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Maggie Haberman: A Character Study of Trump — and America

October 28, 2022
Notes
Transcript

Trump is fascinated with violence, and his damaging childhood has impacted him ever since. And the man who was more interested in winning in 2016 than being president, now really wants the title and the power again— along with the payback. Maggie Haberman joins Charlie Sykes for the weekend pod.

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This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:08

    Welcome to the Bullework Podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. The book is the confidence man, the making of Donald Trump, and the breaking of America, and this is the way that it is described. The book paints a jarring portrait of Trump. But one that differs in some respect from more common one dimensional poor script from more common one dimensional portraits as a basically lonely man whose own views and attitudes are amorphous and situational rather than strategic.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:37

    He can be charming and cruel, generous, and selfish, tolerant and viciously closed minded. He has no strategy, no method of leadership. He does what works at any given moment. He has few personal ties outside his family. Children he constantly tests and occasionally torment in few real friends.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:54

    Chaos and uncertainty dominate. Misery is a common emotion. Among those in his orbit. To this day, close associates privately root for his death to free themselves from their bondage to him. Joining me on the podcast is the author of this blockbuster new bestselling book Maggie Haberman from The New York Times.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:16

    Good morning, Maggie. Good
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:18

    morning. Thanks for having
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:19

    me. So Axios describes this as the book that Trump fears most. Why would Trump who I don’t he doesn’t read books. Why would he fear a book?
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:30

    Well, you know, I can’t speak for My next step says something, but although I very much appreciated their interest in it, I think that the issue with Trump in terms of how people portray him over a number of books and there he’s one of the most written about people on the planet is you know, the the
  • Speaker 3
    0:01:50

    portraits tend to exist as either, you know, and these are the ones that he can tolerate —
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:55

    Mhmm. —
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:56

    as either, you know, slavish devotion from people on the right. Mhmm. You know, there’s been a series of books written like that or, you know, coherent and cohesive authoritarian. Mhmm. And this is neither of those.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:10

    This is this is focuses on his character, and he doesn’t like people talking about his character. Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:15

    So I wanna talk about your your place in Donald Trump’s head. You’ve been living there rent free for years now. And and and Trump said that you are like his psychiatrist. Tell me about that because clearly, he has an obsession with Maggie Abramsman. There’s something about you and your reporting that he fixates on.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:38

    What is that about?
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:40

    I think that he’s fixated on the paper. I think he’s fixated on the New York Times and has
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:44

    been for a very, very, very long time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:02:46

    You know, it it represented the elites whose approval he felt he should be getting and wasn’t getting when he was a a young man trying to, you know, make his way out of wiens and become a, frankly, a celebrity as much as anything else in New York. And, you know, his line about, you know, she’s like my psychiatrist interest he said during our final interview last year. And as I as I write, it was a a meaningless line. That was intended to flatter. And it’s the kind of thing that he has said about his Twitter feed or other interviews that he’s given with people.
  • Speaker 3
    0:03:20

    And the reality is he treats everybody
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:21

    like they’re his psychiatrist. You know, he’s he’s working everything out, you know, in front of everyone all the time. I’ve heard you say this before, but it does seem to
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:31

    me that he thinks of you differently than other reporters, including other reporters at The New York Times because you are a New York person. You grew up with him. You know where he came from. And it it does seem that, yes, he cares about what’s in the New York Times. But does he see you as a fellow New Yorker who kind of gets him in in a way?
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:54

    I’m I’m not trying to flatten. I’m trying to get to what’s what’s going on here because this book is I think different than all the other books because we’re not gonna focus on the Newsy aspects. This is a character study. And you look at his character and where he came from, what the New York milieu was like, what his childhood was like, he seems like someone who desperately wants the approval of certain people, including you. I
  • Speaker 3
    0:04:22

    still, Charlie, think it
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:24

    relates to the times I’ve gone through, and I’m just the first who covers him the most. You know, he’s a very provincial person. And does he tend to be partial to people who are from New York, and I, you know, I worked at the New York Post for a long time, which at least used to be his favorite paper. You know, maybe that’s a part of it. I think that the – I think he tends to gravitate more towards the familiar, but I really do think it’s about the New York Times.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:49

    Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:49

    So let let’s talk about this. You you you make the case to fully reckon with Donald Trump, his presidency, and and where we’re possibly going. You need to know where he comes from. This New York world, this the world of New York real estate and celebrity. You also need to know where he comes from in terms of what feels like a very damaged childhood.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:11

    He he comes off in your book as somebody who is, you know, yes, arrogant and and capricious, but also very very needy. So Is he damaged in some fundamental way? I mean, what is the key that we need to understand about this man’s mind and his character? He is damaged
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:30

    and he causes damage to others and has, you know. I mean, I think that’s been been it it doesn’t mean that there aren’t people who feel like they benefited from him, and it doesn’t mean there aren’t people who don’t feel that way about him. But, you know, there is no question that his his impact on the political landscape. Has has in some areas and aspects of American life cause damage. But he is he is damaged.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:54

    You know, he is a the product of a of an exacting and, you know, in Nevada Trump’s words, brutal father. Who was, you know, constantly praising him in public, but undermined him in private all the time and fostered a really toxic competition between comp and his older brother, Freddie. Freddie was an alcoholic who was, you know, not able to navigate the family business the way that Donald Trump wanted him to, was not really interested in it, became an airline pilot, and died young, you know, from conditions related to alcoholism or believe to be, and Trump in private conversations with people over the years has gone a direct line between his brother’s death and his father’s treatment of him. And so, you know, when you grow up with, you know, and his mother was sort of a a not hugely significant presence in in the household. You know, it was really run by his father.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:51

    And Trump respected and admired and feared and resented his father. Mhmm. You know, and and I not to do too much putting on the couch with him, which I really do try to avoid. But when you grow up that way, you look for someone to defend you. And I think it’s not a coincidence that his other big mentor was Roy Cohn and that he sought that model of being defended basically for the rest of his life.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:18

    I
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:18

    wanna come back to Roy Cohen in a in a minute. You know, you describe his New York background. I mean, that New York was a place with, you know, tribal racial politics. And, you know, the the world of of a New York developer, you know, backbiting, financial knife fighting, filled with shady figures. Including having to do business with the mob.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:37

    So what we can check the recording and and other things. What was Donald Trump’s relationship with the mob. Does he continue I mean, he seems to have a fascination with a certain kind of shall we say swagger. Did he do business with the mall?
  • Speaker 3
    0:07:53

    Well, look, the
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:54

    mall was, you know, connected to key aspects of the construction industry. You know, certainly the the the concrete industry, which is the material that Trump chose to build Trump Tower with. There were modeling figures with whom he did business. In New Jersey when he was building casinos, you know, at at minimum. And and then there was a a John Doty associate.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:14

    Who was a high roller at one of his casinos and who, you know, traveled with Trump and and into who Trump, you know, according to a former executive, wanted to give a pretty wide berth to, and then when the man came into troubles of his own, Trump, you know, claimed, you know, decades later hardly know the guy as we’ve heard Trump do with almost everyone who became a problem for him. At minimum, Trump, you know, saw the mob as sort of the price of doing business
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:44

    in
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:44

    in various quarters where he was engaged. But to your point, there is a there is a sort of a stylistic approach that I would say that he admires. Howard
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:56

    Bauchner: So let’s go back to Roy Koon because there’s an interesting historic threw line. Greg Cohen was sort of the darkest venge to Joe McCarthy in the early nineteen fifties and, you know, even after McCarthy’s you know, disgrace and and center in the United States. Senate Rico went on to a successful career and obviously became one of the mentors, you know, with a rocky relationship with with with Donald Trump. So did Donald Trump learn the sort of knife fighting, never apologized always stay on the attack mode from Roy Kone. What what was Roy Kone’s influence on Donald Trump?
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:32

    Before before Trump cut him off when he got aid.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:36

    Roy Cohen first defended Trump when when Trump and his father and their company were being sued by the Justice Department. For racially discriminatory housing practices. And, you know, Trump was enthralled, you know, with this lawyer who whose attitude was tell them to go to hell and we’re gonna fight it in court. And Roy Cohen taught him not just, you know, don’t back down except, of course, you know, when you do, and then when you do just pretend you didn’t back down. But Roy Kahn also taught him about using the courts as a PR vehicle, which we’ve seen Trump do over and over and over again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:11

    Over the decades. And everything with work on was, you know, the government is using Gestapo tactics and and, you know, you can hear Roger Stone say similar things too. Another Rick on Apple Light in some of his public pronouncements. So he just learned a certain type of behavior, and it stayed with him forever. See, you
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:32

    described in great detail that the signature moves of Donald Trump that we’d become somewhat familiar with, but I think probably should be on a laminated card somewhere, you know, the the counterattack, the quick lie, the shift to blame, the distraction, or misdirection. The outbursts of rage, performative anger, the design just for headlines action or claim all all of that. You also, you know, describe how this is a guy who spent decades surviving one professional near death experience after another. So a kind of fast forwarding, how do you think that he’s processing to the extent that we can understand how his mind works at all? This current moment he’s in where he’s facing all of these multiple investigations, the threats of indictment, the possibility of running.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:17

    Is there part of him that that that rebels in this? Is he in a in a defensive crouch? How how does Donald Trump, you know, regard the fact that he might be facing a federal grand jury indictment that he might be facing local state in indictment, that he that he is facing some pretty significant private litigation.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:38

    For a while, he was telling people, and this is prior to the documents investigation, really heating up, that, you know, that he didn’t believe DOJ would ever do anything to him. Mhmm. I think he’s ill with that. You know, after after the FBI search of Marlato. He is concerned about the Justice Department of Investigation, and the proof of that is that he spent three million dollars on, you know, a retainer for an attorney, which is the most money that I’ve ever heard of him spending a punt And of course, he’s now proceeded to not listen to the guy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:05

    I’m talking about Chris Cai’s floor to his lawyer. He is aware that he is
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:10

    facing
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:11

    significant legal exposure. I think the degree in which he lets that, you know, into his consciousness depends on the day. Do you think
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:18

    he’s gonna run again? I
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:20

    do. I you know, I whether he stays in the race or whether he announces as sort of a defensive maneuver against investigations or just unclear. I think he’s backed himself into a bit of a corner. But, you know, it’s it’s pretty widely expected that he will announce the candidacy next month sometime.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:37

    So given his history and his background, it was predictable that he would refuse to acknowledge that he had been defeated. Because Donald Trump can never lose. He can only be betrayed. He can only be cheated. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:51

    But to what extent were you surprised by what he did in the wake of the twenty twenty election and the persistence of support for his big lie. I’m
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:05

    not surprised by the persistence in people accepting the things he is saying about the twenty twenty election as true because it has become clear for a while that he has a unique hold on his political base and that his political base will never blame him for anything and has adopted his posture that he is being wrong, snowfall by some hidden hand. So that wasn’t a surprise. Some of the actions that he took after the election in twenty twenty were surprising. You know, except I think that the behaviors around January six were something of a failure of imagination by officials And what I mean by that is official Washington was expecting that he was gonna try to use the military in in an actual coup. Right, to stay in office in a in a in a traditional coup.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:50

    And it was always much likelier that he was gonna send a mob up to Capitol Hill. Now, of course, his his folks would argue he didn’t do that. I should note, but that, you know, he said peacefully in his speech before they all went up to march on the capital during the the certification of the next election or the recent election. But you know, it had become clear that, a, you know, he was able to move a fair number of people with his language and b, you know, he doesn’t like to have to take direct responsibility for things. And ordering the military would have been just left.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:23

    So as you described, he’s he’s not strategic thinker. He’s not a deep thinker. There’s not the core values. But he does have this certain lizard like instinct, reptilian instinct for what people want. Coming up with slogans and and and brands.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:38

    And and I know that you thought a lot about this, the nature of his appeal. Clearly, he is not, you know, one of the great political minds of our time and yet he has this ability to know where the what the base wants and where it’s going. And he and he’s and he’s able to laser in on that. What give me give me your sense of of of that of that rather effective instinct that he has? I think that
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:05

    he is very, very shrewd about the darkness human behavior and human emotions. I think he tends to believe that everything is correct, and therefore, he can predict what people are going to do and not do. And, you know, I think that he he reads the crowd. Right? I mean, we’ve seen him do this with his rally crowds over and over and over again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:26

    He try something out, it tests it to see what’ll work. You know, there’s been a lot of that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:31

    Yeah. They, like, build the wall.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:33

    Exactly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:33

    You you you described that, you know, the two thousand sixteen campaign that Trump had actually planned to drop out in two thousand sixteen after his polling numbers dropped, and then he would blame Republicans for their opposition to gay marriage as his rationale, which is bizarre now. Occasionally, there are little flares where Trump seems to admit that that even he is somewhat surprised by his success and his support. I mean, the the famous, you know, overanalyzed comment about that he could choose somebody in Fifth Avenue and not lose any support. He seemed he seemed actually surprised by that. Do you think the part of him is surprised that he gets away with all this shit?
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:09

    I don’t
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:09

    know if that’s surprised or delighted or, you know, gleeful. Wayne Barrett, who is Trump’s first chronicler quoted on background in his book, which really was the the progenitor for us all. A a Trump friend saying that Trump doesn’t really like doing anything unless there’s a little more or lessening. And I think that I thought that was a pretty adept and astute. Description.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:33

    I mean, you know, I think that he he likes seeing what he can get away with. Now, I think that there are times where he wished he wasn’t doing very well in twenty sixteen because it’s not clear to me that he actually wanted to be president, but, you know, as opposed to just winning. But,
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:48

    yeah, I think it’s it’s just seeing seeing how far he can take something always. So does he wanna be president again or did he just want vindication and revenge? I
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:57

    think that he wants both I think he wants the power, I think he wants the office, and then he wants the title. And I think he wants to pay back. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:04

    you described him as being extremely suggestible, you know, that somebody, you know, whispers in his ear, tells him something, hands him something, and and and he will run with it, which, of course, comes back to the key question then, well, who is he listening to? Who — Yeah. Who is he close to? And you point out that outside of his family he’s not close to anyone. So who does he listen to?
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:24

    Other than the voices in his own head? No. But, Charlie, I mean,
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:27

    he what he does is he solicits input from almost everyone, and I try to show that in the book. So, you know, he doesn’t have to be close to somebody to listen to somebody. In fact, he tends to listen to the people he’s not close to. He doesn’t really trust anybody. You know, I would argue that one of his biggest legacy is this era of mistrust that we live in now.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:46

    But he He looks around to see, again, it’s part of his constant poll testing. And sometimes he’s just soliciting opinions to find the person who agrees with his preexisting view. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:56

    that’s how you get Sydney Powell and Rudy Giuliani sitting in the Oval Office after the election.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:00

    Correct. Correct.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:01

    You you describe a rather fraud relationship with Jared in Ivanka. A lot of back and forth about all of that. And obviously, there are various camps and there’s been lots of leaking back and forth. So what is the story with Trump and Jared Debonk? I mean, obviously, it’s in their interest to say, you know, we were really not part of that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:20

    We were distanced from all of this. So, what’s what’s the what’s the truth here? Well, that isn’t true.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:24

    I mean, that’s, you know, it is it is true that Jared Kushner was not around in the final few weeks in any meaningful way. He was tending to his own interests, Palynziq and otherwise in the mid east. And that was his that was his big thing. But Jared was in these meetings for the first two weeks, including with Rudy Giuliani, you know, who he didn’t like, but it wasn’t keeping him from, you know, attending these things. You know, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump are often criticized for trying to have it always and not unlike Trump himself.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:57

    He wanted to be seen as protesting something that might play poorly But if it started to go well, you know, they would stick around. You know, I think do I think Ivanka Trump was really troubled by her father’s behavior on January sixth? Yes, I do. But do I think that she did a ton to try to influence that in the lead up to that? Now I have I have no reason to believe that based on any of my reporting.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:18

    So
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:18

    based on your reporting though, it it it there are these contradictions in in Trump’s character that are sometimes hard to follow. I mean, obviously, he’s an expert at finding people those weaknesses and exerting pressure on those weak points. I think we’ve seen that over and over again. But he’s also kind of a lonely guy who is a people pleaser. And then you also describe him as somebody who has both the thickest skin and the thinnest skin of any public figure you’ve ever covered.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:43

    Talk to me about that. That he’s got a thick skin but he’s deeply sensitive. And I guess this comes back to why you are living rent free in his head. Look, he
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:53

    he is able to sloth off news coverage that would flatten almost anyone else. And frankly, sometimes he he rebels and, you know, the Purion really appeals to him. He he He loves other people’s secrets. He loves, you know, guarding his own secrets. But he tends to zero in on on coverage that he thinks is insulting his intelligence or his, you know, virility or his, you know, appearance of strength or his wealth That tends to be a huge focus of his.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:23

    And also then just generally, I’ve noticed over time that he tends to zero in and obsess on some tiny thing during times of great anxiety. So I would give you as an example, you know, one of the the big questions of his first day in office, which is why is he picking this fight over his crowd size? And I don’t think that it was, you know, so that he could set the terms of engagement, although I think that was probably a byproduct. I think it was just that, you know, the enormity of the job was making him anxious, and that was how he dealt with it. During
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:54

    COVID, you you described that he was much closer to death from COVID than was publicly known Yes. And yet, that didn’t seem to have any effect on his approach to dealing with the pandemic. No. In fact,
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:05

    I write that, you know, was some discussion about having him do an ad related to COVID-nineteen his own experience and he just wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t he wouldn’t hear about it. Because that
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:14

    would portray him as being weak were vulnerable? Correct. And relate
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:16

    to sickness, and he just doesn’t wanna deal with that. And also for people
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:20

    who who, you know, think of him as as being this top down leader, you you also right, that that he was afraid of his own supporters who he actually blamed his base for keeping him from getting credit for the vaccines, and he called them fucking crazy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:35

    Well, he didn’t call them that over the vaccines. He’s just called them that over his fervor in general. He has complained to people that he can’t get credit for the vaccines because of the quote unquote, radical right. That’s that’s or his words. He has a strange relationship with his basic supporters.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:50

    There’s no question about it. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:52

    Look, I can’t do justice to the book. I mean, that’s almost six hundred pages long. I mean, there are so many stories, but I’m really struck by, you know, all of the stories that we’ve seen about, the way even Bill Barr pushback against him and General Milli and the members of the Department of of of justice. What would a second Trump presidency be like, this goes back to this question of who does he listen to? He listens to everybody, but he he clearly has a sense now that he has to surround himself with a different group of people than those who were his enablers in the first term So where would he draw the personnel for a second term, do you think?
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:30

    Based on his past practice of running businesses and etcetera, I think
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:34

    it would be some of the people who we saw in the last administration. I think that he would want Rick Cornell. I think he would want Robert O’Brien. I think that he would want cash tell. I mean, I, you know, I think I think there are a lot of people who he would like to have back.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:46

    Now it’s
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:47

    not
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:47

    everybody, but there are people who he believes were with him and would do what he wanted. Well, an old friend of his once said to me that Trump like lawyers who will do anything And I think that that’s what he is looking for in terms of the personnel piece, which as you observe, is the the thing that he really focuses on. He’s not focused on policy or the way certain, you know, departments run, that’s what he wants. He wants personnel. Howard Bauchner:
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:12

    Now going back to and I I know this is you know, grossly simplistic, the the various daddy issues, Anil, his admiration for strong manly men To what do you attribute his fascination with people like Vladimir Putin, his soft spot for autocratic leaders around the world. Because this was also, you know, one of the one of the kinks of of the presidency that he couldn’t stand, people like, Angela, I know, Angela Merkel or Justin Trudeau, but he was writing love letters to Kim in North Korea. What what is that in him that that he is fascinated and has this this affection for the Victor orebonds, the Putin’s, the Xi’s of the world. Look, I
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:57

    think it’s you know, and I try to describe some of this in the book. He, you know, he is obsessed with violence as an animating force of strength. And strengthen term forms what he thinks makes a good boss. And so, and a strong leader. And so, I really do think it is as simple as that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:14

    Well, tell me about that, that fascination with violence. He’s he’s fascinated with violence as as
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:19

    a sign of of strength. And there were a number of times when he sort of made, you know, flexed in that direction, but didn’t really follow through. But what is the fascination with violence? Well,
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:29

    I don’t I don’t think it’s more complicated than what you see. And I think that he is he thinks that violence is a useful tool. He thinks that violence is a is a way to clash threats and to crash dissent. Would you have liked to have seen troops shooting
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:43

    protesters in in the summer of twenty twenty? Would you have liked to
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:46

    have seen masks? He asked for that one. Yeah. It was a mystery. Ask for Mark Esper and his own book writes about this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:51

    That that, you know, Trump talked about, can’t you shoot them in a leg? About the protesters. You know, he would he would talk about, you know, shooting migrants. He would talk about wanting to create some kind of a moat around the border wall you know, with with crocodiles or whatever it was. I’m getting some of the details wrong, but he wanted the border wall painted black so it would burn people’s hands.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:13

    I mean, There is a constant animating theme of him wanting to use violence as a tool and liking violence and admiring violence and being thrilled by violence. And cruelty. Well, so I have a slightly different view of that. Okay. You know, I there’s no question that, you know, I think that the Adam Starwood phrases that the quilty is the point, and it’s a it’s a It’s a brilliant construction.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:34

    And and sometimes it is. Sometimes the cruelty is the point when he’s trying to appeal to a certain group of people. By being cruel to a different group. But sometimes the nihilism is the point, and the cruelty is then the byproduct of that. I mean, the one word that people who work with him used over and over to describe him to me as nihilist.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:53

    And and that was at all stages of new life. Where really just nothing means anything. And I think these things go hand to hand. So how much
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:02

    does he reflect the preexisting political culture and and how much of it has he affected because that whole sort of political nihilism seems to be contagious. Spreading out into the the culture. So chicken and egg, how much of it is just Donald Trump reflecting what he figured out was still there, shrewdly, instinctively saw. And how much has he actually changed or in the title of your book the making of Donald Trump and the breaking of America? Much has he actually broken America?
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:34

    So I don’t
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:36

    think that he created the partisanship that, you know, cleaved the country. And and you clearly get it. I mean, this goes back decades and and intensified in the nineteen nineties with Bill Clinton and New Cambridge got worse over a series of national traumas you know, by the time we get to the tea party, tea party is born of a, you know, a huge distrust of institutions that I remember Ron Forney, then a BAP — Mhmm. — was the first person to really capture what was happening in twenty ten. And I think that the headline of that story was in nothing we trust.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:06

    That was the that he was capturing an arc. So I think Trump capitalized on it and seized on it and fueled it and then benefited from that accelerant that he throw on it. And as you say, it has grown exponentially. So the title of
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:21

    your book is confidence, man. Talk to me about that because basically, you’re saying this is a con man. And it again, the through line from Trump University to all of these other, you know, the scams is how did how did you come up with that title? Why? I mean, of all, and I’m always interested in in how writers decide what they’re going to call their book.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:45

    So confidence man is pretty edgy. It’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:48

    funny that you mentioned damage because I had actually been thinking about that as a title at one point — Yeah. — for the reasons we discussed. Confidence man can be read two ways, you know? And and I think and I think is. And one is that he is indeed somebody who has its confidence.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:01

    There’s no question about that. You know, and that’s what he tries to affix everything he does. But, you know, the textbook definition of a confidence, man, if you, you know, yield Internet, is somebody who uses their their persuasive nature and and abilities to take things from other people. And I think Donald Trump has a very long history of doing that. And
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:23

    yet, the Donald Trump that you portray is not necessarily a confident
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:28

    man. Sometimes he is and sometimes he isn’t. I think that the confidence that he portrays is sometimes real, and I think sometimes it is an art ofist.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:37

    So what would the title have been if he’d gone with damage? It would have
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:40

    been damaged. It would have been
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:41

    damaged. Done with Donald Trump and now he has damaged America, something like that. I
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:45

    wouldn’t have done a so totally. But, I mean, I think that I do think that you I think you you picked up on a a through line that I, you know, that I think is real through the book, which is that he had a damaging childhood, and I think it has impacted how he’s behaved ever since. Howard Bauchner: So
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:00

    you know how I feel about this, but then I wanted to ask you about the Maggie Abramsman and her critics. I I I personally and I think I’ve communicated this to you. I think that you were the the premier, the best most professional reporter who covered Donald Trump, and yet there is this weird obsession. And I find it to be a weird obsession on social media that somehow you practiced access journalism or you weren’t heard on him enough. So I mean, how do you think about that?
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:29

    What’s your reaction? You’re in New Yorker. You have fixed skin, but still, what the hell? What do you think? I think
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:36

    people are allowed to engage with my work however they want. And, you know, some things get said that are are probably thoughtful
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:43

    critiques and some less and I have to just do my job. Okay. You gave me a generic answer. That’s the kind of answer that you as a reporter would never let a politician get away with. Well,
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:53

    it’s a good thing. I’m not a politician, Charlie.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:55

    Are you frustrated by the fact that that many people I think just don’t understand how journalism works? They just fundamentally don’t understand what a reporter does. I think
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:05

    that news literacy is a big problem in the country in general, and I think that one of the problems with Twitter and I’ve said this before, is I think I might have said it to you, is that a lot of people are not just getting their news from Twitter, but they’re also getting their information and understanding of how journalism works from Twitter. And there’s a lot of things that get said on Twitter about how journalism works that are just wrong. And sometimes said by former journalists, which is surprising. That I do find frustrating, but, you know, that’s a long, a long tail problem. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:35

    you you have written the definitive account so far of the character of Donald Trump, but it’s also It feels like an indictment of the character of America that we elected him president and may elect him again president that here is this man who is not really mysterious. There’s complexity there, but he’s not really it’s not a secret who Donald Trump is. And yet tens of millions Americans say, yeah, that’s our guy. That’s what we want. So this is about the character of Donald Trump, but your book is also fundamentally about the character of us.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:11

    I did
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:11

    try writing about and I appreciate that you got that nuance. I I did try making clear that sort of the arc of history of how he got here, the arc of what the country was interested, the fact that the country is just celebrity obsessed and without that Trump does not rise the way he does. The fact that entertainment and news are often blurred on television, at least in terms of how viewers are appreciating it. You know, I think that there needs to be some realization that what the news media has seen as disqualifying over time isn’t always going to be seen that way with voters. I think we’re seeing another real test of that with Churchill Walker.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:52

    Right. Right. So that was not, you know, meant to be a condemnation just as an observation. You know, but I do think that part of why Trump was able to build artifice around himself in the seventies, eighties and nineties as the, you know, myth making as this massive tycoon and and and titan of industry was that a lot of A lot of the media coverage focus was very shallow. And Trump, and there’s a there’s a scene in the book, which was, you know, it was first reported by Wayne Barrett, where somebody who Trump is dealing with who’s guiding him, you know, as a navigator through the thicket of New York City government to try to approve a project that Trump’s earliest in Manhattan, observes to him you’re a very shallow person, and Trump says something like that’s my strength.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:36

    I never pretend to be anything else. Mhmm. And so you know, here we are. Here we are. And the
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:41

    book is Confidence Man, the making of Donald Trump and the breaking of America by Maggie Haberman, well worth your time. Maggie, thank you so much for your time this morning. Thanks so
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:52

    much, Charles. And thank you
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:53

    all for listening to this weekend’s Bulwark podcast on Charlie’s site. We’ll be back on Monday, and we’ll do this all over again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:06

    You’re
  • Speaker 3
    0:33:06

    worried about the economy. Inflation is high. Your paycheck doesn’t cover as much as it used to, and we live under the threat of a looming recession. And sure you’re doing okay, but you could be doing better. The
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:17

    afford anything podcast explains the economy and the market detailing how to make wise choices on the way you spend and invest. Afford
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    anything, talks about how to avoid common pitfalls, how to refine your mental models, and how to think about how to think. Make smarter choices and build a better life.
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    0:33:33

    Afford anything wherever you listen.
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