What shall it profit a political party if it gains power but loses its own soul? David Corn subjects the Republican Party to this moral test in his new book, American Psychosis, and finds it wanting.
Corn, a journalist with the left-leaning Mother Jones magazine and a regular television commentator on MSNBC, examines the history of the Grand Old Party’s interrelationship with far-right extremism going back to the 1964 Republican presidential nomination of Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater. In Corn’s view, Goldwater’s refusal to separate himself from the irrational anti-communist paranoia of the John Birch Society – and even the racism of Southern segregationists and the Ku Klux Klan – set the template for the Republican Party’s cultivation of the far right ever after.
The January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s deluded followers in this sense represented the culmination of a dynamic that had been ongoing for almost seventy years. The Republican Party, Corn writes, “had long played with and stoked the fires of extremism for political advantage. It had encouraged and exploited a psychosis. This sickness reached an apotheosis on that cloudy and chilly winter afternoon. Yet it had been years in the making.”
In this podcast discussion, Corn discusses how the Republican Party’s cultivation of far-right extremism has waxed and waned over the decades, but how the ultimate effect of this cultivation was to legitimize and empower forces that proved inimical to the GOP’s ability to govern. He argues that there is no counterpart on the Democratic side to the toleration of violence and conspiracy theories that the Republican Party has regularly indulged, and further that elite actors on the conservative side created a culture of divisiveness and contempt, which changed the Republican base by giving it permission to indulge its darker impulses. Corn calls for a kind of Popular Front between citizens on both left and right against the forces of “American psychosis,” which he sees as “destructive to the American project, to American democracy. And the first priority is keeping them at bay and putting our other arguments somewhat on the back burner for the time being.”
David Corn: Reaching out to extremists — and kowtowing to them, giving them false information, paranoid narratives, accentuating their grievances — has led to a threat to democracy itself.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Hello! I’m Geoff Kabaservice from the Niskanen Center. Welcome to the Vital Center Podcast, where we try to sort through the problems of the muddled, moderate majority of Americans, drawing upon history, biography, and current events. And I’m pleased to be joined today by David Corn. As many listeners will know, he is a widely recognized journalist and cable television commentator (currently for MSNBC) and has been a recipient of the George Polk Award for political reporting. He is currently the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine and was previously the Washington, D.C. editor for The Nation for twenty years. He writes the twice-weekly newsletter Our Land and is the author or co-author of numerous books. Most recently he has written a book called American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy. Welcome, David!
David Corn: Thanks for having me, Geoff.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: And congratulations again on the book. You are, as I mentioned, a well-known reporter and commentator, and you bring some of your direct experiences with the Republican Party and the conservative movement to the book, particularly in the second half of the book where you deal with subjects and events and individuals that you covered as a reporter. And where the conservative news media is concerned, according to Politifact you appeared on Fox News at least 60 times, which might be some kind of record. But before we get to that, I’m curious to know why you wanted to write this history of the Republican Party and conservatism in America. Because although, as I said, you include a lot of reportorial detail from the past few decades, the history that you covered in your book spans a much longer era than your own career. So why write this kind of detailed, very well-informed history?
David Corn: Well, thank you for calling it well-informed. Let me start by saying that the history that I’m writing here is the history of the interrelationship between the Republican Party and what I would call far-right extremism — not necessarily conservatism, but far-right extremism. And it could be white nationalists, segregationists, conspiracy theorists, people like the John Birch Society, the Tea Party extremists, like we see today with, say, Marjorie Taylor Green. I also would include elements of the evangelical right in that category, segregationists down in the South, and so on. So it’s really how the Republican Party over the course of the last seventy years has forged either a bond or a transactional relationship with these elements of the right.
I guess I started working on this book maybe a year and a half ago, and I was just thinking about what’s happened with the Republican Party in the last few years and the takeover of the party not just by Trump but by MAGA extremism, MAGA-like forces, Trumpism, whatever you want to call it. And I was thinking, “God, someone must have tracked the history of how the Grand Old Party has had this long-term relationship with the fringe radical elements of the right or the conservative movement.” I went looking for it just out of curiosity, and I didn’t find anything. And there’s a saying, “Be the change you want to see.” Well, sometimes you have to write the book you want to read.
And I found elements of this history in various books. Rick Perlstein has done a series of wonderful books about American political history — a lot about the conservative movement and mainstream politics, but not just that. It also covers liberals and the development of the Republican Party, really starting with Barry Goldwater, and I think he’s up to the beginning of the Reagan years. He puts out these books every few years, hundreds of pages long, 600 pages. They’re wonderful histories. A book like that would have things like this sprinkled through it. Theodore H. White, the godfather of political journalism, who wrote Making of the President 1960, ’64, ’68 — I think he got to ’72 — he had elements of this in his books. But no one had ever taken this as the organizing principle and really looping it together.
You had people like Richard Hofstadter, the great political scientist, Pulitzer Prize-winning political scientist, historian, who had talked about “The Paranoid Style of Politics in America,” which he did in the early ’60s, focusing on the far right then and the John Birch Society and other elements of extremism in American history and their connections to political parties. But that was over fifty years ago.
So I really saw that nobody had come and tied it all together, and to explain that Trump, while in some ways exceptional, in some ways is nothing new; that his playbook of coming into the Republican Party and appealing to the most extreme elements —whether you’re talking about through bigotry, misogyny, hyper-nationalism, tribalism, racism — had been done time and time and time again. He just did it in a much more explicit and overt way.
And part of the point of my book is that this relationship between the GOP and far-right extremism has often just not been explicitly acknowledged or recognized by the party and has been under-covered by journalists and people doing political histories. We can get into specific examples. But basically every major Republican Party president has had some degree of relationship with the far right for their own ends, but has not usually wanted to advertise that to the public at large.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: And I do think you do an excellent job of fleshing out this history. How did you go about researching your book?
David Corn: I read a lot. This was a great book to do during COVID, in the sense that I didn’t have to go out and do a lot of interviews. I went through probably about 300 books, and did some archival research at presidential libraries, and found I don’t know how many articles. I looked at thousands of articles for the material in all books and journalists who were proven reliable sources, and sometimes conservatives who were writing about the Republican Party and so on. There were a couple good histories of the conservative movement. E. J. Dionne wrote a pretty good one, although he’s considered a liberal. John Judis did one on modern conservative society. And there were books like that which, again, brushed up against my subject without making it the centerpiece. And I have to tell you, one of the main sources, and one of the more interesting sources, for my book was something called Group Report Inc.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Group Research.
David Corn: Group Research Inc. And they had a newsletter called Group Research Report. And when I first came to Washington to work for The Nation magazine in the late ’80s — sometime soon after that, it might have been even in the early ’90s — I went to see the people putting this newsletter out. And it was a newsletter. It was mimeographed. People can’t see me, but I’m making that circular motion the way we used to run mimeograph machines. And it was in that electric blue ink. It had started in the early ’60s with a guy named Wes McCune, who had worked in the Truman administration. He had also then worked at Newsweek. He was a journalist who’d been in some government communications positions. And with some money from labor outfits, he started this newsletter that tracked the right. Really what it did was it got all the mailing lists, got all the newsletters from the right-wing groups, and clipped out every article in any newspaper or magazine that mentioned anything having to do with the right.
And I went and dropped by his office in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when he’d been doing this now almost three decades. And it was like going back in time. It was full of these gray filing cabinets — I mean, there had to be dozens — and they were still cutting things out of papers and writing on index cards: “Here’s our William F. Buckley column about such and such, date such and such,” and then they would put it in the William F. Buckley file. And they would have, by that point, hundreds of index cards about William F. Buckley. But they did it by organization, by person, by subject. And it was Wes McCune, who was then elderly — I would say probably in his seventies if not older — and a woman equal in age named Gladys Siegel. And it was like, I don’t know, almost very cinematic going back in there. It was dusty and dark and nothing but these filing cabinets and filing cabinets…
But they did a great job for decades. They stopped doing this in the mid-‘90s. They both got too old for it. And I hadn’t really thought about them in years. I mean, I used to get their newsletter. And when they first started, the right claimed that this was a blacklist and they were practicing guilt by association and trying to tar people. It was just public information. And the FBI even investigated them. I found the FBI file in which they said, “We can find no communist ties here.” They weren’t doing this secretly. Anyone could subscribe to the newsletter. So when I was starting doing this project, I remembered — I hadn’t thought about them in years or Group Research — and I thought, “Oh, if I could get these things…”
I went to the Library of Congress and they had a couple of volumes — intermittent, they didn’t have the whole collection. And then I figured, “Okay, where did their papers go when they closed up shop?” And I started calling around and I eventually found out that they were deposited in one of the libraries in Columbia University. Again, all these filing cabinets… I mean, I didn’t have time to go through those, but I wanted the newsletters that summarized what they were finding. I couldn’t get into the library because of COVID restrictions. A librarian there did send me the first hundred pages, the first year or two of issues. And I had to get a grad student at Columbia to go down and literally take a photo on her iPhone of every single page of the newsletters for the course of thirty years and send them to me. And they were a marvelous source of information: things that hadn’t made it into the mainstream press, that hadn’t made it into books.
Gladys and Wes are both gone now, unfortunately, but I gave them a big thank-you in my acknowledgements. And it’s what I always try to… I run the Washington, D.C. bureau. I have twelve, fifteen people who work for me, reporters and editors. And one piece of advice I always give them and other journalists is that when you’re working on something — this is a big country, it’s a big world — there’s likely somebody out there who is obsessed with this subject matter and has been for years, and you’re just doing a story on it. Find that person, because they will love to talk to you and they will be one of the best sources you can find. And that’s in essence what Wes McCune and Gladys Siegel had left for me. They were obsessed with this, and it was a wonderful, wonderful source of information for the book.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Back when I was a grad student, I was doing research for years on end in the William F. Buckley Jr. files at Yale University. And Buckley in the early ’60s got wind that this Group Research project was happening, at that time under the auspices, I believe, of the Committee on Political Education for the AFL-CIO. So he, using his pseudonym Frank O. Streeter, wrote to Wesley McCune asking for a copy of the report, I think assuming that if Wes McCune knew that this was William F. Buckley asking for it, he wouldn’t give it to him. But, in fact, McCune made this available to anyone who asked for it.
Buckley objected, I think, to the fact that his doings were being reported on the same page as goldbugs who wanted to bring back the gold standard and the John Birch Society, the ultra-conservative extremist group. But, nonetheless, you’re right, this clipping service was happening at a time when very few people on the left knew what was going on on the right, and even people on the right didn’t fully grasp the extent of the different developments in different corners of the conservative world. So that is a great source and I congratulate you again on your sleuthing job in tracking it down.
David Corn: Well, the thing too is that we’re so used to the Internet… And just looking at the ’70s, part of my book looks at the rise of the New Right and the religious right in the ’70s, and they started creating their own mailing lists and sending out direct mail pieces. It was sort of an early way for the right to get around what they considered the evil mainstream media and deal with people directly. And if you were on those mailing lists, you had no idea what was going on. They were just creating a whole narrative about what was going wrong with the country and how the Democrats, much like what you hear today, were liberal socialist revolutionaries who wanted to destroy America — literally wanted to destroy America.
And one of the things that Wes and Gladys did was to sign up on all these different mailing lists with different right-wing organizations and they would get their direct mail pieces. And you could see how the poo-bahs of the right — Richard Viguerie, Paul Weyrich, who were developing the apparatus that would put Ronald Reagan in the presidency — how they were communicating with conservative Americans for money and for votes. So in that way, it was quite essential. Back in those days, those pre-internet days, people often acted or were in silos. And if you were not part of that silo, you didn’t make an effort to infiltrate it. You did not know what was happening.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Very true. Before we get back to your book, can you just tell me something about yourself: where you come from, what your interests were, how your career proceeded?
David Corn: Sure. I grew up in White Plains, New York, a suburb outside of New York City. The short explanation is I was a Watergate baby. In high school, I was fascinated by Watergate, and it made me think that you could have an impact in the world politically by going around and asking a lot of questions and writing. I mean, you didn’t have to become a lawyer. You didn’t have to go into government. You didn’t have to be elected to anything. And I always liked the idea of a job that let me do a lot of different things. I guess I was just naturally nosy. And the great thing about being a reporter is you can call up somebody and just say, “Hey, I want you to tell me about…” They can hang up the phone, but sometimes they will. And so it really moved me into journalism, and I did a lot of journalism as a high school student.
In college, I went to Brown University. I spent more time working for the school paper and then an alternative weekly than I often did on my studies. And in those days I was working for this local alternative weekly, which was a big deal in Rhode Island because it’s a very small state; it was the second largest publication after the Providence Journal. And I covered Buddy Cianci, who was a famously corrupt mayor of Providence and a colorful character. I have lots of stories about that. But it was a really great education in terms of political reporting, just by doing rather than by studying.
And I came to D.C., worked a year for Ralph Nader with other notable journalists, Ronald Brownstein and others who were working, doing various investigations for Ralph in those days before he was spoiling Democratic presidential victories. And then I started working at The Nation, freelancing up in New York, and came back down in ’87 as the Washington editor for The Nation magazine, and did that for a while. Then, I don’t know, fifteen years ago, I switched to Mother Jones when they were opening up a bureau with about a dozen people, because I was more or less working on my own at that point for The Nation and I like the idea of being in a very active newsroom and managing it.
And then, along the way, I’ve written a bunch of books. I wrote a book about the CIA called Blond Ghost. I wrote a novel called Deep Background, which is a political thriller about Washington. With Michael Isikoff, I’ve written two books: Hubris, which is about the selling of the Iraq War, and Russian Roulette, which is about the Russian interference attack on the 2016 election and what the Trump campaign did. I wrote a book that I liked a lot called Showdown, sort of an inside look at the Obama administration when he was up against the Tea Party. So that’s me in a bit of a nutshell.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Both The Nation and Mother Jones are publications on the left. Does it seem to you that they have the same political perspective or are there significant differences among them?
David Corn: Oh, I think they’re very different. I wouldn’t say different politically, but different in perspective. I think The Nation is far more of an opinion publication. Not always — when I worked for that, I did a lot of investigative work and so on. But it’s often more about, “How do we think about something? How do we analyze something? What does this mean? What should be happening?” — and all that, guided by progressive, left-of-center principles, sometimes more radical, sometimes more liberal-centrist. And there’s always that tension within The Nation magazine.
Mother Jones was founded by people who had worked for Ramparts, a magazine in the ‘60s, as an investigative entity — primarily reporting what we call enterprise reporting, investigative reporting, and less think pieces, less takes and analyses. It was really like, “What do we want to dig into? Where do we want to apply our journalism?” And so I like to think that in terms of its progressive values which it adheres to, that’s often more about choosing what we look at and what we dig into rather than how we do it. With the advent of the internet, we’ll do some analytical-takey pieces, not too many — I probably do more than most people on the staff —while also trying to do good investigative reporting. But basically, it’s much more a muckraking type of endeavor, in the best sense of the word, than The Nation magazine is. So I think there’s a pretty good cultural split between the two organizations.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Something I’m curious about… I had occasion, when I was writing my last book on the moderate wing of the Republican Party, to have to look up old issues of Mother Jones, because they had actually done some really sophisticated reporting — in many cases, the only reporting that there was — on intra-Republican splits and somewhat offbeat little movements like the time, I think it was in the 1990s, when former Republican California Congressman Pete McCloskey started a movement called “The Revolt of the Elders,” trying to get the really polluting Republican, conservative members out of Congress. And has this focus on Republican dissent been part of Mother Jones’ beat, or did these just happen to be stories that piqued the interest of some reporter or other?
David Corn: That’s a good question. In the last ten years or so, I think we’ve paid a lot of attention to the impact of extremists, of the far-right Republicans and conservatives, on the party. There’s been less of a split to write about because there’s been less of a split. I think we’re always looking for ways to understand mainstream politics without writing about them in a mainstream way. My guess is I’m not sure that was one of the top five missions from Mother Jones to fulfill, to focus on intra-party Republican differences or conflict. But it certainly falls overall into what we’ve done. I mean, I remember Mother Jones — that was before I was there — just spent a lot of time too digging into Newt Gingrich as he rose to be Speaker and did stories on him that nobody else had done.
And that’s really what I’m most proud about with Mother Jones, particularly in the age of the internet. Opinions are like backsides — I’m being polite here — everybody has one. And once the internet came about, places like The Nation magazine, the National Review, where you would go to for think pieces, analysis from a left or right perspective on politics, international affairs — while they still remained important and useful, they were less important and less useful because you can find so much of that stuff now elsewhere. Think of all the bloggers who came up and just said, “I’m smart. I can think this through. I don’t have to get published in The Nation or the National Review. I can just put it up myself.” And the ones who did a good job of that ended up developing audiences and went on to become Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias and others.
But digging out information and presenting and finding things that don’t otherwise exist, wouldn’t otherwise exist in the information ecosphere — to me, that’s what I’m most proud of when I do that or when Mother Jones does that. That really is the core of our ethos. So much journalism would happen one way or the other, and what I’m always looking for in journalism is, “Okay, if you hadn’t done this, then the public wouldn’t know. Period.” Now, if you say who John McCain is picking for his vice-presidential candidate an hour before someone else says that, okay, fine, you got a scoop, big deal. But we’re all going to know when Sarah Palin walks out. But when you reveal something that otherwise would have stayed unrevealed, usually because some power doesn’t want it revealed, that to me is the height of journalism. That’s what we aim to do as much as possible at Mother Jones.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: To return to your book, it seems to me that your thesis, if I can restate what you just said, is that Donald Trump didn’t invent this process of the Republican Party cultivating extremism and tribalism, conspiracy theories, other dark forces in American life. This has been a complicated dance between party leadership and these dark forces that extends back at least seventy years to the Barry Goldwater Republican presidential campaign of 1964. What I found myself wondering as I was reading the book was… I wonder if you think there’s been more continuity than change in that relationship over time? In crude terms, did we get Donald Trump because the Republican Party and the conservative movement (or extremism) have always been engaged in this kind of dance? Or were there forces at work in the past did a better job of containing the dark side, and maybe we could have avoided Trump if those forces had been better maintained?
David Corn: My answer’s going to be something in between those two poles. And I actually start mostly with McCarthyism. When you had Dwight Eisenhower, who hated McCarthy, thought he was a scoundrel, knew he was a scoundrel… McCarthy had redbaited his good friend, George C. Marshall, who was Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense and had been a fellow general of Eisenhower in World War II. Together they had saved democracy and the world. When McCarthy starts accusing Marshall of being a communist spy or dupe or agent of Russia, Eisenhower knew. And he had thought long and hard about trying to distance the party from McCarthy and even disavow McCarthy when they were running together in 1952, when McCarthy was up for election as a senator from Wisconsin and Eisenhower was first running for president.
And he ended up taking a step in that direction, and all the poo-bahs of the Republican Party — including the chairman of the party, Sherman Adams, who was governor of New Hampshire, but also Eisenhower’s chief of staff and top aide — they all convinced him not to: “Don’t break with McCarthy. If you do, we might have trouble winning Wisconsin in the general election.” And probably more importantly, McCarthy had brought a lot of Catholics who had previously been Democrats into the Republican Party with his harsh and I would say irresponsible anti-communism, and they didn’t want to lose those people. And so Eisenhower took a dive. And he said, “Okay, I’m not going to say what I believe about McCarthy and McCarthyism.” And that to me is sort of where things begin.
And then you have from that point on different Republican presidents and different Republican candidates fine-tuning or attenuating or just figuring out how to situate themselves with the far right. And it could be segregationist, it could be… You mentioned in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s the John Birch Society, which was a group of paranoid people who really believed there was a communist under every bed, inside every PTA, inside every union, inside every magazine, every university. It was reds, reds, reds. They were run by a former candy manufacturer named Robert Welch who believed (and wrote) that Eisenhower himself was a communist agent. And he would say, “80% of America is now controlled by communists out of Moscow.” It was kind of like QAnon, but without the sex trafficking and baby eating. It was that far out. Weather machines… And of, course the Civil Rights movement was nothing but communists, instigators. There was nothing to the fight that was real.
And they were called, by William F. Buckley and others, “the kooks.” But they were very active within the Republican Party. They donated a lot of money, they bought a lot of subscriptions to the National Review. And they were part of the engine of the burgeoning modern conservative movement in the ‘50s that rose with William F. Buckley’s starting the National Review and the Young Americans for Freedom. There was a lot of overlap between these things and the Birchers.
You have, in ‘64, Goldwater refusing to disavow them because he wanted them as foot soldiers in his campaign. They were very important in California for some reason, and that was where he was up against Nelson Rockefeller in the primary, and that was really the primary that was going to decide the election. And he would not disavow these people who were going door-to-door for him and giving him a lot of money. He really wanted them almost explicitly part of the campaign.
And then he refused at the convention, when Rockefeller and others wanted to put in a plank in the platform to distance the party from the John Birch Society, he and the delegates said no, and they fought it and won. And it was on national TV and it made the party look awful, like they were in the hands of the John Birch Society. And then the day after this fight, Goldwater, gets up there and says, “Extremism in the name of liberty is no vice,” “in the defense of liberty is no vice.” He just used the word “extremism” exactly the wrong way at the wrong time. And so that was a very explicit symbiosis, you can say, between the far right and Goldwater.
In other eras, it was either more subtle or kept more to the side. Nixon, to get the nomination, cut a deal with Strom Thurman and segregationists not to talk about Negroes and not to nominate a vice president who would be sympathetic to civil rights. He got that deal with Strom Thurman and some of the most virulent segregationists. And then he said, “I cut no deal.” He lied. In the late ‘70s, Ronald Reagan rose to power by embracing the evangelical right, which at that time was really — I mean, maybe you can say about it now too — incredibly far right and full of fanatics who, again, believed civil rights was a communist plot and who characterized liberals and Democrats as satanic and wanting to destroy America.
And also they had formed the Moral Majority at that point. And leaders of the Moral Majority — leaders, people in leadership roles — were saying that gay people should be killed under God’s law. And so, Reagan was bear-hugging these people and saying, “You’re part of my coalition,” and going to their conferences and speaking to them and saying, “You can’t endorse me, but I endorse you.” There was real bear-hugging there.
In later years, you see some degree of distancing. George W. Bush is a good example. He’s running in 2000. The Republicans had lost in ’96, and lot of it was blamed on Pat Buchanan and the convention they had that looked like all this talk about culture war and bringing in far-right ideas and extremists. And George W. Bush, his whole shtick was, “I’m a compassionate conservative. I’m not a crazy conservative. We saw these guys got their asses kicked.” He gave a few speeches early in the campaign in which he actually distanced himself from Pat Robertson and the Christian right — and also even from non-religious conservatives, as when he would say, “It’s pretty clear a lot of people in my party don’t care about the poor, and we really should. People who cut the budget without thinking about poor people” — so, again, compassionate conservatism.
And he thought he was sailing to victory in the 2000 primary contest, and then he hit New Hampshire. John McCain beat him. And the first thing he did was to go down to South Carolina and give a talk at Bob [Jones] University, where black and white students were not allowed to marry, and where they were taught that Catholicism is satanic. I mean, this is very far-right evangelical Christian conservatism. And he gave a speech there. He refused to distance himself from the ideology of the university. And that was his way of mobilizing the Christian right and Pat Robertson, the Christian Coalition in South Carolina, to beat back the threat from John McCain. And it worked.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: I agree that this dynamic has long been present in the Republican Party. But I was struck by a quote that you had in your book. When Eisenhower was in Wisconsin and was thinking about repudiating Joe McCarthy, he was talked out of it by not just his aides but also by the Republican governor of Wisconsin, Walter Koehler, who said to Eisenhower, “Are we going to win an election or aren’t we?” And it seems to me that no politician ever really believes that they can cut loose a significant segment of their party’s electorate, even if they vehemently disagree with them, and still win. And it would be great if George W. Bush had refrained from pandering to Bob Jones University in order to defeat John McCain. But he thought he was going to lose that South Carolina primary to McCain and therefore he had to resort to these kinds of expedients. It seems that this is typical politician behavior across time, isn’t it, in some ways?
David Corn: Well, I think… Unfortunately, I think it is. I’m not saying that these are exceptional acts. I’m saying this is indeed a pattern. And to stay with young George Bush for a moment… Pat Robertson, who he was really trying to energize at that time because Pat Robertson had the Christian Coalition which had claimed hundreds of thousands of voters, and it was very strong, particularly in South Carolina, some southern states… Pat Robertson had promoted a conspiracy theory that was anti-Semitic, combined all the elements of every conspiracy theory out there: The Masons, the Illuminati, the Rothschild banking family… And they all were trying to impose this cabal. This planetary cabal was trying to impose a collectivist dictatorship on the world called the New World Order, and one of its agents was a guy named George H. W. Bush.
He wrote a whole book — it’s right behind me — called The New World Order. It sold a couple hundred thousand copies. It was a bestseller. So here he is out there promoting deranged, deranged, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and George H. W. Bush attends his conferences for the Christian Coalition. The Republican Party flocks to them. They give the Christian Coalition money so it can organize its electorate. And now we’re talking about year 2000, a few years later, and this is who George W. Bush is embracing — the guy who called his father a satanic dupe, part of a global plot — to win. And yet you can say, “Oh, this is just what politicians do.” But at the same time, I think they should be held accountable and we should realize that they are indeed doing this. And that by doing that, Bush, who claims to be compassionate, is legitimizing some of the most fringe elements of American society.
And I would argue… I don’t do this so much in the book, but I would argue that if we look at the tribalism that everyone moans about today, that each iteration of this along the way is contributing to that. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh did that a few years earlier. The Tea Party, which came out in 2009 and ’10, did it then. That’s another good example. You had this fellow named Glenn Beck, who became sort of the unofficial leader of the Tea Party. And he’d have this show on Fox News and he would be out there saying that Barack Obama is setting up death camps, death panels, and that his plan is basically to wreck the U.S. economy so he can impose a dictatorship and declare himself emperor for life.
Now, he did this with a whiteboard and with what he claimed was evidence and connecting this dot to that dot. I mean, he was serious about this. And Fox had him on in the evenings talking about this. But more importantly from the perspective of my book — because my book is not about conservative nuttery, it’s about the interaction between the GOP and conservative nuttery — John Boehner, Sarah Palin, and all these other Republican leaders were going on Beck’s show, thus validating and authenticating his crazy conspiracy theories, which are going out to people. It’s radicalizing people with misinformation and disinformation.
And if you really believe what he’s saying, well then you can’t in the Senate talk about compromises on an immigration bill. If Obama’s about to impose a dictatorship and the Democrats are with him, you’re going to argue about the finer points of amnesty or tax policy or housing or energy security or retirement security? No. So you can be a politician and you can say, “This is what I have to do to be elected.” But if you do that and you say that and you make that calculation, well then don’t come running to me and say you’re a statesman who cares about these other things.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: I think it is very true that over time the GOP’s embrace and legitimization of these really out-there extremist beliefs has made it all but impossible for them to govern. Because they’re incapable of actually negotiating and compromising with the Democrats — because that is seen as a kind of treason. I should add for the benefit of prospective future readers of your book that there’s actually quite a lot of colorful conservative nuttery, both in the conservative movement as well as in the Republican Party, in your book. For example, at one point, you describe an interview you did with Republican Senator James Inhofe, I think of Oklahoma, who told you that the climate change cabal was led by Barbra Streisand. And you said you thought he was completely serious about that.
David Corn: Well, at first I thought he was joking. This was at the annual global climate change conferences that the UN sponsors, in 2009 I believe, in Copenhagen. Obama was there. It was a pretty big deal at the time. And [Inhofe] was there as someone who was opposed to any action on climate change and believed it was a hoax. I remember going up to him and saying, “So it’s your position that the thousands” — and there were thousands of people there — “the thousands of people here, the scientists, the policy people, and the politicians have all been duped? That this isn’t real, that they’ve all been let astray?” And he said, “Yes.”
I go, “Okay. Well, who’s doing this?” And he goes, “Well, you’ve got to look at Hollywood, Hollywood and the Democrats and the liberals.” I kind of said, “Okay, so Hollywood, the liberals, they’ve managed to fool all the scientists who are here?” And he goes, “Yeah.” I go, “Okay. Who’s in charge of this?” And he said, “Barbra Streisand.” And I thought he was joking. I said, “Really? I’ve met her one or two times and she seems kind of smart. But she’s the diabolical force that has totally moved the world into this false reality?” And he said, “Yes.” I really did not know what to ask him after that.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: We all await the Yentl apocalypse. Are you harder though, in a moral sense, on someone who genuinely believes this stuff, or the people like Ted Cruz, of whom Donald Trump said his father was part of the plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy and Trump also for good measure called Cruz’s wife ugly? Cruz knows better, and yet he bent the knee and helped in that measure to legitimize Trump. Who comes out worse in your moral accounting there?
David Corn: That’s a good question. I’m always wondering what people believe and what they don’t believe. Obviously people who are craven hypocrites I think you can hold to more account here. I think of someone like… We talked about Dwight Eisenhower, who by many accounts was a decent fellow, who was not an ideologue, and kind of saved democracy before he became president. But let’s talk about Mitt Romney for a second. By all accounts, Mitt Romney is a fine fellow. I know people who’ve worked for him, and they tell wonderful stories about his character as a boss, as a colleague. And we’ve seen him stand up in the last few years and take some very unpopular positions within the Republican Party. So he does seem to have somewhat of a guiding lodestar of principle there.
But let’s just go back a few years to 2011, when he’s running for president and he’s in a tough Republican primary. It’s at the time of the Tea Party rising, and a lot of candidates are trying to get that Tea Party energy to get the nomination. Now, they all happen to be morons: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Newt Gingrich — who’s not a moron, but despicable for other reasons. And none of them are coalescing. Herman Cain… They’re all going up in the polls, down in the polls.
But Mitt still wants that conservative support. He needs some element of it. And so what does he do? He goes to Las Vegas, to Trump Hotel, and he literally hugs Donald Trump as Donald Trump endorses him. At this point in time, Donald Trump was the king of the racist birther conspiracy theory. That had put him on the map for conservatives, because up to then his politics were all over the place. He supported abortion rights and the Clintons. But coming out after Obama on the basis of this irrational conspiracy theory, even after it had widely been knocked out of the park, made him a conservative champion.
Mitt Romney, who stayed away from birtherism, although he kept saying that Obama did not believe in American exceptionalism and kept saying that he didn’t understand America — which at the time I thought (and I could argue now) was sort of a racist dig at othering Obama… I don’t know how you look at a guy who’s biracial, grew up in Hawaii, and then ends up running for president, how he doesn’t believe in the American dream.
But in any event, when he embraced Trump and gave Trump the Mitt Romney good housekeeping seal of approval, that indicated to me, to your point, that these guys would do anything they think will get them elected. And that even means legitimizing somebody who — I don’t know whether he saw it this way, but he certainly knew that Trump was wrong about birtherism and did not deserve to be amplified.
You saw the same thing with McCain and Sarah Palin, when he picked her, and then she started birtherizing Obama in a lot of different ways and “palling around with terrorists.” And the McCain campaign said, “You keep going.” When he was asked, he said, “Obama’s a good American.” But Sarah Palin had these rallies… I don’t know if you got to any of them, Geoff. I did as a reporter, and I was there with other reporters who had been covering politics for decades like I had, and we had never ever been to a presidential rally where there was so much vitriol and hatred and extremism. Sarah Palin would say, “Obama’s not a real American,” and people would shout, “Kill him! Kill him!” McGovern never said that about Nixon. Dukakis never said that about Bush, although Bush challenged Dukakis’ patriotism. But people didn’t yell, “Kill him!” And this was like a new step forward in some ways.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Let me still ask a devil’s advocate kind of question here… So America is a big country, a very diverse country. It has a long history of generally admirable political figures making distasteful compromises. As you mentioned in the book, Abraham Lincoln, in the early days of the Republican Party, had to accept the participation in this new party of Know Nothing extremist bigots. Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Democratic Party hero of the New Deal, joined progressive urban reformers in the Democratic Party and northern African American voters with southern segregationists. And it would be great if he had completely separated himself from those Jim Crow racists, but he didn’t, and he would’ve found the suggestion naive.
And we’re a country that despite our enormous size and diversity only has two political parties. And in some sense being forced into these distasteful compromises seems built into the structure of politics as we have it.
David Corn: Yes, we have a bifurcated political system, so that if you make a triangle with your fingers, everyone has to fall to one side or the other. And each party needs as many people on each side as they can get. That being the case, I argue in the book that this is not a symmetrical issue, that both sides do it. I point out that that’s actually not the case.
There is no equivalent to the John Birch Society in the ‘60s on the left that Lyndon Johnson or Hubert Humphrey reached out to. In fact, a lot of the history of the Democratic Party has been the mainstream of the party distancing itself from the far-left portions of the American political gamut. So it’s not as if Humphrey cut his own deal with segregationists or with the Communist Party, if you try to find something as far to the left as the Birches are to the right.
And if you look at — I mentioned Dukakis and Bush a little while ago… Dukakis said, “I disagree with your policies. I can give better jobs and better wages.” And Bush, feeding off the extremists of his party, said, “You’re not a patriot. You don’t believe in America.” And he appealed to the people who had supported Ronald Reagan to get them to do that.
There’s no equivalent to the Tea Party. Even Occupy Wall Street never became an electoral movement for a Democrat to figure out how to bring in even if he thought they were too excessive. Marjorie Taylor Greene, today as we’re talking, is on front page of the New York Times, how she is now bosom buddies with Kevin McCarthy and that they’ve forged this bond and he’s going to stand by her. She’s a QAnoner. She supported the John Birch Society, even in this day and age. She posted memes calling for the execution of Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama. And of course, she went to a white nationalist meeting with Nick Fuentes.
You can’t find people that extreme who are within the Democratic Party, who are in the center of power. Cynthia McKinney was a Democratic member from Georgia, I believe. She became a 9/11 truther, and the party basically threw her out. Well, how many Republicans in the last two years have pushed Big Lie narratives, QAnon BS, deep state BS and have been accepted by the party?
I understand the question was: aren’t people compelled to do what they have to do to get elected? But at the same time, you don’t have this dynamic to this extent on the left with the Democrats as you do with the Republicans.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: So let me make two points of disagreement, not with anything you just said, but with maybe the overall dynamic. I personally feel that the Republican Party and the conservative movement used to have more of a gatekeeping function. And I think of the figure of Bill Buckley on the conservative side. You have mentioned that the John Birch Society was very instrumental in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 campaign, and this actually was a development that Bill Buckley warned Goldwater against. There’s a letter from Buckley in 1963 that I often quote, where Buckley’s writing to a fellow conservative who disagrees with him over Buckley having criticized the John Birch Society in the pages of National Review.
And Buckley wrote, “Our movement has got to grow. It has got to expand by bringing into our ranks those people who are, at the moment, on our immediate left : the moderate, wishy-washy conservatives: the Nixonites. There’s a tremendous vacuum over there. They’re without intellectual or for that matter political leadership. If they think they’re being asked to join a movement whose leadership believes all of the fallacies of Robert Welch, they will pass by what they judge to be Crackpot Alley and will not pause until they feel the warm embrace of those way over on the other side, the liberals.”
And I think that dynamic has held over time. When the Republican Party goes too far in the direction of the extremists, it loses politically. John Boehner did a better job of keeping the extremists at bay than Paul Ryan did. Paul Ryan in turn did a better job than Kevin McCarthy will do. And McCarthy’s having surrendered to the House Freedom Caucus and extremists like Marjorie Taylor Greene sooner rather than later will cost him his speakership as well as Republican advantages in the next election. Does it seem to you that there’s been a failure of this gatekeeping role, or do you think it’s always kind of been more or less the same?
David Corn: The Buckley case is really interesting. I get into that a lot in the book, because originally he was willing to give the Birches something of a break because they were subscribing to him and he was worried. And I quote a letter in the book from Goldwater to Buckley, basically saying, “Let’s not go too hard on the Birchers yet.” And it really wasn’t until after ’64 when he publicly just said, “We’ve got to get rid of the whole movement.” Prior to that, he was willing to attack and criticize Robert Welch, but he kept saying the Birchers themselves are fine, outstanding conservative Americans who care about the right things. So he walked that line for a little bit and then he realized it was not sustainable. And then the letter that you quote became his public position as well. So it’s interesting… There are a couple years there where he had to go through this transition.
And I do think at that time you had moderate Republicans, Gerald Ford and others, who were holding press conferences saying, “We don’t want the Birchers. If they want to be here for what we believe in, yes, we accept anybody. We’re an open party. But we do not endorse them and we don’t want them coming in here and trying to change us.” And then there would be battles at Republican Party conferences about whether to disavow them officially. And they always would end up kind of in a draw, because they couldn’t fully push them away.
I think, obviously, with the rise of the internet and other changes in the political landscape and the media culture, gatekeeping becomes a lot more difficult on all sides, on all accounts. People can still find each other.
Although I tracked this over seventy years, if you look at modern times, starting in the late ’80s and the ’90s with Newt Gingrich coming into the House as a bomb-thrower, saying, “We have to be more tribal. We have to be meaner” — literally. And Rush Limbaugh at the same time is creating this culture on the right of divisiveness, belittling, giving permission for what I would call misogyny, racism, homophobia… That all starts changing the Republican base.
And from there, you go to the Tea Party, which ratchets up everything more. In between, you have the militia movements and the NRA being even more wacky than it was. And by the time you get to Trump, the Republican Party for several decades has been saying that the Democrats, liberals are an evil (sometimes satanic) force trying to destroy the country. And they have all these conspiracy ideas about them, whether it’s Waco being done by the Feds to get gun control, black helicopters, the stuff we talked about earlier about Barack Obama and FEMA detention camps…
And you’ve done all this stuff now for twenty-five years or so. And then Donald Trump comes along, and you have fifteen of what we’re told are the most impressive Republican candidates we have ever seen: “There’s Bobby Jindal, there’s Chris Christie, and of course Jeb! This is the best crop of Republican candidates we’ve ever had. And one has a good education policy, one has a good tax policy, one knows how to do foreign policy, Chris Christie knows how to manage a state.” Donald Trump comes along and says, “We have been throwing red meat to our base for thirty years now. And you think Bobby Jindal’s tax policy is going to cut it? No.” He made a calculation: “I’m going to throw them the reddest meat you’ve ever seen. I’m going to be an abattoir. It’s going to be bloody. And we’re going to see what their tastes are.”
Geoffrey Kabaservice: You say in your book that Trump knew the Republican base better than the party leaders, and I believe that.
David Corn: I think I quote this in the book, there was a rally in which someone stood up and shouted, “Get rid of all the Muslims!” And Trump said, “When I’m elected, we’re going to look into that.” Whoa. I think we’ve been desensitized in some ways. But if you just look at something just like that, that one moment… And he went on Alex Jones’ show and endorsed the biggest conspiracy theorist nut in the land. And then, after he did that, Ted Cruz and others started promoting their own little conspiracy theories, the Jade Helm… I’m not even going to get into the details, it’s too stupid. But some of them started trying to follow Trump.
So I think by the time he comes along — this is a long-winded answer to your question about gate-keeping — there were no more gates to keep anymore. The Republican Party had so radicalized their base and had set them up in such a way that they couldn’t come along and say, “Oh, no, no, no, Donald Trump, no, he’s outside the gate.” No, no, no, they had let everything into the gate. And by now you had a beast running wild and they could not stop him.
And we see that with the election denialism and the endorsement of QAnon, even by Donald Trump. And I hate to say it, right now Trump’s the leading Republican nominee in 2024. No one else has gotten in. And I still believe, if anyone else does, he still has a damn good chance of winning over the base.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Let me descend a little further into devil’s advocacy here. I agree that there is no equivalent on the Democratic political side of the House Freedom Caucus. AOC is not Matt Gaetz. I agree with that. But I also don’t agree that the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are the same in their totality as well as their bases and the forces they’re appealing to in society.
The Republican Party has usually felt in the minority, and in fact has been in the minority. If you look back at the middle of the twentieth century, the Republican Party was shut out of a majority in the House for forty years. And when Newt Gingrich comes along, he actually is appealing to moderates, saying, “I have to do these scorched-earth tactics because otherwise we’re going to have another decade out of power.”
The reason that Ronald Reagan and the other leaders of the Republican establishment embrace the evangelicals is that the Republicans have relatively little support on the ground at the grassroots level, whereas they see the Democrats having all of these advantages through the unions. Republicans, as they see it, have the more unpopular task of trying to rein in government spending, which no one really wants, whereas the Democrats can be Santa Claus, promising endless payoffs. So the Republicans, as they see it, have to shift the debate to culture war.
And in the present day, Republicans and conservatives generally see the Democrats as having complete control of the sectors of the society and the economy and the culture that matter. There are very few conservatives in academia. Outside of Fox News, there’s very few in the media. There’s very few Republicans or conservatives in Hollywood, in the philanthropies, even to some extent in big business now. So they see themselves as being forced into a different strategy than the Democrats, and they can’t afford, as they see it, to take the high road. How would you respond to that?
David Corn: Well, what would your mom say about that? In some ways, you’ve got to…
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Bill Buckley’s mom was a John Bircher, so it’s a complicated question.
David Corn: Do you do something wrong because it helps you situationally? Do you endorse extremism, basically endorse falsehoods? Do you in essence lie to gain an advantage or make up for a disadvantage? If they want to be honest about this, that’s fine, and say this. But I don’t think you can pretend to be noble here and then engage with extremists who have a deleterious effect on society. And look where it’s led. It led to January 6th. It led to… And it’s not just, “Okay, we cut a deal with some evangelicals and they go away.” No, we now have a society in which tens of millions of Americans don’t believe in elections and don’t accept election results.
So this tactic of reaching out to extremists — and kowtowing to them, giving them false information, paranoid narratives, accentuating their grievances — has led to a threat to democracy itself. So yeah, okay, maybe you can win the house — I mean house with a small H — but you’re burning it down at the same time. And there are plenty of examples in world history when people do that, and people put their own political interests ahead of communal interests, and you end up in terribly ugly situations. And I think it’s incredibly tough for democracies — which tend to be fragile because they’re open and free and they allow for all sorts of variances — to be threatened and torn apart by this stuff.
So as I say, I understand why they do it. But I do believe that part of being human is to be judgy, is to render moral judgments and evaluations of what you see in life. And that of course you can look at this from a logical perspective, but from a logical perspective if you have to cheat to win, and that’s the only way you can win, then people are going to say, “Well then, you cheat.” And so while this may or may not be literally cheating, it is often wrong. And to endorse narratives and falsehoods and misinformation that you know is not true, particularly that which riles up people and create more divisions than less divisions, that make it harder for government to work — I’m comfortable saying that’s a bad thing. Shame on you.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: So what is to be done? What is to be done, David? What is the way forward?
David Corn: That’s a really good question. And one reason I wrote the book is that I think if you understand where we’ve been, it makes it easier to try to think about where we should go or what can be done. If it was just as simple as Trump pushed a button and changed everything, okay, you get rid of Trump. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think these are deep-rooted problems that have been there and have waxed and waned, and also grown for over seventy years.
So what happens? We’ve had political parties blow up in the past in this country. The Whigs, Federalists, others have come and gone because they were not sustainable. Is that what’s going to have to happen with the Trumpified Republican Party? Is it possible for it to transform itself without a complete implosion?
In the near term, I think that part of the problem is not the Republican Party, it’s not Donald Trump, it’s the American public. The fact that 30, 40, 50, 60 million Americans, whatever the number might be, believe the Trump narratives or they are drawn to QAnon… There was a poll a couple months ago. 40% of Republicans said they believe that Democrats were pedophiles who had engaged in sex trafficking. Whoa. So 40% of Republicans — that would be 40% of 33%, so that’s like 12% of the population — believes this. Those people can’t be reasoned with. You can’t win them over because you give them better policy. And I’m thinking of the Trump camp, people who believe the Big Lie and believe Obama was a secret Muslim socialist born in Kenya — I don’t know, 20, 30% of the population.
I think a near-term solution is that people who believe (just to keep it simple) in reality, in honest political discourse, have to find a way to segregate, constrain — containment theory, like George Kennan and the Soviets — this other part of the country, and work around them and find a way to enhance our democratic systems and see if there is any way to raise our political discourse, which keeps getting worse. And I’m not sure we can reverse direction there.
But it needs to be sort of supra-ideological, so it’s not partisan, not ideological. I can’t believe these days that I’m on the same side as Bill Kristol. Working at The Nation magazine and raising questions about the Iraq war invasion before the war, I always looked at him, people like him, as a political foe, as an enemy. And the things we fought about were foundational and fundamental, and never the twain shall meet. Occasionally there could be a compromise here or there, and that was fine.
But now when I talk to him and talk to… It was very interesting, when my book came out, talking to Charlie Sykes, Rick Wilson, Joe Scarborough — call them recovering Republicans, whatever you want to — but who still think of themselves as conservatives in terms of their ideology, their view of the world. And you just realized, “Okay, you may want to cut taxes, I may want to increase taxes, but we can’t really argue about this if we have people attacking the Capitol.”
And so I think there has to be a greater recognition amongst the 70 percent of Americans who see the other 30 percent as destructive to the American project, to American democracy. And the first priority is keeping them at bay and putting our other arguments somewhat on the back burner for the time being, and hoping… A lot of American voters aren’t engaged in this type of debate or in looking at the world this way, but I think those who are have to basically win them over, and just say, “Okay, you just need to understand what the threat is, how serious it is, and how we’re all trying to work together to preserve democracy and enhance our political discourse. And we need you to be a part of that.”
Geoffrey Kabaservice: I think your temporary rapprochement or alliance with the likes of Bill Kristol and Charlie Sykes has clarified that at base both American liberalism and American conservatism are devoted to liberal democracy. But on the other hand, I’m not quite sure what people on the left can do about the fight that has to take place on the right between those who support liberal democracy and those who don’t.
David Corn: I think you’re correct about that. That is an internal fight in the Republican Party, and that’s a fight that we don’t have a say in. But I’m talking about just in terms of thinking coalitionally, and thinking in terms of a popular front, and the left doing everything it can to try to be a constructive part of that while conservatives and people to the right are splitting on the issue of Trumpism and autocracy, authoritarianism, and so forth. And so that we can, perhaps in the words of our children, we can be “good allies” as this fight engages. But I do think right now, I can’t tell… Tell me, my turn to ask you a question before we end. What do you foresee ahead for the Republican Party on this front?
Geoffrey Kabaservice: It seems to me that right now acting crazy on the Republican side, and going against the establishment, and going against the underpinnings of American greatness (if you want to put it that way) will benefit your political career at the same time that they make life worse for everyone else. And I think we have to realign the incentives so that good behavior is rewarded on the Republican side rather than bad behavior.
But I also think there probably are structural reforms that need to be made to the way that American democracy is conducted. I don’t think the founders had any idea that we would end up in a situation where there would be two parties that were completely split on issues of geography and income and race. And this is a situation that is only made worse by partisan primaries. I think there’s something to be done on that. And I’m actually hopeful that such reforms can be effected, because after all, as the last Congress was on its way out, it actually did pass Electoral Count Act reform, which is shutting down one of the vulnerabilities in the constitutional system that people like Donald Trump had tried to exploit.
David Corn: Yeah, I’m there with a lot of that. And there’ll be no magic bullet, no one single thing, no switch will be thrown that will win the day. But if folks just… I think just seeing the threat, recognizing the threat, thinking seriously about the threat, is really important. And it’s tough. We live in a world where everybody’s being bombarded every day by tens of thousands of different messages and different impressions. We don’t watch TV channels anymore, we all stream different things. Some people, a minority of Americans, watch Fox and MSNBC and CNN. Everybody else gets their news in dollops off of Facebook, social media, or their Uncle Charlie. And it becomes very hard to knit together a national cohesion.
And while it seems much easier for the divisions that you mentioned earlier, that we thought in some ways we were maybe making progress on in terms of… “overcoming” is a big word, but let’s say contending with — those divisions are indeed deep, and in some ways I think have deepened over the past few years. And it’s a continual battle.
I’ll make this my final point. I think we often think of, get caught by, the conceit of progress: that as a society, as individuals, as families, we are all kind of making progress. And sometimes it feels that way, and that’s often good. And some things there have been tremendous progress on. But progress is never really permanent. The things that you overcome don’t go away fully, they just change. They may lessen. And I think we’re learning — it’s all the stupid, hokey cliché stuff — that preserving democracy is not a given. And we see this around the world.
And so I’m really happy that I can talk to people across what used to be ideological lines, to discuss matters like this. I was really happy that some former Republicans read my book, which is an indictment of the Republican Party prior to Trump as well. It’s not just, “Oh, things have gotten bad and now it’s bad to be Republican.” It’s like, this was always there.
And Republicans have read it, Never Trump-er Republicans. And they I think have dealt with it honestly and have considered that what happened, while they were Republicans in good standing and happy and proud to be Republicans, helped contribute to where we are today. So I take that as a sign of optimism. The fact that Herschel Walker only got 48% of the vote instead of 50%… Well, let’s take whatever optimism we can get. Because I do think the fight is going to be a long one, and so discouragement and despair ain’t going to help.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: I can’t resist, talking to a friend on the left here, quoting William Morris’ A Dream of John Ball, one of the more famous English socialist novels: “Men fight and lose the battle, and the thing that they fought for comes about in spite of their defeat, and when it comes turns out not to be what they meant, and other men have to fight for what they meant under another name.”
So on that note of relative optimism, let’s conclude. And I also would say that your advice that people get out of their informational bubble is a good one, and therefore I would recommend that moderates and conservatives of good faith also read David Corn’s latest book, American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy. Thank you so much for joining me today, David.
David Corn: Great to be with you. And let me just add that, because I’m promoting my newsletter, that if people want to get a taste of it, a free trial subscription, they can go to davidcorn.com.
Geoffrey Kabaservice: Thank you, David. And thank you all for listening to the Vital Center podcast. Please subscribe and rate us on your preferred podcasting platform. And if you have any questions, comments, or other responses, please include them along with your rating, or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks as always to our technical director, Kristie Eshelman, our sound engineer, Ray Ingegnieri, and the Niskanen Center in Washington, D.C.