The precise nature of the Chinese balloon that drifted through the high atmosphere above the United States before being shot down by the American military off the coast of South Carolina is still not known, though the military seems confident it was a "surveillance" balloon and seemingly every conservative pundit put in front of a microphone believes it was carrying either some sort of zombie-producing spores or, worse, thousands of green M&M's to be scattered through the American landscape, turning our wildlife "woke."
What we do now know, however, is that these balloon flights seem to be a regular occurrence—and one that nobody has attempted to stoke a public panic over until now. The Department of Defense's own news site reports that Chinese balloons appeared over the United States at least three times during the Trump administration. None of those other balloons appear to have been intercepted. There were no Republican politicians posing with guns promising that they'd personally take care of them balloons if they floated over their neck of the woods. None of them appear to have scattered zombie spores, M&M's, or anything else.
Indeed, if we're to take the word of Trump Secretary of Defense Mark Esper, and there are absolutely zero reasons why we should, not even he was made aware of those overflights. That's how unremarkable the previous "Chinese spy balloon" events appear to have been.
But Republicans are going to Republican, and we have a full slate of it this weekend. Here's House Republican Andy Barr insisting that why if this had ever happened under Trump, he would have been impeached.
You're saying he would have been impeached five times? Goodness. Just one more after that and he would have qualified for a free sandwich.
Meanwhile, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Jewish Space Lasers Greene took to Twitter to brag that she personally "just spoke with" the twice-impeached blowhard in question and that Trump "would never have allowed China to fly a spy balloon over our country and our military bases and our assets. Pres Trump would have shot it down before it entered the US."
Our own U.S. military is saying otherwise, and if we're to believe Mark Esper it never even rose to the Secretary level of giving-a-damn, but Marjorie Taylor Jewish Space Lasers Greene is among the top experts on space stuff that House Republicans have.
Honestly, I imagine the Department of Defense never told Donald Trump about the balloon overflights because they were afraid he would call up China to demand he be allowed to build a hotel on one of them. Or he might have indeed demanded it be blown up over Missouri or South Carolina, raining a seven-mile fuzz of debris onto whatever voters happened to be underneath at the time.
Among Republicans who still try to at least pretend at seriousness—badly—the ever-pathetic Sen. Marco Rubio hitched his wagon to the "Biden is too weak to do anything about this" talking point even as preparations to, sigh, pop the balloon via American military force were underway. "[I]f Biden wouldn’t even shoot down a balloon, he isn’t going to do jack if China takes territory from India or Japan or invades Taiwan," tweeted the candidate who was humiliated into submission by a clownish television showboater.
One popped balloon later, Rubio somewhat foolishly appeared on the Sunday shows to pretzel himself into a new position.
That's just sad. I don't think any of us can imagine a reality in which this pathetic creature actually became president. It's impossible to expect anything of your average Marjorie Jordan Gaetz, but watching the gears turn in this man's head as he switches his Deep Convictions in and out like 8-Track tapes in an old Ford Pinto is almost enough to make a person feel sorry for him.
If Marco Rubio ever wants to raise campaign money again, he can put a Sarah McLachlan song under that video along with a 1-800 number and a plea to save him from the Senate shelter. Look at those eyes. Those are the eyes of a dog that's given up.
Rubio may be able to string together more coherent sentences than your average Republican of the House, but in every case the rhetoric has been the same: Why isn't Biden shooting the balloon down? Trump would have shot the balloon down! Wait, Biden shot the balloon down? Huh, Trump didn't shoot the balloons down?
THIS IS VERY CONFUSING, SO NOW WE WILL LAUNCH AN INVESTIGATION.
Sure, there ya go. They're also in the very early stages of cleaning up several days worth of talking points so this one may take a while. Bring cat litter; it’s supposed to soak messes like that up quite well.
The truth of the Great Balloon Crisis of 2023 will likely not be known for some time, but the news that this was not anyone's first balloon rodeo does suggest that those who were trying to sell us a theory of such flights being unprecedented were, from the moment they piped up, overinflated. Even if the balloon does have military purpose, and anyone who still shudders at the phrase "aluminum tubes" is likely taking military interpretations here with a grain of salt until the military has fished enough wreckage out of the Atlantic to prove their case, it appears nobody involved considered it a dire threat. To anything.
The reality of these things remains the same: China is the military equal of the United States when it comes to surveillance satellites, and the United States already has been obliged to assume Chinese satellites are able to photograph anything they want to. The relatively half-assed nature of setting loose a balloon halfway across the planet with no idea of where the winds will take it other than "generally east, unless..." still pales in comparison, and nobody is daring to shoot down the orbital versions for fear of what would happen next.
Though if Republicans continue their opposition-to-whatever-the-rational-people-are-saying sprees, that might be the next demand. You never know with these people.
We're chatting with one of our favorite fellow election analysts on this week's episode of The Downballot, Kyle Kondik of Sabato's Crystal Ball. Kyle helped call races last year for CBS and gives us a rare window inside a TV network's election night decision desk, which literally has a big button to call control of the House—that no one got to press. Kyle also dives into his new race ratings for the 2024 Senate map, including why he thinks Joe Manchin's unlikely tight-rope act might finally come to an end.
In their Weekly Hits, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap big developments in two Senate contests: Rep. Adam Schiff's entry into the race to succeed Dianne Feinstein, and the GOP's unexpected show of unity in the open-seat election in Indiana. They also dissect the first poll of this year's hotly contested race for governor in Kentucky and highlight another 2023 battle that shouldn't get overlooked: the race for a vacant seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.