Episode 69: The Rise of the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend

Citations Needed | March 13, 2019 | Transcript


Intro: This is Citations Needed with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson.

Nima Shirazi: Welcome to Citations Needed, a podcast on the media, power, PR and the history of bullshit. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam Johnson: I’m Adam Johnson.

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Nima: Yeah. Thanks everyone for listening. It’s a trope that dates back more than a decade, but the rise of Senator Bernie Sanders and House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has seen a recent surge in, what we’re calling the Liberal’s “Inexplicable Republican Best Friend,” a specific genre of concern trolling where a long-time Republican operative, politician or pundit offers supposedly well-intentioned “advice” to Democrats about how they can win elections, which always relies on, get this, avoiding veering “too far left.”

Adam: These takes — frequently featured as earnest appeals in liberal and centrist outlets — are ostensibly framed as straight-talk advice that should be accepted as objectively in the Democrats’ best interest, and never presented as an ideological argument that would otherwise make sense coming from a right-winger. “Republican hates socialism” isn’t that newsworthy of a headline, whereas “GOP operative identifies Democrats’ best interests,” somehow is. As with most ideological scams, it only travels in one direction: leftward. One seldom hears liberals or leftists give “advice” to Republicans about they ought to do to win. This isn’t a posture they ever mimic, or they’d be laughed out of the room.

Nima: Somehow the inverse is never true. Anti-choice, climate change denying, racist, rape apologist, warmongering, overpaid mercenary GOP “strategists” are treated like objective, neutral voices simply looking out for the best interests of the very people and institutions they’ve spent literally their entire careers trying to destroy. Later on the show, we will be joined by Huffington Post reporter Ashley Feinberg.

[Begin Clip]

Ashley Feinberg: They want to return to a world where they can espouse the same sort of racist ideas and same sort of racism against like Arabs, but and in respectable tones, that sound like they’re not actually just being racist ghouls who want to murder everyone who’s not white. And convincing Democrats to like to pick that language back up and to start pushing for those ideas and words that sound adult and grown up and aren’t calling for guillotines essentially is how they get there.

[End Clip]

Adam: So yeah, this is something that we’ve noted for quite a while, but I think it’s, it’s such its own thing that it really needs its own dissection which is this idea that the moderate, typically moderate or anti-Trump Republican, although not always, when they become a punt it for some reason it becomes their role to sort of help out Democrats and to sort of give this seemingly good faith advice about how Democrats can win and 99 times out of 99 times this always involves them being Republicans, which is a slight conflict of interest.

Nima: Right. I feel like actually there’s been a few of our recent shows work together. There’s the electability episode, there’s our conversation about vetting with Thomas Frank and now this show on again what we are calling the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend, of the Democrats, of the Democrat leaning voter, that somehow the advice given by these literal Republican strategist ghouls, the very people like from Nicole Wallace to Steve Schmidt to Max Boot to Bret Stephens that like we’re going to go into some of these examples on the show of this kind of advice and it is always somehow considered to be something anyone should pay attention to. That somehow when they give this advice in writing on TV that it’s like a serious thing because they really care about how Democrats are going to be winning elections? Like the reason they have the platforms they have is because they are Republicans.

Adam: Yeah. Let’s listen to this MSNBC clip from February 22nd of 2019 where conservative columnist A.B. Stoddard plays the role of the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend.

[Begin Clip]

Stephanie Ruhle: Why isn’t that a way that they could start to pull Republican voters?

A.B. Stoddard: This is, look, the the party is far more concerned about the direction of the, of the party. I mean, not everyone in the party is concerned, but big donors and big party leaders are very concerned about the narrative that’s developing this anti-Israel, anti-prosecutor, anti-billionaire, anti-airplane, pro-infanticide, anti-Semitic and that there’s no one in the race pushing back on this except for maybe Klobuchar. That’s why they want these other people to get in.

Jason Johnson: [Overtalking]

Stephanie Ruhle: Hold on. Hold on.

A.B. Stoddard: They don’t want to be a punchline in Donald Trump’s rallies this early in what is expected to be a very lengthy process that could go into next May.

Jason Johnson: Donald Trump.

Stephanie Ruhle: Hold on Jason. To that point, if you turn on Fox News at 9:00pm at night, they ain’t talking about Amy Klobuchar because she’s a real threat. They’re talking about the extreme left and saying how unAmerican it is and it’s a threat to the country and whether or not you agree with that millions of people watch that at night.

A.B. Stoddard: And they want the never Trump Republicans. That’s what the Democrats want-

Stephanie Ruhle: Some people are tired of the president, they’re disillusioned with him and those votes are available. They are not available to the extreme left.

[End Clip]

Adam: So this is hilarious on like 18 different levels. Now normally when a conservative columnist who says Democrats are pro-killing children, pro-infanticide, I think a normal human being, some alarm bells would go off that maybe this person is not giving advice in good faith, that maybe they’re sort of pushing a narrative that Democrats are a bunch of kooks and a bunch of crazies. But this somehow doesn’t occur to Stephanie Ruhle, former investment banker, almost certainly multimillionaire herself, who then says the rather dubious observation that Republicans want to elevate Ocasio-Cortez and then they ignore Amy Klobuchar because they’re scared of her because she’s a moderate or something. It’s all very confusing.

Nima: Well, right that the real threat is the one that you pretend isn’t a threat and so you ignore it. Which I know is, you know, when we look at our media landscape, being silent about threats is really something that literally never happens.

Adam: Yeah. Like I hate something so much we never talk about it? Like, this is why MSNBC doesn’t talk about Trump because they’re not scared of him.

Nima: Because they just want them to succeed actually.

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: So, no. The idea that Republicans are boosting the platforms or boosting the profiles of like a Bernie or an AOC simply because, you know, the Republican gambit is to make that the face of the Democratic Party, the idea that that could be looked on as anything, but like, no, I think actually voices like those are the voice of the Democratic Party and that it’s the Klobuchars who are like scrambling to find their place because they’re like, ‘oh, it always used to work when I was just a Republican with the letter D next to my name, that used to be the way this career worked.’

Adam: And this happens all the fucking time. So lest you think that we’re making this up, we’re going to list you off a series of examples of this trope over the last few months.

Nima: Joe Scarborough writing in The Washington Post on February 11th, 2019 was talking about the centrist Democratic senator from Colorado Michael Bennet and wrote this, “Michael Bennet Could Be the Answer to the Question Every Democrat Is Asking.”

Adam: Republican pollster, quote unquote “pollster” and operative Ed Goeas, he wrote an article in the hill, GOP Pollster Warns Progressives Could Inflict Long-Term Damage to Dems,” in which he warns that the party is quote unquote “moving left.”

Nima: The National Review promoted their article written by Michael Brendan Dougherty, which Council Democrats to uh, “Avoid talking about impeachment and stick to simple bread-and-butter issues.” The National Review promoted that article on Twitter in February saying this “As centrists, Democrats would clean up in 2020, but instead, it’s leftward ho!”

Adam: Headline from The National Review’s Rich Lowry, “Joe Biden is a gaffe-prone 75-year-old Washington veteran — who is exactly what Democrats need,” a then he goes on to say, quote, “The play for Democrats should be obvious…. Go with Joe Biden or someone like him with a Midwestern or working-class sensibility.” Working class there not at all being racialized.

Nima: Of course, of course. And then one of our very favorites, Max Boot, conservative columnist Max Boot, neocon ghoul wrote in The Washington Post on February 13th, 2019, “Democrats Need to Beware Their Loony Left.” And Boot goes on to write that Democrats need not, quote, “turn themselves into the far-left caricatures that Trump and Fox News would like them to become.”

Adam: Lee Atwater protege Rick Wilson on February 19, 2019 said quote, “Bernie Sanders is Trump reelection insurance. ‘The solution to Trumpism is a crusty 80-year-old professor of socialist poetry from Bennington Community College,’ said no one, ever. Why not just declare the Sanders/Gabbard ticket now and bring the doom early?”

Nima: And then a little bit of unsolicited advice from Republicans in the form of GOP political strategist and blogger Patrick Ruffini. This is back in August of 2018 offered up this choice bit of wisdom to the Democrats that I’m sure he really wants to help out. And it was this quote, “A good 2020 Dem would: 1) Support charter schools 2) Oppose repealing Obamacare (President Obama’s signature domestic achievement) with single payer 3) Repeal tariffs but not tax cuts.”

Adam: Republican lawyer, Chris Truax in USA Today in December of 2018 wrote an Op-Ed with the headline, “Dear Democrats, please forgo progressive payback in 2020. We just need to land the plane.” In which he would go on to say, “I am speaking to you as one American to another about what our country needs.” And then he says that it’s important that the progressive agenda not succeed because it would create a “permanent political canker sore.” We could keep going on and on. James Comey does this all the time.

Nima: Yeah. One of my favorites actually is the James Comey tweet from July 22nd, 2018 so now, you know, new liberal hero, James Comey, Trump adversary, FBI chief, um, liberal hero, right? So Comey tweeted this out in July and it was picked up and promoted all over the place in liberal circles as being like this call to action. And he tweeted this, quote, “Democrats, please, please don’t lose your minds and rush to the socialist left. This president and his Republican Party are counting on you to do exactly that. America’s great middle wants sensible, balanced, ethical leadership.”

Adam: Ana Navarro is a huge fan of this. Ana Navarro the pro-Contra, her father was a Contra, pro-Reagan, pro-Bush, is constantly talking about the needs, the need for the Democratic Party to pander to the Contra-wing of the Republican Party. She said, quote, “This isn’t a priority for D primary voters, but to beat Trump — which is my priority — need to nominate someone who can appeal to Right leaning Indies + Republicans in Exile. I’ll vote for anyone, a mannequin over Trump. But not everyone will. Truth is, Warren repels many of us (shrug emoji).” So she’s super concerned with the well-being of the Democratic Party that she’s not a member of.

Nima: Right. No, exactly. Then you have Juleanna Glover writing in Politico in December of 2018, a piece that ran with the headline, “Biden Should Run on a Unity Ticket with Romney.” Which was, you know, clearly for the best interest of the Democratic Party, I’m sure.

Adam: This is someone who was an advisor to George H.W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Jeb! Bush. So she clearly has the, uh, the best interest of Democrats in mind being that she’s a Republican.

Nima: One of our very favorites who does this all the time is Bret Stephens, former Wall Street Journal columnist, now New York Times columnist. He’s a climate change denying, college rape downplaying, anti-Arab, pro-war columnist. And he really loves giving advice to Democrats, Democrats who let it be said that it’s very clear he despises, has hated this party and everything that it stands for, for his entire writing career. And yet he’s the one offering up this advice. So for example, you get in July of 2018 Stephens publishing a column in the Times headlined, “Rules for Beating Donald Trump.” And it’s this list of six rules for Democrats, you know, don’t pretend that the economy isn’t great, like actually talk about good things that are happening. Other things about don’t like freak out too much like, you know, don’t do any sort of, the world is ending stuff because things aren’t really that bad. And it’s like, well, yeah, for Bret Stephens, it isn’t that bad. I don’t think his child was taken away from him and forced into a cage in a concentration camp. But Bret Stephens sixth and final rule is this, “People want leaders. Not ideologues. Not people whose life experiences have been so narrow that they’ve been able to maintain the purity of their youthful ideals. Not people whose principal contact with political life comes in the form of speeches and sound bites rather than decisions and responsibilities. Not people who think proving a point is tantamount to getting something done, or who mistake pragmatism and bipartisan compromise with selling out. There’s a word for these sorts of people: governors.”

Adam: And he was so obsessed with pushing this narrative that the day after the midterm results, he rushed to write it as a disappointment for Democrats. Uh, his article on November 8th, 2018 read, quote, “The Midterm Results Are a Warning to the Democrats,” subhead was, “Stop manning imaginary barricades, and start building real bridges to the other America.” The implication being: be more like Republicans. Be more like the thing that I want to do as a Republican and as a conservative, be more like the thing that represents my interest, which is a totally reasonable thing for someone to want, but it’s not a good faith criticism of Democrats. It’s him saying, ‘I’m an ice cream man and I think the solution is to buy more ice cream.’ It’s like, well yeah, that’s what you, you’re an ice cream man, like that’s what you sell. Like you’re conservative. Of course you want the fucking Democrats to be more conservative, but it’s framed as something that’s good advice. But to make this work, he had to fudge some numbers to give the impression that the Democrats had gone too far left and this is why they had lost the 2018 midterms. But turns out not only did they not really go that far left at all, but they also didn’t really lose the 2018 midterms either.

Nima: Right. It was clear based on the revisions that wound up happening to the article shortly after it was published is that Stephens, you know, clearly wrote this before the actual results of the midterms, right? Like —

Adam: Yes.

Nima: Like this was going to come out. He already had in mind like the midterm results are a warning to the Democrats and it was going to be about scolding them about not being too kooky and wacky and you know, supporting candidates that aren’t centrist, aren’t party hacks. Like that’s what he wants to be the Democrats. So that Republicans who are basically their version of that and they just spar in the middle and whoever you get, will still like bomb the countries that Bret Stephens wants to be bombed. But clearly he had written so much of this before the actual, the actual results came in and they published some of the original numbers that he put into his article, which are just completely wrong and they had to like redo them. So like it was originally published, he said this quote, “The 28-seat swing that gave Democrats control of the House wasn’t even half the 63 seats Republicans won in 2010.” Except those numbers are not correct. So that eventually you’d get the Times updating it to “A 39-seat swing gave Democrats control of the House — a definite gain, but still less than the 63 seats Republicans won in 2011.” Now, I don’t know why it says 2011 there. It’s like they were updating random numbers and, so, they just got stuff wrong.

Adam: He needed the results to fit the narrative, but they didn’t. So he had to sort of contrive it because again, no matter what we’re debating, the answer is always be more conservative. Be more like me.

Nima: To talk more about this we’re going to be joined by Huffington Post reporter Ashley Feinberg. Stay with us.


Nima: We are joined now by Ashley Feinberg, our resident Citations Needed Republican whisperer. Ashley, it’s so great to have you back on the show.

Ashley Feinberg: Thank you.

Adam: So we are talking about a very specific form of Republican concern trolling that was so common it needed its own show and that’s what we’re calling the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend. This is something that is, from my observation, my total unscientific poll, Nima and I sort of tried to gauge this offline, but I think we, we really think been a massive uptick since the rise of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez. And I want you to tell me to what you think the Inexplicable Republican Best Friend appeals to and why liberal, like what part of Liberal and centrist brains, like what is this thing in their brain that requires them to constantly treat these criticisms as sort of good faith advice?

Ashley Feinberg: Well it appeals to Democrats in Congress who are even remotely centrist. I’ve been there for more then two years and it appeals to everyone who thinks they’re the adult in the room and wants to be the reasonable one, the responsible one. And they’re taking ideas seriously and they’re willing to make compromises. And that’s the epitome of political power for them as far as like, but like Dianne Feinstein as I understand it right now.

Nima: Yeah. The idea that politics, especially at this level, is only just slight differentiations of basically the same thing and that we need to just very respectfully disagree. But really, you know, we’re all fighting for the same thing here. And it’s like you can only actually think that if you’re fighting for the same thing that Republicans are fighting for.

Ashley Feinberg

Ashley Feinberg: Right. I mean, the thing is people like Max Boot and Bret Stephens from a policy perspective aren’t that different from, uh, these centrist Democrats. And so, I mean in that sense they actually are giving them good faith advice because they want the exact same things. But I mean for everyone else it’s like people like Bret Stephens and Republicans know exactly what they’re doing. They’re not, they don’t actually think they would help Democrats and for whatever reason if the Dems, I don’t know if we’re just stupid or, or what, but they believe them. Like I think a lot of centrists are like reading these columns and genuinely think why would anyone give advice that they don’t actually mean? So obviously they want to help me and behoove me to reach out to our conservative friends across the aisle.

Adam: Like we should do like a morning zoo show where, where I throw out a politician and I say stupid, cynical or venal and you tell me which one. I’m just kidding.

Nima: (Laughing.) I was actually wondering how much of this do you think Ashley has to do with this serious Never Trumper type Republican that sees Trump as a threat to certain things that they hold dear? Maybe foreign policy more than other things. And so the advice that’s being given has to do with creating a transition candidate, right? Or like a transition president. So it’s, ‘Let’s get Trump out of the way’ because Bret Stephens and Max Boot still pretend that they don’t like Trump to seem serious but like is this just, you know, one more cynical gambit to get a Democrat that they approve of on their way to then getting back to a Republican in control?

Ashley Feinberg: Right. I mean I, I don’t give them enough credit to think they are planning it out that far. I think that this is like the Howard Schultz dream, they want to return to a world where they can espouse the same sort of racist ideas and same sort of racism against, like, Arabs, but in respectable tones, that sound like they’re not actually just being racist ghouls who want to murder everyone who’s not white and convincing Democrats to pick that language back up and to like start pushing for those ideas in words that sound adult and grown up and are calling for guillotines essentially is how they get there. And Howard Schultz is how they get back to that.

Nima: Right.

Adam: One of the 11 dimensional chess, 14 Rubik Cube squared, 17th dimension —

Ashley Feinberg: The Barron Trump chessboard.

Adam: (Laughs.) The Barron Trump chessboard. Playing the long game takes was a clip we heard earlier from Stephanie Ruhle, who is really the quintessential never Trump conservative Wall Street MSNBC host who claimed that somewhat, I think somewhat dubiously that the reason why Fox News is obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez is because they want to elevate her and go after people with her politics —

Nima: To make them seem like legit.

Adam: Yeah. This sort of Pied Piper, like as opposed to someone like Amy Klobuchar who they hold up as someone that Fox News ignores and they say they ignored her because they’re scared of her and this is something I, you hear a lot the idea that somehow the Republicans’ fear, what is basically Hillary Clinton 2.0 in 2016. Is there any empirical basis or is this just like we are just in total denial that the Party’s changed and that the Republican Party’s changed?

Ashley Feinberg: I’m trying to think like what would they have to say about Amy Klobuchar? Like there’s, there’s nothing they can point to or that they can be like or that Carlson can like start shitting himself about like what would a Fox News attacking Amy Klobuchar look like? It would look like them attacking Mitt Romney. It’s not like good TV for them. They can’t make a real enemy out of someone they largely agree with on a lot of things.

Nima: Yeah. This whole thing just seems to be this weird setup, but I think it also comes back to something Adam and I talk about a lot on the show, which is there’s a lot of just time filling, you know, in political writing and political punditry. There’s not always great shit to say. And so how much of this kind of, ‘Oh, okay, so Bret Stephens, can you write your 58th column on advice to the Democrats? Because otherwise I guess it’s just going to be way more Netanyahu boosting and like maybe since he was just indicted, maybe we shouldn’t do that yet.’

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah. That’s a problem with columnists too is that no one has like that many opinions about things. People have maybe two or three like good takes and then the rest is like, yeah, like Bret Stephens telling Democrats that if they really want to win the presidency again, that this is how they get Republicans for the left is by supporting pro-life policies.

Nima: That’s why we see, like, Thomas Friedman just writing the same column over and over for 30 years.

Adam: So one of our favorite, and by that we mean least favorite, I would say virtuosos in this genre is Max Boot who we talk about a lot because he’s terrible.

Ashley Feinberg: I love him. He’s great.

Adam: He represents, he’s both great and terrible. He represents this mode, I think probably more than anyone and he, and he’s written about four or five columns now where he says, ‘If Democrats want to win me over, they have to do X’ and he sort of says like, he actually says, he said on Twitter quote, “I’m one of the independents Democrats need to win.” And then he linked to his article where they sort of said to themselves, now the elephant in the room here is that Trump is incredibly popular amongst Republicans. He’s the most popular president within his own party, other than post 9/11 George Bush, since World War II. Uh, since they started keeping numbers on these things, he has an approval rating, it varies, but it hovers between 89 and 94 percent. The approval rating among Republicans. The reality is, is that Max Boot and all these MSNBC conservatives have basically no real constituency, and it seems like they just live in this dimension where we’re supposed to cater to Max Boot, but Max Boot is just a Hillary Clinton Democrat. So why doesn’t he just say, I mean, I, it seems like there’s so much of the Never Trumpism is not really about Trump taking over the Republican Party, it’s about the Democratic Party being taken over by these other forces.

Nima: Mhmm.

Ashley Feinberg: Right. Yeah. I mean, Max Boot’s contingent is the like six other columnists at liberal publications who fill the exact same space. Like they, for whatever reason, never Trump Republicans have had an outsized voice in liberal publications for the entire Trump era. And it gives it the sense that like there are all these wandering civility fiends who are craving a return to sanity and just want conservative values instilled back in the White House. And those people are about like a handful.

Nima: Yeah. I love the idea that like Max Boot, the Great and Terrible Oz of this show, has like one foot in the polling booth always almost flipping the switch for Trump. But then he’s like, ‘But I’m willing to, I’m willing to do the other thing, but what are you going to sell me on’ as if that’s like anyone you need to be paying attention to.

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah, it’s, it’s like Max Boot a year from now, like sitting there like about to vote for Bernie and then remembering socialism and being like, ‘No, I can’t do this anymore.’

Nima: (Laughing.) Right. ‘Oh, oh, right now I remember that maybe they opposed regime change in Venezuela. All right, fine. Trump.’

Ashley Feinberg: (Laughs.) Yeah. And the thing that’s so frustrating is that they’re given, they’re taken so seriously by anyone considered like an adult or a very serious person and the reason for this is that they’re very scolding and they talk a lot about respect and about normalcy and that’s really all it takes to be taken as like a serious voice in any sort of like commentary role.

Adam: One of the things we note that makes this bizarre is that the inverse is not true. You never ever hear Liberals or Democrats or leftists really ever do this posture of like, “If the Republicans want to win in 2020 here’s what they have to do.’ Now with most ideological scams, they always go one direction which is left, which is to say things like party loyalty, right? Only goes left. You know, we’re only supposed to scold Stein voters, not people, not moderates who voted for McCain in 2008 for example. To what do we owe this to? To what do we owe this particular mode? Why do you suspect this unique to Republicans?

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah, I mean I, I’ve thought about this a lot. Like I’ve thought about like what if, like I try to put myself in the position of like, a Bret Stephens or a Max Boot and say like ‘this is what conservatives need to do to like win me over,’ just like having the thought and trying to think seriously about it makes me feel so personally embarrassed and like ashamed of even thinking that there’s anyone that would take this seriously. Like I, the thing that baffles me about it most is that the like shamelessness it takes to like, you just so bald faced-ly working in bad faith and I would like to think that maybe it’s a, just like we have more shame, but I don’t think that’s it. I don’t know. I mean it’s cause conservatives would know exactly what we’re doing and they wouldn’t pretend to take it seriously. Like, why would they listen to someone who explicitly wants them to fail in all aspects give them advice in any serious way? It’s an insane concept. And yet Democrats just do it constantly.

Nima: I actually look forward to your column on that, Ashley.

Ashley Feinberg: I’ve thought about it a lot and I can’t figure out a way to do it where it is absurd enough to the point that it would be an obvious joke, but also that like I would still be able to look myself in the mirror.

Nima: I’m also kind of struck by how people who railed against everything that had to do with Clinton for so long are now, I mean it’s kind of an obvious, it’s an obvious switchover, but it is still striking that it’s like the Clintons, which were enemy number one, like Democratic Party ciphers and would be attacked for basically any policy. Bill and then Hillary, you know, when she was in the government, whether it was, you know, Senate or Secretary of State and now it’s, ‘Oh man, if we could just get back to when, you know, Hillary was kind of running diplomacy for us and that was the strength’ and no, like read your own shit from that time. You hated her and you hated her boss and you hated everything that was going on. Like I think us sitting on this show, like I think we know that that’s cynical and it’s bullshit, but why does this stuff, why is anyone paying attention to this?

Ashley Feinberg: I mean that’s the other thing. It’s like everyone has amnesia or has just willfully forgotten everything that happened like before Trump came into office. I mean the only thing that matters now to Democrats and to never Trump Republicans is shitting on Trump and everything else is completely apart from that. And they agree on that, which is also, I think a lot of the reason why people will give these columns serious time and will consider them because, and like they’re very simplistic, ‘you, anyone who was opposed to Trump is morally good.’

Adam: Yeah. We talked about this when we talked about James Bennet, which is where, you know, he said quite openly that The New York Times was capitalist, it was a ‘pro-capitalism newspaper,’ I think were his exact words. And then you have to sort of agree on the sort of axioms of capitalism and by extension imperialism and then after that we can sort of, everything’s up for debate. The humanity of trans people, the existence of climate change. These are kind of just like, you know, vanilla versus chocolate, you know, you do your thing, I’ll do my thing.

Ashley Feinberg: They’re thought exercises.

Adam: Yeah.

Ashley Feinberg: They’re, like, capital “I” Ideas to, like, debate. But the one thing that like you can’t debate is that capitalism is good and like Trump is a moral evil that is, which is the only thing that like we all must agree and we must defeat.

Adam: Right. Which is sort of true, but for all the wrong reasons.

Nima: (Laughs.)

Ashley Feinberg: Right, right. And yeah, and like context on that, but yeah.

Nima: So granted, you know, we have nearly two years of this bullshit still ahead of us. At what point, Ashley, do you think all these very serious concerned Republican voices, Stephens, Boot, all these people are going to just say like, ‘well, you know, I haven’t heard enough good stuff for me so it just looks like I’m going to have to vote for Trump.’ How early are we going to hear that?

Ashley Feinberg: I mean, a lot of the never Trump Republicans are like already over there. Like, I mean all The National Review people pretty much moved over. I mean Erick Erickson is moved back behind Trump.

Adam: Glenn Beck.

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah. Glenn Beck. Like I mean Boot’s obviously the furthest gone right now, but he is not going to vote for a Democrat. Like unless the candidate is Amy Klobuchar or maybe Kamala Harris. But I dunno, I have a hard time imagining that he’ll actually —

Nima: If they run the Elliott Abrams as a Democrat.

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah, exactly.

Nima: Then Stephanie Ruhle and David Frum will vote for him.

Ashley Feinberg: I mean or Joe Biden. He would absolutely vote for Joe Biden, but like if Howard Schultz runs, god I hope Howard Schultz runs, that’s his candidate right now.

Adam: Why do you want Howard Schultz to run? Because it’ll be hilarious?

Ashley Feinberg: I don’t actually think he’s going to take, he would take that many votes from Democrats or if he does, I think he’ll take a similar number from people who might have voted for Trump, but like, yeah, I mean it would be a failed campaign and it would be extremely, extremely funny cause god I miss the Republican primary so much and like Howard Schultz is like the closest thing I can get to that right now.

Adam: One of the things we talk about a lot on this show is the collateral damage of liberals embracing kind of these never Trump Republicans as a very myopic strategy, aside from the fact that again, they don’t have any meaningful constituency. Like there’s this sort of, there’s this nebulous centrist voter in Fairfax, Virginia, we all have to win over. But statistically speaking they’re not that significant. And I’m curious what you think the collateral damage will be. Let’s say we cut to 2021, 2022 and let’s say a Kamala Harris has won the White House. And I think, this is a legitimate concern of mine and I’m curious to get your comment on it, and the voices of the sort of Bill Kristols, the Max Boots, the Evan McMullins have been elevated in the party and the party establishment, as have a lot of this, what we sort of generally call the neoconservative or pro-military wing, do you think there’s a legitimate fear that four years of brain rot around Trump and MSNBC trying to find these Ana Navarro types, do you think there’s a real risk that this could actually harm, move the party to the right in general? Regardless of the fact that it already has in many ways in terms of look at Venezuela or look at, you know, a lot of stuff on sanctions on Iran and Russia. They’re all very, they’re sort of, they’ve gotten more right-wing. Do you think there’s a real harm there? Do you think I’m kind of overstating it? Do you think we’re hammering too much about the elevation of the Never Trumper?

Ashley Feinberg: No, I mean I think, I think a lot of the things that Democrats have sort of gotten behind in the name of the anti-Trump is going to have a lot of impressions down the line. I mean Democrats are essentially like a very pro FBI party now, which the association that has been made between like the FBI and like getting kicked out of office is not going to go away in the brains of people whose, all the rest of their mind is like melted, all that exists is this like giant never Trump side. I think even three years from now, like there’s still going to be a pro-FBI bias that might not have been there otherwise that could have like very various ramifications in like policy terms. The other issue is I think Democrats are a lot less likely to just completely do the opposite of what they’re doing a year ago and pretend that nothing happened. I think Republicans will have no problem turning around and basically being complete hypocrites from wherever they are currently. But like I think that people who are saying that we need to listen to like conservatives are two years from now going to want to show everyone how they are still very broad minded and how that was not just an opportunistic ploy and we still need listen to Max Boot because that’s what I said two years ago and I had to have been right then so I’m definitely right now. I think that’s going to be an issue, but I hope I’m wrong.

Nima: That’s such a nightmare scenario. Just thinking about all these self satisfied people thinking that they’re like championing democracy and their vision of themselves in like a Guy Fawkes mask with like with like a “Mueller Time” t-shirt on. It’s just, it’s so terrifying.

Ashley Feinberg: And a Max Boot hat tipped to the side.

Nima: And a rakishly tipped Max Boot fedora. That’s who we all want. That’s, that’s our collective fever dream.

Ashley Feinberg: God.

Nima: Well on that note, Ashley Feinberg, reporter for Huffington Post, expert blogger and our resident expert on Republicans here on Citations Needed. Thank you so much for joining us again on the show. It has been great to talk to you.

Ashley Feinberg: Yeah, happy. Happy to do it.


Adam: Always great to have Ashley on. She has her pulse on the Republican Party probably better than anyone and probably cause she follows them on social media. I really think you want to know the heart of the Republican Party, follow them on Instagram and see the memes they fav. Way more enlightening than watching Fox News because it’s basically just the ethos of Fox News distilled to like a single image. Usually it’s like a Marine talking about Colin Kaepernick in like a really grainy photo that’s been copied over 16 times.

Nima: Right. While like standing on a brown baby.

Adam: And it looks like something that was produced by, you know, the Internet Research firm or whatever in Russia. You know, like the really shitty like boomer memes and like for some reason Clint Eastwood’s in all of them, I don’t know.

Nima: ‘For some reason’?

Adam: Yeah.

Nima: I mean, you know.

Adam: I know. But uh, so yeah, it’s good to, it’s good to do that every now and then. To talk about the ways in which we’re going to go out on a limb, and it’s a very limited, very simple thesis of this episode, which is that Republican, highly, highly paid, highly placed Republicans may not have the best interest of the Democratic Party at heart.

Nima: What?!

Adam: That’s it. That’s it. That’s the entire thesis of the show. Very simple, very simple to get. You can either believe us or not believe us.

Nima: That’s right. So next time you’re watching MSNBC or you’re flipping through the pages of the Sunday Times, which I’m sure so many of our listeners do, but if you happen to find yourself doing that and you see one of these advice columns, you know, earnest, just, you know, ‘I’m just having a coffee with you and really trying to lay things out on the table. I really think that this is the best way forward. Just some friendly advice from your neighborhood Republican strategist.’ Don’t buy it because it’s a crock of shit and it diverts from moving toward policies and supporting candidates has actually might be more representative of more people. And so, it’s a gambit. We see it all the time. Thank you everyone for joining us again on Citations Needed. You can follow the show on Twitter @CitationsPod, Facebook Citations Needed and become a supporter of our work through Patreon.com/CitationsNeededPodcast with Nima Shirazi and Adam Johnson. And as always, an extra special shout out goes to our critic level supporters on Patreon. I am Nima Shirazi.

Adam: I’m Adam Johnson.

Nima: Citations Needed is produced by Florence Barrau-Adams. Production consultant is Josh Kross. Production assistant is Trendel Lightburn. Transcriptions are by Morgan McAslan. The music is by Grandaddy. We’ll catch you next time.


This episode of Citations Needed was released on Wednesday, March 13, 2019.

Transcription by Morgan McAslan.