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Tina Nguyen: The MAGA Diaries

January 17, 2024
Notes
Transcript
The young people who show up at CPAC and Turning Point events are there because of a deeply entrenched grassroots effort to draw in new soldiers of the conservative movement. The inside story from a journalist who got out. Plus, a diagnosis of Tucker Carlson. Puck’s Tina Nguyen joins Charlie Sykes.

show notes:

https://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-MAGA-Diaries/Tina-Nguyen/9781982189693

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 Bullwater podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. You know, when I first heard about this new book, the Maga diaries, I thought my initial reaction was Oh, great. Another book about the Maga Movement. Just we need another book about the Trump era, but I gotta say this one is completely different.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:22

    I’m really looking forward to discussing this. Today with our guest, Tina Nguyen, founding partner and national correspondent at POC, formerly a reporter for Political and Vanity Fair, as well as a number conservative publications where she first started out in journalism under her mentor, Tucker Carlson. Is that unfair? Say Tucker Carlson? He’s gonna play a role here, isn’t he?
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:45

    Oh, he’s gonna play a giant role. And one of the things I do go into the book. First, I’m so happy to be here. I love hanging out with you Charlie Sykes. Second, interesting that you bring up mentor because one of the overarching themes in my book is tried to get ahead in America.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:00

    And my parents were immigrants. It had no idea how, like, building a career in America worked In Asia, it would be more like, okay. Are you smart? Do you have the screen? Cool.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:09

    In America, it’s like, who do you know? Who can teach you the ropes? And My mom was reading a lot of Forbes Magazine articles about career development. He’s like, you should find mentors. That’s Tucker.
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:20

    He could be a mentor. Go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:23

    Well, I mean, this is part of a what I found so interesting about your book is it doesn’t explain the process by which people are recruited into this movement And I think it’s absolutely crucial to understand this. So on your first page, and the author’s note, you’re right. There are hundreds if not thousands of books about the history of the Republican Party. The history of the American Conservative movement inside the party, and the history of Donald Trump and his administration in January sixth and militant white Jonathan Last And whatever other right wing insanities have emerged in American politics over the last eight years, this is not one of those books. The Maga diaries is a coming of age memoir.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:57

    One of those tales wherein the main character goes on a transformational journey from childhood to adulthood, a political book with a curveball, really. Curtis describes it as a sobering endlessly readable fly on the wall account of creeping fascism, My colleague and friend, Tim Miller says a critical tale if you want to understand the people behind Trump’s rise, the Maga Media ecosystem and how conservative youth are getting sucked into the quicksand without even realizing it. So for a lot of our viewers, the idea of young Trump supporters feels like a contradiction in terms. And yet there is this vast ecosystem, this vast circus like universe out there where people are drawn in. So let’s just talk about this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:02:44

    How you got in in this. You know, you’re a young, bright, Vietnamese American woman who ends up at Claremont Mckenna, an elite university, describe what happens. How does someone like you get sucked into what’s become the Maga movement.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:03

    Oh, it is a very odd story, but when I realized over time, this replicated by hundreds and not thousands of other kids. But, basically, it comes from two different factors. One, like I was talking about earlier, my parents just didn’t understand American society to the point of, like, how do you become established and how do you get ahead? And so when I was in this prep school, I was on scholarship, and I was smart, but it wasn’t the type of person who would have, like, you know, money to go to interlock and acting camp for the summer or get an internship at the United Nations or get yo yo model, right, my Harvard application. Like, that was the level of person I was competing against.
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:45

    And for a seventeen year old, you’re like, that’s kind of fundamentally unfair. Like, what is it about, in my mind, the left that makes things this way? Second, I was a giant freaking nerd about the founding fathers. Like, the biggest one you’ll ever see in your life. Like, that’s what happens when you grow up in Boston next to John Adams’s mansion Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:04:06

    But what do you have considered yourself a political conservative? Or did you have an ideological leaning when you were leaving high school going to college?
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:14

    I would say I was getting more into the libertarian moment of two thousand eight. People who were trying to reconcile this part of themselves that were like, Okay. I love America, but the war in Iraq is horrible, and we shouldn’t be here anymore. I love like, freedom of speech and liberty, but I also am a little nervous about how traditional Republicans are reacting to things like that. But I also do find that the state weighing into my daily decisions is creepy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:04:45

    And, oh, no. Here comes the recession. Why is the government trying to take our money and use it to to, like, I don’t know, bail out these banks that screwed up on their own and, oh, no. What they take our money and start using it to pay for universal health care, I feel wholly lost right now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:01

    So you are conservative curious.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:03

    Yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:04

    You show up at Claremont Mckenna, and you describe in really great detail how young people are recruited to the movement, and we’ll get to what the movement is, how how big it is, and and what I think both people on the left and frankly a lot of reporters in the mainstream media don’t get about it. So how are you seduced from going from conservative curious to full on manga.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:29

    You have to understand that, like, full on manga didn’t exist yet. Like, yeah, that populist strain was kind of, like, bobbling in people’s subconscious, but no one dared to say it out loud until Trump came along. But, like, we’re talking two thousand eight, two thousand nine here. And this is a weird moment where I am just a normal student who is working at this research institution called the Salvatory Center for the study of individual freedom in the modern world. Okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:57

    Yes. That pings my little baby, American history heart. But then you start getting invited to things because people in the institute know the people who run the things. And all of us son, someone sends you an invite like, hey, do you wanna go to this Bulwark tie, Galla, where John Bolton’s speaking? And you’re like, of course, I do.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:14

    All of a sudden, you show up in this room with, like, powerful people and tuxedos and suits wandering around and all of a sudden you see like, oh my god. This guy is an appellate lawyer who took off this case This guy’s Andrew Breibart who’s here and, like, talking to me. Oh my goodness. And, like, you they keep inviting you into back rooms and giving tension and they’re like, oh my god. You’re very promising.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:38

    Like, that was the word I kept hearing throughout my entire journey. You are promising. You have a future. You are going to be famous. You’re gonna be powerful and influential.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:46

    And, like, this is not an empty promise because the people who are telling you these things do have those connections and, like, are powerful and or eventually will be powerful. Like, a friend of mine, what’s told me that he was this, like, nineteen year old dingus in a room and Neil Gorsuch came up to him and was like, hey, yeah, like, here’s my business card. Drop me a call whenever you’d like.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:06

    Yeah. I mean, one of the people that called you very promising was Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife, you know, and people offering to be your mentors. And I think people need to understand how powerful that is for a young person getting started, you know, somebody saying, hey, you know, let’s have coffee. Paid internships, summer camps for for conservative journalists, all of those things. So what you describe is this concerted effort at the grassroots to recruit students in young journalists to the soldiers of the movement.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:32

    I mean, this is this is not just a random thing. This is not just people who, you know, are reading the New York Times one day and deciding, you know what? I’d like to be a conservative. I mean, there is a real infrastructure that draws bright young people into this movement, and then creates for them a world and a career path. And obviously, careerism is a big part of this whole story.
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:54

    Oh, for sure. And the thing is it’s not even just journalism programs to begin with. Like, I would always get these jobs emails from the college, and there would be opportunities to learn leadership skills, electioneering skills. There’s this group called Leadership Institute that was literally throwing like money and flights and lodging at people who wanted to have a future in politics. And they’re like, would you like to learn how to run a presidential campaign?
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:21

    Would you like to become an academic or something and study the ideas of liberty? Would you like to enter this legal system, the federalist society, or any other number? Or like enter Think Tank World or grassroots activism. Like, if you go to a student conference these days, like turning point, CPAC, whatever, most important part of that room will not be the places where people are speaking. It will be the booths.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:47

    It will be the expo floor. Where they have packets and packets and packets and swag promoting, like, different jobs you could take. It’s a giant career fair out there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:57

    Well, one of the interesting things about your book is you discuss how members of the media from the outside just don’t understand, really what’s going on. You write very early in the book. Missing in their work is something that a journal is looking in from the outside whenever quite understand. The way the conservative movement makes itself immortal turning idealism, friendship, and ambition into the same thing. It draws in young people with promises of stability, purpose, and career summer seminars full of new like minded friends.
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:25

    It invites them into a world of power, full of eager mentors and cocktail lovers who want to help them mature It gives the most promising kids internships research project, and the loyalty becomes organic to the point where even when your friends and associates begin saying crazy extreme things, outrageous things. You don’t break with it. I mean, this is the loyalty, right, that it becomes part of your world. So that when people say, well, why don’t you speak out against this, or why don’t you break with this? Why do you tolerate this?
  • Speaker 1
    0:09:58

    They don’t understand sort of the organic ecosystem that you found yourself in.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:03

    Right. Like, here’s how far back the movement goes. So you know how Mitch McConnell is a really old guy? Yes. Like, very, very old.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:14

    He was part of the Leadership Institute as a twenty year old. That is how far back they catch people. And When you develop something, a network like that over decades and decades to decades and catch people really young, it’s less of political movement where people kind of get together fully formed. It’s like, this is the core of your identity. This has been the core of your identity.
  • Speaker 2
    0:10:36

    Since you were in college, maybe even high school. This is the core of your friend group, not just your career, but, like, your entire social circle. And if it were just a matter of, like, saying, hey, I don’t believe this anymore, it would be one thing. But if you say, hey, I don’t believe this anymore, I’m not doing it, and then your entire friend group turns against you with, like, this insane vigor and anger. Like, that’s harder.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:01

    That’s a harder proposition.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:02

    Let’s fast forward to that moment when this happened with you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:05

    So, Art.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:06

    So you are immersed in this. You know most of these characters. I think you’re at the beginning of the book you’re talking about, how you know, your editors are talking about some crazy thing going on to the right wing, and you’re saying, I know that person. I know that person. And they’re, like, amazed because, you know, you were kind of like zeleg in the conservative movement.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:21

    You were sort of everywhere. Is it? But how did you, hesitate to say, no. How did you get deprogrammed?
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:30

    It was one of my mentors that actually kind of accidentally pushed me out. But the reason I got into conservative world in the first place was because a path that was offered to me was journalism. One day, internship opportunity dropped in my mail lots going like, would you like a paid journalism internship in the summer of two thousand nine? Are you Liberty minded? And I was like, okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:52

    Yes. I’m both of these things. So I enter this program. I get a paid internship for the summer. It requires me to go to these seminars that talk about how journalism from a right wing perspective should be conducted, but it wasn’t presented like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:07

    Otherwise, I would never have gone. But it was like, journalism and the free society Why is it that the media doesn’t approach things in this direction, for instance? And after that internship, I get another email from IHS saying, you’ve been selected for your promise to be part of the Institute Three Main Studies mentorship Program in Journal I will be here. His name was John Elliot, to guide you on this path and make sure that you have the connections, have a good resume, know who to talk to and I will build that out for you. And eventually, like, I’m full sold in at this moment.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:44

    I’ve never had anyone like this. But over time, I start realizing that the people he puts me in touch with increasingly want me to write things that are either completely untrue or, like, tilt it to such a point that decontextualizes it from the broader story and is specifically only geared towards hurting Democrats rather than Republicans. And the third or fourth time that he did this, I started looking into the people who he was sending me to. And I’m like, oh my god. You come from activist groups.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:14

    You’ve never had jobs in journalism. Why are you my editor? This is insane. And so I’m twenty two, but I’m still thinking, I can’t do this. There’s just something in me that I cannot break if I wanna go down this career path.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:27

    Would I rather quit and do something else Sure. Yes. I’m gonna move to New York. I’m twenty two. I’m just for forget this ever happened.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:35

    And, I don’t know. Maybe I’ll become a food blogger or something.
  • Speaker 1
    0:13:38

    Well, there there’s a darker side to this as well. John Elliot, who you mentioned. I mean, it turns out that John Elliot was, exposed in twenty nineteen to be part of, if not part of this white nationalist email server full of, you know, right wing media types where they were all brainstorming ways to sneak, you know, this this white nationalist ideology into the editorial pages. The server was called, suddenly, mourning hate. They made jokes about Hitler and how Trump was akin to Hitler.
  • Speaker 1
    0:14:05

    So looking back, you write that Elliot had been looking for people to recruit. He was sifting for zealots. Interesting phrase. Sifting for zealots.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:15

    I can’t take credit for that phrase, but I use the heck out of it. The weird thing about that program was it was libertarian ish And people who graduated from that program ended up in mainstream journalism being, like, totally okay. People Rachel Brady who writes playbook was someone I met there. Mhmm. And I think what he was doing was like testing for who actually was the most extreme my internship application mentioned the founding fathers and James Madison as like a political or philosophical ideal.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:49

    And he was like, oh my god. That’s the right answer. And that was something he literally said to me. But after, this article came out, I started looking at other articles where he was cited and There was this one woman named Katie McHugh, and she ended up leaving the movement, but she was telling this Buzzfeed reporter the way that she was recruited in which she listed a paleo conservative almost like quasi white nationalist guy as her intellectual influence, and then Elliot writes back, you are the only person who has ever listed him as an influence. He was a friend of mine.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:25

    And I was like, oh, my yeah. He was literally looking for the right people. And it wasn’t trying to get a big volume of people. He just had to have the right people to put in the right places in order to sneak these ideas in.
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:39

    So one of the fascinating
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:39

    things for me is is watching the
  • Speaker 1
    0:15:44

    transition of young people who are intellectually curious, interested in conservative ideas, may have grown up reading William F Buckley or you know, reading, national review. And in a few years, they’re embracing these extreme ideologies. And I guess the question is, how much of that was preexisting condition and how much changed. Now I I will say that the one thing that shocked me about your book This was the one shocking thing Okay. Is you describe and I’m sorry, this is this is personal, but you you already have it in the book, that when you went to Claremont Mckenna, you you’re following a boyfriend.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:19

    There. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:20

    No. Yes.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:21

    And it was Chuck Johnson, Charles Johnson, who was one of the most notorious alright holocaust denying extremists. Was he always like that? Did you know that? Or is this something that he you know, transmogrified into over time.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:40

    Man, that’s a difficult question. I kind of detached from what was going on in his mind right after Obama was elected. And all I could see was what everyone saw from the outside of him, like, going further and further and further in that direction. I’m sure there was a part of him that accepted this ideology back when he was younger, but everyone was like, don’t do that. That’s insane.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:07

    But The thing that’s always kind of unnerved me about conservative about the movement, not like conservative ideology. The movement is the degree to which they will permit young people to go in, like, reach the boundaries of civility and maybe legality in order to make a political point and to, like, win. So he was part of that wave that included project Veritas the, James O’keefe project where they dress up and do undercover camera work to catch journalists and celebrities off guard. Who else was there at the time? Myla Unopolis
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:44

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:17:45

    Bright Bart, troll guy who was just, like, generally very shocking. And There seems to be a new incentive for shock value and for, like, these trolls And they blaze this path for a much younger generation to be like, oh, wait. I can go online and say a whole bunch of shocking things and people will follow me. Like, that’s the problem with the turning point USA brand ambassador model right now. Like, they hire a whole bunch of young people who are great at social media in order to build, like, online presences.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:17

    But these young people are like, wait. I don’t need the turning point brand in order to get a following. Like, it gave me prominence, but, like, they can’t control what I do. So I’m gonna just, like, go wild. And whatever turning point you as a wants I don’t think they initially wanted that, but at this point, it’s like, well, we can’t stop this.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:36

    Let’s go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:38

    It does have a self perpetuating, you know, fissionable, action here, you you discuss the idea of what you call the infinite fringe, where, you know, on the internet, if you get kicked out of one media spot for saying the wrong thing if you get canceled, you can always keep going somewhere else. There’s if you’re on the right right now, there’s kinda no limit on is conservative anymore. And you you mentioned the incentive structure, and this is something that I’ve really seen accelerating where you have people that If you squint could think we’re, like, somewhat normal, but there is that incentive structure for them to become, you know, more shock value more clickbait y, more outrageous. And in the old days, somebody would say, no, you can’t say that. You don’t wanna be that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:19:19

    These days, actually, you get rewarded for it. So it’s become this this really dangerous spiral. And so you see people moving from what we would think of as more traditional conservative or libertarian to these bizarre, you know, edges that used to be, you know, invisible.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:37

    Yeah. And again, that was sort of what I saw at, like, the daily caller where people were, like, too insane for the daily caller, but then got kicked off to Bright Bart. Some people were too insane for Bright Bard who got kicked into the ether, but then started their own things. Initially, I was like, okay. Who’s gonna tell them to stop Billy Muff Buckley was able to stop the birchers back in the day and the birchers for people who don’t know are protocution on guys from the sixties and seventies who almost got a hold of conservatism until Buckley literally pushed them out, but he was able to do that because he had a broad medium of print magazines.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:15

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:15

    And, like, a ton of political capital, but there was not enough space out there to declare who was and was not conservative. And he owned it, like, wholeheartedly. Fox News also had that to an extent, but, like, right now, they can’t stop Tucker Carlson. Like, he is the ultimate example of this infinite fringe I’m talking about. And not that that’s that he’s gone, like, okay.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:38

    Yes. He’s gone, like, kind of off the reservation, but When Fox kicked him out, there was nothing that stopped him from going back on Twitter immediately and having just the ability to talk out loud and for people to remember that he insisted. Like, if you’re being really cynical about it, it’s sort of how Netflix and Apple TV always offered their, like, the way that they got people into buying their content was, like, gonna be like five ninety nine a month or like two ninety nine a month. You get all of this content for free. Come on in, and then now they’ve jacked it up to like twenty bucks a month plus ads.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:14

    But, like, Tucker just had to give his content away for free just to remind people he existed and Fox wasn’t gonna take him off the air, and he can still talk.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:25

    Okay. So let’s talk about you and Tucker, because Tucker is a fascinating case. Tucker, you know, in the early days, you know, war Boutai was a writer for the weekly standard, very much a mainstream conservative, and very highly respected as a writer and thinker. We kind of know where he is right now. Talk to me a little bit about Tucker, you and the daily caller.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:43

    You you described Tucker as a super fun. The qualities that made him a really good magazine reporter. However, do not make him a good pundit. So talk to me about that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:53

    Yeah. I think magazine writers have a lot more latitude to engage in crazy ideas, like absolute, maybe stunty either like gonezo journalism things where they insert themselves into the story and do something wild, like, say Christopher hitchens Waterboarding himself. For fun. Or, like, I found this crazy thing, and I’m gonna go explore it from, I don’t know, being on a cruise ship with David Foster Wallace to Oh, man. Being in Antarctica.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:24

    And he was an amazing writer. Like, he was able to just, like, find a crazy story, drop in, describe it with such detail, have his own spin on it, and then take it back and publish it in the mainstream. And, like, that was cool as a magazine writer. But when you jump on to, like, a ping in television and say, alright. Here is the story.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:45

    I have eight minutes to deliver it to you. I find this super interesting. Let’s talk about UFOs. That is taken much differently. And especially at some place like Fox it’s treated less as, like, intellectual fascination and more like gospel.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:00

    And the more that someone at Fox was like, wait. No. You can’t say this on TV. And the more talkers, like, what the hell are you talking about? I want to say this on TV.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:08

    Why are you not letting me? The more I think he just dug into his beliefs that he’s trying to do the right thing.
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:14

    Okay. Well, that’s that’s the question because there’s a transition with Tucker Carlson, and I I guess what are his motives You know, he clearly was testing the boundaries all the time. I can I say this? Can I say this? He’s challenging, Fox?
  • Speaker 1
    0:23:27

    He’s going to embrace bizarre, you know, racist theories like, you know, the replacement theory deep into conspiracy theories. This is not the Tucker Carlson of ten years ago, but is this, like, what Tucker Carlson is thinking, I’m gonna show these guys the more he got criticized, the more extreme he became was he, like, high on the dopamine hits of seeing which envelope he could break? What do you think was was happening with him and in those final days at Fox. And now
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:56

    I couldn’t really get into his mindset at the final days of his Fox time. Although I do go and the very end of the book. I do an interview with Tucker while he’s still at Fox, but it’s bookended by the fact that I saw him right before he got fired from Fox, like, literally the day before at this heritage event, and then I watch him afterwards try to keep his career afloat. And At the very end of his time at Fox, he seemed to view himself as someone who was prophesizing the fall of America. To dark liberal forces.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:31

    Like, if you listen to the speech that he gave at that event, it was literally like, I’m not a religious man. Like, this is not me being, like, preaching the gospel or whatever. But there seems to be something very dark happening in America that’s going after our churches and our children and our culture. And we gotta stand up for that. It was a little bit, like, I don’t know if your listeners would be familiar with the flight ninety three essay.
  • Speaker 1
    0:24:54

    Yeah. They will.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:55

    Yeah. Exactly. It it’s like a lot more tinges of that, except in a much more, like, telegenic forward.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:01

    An apocalypse is, you know, a good sales tool. If you come on the air every night and you tell people everything is fine, you don’t need to worry about anything. You’re probably not going to be a star. On the other hand, if you say, you know, the end is coming, and I’m gonna tell you if you, you know, stay up past this next commercial break, I’m gonna tell you how if you do not seize the cockpit, we will all die. You know, back in a moment.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:24

    It’s not new that, of course, you know, people in the media will sometimes, you know, create and exaggerate catastrophes, but this seemed to be really, really ramped up. Okay. So you were working at the daily caller. You were writing. You described, what happened to your departure from there.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:37

    You were writing a story about a telecommunication company. Your editors were trying to get you to twist the truth. You wouldn’t do it. This was clearly one of the breaking points. Right?
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:46

    So Amen. This is a a medium, the daily caller, who had that had an agenda. And so they start with who they want you to like or who they want you to hate who they want you to attack and you weren’t having it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:58

    I was definitely not having it. And here’s the interesting part about the structure of the daily caller that made this happen, the person who was directing my coverage was not a caller employee. He helped get me through the door, but I always thought it was just sort of a, hey, I know a girl who could have a job here. Here you go. Here’s a job.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:17

    Like, you know, a really traditional Bulwark. But then the fact that, like, he started asserting himself as the person who was directing my coverage got real weird very quickly Like, he wasn’t hired. No one there knew who he was except for Neil who kind of knew him through the side. And then he was just, like, acting as my editor, sending me, where’s your story? Where’s your story?
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:38

    Where’s your story? Here are the people I want you to talk to. Here are the stories I want you to cover. And I was twenty two at the time. And so, like, if I were a bit more I don’t know.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:50

    If I were less stubborn and less into following my gut, I probably would have just, like, accepted as as what happens in conservative journalism, but I did call it out. And then a chain of events that I will describe solely as the exact chain of events as they happened. I said this out loud and two days later, I was let go for quote unquote financial reasons.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:14

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:14

    And that is the exact chain of facts.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:16

    Yeah. It’s, always a quite a coincidence, isn’t it? Well, interestingly enough, you were one of the few journalists because you were enmeshed in this universe to actually predict that Trump would win in twenty sixteen, and you were, working at Vanity Fair at the time. Is that correct? Your editors scoffed at that.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:34

    Like, there’s just no way as, by the way, ninety eight percent, ninety nine, ninety nine point nine percent of all the people in the media, including me, would have scoffed at that idea. So tell me what you saw that they didn’t see.
  • Speaker 2
    0:27:46

    Do you remember earlier I was talking about how the conservative movement had a degree of permissibility for people who were kind of, like, out there and crazy and probably broke the rules but got things done. The moment I saw Trump running, like, stopping all over everybody else, and everyone was like, oh, no. We’ll try to stop him. But they didn’t. And I was just thinking like, oh, no.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:12

    Oh, oh, no. Like, he’s getting very popular and I don’t think anyone can stop him just because I don’t think anyone knows how to stop him. Like, here’s the critical flaw of the conservative movement as I see it. It’s a really powerful movement, which has become an industry and a bit of a machine. But over the sixty years of the movement, they were always convinced that they were working for a specific vision of what is conservative and what is not.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:41

    And they believed that the voting base would go along with it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:28:44

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:44

    But the moment that the base was like, wait, actually, we kinda like populism and free trade sorta sucks. They’re like, oh, the calculus becomes like, do we protect these ideals, but that are clearly very unpopular and then see the collapse of everything we worked for or do we go and find some sort of intellectual common ground here and go along with it? Like, The core of conservatism, apart from all of those ideals that kind of came to fruition with Goldwater and Reagan, is society’s moving forward too quickly and we have to it. In some cases, it looks like communism. In some cases, it looks like Obamacare, but in this case, it’s like there is a cultural critique to be made of the left.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:26

    And the base still likes to go against the left. Maybe it’s for reasons that we find reprehensible, but You know what? We have to go with the people that we cultivated too.
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:37

    So you were also not surprised by January sixth. Why? What do you see bubbling up there before the attack on the capital?
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:45

    It was an interesting chain of events that came from me covering Trump in twenty twenty as a White House reporter. So when I pitched myself to politico for that position, I was like, Alright. The most powerful people whispering in Trump’s ears right now is not lobbyists on case for either people in the capitol or, like, interest groups or whatever. It’s people in the media and online. Like, they are just tweeting things at him, and he’s retweeting them out to the public and those people are like, oh my god.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:14

    Trump loves us. We’re gonna keep having this feedback loop, and we are gonna gain more and more and more power. And over the summer of twenty twenty, it went from COVID information like hydroxychloroquine to there’s violent Antifa and Bulwark Lives Matter protesters in the streets you have to go out there and fight them. Also, those people are supporting the deep state who wanna knock me out. And so with the rise of militia groups, in American cities and suburbs and Proud Boys starting to prowl the streets beating up people that they thought were like auntie for her lips.
  • Speaker 2
    0:30:49

    And the fact that Trump was engaging with them more and more and more was a little bit, like unnerving to me. The more he started dabbling with qanon too and feeding back into their love, that was even worse. The moment that stopped the steel comes up and then all of a sudden, militia guys with guns show up to ballot counting locations, and Trump is going stop the steel stop the steel stop the steel. And these guys start going, we’ve gotta go, like, take our country back, and we are sovereign citizens and are allowed to do whatever it takes to get our country back. I’m just like, it’s gonna be violent.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:26

    I don’t like this. And I was fully prepared for actual, like, fights and bloodshed at the capitol that day. My one miscalculation was that I thought the capitol would be prepared for it. And The capital security was not at all.
  • Speaker 1
    0:31:45

    Okay. So that was unnerving. But what do you make of the last three years in which Trump has been able to rewrite the history of all that. I mean, it’s one thing for these fringe militias to engage in violence. I mean, I can remember that if this was you know, five, six years ago, if you would have told me that, you know, this kind of thing would happen.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:05

    Virtually, every Republican that I knew would have said, we draw up the line there no way we’re going along with this. And on January seventh, they seemed to draw the line. And here we’re sitting three years later, and the Republican Party, at least the electorate, overwhelmingly has accepted Trump’s big lie is not repelled by his reference to the rioters who attack police officers as hostages have Joanie Ernst saying, yeah, I believe I have no problem. If he pardons this editionist, what do we need to understand about the conservative movement and conservative voters? That they would have actually accepted something that would have been unthinkable just a short while ago.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:43

    I think that that moment has been, like, memory hold in the right. And part of it has to do with the fact that Trump is no longer on Twitter When he was in a online format where everyone could see him and he was just constantly tweeting and no one could stop him from tweeting, people were reminded Oh my god. This man is crazy. Just all the time in their face, he is encouraging these seditionists. He is not telling people to leave the capitol.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:11

    It was his biggest megaphone. And in the short term, it was, I think, helpful for the stability of the country that he was off Twitter. But in the long run, I think the Trump campaign realized that he was not constantly in people’s ears being, like, loud and conspiratorial and, like, crazy. He was quarantined off on true social just like ranting and ranting and ranting in giant block of texts that were completely unreadable. And over time, when people forget that loud howling Trump monkey in their ears, they just think back on, like, we were having better lives back then.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:49

    Trump was, like, your crazy uncle, but, like, we had money. The inflation was not bad. We were not in these wars. Our children weren’t being attacked by deI. Debit whether that’s true or not.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:01

    But So
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:01

    what does that mean for twenty twenty four if, the spotlight, which will inevitably turn very brightly on the howling Trump monkey again. What does that mean? Because I’ve actually heard, you know, some Democrats say, well, you know, once the campaign begins and people are reminded who trump is, Trump is now showing up at trials. He’s showing up at the trial of the woman that he was found to have raped He thinks that that’s a winner for him, but we’re about to have, ten months of, you know, nonstop Trump, aren’t we? Howling trump?
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:30

    We are, but the media atmosphere and environment has just atomized so much that wherever you get your news these days, it’s not as unified as it was back in twenty sixteen. Like, cable audiences are shrinking, All of these podcasts where people get their news are growing. I think more and more Americans have cut the cable and cut their subscriptions to newspapers to get their news from literally Joe rogan.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:57

    And the newspapers are dying. Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:59

    Yeah. The media that would have reminded people constantly that Trump was you know, howling monkey is just like diminished. And there are more people who are like, I don’t really care about that. Here’s what I actually do care
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:12

    also, I mean, there’s a there there has been an exhaustion. I mean, I just sense a certain just, you know, shoulder slumping, just tiredness and numbness about the because this has been going on for seven or eight years. And I guess the question is whether or not people are going to, you know, reengage or whether or not it’s like so, you know, Trump’s a howling monkey, you know, same old same old. Tell me something that’s new. I actually talked about this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:35

    I thought it was really interesting when Nikki Haley, you know, failed to say that slavery was the cause of the civil war. It was a news story for, what, five or six days. Right? Trump says something crazy and insane every hour. And it’s just like just, you know, it’s the banality of crazies.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:52

    It’s like, okay. Well, that’s not new. In some ways that’s kinda working for him. Right? It’s like, you know, it’s not breaking headline news that, hey, howling monkey, wrapping up the Republican nomination?
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:02

    Yeah. Exactly.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:03

    Alright. What is the way out of trumpism and the Magna Movement? You say if I if I get this correctly that looking forward, if he doesn’t designate a successor with the same kind of rhetorical skills, You think that it’s gonna pay up. The flip side of that is what you describe, and one of my takeaways from your book is that This is gonna be in the long haul. There’s an entire generation of politicians and young people that have come of age during this period, and we are going to be dealing with this, not just for the next election cycle, but for the next decade, two decades, maybe three decades.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:37

    The hangover of this is going to last a very long time. That’s why I think your book is so valuable. It because it shows You know, this is deep into the culture with a certain intent. What is the future? What is the post manga future?
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:53

    Or is there a post manga future?
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:55

    I think the movement like the Maga movement is going to last in also a very atomized form what I think one of the, downsides of Maga is that it’s not really based on an ideology so much as it is based on fighting style.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:14

    Right.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:14

    It’s really doggy dog too. You can’t have one person at the top of it. It’s just going to be a whole like, you are still fighting for audience share. And the best way to do it is try to, like, knock out someone else. And someone can, like, say, oh, no.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:29

    This is my political belief. It’s more like traditionally conservative or I actually am more of a populist over here, but, like, that does not particularly matter unless you can show dominance. And I don’t know if the conservative world as shaped by Maga will remain as coherent as it used to be because of that
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:49

    red in tooth and claw is what you’re describing. It’s not about ideas. It’s about turf. It’s about dominance. It’s about who’s up right now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:56

    Think that’s an interesting way of putting it. Yeah. I
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:58

    mean, look at what’s happening in the house right now. Technically, like, Mike Johnson, the speaker, is a conservative If this were twenty fifteen or twenty eighteen, what he was proposing would have been a very conservative budget, and he would be considered a hardliner. But he has the temerity to try to work with Democrats, and that’s a horrible sin for the part of the party that is willing to take him out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:22

    Well, yeah. I mean, look how the window has moved from Paul Ryan, who was, you know, the bright young conservative to now Mike Johnson and who knows where we’re going. Okay. So let’s talk about One of the really fun parts of your book and there are so many is your description of Turning Point USA for people who are not familiar. This is the Charlie Kirk organization.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:40

    It is one of the most flamboyantly successful organizations. You went to the their summit back in twenty twenty two when when Nazis with swastikas and armbands, showed up along with signs praising Ron DeSantis. I mean, this dynamic is so strange. So Turning point USA has become very Maga. So tell me about the incident with the Nazis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:04

    Oh, man. That was a fun one. So these Nazis show up. And they’re part of this group called the Goyim Defense League, and their entire deal is we’re gonna troll the mainstream media and people about how bad the Jews are. And, like, literally, they will dress up as Orthodox Jews and hold protests where they say that the Holocaust was faked.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:23

    That’s how trolley they are.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:24

    Yeah.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:25

    But all of these students show up. And these guys come in, and they’re like, we’re Nazis. We’re here at turning point USA. I’m watching these students come in. They clearly don’t like Nazis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:37

    I think that’s what everyone misses about this incident.
  • Speaker 1
    0:39:39

    Well, that’s reassuring.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:40

    Yeah. They, like, go in and they start screaming at the Nazis to get out of here. And they all get into this big screaming match. And the thing that really struck me though was that these kids did not believe that these guys were actually nazis. They started accusing them of being Antifa interlopers who were trying to make them look bad or from some campaign that wanted to associate them with Nazis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:07

    And these guys just keep goading them. They’re still wearing masks. And the fact that they didn’t take their masks down, so the students could identify them just, like, made them more and more suspicious.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:17

    But they thought they were from the Lincoln project They thought they were lefties. Uh-huh. I mean, is that the story they have to tell themselves? What’s the mental flex that they have to make when they’re confronted with groups like this, I guess? I mean, we saw this in January six.
  • Speaker 1
    0:40:30

    Right? I mean, you still have the cognitive dissonance of some people saying they were brave patriots and another saying, no. They were antifa because anything bad that happens must be the left. Right? They can’t actually be Nazis.
  • Speaker 2
    0:40:41

    Yeah. I mean, the entire movement is reactionary and I don’t think there’s any net negative for admitting that they are actually not seasoned that they condemn that movement. They have no affiliation with them and frankly, the Nazis and white nationalists really hate Charlie Kirk because he’s pro Israel, but the students at that level Bulwark, like, the idea that someone negative had showed up in their space and for them to think, oh, no, this is leftist trying to make us look bad. Like, that just seems organic and sort of bread by this sense of, like, this little tiny sprout of resentment that must have happened somewhere in college. And it was just something they refused to believe.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:26

    I don’t know if there is any sort of like this is something I have to believe in order for me not to, like, confront why it is that they wanna show up in the first place. It was No. These guys are here to make us angry. Who else makes us angry? Leftists.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:41

    There we go.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:43

    Yeah. So there is no breaking point. There’s nothing that Donald Trump or the right is going to do that’s gonna cause the shattering of this movement. I think this becomes very clear, you know, because of the way that it’s set up. I wonder, and I wonder what you think about this.
  • Speaker 1
    0:41:56

    How many of these young people that are associating with some of these extreme ideas now twenty, thirty years from now, we’re gonna look back on this as you do now with, like, what was I thinking? What was I going? I mean, How many of those will have that second thought versus the ones who, basically, this is now their life, and they’re going to be with us for the next half century?
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:19

    Oh, that’s a really tough question to answer. I think it’s possible, but only if I don’t know. I don’t know what that would look like. And I don’t know whether that involves schisms.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:32

    It looks like you. Right? I mean, you know, you know, I know people, both, you know, I mean, especially the way you describe it, and you describe it so well that that network, the people, the jobs, the prestige, that sense that you are protected, is incredibly powerful, and the vast majority of right wingers, conservatives, Republicans that I know continue to go on it. But, obviously, being where we are here, We also know some, you know, people who go, wow, what was I thinking? And by the way, when I say this, I am not judging you or anybody else, because what was I thinking when I thought that Ron Johnson was gonna be a really smart, you know, mainstream Republican.
  • Speaker 1
    0:43:09

    You know, what was I thinking? You know, when I went along with some of that, I got a long track record What was I thinking when I was shaking Ted Cruz’s hands eight years ago and saying, you know, we’re gonna help you win the Wisconsin primary. All seemed like a good idea at the time. And you go, What the hell was I thinking? Because as you know, once you get outside the bubble, you look back and you see it all, but it’s hard to get out of that bubble in the first place, isn’t it?
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:31

    Someone else did ask me that question. And the strongest answer I can point to, I think, is If there is something that you just kind of fundamentally think is wrong and you confront it and you think, wait, no. I cannot keep going like this. Like, protect that sense, especially if people try to convince you that you’re wrong and you’ve, like, if you’re wrong and you have to stay or else, like, bad things Will Saletan, just keep cultivating that in itself and keep that little tiny spark in alive. And if you can find some way to get out of it or at least mitigate your own involvement in it, do so.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:08

    Absolutely. I was able to take that risk when I was younger because I was twenty two and could, you know, just move to New York and survive on pennies and, like, stay on my mom’s health insurance. When you’re older, I think that’s a little bit tougher, and I’m completely empathetic to that. But there is always a way out. It’s just a matter of, like, can you find it?
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:30

    But as you point out, it gets harder and harder with time for many people. I cannot tell you the the most frequent word that I hear when I have this conversation with, my former friends who are Republicans is Mortgage. The book is the Maga diaries, my surreal adventures inside the right wing and how I got out by Tina Win, who is a founding partner, national correspondent at puck, formally a reporter for the daily caller, Vanity Fair and Political, the book was released yesterday. Congratulations, Tina. I appreciate it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:05

    It is a great read and incredibly valuable to understand what’s happening to us. Thanks for coming on the podcast today, Tina.
  • Speaker 2
    0:45:12

    Thanks for having me. This was fun.
  • Speaker 1
    0:45:14

    And thank you all for listening to the Bulwark podcast. I’m Charlie Sykes. We will be back tomorrow, and we will do this all over again. Secret Podcast is produced by Katie Cooper. And engineered and edited by Jason Brown.
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