The good news is many Republicans want to leave Donald Trump in the dust. The bad news is so many of them are just as odious.
Case in point: Mike Pompeo.
This choleric guy, who was plucked from back-bench House obscurity by the Trump team and inexplicably elevated to CIA director and Secretary of State, is clearly maneuvering to run for president in 2024. It’s obvious in two ways: He has sought to make himself more telegenic by losing massive amounts of weight and he’s seeking to romance the right-wing donor class and Duh Base by singing all of MAGA’s greatest hits.
Earlier this week, he said on TV that “the left” had “exploited” the violent events of Jan. 6 insurrection and that the day had ended in “glory.” Apparently “the left” is exploiting the courts, which continue to send insurrectionist thugs to the slammer, and bending the minds of the 140 Capitol cops who are still reeling from the physical assaults they suffered that day.
And a year ago, for instance, on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, Pompeo lauded the mass murderer as “very savvy…very shrewd…elegantly sophisticated…one who is not reckless but has always done the math…He is a very talented statesman.” Right. Putin is so talented he has united the western world against him, strengthened NATO, and wrecked the economy of his own benighted country.
Putin is arguably a clear and present danger to world peace, but Mike Pompeo disagrees. A few months ago he decreed: “The most dangerous person in the world is Randi Weingarten. It’s not a close call.” In case you didn't know, Weingarten runs one of unions that represents public school teachers.
Actually, Pompeo has been off his rocker for a very long time. Remember Benghazi, the faux-scandal that House Republicans like Pompeo tried to pin on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton? That ginned-up brouhaha ended when a string of congressional panels – the House Intelligence Committee, the Senate Intelligence Committee, the Senate Armed Services Committee, and three others – all concluded that she’d done nothing perfidious or criminal. But none of that mattered to Pompeo, who insisted on NBC News that she was guilty of something. He was asked, where’s the evidence? He replied: “In my heart.”
But forgive me for taking so long to tee up the ultimate Pompeoism.
We got it earlier this week, with the release of excerpts from his new book (a de rigueur exercise for aspiring presidential candidates). At one point in this tract – which, according to one reviewer, has “more venom than a quiver of cobras” – Pompeo offered a quick critique of Washington Post contributing columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who in 2018 was suffocated and dismembered with a bone saw by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s security team. Khashoggi, a veteran Saudi journalist, had dared to write critically of Mohammed bin Salman’s autocratic behavior and to call for a freer Arab world. As punishment, Khashoggi's body was taken apart and made to disappear.
Those of us with civilized instincts were rightly horrified, but not Pompeo. He recounts in his book that he was the first western big shot to visit Mohammed bin Salman after Khashoggi’s murder, aiming to rehab the homicidal prince’s credentials. Should Trump have punished the prince in some way? Nah, writes Pompeo, “it wasn’t a close call.” Indeed, “I was the one who gave the middle finger to The Washington Post, the New York Times, and the other bed-wetters who didn’t have a grip on reality.”
Then Pompeo tries to school us on his version of reality: “We need to be clear about who Khashoggi was – and too many in the media were not…Khashoggi was a journalist to the extent that I and many other public figures are journalists. We sometimes get our writing published, but we also do other things. The media made Khashoggi out to be a Saudi Arabian Bob Woodward…In truth Khashoggi was an activist” – someone who was “cozy with the terrorist-supporting Muslim Brotherhood.”
In truth, Khashoggi had spent three decades as an editor and reporter. He was not a member of the Muslim Brotherhood (not since the 1980s) and was “cozy” only to the extent he tapped some members as sources. He also routinely denounced terrorist attacks, most notably 9/11.
Seven years ago, Khashoggi wrote: “In the Arab world, everyone thinks journalists cannot be independent, but I represent myself, which is the right thing to do. What would I be worth if I succumbed to pressure to change my opinions?”
It’s no surprise that Pompeo would try to smear a bone-saw murder victim. As Pompeo would put it, demeaning Khashoggi in a bid to boost his MAGA creds was clearly not a close call.
Trump may not be viable in 2024, especially if he’s indicted. But with low characters like Pompeo in the mix, let’s be careful what we wish for.
Copyright 2023 Dick Polman, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Dick Polman, a veteran national political columnist based in Philadelphia and a Writer in Residence at the University of Pennsylvania, writes at DickPolman.net. Email him at [email protected]