‘Trump Is What Happens When a Political Party Abandons Ideas’

As surprising as Trump’s young presidency has been, it’s also the natural outgrowth of 30 years of Republican pandering to the lowest common denominator in American politics.

Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 after nationalizing the election into broad themes and catchphrases. Newt Gingrich, the marshal of these efforts, even released a list of words Republican candidates should use to glorify themselves (common sense, prosperity, empower) and hammer their opponents (liberal, pathetic, traitors); soon, every Republican in Congress spoke the same language, using words carefully run through focus groups by Republican pollster Frank Luntz. Budgets for House committees were cut, bleeding away policy experts, and GOP committee chairs were selected based on loyalty to the party and how much money they could raise.

.. Gone were the days when members were incentivized to speak with nuance, or hone a policy expertise (especially as committee chairs could now serve for only six years).

.. President George W. Bush didn’t realize he was supposed to just be a passive bill-signing machine; he kept insisting that Republicans enact his priorities, which, often, were not very conservative—No Child Left Behind Act, steel tariffs, a tax cut with few supply-side elements. His worst transgression, for me, was the budget-busting Medicare Part D legislation, which massively expanded the welfare state and the national debt, yet was enthusiastically supported by a great many House conservatives, including Congressman Paul Ryan, who had claimed to hold office for the purpose of abolishing entitlement programs.

.. In the 14 years since then, I have watched from the sidelines as Republican policy analysis and research have virtually disappeared altogether, replaced with sound bites and talking points.

.. The Heritage Foundation morphed into Heritage Action for America, ceasing to do any real research and losing all its best policy experts as it transformed from an august center whose focus was the study and development of public policy into one devoted mainly to amplifying political campaign slogans.

.. Talk radio and Fox News, where no idea too complicated for a mind with a sixth-grade education is ever heard, became the tail wagging the conservative dog.

.. Reagan, who granted amnesty to undocumentedimmigrants in 1986

.. no workable concept that adhered to the many promises Republicans had made, like coverage for pre-existing conditions and the assurance that nobody would lose their coverage.

.. their intellectual infrastructure is badly damaged, in need of repair

.. what conservative intellectuals really need for a full-blown revival is a crushing Republican defeat—Goldwater plus Watergate rolled into one. A defeat so massive there can be no doubt about the message it sends that

.. Some conservative thinkers, such as the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin, speculate that Mitt Romney may emerge as the leader of a sane, modern, technocratic wing of an intellectually revitalized GOP

No One Cares About Russia in the World Breitbart Made

Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics.

.. “They’ve become extraordinarily influential. Radio talk-show hosts are reading Breitbart every day. You can feel it when they interview you.”

.. “The relationship has always been largely transactional,” the G.O.P. strategist Alex Conant told RealClearPolitics this month. “Republicans in Congress can pass laws, and Trump can sign them. Therefore, it’s mutually beneficial.”

.. Another argument holds that Mr. Trump’s efforts to discredit mainstream outlets, echoed by the right-wing media, have stripped his followers of their ability to distinguish what’s real from what isn’t.

.. Culture has always been a driving obsession of the conservative underworld of Breitbart and its ilk. “Andrew was always more interested in changing the culture than he was in changing what was going on in Washington,” Steve Bannon,

.. a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents now believes that colleges and universities — the flash point of our current culture wars — have a negative effect on the country. This number is up sharply from the 45 percent who agreed with this same statement last year.

.. If you’re not a Republican, watching Republicans react to the news can feel a bit like witnessing a mass hallucination.

.. There’s no guarantee that this will endure. Even on Fox News, there are scattered signs that the latest Russia developments may finally be breaking through — at least to a few folks. “This was a bungled collusion,” the Fox pundit Charles Krauthammer said the other night, noting that he had previously been sympathetic to the White House line. “It undoes the White House story completely.”

How Trump’s Candidacy Has Divided Conservative Media

Ann Coulter’s role in inspiring some of Trump’s anti-immigration rhetoric and policy, she tweeted – and I’m not sure if this was after his campaign announcement announcing that he was running – she tweeted (reading) I don’t care if Donald Trump wants to perform abortions in the White House after this immigration policy paper.

And I’ve just been trying to imagine somebody like William F. Buckley or George Will tweeting something like that or ever saying something like that. It’s just inconceivable, like the rhetoric has changed so much within the right-wing media. And…

DRAPER: Well, you’re not the only one who thinks that, Terry. The conservative talk show host – and in a lot of ways intellectual godfather in conservative talk radio Mark Levin tweeted back after Ann Coulter’s tweet, which, indeed, was immediately following Trump’s announcement speech. Levin had said this has to be one of the more pathetic statements that I’ve ever read.

So a lot of people who are horrified, of course, Ann Coulter has made a career out of horrifying people. And she – among her many gifts, understatement is not one of them. She also had said that that speech was the greatest thing written since “Magna Carta.” But, of course, this was self-glorification, too, since Ann Coulter recognized the rhetoric as her own.


.. GROSS: Do you think that the impact of talk radio and cable news is changing in terms of politics in America?

DRAPER: Well, what’s clear is that talk radio could dictate, basically, the tenor of the electorate. And I don’t think that that has taken place in this election cycle. The numbers show that talk radio is still a very healthy phenomenon. Though, it does not own a monopoly on conservative activism the way it did in the 1990s when Rush Limbaugh ruled the roost. Because of social media, because of Breitbart, because of Drudge – they are not the only voices that count.


.. DRAPER: Well, I think that no area of the overall Republican family has had such an awkward time with the Trump candidacy than Fox News. I mean, I think even more than the Republican National Committee. And you can actually see, on the air at Fox News, people who have made a choice to throw themselves utterly behind Trump and others who have been skeptics and others who have been vigorously opposed to him.


.. But it’s notable to me that Trump, while continually denouncing the media, is in his own way accessible to a number of us. He’s been talking to reporters from The New York Times, including myself, constantly for months and months now, where Hillary Clinton, for example, notably has not. And now, I’ve been at rallies where we are confined to this media pen and where Trump makes a big exercise out of pointing out to everyone in the audience that there is the disgusting, dishonest media. Lots of booing ensues. I’ve, you know, been a journalist for several decades so I’ve not ever been concerned that this is going to rise to a level of violence. I hope that I’m not proved wrong on that.

But to me, this is not the civil rights era and being cursed at by people in the crowd is not the same thing as what our colleagues endured 50 years ago going down to the Deep South. But it can be alarming for the uninitiated. And – but my view is that it’s for show.

I mean, Trump very much sees himself as an entertainer whose foremost job is to keep people listening. And he has said as much, that when it looks like he’s losing the crowd he’ll start talking about building the wall and having Mexico pay for it.


.. I’m saying we hoped this a year or a year and a half ago – that this election might actually provide an opportunity to sort of build at least a rickety bridge between both sides that there’d be some healing after the divisiveness of the last really 16 years or some, perhaps longer.

But there’s no end in sight to this. I think that if Trump becomes president and he abuses his authority, there will be articles of impeachment. If Hillary Clinton becomes president, the House Republicans, already lying in wait due to the Benghazi and email server situation. We’ll also be contemplating articles of impeachment. I simply do not see a way in which things become better


.. GROSS: You mentioned that Trump is good at flattering people, and that’s – your implication is that that’s kind of a tool that he uses.

DRAPER: Well, I have personal experience with him, going back to my first encounter with Donald Trump at Mar-a-Lago when he walked in, saw me and said nobody told me he was such a handsome guy.


DRAPER: And then throughout what turned out to be about a four-hour evening, Trump, you know, was constantly asking me what I thought about certain members of the media, what I thought about his chances in a particular – the state of Wisconsin, what I thought about particular commercials that other candidates were putting up. And I – as I mentioned, really couldn’t tell whether or not he was acutely interested in my opinions or wanted me to feel like that he was interested in my opinions or if he just wanted to hear my opinion, so he knew where I stood, not so that he would follow my opinions.

But, nonetheless, to be around a guy who is a billionaire and has achieved a lot, I think, you know, would probably – that would be like a momentous thing for someone. I can see how for individuals who have not been asked their opinions before by major political figures that Donald Trump doing so would make them feel like, wow, I’m a Donald Trump consultant. And my my own view is that – and I mentioned this in the story – that lest I would have had any kind of illusions that Trump really valued my insights relating to his prospects that just a few days later, I saw him on the campaign rope-line, you know, asking the very same question to total strangers. So this is just something that Trump does.