Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

The Evangelical Crack-Up

January 12, 2024
Notes
Transcript
The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta discusses his book on the rot within white evangelical Protestantism. The panel then considers Christie’s exit, Haley’s chances, and what the GOP base really wants.

Highlights / Lowlights

Mona Charen-  Don Scott, sworn in as first Black speaker of Virginia’s House of Delegates, was once a federal prison inmate

Bill Galston-  Haley’s strong bid for second place in the Iowa debate

Linda Chavez- Lowlight: ‘Flight 93 Election’ Anti-Trumpers Imperil the Rule of Law by Peter Berkowitz

Highlight: Anti-Trump Means Anti-Democracy? You Can’t Be Serious by Ronald Radosh and Gabriel Schoenfeld

Damon Linker- The Case for Trump … by Someone Who Wants Him to Lose by Bret Stephens

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
    0:00:09

    Welcome to Beg to Differ, the Bulwark weekly roundtable discussion, featuring civil conversation across the political spectrum. We range from center left to center right by Mona Sharon, syndicated columnist and policy editor at the Bulwark, And this is our debut YouTube episode of Thank you differ, and you can see our faces as well as hear our voices. So if this is a success and if people like it, we’ll continue with this. So let me introduce our regulars, Will Saletan of the Brookings institution and the Wall Street Journal, Damon Linker, who writes the Substack newsletter, notes from the middle ground, and Linda Chavez of the Nescannon Center. Our special guest this week is Tim Alberta, who is a staff writer at the Atlantic, author of two books, the second of which we are going to discuss in our first segment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:06

    It is called the kingdom, the power, and the glory. So welcome, one and all. Tim, thanks so much for joining us.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:16

    Thank you, Mona, for having me. And I’m sorry I didn’t get the memo about the the YouTube premiere had I known I would have worn my best suit and combed my hair and looked more presentable.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:27

    You look extremely presentable. So, alright. Let’s get right into your book. It couldn’t be more timely because we are right on the cusp of the Iowa caucuses. Iowa is famous for having always been the stronghold of evangelical Christians in the Republican primary, anyway, in the Republican caucuses.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:50

    And the role of Christian Republicans was always seemed to be very, very crucial in that Caucus, but you have so many interesting insights in this book. So let’s start with the whole idea that the relationship between evangelical Christians and Trump is transactional. You know, that is because he was going to give them policy wins that mattered to them, they were willing to put a guide. There are qualms about other aspects of his character and the ways in which he was corrupting our politics. But as you point out in this book, it doesn’t quite capture it to say it’s transactional because there is an element in these groups of worship of Trump, of kind of idolatry that has taken hold, where it’s really not transactional.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:40

    But he can do pretty much anything and not be not worry about sacrificing their support. Am I getting that right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:47

    Yeah. I think so. I think what’s critical to understand is that What began as a transactional relationship, nakedly transactional, understood by both side to be transactional. It’s not like anyone was hiding the ball here. It was quite apparent and understood what this relationship was.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:06

    It has in many ways now morphed into something else, which sort of runs the spectrum from, full fledged Trump idolatry complex that, you know, as you may have seen the clip of a woman speaking to, I think, NBC News the other day at one of Trump’s rallies, talking about how Jesus died for us and when Trump talks about being our retribution and suffering for us that that the same sort of imagery comes to mind for her. So you’ve got that that sort of messianic effect on the far extreme. And then I think even coming into more of the mainstream evangelical relationship with Trump Mona, it’s important to recognize that for a great many of the sort of white evangelical Christian conservatives in this country who have come to view their status as threatened. They have come to view their way of life as under attack. They believe that their very identity as Christians is in the crosshairs of the secular culture and a weaponized government that is going come after them, and they have sort of talked themselves into this justification by which you know, the barbarians are at the gates, and we need a barbarian to protect us.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:29

    And that is Donald Trump. And so what began as this transactional relationship where most of these folks would say to you back in twenty sixteen, you know, I don’t like this man. I don’t trust this man. I don’t admire this man. He’s certainly not a role model for our children.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:46

    They would give you the full chapter and verse on why He is not representative of them and of their movement and yet they felt the need to vote for him as a lesser of two evils. You do not hear the lesser of two evils talk anymore. You just don’t. It’s it’s really it’s really out the window because I think in part, a lot of these people have looked around. They’ve seen the attacks on Trump.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:11

    They they’ve gotten to a place where they feel increasingly as though attacks on Trump’s character are an attack ipso facto on their character. And therefore, they they now have closed ranks and rallied around him and defended him in ways that they never would have earlier.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:31

    What also comes through very clearly in your book is that in many of these churches, and not clear exactly how many, but In many so called evangelical churches, the actual substance of what goes on in church is really not religion, rightly understood. It is politics. It is very nakedly political. So you gave an example. Well, this was actually not from a church, but it there were other examples in your book that that could well have been.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:03

    You were talking about actually a meeting of the, Ralph Read’s faith and Freedom Coalition. You said believers were told their children were being groomed. Their communities were under invasion. Their guns were going to be confiscated. Their medical treatments were suspect.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:17

    Their newspapers were lying to them and so on and so forth. That is not about the gospel. And much of what goes Jonathan Last correctly, if I’m wrong, that’s the impression I get from your book. Much of what goes on in these churches is not about Christianity.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:32

    Yeah. I I think what we’re what we’re dealing with here is a competing religion, which is the religion of America, the religion more specifically, of an idealized traditional Judeo Christian conservative America in which the values, and the demography, and the kind of cultural hierarchy was more recognizable. That is in many ways a sort of competing religion inside of the evangelical movement. When I say that it’s competing, it’s not necessarily the case that the, you know, that the cross has been displaced by, you know, a a a maga flag per se, although you do have sort of extreme circumstances and examples that I’ve seen where that is the case. But I think, it’s more apt more accurate, more appropriate to, to think about it as these things sort of coexisting very uneasily and being in competition with one another.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:35

    So when you talk with pastors across the country who lead predominantly white, predominantly conservative congregations, and they describe their struggles to you. It really does come back time and time again these conversations to this notion of where one’s identity is ultimately found and the purpose of that person’s life. And a lot of these church leaders who I’ve spent time with who themselves are almost entirely right of center, politically, culturally, theologically. These are not you know, the woke Marxist pastors who, you know, out of the fever dreams of Charlie Sykes. Like, these are reformed conservative Ron DeSantis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:19

    And what they describe is this struggle to reach their congregants with a gospel that is not partisan. But and to shape their identities around a messiah who does not have as the linchpin to his plan for the ages, trump winning the next election. In other words, there is a kingdom that you are promised as a follower of Jesus Christ, and it is not of this world. And and there is power that you are promised as a follower of Jesus Christ, but it is not political power. And there is glory that you are promised as a follower of Jesus Christ, but it is not the glory found in this sort of tribal identitarian warfare that that we’re engaged in here and now in this country.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:08

    And That is a struggle though for thousands and thousands of church leaders around the country to try to help their flocks process politics through the context of their faith rather than processing faith through the context of their politics.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:25

    So this book I think could fairly be labeled a Jeremiah ad. It is, it’s very, very tough on evangelical Christianity, and you write from within the camp. You are hoping to reform the movement, as you say. But Mike I would love to hear your views on how much of a force this will continue to be going forward because as you document, There are fewer and fewer Americans who are identifying as evangelical now, partly because the movement has, you know, defamed itself through its raw politicization and some of the cruelty and, callousness and racism that has infected it. So What’s your sense about the future of this movement as as a both religiously and politically?
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:14

    Okay. So I would answer that in two ways. And it’s it’s a little bit of a a good news, bad news. It’s also sort of understanding the the sequencing and the stages of this conflict. So I think the good news is, and I write about this a bit towards the end of the book, that there is a clear generational schism here and you see it, in churches and in church affiliated ministries, all over the country.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:42

    The younger generations are very clear eyed about what has happened in their faith traditions, in their individual faith communities, with their parents, with the their Sunday school teachers, the people that they grew up around, even when you visit places like Liberty University, where you talk with the students there and they remain themselves decidedly conservative, theologically, culturally and politically. When you start to get into the texture and the nuance of what’s going on inside of the evangelical movement, most of them will make very clear that they want nothing to do with trumpism. They want nothing to do with this sort of national idolatry. They want nothing to do with the sort of tribal conflict and and the and really the tribal conquest that has come to consume so much of evangelicalism, but these younger generations are still far removed from the levers of institutional power. And so I think in the long term, I’m actually quite optimistic about the health of the capital c church because it seems to me that there’s been a wake up call here in recent years and that those people who have really come of political awareness over the last decade they can see this for what it is, whereas their parents, you know, the the moral majority era, you know, and I include my own parents in that and many of the people I grew up around family and friends.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:15

    I I think that they were so close to it and I think that they were so deeply invested in it that they just have never been able to get the distance to really understand the damage that’s been done and to see this for what it is. And because of that, I think that we are in for a period here over at least over sort of the the short to intermediate term of continued conflict of real bitter division inside the church and much of it comes back to this question of if one accepts the premise that the United States is a divinely blessed nation and that, and that we have a responsibility, a sacred responsibility to fight to preserve its Judeo Christian heritage. And if one is to accept that we’re seeing that heritage slip away, you know, can you lay down your defenses and pick up the cross and do what the apostles and the disciples and what Christ himself prescribed to us in the new testament, which is to essentially, as my friend, John Dixon, at Wheaton College says to lose well. To carry on our witness to the culture around us even at a time of marginalization and ostracization and even persecution, are Christians able and willing to do that in a culture that is turning hostile towards them or Do they continue to turn to the sword?
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:46

    That is the great sort of biblical crisis mona that has always presented itself to Christians at least since the age of constantine, in an aid of social and political unrest and vulnerability, do you turn to the sword turning to, the forces of government and the state and political and social power, or do you turn to the cross to try to preserve your witness that way That is, I think, fundamentally, it’s a bit reductive perhaps, but that is at its core, the choice that’s that has to be made inside a lot of these churches. And the tension there, the division over that basic question is so intense and so raw right now. That I think we’re going to be dealing with it for some period of time here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:29

    Linda, let’s hear from you.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:31

    Well, I have a question. First of all, I really appreciate Tim and and his endeavor here because I think it’s very different to get a view, like his when it comes from someone who is within that tradition. I mean, there have been a lot of books written about the Christian right and, you know, the good and ill, but not many them have been written by somebody who was so much a part. So I think that’s great. I have a question though, Tim.
  • Speaker 3
    0:14:57

    Obviously, most of what you write about is about the kind of white evangelical community. Clearly, there’s a huge evangelical community in the black community. It is very different. And is not at all, infected with this kind of trumpism. But my question is, Hispanic in the United States, particularly more recent immigrants.
  • Speaker 3
    0:15:18

    Are increasingly, protestant and evangelical. And I’m wondering if you saw some of that, trunk fervor in Hispanic churches or in churches where they were a lot of Hispanic members, maybe not, you know, entirely, Hispanic But I just wonder if there is any difference at all. We have seen, of course, in South Texas, districts that went for Trump last time that were overwhelmingly Hispanic. And I just wonder if how that community is responding.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:49

    Yeah. It’s a great question. What you’ve seen particularly in the past five to ten years is an explosion of Hispanic charismatic. So, obviously, within the Protestant tradition, but a sort of, subculture of a sub cult culture, if you will. And I have spent some time around those churches, and it’s interesting.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:14

    Much of the core dynamics you see unfolding in the white evangelical movement, sort of merging faith identity with kind of social cultural identity with political identity. You do see that in in the Hispanic charismatic movement to to I think to a lesser extent, you will see that in elements of the Hispanic Catholic church as well but it is several degrees removed for a whole host of reasons that probably is a separate podcast. I think what’s interesting though, one thing that I have observed, and I’ve also observed it I I’ve done a a little bit of reporting around Asian evangelical communities. Also some reporting around conservative, reformed Bulwark members of evangelical churches, specifically in the Southern Baptist Convention. One of the distinctions that you will note pretty consistently, which I find interesting is that even when there is that sort of social cultural, political fusing with the faith identity, there’s also a bit of a deficit when it comes to the sort of for lack of a better way of putting it, this sort of core national identity that is so infused in the white evangelical movement.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:35

    And I and I suppose what I mean by that is you so much of the the white conservative evangelical you know, calling back to the Halcyan days of, you know, post World War II nineteen fifties America and what the church looked like then, what the government looked like then, what the culture looked like then. That in and of itself is really quite unique to the white broadestant community. There’s not that sort of familiar callback available to first generation, Hispanics, in a charismatic congregation. And that is sort of that will manifest in interesting ways. In other words, even the language itself is very different.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:19

    The language around, you know, gender identity and the language around abortion might be almost the exact same, but you won’t have really any of the language, around, you know, prayer being pulled out of public schools, or the government weaponizing the IRS to come after our churches, which is a wink and a nod back to Bob Jones University and some of the so It’s an interesting question to unpack.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:45

    What about guns, Tim? Do they feel do they feel differently about guns?
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:50

    You know, that’s interesting too, Mona, because without going way down the rabbit hole, it’s interesting because I make reference at one point into the in the book to this essay that was written in First Things Magazine about the the perceived shift from a a positive world for Christianity in the culture to a neutral world a negative world where we are now. The argument was in this article that it’s really been a negative world. If you are a Christian, you are living in a negative world, a culture that is hostile to you since the mid nineteen nineties or so. And what’s so interesting is that when you talk with evangelicals of color, they will sort of say, woah, time out time out. I’m not so sure that, you know, that in the nineteen eighties or in the nineteen seventies.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:35

    It was a positive world for us. Right? Yeah. And there are a number of interesting proxies for that, you know, gun ownership, socioeconomic standing in communities, but the point remains that even though I think you would understand many of these people to be sort of, members of the same Movement, there are not necessarily members of the same tribe, if that makes sense. There there are still some of those interesting distinctions.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:01

    So Will Saletan, Tim makes reference a number of times in the book to, survey research that I know you had something to do with. What was your comment?
  • Speaker 4
    0:20:11

    Well, very quickly on PRRI research before I get to the main point. For a very long time now, we’ve been asking a question. Do you think that America was better in the nineteen fifties than it is now or vice versa. And I expected an overwhelming majority of African Americans to a better now. That isn’t what we found.
  • Speaker 4
    0:20:40

    The last time I looked, African Americans, about forty five percent of them, actually ventured the opinion that despite all of the changes in civil rights, etcetera, etcetera that have occurred. Since the nineteen fifties that in the ways that matter that to them the most, they still think of the nineteen fifties as a better time. I’d love to do a focus group to find out what’s on their minds, but we shouldn’t make easy assumptions that African Americans see an unbroken story progress over the past half century. Because apparently some of them have doubts, and I could even tell a story as to where those doubts came from. Of the mixed blessings of desegregation for starts.
  • Speaker 4
    0:21:22

    But here is my question. Just by chance, The New York Times ran a long and for the New York Times very subtle piece. At least in the print in the print edition, on exactly the subject of our conversation, and they make the same basic point that you do, but then give it a twist. You know, so they, you know, the key paragraph says being evangelical once suggested regular church attendance, a focus on salvation and conversion, and strongly held views on specifications such as abortion Today, it’s as often used to describe a culture of political identity, one in which Christians are considered a persecuted minority, traditional institutions are viewed skeptically and mister Trump looms large. So far, pure, Alberta.
  • Speaker 4
    0:22:15

    But then they make a demographic point And that is over the past decade, there has been a market decline in church attendance among evangelicals, not just liberal protestants where that’s a long documented phenomenon. And it is among the people who have fallen away from church attendance or perhaps thought of themselves as evangelicals, but never attended regularly that mister Trump has special appeal. Is that reading of the demographic change over the past ten years consistent with your observations?
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:53

    Yes. It mostly is. In fact, we saw I can think of two different instances, of some social science work during Trump’s four years in office that showed something rather astonishing, which was that even as church attendance and church membership among White evangelicals was on the decline the number of white Trump supporters who self identified as evangelical was increasing, which I think is obviously directly in support of both my hypothesis and that nut graph from the times piece you were just reading, which is that this is now a matter of social and political identification much more than it is a matter of sort of spiritual marker you know, in other words, there was a time when to be an evangelical Christian actually meant something quite distinct and it was important relative to your place in the Christian ecosystem you know, even in my hometown. I mean, we had mainline churches. We had Catholic churches.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:06

    We had, a couple of like, smaller, liberal congregations, and then we had a couple of evangelical congregations and understanding where those fault lines were, as a kid in the, you know, late eighties, early nineties was significant. Fast forward to my, you know, high school years, certainly my by my college years, pretty much everyone who wasn’t a, you know, liberal Christian was an evangelical Christian. So so over time, there’s been a both a broadening of the term and a hollowing out of its substantive meaning. And I think that is part of the crisis that I’m writing about here, in fact, because, if one takes seriously the charge to evangelize, to do the verb that is in the word, it it is extraordinarily difficult to evangelize to an outside world that thinks that evangelicals are a bunch of, you know, opportunistic hypocrites who don’t actually care about any of the values they profess to believe in. The problem within the problem is that many of the people who are being judged that way have no idea what it actually means to be a native angelical.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:22

    They just identify as such because of these sort of social and cultural phenomena that we’re discussing?
  • Speaker 4
    0:25:28

    I am old enough to remember. I believe it was in nineteen sixty five. When Jerry Falwell, the elder announced that, we are called upon to be soul winners. And not to involve ourselves in this worldly affairs. Of course, he changed his mind a decade or so.
  • Speaker 4
    0:25:49

    Later. So my question to you is, you know, is the what you’re describing variously as the politicization or hollowing out? You know, of evangelical protestantism, was that the inevitable result of a return of evangelical protestants to the public world after withdrawing from it for half a century after the scopes trial.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:15

    Well, it’s a great question. I think I would answer by splitting the baby a little bit. I wouldn’t say that it was the inevitable result of just returning to the public square, I think it was the inevitable result of feeling duty bound to dominate the public where. In other words, I am not prescribing in the book a return to separatists Christian practices in which if you are a citizen of heaven, you cannot be a citizen of the United States and you have to make a clean break and you are not to be contaminating your witness whatsoever by engaging with our political system. I I don’t think that’s right and I don’t think it’s realistic.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:01

    However, I do think that when a Christian becomes consumed starts to become consumed with any other earthly identity, specifically a political identity, that is dangerous, and it’s destructive to the witness, to the credibility of the witness, and it creates this sort of snowballing, dynamic by which the church bleeds its credibility, the individual witness becomes less respected and less relevant and more and more people decide that if Christianity is really just a means to an end, then they can get to that end without giving up a Sunday morning. As Russell Moore likes to say. And so, you know, if you look back at Fallwell Senior’s evolution, as I do in chapter three of my book, It is, in many ways, that we are now reaping what was sown fifty years ago, And the question is if we are to have a dramatic course correction here and restore the reputation of the church, and as a bonus, I think restore some stability and sanity to our to our pluralistic society and to our democratic system, which is in part teetering right now because of the extremism bread inside of the evangelical church. I think in order to make that course correction, there has to be a hard conversation had inside of my community around the difference between what healthy civic engagement looks like as, again, as my friend, John Dixon at Wheaton College says that as Christians, we should think of ourselves as guests at someone else’s banquet, right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:54

    We are welcome there and we should feel, encouraged to participate and to speak up and to be a part of the conversation, but that it’s ultimately not our home, right, and that we cannot try to take it over and to dominate because that’s not who we are called to be. Understanding that difference between a healthy, civic engagement for Christians and this sort of lust for dominance, this lust for power That is the conversation that has to be had. And, unfortunately, it’s not being had right now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:23

    Well, as much as I could to you for another. I’m sure we could all talk to you for another hour. There’s so many other topics to get into in this wonderful book which I highly recommend. We’re going to have to leave it there for day. Thank you so much for joining us, Tim Alberta.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:38

    Good luck with the rest of your book tour.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:40

    Thank you, Mona, and thank you guys for the questions. Really enjoy being with you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:49

    Alright. Well, it was lovely to hear from Tim. I really do highly recommend this book. Like all of Tim’s work, it’s, in addition to being very substantive, it is very well written. He attended a couple of those, reawaken America tours that former trumpist lunatic, Michael Flynn, is conducting around the country, and he he gives a description of what goes on at these places.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:15

    He says it’s a scam artist Super Bowl. You know? You can you can buy all kinds of miracle cures that are being honked, and there’s QAnon merchandise, and it’s just, oh, my god. It’s It’s anyway. Alright.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:31

    So, let’s go on to politics. It’s just a few days now until Iowa. We had, Chris Christie drop out last night. And, of course, there were debates, and there was a a an availability by Trump on Fox, which, was just disgraceful because they, you know, have learned nothing. And, anyway, let start with Chris Christie’s announcement.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:57

    Damon, you, you were, having technical issues with during our first segment. So wanna you, tell us how you feel about, about Christie’s withdrawal?
  • Speaker 5
    0:31:08

    Well, thanks, Mona. I I have to say, I may be in the minority here, so it’s actually good to start with me because it’ll set up. Lots of begging to differ. Yeah. I’m not a fan of Christie.
  • Speaker 5
    0:31:20

    I know, most people on the podcast probably, you know, haven’t been until quite recently, but I know a lot of people in our circles came to really appreciate the role that he was playing. Mhmm. In the campaign as the kind of the one person in the field willing to really take down Trump and attack him and talk about, let’s admit, the truth of the situation, the truth of how awful he is. The problem in my view is that This is not a message that really can be effective for the simple reason that we all lived through trauma. We were all there.
  • Speaker 5
    0:31:59

    It was for long years. And my view is you pretty much loved it or you hated it. And so, the what you ended up with is that he would come out and and Christie alone would, you know, talk about Trump and how his pathologies and his his law breaking behavior and, and the cases against him and how he shouldn’t be president again. And And people, like, you know, at the Bulwark and the people, again, on this podcast, are nodding and saying, yes, this is great. And you know who else is saying that as Democrats?
  • Speaker 5
    0:32:34

    Are saying it. But, of course, all of those people thought that stuff already. The question is, did it make any headway among Republicans who either Love Trump like Trump are willing to hold their noses and vote for Trump, and I don’t see any evidence that that it did. And so, you know, was there any harm in the Christie campaign? No.
  • Speaker 5
    0:32:55

    I it also don’t think it really did any good because, again, I think People’s views on Trump are pretty settled at this point. The one place in which it really could have done harm is what we’re about to begin next week, which is actual voting. So the one place where I will actually give Christie considerable credit is that he dropped out. So that’s sort of my one year for Christy, like, good. This is exactly when he should drop out.
  • Speaker 5
    0:33:23

    Not even after Iowa, and before New Hampshire when there’s only a week and a day for Nikki Haley to try to gain some momentum to overtake Trump. But to do it now, before that debate with DeSantis before we head into, the caucuses next Monday. And then with the week, we have up ahead, heading into New Hampshire. So, you know, that’s a good contribution because that does free up votes it’s not foreordained that they’re all gonna go to Haley, but there’s a chance that a lot of them will. And so Christy, I think in that, genuinely, did put his money where his mouth is.
  • Speaker 5
    0:34:04

    And so bravo to him for that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:06

    Linda, I, holding my views about Christie’s run until I saw how he ended it. I thought that would tell us everything we to know about whether he was really sincere about doing this to stop Trump, about doing this to harm Trump. If he had not gotten out until after New Hampshire, and thereby helped Trump in effect, right, by draining votes from Haley, who was the only one who could possibly, you know, score an upset in New Hampshire, even though the chances of that are remote, but still There is some chance. But I think that because he got out in the way he did, as Damon says, it does suggest that he was truly sincere and that he did a service because on the off chance that there are more voters than we thought. Who would like an alternative.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:00

    Again, remote chance. But still, it’s better than nothing. Right? And It is. Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:07

    It it it’s better
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:08

    than nothing. And even though I think he’s in the single digits in Iowa, he really didn’t run-in Iowa at all. He didn’t show up. But he does have, some single digit support there. If all of those votes, end up going to Haley.
  • Speaker 3
    0:35:24

    And if DeSantis, continues his downward fall, yeah, maybe it would make, you know, some difference And in New Hampshire, I think the same thing if she if Haley were to come in second in Iowa and actually come in a very close second or when in New Hampshire, maybe it would make a difference. But I do think that what we saw with Christie was that he did learn some lessons from two thousand fifteen. Christie was absolutely, crucial. To pushing Marco Rubio off the stage essentially in two thousand and fifteen. It was his attacks on Rubio during the debate in which he basically pointed out that Rubio while he sounded articulate, was doing a kind of canned speech.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:11

    That really buttressed trump. And, you know, I think a lot of the people, if if we had seen people dropping out in two thousand and team, and it had been a real contest between two or three candidates. Trump might not have actually won. You know, we never really came up with all that much of the electorate. I think he had about a third or maybe a little more certainly towards the end after people started dropping out.
  • Speaker 3
    0:36:37

    But I think he did learn that lesson. Unfortunately, he stepped all over the story because there was a hot mic that was active And he basically said that Nikki Haley was not up to the job, and she was gonna get smoked. And then he claimed that DeSantis called him petrified, called him Chris Christie on the phone, presumably and and said, you know, Christie was claiming that, DeSantis was petrified. I guess that he was going, to endorse Haley. And that you know, took away from, I thought I think some of the good that he did in stepping out and stepping out early.
  • Speaker 3
    0:37:19

    I do hope he’ll stay active you know, I don’t disagree that, you know, most of the people who support Christy would, you know, not be voting for Trump in any case. But I do think it’s good to continue to have somebody out there saying that Trump is absolutely unfit to serve. And so far, even after Haley and DeSantis were asked about that after he dropped out, they were not able to come up and and say that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:50

    Bill, we’ve referenced any number of times on this podcast what happened in nineteen eighty four in Iowa. So big surprise changed the trajectory of the race at least for a while. But, even though I do think there’s an outside chance that Haley could score an upset in New Hampshire, I’m more skeptical that she could translate that into a victory in South Carolina where Trump currently ahead of her by something like thirty points, and that’s a state that knows both of them well. I mean, it would acquire that a huge number of Republican voters switch their mood from, you know, wanting a fighter wanting a pugilist to being much more pragmatic and saying, well, we need to find somebody who can win. And I don’t sense that that’s the mood of the Republican electorate at the moment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:49

    What do you think?
  • Speaker 4
    0:38:50

    Well, asking me to assess the mood of the Republican electorate is a fool’s errand. At this point, I can’t even assess the mood of the electorate, my own party. Having said that, first of all, a word about Chris Christie or two words, actually. Number one, I turned on my radio as I was driving home last night just as Christie’s withdrawal speech began. I listened to the whole thing on the way home.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:16

    And if that was not the voice of a passionately sincere man, then he ought to get an Oscar. I mean, the speech really spoke for itself. He was He was speaking as far as I could tell without a text, without notes. And, it was it was from the heart, and I I respected him for that. Second, if I ever had the opportunity to put just one question to him in a public square, It would be Linda Johnson’s one word one word question.
  • Speaker 4
    0:39:49

    Therefore, that is to say, you know, by the logic of his own argument, if Donald Trump is the nominee, he ought to be urging people to vote for Joe Biden. She prepared to do that. I don’t know.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:04

    Well, don’t you think based on the content and tenure of that speech last night that that’s what he’s gearing up to do. I mean, it really struck me, especially his saying again that anybody who stood on that stage and raised their hand when they were asked whether they would vote for a convicted felon or support Trump, even if you were convicted Anyone who says that Trump is not ineligible, not not fit to be president is not fit themselves to be president. So it sounds to me like he is really leaning hard, and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised to see him at the Democratic convention.
  • Speaker 4
    0:40:40

    Well, we’ll we’ll see. Okay. Now to now to your main question. I think you’re given the strength of Trump’s support post New Hampshire nationally. Particularly in super Tuesday states.
  • Speaker 4
    0:40:54

    I think your skepticism is warranted. I’d introduce just two caveats. First of all, although it was a very difficult situation, as I mentioned, I was Walter Mandell policy director in nineteen eighty four. So I lived through this on an hourly basis. The transformative effect of Gary Hart’s surprise victory in New Hampshire on the Democratic electorate cannot be overstated And so I think we have to remain open to the possibility that Trump’s apparent numerical port and all these national polls is somewhat softer than it appears.
  • Speaker 4
    0:41:34

    So that’s not the case. The race is over despite what happens in Iowa and and New Hampshire. Secondly, Haley has what heart did not have. After New Hampshire. And that is money.
  • Speaker 4
    0:41:48

    Money. And so she can, you know, she can wage a credible super Tuesday race, and heart came very close with no money at all. You know, if the internet had existed, allowed it enabled him to translate New Hampshire victory into hard cash within hours, he would have been the nominee the party.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:10

    Hey, Bill. Did Super Tuesday exist in nineteen eighty four? Yes. It did. It did?
  • Speaker 4
    0:42:15

    It did. It did. And I can tell you a long detailed state by state story. The fact of the matter is that part one on Super Tuesday for all practical purposes, but the Mandale spin room convinced the press that Mandell had actually fought him to withdraw. They the lip spent most of the week lowering the bar and persuaded the then gatekeepers that he had cleared that lowered bar, which give you It’s
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:41

    unbelievable how much of our political lives are determined by pure hogwash and spin. I mean, you know, like, let me ask the panel a question. Does anybody remember who won the Iowa caucuses for the Democrats in twenty twenty? It was Pete Buttigieg.
  • Speaker 3
    0:43:01

    Yeah. Right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:02

    But they didn’t announce it until a week later because they screwed up the counting so badly they were gonna use this new system with iPads and whatnot. Remember? And it all got screwed up.
  • Speaker 4
    0:43:14

    That was the two new Cross for Iowa. By the way, inside the democratic bar.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:18

    For Democrats, yes. Oh, and by the way, there’s something else we should mention just for the fun of it Republicans have always done Iowa caucuses slightly differently from Democrats in that it’s a secret ballot for Republicans. The and Democrats get up in a room and they have to say who they’re for, and then they go into little groups. Not Republicans. They do it on a piece of paper.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:40

    So that is, I think, an advantage to non trump candidates considering the Trump people’s tendency to intimidate and so forth. So I don’t know. That’s interesting. Damon, I wanna ask you about this so called hot mic moment. I mean, just to introduce a tiny bit of cynicism here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:58

    I mean, somebody who’s been in politics for forty years or whoever long, not that long. But Chris Christie, you know, twenty at least quarter century, Do you think anybody who’s that experienced really has a hot mic moment without knowing I don’t know. I’m just just asking for the fun of it.
  • Speaker 5
    0:44:17

    Well, in in a question like that, I think it’s always key. You you have to you have to ponder the question of why would you do that. Like, what what what advantage to is it in his advantage in some way to, to kind of create this kind of second order story to step on his own withdrawal and kind of muddy the waters. I I can’t think of one. I mean, except, you know, unless it’s to somehow prove that, like, neither of these other people really any better than he was in the first place.
  • Speaker 5
    0:44:54

    And and so if it’s somehow unjust that he was the one to have to drop out first, I mean, I’m not sure. I mean, that would explain it in pure kind of calculation terms, but I’m not sure that that meshes with any larger meaning to it. So I I suppose yeah. I don’t really have a good explanation for it. And honestly, you know, even what he said I mean, the fact that DeSantis was worried, assuming the context is in fact that that he was worried that Christie was going to endorse Haley in instead of DeSantis.
  • Speaker 5
    0:45:30

    I mean, of course, he was worried about that. I mean, like, it that really shouldn’t be something that he’d be ashamed of. I mean, and and he’s also not in he’s a no leverage position to say, Krista, you better not do that than, like, he has nothing to hold over his head. So
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:46

    Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
  • Speaker 5
    0:45:47

    And then the the Haley part of it. Yeah. Alright. So Christy doesn’t think Haley has what it takes to beat Trump. Well, that that’s definitely where the smart money would go just based on the probabilities at the moment.
  • Speaker 5
    0:45:59

    So I I’m not I mean, I as as someone like you and everyone here who kind of lives for, analyzing politics at the micro level, that was a good juicy bit of extra news, the other night, but I I’m I’m not sure it has that much meaning beyond that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:15

    Yeah. Linda, I think we should clarify just for the sake of history that I would like to clarify for myself that, I believe everything that people say about Haley being the most calculating, politician, ambitious. She will turn on a dime. You know, you cannot trust her. I think all that is true, and I would not be surprised.
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:42

    If she were to turn around and endorse Trump once he if he, assuming that he defeats her for the nomination. And I wouldn’t even be surprised if she accepted the number two slot on and ran with him, honestly, because I think she’s out for Haley. And, frankly, to be the vice president, to a president who’s heading into his eighties, not a bad bet. But the reason that I’m rooting for her, is that she is the only one. And for all the reasons that people have said, like, because she’s been to craven and ambitious and calculating to do the right thing, namely to to call out Trump and to say he’s on it because she hasn’t done those things.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:26

    She is positioned. She’s the only one who’s positioned to possibly put a dent in his barra of invincibility. And that’s important. Right? And so I wish her well.
  • Speaker 1
    0:47:40

    I would love to see her pulling upset in New Hampshire. What do you think?
  • Speaker 3
    0:47:44

    Oh, absolutely. I mean, I would love to see her win, you know, and come in second in Iowa. I mean, I think that would be good. I think it would. And by the way, you know, we all say, well, she’s so far behind thirty points or whatever in South Carolina isn’t it like a month between the Two weeks.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:00

    Two weeks,
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:00

    I think. So whatever it is, it’s a long time for Trump to have lost.
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:07

    Not even two weeks. Sorry. It’s less than two weeks. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:09

    I think it’s Alright. Well, he will be during that period. He will have lost. And I think that’s important. And I think, trump himself
  • Speaker 1
    0:48:18

    Especially since he responds so well so busy. Yeah.
  • Speaker 3
    0:48:21

    He, you know, he’s on hinge He’s, you know, he’s facing a variety of things in in court right now, you know, on Thursday that as we’re taping, they’re the final arguments in his New York State case. We may get out of the appeals court for the district of Columbia, a ruling on his immunity claims immunity claims, by the way, in which his defense counsel basically, said that, president Trump had, he ordered seal team six to go out and assassinate his opponent. Had he not been impeached and convicted by The Senate, he would, in fact, not be able to be prosecuted. So, you know, I mean, t Trump is his own worst enemy. In addition to being, you know Not while I’m alive.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:10

    That’s the same.
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:11

    Yeah. So so I don’t know. So I I think that Haley’s winning would have a good effect on, you know, the the possibility that Trump will look wounded and will not have as easy a shot. And, you know, I would hope that she’d get a pump in South Carolina.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:30

    Yeah. I was talking about the difference in time between Iowa and New Hampshire, and you were asking about the difference between New Hampshire and South Carolina. My my fault. Sorry. So it’s well, Damon looked it up, so South Carolina is February twenty fourth.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:46

    So, yeah, it’s
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:47

    it’s Okay.
  • Speaker 4
    0:49:48

    So that
  • Speaker 3
    0:49:48

    that’s a lot of time for him to be a loser.
  • Speaker 1
    0:49:50

    Yeah. Yeah. That’s that’s true. Alright. I guess the one other topic I would like to just touch on before we get to highlights, lowlights is, this news that came out about Bonnie Willis and her chief prosecutor having a romantic relationship, Will Saletan, not not ideal.
  • Speaker 4
    0:50:18

    If it’s true, Mona, I think it’s a real disaster for the prosecution. I say that first and foremost because of the big dollars involved. You know, we’re talking about something like six hundred thousand dollars going to this guy who has virtually no experience in this sort of, you know, legal prosecution whatsoever, if it is true that the two of them are entangled in this way and that they’ve gone on trips together, which can easily be described as her profiting from the money that her choice transferred to him. I don’t yep. I don’t see how she survives that as the lead prosecutor.
  • Speaker 4
    0:51:04

    And if there’s a switch of horses midstream, god knows what that does to the timetable. So I hope that this turns out to be an embittered former wife or separated wife seeking vengeance through these, through these charges because if they can’t be rebutted quickly, I think it’s big, big trouble.
  • Speaker 1
    0:51:31

    Yeah. But I mean, the story’s been out there for a few days, and it hasn’t been rebutted yet. So
  • Speaker 4
    0:51:36

    Well, that’s true. So I think your pessimism about the eventual revelations is well founded, but I’m still holding out hope that It’s an embittered separated wife who’s generating these stories, but you’re probably right.
  • Speaker 1
    0:51:55

    Honestly, if it turns out that Jack Smith has some ethical conflict of interest, I’m just gonna shoot myself. It’s just that’s stand it.
  • Speaker 4
    0:52:05

    We won’t even wait for Trump to do it now. Exactly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:52:10

    Alright. Well, with that, let us turn to our highlights and lowlights of the week. We’ll start with Damon linker.
  • Speaker 5
    0:52:17

    Well, you know, this is kind of a subgenre of opinion column, in the trump era, but I do wanna highlight a a particularly good example of it. That is, Brett Stevens’s column in the New York Times this week. That ran, January eleventh titled the case for Trump by someone who wants him to lose. You know, David Brooks has done several columns like this over the years. I think Stevens has done one or two of them too.
  • Speaker 5
    0:52:47

    I I’ve written things along these lines. For my sub stack and elsewhere as well. But this might be the best one, and I think that’s judged by the standard of me judging that as I read this very compelling piece that really, I think deserves plaudits for, you know, Stephen’s is very anti trump. And yet he really succeeds, I think, in putting himself, empathetically, into the minds of people who really love Trump and at least are educated enough to give an articulate account of why And it’s so powerful that it, like, at the end, I was sort of despairing of, like, oh my goodness. He’s gonna win, isn’t he?
  • Speaker 5
    0:53:30

    It, like, this second time because it is so not so much because the case is anything that I’ve never thought before. I mean, but that when I thought to myself, Stephen’s makes the case that because the case that he builds, for why Trump appeals to people is is sort of a rebuttal to Biden for really emphasizing so far in his campaign that this is all about defending democracy against this threat of Trump. It raises the question of, well, then, well, what should Biden be saying in stead. And how Biden would craft a cogent response to the case that Stephen’s empathetically builds. I frankly don’t have a great answer to it, but I do think that it probably behooves all of us who care so deeply about the outcome of this election and think professionally about how to combat this phenomenon of the Trump, the Trump appeal to people that we read this piece and really think hard about What could Biden or any Democrats say to counter this?
  • Speaker 5
    0:54:42

    Because it’s a real thing. And here we are, you know, ten, eleven months out. And, you know, just this week, we had a poll out from Michigan showing Trump ahead by, like, what was a nine points or something, like, way outside the margin of error in one of the three key states from twenty sixteen. So, again, spread Stevens’s piece, bracing reading, sobering reading, but definitely worthwhile reading.
  • Speaker 1
    0:55:09

    Hey. Thank you. I haven’t seen it yet, and I try to read everything that Brett writes, but I’ll have to do this one with a stiff drink.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:16

    Okay, Linda Chavez. Well, I was gonna recommend a different piece by Brett Stevens, having to do with, Lloyd Austin, but I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna Because it’ll carry on this conversation that we’ve been having about whether or not, Trump does, in fact, represent a real threat to democracy. And I’m gonna start by a low light, which is an article that was written and published, in real clear politics I hadn’t actually seen the article until I saw a rebuttal of it. The article was by Peter Berkowitz, and it was called the Flight ninety three Election anti trumpers imperiled the rule of law.
  • Speaker 3
    0:55:56

    Peter Berkowitz did serve in the Trump administration. I believe at the state department, I think he’s a fellow. At Hoover now, a respectable conservative and not what I would have expected to write this column, but there was a terrific rebuttal in our very own Bulwark, by Ron Radosh, who’s been on this program and also Gabe Schoenfeld. It’s interesting to read these two side by side because I think this elect is going to be very much thought on the question of whether or not, for people like me who don’t, you know, really buy into the whole Biden agenda may disagree with him fundamentally on certain issues, but see, Trump is such a danger that I could see myself once again voting. For Biden.
  • Speaker 3
    0:56:42

    And, it is going to depend on how great a threat you think he is to democracy. And I think the Bergowitz article a low light because I think he fundamentally, he totally ignored January sixth and and what that represented and the way in which Trump actually tried to commandeer a, you know, false outcome through the electoral votes and the the phony electors, etcetera. And I do think that, you know, it’s it’s going to be this, this is going to be the fundamental issue. And, you know, I was very skeptical that the democracy issue would work in twenty twenty two for the Democrats, but it did seem to play. And I think it is absolutely vital that it played this time.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:27

    So I’m going to recommend those two articles in the Bulwark and in real clear politics, Berkowitz and and the response. And by the way, Berkeley isn’t the only one making this case, Rich Lowry has made the case as well. So and it sounds like Brett Stevens piece may be a little along those lines. I will I haven’t read it yet. So Thank you.
  • Speaker 3
    0:57:48

    Bill Goldstein.
  • Speaker 4
    0:57:49

    Before I get to my highlight, which is also in a way, a low light. I just wanna piggyback for a second on Linda’s contribution to this end segment, because I was assigned to do so by Brookings for a piece that I believe is now up, I spent an hour watching the in trunk, the entire trump town hall last night.
  • Speaker 1
    0:58:15

    You poor thing.
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:15

    It was a chilling experience because he put on a passable imitation of a human being, a human being. Yeah. Right? I mean, he was loose, humorous, and almost in his own way charming. And he took the opportunity to damp down all of the gravest charges that he has brought upon himself.
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:39

    So, for example, when he was challenged by one of the moderators on the retribution issue. He basically poo pooed it and said, you know, retribution. I’ll be so busy. I won’t have time for retribution besides success is the best retribution. That’s almost a direct quote.
  • Speaker 4
    0:58:58

    And, you know, and he basically laughed off the dictator for a day remark. Yeah. And so you could you could come away from that presentation itself easily believing that people who say he’s a threat to democracy are hysterical. Right? And I found his ability to put on that kind of show.
  • Speaker 4
    0:59:22

    Absolutely chilling. Right? Because if he puts it on consistently, I think he’s gonna win. Because if Linda’s right that the democracy argument is the strongest argument that Biden has in his armory, and Trump succeeds in making a mockery of that argument. Okay.
  • Speaker 4
    0:59:42

    Here’s my highlight slash low light. The senior foreign affairs correspondent from the Wall Street Journal, Yaroslav Trofindoff, who was born in Kiev, publish a piece today, basically accusing the Biden administration of turning a potential Ukrainian industry into a stalemate by refusing to deliver arms to Ukraine of the kind that they said that they needed during the period in which the Ukrainian army was on the march against the Russians in late twenty twenty two. This is a very serious charge. I hope that history will not sustain it because then I’m afraid that history will not be kind Joe Biden on this matter.
  • Speaker 1
    1:00:32

    Hey. Thank you. For a change, I actually do have a highlight this week. Not a low light. It concerns the swearing in of the new speaker of the house of delegates in Virginia.
  • Speaker 1
    1:00:47

    So it’s a democrat named Don Scott Junior, who is a man who had served eight years in federal prison on a drug charge, but rehabilitated himself earned a law degree while He was in prison. Got out, became a defense attorney, and then ran for the house of delegates, and has now been chosen as the first African American speaker of the Virginia house of delegates in Virginia’s more than four hundred year history. So all by itself feel good story right there, but there’s more because he invited to the Sarah Longwell. The former governor of Virginia, Robert McDonald. Who was governor at the time when Scott’s voting rights were reinstated.
  • Speaker 1
    1:01:43

    McDonald did that for him. And therefore, even though two had never met, Scott invited McDonald who had his own problems with the law later on. His conviction was overturned by the court of appeals. He was actually convicted of influence peddling and so forth. But, so he’s sort of a little bit on a rehabilitation tour of his own, but McDonald attended the ceremony that was the first time that the two had met, and they embraced, and there were tears all around, and Donald said, this is a very special moment.
  • Speaker 1
    1:02:17

    For every young kid that makes a mistake, they can look at Don Scott and say, I’ll never give up I can still be what I wanna be in America. And that happened even in our embittered, divided, Trumpified country. So highlight of the week by a mile, I would say. With that, I wanna thank our special guest this week, Tim Alberta, and of course our regular panel, as well as our producer, Jim Swift, and our sound engineer, Jonathan Last, and, of course, all of our listeners and viewers. Thank you all for tuning in, and will return next week as every week.
An ad-free version of Beg to Differ is available exclusively to Bulwark+ members. Learn more here.