Trump-Republican Alliance in Disarray?
Filmmaker Ben Howe says President Trump is undermining the ability of conservatives to argue for traditional conservative positions
KIM BROWN: Welcome to The Real News Network in Baltimore. I’m Kim Brown.
In spite of Republicans having control of the White House, and both Chambers of Congress for the first time since the Bush ’43 administration, there are glaring fractures within the party, and amongst lawmakers and their constituents. The Democrats also find themselves divided, but Democrats are not in power at the moment. And they don’t find themselves in the unenviable position of having to defend the antics of the President, whose administration has been fraught with scandals and court challenges to his policies. And it hasn’t even been in office for 100 days.
Now, the best way to figure out what’s happening amongst conservative Republicans is to talk to someone within that movement, and today we’re joined with Ben Howe, Ben is a contributing editor to Redstate.com. He’s also a filmmaker, who runs the Howe Creative Group, and in 2016, he released a crowd-funded documentary titled, “The Sociopath”, about the rise of Donald Trump as a political force. Ben joins us today from South Carolina.
Thank you for joining me on The Real News, Ben, great to have you.
BEN HOWE: Thanks for having me, Kim.
KIM BROWN: Ben, let’s begin with the conversation, obviously the ongoing debate about the American Health Care Act, which the GOP proposed repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Now, a vote was supposed to happen on Thursday, but it didn’t -– and the version of the bill actually cleared the House Rules Committee early Friday, and a vote is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
Here was House Speaker Paul Ryan late Thursday evening.
PAUL RYAN: Hi, everybody.
WOMAN: Hi, Mr. Speaker.
PAUL RYAN: For seven and a half years, we have been promising the American people that we will repeal and replace this broken law, because it’s collapsing, and it’s failing families, and tomorrow we’re proceeding.
WOMAN: You have the vote?
MAN: Mr. Speaker, is…?
WOMAN: Do you have the vote?
MAN: … conference?
WOMAN: Do you have the vote?
KIM BROWN: As we see Paul Ryan being asked there by the press corps, whether or not he had the votes in, to which he had no answer. So, Ben, the House Freedom Caucus met with Donald Trump Thursday night, and he wasn’t able to get them, to whip them, into enough votes to repeal the bill. And the Koch brothers, who have spent many millions on election campaigns, they have now pledged to donate to incumbent Republicans who vote against the American Health Care Act.
What is it about this healthcare debate in particular, that has illuminated how much top lawmakers don’t agree on how to address it?
BEN HOWE: Well, you know, I think that for a long time conservatives have generally gotten the idea -– conservatives within the Republican Party, because let’s remember that conservative and Republican are not always synonymous -– but I think conservatives within the Republican Party have feared for a long time that the leadership is not really interested in implementing a plan that conservatives could sign onto, in terms of healthcare.
But they had made promises for so long that they would end up doing something, no matter how damaging or bad or horrible it’s going to be. Which I think that this version of a replacement would be, frankly Obamacare would be better to keep in place, than to bring the AHCA in, as it is.
They’re not worried about the optics of the 2018 elections, they’re not worried about the 2020 elections, much less whether or not they’re going to insure enough people through this plan. They’re mostly concerned about making it appear as though Donald Trump’s promises are being kept, because that’s the most important thing. His entire persona is based on the idea that he’s this tough talking, establishment crushing, I’m going to do things that no other politician will be willing to do. But then, once he got there and actually had to navigate the system, he’s been having a little trouble.
So, so much of this is about getting Donald Trump to save face. And he’s already — as the bill is having trouble getting enough votes — he’s already setting the stage for a really hostile environment between him and Speaker Ryan. Which is just going to spell wonderful things going forward for the Republican Party.
KIM BROWN: You know, after campaigning on Repeal and Replace, Donald Trump has said that if the House Bill does not pass, he’s ready to move on to other priorities, and let Obamacare remain intact. So, do you view this as a political defeat for him and congressional Republicans?
BEN HOWE: Well, the first thing is, I don’t believe a word he says. So, I think that he says that because he believes that that makes him look like a tough negotiator, because that was his whole selling point, right? He’s the tough negotiator, “Art of the Deal,” and all that other nonsense.
But it’s all a façade. He’s a salesman. He’s not that great of a negotiator. He’s just a, you know, a circus salesman, and now he’s trying to… people are able to see how accurate the claim that he’s a good negotiator is, and it’s not that good. So, he’s trying to do this hard stance, you know. But it reminds me of a parent who makes, you know, “If you don’t stop that right now, you’re not going to get any presents for your birthday!” Nnn-yeah, they probably still will, because you’re making a promise, you’re making a threat that you can’t keep.
He won’t be able to let this issue go. He’s promised it all through the campaign. He spent years ahead of time saying that it’s what’s going to happen. When this falls through, it’s going to be a perfect example of him talking tough, and not being able to back it up.
KIM BROWN: Let’s talk about the fissures within the Republican Party that we see especially play out on Capitol Hill, and on Fox News, in the conservative media, to another extent. How integral, in your opinion been, has Donald Trump in being this lightning rod of division, amongst conservatives? Were these divides already in place before he was elected, and did he just sort of highlight them, or is he the catalyst for the divisions within the Republican Party?
BEN HOWE: I think that he; in some ways he highlights them. What’s interesting is, right now, he’s trying to get everybody to sign on to, basically Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell’s ideas for healthcare. But the base that he got, entranced by him, they wanted to destroy Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. So, in some ways, he’s married that division, where he’s now got the base supporting the interests of the establishment.
But, overall, yes, he… what he brings, and has brought for the last year and a half, or two years since he first came on the scene, is he shines a light on the complete lack of principles and convictions in the Republican Party. And he makes it clear -– at least he makes it clear to me –- that conservatism, which is something I subscribe to, is not what the Republican Party is interested in. They’re interested in republicanism, and republicanism is essentially advancing the party at any costs.
What throughout the primary cycle, when we… at first when people thought Donald Trump could be defeated, sure, there were plenty of Republicans willing to make the principled argument, and make a principled stand against him, and say that he’s a charlatan and a snake oil salesman, and all that. But then once they realized that the party was in danger, that it could perhaps lose the election, they switched gears because party comes first.
So, in some ways, he’s been great. He’s sort of exposed to me who I shouldn’t listen to.
KIM BROWN: Indeed, and as we try to figure out exactly how this administration is going to go, it’s definitely off to a rocky start to begin with. And you know, Ben, prior to the election, I mean, you were one of really just a handful of conservatives, prominent conservatives, who were part of the, ‘Never Trump’ movement, and if I recall correctly, you even threw your support behind Evan McMullin, if I remember right. So…
BEN HOWE: Of course, I put it behind Hillary Clinton, but eventually it became… I wasn’t a fan of Hillary Clinton, but I just thought that Donald Trump was more dangerous. And so I said, if no other choice comes forward, then I’ll vote for Hillary. Evan eventually came forward, and I voted for him instead.
KIM BROWN: And, you know, we’re seeing here and there, sprinkled out, these feature stories of the Trump voter who was all-in for Trump, during the campaign, and now they feel betrayed and let down. And we’re seeing some buyer’s remorse from Trump voters. But it’s a little too late now, because he’s going to be in office, absent an impeachment hearing, or anything like that, until at least the year 2020.
Talk to us about those who are conservative, and who also may be Republicans, who are very much against this president, and the policies that he’s trying to enact.
BEN HOWE: You know, I think that when it comes to the sort of, ‘Never Trump’, and a lot of us have said we don’t… we can’t really call ourselves ‘Never Trump’ anymore, because it’s… the “never” in ‘Never Trump,’ was about voting for him. And I didn’t vote for him, but he’s the President now. So, now it’s more I’m against Trump, as opposed to ‘Never Trump’, and it’s a difficult line to walk. Because, certainly as he’s surrounded himself with Republicans, there are going to be things he does that I like. And there is going to be some low hanging fruit that I’m a fan of.
But those are really easy things to pull off. Those are the easiest things to pull off. Things like healthcare reform, or tax reform, immigration reform, all of those things, those are going to require conservative leadership. And so, for most of us who were in the ‘Never Trump’ camp before, we’re happy to applaud moments that were in line with what we want, while never losing sight of who Donald Trump is. He doesn’t do the right thing because he wants to do the right thing. He just kind of does it on accident, or because somebody around him said, “No, really, you need to do this.”
But other than that, he’s a dumpster fire, and he proves that every time that he does do something good. So, if I like Gorsuch, and I like the Supreme Court nominee, you know, he will find a way to make me hate that whole process -– by just being himself. I mean, Gorsuch comes out and says that he thinks it’s horrible the way that Trump spoke about judges. And Trump, of course, makes it all about him, and tweets about fake news and all this other stuff, when it was all being reported correctly. And he’ll do that going forward.
He’ll do that with how he deals with the House and their initiatives. He’s proving it right now. If AHCA doesn’t pass, then he will have this hostile relationship with the Speaker, and it will become impossible to do anything.
So, the first hundred days were really about proving whether or not he could navigate Washington. And for ‘Never Trump’ folks, like myself, it was sort of vindicating: no, he can’t. And it can’t get better from here, unless a 70-year-old man suddenly decides to have a life-changing moment.
KIM BROWN: Well, we know that Donald Trump is all about branding, and promoting his brand. And with him in the White House, does he improve the branding of Republicans, or does he damage that? And what concerns you the most about issues that he is pushing, or policy proposals that he has on his agenda? What scares you about Donald Trump, Ben?
BEN HOWE: You know, and this was really the basis of my whole argument throughout the election, I didn’t expect Hillary Clinton to come into office and institute conservative governance. That’s not what I thought would happen. But the reason that Donald Trump concerned me more, was because, since I am a conservative, I have watched over the years how bad players can impact my ability to make a reasonable argument, and a persuasive argument to someone.
So, for instance, if I was to make the argument that lowering taxes is good, and good for the Treasury, good for the revenues, if I was to make that argument, it is undercut by the fact that George W. Bush grew huge deficits and debts, while he was in office after he cut taxes. Well, from a conservative point of view, I would be quick to point out that he didn’t cut spending, which needs to kind of go with that, and he didn’t do it –- but it doesn’t matter. The die was cast now: people look at that issue and say, “What are you talking about? Cutting taxes doesn’t do that. We had huge debts and deficits.” He spoiled that issue for me.
Donald Trump is like a spoil machine. He’s just going to go through every conservative thing I care about, and do either a partial measure that ultimately makes it implode in on itself, or he will call it something good, like he’s doing with healthcare right now. Call it conservative, when it’s not, and in four years, when people are tired of his crap, they’re going to tie his crap to my beliefs.
So, people are, like, “Oh, but we have to worry about the next four years. We have to worry about the Supreme Court,” and all these other things. And I’m, like, you know, the next four years are very important, but I feel like the next 16 are more important, the next 20 are more important. And if we don’t have the ability to mount an argument any more, then what are we doing?
And I feel like that’s what will happen. I feel like he’s going to make it very difficult for conservatives, over maybe a generation, if we’re not careful.
KIM BROWN: Mmm. Indeed. Donald Trump, having control of the White House, Republicans have control of Congress, and yet… (laughs)…
BEN HOWE: Nothing’s getting done!
KIM BROWN: Yes. We appreciate you joining us. We’ve been speaking with Ben Howe. He’s a senior contributing editor to Redstate.com, also a filmmaker. Check out his movie, his documentary, about Donald Trump’s rise to political power. It’s called, “The Sociopath.”
Hey, Ben, we really appreciate you making some time to speak with us. Thank you.
BEN HOWE: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
KIM BROWN: And thank you for watching The Real News Network.