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
50:57And so when you see Donald Trump and you see the servility of the coequal branch of government,51:05the absolute unwillingness to confront him, to confront his excesses, his dishonesty, his degradations of the office,51:14his 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.51:34What’s at stake here?51:37I think you sort of pointed to the fact that this was an important point to understand,51:42that Trump basically owned the GOP at this point.51:45Explain—explain what you’re thinking.51:46This is a question of national honor.51:49The United States of America should not separate mothers and children51:55and lock the children into cages, into detention facilities.52:00Should not.52:02And it recalls the worst excesses in American history: the separation of African American mothers and children52:11during slavery; the separation of mothers and children who were Native Americans.52:20We have had great injustice in the country,52:26but the greatness of the country is the ability to make great progress combating it.52:31It’s wrong.52:32When you see a government official with an American flag on their shoulder committing that act, it’s disgraceful,52:45it’s dishonorable, it’s cruel, and it’s inhumane.52:51But we have become desensitized in this era of Trump to cruelty, to inhumanity, to indecency, to dishonesty,53:03to all of our great detriment.53:06Why did you leave the party?53:08Because the Republican Party—well, I’ll say this.53:14I think the Republican Party and the Democratic Party are both broken institutions, the Republican Party more so.53:24But while broken, they also are two of the most important institutions in world history53:32for the advancement of human dignity and freedom despite all of their flaws.53:38For me, I could no longer be a member of a political party that was so corrupted by Donald Trump53:47that he consumed lock, stock and barrel, and the leadership of the political party fundamentally capitulated to him.53:59The Republican Party’s not a conservative party anymore.54:02It’s a party that’s populist, that’s nonsensical at times, that’s illiberal a lot of the time.54:12And all of the things that I’ve believed in and have steadily believed in, I still believe in,54:20but that institution is no longer the vessel for them.54:25… The 2018 midterm elections.54:28So Trump uses the [Brett] Kavanaugh story and immigration as a way to excite the voters.54:37The media, Fox, stokes it, supports it totally.54:46There are a lot of lies that are told about exactly what’s going on.54:50What’s—what’s the result?54:53As a man who believes in the system and in politics and the way it needs to—how campaigns are run,55:01what was your view of what was taking place?55:04Well, there was only one issue in the 2018 election.55:07It wasn’t immigration; it wasn’t Brett Kavanaugh.55:10It was Donald Trump.55:11And the question before the nation in 2018 was, are we going to put a check on Donald Trump and the party of Trump?55:19And the answer to that question was a decisive yes.55:23And part of that decisive yes were millions and millions of Republican voters55:28who voted Democratic for the first time in their lives.55:31Right.55:32This election was also fascinating in the Democratic Party because there was a split within the Democratic Party as well.55:37And you’ve got progressives like AOC [Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez] and others who are—55:44who rise up and are elected and become very important voices and define the divide within the Democratic Party.55:52What’s going on within the Democratic Party, and in the end, how does it—how does it play out from your perspective?56:00Well, you’re seeing a rising extreme in the Democratic Party that is the mirror opposite56:10And I think Democrats make a big mistake if they answer Trumpism with dishonest progressivism.56:16If you go out and say that we’re going to give everybody free health care, free education;56:22give everybody reparations; … we can go and spend hundreds and hundreds of trillions of dollars—this is all fantasy.56:30And in a political contest dominated by dishonesty and fantasy—56:35and I would suggest that competing against Donald Trump is the equivalent of running a foot race against Usain Bolt.56:42Not going to win a dishonesty contest with Donald Trump.56:45And so in this moment, what Democrats, in my view, should be focused on is the assemblage of a grand coalition56:55that is fidelitous to small “L” liberalism, to our democratic values,57:01that Americans of all different types of political persuasion can come into and feel at home in.57:09The progressive agenda represented by AOC, a, won’t pass; b, doesn’t have a national constituency;57:21and c, could well be the reason that we see a second term for President Donald Trump.57:27You think that’s a real possibility?57:29Sure do.57:29Trump’s rhetoric has been blamed for rising tensions, white supremacists sort of being more blatant in their demands57:41and their marches and such, and it is tied directly to the El Paso massacre.57:47What is your overview on the power of rhetoric and the repetition of that rhetoric, especially if it’s based on falsities?57:58Well, Trump has debased his office; he’s debased the culture; he’s debased our political conversation,58:06and he’s done it thousands and thousands and thousands of times over the last three years.58:11He’s a racist; he’s a race baiter; he has worsened racial divisions in this country.58:18He has energized the white supremacist movement in the country,58:22and we know that’s true because the white supremacists thank him openly for doing so.58:29Now, we see a president who divides, who stokes, who incites, who appeals in almost every instance58:40not to the better angels but to the worst impulses,58:43the worst instincts and the basest, darkest aspects of American history and American life.58:51And what does this mean long term for your GOP, your party that you used to belong to?58:58Well, the Republican Party will be completely transformed, probably fatally, by its contact with Donald Trump.59:08And that may play out over five years, over 10 years.59:13But when you look at the demographics in the country, there will always be a market for a conservative message.59:21But Trumpism is cancerous, and everything it touches will ultimately be consumed by it.59:30But far more important than the effect of the Republican Party is the effect on the country.59:38It weakens American democracy.59:42And I think it’s also important to understand that the Democratic Party will not remain untouched by Trumpism also.59:52How so?59:53Well, if crudity, if meanness, if vulgarity, if inhumanity become mainstreamed,60:02if the lesson of this generation of progressive politicians is to be like Trump but with different policies,60:11then the Democratic Party will be consumed by it as the Republican Party has.60:16The—both sides coming up to the upcoming elections warn about apocalypse.60:26The consequences if the other side wins are just unfathomable.60:32Is this the new norm?60:35Each election has always been the most important election in American history,60:41and the men and women running for president have always made it clear that their candidacy represents60:48the decisive moment and the last chance to avoid the apocalypse.60:56It may be true in this election.60:58This country will be changed in ways that will be difficult to unmake if Donald Trump gets a second term. …61:10Donald Trump is cruel, vile; he’s debased his office; he’s incompetent.61:17But it’s a mistake to dismiss him as inconsequential.61:21We are at the end of the long life spans of the people who stormed the beaches in Normandy,61:28who survived the death camps.61:30And what Franklin Roosevelt’s goal when he envisioned the world that we live in today,61:35when he architected the post-World War II U.S.-led liberal global order that was maintained61:43from President Truman through President Obama, his aspiration wasn’t that it would endure forever.61:51What he said is he wanted it to endure so long as every person61:57who was living in the country during the war was alive on the earth.62:04We’re at the end of that era.62:06And we see Donald Trump unraveling that U.S.-led liberal global order.62:13We see a regression of democracy all over the world.62:17We have an illiberal president who assaults our institutions, our values, our democracy, who debases our culture.62:29Another term for Donald Trump will validate his election; it will validate his behavior.62:36He will be unchecked, and the damage will be much, much harder to undo if it can ever be undone.62:44So we’ve talked about two presidents that were change candidates,62:51that the public turned to because they were so angry with the status quo in Washington and in the country.62:59What did we learn from that, and where do we go from here?63:07Another change candidate but in another direction?63:12I mean, as [David] Axelrod says, you always go to the opposite on the next election63:19because the people are tired of what the last guy did.63:22What’s your take on American politics and where we go from here?63:29The Democratic Party’s obligation in this election is to produce a political leader who can defeat Donald Trump63:40and to defeat Trumpism, not to defeat Trump by being a mirror of Trump, but to assemble a coalition63:49that can inspire the nation to move past this depraved era63:54and to face the challenges that the country has to face full-on, head-on.64:00And so when we look at the Democratic Party right now, it’s no accident that Trump is labeling Democrats,64:07and some of those Democratic politicians are making it easy for them when he calls them socialists,64:12because Trump understands this: In America, the socialist loses to a sociopath in every election,64:21every day of the week, and twice on Sunday.64:25I just have one question about Trump’s use of social media.64:30Some have said he’s the first politician to ever do that,64:34but it seems that Sarah Palin was really pretty instrumental in using Facebook as a way to reach her audience.64:39Can you just connect those two ideas?64:42Well, I don’t—look, I don’t think they’re analogous.64:51IPhones were invented in 2007, so the ubiquity of social media, the portability of social media, the instant nature65:03of 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.65:24How powerful is that, and why does he do it?65:30Well, Trump understands—Trump understands the power of symbols,65:38and he understands the emotional resonance of those symbols to millions and millions of Americans.65:46And so he is a—he is a very talented demagogue.65:55He is a very skilled liar.65:59He is an excellent communicator, and he speaks in a language that people can relate to and that people can understand.66:10That’s an important thing for his political opponents to understand also.66:14And this immigration issue, which is so central to—I mean, does it remain central in the upcoming elections?66:22I mean, why?66:24Does the potency wear off at some point?66:28Well, what you’re seeing now is a reciprocal extremism from a lot of the Democrats.66:34Now you watch the Democratic debates, it’s fair to ask, well, do you believe there should be a border at all?66:41And so most Americans, overwhelmingly, Republicans and Democrats, believe yes, there ought to be a sovereign border.66:50We should know who’s in the country.66:52And so there’s no constituency for the most extreme positions that you’re seeing on the Democratic side.66:59Trump understands that.67:01And so we have an immigration debate that’s not just venal; it’s completely detached from reality.67:08When the debate is we’re talking about Mexican-built walls,67:12we are sending military to the border in publicity-stunt exercises as if there was a Panzer division67:20about to break through the southern border en route to Washington.67:24It’s a theater of the absurd playing out as opposed to an issue that needs to be reckoned with67:31and dealt with in a humane, responsible and commonsensical way.
It was a statement designed to jump-start budget talks that had been stalled for months. It did that and more, providing the catalyst that changed the Republican Party into an aggressive and hard-edge brand of conservatism that would hold sway for two decades.
The statement was a renunciation of one of the most famous campaign promises in modern American politics: Bush’s declaration of “no new taxes,” which he made as he accepted the Republican nomination in 1988. The pledge was a bow to conservatives, who always regarded him with suspicion, if not outright hostility. When he reneged on the promise, they exacted revenge.
.. As president, Bush proved that experience matters, that knowledge of the world is an asset, that careful and methodical can be more effective than big and bold, that responsibility to country takes precedence over loyalty to party, even if sometimes it comes at great cost, that compromise is not a dirty word... After the war ended, with U.S. forces ordered to stop short of Baghdad, Bush’s approval rating soared close to 90 percent, scaring away veteran Democrats who were thinking of challenging him. Twenty-one months later, he was driven from office by the voters. A transition inside the Republican Party that was already underway accelerated.The statement that appeared on the bulletin board in the White House pressroom on that morning in June 1990 showed Bush to be a president who was prepared both to compromise with the Democrats, even if it meant breaking a campaign promise, for what he believed were the best interests of the country and to take personal responsibility for his actions.
.. The statement that appeared on the bulletin board in the White House pressroom on that morning in June 1990 showed Bush to be a president who was prepared both to compromise with the Democrats, even if it meant breaking a campaign promise, for what he believed were the best interests of the country and to take personal responsibility for his actions.
.. The conflicting interests of Bush and the Gingrich forces continued for the duration of Bush’s presidency. Gingrich’s wing saw conflict with the Democrats as essential to creating sharp differences between the parties; Bush saw cooperation with congressional Democrats in the name of effective governing as essential for the country and, he hoped, for winning reelection as president. On that, he proved mistaken... As other Republicans lamented the fall of a president whom they much admired, those in the forefront of creating the new Republican Party were relieved that Bush had been defeated... Tom DeLay, who would become House majority whip, later told me of his feelings on the night Bush lost in 1992. “Oh, man, yeah, it was fabulous,” DeLay said in a 1995 interview. DeLay admitted then that he had feared that, if Bush were reelected, it would mean “another four years of misery” for House GOP conservatives. He acknowledged mixed feelings about seeing the White House fall into Democratic hands but added, “If we had another four years of this [Bush], we’d never take over the Congress.”.. Bush’s eldest son, George W. Bush, sought to restore something of his father’s sensibility to the GOP when he ran for president in 2000 and won the White House as a “compassionate conservative.” But he could neither remake nor retrofit the party. Though he was more conservative than his father, he nonetheless drew the ire of those on the right on issues such as immigration and spending... The end of George W. Bush’s presidency further accelerated the changes within the Republican coalition, including the rise of a tea party movement that brought an even more unyielding form of anti-government conservatism. Today President Trump is redefining the party in his own image, moving it ever further from the GOP over which George H.W. Bush presided.
I didn’t vote for Clinton because of this.
- In 1980 Poppy Bush became Vice President.
- In 1988 Poppy became President
- In 1992 Bill Clinton became President.
- In 2000 George W Bush (junior) became President.
- In 2008 Hillary ran for President.
If if she had won, we would have consolidated power into just two families hands for effectively 36 years. Only this Obama kid popped up and wrecked that plan with the help of the Democratic Base.
- In 2016, the new Duopoly fixed the race by running both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Both announced as “front runner” before they had officially announced.
This time the Republicans stepped in and elected an orange game show host to ruin the plan. He was so bad by Election Day that I actually voted for Clinton, even though I said I wouldn’t.
We don’t have Royals in America. This is what hurt Romney too, he’s a legacy candidate as well but not a part of the Bush/Clinton dynamic.
The Clintons and Bushes have the same Trade policies, same monetary policies, similar regulatory goals. Bill and Poppy were even closer on economic policy, military policy, science policy and legislative agendas. Dubya was a deviation but in all of the worst directions.
Bill and Poppy were competent Presidents. Hillary would be profoundly competent and I suspect Jeb would too.
Heck Obama was fairly close to Poppy’s policy structures. Most competent Presidents will be.
This isn’t about policy, it’s about legacy and aristocracy.
Hillary is a brilliant policy wonk. A type A over achiever who is smart, responsive and hyper qualified. She’s also as slippery as her husband, inherently occluded in speech, perpetually on defense and 25 years of that coupled with operating at the height of political power has made her unapproachable . She’s a bad campaigner, who fails to connect at deeply emotional levels.
I am not being ageist. I’m being realistic. Bernie won’t run because he’s too old. Biden won’t run because he’s too old. McCain could’ve run but he knew he was too old. 75 is pushing the human bodies limits for taking on an office that visibly drains its occupants like there is a vampire in the Resolute Desk. Any 3 of these guys could’ve won but they had a legacy candidate in the way.
The Democrats need some new, out front faces. Pelosi, Feinstein, Shumer, Boxer and the Clinton’s have had their time in the sun.
.. The working class doesn’t like these entrenched politicians. Witness Trump. They pulled Obama ahead of Hillary in 08 because they want new and different.
.. Trump is a mess but he’s not such a mess that the working class is going to go back to the old aristocracy. Hillary looks better by comparison but that’s not the same as better.
If the Dems want a legacy, draft one of the Kennedy grandkids. It’s been satisfactorily long enough for them to run without the taint of legacy. The Republicans can maybe draft a Hoover. They’ve had enough lately.
What rulers crave most is deniability. But with the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by his own government, the poisoning of former Russian spies living in the United Kingdom, and whispers that the head of Interpol, Meng Hongwei, may have been executed in China, the curtain has been slipping more than usual of late. In Riyadh, Moscow, and even Beijing, the political class is scrambling to cover up its lethal ways.
Andrew Jackson, was a cold-blooded murderer, slaveowner, and ethnic cleanser of native Americans. For Harry Truman, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima spared him the likely high cost of invading Japan. But the second atomic bombing, of Nagasaki, was utterly indefensible and took place through sheer bureaucratic momentum: the bombing apparently occurred without Truman’s explicit order.
.. Since 1947, the deniability of presidential murder has been facilitated by the CIA, which has served as a secret army (and sometime death squad) for American presidents. The CIA has been a party to murders and mayhem in all parts of the world, with almost no oversight or accountability for its countless assassinations. It is possible, though not definitively proved, that the CIA even assassinated UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld.
.. Many mass killings by presidents have involved the conventional military. Lyndon Johnson escalated US military intervention in Vietnam on the pretext of a North Vietnamese attack in the Gulf of Tonkin that never happened. Richard Nixon went further: by carpet-bombing Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, he sought to instill in the Soviet Union the fear that he was an irrational leader capable of anything. (Nixon’s willingness to implement his “madman theory” is perhaps the self-fulfilling proof of his madness.) In the end, the Johnson-Nixon American war in Indochina cost millions of innocent lives. There was never a true accounting, and perhaps the opposite: plenty of precedents for later mass killings by US forces.
.. The mass killings in Iraq under George W. Bush are of course better known, because the US-led war there was made for TV. A supposedly civilized country engaged in “shock and awe” to overthrow another country’s government on utterly false pretenses. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians died as a result.
Barack Obama was widely attacked by the right for being too soft, yet he, too, notched up quite a death toll. His administration repeatedly approved drone attacks that killed not only terrorists, but also innocents and US citizens who opposed America’s bloody wars in Muslim countries. He signed the presidential finding authorizing the CIA to cooperate with Saudi Arabia in overthrowing the Syrian government. That “covert” operation (hardly discussed in the polite pages of the New York Times) led to an ongoing civil war that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths and millions displaced from their homes. He used NATO airstrikes to overthrow Libya’s Muammar el-Qaddafi, resulting in a failed state and ongoing violence.
.. Under Trump, the US has abetted Saudi Arabia’s mass murder (including of children) in Yemen by selling it bombs and advanced weapons with almost no awareness, oversight, or accountability by the Congress or the public. Murder committed out of view of the media is almost no longer murder at all.
When the curtain slips, as with the Khashoggi killing, we briefly see the world as it is. A Washington Post columnist is lured to a brutal death and dismembered by America’s close “ally.” The American-Israeli-Saudi big lie that Iran is at the center of global terrorism, a claim refuted by the data, is briefly threatened by the embarrassing disclosure of Khashoggi’s grisly end. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who ostensibly ordered the operation, is put in charge of the “investigation” of the case; the Saudis duly cashier a few senior officials; and Trump, a master of non-stop lies, parrots official Saudi tall tales about a rogue operation.
A few government and business leaders have postponed visits to Saudi Arabia. The list of announced withdrawals from a glitzy investment conference is a who’s who of America’s military-industrial complex: top Wall Street bankers, CEOs of major media companies, and senior officials of military contractors, such as Airbus’s defense chief.
.. Political scientists should test the following hypothesis: countries led by presidents (as in the US) and non-constitutional monarchs (as in Saudi Arabia), rather than by parliaments and prime ministers, are especially vulnerable to murderous politics. Parliaments provide no guarantees of restraint, but one-man rule in foreign policy, as in the US and Saudi Arabia, almost guarantees massive bloodletting.