style political writer, then covered the presidency of George W. Bush as a White House correspondent before starting the column in 2005. Before joining The Post, Milbank spent two years as a senior editor at the New Republic, where he covered the Clinton White House, and eight years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, where he covered Congress and was a London-based correspondent.

Sign up to receive Dana Milbank's latest columns in your inbox as soon as they're published. Honors & Awards:
  • White House Correspondent Association's Beckman Award
  • National Press Club's Gingras Prize
  • Books by Dana Milbank:
  • Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (Doubleday, 2010)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008)
  • Buy on Amazon
  • Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001)
  • Buy on Amazon
Recent Articles

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, March 7, 2021, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- On the conservative Bulwark podcast this week, two admirable never-Trumpers marveled at what has become of the Republican Party since President Donald Trump's attempt to overturn the election.

"I am a little amazed by the willingness to go just authoritarian, to really go anti-democratic," Bulwark editor-at-large Bill Kristol said.

Columnist Mona Charen was likewise puzzled. "The attraction of authoritarianism, I don't know, Bill," she said. "I'm really at a loss."

And I'm at a loss to understand their confusion. The Republican Party's dalliance with authoritarianism can be explained in one word: race.

Trump's overt racism turned the GOP into, essentially, a white-nationalist party, in which racial animus is the main motivator of Republican votes. But in an increasingly multicultural America, such people don't form a majority. The only route to power for a white-nationalist party, then, is to become anti-democratic: to keep non-White people from voting and to discredit elections themselves. In short, democracy is working against Republicans - and so Republicans are working against democracy.

You don't have to study demography to see that race is at the core of the GOP's tilt toward the authoritarian. You need only look at what happened this week.

On Monday, the Georgia state House passed a bill brazenly attempting to deter Black voters. The bill proposed to scale back Sunday voting - taking direct aim at the longtime "Souls to the Polls" tradition in which Black voters cast their ballots after church on Sundays. The bill also would increase voter I.D. requirements - known to disenfranchise Black voters disproportionately - and even would make it illegal to serve food or drinks to voters waiting in long lines outside polling places; lines are typically longer at minority precincts.

Georgia Republicans clearly are hoping they can suppress enough Black votes to erase the Democrats' narrow advantage that gave them both of the state's Senate seats and Joe Biden its electoral votes. But Georgia is just one of the 43 states collectively contemplating 253 bills this year with provisions restricting voting access, according to a tally by the Brennan Center for Justice.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court's majority signaled it would be open to more such voting restrictions. In oral arguments, the conservative justices indicated they would uphold two Arizona laws that would have the effect of disproportionately disqualifying the votes of non-White citizens. One law throws out ballots cast in the wrong precinct, a problem that affects minority voters twice as much as White voters because polling places move more frequently in minority neighborhoods. The other law bans the practice of ballot collection - derided by Republicans as ballot "harvesting" - which is disproportionately used by minority voters, in particular Arizona's Native Americans on reservations.

Representing the Arizona Republican Party in Tuesday's argument, lawyer Michael A. Carvin explained why the party supports laws tossing out ballots: "Politics is a zero-sum game."

It was a stark if inadvertent admission that Republicans have abandoned the idea of appealing to new voters.

Then, on Wednesday, House Republicans mounted lockstep opposition to H.R.1, a bill by Democrats attempting to expand voting rights. The bill would, among other things, create automatic voter registration, set minimum standards for early voting and end the practice of partisan gerrymandering.

In the House debate, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., sounding like Trump, made unfounded claims of "voter fraud" and asserted that the law would mean "future voters could be dead or illegal immigrants or maybe even registered two to three times."

"This," McCarthy said, "is an unparalleled political power grab."

So, in the twisted reasoning of this white-nationalist incarnation of the Republican Party, laws that make it easier for all citizens to vote are a power grab by Democrats.

The foundation of a white-nationalist GOP has been building for half a century, since Richard Nixon's Southern strategy, through Ronald Reagan's welfare queen and George H.W. Bush's Willie Horton. But Trump took fear of non-Whites and immigrants to a whole new level.

Researchers have repeatedly documented that racial resentment is the single most important factor motivating Republicans and Republican-leaning voters. They have also shown that White evangelical Christians, a huge part of the GOP base and Trump's most reliable supporters, are highly motivated by appeals to white supremacy. By contrast, Democratic voters - White and non-White - are primarily driven by their favorable views toward a multiracial America.

President Joe Biden's victory reveals the obvious political problem with the Republican move toward white nationalism: When voters turn out in large numbers, Democrats win. And the odds will only get worse for Republicans as racial minorities become the majority and the young, overwhelmingly progressive on race, replace the old.

This is why Republicans aren't really fighting Democrats. They're fighting democracy.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Friday, March 5, 2021, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- Three hours and 19 minutes.

That's how long it took from the first, desperate pleas for help from the Capitol Police to the Trump Pentagon on Jan. 6 until the D.C. National Guard finally received permission to help put down the bloody insurrection.

During those 199 minutes, the mob sacked the Capitol. People died. Overwhelmed Capitol and Washington D.C. police were beaten. Lawmakers' lives were jeopardized. And violent extremists defiled the seat of government, temporarily halting the certification of Joe Biden's victory.

"At 1:49 p.m., I received a frantic call from then-chief of United States Capitol Police, Steven Sund, where he informed me that the security perimeter of the United States Capitol had been breached by hostile rioters," Maj. Gen. William J. Walker, commander of the D.C. Guard, testified Wednesday to a joint Senate committee investigating the attack on the Capitol. "Chief Sund, his voice cracking with emotion, indicated that there was a dire emergency at the Capitol, and he requested the immediate assistance of as many available national guardsmen that I could muster."

Walker immediately alerted senior Army leadership - and then waited. And waited. Approval to mobilize the guard wouldn't be received until 5:08 p.m.

At best, this was a catastrophic failure of government. At worst, political appointees and Trump loyalists at the Defense Department deliberately prevented the National Guard from defending the Capitol against a seditious mob.

The man ultimately responsible for the delay, Christopher Miller, had been a White House aide before Donald Trump installed him as acting defense secretary in November, as the president began his attempt to overturn his election defeat. Miller did Trump's political bidding at another point during his 10-week tenure, forcing the National Security Agency to install a Republican political operative as chief counsel.

Also involved in the Pentagon delay was Lt. Gen. Charles Flynn, brother of disgraced former Trump adviser Michael Flynn, convicted (and pardoned) for lying to the FBI. Michael Flynn had suggested Trump declare martial law, and he helped to rile Trump supporters in Washington the day before the Capitol attack. The Pentagon had falsely denied to Post journalists that Charles Flynn was involved in the pivotal call on Jan. 6.

Representing the Pentagon on Wednesday fell to Robert Salesses, who haplessly tried to explain the delay. An hour and six minutes of the holdup was because then-Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy "was asking a lot of questions" about the mission. Another piece of the delay: The 36 minutes between when the Pentagon claims Miller authorized the action and when the D.C. Guard was informed of the decision. "That's an issue," Salesses allowed.

Curiously, the Pentagon claims Miller's authorization came at 4:32 - 15 minutes after Trump told his "very special" insurrectionists to "go home in peace." Was Miller waiting for Trump's blessing before defending the Capitol?

The Pentagon's 199-minute delay looks worse in light of a Jan. 4 memo Miller issued saying that without his "personal authorization" the D.C. Guard couldn't "be issued weapons, ammunition, bayonets, batons or ballistic protection equipment such as helmets and body armor."

The Army secretary added more restrictions the next day, saying in a memo that he would "withhold authority" for the D.C. Guard to deploy a "quick reaction force" and that he would "require a concept of operation" before allowing a quick reaction force to react. McCarthy even blocked the D.C. Guard in advance from redeploying to the Capitol guardsmen assigned to help the D.C. police elsewhere in Washington.

Without such restrictions, Walker, the D.C. Guard commander, could have dispatched nearly 200 guardsmen soon after the Capitol Police mayday call. "That number could have made a difference," Walker testified.

Sen. Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, was incredulous. "There are three unarmed national guardsmen who are helping with traffic control . . . and they were not permitted to move a block away without getting permission from the secretary of the Army?"

"That's correct," Walker replied.

Miller "required the personal approval of the secretary of defense for the National Guard to be issued riot gear?" Portman asked.

"That's correct," Walker replied. "Normally for a safety and force-protection matter, a commander would be able to authorize his guardsmen to protect themselves."

But this was not normal. The Pentagon claims the restrictions were in response to criticism of the heavy-handed deployment of the National Guard in Washington during racial justice protests last summer. Maybe so. But Walker testified that when the police chiefs "passionately pleaded" for the Guard's help on Jan. 6, senior Army officials on the call said it wouldn't be "a good optic." They thought "it could incite the crowd" and advised against it.

During this moment of crisis - an attempted coup in the Capitol - the defense secretary and the Army secretary were "not available," Walker testified.

The nation deserves to know why.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Wednesday, March 3, 2021, and thereafter

(For Milbank clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON - On Jan. 6 came the white supremacists.

Now comes the whitewash.

FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday to answer questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, told the lawmakers what should be obvious to all: that "militia violent extremists" and "racially motivated extremists" were behind the insurrection, and that there is no evidence of "fake Trump supporters" or "antifa" having any role in the attack, as Republican officials have suggested. In general, the Trump-appointed Wray testified, white supremacists are the "biggest chunk" of the domestic terrorism threat and "the most lethal."

But to hear the Republicans tell it, the country is besieged by left-wing anarchists.

"There has been 280 arrests as a result of the Jan. 6 attack, compared to more than 1,000 arrests as a result of riots just in Portland last year," argued Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the panel - as if violence tied to last summer's racial justice protests in Oregon is the same as an attack on the U.S. seat of government to overturn the election. Grassley went on at length: "holding the 'A' symbol for antifa" ... "an admitted antifa adherent" . . . "antifa rioters."

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., wanted to make sure the FBI was "tracking extremist groups like antifa or other radicalism that are connected to violence in cities across the country."

And Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., who helped to foment the Capitol attack with his effort to overturn the electoral college results, proclaimed that "we have seen massive rioting and violence as extremists, many of them leftist extremists, took to the streets," part of an "ongoing pattern of domestic terrorism."

Even after Wray said the FBI had found no sign of antifa or anarchist involvement in the Jan. 6 insurrection, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., took issue with "the narrative" of who was involved on Jan. 6 - and again suggested that anarchists played a role.

The attempt to muddy the waters with the largely imaginary threat of antifa serves to shift the focus from the real and present danger of white-supremacist violence. Grassley, grudgingly acknowledging that "white supremacy movements may be considered the most dangerous at a given time," cited ever-present "left-wing threats" and asked for the FBI to "make your left-wing anarchist extremism program as robust as your white supremacy and militia extremism program."

Key to the effort is to derail plans for a 9/11-style commission to probe the Jan. 6 attacks. Republican leaders haven't responded to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's request for their input on a draft proposal for such a commission two weeks ago. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., last week poured cold water on the "partisan" idea and called for an investigation into "the full scope of political violence."

In short, Republicans want to turn the Capitol insurrection commission into an antifa commission - and to paint over the events of Jan. 6 with a coat of false equivalencies.

Yet Democrats might be smart to oblige them.

Jamie Gorelick, one of the Democratic appointees to the 9/11 commission, reminded me that it, too, was born amid fierce partisanship. President George W. Bush didn't want a commission, and a joint House and Senate intelligence probe failed to make much headway.

But the inspired leadership of Republican Chairman Tom Kean and Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton - in a sign of their unusual partnership, they instead referred to each other as co-chairmen - made it a bipartisan triumph. There was one staff, not divided by party. No subpoenas were to be issued without bipartisan agreement. The members would only speak publicly in bipartisan pairs. Kean and Hamilton agreed that they would switch sides to prevent any vote of the commission from breaking along party lines. Whenever they couldn't agree on the language of the 9/11 report, they agreed to limit that section of the narrative to "bare facts."

Gorelick says the same model could work again, as long as both sides agree to appoint only former officials who have no interest in holding future elected or Senate-confirmed office. If they get that part right, it won't matter if the commission's mandate is Jan. 6 or broader political violence, Gorelick argued. "They'll look at the facts," she said, and they'll see what is objectively true: that political violence on the left is "not as consequential" as the danger from the right.

If Republicans pack the commission with saboteurs, they could still kill the effort. But we'd be no worse off than we are now, with Republican senators meeting the FBI director's facts with antifa fantasies.

And - who knows? - the commissioners might confound the GOP leaders who appointed them by following the facts.

- - -

Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

About
Dana Milbank is currently on book leave from The Post. A nationally syndicated op-ed columnist, he also provides political commentary for various TV outlets, and he is the author of three books on politics, including the national bestseller “Homo Politicus.” Milbank joined The Post in 2000 as a Style political writer, then covered the presidency of George W. Bush as a White House correspondent before starting the column in 2005. Before joining The Post, Milbank spent two years as a senior editor at the New Republic, where he covered the Clinton White House, and eight years as a reporter with the Wall Street Journal, where he covered Congress and was a London-based correspondent.

Sign up to receive Dana Milbank's latest columns in your inbox as soon as they're published.
Books
  • Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (Doubleday, 2010)
  • Homo Politicus (Doubleday, 2008)
  • Smashmouth (Basic Books, 2001)
Awards
  • White House Correspondent Association's Beckman Award
  • National Press Club's Gingras Prize
Reviews
Milbank is "a wonder at the anthropology of this town and [at] understanding the way the sociology of Washington works today." -- Chris Matthews, MSNBC "Washington PR folks, who would normally auction off their right arm to get the Washington Post to cover their boss' press conference, know by now that having Dana Milbank show up is probably more of a curse than a blessing.” -- Potomacflacks.com
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