America’s Great Divide: Steve Schmidt Interview | FRONTLINE

Steve Schmidt served as a political strategist for George W. Bush and the John McCain presidential campaign. He is a political analyst for MSNBC and NBC News.

Schmidt’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”

Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs
And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww

 

 

50:57
And so when you see Donald Trump and you see the servility of the coequal branch of government,
51:05
the absolute unwillingness to confront him, to confront his excesses, his dishonesty, his degradations of the office,
51:14
his attacks on the institutions, is an utter, complete, total abdication of a responsibility and duty that’s historic.
51:26
The “zero tolerance” policy, the family separation issue, you’ve written a little bit about this, I think.
51:34
What’s at stake here?
51:37
I think you sort of pointed to the fact that this was an important point to understand,
51:42
that Trump basically owned the GOP at this point.
51:45
Explain—explain what you’re thinking.
51:46
This is a question of national honor.
51:49
The United States of America should not separate mothers and children
51:55
and lock the children into cages, into detention facilities.
52:00
Should not.
52:02
And it recalls the worst excesses in American history: the separation of African American mothers and children
52:11
during slavery; the separation of mothers and children who were Native Americans.
52:20
We have had great injustice in the country,
52:26
but the greatness of the country is the ability to make great progress combating it.
52:31
It’s wrong.
52:32
When you see a government official with an American flag on their shoulder committing that act, it’s disgraceful,
52:45
it’s dishonorable, it’s cruel, and it’s inhumane.
52:51
But we have become desensitized in this era of Trump to cruelty, to inhumanity, to indecency, to dishonesty,
53:03
to all of our great detriment.
53:06
Why did you leave the party?
53:08
Because the Republican Party—well, I’ll say this.
53:14
I think the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are both broken institutions, the Republican Party more so.
53:24
But while broken, they also are two of the most important institutions in world history
53:32
for the advancement of human dignity and freedom despite all of their flaws.
53:38
For me, I could no longer be a member of a political party that was so corrupted by Donald Trump
53:47
that he consumed lock, stock and barrel, and the leadership of the political party fundamentally capitulated to him.
53:59
The Republican Party’s not a conservative party anymore.
54:02
It’s a party that’s populist, that’s nonsensical at times, that’s illiberal a lot of the time.
54:12
And all of the things that I’ve believed in and have steadily believed in, I still believe in,
54:20
but that institution is no longer the vessel for them.
54:25
… The 2018 midterm elections.
54:28
So Trump uses the [Brett] Kavanaugh story and immigration as a way to excite the voters.
54:37
The media, Fox, stokes it, supports it totally.
54:46
There are a lot of lies that are told about exactly what’s going on.
54:50
What’s—what’s the result?
54:53
As a man who believes in the system and in politics and the way it needs to—how campaigns are run,
55:01
what was your view of what was taking place?
55:04
Well, there was only one issue in the 2018 election.
55:07
It wasn’t immigration; it wasn’t Brett Kavanaugh.
55:10
It was Donald Trump.
55:11
And the question before the nation in 2018 was, are we going to put a check on Donald Trump and the party of Trump?
55:19
And the answer to that question was a decisive yes.
55:23
And part of that decisive yes were millions and millions of Republican voters
55:28
who voted Democratic for the first time in their lives.
55:31
Right.
55:32
This election was also fascinating in the Democratic Party because there was a split within the Democratic Party as well.
55:37
And you’ve got progressives like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and others who are—
55:44
who rise up and are elected and become very important voices and define the divide within the Democratic Party.
55:52
What’s going on within the Democratic Party, and in the end, how does it—how does it play out from your perspective?
56:00
Well, you’re seeing a rising extreme in the Democratic Party that is the mirror opposite
56:10
And I think Democrats make a big mistake if they answer Trumpism with dishonest progressivism.
56:16
If you go out and say that we’re going to give everybody free health care, free education;
56:22
give everybody reparations; … we can go and spend hundreds and hundreds of trillions of dollars—this is all fantasy.
56:30
And in a political contest dominated by dishonesty and fantasy—
56:35
and I would suggest that competing against Donald Trump is the equivalent of running a foot race against Usain Bolt.
56:42
Not going to win a dishonesty contest with Donald Trump.
56:45
And so in this moment, what Democrats, in my view, should be focused on is the assemblage of a grand coalition
56:55
that is fidelitous to small “L” liberalism, to our democratic values,
57:01
that Americans of all different types of political persuasion can come into and feel at home in.
57:09
The progressive agenda represented by AOC, a, won’t pass; b, doesn’t have a national constituency;
57:21
and c, could well be the reason that we see a second term for President Donald Trump.
57:27
You think that’s a real possibility?
57:29
Sure do.
57:29
Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for rising tensions, white supremacists sort of being more blatant in their demands
57:41
and their marches and such, and it is tied directly to the El Paso massacre.
57:47
What is your overview on the power of rhetoric and the repetition of that rhetoric, especially if it’s based on falsities?
57:58
Well, Trump has debased his office; he’s debased the culture; he’s debased our political conversation,
58:06
and he’s done it thousands and thousands and thousands of times over the last three years.
58:11
He’s a racist; he’s a race baiter; he has worsened racial divisions in this country.
58:18
He has energized the white supremacist movement in the country,
58:22
and we know that’s true because the white supremacists thank him openly for doing so.
58:29
Now, we see a president who divides, who stokes, who incites, who appeals in almost every instance
58:40
not to the better angels but to the worst impulses,
58:43
the worst instincts and the basest, darkest aspects of American history and American life.
58:51
And what does this mean long term for your GOP, your party that you used to belong to?
58:58
Well, the Republican Party will be completely transformed, probably fatally, by its contact with Donald Trump.
59:08
And that may play out over five years, over 10 years.
59:13
But when you look at the demographics in the country, there will always be a market for a conservative message.
59:21
But Trumpism is cancerous, and everything it touches will ultimately be consumed by it.
59:30
But far more important than the effect of the Republican Party is the effect on the country.
59:38
It weakens American democracy.
59:42
And I think it’s also important to understand that the Democratic Party will not remain untouched by Trumpism also.
59:52
How so?
59:53
Well, if crudity, if meanness, if vulgarity, if inhumanity become mainstreamed,
60:02
if the lesson of this generation of progressive politicians is to be like Trump but with different policies,
60:11
then the Democratic Party will be consumed by it as the Republican Party has.
60:16
The—both sides coming up to the upcoming elections warn about apocalypse.
60:26
The consequences if the other side wins are just unfathomable.
60:32
Is this the new norm?
60:35
Each election has always been the most important election in American history,
60:41
and the men and women running for president have always made it clear that their candidacy represents
60:48
the decisive moment and the last chance to avoid the apocalypse.
60:56
It may be true in this election.
60:58
This country will be changed in ways that will be difficult to unmake if Donald Trump gets a second term. …
61:10
Donald Trump is cruel, vile; he’s debased his office; he’s incompetent.
61:17
But it’s a mistake to dismiss him as inconsequential.
61:21
We are at the end of the long life spans of the people who stormed the beaches in Normandy,
61:28
who survived the death camps.
61:30
And what Franklin Roosevelt’s goal when he envisioned the world that we live in today,
61:35
when he architected the post-World War II U.S.-led liberal global order that was maintained
61:43
from President Truman through President Obama, his aspiration wasn’t that it would endure forever.
61:51
What he said is he wanted it to endure so long as every person
61:57
who was living in the country during the war was alive on the earth.
62:04
We’re at the end of that era.
62:06
And we see Donald Trump unraveling that U.S.-led liberal global order.
62:13
We see a regression of democracy all over the world.
62:17
We have an illiberal president who assaults our institutions, our values, our democracy, who debases our culture.
62:29
Another term for Donald Trump will validate his election; it will validate his behavior.
62:36
He will be unchecked, and the damage will be much, much harder to undo if it can ever be undone.
62:44
So we’ve talked about two presidents that were change candidates,
62:51
that the public turned to because they were so angry with the status quo in Washington and in the country.
62:59
What did we learn from that, and where do we go from here?
63:07
Another change candidate but in another direction?
63:12
I mean, as [David] Axelrod says, you always go to the opposite on the next election
63:19
because the people are tired of what the last guy did.
63:22
What’s your take on American politics and where we go from here?
63:29
The Democratic Party’s obligation in this election is to produce a political leader who can defeat Donald Trump
63:40
and to defeat Trumpism, not to defeat Trump by being a mirror of Trump, but to assemble a coalition
63:49
that can inspire the nation to move past this depraved era
63:54
and to face the challenges that the country has to face full-on, head-on.
64:00
And so when we look at the Democratic Party right now, it’s no accident that Trump is labeling Democrats,
64:07
and some of those Democratic politicians are making it easy for them when he calls them socialists,
64:12
because Trump understands this: In America, the socialist loses to a sociopath in every election,
64:21
every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.
64:25
I just have one question about Trump’s use of social media.
64:30
Some have said he’s the first politician to ever do that,
64:34
but it seems that Sarah Palin was really pretty instrumental in using Facebook as a way to reach her audience.
64:39
Can you just connect those two ideas?
64:42
Well, I don’t—look, I don’t think they’re analogous.
64:51
IPhones were invented in 2007, so the ubiquity of social media, the portability of social media, the instant nature
65:03
of social media is something that didn’t exist in 2008 but certainly does now, and he uses it to great effect.
65:12
… One other small thing is the use of divisive issues that he—that he falls back on, like the NFL.
65:24
How powerful is that, and why does he do it?
65:30
Well, Trump understands—Trump understands the power of symbols,
65:38
and he understands the emotional resonance of those symbols to millions and millions of Americans.
65:46
And so he is a—he is a very talented demagogue.
65:55
He is a very skilled liar.
65:59
He is an excellent communicator, and he speaks in a language that people can relate to and that people can understand.
66:10
That’s an important thing for his political opponents to understand also.
66:14
And this immigration issue, which is so central to—I mean, does it remain central in the upcoming elections?
66:22
I mean, why?
66:24
Does the potency wear off at some point?
66:28
Well, what you’re seeing now is a reciprocal extremism from a lot of the Democrats.
66:34
Now you watch the Democratic debates, it’s fair to ask, well, do you believe there should be a border at all?
66:41
And so most Americans, overwhelmingly, Republicans and Democrats, believe yes, there ought to be a sovereign border.
66:50
We should know who’s in the country.
66:52
And so there’s no constituency for the most extreme positions that you’re seeing on the Democratic side.
66:59
Trump understands that.
67:01
And so we have an immigration debate that’s not just venal; it’s completely detached from reality.
67:08
When the debate is we’re talking about Mexican-built walls,
67:12
we are sending military to the border in publicity-stunt exercises as if there was a Panzer division
67:20
about to break through the southern border en route to Washington.
67:24
It’s a theater of the absurd playing out as opposed to an issue that needs to be reckoned with
67:31
and dealt with in a humane, responsible and commonsensical way.

America’s Great Divide: Robert Reich Interview | FRONTLINE

Robert Reich is a former U.S. secretary of Labor and the author of many books, most recently Common Good. He is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Reich’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”

Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs
And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww

America’s Great Divide: Frank Luntz Interview | FRONTLINE

Frank Luntz is a strategist and pollster who has worked on behalf of the Republican Party for nearly three decades. Luntz’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”

Watch Part One here: https://youtu.be/SnMBYMOTwEs And Part Two here: https://youtu.be/l5vyDPN19ww —————

This interview is being published as part of FRONTLINE’s Transparency Project, an effort to open up the source material behind our documentaries. Explore the transcript and interactive version of this interview, and others, on the FRONTLINE website: https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/in…

 

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.. “Everest has been in the news recently, and time and time again the Sherpas just aren’t recognized in their role,” she says. “I would hope that if people are thinking of climbing it, they will watch.”