Sen. Tom Cotton Credit: Michael Vadon/Wikimedia Commons

On Thursday, Joe Biden gave a speech outlining his plan to deal with the coronavirus. This is one of the most important things he said.

Let me be crystal clear. The coronavirus does not have a political affiliation. It will infect Republicans, independents and Democrats alike and will not discriminate based on national origin, race, gender or zip code. It will touch people in positions of power as well as the most vulnerable in our society. And it will not stop, banning all travel from Europe or any other part of the world may slow it, but as we’ve seen it will not stop it. And travel restrictions based on favoritism and politics rather than a risk will be counterproductive.

Those remarks were at least partially aimed at people like Senator Tom Cotton, who previously raised a conspiracy theory about the origins of the virus.

Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) repeated a fringe theory suggesting that the ongoing spread of a coronavirus is connected to research in the disease-ravaged epicenter of Wuhan, China.

Cotton referenced a laboratory in the city, the Wuhan National Biosafety Laboratory, in an interview on Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” He said the lab was near a market some scientists initially thought was a starting point for the virus’s spread.

“We don’t know where it originated, and we have to get to the bottom of that,” Cotton said. “We also know that just a few miles away from that food market is China’s only biosafety level 4 super laboratory that researches human infectious diseases.”…

“Now, we don’t have evidence that this disease originated there, but because of China’s duplicity and dishonesty from the beginning, we need to at least ask the question to see what the evidence says,” Cotton said. “And China right now is not giving any evidence on that question at all.”

Cotton followed that up with a pretty bizarre statement on Thursday.

When someone on Twitter suggested that what Cotton meant was that “China will pay for this,” the senator responded by saying, “correct.”

It’s still not clear what Cotton meant by that, but it is foreboding, especially coming from someone who has a reputation as a “China hawk.”

Cotton recently wrote a piece for the National Review in which he basically called the former vice president a Chinese asset.

Since 2015, Democrats have claimed hysterically that Donald Trump is a Russian agent. On the other hand, it’s ridiculous to say Biden is a Chinese asset—if he were, his handler would tell him to oppose China here and there to build credibility. But China can count on Joe Biden always to take China’s side.

The competition between the United States and China, strategic and economic, will define the next century for our nation. We will need to be led by presidents for whom there’s no question as to which side they are on.

In an article Jeffrey Toobin wrote about Cotton back in 2017, he noted that the senator from Arkansas is a polarizing figure, but “the only thing everyone agrees on is that he wants to be President someday.”

To make that next leap, Cotton expresses the militarism, bellicosity, intolerance, and xenophobia of Donald Trump, but without the childish tweets. For those who see Trump’s Presidency as an aberration, or as a singular phenomenon, Cotton offers a useful corrective. He and his supporters see Trump and Trumpism as the future of the Republican Party.

The fact is that Cotton is a combination of Donald Trump and the neocon old guard of the Republican Party.

Stephen Bannon, Trump’s former top strategist and the chairman of the right-wing Web site Breitbart News, told me, “Next to Trump, he’s the elected official who gets it the most—the economic nationalism. Cotton was the one most supportive of us, up front and behind the scenes, from the beginning. He understands that the Washington élite—this permanent political class of both parties, between the K Street consultants and politicians—needs to be shattered.” At the same time, Cotton has maintained strong ties with the establishment wing of the G.O.P. Karl Rove, President George W. Bush’s chief political adviser, told me, “Cotton is not like a Steve Bannon, who wants to blow up the existing structure, uproot the ideology of the Republican Party and replace it with something new. He’s a rising star. He’s capable of building bridges within the Party. He wants to get things done.”

If you remember, Cotton is the one who initiated a letter to the leaders of Iran warning them against negotiations with the Obama administration over their nuclear program—a move that some people said bordered on treason. What Cotton preferred was war with Iran, which he basically said would be a cakewalk.

Cotton is also no slouch when it comes to xenophobia. He led the charge against criminal justice reform efforts during the Obama administration and is one of the members of congress Stephen Miller called on to talk Trump out of signing on to a bipartisan agreement that provided protection for Dreamers.

One of the things Cotton is best known for is that he blocked the confirmation of Cassandra Butts, the woman that Obama nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to the Bahamas. While her nomination was being held up, Butts died of cancer. But before she passed away, she told her story to Frank Bruni.

[Cotton] had a legitimate gripe with the Obama administration over a Secret Service leak of private information about a fellow member of Congress, and he was trying to pressure Obama to take punitive action. But that issue was unrelated to Butts and the Bahamas. Cotton eventually released the two other holds, but not the one on Butts. She told me that she once went to see him about it, and he explained that he knew that she was a close friend of Obama’s—the two first encountered each other on a line for financial-aid forms at Harvard Law School, where they were classmates—and that blocking her was a way to inflict special pain on the president.

As a recovering therapist, it is tempting to comment on Cotton’s desire to inflict pain on the people his twisted mind has identified as enemies, be they personal or geopolitical. But I’ll leave that to your imagination.

What is important to keep in mind is that the senator from Arkansas, who vows to make China pay for a disease, also happens to be one of the men who is waiting in the wings to become a leader in the Republican Party. Trumpism won’t end when Trump finally leaves office.

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