Max Blumenthal: GOP Elite Prefer Losing the White House over a Trump Presidency
Author and Journalist Max Blumenthal Says the Republican Party Can’t Stop the Monster their Policies Helped Birth
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Voters in 11 states cast ballots on Super Tuesday, March 1, with Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton poised for big wins. Trump is in position to take firm control of the Republican presidential race, an outcome likely to intensify concerns among party leaders that the brash billionaire has hijacked the party. Trump, a New York real estate mogul and former reality TV star, has defied all expectations, with xenophobic and racist rhetoric and campaign pledges to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and deport 11 million undocumented immigrants.
Well, now joining us to discuss all of this is award-winning journalist Max Blumenthal. He’s currently in Denver, covering the primary there for Alternet. In 2009 he authored the book Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party. Thanks so much for joining us, Max.
MAX BLUMENTHAL: Good to be with you.
NOOR: So, Max, the Trump phenomenon is really showing no signs of slowing down. In the last few days we’ve seen a, a really, I think, fascinating and high-stakes split within the Republican party. There was a piece in the New York Times that said Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, was ready to drop Trump like a hot rock if he is the nominee, because they’re afraid he could take the Republicans down with him in the Senate, in the House in November, you know, if he’s running against a Clinton or even a Sanders candidate.
At the same time, you have another fairly mainstream candidate, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, who’s come out and endorsed him. That’s Trump’s highest-level endorsement to date.
BLUMENTHAL: Yeah, I mean, McConnell’s actually said that he would consider accepting Hillary Clinton as the nominee and essentially putting out the message that Trump could not possibly win, which would dampen expectations among the Republican base. So McConnell is actually in a de facto sense supporting Clinton at this point, assuming she’s the Democratic nominee.
What’s behind this. McConnell and the Republican establishment, actually the National Review spelled this out pretty well, are much more comfortable not controlling the executive and controlling Congress. Stopping all business, preventing any of the president’s agenda from getting through, as they did with Obama, and throwing rocks from the outside of the building rather than having to govern something that the Bush administration showed they’re not very good at doing. It’s also really good for the conservative movement, you know, the groups like the Heritage Foundation, AI, College Republicans, to be out of the executive and control Congress.
So McConnell’s totally comfortable with that scenario. What they’re terrified of is Trump in the White House, Trump forming some kind of bipartisan populist coalition, the kind that we saw congeal against the bailout of the big banks in 2009. The kind of populist coalition that we’ve seen congeal over the years against NAFTA, and other free trade agreements. That’s the nightmare of the Republican party and its donor base, and especially people like Paul Ryan, who’s heavily supported by the Koch brothers.
As far as Chris Christie’s concerned, he’s a governor from a Northeastern state. He’s governed as a Republican in a mostly Democratic state. If you look at his donor base, he actually shares the same exact donors with the Democratic senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker. So Chris Christie, in many ways, has a lot more political latitude than McConnell. He’s pretty much his own man right now. He’s also an opportunist. He had to drop out of the Republican primary pretty early, much earlier than he expected. And being on the trail with Trump gives him enormous visibility, and it also suggests that it’s going to be a lot more difficult for candidates like John Kasich, or for someone like Mitt Romney, who’s trying to puppeteer the nomination behind the strings, to manage a brokered convention.
It’s not just Chris Christie, by the way. You see other governors. It’s the Republican governors who are coming around to Trump, because they don’t care about Congress as much.
NOOR: Including the governor or Maine, LePage.
BLUMENTHAL: Oh, LePage, who actually was one of the first figures in the Republican establishment to try to destroy Trump early on. He wasn’t listened to, and now he’s endorsed Trump. John Huntsman, who was sort of the voice of reason among the Republican primary field in 2012, has said he’d be completely comfortable with Trump being in power. So what you’re seeing is the establishment slowly assimilating and adjusting itself to a Trump nomination while these other figures sort of wonder how Trump got where he is, and failed to even cohere around any strategy to stop him.
NOOR: So talk more about where these candidates’ elite backers, and these, you know, Republican figures’ elite backers, stand on this. You know, I was reading this piece in the New York Times that, you know, it said–you mentioned the Koch brothers. They’re the most, the country’s most prolific conservative donors, and this is from the New York Times. They find Trump’s record utterly unacceptable, highlighted his support for government-funded business subsidies, government-backed healthcare, at an event.
So talk a little bit more about how this money is going to fall. And you made the point, I think a really interesting point, that the Republicans are fine with having–you know, are okay, they’ll accept having a Democrat in the White House so they can, you said throw rocks from, from Congress. But they would also benefit, they could potentially greatly benefit, from a, you know, a Cruz or a Rubio taking the White House. And if, if Congress is still controlled by Republicans, they could ram through whatever privatization, or whatever their agenda was.
And another point, is it possible for people like the Koch brothers to make peace with Trump, and you know, give him a chunk of change, and you know, get things like the Keystone XL passed, and other parts of their agenda? Will he be a little more malleable to their domestic agenda?
BLUMENTHAL: Well, the Koch brothers are afraid of Trump. Sheldon Adelson and Paul Singer, the other two major donors who really represent the neoconservative wing that’s moving away from the Republican party now that Trump is edging closer to the nomination, they hate Trump. But you know, it’s really the Koch brothers who need to recognize how they created this destruction machine known as Donald J. Trump. They were the really, it was their money, industry money, that created the Tea Party.
And you know, at the same time as they were creating the Tea Party, the American Enterprise Institute was introducing memos to the Republican Congress urging them to blame minorities and immigrants and the poor for the foreclosure crisis, contributing to the kind of rhetoric we’ve heard from Donald Trump that really has resonated among his lower-middle class and fairly undereducated white base. The Republican establishment cultivated that base for the rise of someone like Donald Trump.
The other factor that really we hardly hear anything about is NAFTA. It’s free trade. Donald Trump’s opposition to free trade is a major X factor in his success. And it’s figures like Paul Ryan, people like the Koch brothers, Republican establishment, which rammed free trade down the throat of the rust belt, that opened up so much space for Donald Trump to emerge. I mean, in New Hampshire alone, 27,000 manufacturing jobs have been lost because of NAFTA. Those people have fallen into poverty, sometimes even homelessness and addiction. They’re looking to Trump as their savior. And if not Trump, they’re looking to Sanders, the only other figure who opposes free trade.
So the Republican party has created its own destruction machine in Donald Trump. And then beyond that, the scenario that I kind of laid out, explained in the history I outlined in Republican Gomorrah, explains the rise of Trump, how the Republican party has gradually moved to the radical right and created a primary process that always supports the most radical candidate, usually someone who’s supported by the Christian right. That was supposed to be Ted Cruz this time. Ted Cruz’s wife is a Goldman Sachs executive who’s actually a member of the Republican establishment, but talks this anti-establishment populist language and appeals to the dominionism of the Christian right. His father’s an open theocrat.
The Republican base finally saw through that. They saw Ted Cruz as a phony. Donald Trump helped them by openly calling him a phony in debates. And here we are. The states that will vote today in Super Tuesday, and this is the Republican establishment again, they’ve made these the early states that will decide who gets the nomination, are the Southern states, the states with the most right-wing, almost uniformly white Republican electorate. So that’s, that’s another factor in how the Republican establishment opened up the door for Trump and its own destruction.
NOOR: Some of the most recent comments by Trump that kind of are fanning these flames of xenophobia and hatred, he was asked about the endorsement of white supremacist David Duke on CNN’s Jake Tapper. We’re going to play that clip.
SPEAKER: –condemn David Duke and say that you don’t want his vote, or that of other white supremacists in this election?
DONALD TRUMP: Well, just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me, or what’s going on. Because you know, I know nothing about David Duke, I know nothing about white supremacists, and so you’re asking me a question that I’m supposed to be talking about people that I know nothing about.
SPEAKER: But I guess the question from the Anti-Defamation League is, even if you don’t know about their endorsement, there are these groups and individuals endorsing you. Would you just say, unequivocally, you condemn them and you don’t want their support?
TRUMP: Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about.
[End of clip]
NOOR: So that’s that now-infamous clip of Trump. He later blamed a faulty earpiece, but you can hear him repeat the name of, the names, you know, David Duke and white supremacy.
So does Trump represent this borderline fascist movement? A mouthpiece, as we’ve been talking about, that embodies a lot of the scapegoating and, you know, disenfranchisement that white working-class Americans feel today? And your thoughts on that.
BLUMENTHAL: Well, I want to address David Duke in kind of an unconventional way. Let me just first say that Donald Trump has provided enough fodder for people to assess his own views on race, which are retrograde, if not extremely racist. He’s created a toxic atmosphere in the country, and you know, his acceptance of the endorsement of Senator Jeff Sessions, someone who called a white civil rights lawyer a race traitor, who called a black civil rights activist ‘boy’, someone who’s basically a neo-Confederate. I mean, Trump appeared at a rally with Jeff Sessions, and that, why is that not as much of an issue as an endorsement he didn’t solicit, from an irrelevant figure like David Duke?
Let’s talk about David Duke. David Duke, you never will hear his name, ever, unless he endorses a public figure. So at the very least, this is a way for David Duke to kind of game the American media in order to get his name out there. But who has David Duke endorsed in the past? David Duke has “endorsed”–and he doesn’t actually endorse people–Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer, who wrote the seminal study on the Israel lobby. He “endorsed” Cindy Sheehan, who was camping outside of George W. Bush’s ranch in Texas in protest of the Iraq war that her son was sent to fight.
NOOR: And died in.
BLUMENTHAL: And die. He’s endorsed Charles Barron, one of the most progressive black legislators in the country, facing a challenge from Hakeem Jeffries, a corporate black candidate backed by the Israel lobby. David Duke has–you know, “endorsed” me. Actually, he didn’t endorse me, but there was a favorable blog post that also criticized me for not being anti-semitic on David Duke’s blog about my book, Goliath, which was also reviewed favorably by mainstream publications.
So my experience was next thing I know, the Free Beacon, which is the neoconservative magazine that’s backing Marco Rubio, what about David Duke endorsing your book? Because they couldn’t take on my book directly. Cindy Sheehan was attacked by Christopher Hitchens, an Iraq war supporter, for supposedly being endorsed by David Duke. Walt and Mearsheimer were attacked in the New York Sun, the house organ of the neoconservative movement, by neocon Eli Lake. Charles Barron was attacked also in the New York Sun in order to prop up Hakeem Jeffries, who’s basically AIPAC’s man in New York City.
So why is it that every time David Duke, we hear about his name, it benefits the Republican establishment, and specifically pro-Israel neoconservatives? David Duke is in a tacit alliance with the neoconservative movement to advance their agenda. And who is making the most hay out of that Jake Tapper interview with Donald Trump? It’s Marco Rubio’s campaign. Marco Rubio is basically the handpicked candidate of the neoconservative movement.
So that’s really, that’s really strange to me. And we have to remember that David Duke is someone who is desperate for publicity, who went to jail for defrauding his own very small base of followers–.
NOOR: Right, Max, so I get your point, but Trump didn’t disavow that support. He could have easily done that, right?
BLUMENTHAL: I mean, I don’t see why anybody has to disavow an endorsement they didn’t solicit. And Trump’s record on race, on being a xenophobe, is strong enough as it is. This just seems like something that was ginned up because it resonates more easily to have a former KKK leader, [inaud.] MSNBC referred to him as, in their idiotic reporting, as the former headmaster of the Klan. He’s the former grand imperial wizard.
And you know who else David Duke was? He’s the former state representative for the Republican party from Louisiana. He was a former gubernatorial nominee of the Republican party in Louisiana who won over 60 percent of the white vote in Louisiana, and was nearly elected governor, running on a platform that is sort of similar to Trump’s. Duke was one of the first figures to introduce opposition to all immigration from Latin America as kind of a mainstream, as part of his mainstream platform.
And so there is a strategy that Trump is running on that Duke also succeeded on. It was conceived by a white nationalist intellectual named Sam Francis, someone who actually used to be very well embedded in the conservative movement. And the strategy was basically to create, turn the Republican party into a white man’s party, generate as much enthusiasm among white men as you can on issues that, you know, on racial resentment, on, you know, entitlements for minorities, on immigration. Those sorts of things. And that strategy has culminated with the rise of Donald Trump. We saw it play out through Pat Buchanan’s candidacy in 1992. Pat Buchanan’s mentor was Sam Francis. And we also hear it on the airwaves when you turn on Michael Savage. Michael Savage is someone who’s obsessed with closed borders, he’s a virulent Islamophobe, and he’s opposed to free trade. And Donald Trump has been on his show no less than four times.
And then finally, Trump is basically running the most savvy and sober strategy to win a nomination in a Republican party that has been radicalized by an establishment that now is pretending to be moderate. So you can’t really blame Trump if you’re running for the nomination for being a racist, when the people you’re trying to appeal to have been cultivated for decades to vote against their own economic interests through coded racial appeals, and actually overt racist language, now.
NOOR: And despite all these controversies it seems like Trump’s popularity is only gaining. Well, Max Blumenthal, we’re out of time for this segment, but thanks so much for being on and we look forward to having you on again, soon.
BLUMENTHAL: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: And thank you for joining us at the Real News Network.
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