The candidate whom Americans should be the most ironically happy is running for the Democratic presidential nomination is surely Eric Swalwell, the goofball California congressman. Of all the contenders, Swalwell best embodies the brand of performative liberal politics that has been in vogue since the election of Donald Trump. It’s at essence the sensibility of MSNBC, which focuses incessantly on Trump’s vulgar personal traits and the never-ending Russia/Mueller saga at the expense of every other issue. So too does Swalwell, which is why he has become one of MSNBC’s most frequent and cherished guests. Swalwell truly burst onto the scene with dramatic pronouncements likening the alleged Russian attack on American democracy in 2016 – which consisted largely of Twitter trolls, Facebook memes, and spearphished Gmail accounts – to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. It is on the strength of such bold pronouncements that he now seeks the presidency.
FDR didn’t meet w/ the Japanese after Pearl Harbor. George H.W. Bush didn’t meet w/ Saddam after Iraq invaded Kuwait. And George W. Bush didn’t meet w/ Bin Laden after 9/11. So tell me, @realDonaldTrump, what does America get out of you meeting w/ Putin after he attacked us?
— Rep. Eric Swalwell (@RepSwalwell) July 15, 2018
The profound idiocy of the statement above is almost too obvious to require further elaboration, which is why Swalwell’s presence in the race is so amusing: it’s self-evidently ridiculous, and thus adds to the farce of the entire process. Swalwell has been the single political figure who is perhaps most in tune with the sentiments of Russia-crazy #Resistance luminaries online, frequently indulging in their feverishly propagated conspiracy theories. Asked in January if he believed the president of the United States was an agent of the Russians, Swalwell replied matter-of-factly and succinctly: ‘yes.’ Of course he never substantiated this wild claim with anything beyond vague innuendo, but it’s catnip for the liberal Twitter crowd still holding out hope, against all odds, that the entire Trump Family will somehow be ushered from the White House in handcuffs – long after Robert Mueller definitively quashed this dream.
Despite his Russia-related fervor, Swalwell was strangely late in the game to call for impeachment proceedings against Trump. Notwithstanding his stated belief that Trump was a literal Russian agent and had colluded with the Kremlin – the latter of which he has continued to maintain even in the aftermath of the Mueller report not establishing any collusion – Swalwell held off on joining his colleagues in demanding immediate impeachment proceedings until only last month, when Trump’s interview with George Stephanopolous finally sent him over the edge. The sudden evolution didn’t make any sense: how could you possibly countenance a Manchurian candidate sitting in the White House without taking urgent action to remove him, and only reverse course after a TV segment? Then again, making sense is clearly not Swalwell’s top priority.
The hilarity goes on. In a New York Times survey released last month, Swalwell was quoted as saying, ‘I think it’s very likely that President Trump has sealed indictments waiting for him.’ This was a bit odd considering the Mueller report had come out two months prior, in which Mueller himself specifically clarified that no such sealed indictments existed. I had the distinct pleasure of asking Swalwell about this discrepancy at an event recently in South Carolina. ‘I will just say, I made that statement – they didn’t put the timestamp on there – but that was before the Mueller report,’ Swalwell told me. ‘It was before Mueller said there were no sealed indictments.’ Oops.
The whole ‘sealed indictments’ meme had been relentlessly propounded by various Resistance Twitter accounts and affiliated websites, so you have to wonder whether Swalwell’s information diet is serving him well. ‘I believe that he’s still exposed to criminal liability,’ Swalwell told me wistfully.
We're ready to break up with Russia. Are you?
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) June 30, 2019
As far as the impeachment question, Swalwell explained his initial hesitancy: ‘Compare myself to the rest of the presidential field. I’m the only one in the field who’d have to try the damn case if we impeached on the Judiciary Committee. So I wanted to make sure that we had all of the evidence.’ Again, though, the final piece of evidence that apparently impelled his impeachment call was an off-hand comment Trump made about potentially being willing to receive information from Norwegians. Swalwell elaborated: ‘But when he invited the Russians to attack us again, that was it for me. When he did that, I thought, we have to save our country. He’s risking the Republic by inviting another attack, and we need to hold him accountable now.’
Trying to parse the logic is a fruitless endeavor. You just have to enjoy the performance.
No doubt emboldened by his poignant campaign slogan – ‘Go Big. Be Bold. Do Good.’ – Swalwell attempted to make a substance-free generational argument against Joe Biden at last week’s debate, calling on the aging VP to ‘pass the torch’ to 38-year-olds like himself for no specific reason other than his date of birth. The interjection fell flat as it was one of the few times Biden was able to muster a sharp retort: ‘I’m still holding onto that torch,’ a smiling Joe replied. But Swalwell still successfully inserted himself into the conversation, however vapidly, which is basically all he can hope for.
Less known about Swalwell is that he capitalized on the California ‘jungle primary’ system in 2012 to oust longtime East Bay Rep. Pete Stark, who among other notable views was the first member of Congress to self-identify as an atheist. Swalwell is far less intriguing, except from a darkly comic perspective. A former prosecutor in Alameda County, he is happy to use the carceral power of the state to enact ostensibly liberal policy goals. One of Swalwell’s recent proposals is to criminalize assault on journalists. Of course, assault is already a crime; no one to my knowledge has proposed repealing laws that prohibit assault. But Swalwell, in his prosecutorial zeal, wishes for an additional federal statute that specifically ‘protects’ journalists. Far from ‘protecting’ journalists, however, this ridiculous bill would inevitably prompt a tedious debate over who exactly constitutes a journalist, and why they deserve special protections in the criminal code – further eroding public trust in journalists by dint of making them out to be an unjustifiably privileged class. Not surprisingly, it seems like Swalwell hasn’t quite thought this through.
His other high-flying moment during the debate was to cheerfully demand yet another deployment of apocalyptically intrusive state power, calling for a mandatory nationwide gun confiscation program. That would be a fitting end to the American republic: President Eric Swalwell fending off an armed rebellion. Few governmental actions could actually provoke a long-speculated Second Civil War, but this harebrained proposal might be one of them.
That he ended up in the debates in the first place alongside Biden, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and the rest was already a joke – but at least the joke was funny. Sadly, this might be the last time we see Swalwell on the big stage. If true: bon voyage, Eric. It was great while it lasted.