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Peter Wehner: Turning on Trump for the Wrong Reason

November 29, 2022
Notes
Transcript

The Republican establishment scolding Trump has little to do with morality and everything to do with power. Peter Wehner joins Charlie Sykes today.

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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, joined once again by our good friend Peter Wehner, contributing a writer at The Atlantic in The New York Times, his book include the death of politics, how to heal our afraid republic after Trump, and Peter is a senior fellow with the Trinity Forum, and he served in the Reagan Bush forty one and Bush forty three administrations. Good to have you back, Peter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:31

    Thanks, Charlie. So it’s great to be on the show and have the conversation with you. Well,
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:34

    as you know, I struggle against and I won against irrational exuberance or actually hopefulness of any kind, which is why I wanna talk to you about this. In the first twenty four hours after the reports of the the the Donald Trump Kanye West, Nick Wentee’s Nazi dinner. It looked like we were gonna see the same old pattern of Republicans looking at their shoes, you know, pretending they didn’t know about it, observing strategic silence. There are some indications that that may be changing. And again, I you know, as I as I wrote my newsletter, you know, Derek, I say it, it it feels a little bit hopeful.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:14

    Let me just read you something from Sema four this morning. Trump’s dinner party seemed to be going away of prior Trump scandals over the holiday weekend. A lot of noise in the press, a handful of attention getting condemnations from Republicans, but mostly silence within his party. On Monday though, it became clear that this was not going to be another story that gets quietly swept under the rug. Overall, it was the most widespread Republican rebuke Trump has received since January sixth, and it came just two weeks.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:45

    After the former president launched his reelection campaign in three weeks after a disappointing midterm election that many Republicans blamed on Trump backed candidates who voters perceived as extreme. Trump has made it through worse, and rank and file voters are the ultimate judge of his place in the party, but He also can’t afford to bleed support when Republicans have other options in a competitive primary. So Peter, I’m reading through the various condemnations, and they range from the tepid to the pretty strong Mitt Romney calling Himay Garg oil, even Mike Pence saying that he should apologize for it. What do you make of this? Is this a crack or just a hairline fracture or are you suffering PTSD from having lived through this so many times before?
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:32

    Yeah. I don’t think it’s the latter. I think it’s a crack. I think I just aggregate what what is was going on. There’s no question in my mind that the now GOP establishment, which is really a or maga establishment is breaking with him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:49

    And the precipitating event was not anything moral. It had to do with with perceived loss of power and the real loss of power because the Republicans rightly understood that that they haven’t done well in elections because of Trump in his twenty twenty two midterm results. I think it had a big psychological effect on on the Republican establishment. And a lot of them were looking, as you and I know, just from private conversations, they knew that Trump was a deeply disturbed person. But they were afraid to break with them.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:19

    And I think this gave them the opportunity to break and then this this dinner with Nick Fuentes and Kanye West Yay, is is is another reason for them to do it. So I think that’s that’s real. What we don’t know is what was alluded to in what you read, which is how’s the base of the party gonna react to this? And that’s just an unknown. There’s not much doubt that there’s been an erosion in Trump support.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:45

    We’ve seen that in, you know, the focus groups, the Sirloin wells done, which are so helpful. We’ve seen in some of the polling data. That said, the real test is going to be elections. And if you know, Trump
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:00

    is
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:01

    is lasting and standing by the time of the twenty twenty four election. Primaries are seriously underway. And you can have winner take all primaries. He only needs a certain percentage of the base to win. And people have consistently underestimated his hold on the base.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:19

    That doesn’t mean that there hasn’t been some real erosion that’s happened, but he started at a phenomenally high place and he could afford to lose support. So how much of this is filtering down to the to the Trumpified magnified base? We don’t we don’t know the stuff can’t help him. But I think right now too many people are essentially bearing him without sufficient evidence for that to happen. I
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:45

    think, you know, until the evidence to the contrary comes in, you have to assume that he is still the odds on favorite to be the the nominee. The question we always have to ask is is this new? Is this a real shift? Clearly, there’s kind of a permission structure out there where other elected Republicans are kinda looking over their shoulder and going, okay, I can I can denounce this. It’s really not that hard to denounce, you know, a neo Nazi white supremacist, the holocaust.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:11

    Denier. This is relatively easy. They they seem willing to do this, but you made an interesting point here that it seems like the Republican establishment is prepared to break with him. And and I guess let’s break this down because we know that Trump has brushed aside the Republican establishment in in the past that he’s co opted or to destroyed that they turned out to be completely fatless. But you made an interesting point that it’s not just the old, you know, bush establishment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:37

    When you talk about the establishment, you’re talking about the mega establishment. And I guess that’s the question is, what is the establishment in the party anymore? I mean, break it down, you have the old, you know, pre Trump Republicans who maybe held their nose, you know, and, you know, five or six of us, you know, went off to never Trump land. But when you’re talking about the establishment, when you’re talking about people who have up until now been kind of loyal spirit carriers for for Trump.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:02

    Yeah, that’s exactly right. I mean, it’s a good question. It’s somewhat paradoxical because a lot of Mago World has been running against the establishment, claw establishment, that is they they view themselves as revolutionaries. And in fact, they wouldn’t acknowledge what is true, which is they themselves have become the established. And then, what is that establishment now?
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:26

    Six years after Trump won won the nomination,
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:28

    I mean, it
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:28

    was it’s the Murdoch Empire, right, which is the Wall Street Journal of the New York Post, Fox News, its Talk Radio, its political institutions like the RNC, and then there there are elected officials in the House and the Senate and and and elsewhere. And you used a a good phrase, I thought, that sort of permission structure, and you can just tell that that’s changing. People are speaking out, Bill Barr’s, you know, is is one example of of several others. And they’re signaling to each other that it’s okay to be critical of him. Even if you’ve been supportive of them in the past, you’re not being a traitor.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:05

    So it’s a fascinating sort of tribal dance that we’re seeing. I think of that establishment, the most prominent part of it to turn against Trump is is the Murdoch Empire — Yeah. — because of journal editorial page, which is still significant, and the New York Post, but I think above all Fox News. And either that’s can’t help Trump. I mean, if they’re basically freezing him out of Fox News and and those shows are are celebrating and featuring DeSantis and and others that can’t that can’t help Trump.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:39

    But Trump, you know, had the entire establishment against him in twenty fifteen, twenty sixteen up until was clear that he was gonna win the nomination. That didn’t stop him. In some ways, it even helped him. I guess, demonstrated his bonuses in a party. That was somewhat revolutionary in its temperaments.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:55

    Well, look, let’s go with this guy who’s really to burn down the house. So it’s really, really interesting to observe and, you know, you and I as people who have been critical Trump really since
  • Speaker 3
    0:08:07

    the get go. Watching this unfold. It’s a kind of fascinating thing to observe. It is fascinating. So you mentioned Bill Barr in the context of the permission structure to criticize
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:19

    Donald Trump. But it comes with a an asterisk. Right? Because, apparently, this permission structure means you can criticize size him, you can, you know, be very harsh in your criticism. But the astro says, as long as you say that you would support him again in twenty twenty four, if he were the nominee.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:37

    I mean, that seems to be the caveat, which again is as mind boggling as as listening to Republicans back in twenty six who would say things like, yes, you know, he’s, you know, his comment is textbook racism, but nevertheless, we should put him in the Oval Office. I mean, this is Yep. This has been that two step. Right? That that as long as you pledge ultimate loyalty in the binary choice of the election, you still are you know, able to criticize them, but it feels hollow.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:07

    I mean, when Bill Barr says he’s completely unfit to be the president that he’s delusional. And yet, will suggest that despite the racism, the anti Semitism, the dinner with Nazis, etcetera, that he’d be willing to support him for president again? I mean, they haven’t moved past that yet, have they?
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:26

    No, they haven’t. And I entirely agree. I’m glad. I’m I’m I’m very happy that that the GOP establishment is breaking with Trump because I think he is such a malignant and malicious figure in American politics unlike anything we’ve seen. And this is something you and I have been arguing for and and and calling for.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:46

    And hoping for for a lot of years. So I’m I’m glad they’re turning against him. I think there are important, I guess, qualifiers to
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:54

    that. One
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:55

    is what you said, which is, you know, Bill Barr basically said, I think he actually did say that the Donald Trump was unhinged, essentially deranged after the election and the insurrection twenty twenty one. And in the next breath, he said that he would vote for Trump if he were the Republican nominee in the blink of an eye. He did that during his book tour several months ago. That just doesn’t parse. Morally, it doesn’t parse ethically, it doesn’t parse in terms of the good of the republic.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:21

    So you’re quite right. Their view is we are going to vote a Republican even if the person who is the nominee is is is a monstrous figure, which which is true of Donald Trump. The other thing that is happening is that the break with Trump has been utilitarian. It’s been in no sense a moral break, a realization of what a toxic, dangerous, threatening figure he was. The the inflection point, the degree that we’ve seen it was because Republicans lost in the midterm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:53

    And in the past, they thought Trump was was the pathway to power, so they supported him no matter what he did. And now there’s the perception that he’s blocked to power, so they’re going to to break
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:03

    from him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:04

    The problem with that apart from it being, you know, than than being hollow man in terms of the lack of any moral or ethical. Basis for their judgment is that that can shift again. If it becomes clear to them that Trump can can win, then they’ll wind up around him again. I wanted to say one other
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:21

    thing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:21

    You’re quite right. I mean, one of the tests here is is for Republicans even if they’re critical of Trump to say that they would support Trump. If he were the nominee in twenty twenty four. I think the other thing that is required of these people who are now breaking with Trump is not to admit that the critics of Trump over the last six years were right. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:41

    Again, in in any respect, they can’t bring themselves to to say that. And I wanna come back to that. The bar position
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:49

    makes no sense morally. But of course, it’s completely consistent with what Republican leaders have done over the last five or six years, which is that no matter what he has done, they will ultimately support his return to power. I mean, they they didn’t break with him decisively after Charlottesville, after the Muslim ban, after after access, Hollywood, after I mean, the list is just so long after he tried to overturn the free and fair election, etcetera. So why would dinner with one of the, you know, most vile neo Nazis in the country make that much of a difference. And you’re right, it is utilitarian.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:25

    You wrote about this break. And I think this is this is again the dilemma that Republicans have, that that even if you have the donors, the the political operatives, even former, you know, White House staff members, even the Murdoch Empire, even if elected Republicans turn against him. As you point out in your piece in the times, the break wouldn’t come clean or easy. Trump likes running as an outsider, and we look at the numbers, you still have, I mean, about forty percent of Republicans are always trumpers. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:54

    They they will never abandon him. Get about fifty percent who are maybe Trumpers. So I guess Peter, the question is how does he go away? I just don’t see the the scenario. He’s not going to graciously concede defeat to Rhonda Santos.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:10

    Right? He’s not gonna walk off into the sunset and say, okay, you know, that was fun. Now I’m going to go and join my the rest of my life down in Mar a Lago.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:19

    Yeah. He’s not gonna go away. That is the One thing that I think we can we we can pretty much guarantee is psychological profile and disordered personality won’t allow him to go away. And I think that one of the things that Republicans who are breaking with Trump haven’t given sufficient thought to and maybe because it’s a thought that’s right here into their hearts is that if Trump runs and doesn’t win the nomination, I think he’s gonna try and burn down the Republican party. I think he — Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:51

    — earn against it with fury, and he would tell his supporters to turn against it with fury. Now, not all of them would would would do it, but not all of them have to do it. The elections are are close enough that if any portion of the Republican Party as it’s currently constituted turned against the Republican nominee in twenty twenty four if it wasn’t if it wasn’t Trump, whether they voted for a Democrat or third party or didn’t vote for the Republican nominee. Republicans would really, really suffer, not just at the residential level, but but congressional governorships, state state legislatures, and all the rest. And Trump has never been a party man in video, who knows his history, knows knows that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:39

    He he landed the Republican party simply because that was the opening that he had. He could just as easily have have run as a as a Democrat. And, of course, we also know that that he has no loyalty to to individuals, let alone to to institutions or or to political parties. And if the Republican party does turn on him, rejects him, that will psychologically be too much for him, and he’ll he’ll go on the war path And I do think he’ll try and burn down the Republican Party
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:10

    when they stuck with
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:11

    him. Well, they hostage to his his derangement because the old saying goes between a rock and a hard place because if they nominate him, he’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:18

    such a flawed, deeply flawed figure, and this is which is the breaking with him. They know that unless there are exceptions, circumstances, he’s not gonna win the election in in twenty twenty four. And they don’t want that. They want somebody at the top of the dick that they can win. On the other hand, if they don’t nominate him, if they turn against him, and he decides to to aim all of his fire in fury on the GOP.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:43

    They’re gonna suffer there too. So, you know, it’s it’s basically pick your poison. But but look, they’re responsible for this. They created him. They supported him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:52

    They bought his ticket. They’re taking the ride now. So Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:55

    Exactly. They propagated his lies. They allowed the base to get radicalized. And then they thought, well, you know, when the time comes, we’re just gonna hit the off switch. I guess what?
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:04

    There’s no off switch. So I I do think that that it’s complicated for them and and I think they don’t quite know what to what to do. What we do know is it’ll be chaotic. Well,
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:14

    what’s interesting is is watching some of the anti anti Trumpers lining up behind Ron DeSantis is kind of their golden ticket out of Trump world. But here’s the problem with Ron DeSantis. Maybe I need to come back to all of this. Rhonda Sanders wants to run as, you know, the second coming of Trump, which means that he cannot antagonize any part of that Trump base. He wants to inherit it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:37

    In fact, I I think baseball crank at the national review, you know, national review, which now become kind of a fan’s theme for Ron DeSantis said, you know, they the real trick for DeSantis is is how do you not alienate, you know, the most hardcore Trump supporters And that means then, not only not breaking decisively with Trump himself, but also not denouncing this this troll base that that Donald Trump has has has encouraged. And I think my little takeaway from the Nick Fuente’s dinner was whether or not Donald Trump knew who he was when he when he walked in the door he certainly knew afterwards who he was, and he’s refused to criticize or denounce him. And the reason he’s refused to criticize or denounce him is because he thinks that antisemitic racist troll base is a fundamental part of his base. And Republicans need to, if they’re ever gonna move past this, they’re not just going to have to denounce Trump. They’re going to have to go after that base.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:38

    Right? They’re going to have to go after. This griper army, just the way Williamuth Buckley junior did it with the John Bird Society in the KKK back in the nineteen sixties. And so far, Rhonda Santos hasn’t figured out how to how to finesse that has he. He he wants to run against Trump, but his silence is really parallel at this point to Trump’s silence because he wants to keep that base in the base.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:04

    Yeah. I
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:05

    think that’s exactly right. I mean, Rhonda Santos is in the easiest possible position right now that he’ll ever find himself. He won an overwhelming election in Florida. He’s not running for the presidency yet. He gets to pick and choose what he says, when he says it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:23

    And he’s not not being targeted by by other Republicans, particularly he was for a short time by Trump, and Trump seems to have veered away from that at least for now. And on paper, DeSantis looks formidable, but there are a ton of people who have looked formidable on paper in presidential elections who flamed out. When they actually ran. And we’ll see how much dexterity and skill that DeSantis has. Just a couple of comments.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:51

    I don’t know if this is your impression, but my impression is that for an awful lot of people who are winding up behind Rhonda Santos now, they’re doing it without actually having really seen or known much about Rhonda Santos. So they know him on paper. They know he did well. In in in Florida. They’ve seen him yelling at high school students who are wearing masks.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:15

    They’ve seen him barket reporters and twenty second, you know, sound clips. I don’t know how many of them saw, for example, the the debate that he had with Charlie Chris. And I’m not convinced that he’s a supremely great political talent. I think he’s he’s good. He’s smart.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:31

    Clearly smart from everything that I know and from what others have said about him. But smart doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be a good political candidate. So in a way he’s a slightly empty vessel in which a lot of people are investing their hopes of what they think he is. That’s very different from from what he may be. And, you know, I’ve I’ve been in presidential campaigns of studied politics and presidential campaigns like like you have.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:57

    I can tell you there’s nothing like running for president. If you think running for governor or running for senate is the same thing. We haven’t done it before. It’s a different league. We don’t know how Ron DeSantis would do if he’s on a debate stage with Trump and Trump turns that blowtorch.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:11

    We don’t know what’s gonna happen if he’s asked, you know, to break with some of the far right elements, q and on elements, how much dexterity he has. So I agree with you. You know, the one person who is who is speaking out more and more as as Mike Pence. He did an interview the other day and said that that Trump should apologize for, you know, for having us to the dinner. But Pence isn’t gonna go anywhere.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:36

    There’s no there’s no no lane for him to to
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:40

    to go.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:40

    Chris Christie is is doing the the same thing. So I agree with you conceptually what what somebody like DeSantis or any other candidates gonna win has to do is they have to not antagonist. It’s not alienate the Trumpian base because that’s the base of the Republican party. They have to signal that they’re different than Trump and they have to give a rationale for why voters
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:02

    should vote for
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:02

    them rather than Trump. That’s not an easy task. We’ll see if DeSantis and others are up to it. Your
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:09

    point about the, you know, the sand is being untested, you know, needs to be under the line. It would be interesting to go back and write a piece about what presidential fields look like two years out from election because I believe that president Scott Walker would like a word, president, Ruthie Giuliani, president Fred Thompson. Remember when president John Conley was running I mean, there there’s a long list of people who look just fantastic stick on paper. I remember president Rick Perry when he surged. You know, and all of these guys faded in the spotlight.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:43

    The other problem that DeSantis has though is his strategy is is to, you know, go for the Trump base, prove that he can be as cruel and manipulative as Trump that can own the lives effectively as as as Trump. And it it worked for him in in Florida. But part of the trade off here is that by playing so hard to the base and being unwilling to take on this troll base is the ongoing alienation of the swing voters, the suburban voters, So, you know, this is this again is part of the problem that what it takes to win a Republican primary is exactly what kills you in the general election and that erosion continues. And I do I agree with my colleague Tim Miller who says, you know, honestly, if Republicans are thinking that the rest of the country has this this bottomless appetite for what’s going on in Florida, I’d like to see what they are actually smoking because I’m not sure that the things that are appealing right now about the Sandoz and Florida are gonna play well in Pennsylvania. And in Michigan, and in Wisconsin, in Minnesota, and Arizona, and Nevada, the states are going to determine who wins the twenty twenty four election.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:53

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:53

    I think that’s I think that’s right. And there’s this interesting and I think for for Republicans alarming phenomenon, which is which is playing out, which is the base of the party is much more radicalized now than it was even during the Trump years when you when you look at what happened after January sixth. And all of the craziness and insanity that’s unfolded, and and you see it in people like Hershel Walker and and that whole slate of election and Iors that that were defeated. In the twenty twenty two midterm election. So they’re going further and further in the dark and ugly places.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:28

    And that if people aren’t willing, if candidates aren’t willing to stand up against that, a lot of swing voters, as you say, are say, look, this is this is easy. If you can’t do this, then I don’t want anything to do with you. But it’s precisely because this is an energized part of of of of the Republican Party. That going after them is going to really tick that portion, that wing of the party off. So it’s tricky.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:53

    And again, this is something that they’ve created. They’ve made this bet. Now they have to to lie in it. And of course,
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:59

    this is not just a problem for the Republican Party. I think we need to step back for a moment. And and the more that I think about the events of the last week. Look, anti Semitism has been a problem in this country for a very, very long time. There’s no that it is not new, but there is something new that’s going on right now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:17

    And the the fact that we’re focusing on Nick Fuentes rather than the fact that the former president wanted to have this millionaire rap superstar who’s also one of the most turbulent any summits to dinner. In itself is a bad landmark. Michelle Goldberg, I’ve been thinking about her column all night. And she talks about the fact that maybe we’ve become numbed to all of this. And, you know, you and I have, you know, dealt with any semitism for many, many, many years, but there is a new there’s a new threat, and it is bigger than anything that I’ve experienced in my life.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:53

    And this is when Michelle Goldberg wrote in the Times. For most of my adult life, anti semites, with exceptions like Pat Buchanan and Mel Gibson, have lacked status in America, the most rheumatoid anti semites, tended to hate Jews from below, blaming them for their own failures and disappointments. Now however, anti Jewish bigotry or at least tasset approval of anti Jewish bigotry is coming from people with serious power, the leader of a major political party a famous pop star and the world richest man. Such antisemitism still feels at least to me less like an immediate source of terror. Then an ominous force off stage just as it was for the comfortable Austrian Jews in stoppage play.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:38

    Maybe this time for the first time it won’t get worse. So I guess this is the moment where you have to go, okay, no, this this beast has been out there. We have looked the other way as it’s been nurtured. It’s interesting headline in the New York Times today, Jewish allies call Trump’s dinner with any Semites a breaking point. And the subhead is, supporters who look past the former president’s admirers and bigoted corners of the far right, and his own use of anti Semitic tropes now are drawing the line.
  • Speaker 1
    0:26:07

    He legitimizes Jude hatred and Jude Hater says one and this scares me. Okay. So Peter better late than ever, but this is kind of a like oh shit moment for a lot of these folks that this has consequences. You make a really important point in which we’re focusing on
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:21

    the effects on the Republican Party. But the most important thing is the moral condition of the country. Yeah. A lot of these these people are, you know, shocked shocked that Trump has gone in his direction of these ugly and dark forces and passions have been have been unleashed. And this was so predictable you could see this coming six years ago.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:45

    That was really one of the main reasons why it was important to stand up to Trump early on. And to do it in a in a unified way before he had secured power. And even after he had power to stand up and say, look, there’s some lines that that that you can’t cross, because if you succumb to it, if you turn the other way or if you amplify those charges, you defend him, always engage in what aboutism. It has a a a tremendously corrosive effect on the civic and political culture of the country. And that’s something you and I remember that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:18

    I mean, wouldn’t wouldn’t when we were young and really became part of the conservative movement. That was one of the essential elements of conservatism. Which was not necessarily the policy and the and the political realm per se, but the civic and political culture of a country in institutions of a country, the moral sentiments of a country, or the Republican virtues that are necessary for free republic to survive, And conservatives used to believe that you had to attend to those and and and nurture those. And not only is
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:52

    that have
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:53

    they given up on that? It’s been the exact opposite. And now we’re seeing it play out and it’s locating itself right now in a really nasty and ugly place, which is antisemitism.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:05

    But it’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:05

    not going to stop there because this is this is like lightning bolts. They’re going to strike someplace. And there’s gonna strike in fact in many different places. And it’s antisemitism right now. It’ll be someplace else.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:20

    Later down the road. That’s what happens when these kind of passions are unleashed The founder’s worried about this, and so did Lincoln in his young men’s livestream speech. That’s always been one of the great dangers of of democracy, which is what happens when ugly passions are unleashed in demagogues, come
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:41

    on to
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:42

    the onto the scene and and you lose control of of this. And I agree too that all of us to some degree have have gotten inured to this. And that’s understandable psychologically because otherwise, you would just be in a perpetual state of outrage. And fear and concern for the country. So we’ve kind of endured ourselves to it, and and and we know what Trump is like, and we know how this these these more freak show, you know, plays out.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:10

    But it’s also important at the same time to take a step back now and and then into see just how far we’ve fallen and just how dangerous this stuff is. Right now, it’s in the bloodstream and gonna take a lot of time and effort and some degree of luck to try and and drain it. And again,
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:29

    this was predictable. This is not something that just happened as a one off. I know that you remember twenty fifteen and twenty sixteen, back then, Trump’s flotation with the old right, with the anti Semitic right, you know, with the daily stormers of of the world was an issue. And when I wrote my, you know, book back in which now seems like a kinder gentler, more naiveier, you know, how the right lost its mind, there’s a lot in there. About Donald Trump’s empowerment and encouragement to the any semites.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:59

    After one of the mass shootings, I wrote a piece for the weekly standard, Trump’s anti Semitism problem and and ours and and the the consequence of these ideas, this has been building for years The other point I think that’s important to stress here is that the modern conservative movement, which I would trace back to Buckley and the National Review, was very much focused on reading the right of the cancer of antisemitism. This was something that William Buckley Junior was obsessed about. Because, you know, in fact, he he banned anyone who wrote for the publication known as the American Mercury from ever appearing in national review. And the American Mercury was just, you know, a a sort of assess pool of Jude hatred. And this was a real problem.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:46

    And I think the conservatives realized that if there was ever going to be a future for American conservatism, it needed to purge itself and cleanse itself of this any conservatism. That was a project that took decades and it has all been undone or much of it has been undone by the willing embrace of Trump or at least the tacit acceptance of what Trump has done. To anti semis because they are out there. They are big and people think we’re exaggerating. It’s because you probably do not inhabit.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:21

    Those steeper swamps out there that are becoming much, much more influential in Republican politics. Yeah. That’s a point in the
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:29

    description and you’re quite right. I mean, you remember when Buckley broke with Buchanan, it was in the early nineteen nineties. That was a big deal within the conservative movement and the enter conservative debate because Buckley felt like Buchanan had crossed the line in terms of of antisemitism, and Buchanan’s antisemitism wasn’t as un disguised as what we’re seeing now. It was bad enough, but it’s worse now. I’m curious, do you think that the people who are now expressing shock at what’s happened, are generally shocked by it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:58

    Or do you think that they’re just saying that? Or do you think it’s a complicated mix of of both? I think that’s a very interesting question. I always try to figure
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:08

    out what what are people’s motivations? What do they actually think? And I think the answer is probably the third. It’s a complicated mix. I think that there have been people who have been shocked by it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:18

    May be horrified by it, but unwilling or simply afraid to speak out that muscle memory of cowardice. On the other hand, there is that moment where you go, okay, I thought I could keep this under control. I didn’t think that the elevator would come out and eat me. There’s a certain reduction to absurdity where, well, what if you had Donald Trump have dinner with an tool neo Nazi. Would that be too far?
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:47

    Right. They’ve swallowed it all thinking, okay, I can sort of put this in a box in the corner, and I don’t need to worry about it. And this maybe is a little bit too much in your face. So I think that there’s some genuine shock. But of course, as you pointed out, there’s also just the sort of the rank cynical opportunism of people who have swallowed all of this until they’d start to lose elections.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:12

    And so
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:12

    who knows? People are complicated. That’s a helpful answer. I I think that cognitive distance is a hard thing for anybody to live wolf. And the mind has this tremendous capacity to rationalize and to excuse our conduct and our attitudes and what we embrace.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:28

    But it is a really fascinating test. I mean, if you go back to what happened at Charlottesville, which was twenty seventeen. And there was condemnation, as you recall, from Republican leaders, from, you know, Paul Ryan, and I I think Mitch McConnell and and several others. And we’re way beyond Charlottesville at this at this point. And it does show you how how people accommodate themselves and how one accommodation gives way to another accommodation, which gives way to another combination.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:00

    And before you know it, you’ve gone down really dark dark alleyways. Well, exactly. And again, can anybody really be shocked This is
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:09

    a man who brought Steve Bannon and Steven Miller into the White House. Anyway, you know, again, every single thing here was done in the open. None of this was a a secret. And so I guess this this really tests their capacity for denial, which has been pretty amazing, the degree to which they can engage in in denialism. I mean, how many years Paul Ryan spent saying, Well, I didn’t read the tweets.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:33

    I never read the tweets. No. Well, And again, I don’t know whether you feel this way, but I am prepared to lower the bar and open the gates a little bit. That if you’re willing to speak out now, let’s not re litigate all of the failures in the past. I I think it’s a good thing that they are speaking out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:50

    Although for those of us who have taken the slings and arrows for seven years and been derided and sneered at by many of the anti anti Trumpers. How should we think about you know, all of those emphatic supporters of Donald Trump until that moment they decided, well, wait. Maybe he’s a loser. What should we think about these people? Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:13

    It’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:14

    a really intriguing question. I agree with you. I mean, if people are willing to take an exit ramp, from the Trump highway, then they should do it, and we should celebrate that they’re doing it. We should be glad that they’re that they’re doing it because it was just the essential first step that was required to get the country back on course, get the Republican party back on course, to get conservatism back and forth if all of those things are in fact rectified and and straightened out. So that’s important to do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:44

    I do think that at the same time, it’s important and fair to critique where are those people who’ve been and what’s motivating them now? I mean, we talked earlier about about the fact that their judgment is not moral. It’s it’s utilitarian. And so presumably, if they’re convinced that Trump could win, they would rally around him again. And that’s that’s then an an active danger And it also means that there isn’t a a lot of credit that is due for them to getting off of this excess, not as if they’d had a a revelation of any kind, any any contemplation, self reflection,
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:21

    a
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:22

    sense they had missed something important. Just like, look, this guy is now useless to us or he’s actively harmful to us, so we gotta throw to the to the curb, but it doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t do this again or if there’s another figure comparable to Trump. But with less baggage, they wouldn’t really around him. So I think that’s important too. And then there’s just sort of basic I I don’t know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:45

    Maybe this is some degree of of good graces, which is if you’ve been attacking people for five, six, seven years for making essentially the same critique you’re making now to try and explain what it is that they missed about it. What do you see now that you didn’t see four because as we’ve talked about, none of this is surprising with Donald Trump. There was almost an inevitability to it to it going here. And it would be helpful and I think impressive for for for a few of the never never trumpers who who are now sort of welcome to the resistance. To reflect on that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:22

    I think it’s hard for them for two reasons. One is it’s not easy for any of us to admit that we were wrong. And so I think there’s there’s this tendency to just skip over that that part of the process just to say we were with him, but he’s changed and he’s a loser now we’re we’re against him. They don’t wanna admit that they were wrong on any deep or fundamental sense or that they miss something important or that they were morally blind to certain things. The other thing that I think is even harder than admitting that they were wrong is to admit the people that they had been attacking for the last four, five, six years were right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:58

    Think that’s even psychologically more difficult because there was so much energy, so much antipathy that’s that’s been aimed. At critics of Trump. And those sensibilities have been has have been shaped and didn’t now say, look, maybe there was there was a point, maybe those critics saw things that that we didn’t. It’s probably asking too much of of of
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:23

    them. Well, and as a never trumper, from before there was never or never Trump. I I do find myself thinking about the Prodigal Son story. You know, we’ve been out here taking the slings and arrows and and then these guys just sort of show up and everything and they want the fatted cap. But they’re going to have to be strange alliances, and and we’re going to have to welcome back people that we’ve been alienated from, I think, to get to get through all of this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:50

    And I say this is somebody that until about a year ago, here in in my basement study, had a picture on the wall I’m embarrassed even tell this. Right? Picture of me with Ted Cruz. Right before twenty sixteen Wisconsin primary saying I will do anything I can beat Donald Trump. And if that meant supporting Ted Cruz, which by the way is a choice that does not age well.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:14

    Does I do not feel better over time. But, you know, I’m I’m sure that there were a lot of people that felt that way about about Joseph Stalin World War two. Okay. I went there. But there’s going to have to be those moments where we’re going to have to make that that common cause.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:30

    And it’s not gonna be easy for anybody, you know. I think that’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:32

    well stated. I think it’s important to do because it’s it’s important for the good of the country and the and the good of this movement that we care about And so it’s good in every respect to be able to welcome people back. And beyond that, there’s this point about grace and about reconciliation. We’ve all failed. We’ve all made misjudgments.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:54

    I certainly have. Too. And you you don’t want those things to to, you know, be a milestone around your neck all the time. Again, I I do think it would be helpful and I think it’s important in some moral sense for realization of of what was missed. Partly because if if there isn’t that, this can play out again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:17

    If it’s simply for utilitarian reasons, if it’s simply for for power than than the the right lessons haven’t, you know, haven’t been learned. No. I think it’s it’s completely
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:30

    fair and legit
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:30

    to to be able to have those conversations and to say to the people who are now was or joining the resistance. To to reflect. But it doesn’t have to be said with bitterness and or acrimony. It doesn’t have to be said in a way that the signals we never want you. Or, you know, that you’re irredeemable or anything like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:49

    I’m a person that Christian faith, you are as well, and grace is a central concept. And and we’ve all benefited from it. And when you’ve been the recipient of grace, you’re able to extend grace to to others, and hopefully, I’ll be able to to do that. I think it’s the right thing to do. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:10

    one last note here, just changing gears a little bit. You wrote a very, very powerful moving and eloquent remembrance of Mike Gerson who died from cancer about two weeks ago, and Mike was a columnist for the Washington Post, previously a speech writer for George w Bush. And and really, in in in many ways, a voice of conscience in a very difficult time. And you obviously were very, very close with Michael. He’s gonna be his voice, I think, is going to be terribly missed over the next few years.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:41

    Howard Bauchner:
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:42

    Yeah. Thanks for mentioning him. He was he was a tremendous friend and the cherished friend of of Mayon. CS Lewis once described friends is joining like raindrops on a window. And that happened with Mike and me, really the first time that I met him, which was in the nineteen nineties.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:57

    And we worked together, we were colleagues, We wrote books together, we did essays together. There were times where we would talk two or three times a day. And he was a remarkable person. He was hero like an angel, just a beautiful, beautiful writer, one of the most gifted speech writers, presidential speech writers, in generations and generations. He was a voice of of conscience.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:22

    He was a person who who had a deep moral center and he acted on that because of of his efforts and the efforts of others. But but very much because of Mike’s efforts, the global aids initiative went forward and twenty million people are alive today because of the Pepfar, which President Bush had signed into law. And Mike was a person that pushed very hard for that in the Bush administration. And he was always trying to work out in a serious and thoughtful way you know, the moral implications of of his views and politics and and culture. And then he was a person of of deep Christian faith.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:01

    I mean, the the litany of illnesses that he has was just remarkable. He had a heart attack when he was forty. He had kidney cancer in twenty thirteen. That metastasized into lung cancer, renal cancer, finally bone cancer. He was struggling with Parkinson’s disease.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:19

    He’d dealt with depression for most of his adult life. And yet, in the last several weeks of his life, and I saw
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:28

    him three times in the
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:28

    last two weeks and and and other people saw him when he was a Georgetown Hospital. The through line of those conversations was gratitude. Mhmm. He was deeply grateful for the life that he was able to live and the people who were able to to to be part of that journey. And to see a person moving toward death
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:56

    and struggling
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:56

    with not just cancer, but a particularly painful kind of cancer and yet having a hard and a disposition of gratitude was a remarkable thing to see. His faith was part of that because he knew that that this was not the end of the story that there was a new and glorious chapter ahead. But it was also a testimony to just a basic character of of his he he lived a consequential life and a and a lovely life — Mhmm. — and left its imprint on on a lot of people pre eminently his his family, but very much mine too, and and and I miss him a a
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:38

    lot. We should all be so fortunate just to have a friend like you to provide this kind of remembrance. And by the way, on my desk here, as we are speaking, I have the book that you co wrote with with Michael Gerson City of Man, religion, and politics in a new era, which I strongly recommend and think it’s probably due for a rereading. Peter Weiner, thank you so much for coming back on the podcast. I appreciate it very much.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:04

    I always enjoy the conversation, Charlie. Thanks so much. The polar podcast is produced by Katie Cooper with audio production by Jonathan Siri. I’m Charlie Sykes. Thank you for listening to today’s Forward podcast.
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    0:45:15

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    0:45:24

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