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Tim Alberta: Trump Has an Evangelical Problem

April 4, 2023
Notes
Transcript

Trump threw the anti-abortion movement under the bus after losses in the midterms — which prompted a ferocious backlash among evangelicals. He has yet to repair the damage. Apart from criminal prosecution, could the end of Roe end up spelling his political downfall? Tim Alberta joins Charlie Sykes today. 

show notes:

Tim’s Atlantic piece

Tim’s book, “American Carnage”

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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 Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. Happy arraignment day, the former president of the United States. Surrendering to authorities in New York City to describe it as a circus. I think it’s unfair to circuses.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:23

    For those of you who may have missed it because you actually have a life. The media coverage yesterday was absolutely wall to wall. It was slow bronco driving on the freeway coverage of the motorcade, the Trump flight, everything. More indication that after all these years, the media has learned absolutely nothing about these guys. So this is an extraordinarily busy news day.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:50

    I mean, obviously, the coverage is gonna be dominated by what happens, the highly choreographed appearance of Donald Trump at the New York City courthouse, the fact that we will be getting real news. We will finally find out what is in that sealed indictment. These thirty four reported Class E felonies. There’s been tremendous speculation about them, but until today, we actually have not seen them. And then, of course, we’ll have the appearance of Donald Trump apparently.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:16

    There will not be a mugshot. We’re not totally clear about all that he’s not going to be handcuffed. And the notoriously camera shy Donald Trump did not want cameras in the courtroom, so apparently there will not be cameras in the courtroom, but we’re gonna see all of these images over and over and over again recycled. Just a reminder though, Today is the day of that incredibly high stakes Supreme Court election in my home state of Wisconsin. There’s a hugely interesting race for mayor of Chicago that really illustrates the the democratic divide on issues like education.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:51

    And crime. And unless we sort of ignore this major geopolitical moment Finland joins NATO today, which dramatically expands NATO’s border with Russia, all of that is going on. And our guest today to talk about this extraordinary. I won’t say consequential day because we don’t know. I mean, it’s certainly going to be theatrical.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:15

    We’re driven by Tim Albertas staff registered the Atlantic and author of the book American Carnich. Welcome back to him. I’m dragging you back into this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:23

    Charlie, this feels like a bait and switch. Here I thought that we were gonna talk some baseball and that we were just gonna catch up on old times and well, I guess we are catching up on old times. Right? All that’s old is new again. We were just taking one more trip around the Trump sun here.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:39

    It does feel like that. So American carnage, that kind of aged well.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:44

    Well, I’ve had to jokingly decline the requests to write a sequel. In part because I don’t think a sequel is really even necessary, Charlie. I mean, you said it in the intro, like, we’re just sort of doing the same thing over and over again. Trump is certainly doing the same thing over and over again. The playbook’s not really changing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:05

    I mean, you know It’s kind of like when you get to season five of a TV show that’s been a hit. And, you know, they’re recycling some old plot lines and hoping that you don’t notice, you know, because they’re changing some of the characters, but they’ve sort of run out of plot. And you’re just sort of looking around like, okay. I mean, I guess I’ll keep watch Sure. That
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:26

    was the first thing I said to you when when you came on is, like, I feel like we’ve had this conversation before, or can you believe that we’re still having this conversation? I think that’s what I said. Right? Can you believe we are still after seven years having this conversation taking another trip around the Trumpian sun. Sorry to drag you back in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:43

    Don’t be sorry. I mean, what’s most amazing to me honestly is how many people are
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:47

    still onboard. Like, how many people are still all in? That’s what’s surprising. And we can get into that more if you’d like. But again, just amazed that there isn’t a higher level of fatigue I mean, there’s some fatigue out there for sure, but it’s not at the levels that you would expect at this point, and that is genuinely surprising
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:04

    to me. It was surprising to me in twenty sixteen. But it continues to be surprising to me, especially as all of the evidence piles up. Is it because at a certain point, you have the sunken cost that once you’re you’re all in with it, you know, the next outrage, the next data point is like, okay, I’ve already made the choice. I’m all in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:21

    I’ve sliced off so many pieces of my soul here. What’s one more? Because you would think that there have been, you know, so many moments where people could go, okay, I’m done. I mean, even Lindsey Graham, you know, night of January six that, hey, has been a great ride, but I’m out. He’s backing and he’s
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:37

    backing crying and blubbering on television and raising money for Donald Trump. They just cannot freaking quit him. You know, Charlie, I have sort of a grand unified theory of this. I’m not sure if I’ve ever shared it exactly this way with you before, but the way that I’ve come to think about sort of Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is that, you know, it’s basically broken into thirds. The first third is die hard, maga.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:03

    They’re all in. These are the true believers. This is Trump’s base. Right? And not coincidentally, you know, during the twenty sixteen primary, he was typically topping out at around thirty three percent, you know, give or take.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:13

    Right? And these are the folks who,
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:15

    you
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:15

    know, even with a big multi candidate field, they were buying what Trump was selling, a hundred percent. So they’re all in. And they’re not going anywhere. They’re never going anywhere. He could choose somebody at Fifth Avenue.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:25

    They’d still be with him. We all know this. Then you’ve got the the third at the other end that is really, you know, they’re really, really not crazy about Trump. You know, they’re gonna hold their nose in vote for a general election. Most of them probably, but they would really like to move on at this point.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:41

    They probably would have liked to move on seven years ago, they’re not crazy about the guy for any number of different reasons. You know, they just, at this point, sort of, soak their head and hope that the storm will pass sooner rather than later, and they’re not having much luck with that help. It’s the middle third that’s really interesting. It’s it’s the middle third of folks who are sort of really sick of Trump personally, but still feel like his presidency was mostly a sick success and they get a little tired of the liberal media beating up on him and they get a little defensive because, like, yeah, he’s a Jackass, but he’s their Jackass. And so they’re not they have this sort of weird, hot, and cold relationship with Trump.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:23

    And the thing that’s interesting and the real parallel I see with this episode relative to what we’ve seen over the last seven or eight years, Charlie Sykes that anytime it looks like there’s an opportunity for Republican leaders in influential positions to use their influence to turn that middle third decisively against Trump they decide to play to the first third of his mega supporters because they’re so scared of them. Right? That first third of mega supporters terrifies the elected class of the Republican Party. And in this instance, you look at the Mike Pence’s and the Nikki Haley’s and the Tim Scott’s, the people who are going to be running against them for president, they feel so threatened by that first third of the MAGA die hard to the Republican base that they are willing to sort of bend over backwards to defend Trump. And in so doing, they are sort of inadvertently influencing that middle third of the Republican party based to sort of say, well, boy, you heard what Tim Scott said.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:25

    You heard what Mike Pence said about this in time. Maybe this really isn’t political prosecute. You know, I thought that actually, he might be in some real legal hot water here, but, boy, the way that all these folks are rallying around him —
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:36

    Mhmm. —
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:36

    maybe it’s just a a bunch of BS. And boy, Charlie, that’s the piece of it that really feels like groundhog’s day here. I mean, just time and time and time again over the last seven or eight years — Mhmm. — the part of the reason the party can’t quit Trump is because you’ve got this big chunk in the middle of the party base who’s been looking for a reason to quit Trump and the elected class the governing class of the party just won’t let them. These thought leaders won’t lead.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:03

    They won’t think and and they won’t lead.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:05

    That’s the problem of being a thought leader ready. You have to do both of those things. Like, the cowardice is pretty obvious here, but also, you know, I’m I’m listening to you and thinking there’s something else too. I mean, there’s the opportunism, there’s an exhaustion, there’s also this this is the price that you have to pay to be a member of this tribe, to continue to be relevant. I mean, a lot of them are afraid, but what they’re most afraid of is that they won’t have a seat at the table that they’ll become like Liz Cheney, that they’ll be thrown out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:31

    So therefore, they have to go through the motions just to make sure they can stay with the clan. Right? And a lot of people that I’ve talked to don’t get the sense of, yeah, I mean, I’m afraid of, you know, getting ratio and attacked and have the flying monkeys, but but also it’s like it’s just not worth it. There’s a sense of like, okay, we’ve been doing this for seven years. I could put out a statement.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:53

    I could say what I actually think, but it would just make my life miserable, and I’d probably end up, you know, hoping to get a CNN contract or something. But I mean, there is that kind of sort of despairing shrug as well as object fear. Howard Bauchner: I
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:08

    think that’s right. And I think it is in part a collective action problem. Right? They look around and then they say, well, you know, if a bunch of us were willing to lock arms and do this together, then it could really make an impact. It could really change things.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:23

    They’ve
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:23

    been saying that since twenty fifteen, though.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:26

    I know. Twenty fifteen. That’s the groundhog day. I’m truly seriously I’m not even being cute here. I’m actually having deja vu as I’m saying this to you on the podcast because, like, I feel like we’ve had this conversation at least twice, maybe three times in the last seven or eight years.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:41

    Again, this is where we find ourselves. I mean, you know, whether it’s members of the freedom caucus saying to me privately, let me be even more explicit. Like future members of the Trump administration, members of the Freedom Talk is saying to me privately in the spring of twenty fifteen that they think that this guy is a moral, that they think he’s wicked, that they think he’s a threat to the country. But individually, there’s only so much they can do. It would really take sort of ground swell in a Republican party to stand up and stop this guy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:10

    Right? Whether it’s that in twenty fifteen, or whether it’s some of the folks who were vote no, hope, yes, on impeachment after January six. Yeah. Or, you know, fast forward to, you know, April fourth twenty twenty three, it’s just the fundamentals of this for all that has changed for all that has changed, and I mean, this guy has changed, fundamentally changed, the Republican Party, fundamentally changed American politics in some ways fundamentally changed the country. So much is changing yet that piece of it has not changed at all, and it’s just astonishing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:47

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:47

    I mean and who knew that Mark Meadows was not a man of deep principle. I didn’t even work about it yet. Okay. So this is where I need some deep thought here because I’m going through some of the truth social bleeds from Trump over the last, I don’t know, forty eight, seventy six hours and whatever, seventy two hours. They range between demented and deranged.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:03

    They become more conspiratorial. They’ve just become more and more unhinged. And again, you and I’ve had this conversation again over the last seven years. But I’m looking at them and thinking, How can anyone look at these? How can anyone listen to him or watch him?
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:18

    And thank, yeah, let’s make him present in the United States again. This guy is acceptable. This is somebody that I think of as a role model as somebody that, you know, I wanna put in the most powerful position in American politics. So I just wanna step back a moment here, Kim. Because there are tens of millions of people that still look at him and and admire him.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:37

    And they may know that he’s deeply corrupt or he’s lying to and they don’t care. And I guess, we’re political journalists. We follow this. We’re pundits. And and we’re trying to like, why is this happening?
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:48

    Why is this happening? Let’s Let’s look at this piece of wreckage over here. And I was thinking last night, you know, maybe we’re the last people around who can really explain what’s going on Who do we need to explain what has broken in America? Do we need sociologists? Do we need the theologians?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:06

    Do we need psych colleges, do we need historians? Are you following where I’m going here? Because it feels as if we’re watching what’s happening. With a certain level of incomprehension about what happened to American culture, to the American brain, to the American mind, all of this stuff and that maybe something broke decades ago that we missed or overlooked. And maybe it’s not completely pulled at I’m starting to go deep on you this morning, but I I do feel like we’re caught in this doom loop.
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:37

    And I’m thinking, you know, did we need to step out of the doom loop and get some perspective on how we got where we’re at right now? Oh, boy. Should I warn
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:48

    you? No. It’s look, it’s the right question. And I’m not at all convinced that I’ve got the answer. But I think the best I could give you is we need all of the above.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:58

    Because you’re right, it’s not political. And in fact, you know, even in writing American carnage, I sort of opened the book by explaining the sort of runway to Trumpism, cultural — Mhmm. — economic. Obviously, Trump sort of very uniquely weaponized the environment around him, this this building, this trust of institutions in American life, this polarization that was beginning to reach a fever pitch, the conspiratorial mindset that was beginning to grip sizable elements of the Republican Party base that you could see, you know, during the Obama years with the birther crusade and all of this. Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:37

    So in other words, like, you couldn’t divorce any of Trump’s outright political maneuverings relative to Obama and the birther crusade, for example, with some of these kind of macro economic developments, you know, with the crash in o eight and the Wall Street bailout and all the misinformation around TARP and people feeling like there were almost this emerging caste system in American life, and some people didn’t have to play by the rules because they were connected, etcetera, etcetera. And meanwhile, the social fabric of the country is changing so quickly. Democratic changes accelerating, and Obama wins the presidency, you know, wait, opposed to same sex marriage. And by the time he leaves office, it’s the law of the land. It’s hard to quantify.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:22

    I think about this all the time, Charlie, because I’ve got young kids. Right? Like, when they’re in high school, when they’re in college, they’re going to be studying this ten, twelve year stretch of American history very intense And I think that we’ll be studying it for a long time. And it’s going to take more than historians to your point. It’s gonna take serious, like, sociological work to unpack the psyche of of the American people during this stretch because it feels like more than anything else so much of what animates the continued attraction to Trump is fear.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:55

    Mhmm. And I think that there’s other things that you can attach to the fear or things that perhaps inform the fear. But at the end of the day, there is just a palpable deep seated sense with so many voters on the right that this country is teetering at the edge of the abyss that it’s almost lost, that something that once made it special is gone, and they’re sort of scrapping and clawing to protect the very last vestiges of it. And this guy no matter his warts that he’s doing it, that he’s the guy standing up to all of these forces. The woke progressives and the transgender’s and the Hollywood elites and the Oh, he will fight.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:44

    Yeah. He will fight for them. And it starts to feel like a total cliche and well worn at a certain point. Again, we’ve had this conversation. But it’s the best answer I can come up with because eight years later, it still the answer I get all over the country when I spend time with these folks.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:58

    And I I just have gotten to a place where I think it’s the thing that’s really hard to measure but it’s the thing that’s the most consistent in all of this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:07

    Yeah. Until the fight becomes central, it’s not about a specific issue or public policy. Sometimes the fight is just about the
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:13

    fight. Okay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:16

    So let me ask you this. I wanna get to your piece, which is absolutely fascinating that Donald Trump is on the wrong side of the religious right because the transformation of social conservatives in the religious right has, you know, been central to this story in one of the great puzzles, I think, for a lot of observers to this. But here’s the other unanswerable question. Right now, Donald Trump is enjoying the rally around the flag boost that he always enjoys after, you know, something like this happens. Will fit fatigue set in, will the exhaustion begin to take a toll when you have the cumulative effect?
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:46

    Okay? So today, we have the the non perform, non mugshot. You know, all these Republicans are saying this is all political. What will they say after Georgia? What will they say after Mar a Lago?
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:57

    What will they say after Jack Smith comes down, perhaps with some January sixth indictments? What will they say when, you know, the SEC comes forward with this investigation? Does this take a toll or are they all in? The history would tell us they’re all in and they’re never going to break. But at some point, is there a cumulative weight where the voters go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:19

    We still like the guy, but it’s just too much we need to move on. I mean, that’s obviously what a lot of these Republicans are hoping for, but they’re not willing to do anything. They’re not willing to take the collective action to push them in that way. So how do you think this plays out by August or September? Are people still like, he’s our guy, he’s our fighter?
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:41

    And we don’t give a damn, you know, what he’s done or how many times he’s been indicted, we’re going with him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:47

    Well, Charlie Sykes the thing. I can’t see the future any better than you can. And I’m certainly not going to go out on this limb of saying, well, this is it. This is finally when a lot of these people are gonna sort of pack it up and call it a day with Trump. But I do think just as three or four months ago, we were maybe a little bit off with our expectations when we you know, after the midterms, we saw Trump start to die a little bit in the polls.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:12

    We saw DeSantis Ascendant, and we started to think, oh, okay. Well, here’s the first real sign of folks moving on. And now we start to see folks sort of rallying back a bit my hunch is at three or four months from now, things will again be a little bit different. In other words, I don’t know that there’s any trend line that’s gonna hold constant over the next eighteen months here, when we say that we’re in uncharted waters, you know, legally, we are we’re also really in uncharted waters politically in the sense that You’ve got a former president running to reclaim his office, but, you know, he’s doing so under these really nasty storm clouds. He’s doing so in all likelihood running against his former vice president, running against former cabinet officials, and he’s old and he’s incredibly unpopular with the general electorate.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:05

    You know, you see some people in the last seventy two hours, like, well, okay, he’s the nominee now. Right? Like, this clench is it. Like, I’m not going there at all yet because unlike twenty sixteen, we’ve already seen some key differences. Some of them I’ve laid out in the piece and we can get more into that in a minute as far as where sort of influential evangelical leaders are at I think another place we see is that donors are moving quickly with their money this time around to throw it behind other candidates.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:32

    Recognizing the Trump threat that exists. We’ve seen — Yeah. — you know, the Coke network already mobilized, whereas back in twenty team, you know, Eliana Johnson and I had reported this big scoop back in twenty sixteen that basically Mark Shore, you know, Mike Pence’s right hand man who had led the coke Bulwark political operations. He and some others had gone to, you know, Charlie Sykes himself had bagged basically for ten million dollars to tried to stop Trump on Super Tuesday, and the whole Coke network basically shrugged their shoulders and said, nope. We’re not doing it — Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:01

    — this time around, eight years later, they’re already making moves. They’re already allocating those funds. There’s gonna be a very well financed, very well coordinated campaign against Trump this time in a way that there wasn’t. Back in twenty sixteen, Charlie, all of that is to say that, look, he could very well be the nominee again, but I’m not going to operate under the assumption that we’re sort of in this static political environment and that the polling we see today is gonna hold up or even continue to trend up for Trump in the months ahead because I think there’s a saturation effect here. I do think that a lot of people, even though they’re registering support for him right now, there’s only one other declared candidate really in the field.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:39

    So, you know, I think six, seven, eight months from now, it’s gonna be a very different environment politically. Well, let’s
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:44

    dive into your piece because you’re right that Donald Trump is on the wrong side of the religious right. Trump’s relationship with evangelicals had seemed to be shatter proof, but it gotten shaky. Just a reminder, I mean, you’re the son of an evangelical pastor and you wrote last year about how politics is poisoned the evangelical church. So So let’s talk about all this. You write, the scale of his trouble is difficult to overstate.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:07

    In my recent conversation, was some two dozen evangelical leaders, many of whom asked not to be named all of whom back Trump in twenty sixteen throughout his presidency and again in twenty twenty, not a single one would commit to supporting him in the twenty twenty four Republican primary, and this was all before the speculation of his potential arrest on charges related to paying hush money to his porn star paramour back in twenty sixteen. So, Tim,
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:32

    what’s going on? How can this unshakable, unbreakable alliance be broken? So the first point to make here, Charlie, that I can’t stress enough is, you know, these folks I’m talking to, these are the grass tops. Right? This is the — Mhmm.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:50

    — leadership class. Of a lot of these big organizations, the people who raise all the money, who do a lot of a mobilizing from thirty thousand feet. Mhmm. These people are in many cases sort of philosophically and temperamentally quite disconnected from their constituents that they represent at the grass root level just to make that clear — Mhmm. — because I think it’s really important.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:14

    We can get more into that. But that having been said, yes, this is a really significant breakage in the relationship between Trump and a lot of these evangelical organization leaders. And it’s almost entirely rooted back to Trump’s remarks after the midterm election in which he based we threw pro lifers under the bus and said, well, really. You know, don’t look at me for pushing, you know, Hersha Walker and Cary Lake and all these other terrible candidates who lost eminently winnable races. Don’t blame me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:45

    Blame the pro lifers because they were the dog that caught the car. Right? They were the people who spent all these years fighting to overturn Roe v Wade and then where are they now? They didn’t show up on election day, and they didn’t have any plans. For how to handle the aftermath part of which is actually true.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:02

    And Trump, in that moment, misread the room so badly. Right? Because You know, I don’t have to tell you, Charlie Sykes, like, for my money, the most pivotal stretch of time for Trump politically over the last eight years was after he won the Indiana primary and cruise drops out. Case it drops out. Trump has effectively cinch the nomination at that point.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:24

    Within a few weeks, Trump has gathered about five hundred evangelical leaders in New York City at the Marriott Marquis Hotel. He gets up on stage with Mike Kuckabee, and Ben Carson and Franklin Graham among others. And basically, they they vouch for him and they rally around him and he gives this very fiery speech there about abortion. It was really the first time he leaned into that issue. And everybody walked out of that meeting Marjorie Dan and Fellows are from the Susan B anthony list and Tony Perkins from the Family Research Council.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:56

    A lot of these other sort of pro life evangelical figureheads, they all walked out of that meeting for the first time, like, okay. I could see this. I could see supporting this guy. And then a few weeks later, he puts up the Supreme Court list. And then a few weeks after that, he selects Mike Pence.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:10

    And all of this was very tightly choreographed around this idea of signaling to the evangelical pro life movement that he was going to be their guy, that they could trust him, that he was going to deliver for them. And in many ways, he did. Right? And so that’s where It’s so incredible that his first impulse politically after this disastrous twenty twenty two midterm for the Republican Party was to come out and say, hey, it’s not my fault. Blame the pro lifers.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:38

    I can’t even measure for you, Charlie, the sense of betrayal that he kicked up by doing that. I mean, there were people who felt like this was an absolute unforgivable act of betrayal. Some of these people, I was shocked because I fully expected them to say, well, yeah, that’s just Trump being Trump. That was rash and it wasn’t smart. But ultimately, I think it was just bad advice from his people around him.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:01

    I know that what’s in his heart is different. No. No. No. They went at him directly, and that was surprising.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:05

    See, this seems fixable to me from Trump’s point of view because only Billy needs to do is to come back and say, okay, I didn’t mean that plus or he never apologized. He could say, look, I’m the guy that gave you the Supreme Court. You know, I’m the one who appointed three conservative, three pro life justices. I’m the one who made it possible to overturn Roe versus Wade. You’ve been talking about this for fifth years, I got it done.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:29

    Won’t they all, I go, yeah, that’s true. How come the comment outweighs the fact that Donald Trump gave them the holy grail that they’d been searching for for half a century.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:41

    Well,
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:42

    I
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:42

    think it’s two things, Charlie. First, I think when you are entered into a nakedly transactional relationship with someone, but you don’t want it to be acknowledged that it’s nakedly transactional. It’s very painful when the other party comes out and says, yeah, this was nakedly transact Right? And that’s effectively what Trump did. There were a lot of these folks who I don’t know how many of them diluted themselves into believing that Trump was actually a pro lifer himself.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:11

    But some of them did. I think the great majority of them though had really at least gotten to the point where they were very comfortable in this alliance with Trump because they felt like he was at the very least very respectful of them, very respectful of their views, was willing to sort of be a champion for their cause in a way that they found really, like, endearing. Right? They never would have predicted, which I think is foolish of course, but they never would have predicted that he would throw them under the bus this way. And I say it’s very foolish because, I mean, this is who Trump is.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:43

    I mean, he cares about himself. And so I think by coming out and saying what he said, when I say that it was a betrayal, I mean, look, Charlie, all these folks who had entered into that transactional relationship with him over those previous six, seven years, they had any number of opportunities to throw him under the bus when it would have been convenient. Right? Especially after they got what they wanted on the policy front, they could have thrown him under the bus, but they didn’t because they felt like they had entered into a deal with him where, look, you know, we’re gonna kinda turn a blind eye to some of this. We’re not going to call you out because you’ve given us what we want.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:18

    And they were foolish enough in some cases to believe that he was going to do the same for them, and he just
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:23

    didn’t. So this is the opportunity for Mike Pence. As you write, you know, you talk about, you know, Mike Pence is, you know, a longtime ties to the religious. Right? He was quick to pick up on the fact that there was this sense of betrayal out there and and you point out me Pence is is friends with some of the people who are the most angry over the, you know, scapegoating of the knobs ruling.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:46

    You explained that Pence knows that Trump has refused to make any sort of a peace offering to the any abortion community and is now effectively a strange from its most influential leaders. So talk to me a little bit about Mike Pence continues to puzzle me because I I I keep trying to, you know, figure out what is his lane, what is his theory of the case, but you lay out at least one of the real opportunities that he has to take back the evangelical community. He had been one of the people who brokered the the land lease back in twenty six sixteen. So, what is Pence doing and how successful has he been so far? Well,
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:22

    yeah. Look, this is his lane, Charlie. I mean, it’s simple straightforward answer to that question. What is his theory of the case? It’s to drive this wedge between Trump and the evangelical movement that was largely supportive of cruise to some extent Rubio, a little bit bush, a little bit casing, But really, the the sort of organized evangelical movement in twenty sixteen was not at all behind Trump until the general election, until that sequence of events that I laid out earlier in this late spring early summer of twenty sixteen after he’d sewn up the nomination.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:56

    These are folks who were pretty distrustful and pretty outspoken in their opposition to Trump. Pence knows that. Pence knows these people very well. They’re like personal friends of his, the people who are the heads of these big organizations. He knows that there is this breakage, this rupture, this sense of betrayal.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:12

    So his theory of the case, his path to the nomination, narrow as it may be is to exploit that rupture and to try and make the case to the grass roots that he can deliver on all the things the same policy wins that Trump gave them, but that he can do it in a more respectful humble, Christlike fashion. Mhmm. And I think there’s a bunch of problems with, you know, Pence’s theory of the case, but one of them, just on that last point, is Part of Trump’s appeal to a not insignificant number of religious conservative voters is that he’s not humble. That he’s not respectful, that he’s not Christlike, that he’s not willing to play by the rules, that he’s not observant of the the boundaries and the etiquette that govern political life. A lot of these folks believe that Trump was actually able to get these things done in ways that other Republicans haven’t because he was a bullet of China shop, and because he was willing to color way outside the lines.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:18

    And so in many ways, it seems like he is the answer to a question that nobody is asking in the Republican Party right now. You talked to Tony
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:27

    Perkins whose the president of the Family Research Council, you know, immensely influential figure. And he and his allies are also meeting with other Republican contenders as well. Right? But he still won’t rule out backing Trump’s primary campaign. So even he, and he’s one of the main characters in your piece, is still hedging on all of this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:30:47

    Correct?
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:47

    He is. That’s right. And he said to me, look, I’m not ruling out backing Trump in the primary, but everything else he said to me in the course of a long conversation, he was making very clear that he wants to support somebody else and that most of his allies want to support somebody else. What makes it really interesting, and he said to me, Charlie, really fascinating window into the thinking of a lot of these people, Perkins said to me at one point, he said, you know, frankly, what we really want is a mix of Trump and Pence. You know, we want Trump because he had that fight and he was able to accomplish things because he was willing to sort of, you know, take the gloves off and and go to war with these people.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:29

    But we know that Pence actually believes in the things that we believe in. You know, wink wink, nod, nod. Right? So what’s interesting about that is very clear in many of the conversations that I’ve had with other people who are like minded, that they’re waiting Ron DeSantis to sort of ride in on his white horse and make the case that he can be that hybrid, that he can be that guy whose both willing to to go to the mattresses with the left and do it with a real set of principles that he actually holds to, you know, intellectually philosophically The problem is that DeSantis, thus far, has not shown great sort of political instincts in that respect. He’s not really done much to build relationships, to build alliances, strategic partnerships with these people who could help him immensely to sort of grow his footprint with the pro life movement, for example.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:24

    And there’s some quotes in the piece that where I was really sort of shocked by where people who could really go a long way to helping DeSantis topple Trump. These people have just sort of been looking around waiting for DeSantis to come make his play, and so far he hasn’t.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:41

    Yeah. It is interesting, you know, how many people are on the record in your piece, you know, airing their grievances. You have in Mike Evans original member of Trump’s evangelical advisory board. He told the Washington Post he used us to win the White House and then turn Christians into cult members glorifying Donald Trump like he was in idle. Another guy, David Lane, an activist told pastors and church leaders in an email blast that the vision of making America great again has been put on the sidelines.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:07

    Will the mission and message are now subordinate to personal grievances and self importance? Interesting that, you know, Mike Pompeo has been quoting scripture now in fundraising emails. Tim Scott did that faith in America as his soft launch, Nikki Haley, had a televangelist, John Hayee, delivered the invitation to her campaign announcement. The one thing that really surprises me about this, going back to this you know, throwing the pro lifers under the bus. The one thing about Trump that’s been consistent has been that sort of reptilian instinct to stay as close to his base as possible.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:40

    Is the guy that, you know, has his ear tuned to talk radio or to social media? What are people saying? What are they thinking? You know, how do I how do I signal to them that I’m their guy? And as you write, he didn’t even bother with damage control following his November outburst any abortion leaders say because he didn’t understand how fundamentally out of step he was with this erstwhile allies.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:01

    This is one of the very few times when I have seen this with Donald Trump. Being cross wise with his base and not moving to fix it. Since it’s obviously a real problem, why? Has he not bothered with damage control?
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:16

    Charlie, it’s the right question and it’s the right observation. I don’t have a great answer for it, but you’re exactly right. I mean, I’ve been really struck in these conversations by how many people who have been so loyal to Trump in many cases, they’ve got a pretty clear eyed view of of who this guy is. Mhmm. And they’ve been really surprised that he has not made any sort of over sure, has not extended any sort of olive branch to try and fix this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:44

    It’s actually pretty stunning. And a lot of them, I think, the best conclusion that they can come up with is that there’s a certain sort of arrogance here on the part of Trump where he says, look — Mhmm. — I got you these three Supreme Court justices, I got you, Roe v Wade, struck down. Mhmm. You know, I took care of the Mexico city policy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:07

    I appointed these dozens and dozens of, you know, federal judges. Like, don’t lecture me about what’s right for the pro life movement. Right? Like, I do think that there’s a certain arrogance there. And I think the other piece of it, Charlie, that’s been interesting, somebody made this point to me, and I think it’s right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:23

    Trump generally, does well, responds well to a sort of lighter touch people coming to them and saying, hey, you know, Donald, this was really great. It was tremendous. It was terrific. The one little piece of it that I might adjust is, you know, you might have gotten a little over your skin saying this, oh, okay. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:35:41

    He doesn’t typically deal well with a sort of frontal, ferocious backlash. And that’s what he got in the aftermath of those remarks. There were people who, like, lectured him, who censured him, who very angrily confronted him. And you know, he doesn’t respond well often to that. And I think that that could be in pairing with the arrogance part think that could explain a lot of this is that he basically at this point almost feels like he was back into a corner by these folks and that he’s not going to give them what they want, which essentially is an apology.
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:18

    I mean, a lot of them, they want him to come out and say, hey, I was wrong. I shouldn’t have said that. It was really dumb. That’s
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:23

    not gonna happen. Yeah. That’s not gonna happen. He thinks they owe him and he expects loyalty from them. Let’s go back to DeSantis for a moment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:30

    DeSantis looks like he’s about to sign a six week abortion ban. Which is much more restrictive than previous bands, more restrictive than what had been floated as a national band. Obviously, DeSantis like the others is trying to exploit this particular opening. How is this playing? I mean, is this going to open that lane for DeSantis with evangelicals who feel he hasn’t done enough to reach out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:55

    I mean, when he comes out and says, I pass one of the strictest bands in the country, Is that going to be a card? And then how do you think that Trump is going to respond? Is Trump I mean, this is an interesting one. I mean, Trump could say that’s too extreme. You know, I favor a fifteen week ban, but that would really solidify this gap that you’re describing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:14

    How do you think this plays out now? Because In real time, you’re gonna have to sign this bill and Trump’s gonna respond in some way, one way or another.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:24

    Two big question marks here. Yeah. Number one, what does DeSantis do with this? I mean, there’s been some speculation informed speculation from people who have a kind of window into his thinking that he’s going to see the writing on the wall here, the same way that Pence has, the same way that some others have, and realize that to the extent Trump has a real vulnerability with a real piece of the Republican primary base that’s going to be voting, you know, this time next year, Charlie. That this is it, that it’s with evangelicals, that it’s with pro lifer, single issue voters specifically, and that he’s going to try to take advantage of that Ron DeSantis is.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:01

    And so there’s been quite a bit of talk around the signing of that bill and how closely tethered to it his presidential launch may be. I think that we can expect to see a pretty aggressive set of campaign maneuvers around the abortion issue. Specifically, I think DeSantis is going to have a vulnerability of his own on this front. I quote, a major pro life leader in the peace who points out that Florida is the only Republican controlled state that’s among the top ten and abortion rates nationally. And in fact, Florida is usually among the top two or top three.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:36

    States in abortion rates nationally. It’s known as a prime place for abortion tourism, and it has been for a while. I know for a fact that Pence and Haley and Tim Scott and others are going to be attacking him on that vulnerability. Yeah. But to the second question you asked.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:51

    I think this is the more interesting one, Charlie Sykes does Trump do? Because remember, this is a guy who even during some of the primary debates in twenty sixteen, if people recall, he was defending planned parenthood, saying the planned parenthood does a lot of good work. Right? And that was, I think, shocking to a lot of people when they heard him say that. And later, they would sort of explain it away, like, oh, well, he was talking about just sort of women’s health care.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:15

    But like for a Republican candidate to be singing the praises of planned parenthood on a primary stage is stunning and it’s even more stunning that he was ultimately able to get away with it, but it was a good window into where his instincts really are here and where his beliefs are on the abortion issue. He’s never been a true believer. He’ll never be a true believer. He’s just not sort of a pro lifer in his bones. And so yeah, does he respond to the Florida heartbeat bill and say, actually, that’s too extreme, and that’s part of the reason that Republicans lost in twenty twenty two.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:45

    If he says that, then you have to wonder if he doesn’t just sort of open the floodgates at that point. But, you know, can he be coached up otherwise, can some of these people get back in his ear and explain to him where the Republican base is on some of the abortion laws? It it’s fascinating that actually, Charlie Sykes the fact that Roe v Wade coming down will be remembered by conservatives as one of the great lasting achievements of the Trump era it could in many ways spell his political downfall.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:16

    So this seems like a naive question given what’s happened over the last seven years, but how does the whole payoffs to porn stars play with the evangelical base. I see it sounds naive because, of course, they made their piece with everything else that Donald Trump did, you know, the the access Hollywood tape I’ve read articles where people say, yeah, you probably actually paid for abortions and yet we’re still gonna go with him as long as we get the supreme court justices. Does this play into this at all? If in fact, it turns out that he paid, you know, Stormy Daniels money after having sex with her that, you know, if Karen McDougal, if there’s another woman out there, Or is that already baked in? Have evangelicals made their peace with the fact that Donald Trump is Donald Trump and that’s not gonna change?
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:58

    Or does this remind them of the nature of the transactional deal they made with him?
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:04

    You know, Charlie, I don’t wanna say that it’s just totally baked in because that’s dismissive and and I think it ignores some of the dynamics we’ve been discussing here. It’s never just one thing. Right? There’s not just like a straw that breaks the camel’s back. And and if Trump, he’s six, seven months from now, is really struggling and kind of clawing to hang on to some of that evangelical support, then every little thing like this could matter.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:29

    There’s going to be a cumulative effect where some of these folks they’re looking at him and looking at his record and looking at the string of nasty headlines and scandals and it’s going to add And so I don’t wanna say that they’ve just sort of made peace with it. But at the same time, I think if it were really going to represent a, like, major fracturing point than we would have known already. You know, like you saw Al Moller, who’s the president of the southern Seminary, very influential evangelical figure. You know, he wrote when the news broke last week, this is not quite verbatim, but it’s close. He said, you know, this is sleazy but is it criminal?
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:07

    And, you know, look like I think that even getting people to acknowledge that it’s sleezy is probably meaningful. Again, our our bar has been lowered quite a bit over the last seven, eight years, but that’s generally the vibe you get in conversations with a lot of these folks is they’ll say, yeah, this is pretty gross and we sort of know this about this guy at this point. But, you know, the left is coming after him. And it’s always that but it’s always that pivot. Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:34

    Right. It’s it’s always the wet but this is a political prosecution. And that’s the piece of it Charlie, I have to wonder that as we move forward here and as the headlines fade and as the the circus leaves Lower Manhattan, I have to wonder if the but piece of it starts to fade a little bit as well. If if people sort of remember the misdeeds but they kind of lose their fur
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:59

    around the political prosecution stick. Let’s circle back to the caveat you began with when we started discussing this because, of course, we’ve seen over the last seven years the gap between these so called thought leaders and the actual base and the way in which eventually the quote unquote thought leaders Alvanyir or Kevan. Is there any reason to think that this won’t happen again with the evangelicals? As you point out, eighty one percent of white evangelicals voted for Donald Trump last time. Eighty one percent.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:28

    So we are talking about, you know, people at the very top, you know, the people like Tony Perkins and others. But do they speak for the grassroots? Is this actually a grassroots phenomenon or is this in the elite evangelical phenomenon. I mean, and you caveated this right at the beginning. And so what is your gut sense?
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:46

    You know, will this be one of those things where they may say, yeah, it’s time to move on from Donald Trump and eighty one percent of their followers go, screw that. We’re still Magna.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:56

    Well, there’s a big distinction here, Charlie. Right? Like, the eighty one percent is in a general election where it’s a binary choice and they’re effectively many of them feel what their hand is forced because they don’t want to support Hillary Clinton. Or in twenty twenty, they feel like they don’t want to support Joe Biden — Right. — largely around the issue of abortion.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:12

    In a primary setting, I think it actually is a little bit different. You know, I’ve spent the last few years doing a lot of reporting in evangelical churches — Mhmm. — like a lot a lot a lot of reporting, and I’ll have more to say about that soon, a little teaser for you. But in that reporting, I’ve actually been consistently pretty surprised at the degree of disillusionment with Trump at the ground level from people who supported him in Vodafone’s ways. Now often those conversations are sort of hushed and people kind of looking around to make sure that they’re in the clear saying what they wanna say about them first, which tells you something.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:48

    It’s really hard to quantify this. But I do think that at the grassroots level, there is a disappointment with Trump and a willingness to move on from Trump that I haven’t seen before. But that is explicitly in the context of a primary Charlie Sykes Trump were again the nominee, I think he’d be very hard pressed to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t repeat that same, you know, eighty percent ballpark support level. With those white evangelicals. Because almost all of them are gonna be looking at it through that same sort of binary prism.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:20

    And if
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:20

    in fact, it’s a choice between Donald Trump and Mike Pence, that’s completely different decision tree for evangelical voters — Yes. — to make. Yes. Tim Alberta is a staff writer at the Atlantic and author of American Carnage and he’s teasing out more projects ahead, Tim. It is great to have you back on the podcast and I did like today.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:40

    Charlie Sykes won’t say that there wasn’t a little PTSD here. It was fun talking with you on the left hand front. Alright. And thank you all for boosting today’s Bulwark
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:49

    podcast. Time, Charlie Sykes, we will continue to have full coverage on this, including reaction to what happens in New York today. And Donald Trump’s response from Mar a Lago, presuming that he’s out on the bail. We’ll be back tomorrow. We’ll do this all over again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:46:10

    The
  • Speaker 1
    0:46:10

    polar podcast is produced by Katie Cooper and engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
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