How the Midterms Could Give Rise to More MAGA Extremism (with Robert Draper)
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MAGA Republicans like Marjorie Taylor Greene will hold major influence in the House if the GOP takes back the majority in the midterms. What impact will that have on the priorities set by Congress and the way our government functions? Andy speaks with journalist Robert Draper, whose new book, “Weapons of Mass Delusion,” details how a new breed of Republicans have taken the politics of hysteria to even greater extremes. He forecasts a potential future where Greene becomes House speaker, an impeachment inquiry gets announced on Biden, and a government shutdown is used as leverage to pass conservative priorities supported by the MAGA base.
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Andy Slavitt, Robert Draper
Andy Slavitt 00:18
It’s IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. I have Robert Draper on the show today. Robert is a writer who I’ve long admired. He writes for New York Times Magazine; he writes for National Geographic. He’s written some really definitive books on the Iraq War. He is now focusing on not so much the Republican Party under President Trump as much as he is what’s happened since January 6th. And the reason I wanted to have Robert on was, we’ve all lived through, I think, a pretty dramatic and significant day in our country. We’re going to talk about what January 6th meant. And it’s really hard for me to get my hands around it all the time. And Robert was there, Robert was in the Capitol, Robert happened to be there doing some reporting, and in fact, was part of a brigade of folks that was helping to take care of some of the officers that were wounded. And then, of course, did a lot of reporting around what others in the capitol were doing that day. And, you know, he would sort of put the premise of this conversation on what’s happened since then, and what we expected to have since then, you know, I think we rallied after September 11, we made changes to our country when we’ve been through some horrific things. And many of us may be expected that to happen after January 6th, and Robert reports on why not only didn’t that happen, but that what’s transpired since then, has been an almost overtaking of large elements of the Republican Party, by people like Marjorie Taylor Greene, Pagosa and others. And he writes about it, and we’re going to talk about it today. You know, I, as you know, I think this election is important. I also think a functioning two party system is important, and understanding the direction that things have headed since January 6th is a really important idea to come across. So I’m really looking forward to have you listen to Robert. He’s really terrific. Here he is.
Andy Slavitt 02:34
Robert Draper Welcome to the bubble.
Robert Draper 02:36
Thank you so much for having me on me.
Andy Slavitt 02:38
So when I when I say certain dates in American history, July 4, September 11, April 4, November 22. They evoke something and they’ve lasted, I think we all probably have an understanding of what those four days mean. And you know, January 6th, is at least a strong candidate, a strong candidate to be one of those words. And that’s kind of where your story begins. And I want to ask you about that day, because you witnessed it live. And, and I’m wondering if you can kind of walk us through to give us an understanding of what it was like.
Robert Draper 03:19
Sure, Andy. And for starters, just to let you and your listeners know, you know, I’d gotten the contract to do this book on I think, December the 28th of 2020. At that point, Trump hadn’t conceded, but there was every expectation, at least here in the beltway that he would, Marjorie Taylor Greene, for example, had been elected, but it was also assumed that she would be kicked to the curb and disposed of right away by members of Congress. And there was certainly no inkling that what occurred on January the 6th would be anything other than the ceremonial certification that it was always intended to be. That happened to be the first day that I showed up to do reporting and was there in the capitol at 10:30 in the morning, at one o’clock in the afternoon, went over to witness the certification. The senators filing into the House chamber, I was denied a seat in the press gallery, because there wasn’t any room due to COVID. There was no social distancing. So I just kind of ambled around the Capitol. And as I proceeded towards the western side, I’d noticed some policemen running into the rotunda. I went up to see where they were coming from. And that’s when I saw the West terrace doors fly open. And police in turn, fly in beaten, mucus coming out of their eyes, all this mace and it was clear that I was watching a Malay in progress, and I was there for about 45 minutes on the west side. Every time the door would open. You could see these people hanging from scaffolds and I’d never I’d never born witness to arrive had before. But my impulse was that whatever it was I was seeing was much worse than a riot. After about 45 minutes of helping a number of police officers.
Andy Slavitt 05:10
Were you scared out of your mind at the people you’re helping?
Robert Draper 05:12
I was stunned. Yeah, I wasn’t yet scared. But I was stunned and on high alert. And I’ve been to a lot of, I also write for National Geographic. And so I’ve been to a lot of conflict zones and Somalia and Afghanistan, Libya, et cetera. But still, there was the cognitive dissonance of seeing this in a place that I often showed up just to do routine work and a capital. I helped set up a water station for Capitol Police to flush their eyes out with mace. But it was becoming clear by I think this was 2:30 in the afternoon, that a breach was going to occur. And I decided to get out quickly through the Capitol tunnels, and ultimately went out through the Capitol and into the parking garage of the house Rayburn Building, I decided to stick around and stay on the perimeter of the Capitol and stay on the east side. And that’s when I watched, everyone pushed their way in on that side. And there was just this incredible roar that was deeply visceral, the chant itself, you know, the occasionally you could understand words, but mainly, it was just of fury. And you could see all these police officers deploying themselves in this very random, scattershot, wide, totally uncertain of what to do, it was clear that law enforcement had lost all control. And it was clear, at least for that period of time, for about 45 minutes that I was outside, that the mob had overtaken the Capitol and in turn, that pretty much anything could happen. And also, I must say that the sense was palpable, that violence was on the minds of a lot of people.
Andy Slavitt 06:53
Well, you overheard some conversations, too, didn’t you?
Robert Draper 06:56
Certainly did. And they were. So first, I saw people in paramilitary military garb, kind of scrambling around the house office buildings, and we would later learn that the proud boys were indeed, you know, intending to take over those buildings. But I also heard, you know, people screaming and yelling, where’s Antifa, that guys Antifa over there. And it was clear that a lot of the people there expected some kind of, you know, Clash of Civilizations or something, but also heard like this, this middle aged man, talking to what I believe were his teenage boys in a quavering voice saying sons, you know, freedom isn’t free. Sometimes you have to fight for it. That’s what our founding fathers did. And I think that’s our time now. And then they disappeared into the mob. And I don’t know what happened to them since.
Andy Slavitt 07:44
Robert, if they were successful in their aim, if they’d overpowered the police, and what do you think would have happened? What were they aiming to accomplish?
Robert Draper 07:56
Sure. Well, that’s a great question that we still don’t quite know the answer to, it’s clear that certain members of the Oathkeepers, at least if the allegations are borne out, as fact, were indeed intending and had a plan to overthrow the government and overturn the presidential election results by physical force. There were many, many others there, though, Andy, who I think didn’t have any plan at all. They just knew their president had summoned them. They believe that the election had been taken away from them. They believe that the Republic hung in the balance, and they seem willing and capable of doing whatever the sort of mass physicality of the crowd was going to do.
Andy Slavitt 08:41
And it’s easy for those of us who weren’t there to make a judgement. But you were there. And you could sort of feel this. Do you feel that if they would have seen, for example, Nancy Pelosi, or Mitch McConnell or, you know, someone else, that their lives would have been endangered that they would people would have really killed them? Is that is that hyperbole?
Robert Draper 09:01
It’s not hyperbole without question. Their lives would be in danger. I mean, members of the media, were attacked by the mob. And they were not the people being sought out. names that were heard where Mike Pence and Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, and if the mob had happened upon any of them, yeah, you’d have every reason to believe that the outcome would be violent. This was not a let’s sit down and talk it over kind of situation.
Andy Slavitt 09:28
So we recently had an opportunity with the January 6th hearing to see a little bit of what Speaker Pelosi and Chuck Schumer were doing, at least for part of the time. I’m wondering if you could tell us what some other members are doing it maybe specifically, you know, there were folks who had egged on this event to at least some degree, at least in social media, at least amplifying some of the President’s comments. In your subsequent reporting, what did you find that some of those members were doing kind of at the moment that all this was happening?
Robert Draper 10:04
Sure. Well, they were getting a lot of incoming texts from donors, from friends, from other staff members. And it depends on who you talk to, you know who you’re talking to. And even some people were more than two grand and frightened and angry. Others were fairly lackadaisical about it. Others immediately began to, you know, swim and conspiracy theories that in fact, there were Antifa instigators, I’m referring, of course, to a Republican congressman, who believe that, that there are people were peaceful people could not have gotten riled up unless they were somehow agitated by members of Antifa.
Andy Slavitt 10:40
And how many Antifa people have been prosecuted?
Robert Draper 10:44
[…] I mean, that was clearly a narrative that there was gonna be a battle royale that and there was an expectation and Antifa would show up, but I never saw or heard of any, and nobody’s been
Andy Slavitt 10:56
charged. Okay. So at a minimum, they were incorrect. Yes. And, you know, who knows motivation, but as you said, conspiracy theories and otherwise. Given all that, I’m curious, your expectations of the January 6 hearings, and whether you think that committee did its job? And, you know, what should come from it? I mean, if we’re right, that this goes down with September 11, April 4, November 22, you know, as a defining day in our history, it’s very hard to know how to put a period right at the, at the end of this, and maybe it’s not there yet. But do you have a view as to that committee, the final report where it’s landing?
Robert Draper 11:43
Sure, yeah, let’s stipulate a couple of things. And the first of all, that they’re not done, because the report has not yet been written, much less published. So we’ll see what else they have that they’ve indicated, and their most recent hearing, that there are things that have not yet seen the light of day that will be included in the report. So there’s that. The other thing is that this was done with great resistance from Republicans and from allies of former President Trump, and that the clock has been ticking all along with the expectation that if the Republicans do take back the House majority, that among the first things that speaker Kevin McCarthy, for example, would do is kick the plug out from the investigation. So they have had to do this, with no help from the other side, with a recognition that time is not on their side. And with only, you know, finite resources, they do not have the investigatory tools that say the FBI has, but I do think that they have put together in a pretty laudable way, a narrative about the systematic efforts by President Trump and his allies to deny a peaceful transfer of power. And I think that they’ve especially done a great job of doing that in a way that’s digestible to the American public. It’s been a far more visually appealing presentation, visually appealing narrative than one might expect from these typically turgid congressional hearings. But having said all that, there’s a lot that we know nothing about, in large part because key members of the Trump orbit I have not testified never will testify are in a position to know a lot. And yet what they know, maybe unknowable to us.
Andy Slavitt 13:27
Well, this may be an attempt take a break with the sort of the following insight is, you know, I think November 22, we learned something else was possible, right that a president could be assassinated, September 11, we learned that our national security could be breached in a major, major way. And we were at more risk than we knew. And maybe we’ll come back to this, but boy, it feels like after January 6th, there are more things possible in this country than maybe we ever imagined. Let’s take a quick break, we’re going to come back with Robert Draper. And we’re going to talk about kind of what happened next because January 6th, and Roberts telling, I think is only the start.
Andy Slavitt 14:31
So, I want to talk about the Republican Party and I want to step into it with some amount of deference and objectivity. Because I think people know I served in both the Obama and the Biden administration’s yet I think, talking about how this party has changed. It is a really critical observation to how our government is going to work. If we embark on that maybe, you know, as you’ve talked and written about, you can tell us a little bit about your own personal history politically growing up and the family you grew up in. So just get a sense of your perspective.
Robert Draper 15:08
Sure, I grew up in a family, pretty neatly divided between Republicans and Democrats. But because I grew up in Texas, in the 1960s, and 1970s, Democrat basically just meant, you know, conservative. I mean, it’s so, you know, I grew up in largely conservative environment. But it was also, you know, my father, ardent Republican throughout his life that he was, nonetheless really believed in the rule of law. He believed in respect toward institutions, believed in personal responsibility, which meant, among other things, not demonizing, and blaming other people for your own plight, certainly not embracing conspiracy theories not being a sore loser. These were the kind of precepts that accompany me throughout my youth and young adulthood. You know, as a journalist, I covered Republicans who frequently would attack Democrats as the, the latter would do to the former, but almost never in these kind of apocalyptic terms in which the other side is cast not just as wrong, not even just as immoral, not just as liberal or socialist or radical, but as communist as, as pond scum enemies of the American people, as sick people and as evil a word that we now us here used with frequency by Republicans to describe their counterparts across the aisle. And you know, that we also, you know, both parties have from time to time unhinge themselves from facts, but they have never sought to either Democrats or Republicans to push the broadest notion that block is widened up, it’s down this kind of terminology. And this kind of sentiment is a new phenomenon. In the 25 or so years that I’ve covered Republicans.
Andy Slavitt 17:05
I want to talk about, who’s on the rise in the Republican party today. I mean, over the last decade, even with the ascendance of the tea party, the people that I entered interacted with on the Republican Party, people like Paul Ryan, Fred Upton, Eric Cantor, Charlie Dent, people who I had a lot of disagreement with people who we could get into it pretty good on policy, but also people who, you know, we never doubted each other’s motivations. But you know, during election season, all kinds of things get said, but, but these are people that were the dominant voices in the Republican Party for time, and maybe I’m cherry picking a little bit I could mention Newt Gingrich and others who are I think it was more problematic people. But those people that I just mentioned, not one of them, is in the Republican caucus today. And we know that Liz Cheney is was kicked out of leadership. So maybe talk about what replaces her. Where is the power base in the Republican Congress today? Who are the people in the ascendance who we may not be familiar with. I mean, we may be familiar with Marjorie Taylor Greene, because we know her name. And because she’s been outspoken. I don’t think we really know much about her. There’s other people. Paul Gozar, and others. These are names we know, first of all, are they the right people to be thinking are moving to preeminence in the Republican Party. And if so, tell us tell us a little bit about them and what they stand for.
Robert Draper 18:36
Yeah, so let me deconstruct that. I mean, you mentioned Paul goes are the far right, Arizona Congressman who has been in office since the Tea Party. I actually spent a fair amount of time on him in my new book, not so much because he’s a great power player, but because he’s an indicator of just how much water the Republicans have been willing to take on how much crazy if you will, because Gozar really has said some outrageous things. At the same time, ghosts are actually fashions himself a serious legislator, and would like to get things done, but because he is a basically, he is viewed by colleagues on both sides of the aisle as an unserious man who promotes conspiracy theories. All of this vintage legislative effort that he wants to do both for his congressional district and beyond, will never even find co-sponsors much less pass. Because no one wants to sign on with a guy who won’t even call Joe Biden, President Biden because he thinks he’s not a legit president. You named as well Marjorie Taylor Greene, who again, was maybe the principal character, or one of the most important characters in weapons of mass delusion, because her trajectory really is a case study and in the Republican Party in the post Trump era, a post Trump presidency era, someone who one month into her tenure was stripped of her committee assignment It was widely assumed that she would be relegated to the Star Wars bar of Republican politics and replaced, you know, an election cycle later. Now she’s one of the most dominant messengers in the GOP, and the person who has the inside track to be how speaker should the Republicans regain the majority. Kevin McCarthy has Cowtown to her in a way that’s really remarkable, offering her plum committee assignments, possibly even a new leadership position. On the day that you and I are talking right now they are on the fundraising circuit together in Atlanta. This is a woman who was a Qanon and so that she is now occupying kind of the you know, she’s a central force within the Republican Party without in any way being a centrist is a real telling phenomenon about where the party is going.
Andy Slavitt 20:50
So you mentioned she’s on the rise, you mentioned her name in the same breath as speaker. And certainly if it’s a close Republican majority, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan are going to have a lot to say about who’s speaker. But before we go to do to do our final break, I’m curious, maybe mentioned the consequential players, it was Jim Jordan, coming to mind and give us a sense that I’ve been presuming that the Republicans do prevail. McCarthy does not have the speakership sewn up. Is Jordan, someone to be watching for?
Robert Draper 21:25
Well, the short answer is yes, Jordan is now and will be a power player, he won’t occupy a leadership position, he will almost certainly be the chair of the House Judiciary Committee. But as Marjorie Taylor Greene, you know, sort of admonished me, it’s not a great idea to be thinking, hierarchically, in that, you know, the speaker has all the power and then a majority leader and then the web. That’s not the way it’s going to be anymore. And Greene was insistent to me that even if McCarthy gets a healthy majority, which he’s by no means assured of having, he’s still going to have to deal with the base. And McCarthy has indicated an unwillingness to cross the base and to cross the leader of the base, Donald Trump. So a lot of these people who are not by any means household names are going to command outsized influence, and McCarthy is not going to be the kind of guy who breaks knuckles, he’s also not going to be the kind of guy who he’s never been a clever head counter when it comes to votes. So he’s going to be hugely reliant on the Maga base that really occupies all the center of gravity in the Republican Party now.
Andy Slavitt 22:36
Let’s take a quick break, come back with Robert Draper. You mentioned vote counting before the break, Robert. And I’m curious, kind of when we talk about this sort of these far out there Republicans, from a standpoint of you defined it, believing in conspiracy theories, not believing that Joe Biden’s president, and a host of other things. And I want to get to a couple with those issues that a second, what portion of the caucus is that? Is it’s just the sort of five to 10% and extreme districts, or is this closer to the mainstream of kind of the base now, and then therefore, the mainstream of the caucus?
Robert Draper 23:37
We’re probably talking about 25%, who embrace these theories, or at least purport to embrace them. But it doesn’t matter when they’ve kept the rest of them, you know, to stay silent. Because as I heard this over and over, and it’s reported in my book, more moderate Republicans, basically going to ground and telling Democratic friends of theirs who say, come on, man. Well, you know, aren’t you? Are you really gonna let Matt gates and Lauren bellbirds and Marjorie Taylor Greene and Jim Jordan, get away with this stuff. Their response invariably is look, if I say something, I’m gonna get primary, you know, by the right, and I’ll lose, and the person who replaces me is not going to be somebody you’re going to live, you’ll thank me that I’ve essentially held my tongue now, because you don’t want what’s coming down the pike otherwise. So in a way, the wrong way to view it that who, you know, who’s got the greater numbers? Now, when it comes to actually fashioning legislation? That’s going to be more interesting, because we do know that well, so McCarthy has already essentially previewed that. If the Republicans take back the house, there will almost certainly be you know, an impeachment inquiry, there will absolutely be retribution. For Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gozar are having been stripped of their committee assignments, you can you know, Eric Swalwell, and Adam Schiff, and Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar can kiss their seats goodbye, you know, they will find some rationale just as they will for impeachment as payback. So there will be a lot of retribution going on affirmatively what exactly they do, you know, in terms of immigration and all that, you know, they’ll have to keep their own majority together. And even in the minority, and in the minority, it’s traditionally easier, as you know, Andy, you know, to, to stay unified, you just vote no all the time. And but it’s still been a fractious situation. For this Republican minority, when they become the majority and have to actually get things done. It’s going to be a very, very unpleasant vote counting situation for the leadership.
Andy Slavitt 25:44
Usually, the one thing we count on is there is must pass legislation, right of some sort, people will, you know, they’ll give their speeches, they’ll prove to the base that they’re underside, they’ll do all that. But then it comes down to nobody wants to be responsible, for example, for closing the government, or for not approving debt relief. Those are things we’ve taken for granted. They have sometimes been big battles during the Obama years, but they’ve been they’ve been things that eventually people get in the room and get done. Should we stop taking that for granted, Robert?
Robert Draper 26:16
Yes. Is the short answer. On the debt ceiling. For example, I was having a conversation with a senior Republican staffer this morning, who said, you know, it’s, Mitch McConnell will end up negotiating, if he’s the Senate Majority Leader, with the Biden White House to try to raise the debt ceiling, to keep us from defaulting our credit. But it’s hard to imagine Kevin McCarthy being able to strong arm again, people like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gozar. And others, they hear from their own, you know, MAGA base that it’s, you know, we’ve got to quit raising the debt ceiling. So consistently, so promiscuously and same with the government shutdown, I mean, that already occurred, you know, during, I think, in 2013. And, and the lesson that a lot of Republicans learned from that was, you know, it put a dent in our poll numbers for, you know, a month or two, that in 2014, we turned around and took back the Senate. So it’s not so bad. It’s not a hard hit. And yeah, so I think that we absolutely should cease to take for granted the notion that the sort of good faith, governance operations will take place routinely, I think that will come to a screeching halt.
Andy Slavitt 27:31
So oftentimes, that’s an opportunity for this small minority that can hold things up, or in this case, not such a small minority 25% of the caucus, to prove that they can get their priorities passed that, that they let the government go into closure mode, or they didn’t lift the debt ceiling. And then, you know, after two weeks, they presented a series of demands that they could go back and tell their constituents, look what we did. And that’s how these things usually end. And so what crosses my mind are democracy and voting rights issues, support for Ukraine, like when you think about a package that Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Paul goes are, and cetera and say to Leader McCarthy, who might then be Speaker McCarthy, we will let open up the government unless we get these things. Do they have a sense of what’s on that list? what their priorities are?
Robert Draper 28:28
Absolutely, yeah. And of course, we’ve seen this movie before we saw it in 2013, when the whole repeal replace scenario for Obama, Obamacare took place that where Republicans from the House Freedom Caucus, attempted to hold Republican leadership hostage by basically saying, We’ll only agree to opening the government if there is an agreement to slash and burn Obamacare and essentially repeal it altogether. So that’s a scenario that almost certainly will transpire when Congresswoman Greene and her colleagues if they regain the majority. Among the things that we’ll do is to say that we want to finish building the wall, we want to maybe place a moratorium on immigration. If it’s Marjorie Taylor greens way, it’ll be a four year moratorium on immigration of any kind, including the people who work at Mar a Lago, you know, and there will almost certainly be legislation relating to say transgender and education and again, we’re talking about Republicans who have never had any experience of governance. Adam Kinzinger, when I during one of the interviews I did for him for my book, lamented to me that, you know, ever since he came in on the Tea Party class, he said, we’ve never really passed any legislation we’ve never been. We’ve never built coalitions. I’ve now been around for 12 years, and I have no idea how to get a major bill done. So you know, and that’s Kinzinger who will I would like to see that happen. Others like Matt Gaetz, and Lauren Beaufort and Marjorie Taylor Greene, they, you know, they’re more interested in pulling the party as far to the right as possible. And whether anything comes to fruition isn’t as important as appearing to have fought the good fight for the MAGA base.
Andy Slavitt 30:18
This is a kind of a scary scenario, but in this scenario, you know, chaos might be an acceptable answer to them, because it sends a message that we’re here. And likewise, those lists of items you raised, really infringe upon people’s ability to live a decent life. So look, I mean, this is this is the scenario of a Republican win in the in the house, I think people may think that they’re voting about, you know, inflation in the economy, they may think there’ll be voting, voting about abortion, they may think they’re voting about any one of a number of issues. But the power of the majority, even if they fail to control the House, there’s a lot of damage that could get done. It sounds to me.
Robert Draper 31:04
That’s right. Yeah, no, that’s right. Well, it’s by the way, you know, it’s worth remembering that grains predecessor, and the house was a guy named Tom Graves who came in with a tea party class, but who ultimately became like a real responsible legislator was a member of the House Appropriations Committee. He’d do all this like real, you know, important legislative work, you know, kind of grunt work. But when he’d go back to his district, and tell them, I’ve, you know, help secure water rights for the district and all that his rank and file people would say to him, I liked you better when you were shutting the government down, I loved you when you’re on Fox News. And, and, you know, it’s hard to point to that as the one reason why graves decided, Okay, I’m done. I’m now just gonna go ahead and make a bunch of money as a lobbyist. But my understanding based on my reporting is that that was deeply disenchanting to him and the object lesson. Meanwhile, for his replacement, Marjorie, Taylor Greene is, if you look like you’re a warrior for the MAGA base, you can, okay, you know, shutting the government down can create all sorts of problems, but the base will still love it, you will not be punished for it, you will be rewarded for it.
Andy Slavitt 32:06
And so perhaps, the biggest thing Trump accomplished, is he created a blueprint. And let it no one’s ever accused politicians of being original thinkers, you know, if there’s a path to win in your district, getting on board, that path is, you know, often easier than creating your own. So a whole generation of Republican politicians look at that model and say, What’s the benefit of being reasonable, compromising getting stuff done, but that’s not the path. I want to finish up by talking about, I don’t think we have to imagine what happens if a party gets dominated by its extreme members, because, as you’ve written about, there’s already a place in the US where that’s happened. That’s Arizona, in Arizona, recall, the Republican Party in Arizona, was for a long time dominated by names like John McCain. And Jeff Flake. Could you talk about what happened there, what it looks like now what we can learn from that?
Robert Draper 33:09
Sure. I wrote about this a lot in my book, and then it ultimately took the form as well of a lengthy piece that I did for the New York Times Magazine. And what I learned was that while you’re absolutely right, Andy, that Arizona was associated with John McCain, the reality was that McCain, McCain’s grasp on the state Republican Party was always a tenuous one. The base didn’t like him, they didn’t like him because of his stance on immigration, which they thought was soft. They didn’t like his comments of leaders of the religious right as agents of intolerance. They just didn’t like the guy. And so something remarkable happened as McCain’s power began to wane and that he ultimately retired and then died, which was that the party was overtaken not by a new leader, but really, by the far right, grassroots activists who had always been there. And you’re right, that the curious dynamic in Arizona, is that it’s becoming, you know, a state in play for Democrats. Indeed, you know, both of the of the senators are Democrats, the legislature is almost perfectly evenly divided. And in the face of that, and in the face of the fact that Trump lost Arizona, you think the Republican Party would descend into meditation and think, oh, we should you know, broaden the tent. Instead, they’re going with the formula that Trump you know, that you essentially referenced that which is that you don’t have to, like, you know, try to convince people who don’t like you to like, you just convince the people who liked you to love you, you know, get them to turn out in droves, maybe try to demonize the other side and demoralize them in hopes that they won’t turn out. And then if all else fails, just claim that you won, you know, and so that’s what I saw and was stunned, frankly, to witness in Arizona to your grassroots activists denigrate democracy saying that we’re not a democracy anyway, we’re a republic. And it’s clear that they viewed democracy as something that had been somehow weaponized against them and goes back to Obama. But then ultimately its apotheosis was the 2020 election, and now they’re not so keen on democracy anymore. That’s, you know, the hothouse experiment that’s taking place in Arizona and could be a harbinger for what we’ll see elsewhere in throughout the nation.
Andy Slavitt 35:30
Yeah. It certainly could foretell, who gets to write the rules for the presidential race. So you’ve been studying the far right, in the US, if you thought about how the far right resembles the far right. That’s on the sentence in other countries, say, you know, South America, but certainly in Europe, Are there similarities? Or are there still pretty big differences between this far right movement and the far right movement in some of these other countries?
Robert Draper 36:01
There may be differences, but the distinctions are not so great, that we shouldn’t be extremely concerned by them, Andy, I mean, because you’re, you’re exactly right, that we see in countries, you know, that’s, you know, in in Hungary, for example, and, but beyond Europe, to see an African countries as well, and South American countries, a sort of, you know, populace demagoguery that routinely involves the targeting and demonization of a particular group, in the name of national pride and national identity. Of course, we seen this, you know, in its worst form, in the 1930s, in Germany. And I’m by no means saying that that’s where we are now, but it’s a trend we want to move absolutely in the opposite direction from and that instead, these notions of, you know, America first, to the exclusion of having real allies, and of trying to be a player in the world, in fact, you know, demonizing that very notion as being a globalist, you know, comes alongside also believing that here in home, there is a quote unquote, Enemy Within, which was a common phrase used during the McCarthy era, which we are now hearing over and over again, set by Marjorie Taylor Greene and Donald Trump in the like, explicitly, and literally using the same phrase that this is that this combination of factors and isolationism from the world, a targeting of foes at home, is the populist demagogues that straight out of the populist demagogues recipe book and, and yet we’re seeing it elsewhere and it’s not the best of us, and we should be definitely concern.
Andy Slavitt 37:43
Yeah, well make sense. You wonder how one comes out of that. So one scenario that you lay out, Robert sounds fairly dire, you know, extremism, nationalism, anti-immigrant fervor, people putting a fork in the brakes, and not caring about the functioning of democracy, not being supported to democracy necessarily at all, unless they win, not being tethered to the truth. But you mentioned also that you talked to several folks, and they, you know, Paul Ryan, among them and others, who have said, well, no, maybe there’s a path back. And I’m wondering, if you play out the field work, traveled on the other fork in the road, and said, no, there is a path back, what feels like has to happen. What does that look like?
Robert Draper 38:31
Sure. Well, we now know what won’t work. I mean, one thing that won’t work is, say, a national crisis. You mentioned before the nine 11/4 of July, January, the sixth should have been that but instead of unifying. America did precisely the opposite. So that won’t help. I also don’t think that, that losing one midterm election is going to restore the sanity of the Republican Party. People on the right will just simply say, well, Mitch McConnell had it in for us and he conspired, you know, the rhinos conspired with the socialist Democrats to make this happen. I think it’s gonna, at minimum take a succession of election cycle losses, where ultimately the Republican Party has alienated so many people beyond its hardcore MAGA base, that that’s not much of a party numerically anymore, and is just simply losing election after election. I still though and it pains Andy to figure out how we come back from a situation where a third of the electorate believes the 2020 election was stolen, and accepts that utterly as gospel believes that anything that the New York Times or CNN or other members of the mainstream media says is absolutely false, and that correspondingly, everything that Breitbart and Newsmax In one American news site can be taken as gospel. I honestly do not know how, if you’ve convinced so many 10s of millions of Americans to believe in these very basic lies, how they come back from that, how you restore faith and institutions, I have to say that, you know, this is right out of Vladimir Putin’s playbook and undermining democratic ideals. But he’s kind of sitting back now with his, you know, at least figuratively, with his feet on the desk, he’s got a lot not to be happy about in Ukraine. But seeing what’s taking place in America has got to bring him some cheer, because the far right is now doing Putin’s work for him. And I do not honestly know how that trend reverses itself.
Andy Slavitt 40:44
So when I read your book, Robert, I sent a text to a congressman who’s a friend of mine, who was featured in your book is a Democrat. He says, look forward to reading it. But I asked him a sort of similar question, because he’s sort of in the throes of it. And he just, he texted back, we must outwork them, and outlast them. And I think that’s maybe the message to close on, as we get into we’re in voting seasons, in most states. There’s a lot of organizing to do. There’s a lot of phone calls to be made. You know, and if you’re troubled by this picture, which I think is the big picture, I know, people are hurting about inflation, we’ve done a number of episodes on inflation. Inflation is a global phenomenon. But it’s also something that when we as begin to lap our first run of inflation, we know how to manage it, and there’s going to be some pain. But some of these longer term things that you can’t come back from are the things that I hope, get people motivated outwork, and eventually outlast.
Robert Draper 41:49
Yeah, well, what I’d say is, you know, the speaking you know, I’m not a partisan and I’m not a political strategist, but when a Democrat, urges members of his party to outwork and outlast the other side, that doesn’t necessarily mean to say over and over democracy is on the line, because it is clear, you know, the polls make absolutely abundantly clear that the top of mind issues are the economy and inflation and Democrats have to recognize that I do think that when we say out, you know, at work and outlast that applies actually to, you know, the sort of establishment Republican members as well. They want outlast them. They’ve said to me over and over again, hey, look, it’s our party. These guys came in, they’re not hijacking my party. I’m sticking around, they can go foreign. They’re on third party, but I’m always going to be here, but it remains to be seen what their plan will be to outwork and outlast that and at working in outlasting for Republicans, I think will at some point simply require showing a level of intestinal fortitude that so many of them lack, you know, that burden is not on Democrats, that’s on people who want to preserve the Republican Party on the Republicans themselves.
Andy Slavitt 43:01
But it would be nice to see that step up. Robert, I want to thank you so much for coming in the bubble. It is a riveting read about the period of time that has not really been well written and documented, and about a set of people who are really on the ascendance and it’s best to understand them. So thank you again for being here.
Robert Draper 43:20
It’s really my pleasure, Andy.
Andy Slavitt 43:21
Let me tell you what’s coming up this week, Wednesday, William McCaskill. This is a fascinating conversation about what we are doing now the decisions we make today and how they will impact future generations. I am fascinated with this topic. I hope you find it interesting as well. And Friday, my dear friend Stephanie Wittels Wachs is going to take over the mic to lead the conversation as we head into the weekend before the election. I’m going to be taking suffocation in opportunity right before the election. But then the following week, I’m gonna come back and do a live episode Tuesday night, which we’ll put out on Wednesday with election coverage. Both that be fascinating. We’ll see where we are then. Don’t forget to vote.
Thanks for listening to IN THE BUBBLE. We’re a production of Lemonada Media. Kathryn Barnes, Jackie Harris and Kyle Shiely produced our show, and they’re great. Our mix is by Noah Smith and James Barber, and they’re great, too. Steve Nelson is the vice president of the weekly content, and he’s okay, too. And of course, the ultimate bosses, Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, they executive produced the show, we love them dearly. Our theme was composed by Dan Molad and Oliver Hill, with additional music by Ivan Kuraev. You can find out more about our show on social media at @LemonadaMedia where you’ll also get the transcript of the show. And you can find me at @ASlavitt on Twitter. If you like what you heard today, why don’t you tell your friends to listen as well, and get them to write a review. Thanks so much, talk to you next time.