Is There More to DeSantis Than Culture Wars? (with Charlie Sykes)

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is likely to be Donald Trump’s greatest challenger for the GOP presidential nomination. The Bulwark editor Charlie Sykes says that’s because he’s younger, smarter, and equally mean. Charlie tells Andy why DeSantis’ “anti-wokeism” platform resonates with conservatives, how his bullying behavior is just as dangerous as Trump’s, and who Joe Biden would rather run against.

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Andy Slavitt, Charlie Sykes

Andy Slavitt  00:18

This is IN THE BUBBLE with Andy Slavitt. Don’t forget, email me please at We might even read your email on the air. We’re doing a show today about Ron DeSantis. You may have heard he may be running for president. I think we might be early on that story. He’s attracting a lot of dollars from donors. There’s a lot of donors, you may have read on the Republican side of the world who have decided to either not give money to Donald Trump or expressly, as the Koch brothers network have said recently to give money to anybody but Donald Trump. And Ron DeSantis seems to be so far, the single greatest benefactor, and is likely to be the single greatest challenger to President Trump. We know Nikki Haley, is thinking about throwing your hat in the ring, and there are some others. But I think it’s time to pay a little bit of attention to this side of the race. So we know what’s coming at us. So what do we know about Ron DeSantis, we actually know more about what Ron DeSantis is against and what he’s for. We know he’s anti-public health and anti-vaccine. We know he’s anti-[..], anti-diversity, anti-climate change oriented, but he actually is PRO CAST. Oh, so he’s pro something, even though fewer than 10% of people in Florida can actually get a gas stove. He proposed in his budget, a tax break for people to buy gas stoves. We know he’s anti-trans youth. We know he’s anti-educating people about race. And he creates these labels, critical race theory. He calls everything related to race. And its course his big label is what all of what he calls anti-woke ism. Okay, anti-woke ism. That is something that we’re all I think supposed to react to in one way or another. And the implication of course, by saying that he’s anti wokeism is that wokeism, is a scourge is a bad thing. So what the heck does that mean anti wokeism. He’s trying to make us hate something that it’s not even clear, we understand what he’s talking about. You know, the reference to being woke near as I can tell, dates back, maybe it dates back further. But it dates back at least as far as to speeches given by Martin Luther King, after he visited the country of India with his wife, and saw what real third world poverty look like in the 1960s. And he basically came back and gave a speech where he said, you know, you can go through life pretty easily not seeing those things, or you can have an awakening, you can wake up and you can see what’s going on around you and respond and react. And I think where are we, the kind of phrase being woke came from was, you know, when people saw police beatings for the first time it registered with them, people have a different relationship with the police than I may have thought as something that a white person might feel. And so maybe that a definition is carried beyond those kinds of conversations, but certainly no one has done more to define it. Then people like to Santos who are really defining it as something to be against. And that is kind of his main theme. That’s his main thesis. So is he going to be a pure play culture warrior? Will that work? If that’s what he does? Will that work in the primary? Will that work in the general election? And what kind of precedent would he will be likely to be? Of all those questions? The last one seems like it’s the easiest one to answer. It seems like he’s pretty much telling us, here’s who I am. This is what I do. This is what I stand for. You almost don’t have to wonder how he’s going to govern things because he is so identified himself with this brand of, you know, where woke goes to die.

Andy Slavitt  04:32

So I want to understand those issues and to do that Charlie Sykes, who is currently the founder and editor at large of the bulwark was coming in the bubble. And for you don’t know Charlie for decades, he was the voice that spoke to middle American conservatives based in Wisconsin, he is someone who was a kingmaker of sorts and conservatives Rickles, in large part driven by how important to state, Wisconsin is, and he was as mainstream and hardcore conservative and radio talk as you could get. And something changed in his view of politics in his view of the Republican Party when Donald Trump came to power. And I don’t know whether Charlie is any more or less conservative than he once was. What I do know is that he felt that the things that Trump represented, were very inconsistent with what he believed was good for American politics. And he has been very outspoken and how the Republican Party lost their way, in many respects. Still, He’s perfect for this kind of conversation, because he really is in touch with the people who are supporters of people like Donald Trump, and Ron DeSantis. And he has spent time thinking about DeSantis. What to Santos means? And it’s worth asking the question, how does an anti-Trump Republican feel about Ron DeSantis, or the anti-Trump errs going to be? Yea, Ron DeSantis, or our anti-Trump Republicans going to see some of the same things in DeSantis they saw in Trump and not like him. And I think we’re going to find that out very clearly, very early on in this interview. And it is a fascinating interview, it stretches into all of the areas that I’m curious about that I’ve been curious about around Republican politics. I just want to make a note that we could do better to have more conservatives, and more conservative voices come on the show. Why do I say this? Well, I say this, because when we have Charlie, who you’ll hear in a moment, or Hugh Hewitt, or Frank Luntz, or David Frum, or any one of several others, Bill, Sapphire, on the show, I always learned something. I always feel better. When I talk to people who are of goodwill, and who want this to be a great country. Even if we don’t always start from the same place. It makes me feel hopeful, it makes me feel like there is some commonality in this country that we often don’t feel. And as you know, we’re exploring some of the divisions in this country. In in the bubble, we’re exploring rural and urban divides, we’re exploring generational divides, we’re exploring, divide the people feel relative to education. And I don’t think you can really understand them unless you can talk to people of goodwill, around what they stand for, and what they see. So I’m thrilled to do that. And I’m thrilled to have people like Charlie on the show. Now there are certain people who I will not give a platform to, there are certain people who I just don’t believe voices need to be heard, because very simply, I don’t think they’re of goodwill. And by the way, there are plenty of platforms for those folks. And I don’t think that’s what you tune into this for. So that’s my philosophy. Again, email me, if you want me to think differently about it, if you think differently about it, love to do that. But let’s bring on Charlie and let’s get into this very gripping conversation about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Andy Slavitt  08:23

Hey, Charlie.

Charlie Sykes  08:24

Hey, how are you? Thanks for the invitation.

Andy Slavitt  08:26

Oh, I’m great. You’re well,

Charlie Sykes  08:29

Well, you know, you know, surviving in the insanity.

Andy Slavitt  08:34

New forms of insanity all the time, right?

Charlie Sykes  08:36

Yes. It’s literally true. It’s the same old insanity. It just gets worse.

Andy Slavitt  08:41

Yeah. And what maybe it’d be fun if to start by just telling us about the bulwark. You came from a long career as a conservative radio host in Wisconsin. Yeah. And you’re now involved in a number of organizations defending democracy. Stand-up Republic, and you founded a media platform called Bulwark. Tell us what that stands for and what it’s all about, for people who aren’t familiar with it.

Charlie Sykes  09:05

Well, the, the bulwark just turned four years old. And to be quite honest, it was sort of an accidental publication that was created in the wake of the murder of the Weekly Standard. The Weekly Standard was, of course, shut down in late 2018. By the owners for being insufficiently pro Trump. And the bulwark became a what at least initially was going to be a temporary landing spot for much of the bulwark team. Bill Kristol and I were trying to figure out, you know, how do we keep the voices alive have an alternative voice and the right wing, and I don’t think any of us would have imagined that it would have grown as large as it has where it has been successful. But I think that we thought of ourselves as kind of a bulwark of sanity, bulwark of democracy.

Andy Slavitt  09:56

Yeah. Is it fair to think of as a center right platform, that is born out of anti-Trump. But it’s more different from that because Trump is not a thing all the time anymore. Thank God.

Charlie Sykes  10:07

Well, I think it’s hard to peg us. I think there’s a diversity of viewpoints on the staff, ranging from center right to center left. And I think that it’s the one connective thread is that we are pro-democracy, we are anti-extremist, and that we want to stand athwart history and say, you can’t be serious.

Andy Slavitt  10:25

I appreciate you saying that. Because you know, you’re used to reading stuff and going, what’s the agenda here? And I have to say that the things that I read from Bulwark, like, I don’t see necessarily an agenda, I’d see more of analysis and exploration of something in more evenhanded terms. And maybe I’m just not used to that anymore. But it’s a relic?

Charlie Sykes  10:47

Well, I think, you know, part of the process has been for many of us who’ve been part of the conservative movement, it’s been trying very liberating, it’s kind of been breaking out of the chrysalis and realizing, you look around you go, alright, I don’t have to follow that party line anymore. I don’t have to trust those people anymore. And so we have had this, you know, period of, of exploration to say we actually think and at least from my point of view, one of the lessons that I learned was, how dangerous it was to become excessively and obsessively partisan, where you had to uphold your side, or you woke up every morning, thinking about, you know, how you advance the interests of your own tribe. So I really was not interested in jumping from one tribe into another tribe. So I have to say, I tried to stand back. And I think I think most of my colleagues do as well.

Andy Slavitt  11:36

So you’re someone who is able to connect and explain these different worlds, to people who don’t live in each of these different sectors or tribes very well. Maybe let’s start with Ron DeSantis, somebody who’s sort of increasing curiosity, and many people have not been exposed to DeSantis, other than you know, they know his name or maybe saw some of media exposure. Tell us about Ron DeSantis.

Charlie Sykes  11:59

Well, Ron DeSantis you know, who he really is, of course, somebody relevant because I think you need to look at, you know, what he has become and the role that he is playing. Right now. He is the hottest thing on the right. With the exception, of course of Donald Trump, former congressman Randers very Trumpy candidate who has taken his pugilistic style to the national stage, and has been very, very effective. One an overwhelming majority. But I have to say that I mean, I am, I know that there are a lot of people in the anti-Trump world, or Trump skeptical world who are just sort of waiting for DeSantis who think that, you know, why can’t you guys get on board with DeSantis? He isn’t. He’s sort of a regular Republican. And in my reaction is, are you kidding me? Because Ron DeSantis, you know, is taking the politics of being a bully to a different level, he has decided that he is going to move as hard and […] to the right as he possibly can. And that he’s learned something from Donald Trump. That you don’t need to be a nice guy that what primary voters are looking for is somebody who will punch your opponent in the face someone who will inflict pain on your enemies. And you can see this in his style. I think it comes naturally to him. I mean, I’ve talked to members of Congress who served with him and who want to stress that Ron DeSantis doesn’t just play an asshole on television. He really is he’s he is not the kind of guy that you want to have a beer with. So it comes naturally to him. But what you’re seeing  DeSantis doing right now, is he is staking out all the positions on the right wing ID involving gender involving wokeness, involving race issues involving anti Vax conspiracy theories. And he’s trying essentially, to build a brand around that say that I’m the guy that fights I fight, I win. And I will take it to the enemy, and it’s worked for him in Florida. He’s scoring some points among Republican primary voters, how it will play on a national basis, quite unclear.

Andy Slavitt  14:12

So it’s interesting if we are moving to a post Trump world and of course, it’s probably too early to say that it’s not the party of compassionate conservatism of George W. Bush or John McCain, who kind of reasonable this you know, this represents a very different turn to lead the party if indeed it’s what comes next.

Charlie Sykes  14:34

Yes, absolutely. Then I want to underline what you just said with a red line. The Republican primary voter does not want the nice guy that you will have beer with. He wants the fighter it wants somebody who will go out there and will you know, fight against the godless communist left and use whatever tactics there are it why is that? Well, I think because what is animating the right now is anger. It’s not a policy. See boring ended position, I think it’s very clear that the Republicans in Washington don’t really have a governing agenda. This is a party that did not even bother to have a platform. In 2020, they just basically said whatever Trump wants, and DeSantis understands that he understands that if you’re ever going to beat Trump or replace Trump, you have to tap into all of those visceral emotional reactions. And I think that the conventional wisdom on the right, is the only way that you displace Trump is with somebody who is perhaps a younger, smarter, but equally mean character.

Andy Slavitt  15:43

Well, they’re clearly tapping into something. And if I hear you, right, what you’re saying is, it doesn’t matter what Ron DeSantis, the congressman might have believed it doesn’t even matter what Ron DeSantis believes to be the case, as a policy matter, he has adopted what he believes to be the currency out there, which in his language, is anti wokeism, he appears to be saying, I’m the pureplay culture warrior. That’s who you get, if you put me in the general election representing the Republican Party.

Charlie Sykes  16:18

Yes, with a twist that I will actually be able to inflict real pain and I will win. So for example, lots of other Republican politicians engage in culture warrior anti wokeism, what Ron DeSantis has done is I am prepared to use the power of the state to punish and harass my enemies. And this is really send a tingle down the leg of Republicans. So for example, when Walt Disney, The Walt Disney Company push back against what’s been called the don’t say, gay law, Ron DeSantis says, Well, you know, I’m going to go after you, I’m going to take away your special tax privileges, I’m going to pass legislation that will punish you for the speech you’re engaging in. Now, look, I mean, this is not completely new politicians have wanted to punish their enemies for a long time. Richard Nixon, of course, famously did it. But Ron DeSantis says it, you know, out loud, upfront, in broad daylight, and this is part of his appeal, that he fights the culture war, and he’s prepared to actually win these battles. So, for example, now we’re gonna get into this, you know, an area of education. He has basically taken a, you know, a small liberal arts school is this new college, and he says, This is what I can do, I’m going to use my power to fire the president, you know, get rid of all of the faculty, I’m going to put in some of the, you know, quite frankly, you know, some of the hardest right, activists, including, you know, real race baiting charlatans, like Christopher Ruffo, on the board of trustees, and look what I can do, so I’m not just going to talk about it and you give me power, I will make it into a hammer and I will crush my enemies.

Andy Slavitt  18:06

I will get it done. I will get it done. That is different. You’re absolutely right. That says picture what this country could be like, if you let me loose. Let’s take a break and come back in to hear about wokeism from DeSantis himself. I want to play just a brief tape from DeSantis. His most recent, I think the speech he gave announcing his new budget.

Speaker 3  18:52

As many jurisdictions pursued a much different path than we have pursued here in the state of Florida. The policies pursued by the states have sparked a mass exodus of productive Americans from these jurisdictions, with Florida serving as the most desired destination, a promised land of sanity. Many of the cities and states have embraced faddish ideology at the expense of enduring principles. They’ve harmed public safety by coddling criminals and attacking law enforcement. They’ve imposed unreasonable burdens on taxpayers to finance unfathomable levels of public spending. They have harmed education by subordinating the interests of students and parents to partisan interest groups. They have imposed medical authoritarianism in the guise of pandemic mandates and restrictions that lack a scientific basis.

Charlie Sykes  19:55

That’s what gets the applause. That’s the applause line.

Speaker 3  19:59

This was Are but prevalent ideology that permeates these policy measures purports to act in the name of justice for the marginalized. But it frowns upon American institutions. It rejects merit and achievement. And it advocates, identity essentialism. We reject this woke ideology. We seek normalcy, not philosophical lunacy, we will not allow reality, facts and truth to become optional. We will never surrender to the woke mob, Florida is where woke goes to die.

Andy Slavitt  20:44

There it is. Okay, so let’s hone in on that word woke. Apparently, he got a standing ovation when he said that. What does he mean, by the word woke?

Charlie Sykes  20:55

Well, let me just say, first of all, what you just heard was a presidential campaign speech. That is a speech that he would give at the Republican National Convention, if he was nominated. Do you understand that he’s framing all of those issues. Unfortunately, woke is one of those words that has been almost robbed of any actual substance. And I think what it has become has become kind of a code word for any concern about diversity, inclusion, or, you know, empathy, education, any of those things. It’s a basket that you can throw people want to wear masks, people who want to study and African American history, who are concerned about gender equity, any of that you can throw it in. And what’s interesting is, and I’m sorry, this will sound like a digression. But you know, one of his closest allies now is this guy, Christopher Ruffo, who is really one of the architects of the campaign against critical race theory. And Ruffo kind of gave away the game because he what he argued, he put this in a in a tweet, that his goal was to create an environment where anyone reads anything about race that makes them uncomfortable, or ticks them off. He wants them to think, ah, critical race theory. In other words, he wants to create a brand that can be tapped into for all of the resentments and the anxieties. And this was one of the real tragedies of the last several years. And you and I both lived through this. After George Floyd, there was that moment where you thought, okay, America is about to have this reckoning, Americans are about to sit down and rethink their identity. They’re about to rethink the nature of the criminal justice system and American history. And this is going to be really healthy, it’s long overdue. And then comes along Ron DeSantis, and Christopher Ruffo, and say, you know, what, we’re gonna call all this woke, and we’re going to call all of this critical race theory, and we are going to shut it down. And we will use the power of the government to ban certain ideas, certain thoughts and certain books.

Andy Slavitt  22:14

And in the name of saying, this is about intellectual freedom. A little bit of irony. Look, I happen to be sympathetic to the point of view that in certain settings, conservatives are shut down on college campuses from having discourse. And I think conservatives who complain about that I write I mean, I think it may be overblown at times, but I think it’s, you know, we don’t live in a society that gets better by shutting down others. And, you know, this is a version of that. I also think, I wonder to what extent this is saying, Look, you’re struggling. And, you know, this is about, to some extent, other people who have been struggling for a long time, and they’re asking you to feel a sense of empathy. And I’m telling you, it’s okay not to do that, and that that has a certain appeal to people.

Charlie Sykes  23:46

Well, I mean, since we’re trying to get out of the bubbles, right, here, this is a point that I remember, back in 2016, where you really began to see the erosion of support for Democrats in rural America. One of the things that was happening, and then I brought this up, and it’s interesting how often, you know, I get shut down for even saying what I’m about to say here, is that you have to imagine you go into some of these, you know, overwhelmingly White rural communities. Now, many of the communities that, you know, had seen businesses, factories, shut down, people who are living pretty much, you know, close to the mark, these are not wealthy areas. You know, there are whole counties in northern Wisconsin where the average income is around $38,000 a year. And when they hear academic elites, people in the media and in politics, talking about the need to do something about White privilege, they go wait, how am I privileged, and they push back on it. So some of the rhetoric has been very alienating, and if you look at the pattern, you can write this off to racism if you want, but understand that, one of the things that we’ve seen in our politics has been this massive shift of voters, many of whom, ironically enough, voted for Barack Obama not once, but twice, who are now voting for Donald Trump and other right wing Republicans. And part of it is the sense that they are being ignored by this kind of rhetoric. And people like Ron DeSantis, are kind of tapping into that.

Andy Slavitt  25:26

Well, I want to talk about whether that the cultural battle is really resonant, because I think as an outsider to the Republican Party, a better strategy for Republicans, would be to be the party of the disaffected non-college educated voters of all races. And then indeed, there are some signs that Republicans are doing a much better job at attracting Hispanic voters. I think the college educated, maybe college educated as well. But I think this notion that, you know, if I were running the Republican Party, which is something that would probably never happen, you know, I would probably be saying our message ought to be these college educated, you know, elites don’t have your best interests at heart, they’re abandoning the towns and cities, the places you grew up in. And you could run that without the cultural attachment that really alienate non-White voters. But the fact that they feel like they need to add that tells me something tells me that they think that’s a better strategy, and that the culture wars and we’re winning strategy.

Charlie Sykes  26:30

Well, they, you know, what Donald Trump did, of course, was, you know, to pivot to, you know, blame all of you know, the problems of, of industrial America, on foreigners, on immigrants on China, you know, to launch a trade war, that least had some economic basis to it, I mean, as long with the xenophobia. But what’s interesting is that even since Donald Trump came down the golden escalator, you know, and basically found enemies that you could blame for all of our woes, that it’s no longer sufficient for them to simply blame the immigrants, blame the Chinese or other foreign actors. Now, we have to blame other Americans, it’s our anger has now turned inward. I mean, think about the difference, you know, from the early 2000s, where Americans recognized that there were enemies, but they were abroad. Now, Americans are being encouraged to see their enemies next door, or in the next state or in those cities. But it is it is a conscious decision to turn us against one another. Which, to your earlier question about whether or not you’re going to see the Republican Party sort of returned to, you know, more, you know, inclusive, you know, civil, you know, form of governance. No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t think that’s going to happen for a very, very long time.

Andy Slavitt  27:47

Let’s take one final break. And we’re gonna come back and talk about how all this is gonna play out in the next election, and who’s likely to be the Republican nominee. Bulwark ran a piece, which I found fascinating, I think is the title of it is attacking workers and Ron Santos and superpower or his kryptonite, it went in and talked, you talked to voters, and people to see whether they related to woke ism or not. But there was a memo from a conservative in Washington, Russell vada, believes his name, who said in effect that attacks against Medicare and Social Security, which is sort of the Paul Ryan, kind of version of the Republican Party. Don’t help us. We’re a different party these days. We’re a populist party. We’re not about taking these away from people and being fiscally conservative. What we should be running for a vote says is the culture war. Now, I guess my question is, does that work? It didn’t seem to work in the midterms. Is it the kind of strategy that only works in the primaries, but will not fly in a general election?

Charlie Sykes  29:18

Okay, this was the really interesting question. Because, you know, as I’m watching Ron DeSantis, II, he is clearly running a primary campaign. He knows what it takes to win a Republican primary. Now, the big question is, you take that nationally, how does that play in a general election? You know, does, you know, by taking all of these positions, you may run up the score among Republican base voters, but what is it going to do to you in the suburbs of Philadelphia, or Milwaukee or the suburbs of Detroit? And this is their problem. They’ve been losing these votes, they’re losing women voters, you know, dramatically. And so I think that is the big question. So for example, you saw this story in the Washington Post, there’s a new report from the Republican National Committee urging Republicans to double down on abortion restrictions to go for the most extreme abortion restrictions that they can do. I mean, go to ramming speed well, okay, that’s not being generated by polls and focus groups saying that’s how to win general elections. That’s an indication that we are really stuck in our bubble that we are really held hostage by the most extreme activists in our own party. Because as we’ve seen, if you want to get the Republican nomination, you need to move hard to the right. But if you do that, you’re going to be at a tremendous disadvantage. So look what happened in Pennsylvania? Look what happened in Georgia. Look what happened in Michigan. Look what happened here in Wisconsin, where Tim Michaels, the Republican candidate for governor, who should have won that race easily was defeated. Look what’s happening in Arizona. Look what happened in Nevada. I mean, there are stories all over the country, where Republicans are losing these races that they should have won because they took those positions. And yet, as you and I are talking here, there’s no indication that the Republicans are really serious about recalibrating, they’re not having an autopsy, they’re gonna double down on election denial. And I think that as of right now, the odds are that they will re nominate Donald Trump, so they have learned nothing from that.

Andy Slavitt  31:27

So as you say, they’re not focusing on learning the lessons of 2022 if they think about 2024. And so I guess the question is, Is there any place left in this election? For Nikki Haley, or Larry Hogan, the former governor of Maryland, or even Chris Christie? Is there a lane to use the election Washington parlance? Is there a lane open for a candidate like that? Or is that just a joke, at this point?

Charlie Sykes  32:06

It’s a bike lane and it’s a dead end. And I’ll give you the longer answer to that. Look, Larry Hogan is a man of deep principle and I respect him. Chris Christie was one of the leading enablers of Donald Trump back in 2016. Nikki Haley, I have to say I’m struggling to sort of understand her theory of the case here because there is somebody who has been a pinwheel on all of this. I mean, there was a time a few years ago, when a lot of those of us were Trump skeptics would have thought of her as you know, a heroine is sort of a Joan of Arc who could have rescued the Republican Party, but she’s made the calculation that the future of the Republican Party is Trump be, you know, being Trumpy, the sort of a likeable Trump, but she’s gone back and forth. You know, she sat down with Politico with Tim Elberton. And said that, you know, we should learn our lesson, we made a mistake, we have to, you know, move on from him. So she’s played both sides of the fence. But the real tell about the Nikki Haley candidacy, is the fact that Donald Trump doesn’t have a problem with it. Donald Trump is okay with it. He talked to her, he says that he told her go for it. He’s not calling or any nicknames. And you know why, it’s good for him. He doesn’t need to win a big majority to get renominated like in 2016, like you didn’t 2016, you can get just a plurality, the more the merrier. And with Nikki Haley, he gets another candidate who splits the anti-Trump vote, but he knows that he has nothing to worry about from her, she’s not going to win and she’s never going to attack him. So he’s treating her very differently than Ron DeSantis. He sees Ron DeSantis as the real existential threat, because Ron DeSantis, can tap into that hardcore MAGA base into the right wing media into the grifter class. He can get the kind of buzz that Donald Trump thought that he had a monopoly on.

Andy Slavitt  34:06

Now let’s talk for a second about Trump versus DeSantis. Since your analysis would suggest, at least at this point, those are the two strongest candidates for all the reasons we described. You know, on the one hand, well, I guess I should ask you, because you’re much, much closer to it. what Republicans are feeling about Donald Trump these days? Is there an ambivalence? Is there still a really powerful strength? And what kind of does DeSantis have to show and do to overcome a call, I guess the incumbency advantage that Trump as a former President has with the party, given the DeSantis; skills are certainly he’s good at attracting media attention. Certainly he’s good at taking these issues and making them own but he’s not a gift. to notice and by most people’s calculation.

Charlie Sykes  35:02

Okay, so the second part of that question is much more complicated. The first part is what are Republicans thinking? The strong majority of Republicans want to move on from Donald Trump, or they are suffering from Trump fatigue, they want somebody new. But that may not matter, because Trump still has a lock solid hold on about 30% of the electorate. And what we’ve seen in the Republican Party is the fear and failure to actually coalesce behind anyone who can beat Donald Trump. So even though the polls will suggest we had a bulwark poll earlier this week about all of this, you know, showing Trump’s standing is quite diminished. A lot of people were just tired of him. He’s diesel teas, too old and he’s got too much baggage. Why would you want to go through this again, and they’re concerned about his electability. But he’s got that solid, always trump base. So the question is collective action, will they actually decide to move on him, which leads to your question of Ron DeSantis says, What is Ron DeSantis has to do? I think that Ron DeSantis, and a lot of Republicans right now are engaging in McKay Coppins had a great piece in The Atlantic about this. They’re engaging in magical thinking, which is okay, we’re not going to really go after him. We’re not going to attack him, we’re not going to criticize them. We’re just going to hope that something happens, maybe a meteor happens, maybe chokes on a Big Mac, maybe he’ll be indicted in Georgia, maybe he’ll be indicted by the feds, maybe he will just go away. Maybe he will die. I mean, that’s the problem with these guys. They’re so scared of him. They won’t go up against them. So in my newsletter today, I pointed out, you know, there were all these headlines. You know, Ron DeSantis, hits back against Donald Trump, Ronald, Ron DeSantis, snaps back against Donald Trump, he punches back, actually, he didn’t do any of those things. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t even say Trump’s name. Ron DeSantis, as of right now, has not criticized Donald Trump in any way. So we don’t know what happens when he comes out.

Andy Slavitt  37:05

How much will electability matter, Charlie?

Charlie Sykes  37:09

Well, I think this is the most interesting question. I’ve gotten a lot of thought to this because I think that back to your question about what we’re on DeSantis has to do is that’s got to be at the center of his theory of 2024 is that you go with Trump, you lose, you go with me, you win, you go with Trump, you lose even if you win, you only get four years, but I am electable and I can bring along a Republican House and a Republican Senate. And that’s going to be very, very attractive, I think, to the donor class to the to the professional class. But will it be enough for the Republican base? Because I think the Republican primary base is very different than the Democratic primary base, the Democratic primary base in 2020, prove that it was extremely pragmatic. I don’t know that you can say that about Republican primary voters. Based on the evidence, will they behave in that rational manner? Or will they behave emotionally? I honestly don’t know. It really depends who you’re talking to. If you go to Washington, and you hang around with professional Republicans, they will all say, look, this is really about electability. And we really gotta, you know, turn the page on all of this, you go out into the countryside into Trump country. And I’m not sure that plays the same way. So. And also keep in mind, and I’m sorry to say this, you have 10s of millions of Americans, 10s of millions who do not think that Donald Trump has an electability problem, because they don’t believe he lost the election. And again, you can’t reason someone out of that position. There’s no evidence or argument you can give someone who believes without any evidence that Donald Trump, in fact, won the 2020 election, and that it is one of the great crimes and injustices of American history, that he is not in the White House right now. So by God, we need to write this terrible, historical wrong. And that’s going to be an issue that people like Ron DeSantis are going to come up against.

Andy Slavitt  39:06

Well, in 2020, Biden was least acceptable enough to Republican suburban voters, against Trump. And I guess the question is, do you suspect he’s that he still maintains that ability? If he’s the candidate?

Charlie Sykes  39:25

Well, as you know, predictions are always difficult and two years is forever in politics. And of course, age is an issue. But if it was Trump versus Biden again, Biden, I think would hold that support because he’s not Trump, that the election would be Trump or not Trump.

Andy Slavitt  39:43

If you’re Biden, would you rather run against Trump or would you rather run against DeSantis?

Charlie Sykes  39:47

Oh, you’d much rather run against Trump. Because the contrast between you know Ron DeSantis, who is young and not unintelligent, versus an elderly Joe Biden is tough. So age becomes much more of an issue in that campaign than it would be against Donald Trump. Donald Trump, you know, can hardly use, you know, the argument of cognitive impairment against his opponent, that becomes a wash, the age thing becomes more of a wash, the age thing becomes a real problem when it comes to a Ron DeSantis. However, having said this, anyone who is the nominee of a major political party in this current political environment has a chance to win the election. This is an evenly divided country. So do not take it lightly. If Donald Trump does get the nomination, the country goes into recession. X, Y, & Happens, you know, in your career, you know, things happen. It is not impossible for him, you know, to put together 270 electoral votes, people should not sleep on that simply because it seems unthinkable does not mean it will not happen. And I think that after 2016, we all understand that.

Andy Slavitt  41:00

I think that’s a great note to finish on. And I’ll go on record, Charlie is saying, as a Democrat who served in the Obama and Biden administration’s, I would like to see a Republican candidate, who is the most acceptable candidate to be President of the United States, as opposed to the one that’s most beatable for exactly that reason. And I’m not sure, given the choice between DeSantis and Trump, that that describes either one of them to me. But I hear you that we’re concluding this conversation with the point of view that it is probably going to be one of those guys.

Charlie Sykes  41:33

I think so. Yeah, I think that if you had to bet money on it yet, I have a really hard time imagining a scenario of anyone else, beating Donald Trump, but then again, that assumes that Donald Trump will be around and that he won’t be hit by the sweet media or taken out by Big Mac. Who knows.

Andy Slavitt  41:52

Charlie, thank you so much for being in the bubble. It was really fun to do this. And you educated us with a perspective that only you have, because you’ve lived in some of these circles, and can give a bird’s eye view in a really nice way.

Charlie Sykes  42:05

Andy, it’s always great talking with you anytime.

Andy Slavitt  42:21

Okay, let me just give you a quick preview of what you’re going to hear on Friday, in the wake of the beating of Tyre Nichols in Memphis, at the hands of the police. We’re going to talk with DeRay McKesson about what’s going on between Ferguson and George Floyd, George Floyd, and Tyre Nichols, and what our understanding should be of how the police are functioning, what has been the impact of body cams? What’s been the impact of the work that’s being done on police reform, what’s being done? And the question of these big police units and scorpion sting unit Deray will have answers to all those things, as well as to help us understand how much this is a police versus the community issue. How much is race involved? DeRay has been one of the leading activists over the last decade or so around Black Lives Matter in many of these important questions. On Monday. We’re going to continue the theme that you heard today, and that you’ve been hearing recently about divisions in this country. And we’re going to talk very explicitly on Monday night about the geographic distinctions not about the racial distinctions, but actually about the generational distinctions that are emerging in this country. Really, between the baby boomers and their selfish behavior. No, I’m just kidding. Baby Boomers, I was a joke and their alleged selfish behavior, and the rising millennial generation and their selfish behavior or alleged selfish behavior. See, I’m in the middle of those two categories. So I can call everybody selfish. But those are gonna be really, really interesting conversations, both of them. The second one on Monday is with Philip Bump. Who you may know from the Washington Post. He’s fantastic. Okay, we’ll talk to you on Friday. Thank you for tuning in.

CREDITS  44:19

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.

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