Saturday, August 22, 2020
PresidentTrump this much: He has finally realized that the 2020 election will be lost and won in the suburbs. The question is whether his realization comes too late.
In recent weeks, Trump claimed that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden wants to “abolish the suburbs,” tweeted that he would preserve the American Dream for “Suburban Housewives of America” and bragged that his repeal of Obama-era housing regulations intended to prevent segregation would prevent suburbanites from being “bothered or financially hurt by having low income housing built in your neighborhood.”
It’s another step to stoke racial anxiety, this time among voters who moved leftward in the 2018 midterms and will be crucial in November. Other Republicans have tried it in cycles past. But the scare-the-suburbs tactic has flaws in 2020.
First, demographics. These communities are no longer all-White bastions where fathers work and mothers stay home with the children. These neighborhoods are racially diverse: According to a 2018 study, only 68 percent of suburbanites were White, 14 percent were Hispanic and 11 percent were Black. And no matter where they live, Pew Research Center found that the share of mothers who stay home with children declined from 49 percent in 1967 to 27 percent in 2016. The audience Trump believes he’s targeting — White stay-at-home suburban moms — may be smaller than he thinks.
Playing the race card is more likely to backfire now than in any time in a generation. . . . . According to YouGov, 50 percent of suburbanites think Biden would be better at handling race relations than Trump, and only 28 percent prefer Trump to Biden. And though it’s too early to tell whether this is a fad or a permanent trend, some suburbs may move left as city-dwellers, some of whom fear disease, have fled urban covid-19 hotspots.
Finally, Trump’s suburban pitch is off-key in an election dominated by the coronavirus. According to Gallup’s long-running “Most Important Problem” survey, concern about economic issues is at an all-time low, despite the economic impact of the pandemic.
As of August, a 35 percent plurality thought that “coronavirus/diseases” was the most important problem facing the country, 22 percent believed it to be “the government/poor leadership,” and 10 percent named “race relations/racism” as most pressing. With voting set to begin in a few weeks, Trump’s handling of the virus and the broader recession are more important to voters than the specifics of housing policy.
It’s understandable that Trump would want to shift the narrative away from the virus — less than 40 percent of Americans approve of how Trump has handled the pandemic. And it makes sense to target the suburbs. . . . Trump needs votes and he needs them quickly, so he is playing on suburban voters’ basest fears to win back former Republicans and overcome Biden’s strength in cities.
But Trump may discover that, with kids going back to schools and colleges, voters in the suburbs have far too many other fears to worry about the homogeneity of their neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 stock index hit a record high. The next day, Apple became the first U.S. company in history to be valued at more than $2 trillion. Donald Trump is, of course, touting the stock market as proof that the economy has recovered from the coronavirus; too bad about those 173,000 dead Americans, but as he says, “It is what it is.”
But the economy probably doesn’t feel so great to the millions of workers who still haven’t gotten their jobs back and who have just seen their unemployment benefits slashed. The $600 a week supplemental benefit enacted in March has expired, and Trump’s purported replacement is basically a sick joke.
Even before the aid cutoff, the number of parents reporting that they were having trouble giving their children enough to eat was rising rapidly. That number will surely soar in the next few weeks. And we’re also about to see a huge wave of evictions, both because families are no longer getting the money they need to pay rent and because a temporary ban on evictions, like supplemental unemployment benefits, has just expired.
But how can there be such a disconnect between rising stocks and growing misery? Wall Street types, who do love their letter games, are talking about a “K-shaped recovery”: rising stock valuations and individual wealth at the top, falling incomes and deepening pain at the bottom.
What’s going on?
The first thing to note is that the real economy, as opposed to the financial markets, is still in terrible shape. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s weekly economic index suggests that the economy, although off its low point a few months ago, is still more deeply depressed than it was at any point during the recession that followed the 2008 financial crisis.
And this time around, job losses are concentrated among lower-paid workers — that is, precisely those Americans without the financial resources to ride out bad times.
What about stocks? The truth is that stock prices have never been closely tied to the state of the economy. . . . stock prices are pretty disconnected from things like jobs or even G.D.P.
[T]he recent rise in the market has been largely driven by a small number of technology giants. And the market values of these companies have very little to do with their current profits, let alone the state of the economy in general. Instead, they’re all about investor perceptions of the fairly distant future.
Take the example of Apple, with its $2 trillion valuation. Apple has a price-earnings ratio — the ratio of its market valuation to its profits — of about 33. One way to look at that number is that only around 3 percent of the value investors place on the company reflects the money they expect it to make over the course of the next year. As long as they expect Apple to be profitable years from now, they barely care what will happen to the U.S. economy over the next few quarters.
So big tech stocks — and the people who own them — are riding high because investors believe that they’ll do very well in the long run. The depressed economy hardly matters.
Unfortunately, ordinary Americans get very little of their income from capital gains, and can’t live on rosy projections about their future prospects. Telling your landlord not to worry about your current inability to pay rent, because you’ll surely have a great job five years from now, will get you nowhere — or, more accurately, will get you kicked out of your apartment and put on the street.
So here’s the current state of America: Unemployment is still extremely high, largely because Trump and his allies first refused to take the coronavirus seriously, then pushed for an early reopening in a nation that met none of the conditions for resuming business as usual — and even now refuse to get firmly behind basic protective strategies like widespread mask requirements.
Despite this epic failure, the unemployed were kept afloat for months by federal aid, which helped avert both humanitarian and economic catastrophe. But now the aid has been cut off, with Trump and allies as unserious about the looming economic disaster as they were about the looming epidemiological disaster.
So everything suggests that even if the pandemic subsides — which is by no means guaranteed — we’re about to see a huge surge in national misery.
Friday, August 21, 2020
In the most recent Senate Intelligence report on Russian campaign interference, a footnote quotes Steve Bannon, the former chief executive of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, disparaging Trump’s oldest son. Bannon said he thought “very highly” of Donald Trump Jr., but also called him “a guy who believes everything on Breitbart is true.”
Bannon, of course, ran Breitbart, the far-right media outlet, before joining the Trump campaign, and then for several months after leaving the White House. Yet he seemed to want the senators to know that he was never enough of a rube to take his own propaganda seriously.
[F]ew people had more disdain for the members of the right-wing grass roots — whom Bannon sometimes referred to as “hobbits.”
In “The Brink,” a 2019 documentary about Bannon, there’s a scene in which he speaks to supporters in a modest living room stuffed with furniture and bedecked with crosses. As his small audience sits rapt, he lauds the room’s similarity to one in his grandmother’s house and pays homage to the “working class, middle class” people who make up nationalist movements everywhere.
Then he and a young man traveling with him walk out and step into their chauffeured car. “You couldn’t pay me a million dollars a year to live in that house,” sneers Bannon’s associate. They head to a private airport. Bannon starts to make a crack about the luxurious locale: “This is the populist …” Then he thinks better of it and shoves some popcorn into his mouth.
So it’s fitting that when Bannon on Thursday became the most recent member of Trump’s 2016 campaign staff to be arrested, it was on charges of defrauding gullible Trump supporters.
According to a federal indictment, Bannon, along with his associates Brian Kolfage, Andrew Badolato and Timothy Shea, ran a crowdfunding campaign, We Build the Wall, ostensibly to help fund Trump’s promised southern border barrier. The project became, said prosecutors, a source of illicit personal enrichment.
According to the indictment, Bannon used a separate nonprofit to siphon off over $1 million, some of which was used to pay Kolfage, who also received money through a shell company set up by Shea.
On Thursday, Trump tried to distance himself from Bannon and We Build the Wall, first saying he knew nothing about the group, then contradicting himself and saying he disliked it. But lots of Trumpworld figures have been involved with We Build the Wall.
Kris Kobach, a hard-line anti-immigrant Kansas politician close to Trump, is listed as the group’s general counsel, and last year told The New York Times it had the president’s blessing. Also on the advisory board is the Blackwater founder and close Trump ally Erik Prince; Curt Schilling, the ex-Red Sox pitcher Trump encouraged to run for Congress; and Robert Spalding, former senior director for strategic planning on Trump’s National Security Council.
Donald Trump Jr. praised We Build the Wall at a 2019 event for the group: “This is private enterprise at its finest. Doing it better, faster, cheaper than anything else, and what you guys are doing is pretty amazing.”
Bannon’s arrest comes just two weeks after New York’s attorney general sought to dissolve the National Rifle Association, claiming that its leadership “looted” it.
On Thursday, Politico reported that Jerry Falwell Jr., recently suspended as president of Liberty University, has “repeatedly used a 164-foot yacht owned by NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick for family vacations after the university committed to a lucrative sponsorship deal with Hendrick Motorsports.”
Bannon himself was apprehended on a yacht belonging to the Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui; The Wall Street Journal reported that a media company the two men are involved with is being investigated by federal and state authorities.
The social philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote that in America, every mass movement “ends up as a racket, a cult or a corporation.” Trumpism reversed this. The racket came first.
The question becomes whether working class and non-college educated whites will again allow themselves to be played for fools.
Thursday, August 20, 2020
Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has repeatedly used a 164-foot yacht owned by NASCAR mogul Rick Hendrick for family vacations after the university committed to a lucrative sponsorship deal with Hendrick Motorsports, according to former and current Liberty employees and social media posts by the Falwell family.
It was on his most recent yacht vacation — spent with his wife, Becki, their children and friends — that the evangelical leader and prominent supporter of President Donald Trump posted a photo with his pants unzipped and arm around his wife’s personal assistant that led to his indefinite suspension.
Since at least 2018, Liberty has sponsored a car with Hendrick Motorsports, a contract that typically runs well into the millions of dollars. The contract is private, so exactly how much the university is paying for the multiyear sponsorship is unknown. In 2017, for instance, Farmers Insurance paid Hendrick Motorsports $8 million for a similar NASCAR team sponsorship, according to court filings about the contract later obtained by ESPN. A Liberty employee familiar with the university’s contract with Hendrick Motorsports said the sponsorship payment varies slightly by year but amounts to roughly $6 million annually.
In July 2019, Falwell posted a series of photos of him and his family in the Bahamas swimming with sharks, cave diving, fishing in a "Hendrick Marine" t-shirt and, according to a caption, snorkeling in the decaying ruins of a drug smuggling plane once used by Pablo Escobar. The posts were accompanied by a photo of Wheels.
The previous summer, Falwell posted photos of himself and his family sunbathing, touring and jet-skiing on a yacht in Greece. He did not mention Wheels, but identified the yacht as belonging to a Liberty supporter.
The Falwells’ most recent vacation, this July in Key West, was perhaps the most celebratory of all: Falwell’s daughter Caroline got engaged. . . . . Falwell did not respond to emailed requests for comment on whether he paid anything for the use of the yacht. Wheels typically rents for at least $200,000 for one week, according to online information about chartering the boat.
Through its arrangement with Hendrick Motorsports, Liberty has been sponsoring one of its drivers, William Byron — a Liberty online student — since at least 2018. Last fall, the university extended its sponsorship through 2021. Liberty is a significant sponsor of Byron’s team, so much so that he wears Liberty’s navy and red colors and drives a car with Liberty’s logo splashed across its hood.
A Liberty spokesperson declined to answer questions about whether use of the yacht was in any way related to the sponsorship agreement.
[I]if the use of the yacht was limited to Falwell and his personal guests, the arrangement might raise questions about whether Falwell's vacations are a motivation for Liberty’s ongoing sponsor of Hendricks' NASCAR team, said Eve Borenstein, a nonprofit lawyer at the firm of Harmon, Curran, Spielberg & Eisenberg.
“All of the dollars they have, every single asset they have, has to be spent to charitable ends,” Borenstein said.
This is not the first time that Falwell’s financial oversight of the university has come under scrutiny.
It is a favorite game in politics to take the most extreme member of the other party and then paint the entire party as extreme. However, when many candidates and officials plus the head of the party evidence nuttiness, it is fair to label the party as such.
That’s where the Republican Party is now. QAnon believers, Trump says, are just a bunch of people who “love their country.”
Actually, the FBI, in May 2019, said the conspiracy theory is a domestic terrorist threat pushing baseless allegations such as Pizzagate: “The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts.”
In a written statement, Andrew Bates, a spokesman for Democratic nominee Joe Biden, responded to President Trump’s remarks, saying that, “not only is our president refusing to take responsibility for his failed leadership that has cost over 170,000 American lives and tens of millions of jobs — he is again giving voice to violence.” Bates continued: “After calling neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville ‘fine people’ and tear-gassing peaceful protesters following the murder of George Floyd, Donald Trump just sought to legitimize a conspiracy theory that the FBI has identified as a domestic terrorism threat.” But you’ll hear no objections from Republicans.
Also on Wednesday, former Florida governor Jeb Bush tweeted that, “nut jobs, racists [and] haters have no place in either Party.” Perhaps he confused the GOP with a mainstream party.
Trump also warmly welcomed Republican primary winner Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District. She has been a vocal QAnon devotee and a bigot. (“In a series of videos unearthed just after Greene placed first in the initial June 9 Republican primary, she complains of an ‘Islamic invasion’ into government offices, claims Black and Hispanic men are held back by ‘gangs and dealing drugs,’ and pushes an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who is Jewish, collaborated with the Nazis.”) Greene will fit right in. QAnon finds a home with no less than 60 current or former Republican congressional candidates.
Laura Loomer, a self-described “proud Islamophobe” got the nomination in Florida’s 21st Congressional District. For her anti-Islam comments, according to the Palm Beach Post, she has been banned from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Uber and Lyft. The GOP will take her — enthusiastically!
Let’s not forget Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.). She has praised a racism-spewing, far-right figure and a far-right media outlet that peddles conspiracy theories.
But you need look no further than Republican senators and House members on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees who have echoed the discredited Russian propaganda that Ukraine has the hacked DNC server and worked to elect Hillary Clinton in 2016. And, of course, Trump will support debunked covid-19 cures (hydroxychloroquine! Try disinfectant!), raise the racist birther charge against vice-presidential nominee Kamala D. Harris and defend Confederate symbols. The president will create bizarre narratives about nonexistent voter fraud.
This is neither the conduct nor the mind-set of a rational, mainstream organization. The party takes its cue from a deeply disturbed and easily bamboozled president who will adopt any theory or embrace any person who likes him — whether it be Greene or Vladimir Putin or Kim Jong Un or QAnon. The only requirement is that praise be lavished upon him.
[T]he party has devolved into a cesspool of bigotry and mind-numbing conspiracies, with a large dollop of science denial. When a party wants to honor at its convention the couple who waved weapons at peaceful Black Lives Matter protesters, you have to conclude that it’s not only lost touch with Americans but also with decency and reality.
Good evening, everybody. As you've seen by now, this isn't a normal convention. It's not a normal time. So tonight, I want to talk as plainly as I can about the stakes in this election. Because what we do these next 76 days will echo through generations to come.
I'm in Philadelphia, where our Constitution was drafted and signed. It wasn't a perfect document. It allowed for the inhumanity of slavery and failed to guarantee women -- and even men who didn't own property -- the right to participate in the political process. But embedded in this document was a North Star that would guide future generations; a system of representative government -- a democracy -- through which we could better realize our highest ideals. Through civil war and bitter struggles, we improved this Constitution to include the voices of those who'd once been left out. And gradually, we made this country more just, more equal, and more free.
The one Constitutional office elected by all of the people is the presidency. So at minimum, we should expect a president to feel a sense of responsibility for the safety and welfare of all 330 million of us -- regardless of what we look like, how we worship, who we love, how much money we have -- or who we voted for.
But we should also expect a president to be the custodian of this democracy. We should expect that regardless of ego, ambition, or political beliefs, the president will preserve, protect, and defend the freedoms and ideals that so many Americans marched for and went to jail for; fought for and died for.
I have sat in the Oval Office with both of the men who are running for president. I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously; that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care.
But he never did. For close to four years now, he's shown no interest in putting in the work; no interest in finding common ground; no interest in using the awesome power of his office to help anyone but himself and his friends; no interest in treating the presidency as anything but one more reality show that he can use to get the attention he craves.
Donald Trump hasn't grown into the job because he can't. And the consequences of that failure are severe. 170,000 Americans dead. Millions of jobs gone while those at the top take in more than ever. Our worst impulses unleashed, our proud reputation around the world badly diminished, and our democratic institutions threatened like never before.
Now, I know that in times as polarized as these, most of you have already made up your mind. But maybe you're still not sure which candidate you'll vote for -- or whether you'll vote at all. Maybe you're tired of the direction we're headed, but you can't see a better path yet, or you just don't know enough about the person who wants to lead us there.
So let me tell you about my friend Joe Biden.
Twelve years ago, when I began my search for a vice president, I didn't know I'd end up finding a brother. Joe and I came from different places and different generations. But what I quickly came to admire about him is his resilience, born of too much struggle; his empathy, born of too much grief. Joe's a man who learned -- early on -- to treat every person he meets with respect and dignity, living by the words his parents taught him: "No one's better than you, Joe, but you're better than nobody."
That empathy, that decency, the belief that everybody counts -- that's who Joe is.
When he talks with someone who's lost her job, Joe remembers the night his father sat him down to say that he'd lost his.
When Joe listens to a parent who's trying to hold it all together right now, he does it as the single dad who took the train back to Wilmington each and every night so he could tuck his kids into bed.
When he meets with military families who've lost their hero, he does it as a kindred spirit; the parent of an American soldier; somebody whose faith has endured the hardest loss there is.
For eight years, Joe was the last one in the room whenever I faced a big decision. He made me a better president -- and he's got the character and the experience to make us a better country.
And in my friend Kamala Harris, he's chosen an ideal partner who's more than prepared for the job; someone who knows what it's like to overcome barriers and who's made a career fighting to help others live out their own American dream.
Along with the experience needed to get things done, Joe and Kamala have concrete policies that will turn their vision of a better, fairer, stronger country into reality.
They'll get this pandemic under control, like Joe did when he helped me manage H1N1 and prevent an Ebola outbreak from reaching our shores.
They'll expand health care to more Americans, like Joe and I did ten years ago when he helped craft the Affordable Care Act and nail down the votes to make it the law.
They'll rescue the economy, like Joe helped me do after the Great Recession. I asked him to manage the Recovery Act, which jumpstarted the longest stretch of job growth in history. And he sees this moment now not as a chance to get back to where we were, but to make long-overdue changes so that our economy actually makes life a little easier for everybody -- whether it's the waitress trying to raise a kid on her own, or the shift worker always on the edge of getting laid off, or the student figuring out how to pay for next semester's classes.
Joe and Kamala will restore our standing in the world -- and as we've learned from this pandemic, that matters. Joe knows the world, and the world knows him. He knows that our true strength comes from setting an example the world wants to follow. A nation that stands with democracy, not dictators. A nation that can inspire and mobilize others to overcome threats like climate change, terrorism, poverty, and disease.
But more than anything, what I know about Joe and Kamala is that they actually care about every American. And they care deeply about this democracy.
They believe that in a democracy, the right to vote is sacred, and we should be making it easier for people to cast their ballot, not harder.
They believe that no one -- including the president -- is above the law, and that no public official -- including the president -- should use their office to enrich themselves or their supporters.
They understand that in this democracy, the Commander-in-Chief doesn't use the men and women of our military, who are willing to risk everything to protect our nation, as political props to deploy against peaceful protesters on our own soil. They understand that political opponents aren't "un-American" just because they disagree with you; that a free press isn't the "enemy" but the way we hold officials accountable; that our ability to work together to solve big problems like a pandemic depends on a fidelity to facts and science and logic and not just making stuff up.
None of this should be controversial. These shouldn't be Republican principles or Democratic principles. They're American principles. But at this moment, this president and those who enable him, have shown they don't believe in these things.
Tonight, I am asking you to believe in Joe and Kamala's ability to lead this country out of these dark times and build it back better. But here's the thing: no single American can fix this country alone. Not even a president. Democracy was never meant to be transactional -- you give me your vote; I make everything better. It requires an active and informed citizenry. So I am also asking you to believe in your own ability -- to embrace your own responsibility as citizens -- to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure.
Because that's what at stake right now. Our democracy.
Look, I understand why many Americans are down on government. The way the rules have been set up and abused in Congress make it easy for special interests to stop progress. Believe me, I know. I understand why a white factory worker who's seen his wages cut or his job shipped overseas might feel like the government no longer looks out for him, and why a Black mother might feel like it never looked out for her at all. I understand why a new immigrant might look around this country and wonder whether there's still a place for him here; why a young person might look at politics right now, the circus of it all, the meanness and the lies and crazy conspiracy theories and think, what's the point?
Well, here's the point: this president and those in power -- those who benefit from keeping things the way they are -- they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can't win you over with their policies. So they're hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn't matter. That's how they win. That's how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That's how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That's how a democracy withers, until it's no democracy at all.
We can't let that happen. Do not let them take away your power. Don't let them take away your democracy. Make a plan right now for how you're going to get involved and vote. Do it as early as you can and tell your family and friends how they can vote too. Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this -- all those quiet heroes who found the courage to keep marching, keep pushing in the face of hardship and injustice.
Last month, we lost a giant of American democracy in John Lewis. Some years ago, I sat down with John and the few remaining leaders of the early Civil Rights Movement. One of them told me he never imagined he'd walk into the White House and see a president who looked like his grandson. Then he told me that he'd looked it up, and it turned out that on the very day that I was born, he was marching into a jail cell, trying to end Jim Crow segregation in the South.
What we do echoes through the generations.
Whatever our backgrounds, we're all the children of Americans who fought the good fight. Great grandparents working in firetraps and sweatshops without rights or representation. Farmers losing their dreams to dust. Irish and Italians and Asians and Latinos told to go back where they came from. Jews and Catholics, Muslims and Sikhs, made to feel suspect for the way they worshipped. Black Americans chained and whipped and hanged. Spit on for trying to sit at lunch counters. Beaten for trying to vote.
If anyone had a right to believe that this democracy did not work, and could not work, it was those Americans. Our ancestors. They were on the receiving end of a democracy that had fallen short all their lives. They knew how far the daily reality of America strayed from the myth. And yet, instead of giving up, they joined together and said somehow, some way, we are going to make this work. We are going to bring those words, in our founding documents, to life.
I've seen that same spirit rising these past few years. Folks of every age and background who packed city centers and airports and rural roads so that families wouldn't be separated. So that another classroom wouldn't get shot up. So that our kids won't grow up on an uninhabitable planet. Americans of all races joining together to declare, in the face of injustice and brutality at the hands of the state, that Black Lives Matter, no more, but no less, so that no child in this country feels the continuing sting of racism.
To the young people who led us this summer, telling us we need to be better -- in so many ways, you are this country's dreams fulfilled. Earlier generations had to be persuaded that everyone has equal worth. For you, it's a given -- a conviction. And what I want you to know is that for all its messiness and frustrations, your system of self-government can be harnessed to help you realize those convictions.
You can give our democracy new meaning. You can take it to a better place. You're the missing ingredient -- the ones who will decide whether or not America becomes the country that fully lives up to its creed.
That work will continue long after this election. But any chance of success depends entirely on the outcome of this election. This administration has shown it will tear our democracy down if that's what it takes to win. So we have to get busy building it up -- by pouring all our effort into these 76 days, and by voting like never before -- for Joe and Kamala, and candidates up and down the ticket, so that we leave no doubt about what this country we love stands for -- today and for all our days to come.
Sadly, my Republican friends who most need to hear this message will likely ignore it for a single reason: Obama is black.
Sadly, my Republican friends who most need to hear this message will likely ignore it for a single reason: Obama is black.
Wednesday, August 19, 2020
Stuart Stevens spent four decades helping Republicans—a lot of Republicans—win. He’s one of the most successful political operatives of his generation, crafting ads and devising strategies for President George W. Bush, Republican presidential nominees Mitt Romney and Bob Dole, and dozens of GOP governors, senators and congressmen. He didn’t win every race, but he thinks he had the best won-lost record in Republican campaign world.
And now he feels terrible about it.
Stevens now believes the Republican Party is, not to put too fine a point on it, a malign force jeopardizing the survival of American democracy. He’s written a searing apologia of a book called It Was All a Lie that compares his lifelong party to the Mafia, to Bernie Madoff’s fraud scheme, to the segregationist movement, even to the Nazis. He’s pretty disillusioned.
While Stevens is one of the most prominent “Never Trump” Republicans, and It Was All a Lie is predictably scathing about the failures of
PresidentDonald Trump, the book does not blame Trump for the failures of the party he leads. It essentially takes for granted that Trump is as bad a president and a human being as his worst Democratic critics say—and that he constantly violates supposedly bedrock Republican commitments to free trade, family values, limited government and the Constitution. His point is that Trump is a fitting representative of the modern GOP.
It Was All a Lie is really about the party that spawned Trump and now marches in near-lockstep behind him—the party to which 67-year-old Stevens has devoted his career. The GOP’s abject surrender to its unorthodox and unconservative leader was a surprise to Stevens, but he has concluded that he shouldn’t have been surprised.
[H]e always knew there was hostility toward minorities and immigrants and science within his party. But he thought that strain was a recessive gene, when it turned out to be the dominant gene. He was an unapologetic political hack whose job was helping Republicans win, but he always thought he was fighting for conservative policies and ideas, for a party that cared about something more than winning.
He doesn’t think that anymore, and his conversion story is getting a lot of buzz. It debuted at No. 8 on the New York Times best-seller list, helped in part by an attention-grabbing op-ed in the New York Times, and he’s been featured on National Public Radio, the New Yorker, the Ezra Klein podcast, and other outlets that Republicans consider the heart of the liberal media establishment.
The book makes it abundantly clear that Stevens feels shame about his role in perpetuating Republican lies, but it’s not entirely clear whether he thinks he was lying, lied to, or just lying to himself.
[I]t really struck me when I read the memoir by [the late German Chancellor] Franz von Papen, it’s exactly the same message you hear today. In 1953, he was still trying to justify Hitler: “You have to understand, the Bolsheviks were a threat, we had to counter them.” Of all the books I read to write my book, the Franz von Papen thing haunts me the most. It’s not to say that what happened in Germany is going to happen here. But the idea that you can’t talk about that—well, I think you have to talk about that. The parallel is so striking.
You have good people letting evil happen. For the most part, these Republicans aren’t bad people. If you moved in next door, they’d be a great neighbor. But that was true of a lot of segregationists I knew growing up in Mississippi. They wouldn’t have used a racial slur for a million dollars, but they wouldn’t stand up—“Oh, we need to be slow about change.” And what is Germany but a story of people who faced a moral moment and failed? You had a powerful political aristocracy that thought they could control this necessary evil for their own purposes. They thought they could harness it. Like the atom, or something, and they ended up with Chernobyl. All these Republicans who know Donald Trump is a disaster will try to justify it, because they got something they wanted. Mitch McConnell thinks Trump will be remembered as his fool, and I think the odds are pretty good it’s going to be the other way around.
Republicans always say that you can’t negotiate with terrorists; well, Donald Trump is a terrorist, and the Republican Party decided to negotiate with him. How has that worked out? He’s destroyed conservatism. He’s the most anti-conservative president of my lifetime.
[O]ne conclusion I’ve reached is that leaders really matter. In the 1930s, why didn’t we become fascist? Probably because Roosevelt was president and not Lindbergh. Why was the civil rights movement defined by nonviolence? Probably because of Martin Luther King. If Stokely Carmichael had a similar role, it would’ve been different.
But part of a role of a political party should be to form a circuit-breaker function. To me, with Trump, it all goes back to the Muslim ban in December 2015. The party should’ve rejected that. If the Republican Party stands for anything, it’s supposed to be the Constitution.
I keep coming back to: What does the party stand for? Four years ago, 90 percent of Republicans would say personal responsibility, character counts, strong on Russia, fiscal sanity, legal immigration, free trade. But now the party’s 100 percent against all these things. We’re left of Bernie Sanders on trade. We’re way to his left on Russia; Bernie may have honeymooned in Russia, but he didn’t marry Putin. We’re for an imperial presidency. I guess when the next Democratic president does an executive order for a wealth tax, we’ll be OK with it.
Why does the Republican Party exist today? It exists to beat Democrats. That’s not a political party. That’s a cartel. Why do bowling clubs exist? Because you like to go bowling. Fine. Just don’t kid yourself that you’re joining anything to do with principle or purpose. And I don’t think you can undo this stuff. What happened to the party in 1964 with African Americans? You went from 40 percent with Eisenhower to 7 percent with Goldwater and they never came back. Is this going to happen with Hispanics? Goldwater wasn’t out attacking black people; he just wasn’t for the civil rights bill. I wouldn’t call him a bigot. Trump is out there attacking Hispanics. Why did Republicans used to get 70 percent of Asian Americans, now we lose 70 percent? . . . . they got the message that if you weren’t white, you weren’t welcome in the party.
How does the party allow that to happen? How does the party that’s supposed to be for family values stand by while the president, the head of the Republican Party, wishes a woman well who’s just been arrested for being at the center of an international child rape ring?
The deficit has gone down much more under Democrats than Republicans. That’s a fact. You can’t argue with that. It’s a perfect example of how Republicans never believed what they were saying. If you asked them to take a lie detector test, do you believe in lower deficits, they’d say yes and pass. But they were never willing to do anything to back it up. . . . this Republican idea that you can magically cut taxes and grow your way out of the deficit, it’s no different than trying to argue that gravity is a regional phenomenon.
You look at a lot of Democrats getting elected in the Northeast today, like Conor Lamb, they would have been Republicans back then. And there aren’t any Republican senators like Bill Weld would’ve been. They don’t exist. The people who normally would be like that, someone like [Missouri Senator] Josh Hawley, very smart guy, went to Stanford, Yale Law, taught at St. George’s in London, wrote a very good biography of Teddy Roosevelt. Perfect example of a guy who could’ve been a positive influence in the party, like [former Missouri Senator] John Danforth. Instead, he’s running against the elites. Really, Josh? Really?
The party has basically joined the Red Guard and the Khmer Rouge, attacking higher education. And it’s never the peasants leading the charge. It’s the educated. These are the most phony people in the world. Ted Cruz. Here’s a guy that’s punched every establishment button there is to punch, and he’s attacking elites. Really! Your wife is at Goldman Sachs. You were born in Vancouver, dude.
[L]et me just say: I never would have believed what’s happening now would happen. I never would’ve believed that John Cornyn, serious Texas Supreme Court jurist, reluctant politician, would be tweeting complaints about how nine out of 10 new Texans are Hispanic. I don’t understand it. I don’t understand how we could have the worst economy in the history of America, more Americans have died from a disease in the last four months than have ever died of anything in America, and John Cornyn is in a hearing asking questions about Hillary Clinton’s emails. I don’t get it.
I’ll never wonder again how 1938 happened in Germany. The cowardice is contagious. I think there’s a sort of conspiracy of cowardice—when everyone’s a coward, you don’t feel like a coward. That’s why these Republicans resent Mitt Romney. He reminds them that they don’t have to be cowards, and it makes them feel bad.
[W]hy don’t they understand how they’re going to be remembered? I’m not talking about 40 years from now when everyone’s dead. I’m talking about two years from now. Why can’t they grasp that this is a moral test? This is Kitty Genovese getting raped and nobody saying anything. That’s what Donald Trump is. So what if you lose a primary? Would you have rather been the guy who ran against George Wallace or the guy who endorsed him?
You don’t undo this stuff. Look at Nikki Haley, a once-serious person, trying to negotiate with this, like she’s going to be the good segregationist. You can’t do it. You just can’t do it.
I wouldn’t have thought it possible that a president in 2020 would be defending Confederate monuments and the Confederate flag, or that his chief of staff John Kelly would be arguing that slavery wasn’t the cause of Civil War. I would’ve thought it was no more likely than that we’d be having a debate about gravity. I was wrong.
What’s going to change is they’re going to lose. We don’t know how long it will take before they lose. Maybe they’ll hang on longer than we expect. But the majority of Americans under 15 are nonwhite. The odds are damn good that when they turn 18 they’ll still be nonwhite. That’s a death sentence for the Republican Party. We know what’s going to happen: Look at California. It was the beating heart of the Republican Party, and now not much happens there that the Republican Party is involved in.