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I'm Shonda Rhimes. If you watch Grey's Anatomy or any of my TV shows, you know, I love to tell a good story. Well, now there's Sandland Audio. We've partnered with I Heart Radio to launch a slate of great podcasts. You can listen to the first four right now. Katie's Grib criminal. You go Ascoli and you down and we have so much more coming your way. We can't wait for you to hear it all. Welcome to Shadowland Audio.
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Have those friends. I don't know. Hey. Some answers can only be found in nature. Discover the unsearchable visit, discover the forest dog to find a trail near you brought to you by the United States Forest Service and the Ad Council. Hey, everyone, John Heilemann here and welcome to Hell and High Water, my new podcast from the Recount and I heart radio with big ups to the one and only rizza for our dope theme music. Well, friends, it would appear that we have finally arrived at the moment, we've all been waiting for either eagerly or fearfully or more likely, both through month after month of nearly unfathomable trials and tribulations, through a wretched pandemic that's taking the lives of two hundred and twenty nine thousand Americans and a brutal recession that's put some 40 million Americans out of work through a garish spate of police brutality inflicted mostly on unarmed black men and both the peaceful racial justice protests and rioting and looting that it unleashed through the epic void, creating losses of John Lewis, Chadwick Boseman, Little Richard, Eddie Van Halen, Kobe Bryant and, of course, the Notorious RBG.
The last of these triggering the rushed and craven addition to the Supreme Court of a far right jurist whose hostility to the Affordable Care Act after Roe v. Wade or a matter of horrifying public record through an unprecedented and systematic campaign of voter suppression, and through the routine and relentless, outrageous depredations of the grasping wannabe autocrat in the Oval Office. Through all of that and more, we have arrived at last at an election day that essentially everyone on the left and the right regards as bearing the terrible weight of truly existential stakes.
Yes, friends, we are finally here in the very location that inspired this podcast in the first place. Having fought our way through hell and high water, we are now at the edge of Armageddon or the starting point for what will be a long slog towards revival and reclamation, the destination known to those less wordy and windy than your host as Election Day. And who better to spend that day with? And my dear friend Nicolle Wallace, who sums up our situation.
Thus, the state of our union is on the line, on the line in every single possible way you could think of everything. The Trump era has created its share of political media stars, but none whose emergence has been more emphatic or more welcome than that of Nicolle Wallace. When we first met, Nicole was a communications hand in the George W. Bush White House, and I liked her enormously from the jump. She was smart and charming and human and humane, and unlike some of her colleagues, firmly rooted in the reality based community.
We got to know each other better in the 2008 presidential cycle when she was a senior adviser on John McCain's campaign. And I was covering both sides of that race closely, really obsessively for New York magazine. And then we got to know each other really well in the aftermath of the campaign when I was writing a book about it that would ultimately be titled Game Change and striving to get to the bottom of how the hell Sarah Palin had become McCain's running mate and tell the story as close to the bone as I could of what happened next.
Palin's astonishing blink of an eye transformation from supernova to national joke, but it was only after Game Change, the book and then the movie in which Nicole was played brilliantly by Sarah Paulson, that she and I became true friends, spending hours together on the set of Morning Joe on my show for Bloomberg and MSNBC. With all due respect, and then on her own show, Deadline White House, once the bigwigs at MSNBC wised up and realized what a rare and invaluable commodity they had on their hands, a brilliant and fearless and fun and funny host with enormous reserves of political and national security experience, and one who knew her way around and was deeply sourced in the Republican universe but wasn't remotely captive to it, who had no interest, in other words, and being part of the cult of Trump, who saw it for what it was and was at once disgusted by it, and recognized and could articulate the dangers that it posed to the party she once loved and to the country.
As regular viewers of Deadline White House know, the conversations that Nicole and I have on air are really just extensions of a running dialogue. We are having all the time in texts and emails and phone calls at all hours of the day and night as we attempt, however lamely but gamely, to wrap our heads around the insanely disorienting and deeply disturbing shit we never imagined we'd see play out on the national stage. But that is in many ways the defining feature of the Trump era, where rarely does a day go by when something doesn't happen that makes us both scream at the top of our lungs.
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This episode of this podcast is inevitably just another incarnation of that ongoing conversation as we two pals contemplate the end of this bone rattling and spirit sapping campaign and what the alternative conclusions of it might mean for America in the days ahead, how tough will it be for Joe Biden to govern post Trump America if he wins, as the polls in most of the other available empirical evidence suggest that he will?
What will it mean for all of us if somehow, after all this, Donald Trump is re-elected? And in either case, how do we even begin to make sense of what has happened to America over the past four years? God knows that neither cold nor I have really good or definitive answers to any of these questions, but we definitely have some thoughts that we are delighted to share as we welcome the fabulous Nicole Wallace to hell and high water.
Nicole, what the hell is going on in the background now, I tell you so, so we jumped on at the end of reading. Liam is reading The New York Times because I was in there to find back up.
This is my dog. I think the dog is just gummed up here with us.
And I think there's some Halloween themed writing and math going on. My my son is in there fending for himself.
Thanks for being on here. I like the notion that we start this in a very kind of informal way. There are a couple of things that are true. We're recording this on the Friday before Election Day because anybody wants to know, because I'm going to spend the next 72 hours flying around or trying to get to like nine or 10 states in three days on a chartered aircraft. So I can try to like take the temperature of as much of the country as I can in the hours before Election Day, which is something I normally like to do with candidates.
But it's kind of hard to do now. So I'm like on the run for the next 72 hours. So we're talking on Friday. This will appear on Election Day. That's the context in which the conversation taking place. The other reality is that I have done almost no preparation for this kind of intentionally because I really want the conversation to feel like, you know, this is where we are, you and me, right now. As we get close to this day, we all know Election Day is a fiction, you know.
Eighty two million people have voted as of now. Yeah. Election Day has been a rolling thing for now, a month and a half. But it's still the case that Election Day is going to be a thing and we don't know what kind of a thing it's going to be.
So I ask you, like, what are you as we sit here now for a podcast that's going to appear on the morning of Election Day, what are you imagining?
Election Day is going to be like two to as a as a citizen, as a as a human, as a journalist covering it. What are you thinking right now? What's in your mind's eye of what Election Day and night are going to be like? I have this deep anxiety that not that we've missed it again, but that the service that we think we've done by trying to cover the hell out of the Trump story and the Trump presidency, my tiny piece of that is I think I'm really sensitive to where all these norms have been, not just busted, but, you know, shredded.
The norms have been knocked down. Desecrated. Yeah, yeah. Desecrated, defiled the shit on and then ripped up into a million pieces and scattered across into the winds of excess. That's that's how bad it is. Right.
And as you know, because you've had most of these conversations with me, having worked in the White House on the day of September 11th and everything that ensued, I'm particularly sensitive to all the obliteration of norms around our national security traditions, for lack of a better word. And so I constantly think about the frailty of all this stuff. And now I think about the frailty of how we vote, just how fragile it is that trumps up tweeting at 3:00 in the morning about how the Supreme Court is going to handle it.
I think the right did an adequate job sort of getting in our heads and talking with us. And are we deranged or are we hyperbolic about him? I don't think we were intense enough in our scrutiny of just how animalistic he was in trying to destroy the government he runs. Right. And I'm really haunted by the fact that we didn't push hard enough. We thought fact checking was adequate. It was totally inadequate. He wasn't telling lies. He is a lie.
The whole thing is a lie. And now the big lie is the pandemic. And because he conditioned his base to believe in an alternate reality and Maggie Haberman has made this point, there's no hidden Trump strategy for the country. It's all out of the open. Yep. And Kellyanne Conway on on week one talked about an alternate, Drew. They managed to convince 40 percent of the electorate that there is a second truth. There is no second truth.
There's just no alternative. Nine million people have covid. Two hundred thirty seven thousand are dead. And these people don't give a fuck. They don't care that five hundred thousand could be dead by January and Trump will be president, win or lose next Tuesday. So my anxieties are mostly around whether somehow we contributed to not sounding the alarms in a way that broke through to that 40 percent. But maybe that's the self focused concern. And maybe maybe there was something in the conditioning of the lying that was ungettable.
Well, I think that sure. Yes. I mean, it's weird because, of course, I feel like we have been and some others of us have been shouting from the ramparts, you know, for four years, really an uncomfortable position for me. I mean, it's like I you know, I wrote thousands of columns, right? So it wasn't like my opinions about policy were ever a hidden.
And when people say you're a liberal, I'd be like I like I have views about taxes and views about trade.
Like, you can go back and look them all up. But it wasn't like when I covered, you know, George W. Bush's administration. It wasn't like I was standing up and calling him a war criminal every day or like saying that George W. Bush should be like, you know, he was a threat to me.
I remember that. Yeah, right. I mean, it just didn't happen. Right. My preference was to be a reporter and an analyst who had a point of view and didn't try to hide my opinions about things. So it was weird to have to take this posture in this four years of no, this is different. This is not I'm not being a partisan. I'm saying this person is unfit for the presidency and he's dangerous.
And that's not a partisan assertion, has nothing to do with him being Republican. Right. But I agree with you. I think I saw on your show the other day, maybe Tim Miller saying that if the world was right, like the notion that Trump is going around the country holding events that risk giving people the virus and all the people who those people meet, the virus should be a front page lead story of every newspaper in the country every single day.
It should be the top story. And everybody's run down on cable. It should be the only thing we're talking about. We have said for four years that Trump doesn't care about uniting the country. All he cares about is his base. He now is like, I don't even care about my bases lives. Right. All I care about is winning. And if it means that every single person that was at a rally of mine in this last ten days, as long as they stay alive long enough to vote for me, I don't fucking care if they all get covered and die.
I don't care. I just want their I want enough votes to put me in a position to either win this thing or steal this thing. And if everybody gets sick and dies, I don't give a shit. And the fact that it's not the lead story on every cable hours run down on every front page, on every digital, every website is a little fucked up because it's that fucked up what he's doing. I totally agree.
And we actually we leave with the covid super spreaders. Yeah. And then we leave with the Omaha hypothermia. And yesterday we broke in and did the heat stroke in Florida. Here's why. When you are in the presidential package, you're on a radio with your advance team. You know exactly what's happening. And George Bush used to see people, you know, I mean, Florida's hot it's a hot place to campaign. He would sort of point out if you thought someone look like they needed water and said we need some water up to the third.
It is so abnormal to have such wanton disregard for the well-being. Of anyone, it's also the most notable break from his 2016 campaign, where in these final days and weeks you'd look out forgotten men and women. And I think it was the circus that had that Don Junior interview where Don Junior described his dad as a Blue-Collar billionaire, right? Yeah. And that was the bond. It was us against them. It was this anti elitism case that they made against Hillary in the media.
And this is him against everyone, including the forgotten men and women. This is Trump, you know, fuck the elites. Fuck you, too. I don't care if you get covered.
So in the face of all that, we wonder whether we've done enough. And in these closing days, you know, I asked you what you were what you were thinking about, what Election Day is going to be like. And you came back to that question, which is, have we done enough? And I don't think there's going to be an adequate answer to that question in some ways.
Do you think that Joe Biden, as you watch this as a journalist and I think more importantly in this case, someone who has been involved in campaign politics to the extent you have, are you watching the way that Joe Biden is campaigning and his campaign is closing this election? And are you seeing it and feeling confidence or are you nervous?
I think that people missed some of the Biden story. Biden was left for dead by the Democratic elite. They didn't like Joe Biden. I think some of the very progressive elites liked Elizabeth Warren's Polish and thoroughness. Joe Biden really is the candidate of the Democratic grassroots. I mean, the voters of South Carolina, African-American men and women, old and young, propelled him to victory. And then he went on and won states. He'd never set a tone and he didn't have a dollar.
So it wasn't advertising either. He truly is this candidate selected by the Democratic primary voters. I have watched him exceed expectations. News cycle after news, cycle after news cycle.
I have watched him string together pretty killer speeches and moments when expectations were so low. I see a lot in Joe Biden that I understood to be the connection that George W. Bush had with voters that Joe Biden, as the media focuses on the gaffes, the Democratic elites, even Obama people said, oh, Uncle Joe should leave. He is, as you know, go out on top. Obama loved them. I mean, I'm sure you heard more of this than I did.
You'd better sources in the Democratic Party than I do. But I have watched him restrain the impulse to engage when his son and family were attacked. I have watched him rise to the occasion when they build speeches as major speeches. I have watched him put one foot in front of the other and hit single after single and score time and time again and sustain one of the biggest and steadiest leads in modern general election history. And I think the untold story of this campaign is just how disciplined of a candidate he is personally and just how strategically advanced and low key his campaign really is.
And I'm not sure what the dynamics are in the Democratic Party in terms of why that story isn't told. I don't know if it's just the love affair with the Obama guys that that campaign was so good and so forth, and Obama was so good that by comparison, nobody looks that great. I'm not sure why that story isn't told, but I think that to run, to restore the soul of the country only works when it's been destroyed by someone like Donald Trump.
But the reason he's running ended up being a reason that resonated with people. And he has made very few missteps. And Trump wanted to run against a senile guy. Trump sounds crazy. I mean, Trump wanted to run against a guy whose adult son had corrupted the family. There is a whole machinery ready and willing to take that up. It just didn't stick. And so I think that not only is Joe Biden at the moment, I think he's exceeded the expectations that Democrats have for him when he became the unlikely nominee of their party and really not the chosen one of the Democratic elite.
And I think that the fact that his campaign has consistently kept expectations low while meeting and exceeding them at every point is one of the untold stories of the campaign.
The reality is for them, they had to run this campaign, the Biden people in the face of unprecedented, unpredictable things for which there were no playbook. Obviously, the first among them, A have a 70 amidst 70s candidate who was in the high risk group for getting a deadly disease that you had to keep alive while also trying to beat Donald Trump and do it at a time when you couldn't campaign in a normal way.
And and they navigated all of that with extraordinary discipline and poise and aplomb, I think. And and, you know, I mean, look, if he loses, you know, we'll all look back and talk about all the things that they missed and the things they did wrong, and that will be appropriate. But right now, I look at it. I think, you know, Jen O'Malley Dillon arrived in that office. She became the campaign manager.
They just shut the campaign down, closed the headquarters down. That would never open again. And she had to go from the transition to building a nomination candidacy to a general election candidacy staff up from a couple hundred over a thousand without ever being able to meet a single person in face to face, do it all over, Zoom.
I mean, it's an amazing managerial challenge, apart from the strategic challenges. And they somehow, you know, again, to your point, as of right now, what they can point to is this very long, very large, very stable lead that they've kept. And I think, you know, they deserve a kind of credit that they haven't gotten for having managed all of this chaos and unpredictability and put him even if he loses, it turns out they put him in a position to win.
And that's in the Super Bowl. That's that's what the coaching staff that's what you get credit for. You can't play the game for your players, but you can put your you put your team in a position to win. And I think they've done that for Joe Biden. Yeah.
And I think the look, I notice things about campaigns having been on campaigns, their campaign that doesn't leak their campaign, that doesn't backbite. And I'm sure there were debates inside that campaign about about everything, because, as you just said, no one's ever done this before about how often to keep him off the road, about how many interviews to do, about who to pick for vice president. And it is usually the case that the campaign that leaks less and that manages to keep these decisions, you know, inside the tent is usually the campaign that wins.
So I also think they made the only bet they could make. I mean, Trump is running on herd immunity. I think Trump is indifferent to death and suffering. I think the American people are really wrestling with loneliness and despair and fear for their economic security and fear for their families and and grief about about the pre pandemic lives that they've lost. And I think Trump has taken all that despair and shoved it into his disgusting cesspool, making it about him and and using and exploiting it.
But I think Biden made the only bet you can make. The alternative to that is to heal the sickness, to deal with the pandemic, to get through to the other side, which is relief from all those things. I think if he loses, it's not that we re-evaluate all their strategic decisions and wonder if he made a mistake. If you're running against Trump, who's just fucking let everyone get this thing. Regeneron, you made me feel like Superman.
I don't know that there was. I mean, the choices is sanity is what Dr. Foushee is advising is what Governor Cuomo did, which is try to try to get through the worst of it and then go back and build back in a healthy and safe way. So I just think as a campaign and as a candidate, he's been constantly underestimated and he has constantly exceeded arguably low expectations and he's constantly exceeded them.
It's a very good time to take a little break. We'll come back in a second. We're going to listen to some advertisements, which is how we pay the bills around here. I have held high water and then we'll rejoin the class and take a little walk and go back a little bit. A bunch of questions I have to ask you about the past. That that I think earlier I get the more blurry the past guys that are, but they're relevant to our president.
Our futures are going to come back and talk about those in one second.
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I'm Shonda Rhimes. If you watch Grey's Anatomy or any of my TV shows, you know, I love to tell a good story. Well, now there's Sandland Audio. We partner with I Heart Radio to launch a slate of great podcasts. You can listen the first four right now, Katie's Krib criminal. You go ask Ali and you down and we have so much more coming your way. We can't wait for you to hear it all. Welcome to Shadowland Audio.
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And we're back with Nicole Wallace, so I just said we're going to talk about the past and I think the past is relevant to the present and also to our to the future, which will get to the past.
I specifically want to talk about yours. You know, I just had Mike Murphy and Stuart Stevens on the on the podcast couple weeks ago and had a really interesting conversation about about their relationship to Republicanism now, having lived through this whole Trump trauma. And I want to talk to you about that and how you how you've experienced it yourself in this sort of a similar vein. But I as a starting point, I ask you this like you start out being one to be a journalist like me and went to Northwestern just like I did.
You were a grad student there, I think in the J school. I was an undergrad. And yet you ended up in politics. You're also a gal from Northern California, not a place where there's a whole lot of Republicanism. And you ended up you kind of drift away from journalism and drifting towards politics and Republican politics in particular.
Just just explain that. How did that happen? Like, why did you end up in politics and why did you end up on the Republican side?
So I was in Sacramento and I actually interviewed with a Democrat and a Republican in the same week I interviewed with this is after after college. I mean, after college. After grad school, I went to Northwestern. I was a local TV reporter and was a great experience. I had the scanner. I had the camera. I learned a white balance. I shot my own stuff and I was up on the I five corridor. So a lot of drugs are run up by five.
I did a lot of DEA cases. I did traffic accidents. I did feel the of a local news reporter and wanted to get to the next market. And so I wanted to get to Sacramento and. Thought I should sort of hedge my bets and see if there was a PR job in politics, and so because it was the state capital I interviewed with Cruz Bustamante, who was a Democrat, and Bill Leonard, who was the assembly Republican leader, and the Republican hired me.
And at the time, I was like a deputy communications director for the Assembly, Republican Caucus and Bill Entropies, a lovely, lovely guy, stayed in touch with him for many, many years. And it was sort of the rough and tumble Sacramento politics post, Willie Brown, Pete Wilson, but a pretty Schwarzenegger kind of window. And I saw the Republicans really on their way down. That was where I met Steve Schmidt and it was where I saw that Pete Wilson's really hostile and aggressive immigration policies were not the kind of Republican Party I wanted to be a part of.
So I ended up going from California Republican politics to George W. Bush, who I remember just feeling drawn to. But I didn't get directly there. I went through Florida to work for Jeb Bush. Right. My path to the Bush White House wound its way through the Florida recount. Right. And then back into the George W. Bush communications offices, where that's probably where I first met you when I was in the Bush White House, even the reelect and three and four.
Yeah, but I wasn't ever drawn to Republican policies and ideas. I was drawn to the idea of helping people get their message out of dealing with reporters. I've been a reporter. I knew that sometimes it was just lost in translation. I think that changed after I met George W. Bush and Jeb Bush and started to really appreciate their policies. But I remember even with Jeb Bush just just trying to help him explain them to the Florida state press corps is really smart.
They're really tough. They're really good. It was great practice for ending up in Washington, but I didn't come to it really ideologically, certainly not in the beginning and probably not for years.
It is the case that, like having been in the middle of the Bush White House, as you were, you know, that you ended up in a very controversial period of time, working for a very, quite controversial president, one who was seen, you know, as being you know, people forget the way that the left attacked George W. Bush at the time.
And still no doubt, you know, you still see it even out there are people who don't want to forgive you. And I put quotes around that forgive you for having been ever part of that.
So I kind of asked this question, you know, do you think you ended up embroiled in an ideologically because you ended up working for the president and the president's pursuing conservative policies, which George W. Bush did?
And then you ended up working for John McCain and there was the Sarah Palin thing.
All of that happened while you were at the very height of Republican politics.
So I guess the question that I the question that comes out of that to me is this, you know, Stuart's book is called It was All a Lie, which is like I was part of this thing at the highest levels. And now I look back on it and think, you know, I was complicit in building a fucked up, racist, white, grievance driven party that ultimately gave birth to Donald Trump. But I had a part in this, the nightmare we're now living.
I am not free of guilt. I'm not free of sin. I was part of this project that led to this place.
And I I guess I ask you that question as you kind of you know, you're now distant from it. You're now doing journalism and you're now obviously, you know, you feel the way we feel about Donald Trump. But do you look back on your time in Republican politics and feel like that you were in some way part of a trajectory that eventually led to this president who you object to in such profound ways?
Of course. And I think that the work of making peace with that is I have nothing but reverence for the president that I worked for. George W. Bush was shattered by 9/11, and everything he did afterward was to avoid having that happen again, not just on his watch, but ever. And I think the fact that Obama continued a lot of those policies is proof not that they were right or wrong, but that you were looking at shitty and shittier options to protect the country from the threats that gathered and and shattered us on 9/11.
John McCain and George W. Bush are not perfect. I do not regret working for either of them, but I know that George W. Bush has talked about the other threats that were gathering while he was president of racism and isolationism and nativism. And I think they smacked him in the face when he tried with John McCain and Ted Kennedy to press for comprehensive immigration reform and was pushed back by his own party. Right. Most time I ever spent at the border was with George W.
Bush in 05, in 06 when he was pushing immigration reform. And I remember really realizing what the party was then that they were so fucking racist they wouldn't contemplate comprehensive immigration reform, which George W. Bush believed at the time was the only way to reform immigration, that you couldn't send everybody back. And I remember the fights. I remember them in Josh Bolten's office. He was the chief of staff with his own staff. And I remember people pushing these policies where everyone in the country illegally, which at the time was the estimates were 11 to 19 million, would have to go back.
And I remember sitting there saying that's not what Bush believes in. That's not what he thinks should happen or will happen. And I and I remember seeing was just in our own party, it was in our own administration the resistance to comprehensive immigration reform. And that might have been the first time that I started to think about what I'd been a part of. So I think they manifested themselves most visibly in the fight around immigration policy and politics. And, yeah, you look at the fact that Bush was where Kennedy and McCain were in 05.
In 06, Trump won by being so diametrically opposed to that. That was a sign of how far Bush was from the base of the Republican Party. On that question of immigration, I think, you know, we all have to go through our own process of making peace with the foreign policy decisions. And for any family that lost someone in Iraq or Afghanistan, they get to have the last word on all those decisions. And it's not right to continue to defend decisions that were made.
I think people paid the ultimate price on the battlefield and in injuries that changed the trajectory of their lives. And it's just not right to still defend those things. And their families have sacrificed so much. And that's something that we all carry. And I think if people are honest, it's a pretty defining thing. And I think it contributed to Trump's wins in ways that we should all try to examine and understand. Do I think it was all a lie?
I mean, I don't think that people that were in it are necessarily the best judges of that. I mean, I think everyone has to try to make it right in their own way. And I try to tell the truth and I try to deal with my remorse in a non sort of self-absorbed way. But I think Sarah Palin as a canary in the mine is instructive. She is a more prepared, smarter Donald Trump, but that is exactly what he tapped into when he won the nomination 60.
And the exact kinds of things and sentiments that she saw titillated her crowds. And you were on the trail. You mean you wrote the book about it? I mean, that is what she was and who she was. And that's what people are responding to. And that was the best early warning system for what was to come. Donald Trump. Right.
Did you see I mean, I finally I remember this so vividly of this thing that you will remember as soon as I mention it. Right. Which is the I went back and watched it and maybe we'll even play it on this program, although it's a little embarrassing. Well, OK, let's let's do that. We know now that Sarah Palin can give one hell of a speech. She's she's a natural and that's no mean feat. We don't know yet.
And we won't know until you guys allow her to take questions. You know, can she answer tough questions about, you know, that's the policy for them to hear from you and me. Who cares about the American people? Can I just go right so she can talk to TIME magazine? She's going to say, how am I going to see more people? American people need to know, just like they need to know about Joe Biden and Barack Obama to you.
Not that she can lie to me, but she knows that she knows how it is that she knows things about the domestic and foreign policy that the vice president needs to know. But here's the thing. I mean, it doesn't matter if it's me, but somebody's got to ask the question. You got this. The media did something to this family that I never seen before in my life. And I think she took the stage last night and, you know, she made her own choice.
She she put this discussion and this race and this convention in her own terms. And she didn't do it by talking with all due respect to people like you.
So there you are with Jay Carney at the Republican convention on Morning Joe Fiercly, basically saying to Jay Carney, is he standing there kind of doing the traditional journalistic thing of saying, you know, she has to answer questions, talking about Sarah Palin, you going who who does she have to answer questions?
Who you you know, you sound like in that moment, like Republicans, a lot of Republicans say, oh, now you're like, I'm surprised you didn't call him fake news at that point. You were like, you know, it's an early precursor of it. And you were still at that point fighting in Sarah Palin's corner. Yeah. You met her only a few days earlier. Right.
So that's why she didn't know where any of the countries were. So in some ways, we were trying to sort of deal with the notion that she was ever going to be giving daily press conferences. And it was a combination of knowing where that campaign was heading, which was that Sarah Palin would not be engaging on a daily basis the total length of Jay Carney because she couldn't. And yeah, I was still a defender of the ticket, which was right.
But that's yeah, that's but that's kind of my point.
My point is sort of like you all had just you know, you had had been given the job of of of working for her, defending her, you know, as as the staff person who was going to run her life effectively in terms of her relationship with the media in particular. You had met her not more than maybe a week before that. Some of the things that would ultimately disturb you and ultimately your alienation from her before the campaign even ended.
You know, we're already in your head at that point. But my my point about it is to say that is the question I want to ask, which you kind of started to answer just now, which is like it's one thing to a very quickly come to the conclusion that she was not prepared.
She's the new governor of Alaska, the former mayor of Wasilla.
You know, it was stunning to a lot of you and your colleagues when you realized how little she knew about the world.
Right. But it was also this was the morning after she gave that amazing red light performance in Minneapolis. Right. And that morning you were dealing from a position of political strength and trying to say, you know, maybe she's not like other candidates. Maybe she's never going to engage with you, Jay Carney, in the way that John McCain does. But she just gave a speech that connected with millions of people and it was powerful right from that point on, things spun out of control and went downhill rapidly.
And the question I really want to ask you is whether you you learn you came to learn quickly that she was not prepared to be vice president, let alone president. You came to learn that she was psychologically unstable and emotionally unstable.
But did you start to see in real time that the thing that now seems clear, which is that she represented this nativist, xenophobic, culturally grievance driven populist part of the party, did you see that in real time where you were like, this woman is not just unprepared, but she's potentially dangerous and she represents a thing in the party that I think is bad?
Did you see that in real time or only in retrospect that she was kind of meaningful in that sense?
Two things, one, I was not fighting with Jay Carney from a position of strength, I was fighting with Jay Carney from a position of abject terror because in preparing for the speech that Sarah Palin hit out of the park. I took lines out of the speech because I argued to Matt Scully, who was the brilliant speechwriter who wrote that speech, who deserves an enormous amount of credit for finding enough of her voice to make it work so perfectly for her.
There were just things she didn't they couldn't be explained to her. And it wasn't that she was stupid. She is not stupid. She wasn't stupid. She was. Staggeringly uninformed, and my job is to constantly, constantly reassure her that that was not her fault. She knew how uninformed she was and she was mortified by it. And she fell asleep every night with stacks of note cards on her bed and highlighters trying to make up for the gap in her knowledge, which had become apparent to her.
So I was sensitive to what she had revealed to me, which was a feeling of shame for not understanding the nuances of policy. We did not feel that we had done anything great at the convention. She had done something great at the convention. We were determined to try to set her up for success. But I remember Mark Salter saying her first interview has to be Russert or 60. And I said, you're out of your fucking mind. She cannot do either of those things.
And I thought that a network interview would be a little more broad and a little less sort of policy specific. And so I knew John Boehner really well. We invited Charlie Gibson to Wasilla. And I think I won't speak for John or Charlie, but I think we all remain somewhat scarred from the experience. But did I see the attraction to nativism and racism? I did not after after the convention experience, but what I saw was her her trauma.
And what I saw was her shock at the sudden thrusting on to center stage of American politics. And what I saw was the family's trauma. I mean, it was the Saturday of the Sunday before Minneapolis started. She had to reveal that that her daughter was pregnant. And I just saw the family going through this just really traumatic sort of public foray onto the political stage. And I was more aware of her, her being really, really, really uninformed and really, really, really embarrassed about it.
Right. But you you now see again and that's a really good answer in the sense that it reminds people, I think, that all of these larger things, these larger dynamics and forces and connections that we all like, you know, all of us, we're trying to be thoughtful about politics that we draw later on.
If you're in the the heat, the moment of a campaign, you're working on a campaign, you're covering a campaign. A lot of the stuff is not you see it very much through the glass darkly. In the moment you're trying to get through the day, you're not thinking about like the large forces of noodles and populism and blah, blah, blah.
You're just like, how do I get through it? But but it is, I think, the case that you saw some stuff and this is where I think that I want to just kind of land this part of this conversation. I think if you saw the reaction to her, I remember thinking the drama of her inadequacies, the unfairness in some ways of putting her in the position she was put in, her failings or her emotional issues, her her intellectual deficiencies, all of that was incredibly compelling to watch unfold and her magnetism or charisma, the connection she had with special needs kids, all of those things, that jumble of things that she was those are all the things that are up close.
And then there were these larger things that she was connected to. And again, as I say, you couldn't necessarily see those in the moment, but you later kind of started to get it. But I will say that the one thing that was clear in the moment, you know, especially given John McCain and the way that he handled, you know, the questions around, you know, Obama, was he a Muslim in that campaign? She was pal around with terrorists.
She was all in on the Muslim shit. That's the story there. And people think back about that McCain moment where he you know, that woman said he's a Muslim. And McCain, you know, valiantly said, no, ma'am, he's a good American. We disagree about things.
The whole point of that moment isn't that McCain just spoke truth to that woman and tried to bring her back to reality and knock down this crazy conspiracy theory about Obama was that the conspiracy theory was being peddled and propagated by his running mate.
Like that moment in the campaign was her running around the country drawing bigger crowds than McCain and talking about Obama palling around with terrorists everywhere she went so that when that woman walked, said that thing to John McCain that he responded to in this way that we now think of this noble, the reason he had to knock that woman down or be noble was because his own running mate was the one who was stirring up that shit in real time. That woman might have been a Sarah Palin rally a day earlier when she walked into the McCain rally and said that thing.
And in the Palin rally, if she'd said Obama is a Muslim, there would have been a giant standing ovation and Sarah Palin would have loved to hear that. And so she could then walk over to the McCain rally. And it was like, wait a minute, man, these views are not welcome here. That's the was this that was the schizophrenia of the campaign in that moment. And that was the thing that you could see that Sarah Palin was connecting with a part of the Republican Party that was large and growing and animated and maybe larger and growing and more animated than the rest of the Republican Party.
The part that was there for her had a lot more energy around it than the part that was there for, you know, John McCain.
And it's even it's even bigger than that. He was shattered by the criticism. And it came to him in phone calls from people like Joe Biden and Ted Kennedy that. John Lewis, who McCain Revere revered, yeah, thought he was playing the race card from the bottom of the deck, he was shattered by that criticism, shattered. I remember sitting on the bus. I think we missed a flight because he was shattered by the attacks. And I remember sitting on the bus with Steve Schmidt and Mark Salter trying to figure out how to respond.
And they were concerned about what you just articulated, what not just what Sarah Palin was saying on the stump, but the way her crowds were reacting to what she was saying on the stump. And it was in that moment sitting on the bus that the Republican Party, I think, fractured, irreparably fractured between McCain and Palin. He never, I think, sought to stand up to her on fanning the flames of racism because he saw the force behind it, that what she was a vessel for, what the party had become.
And I never had a conversation with him after the fact because the wheels really came off and she lost her mind. And I don't know, I thought I bought her skirts and then took the skirts and her father had Gucci shoes. I mean, the whole thing really kind of went to hell in a handbasket. So I never circled back to McCain. And Mark Salter is just out with his memoir of his life with McCain and I think writes about it in a really profound way.
But, yeah, it was that stark and it was that simple and it was this divide between these two people on the same ticket running to run the country together. Imagine that. Yeah.
At that moment, the shattering of the Republican Party on that bus is a good place to break because I want to now talk about the future for for all of us, not just the Republican Party, but the future for all of us. But we're going to do that after we take this quick break. We're back with the last segment with Nicolle Wallace, my dear friend, John Howard Water. We've discussed the present, we've discussed the past, I'd like to now like through our eyes a little bit towards the horizon line, right?
I mean, you made it up just now, made an important point about about the way in which Sarah Palin was a vessel, right? Mm hmm.
She was not a cause of the Republican Party becoming what it has become. She was a symptom.
I still think one of the most fundamental questions and this is going to throw forward to where we're going next. But is the question of is Donald Trump a cause? You know, Donald Trump stage a hostile take over the Republican Party. You know, he took it hostage and now has and has worked it and messed with it and made it this kind of degraded, defiled thing.
The other side is Donald Trump, just a symptom.
He's just like Sarah Palin. Only he was more successful than Sarah Palin took it further. Got to be president, you know, et cetera, et cetera, but still is symptomatic of a deeper rot. So that's the question I start I put to you now, which is, you know, Donald Trump causes symptom. And depending on your answer, what does that bode for the future of the party as we go forward?
Look, I think it's too clean, right? And any explanation that's clean is usually wrong. So I was obsessed with that doc or the guy at McDonald's every day and ended up with every house super size me. Yeah, it's like that in a prison. It's like force feeding some of the guys. So Trump is the one spooning the shit into people's mouths and Fox News is making sure it all goes in and holding the lips closed. Make sure you swallow all the grease.
But the base was primed by the failures of the Republican Party and not just Bush and McCain, but of Romney and Ryan to run on free trade that the people in the Midwest felt like did nothing for them to run on a continuance of foreign policies that have become very unpopular. Mitt Romney ran as a guy whose foreign policy amounted to Russia is the single greatest geopolitical threat. And he happened to be right. But that didn't mean anything to people. People wanted the world to worst and they wanted the factories to reopen.
And that was all a lie. But Trump took the lie and ran on it. He told people what they wanted to hear. And I think that the future is in the balance. I mean, I think the Republican Party is dead. I think, as I said, it died on that bus when the fracture between John McCain and Sarah Palin came down to one over over racism. And I don't want to jinx anything, but I think if Donald Trump loses and Joe Biden wins with this incredible coalition that includes a lot of Democrats, a lot of independents and a lot of Republicans, it's incumbent on everyone who voted for him to guarantee success.
And I think what that means is that the Lincoln Project has to start telling the story about why expanding the court has been done at different times in our history. And they have to create this permission structure for the Biden coalition to stay and become the coalition formed by which he governs. And so I think the quick fix era is over. I think it brought us here. And I think if Trump wins, it's a totally different question. We have to grapple with the fact that we're not the country that we thought we were.
We're a country that's fine with herd immunity, which means one to two million dead Americans. Republican Party is no longer the party of pro-life. Republican Party will be responsible for stacking the Supreme Court in a way that pushes abortions back into closets. It means rich people will be able to have reproductive health care, but it just takes the country in a totally different direction. And we'll have to grapple with it. And I think part of the challenge of jobs like yours and mine is not getting ahead of the story.
But, yeah, you've pulled back the curtain on some of what's to come. I mean, Alex did that stunning interview with militia groups and they are ready for a civil war, not because they imagined it or dreamt it or dreamed of it as little boys, but because Donald Trump has told them to be prepared for it.
The only way, in my opinion, that Joe Biden can win is through fraud. So just to be clear, if Trump wins, then the election is not fraudulent, if Biden wins, then it is fraudulent. Absolutely. Does that mean you guys are going to take to the streets and say, hell, no, this is not a legitimate outcome? Yeah, well, I welcome free man this morning. And on November 4th, I wake up a free man.
And if I feel I need to go to overturn my fraudulent election, then nobody on Earth is going to hold me back. I feel that our country is more in danger from the domestic terrorists. Then we are from foreign and. The original civil war has nothing on what's going on. I think if he wins, we're in for a real reckoning, not just I mean, the Republican Party will be gone, dead and buried, but of of who we are as a country and what we will be a country that can't do hard things.
We can't put a mask on that. That'll be considered too hard for us. So we'll be going for mass death in a pandemic. We'll be a country who who is in a really different, I think, image than than what a lot of us think and thought. And again, I'm not really ready to grapple with everything that it means, but I think I don't know that the choices have ever been starker than they are on Tuesday for sure.
And as I said when we started out here, right. So recording on a Friday, the podcast comes out on a blind election morning. And I you're right. I think, you know, there's enough happening here that we don't need to get way ahead of the story.
We want need to stay in the story in the moment right now, because a lot is going on right now. I mean, the last few days before an election are always chaotic and always I always find them incredibly exhilarating. Actually, I don't find this one exhilarating. I find it something different. I do.
Certainly it's nervy.
You know, it's it's much more it's much more edgy and much more a shot through with anxiety and fear and dread.
And so I really wanted to ask you, just because you mentioned Alex Wagner on the circus doing this interview with a militia, a self-styled militia person in Georgia.
Do you as we sit here today, are you worried about violence on Election Day or in the immediate post-election period? Is that something that's in your mind right now, civil unrest?
I mean, I think when people tell you they're prepared for a civil war, we should listen to them. So it's not something I kind of sat around and thought, let me let me add this to my list of worries.
Right. My kids are going to be fucked up from learning at home and not being in a classroom. I'm worried that, you know, my team never sees each other. And I have this two hour show I'm I'm worried about when I'm to see my parents again. And then I thought, well, let me just worry about white militia groups in the South started or maybe right here. And what do I know? I mean, I'm worried that we don't live in a society that's a sort of open and transparent, as we thought it was, and that Donald Trump has been speaking.
He's not smart enough to speak in code that some of them I'm suggesting, but that when he says stand by and stand back, that they hear something that that we should all at least consider as a possibility. I'm not saying it's predictive of what's going to happen, but I just think it is possible that people have heard from him things that they have taken literally. And I think contemplating one, that that that means he could win. And to that, that means there could be violence.
If he doesn't ask for there not to be is just something to be on the lookout for. I mean, look, I am supposed to give a speech at a women's charity a week later. And I said, look, I think I'll be there, but there's a civil war I may have to reschedule. And she said, Are you joking? I said, I hope so. You know, I mean, I don't think there will be.
But I think when you look at Alex's interview, they have heard that, that if Donald Trump loses, it's because it was illegitimate. Yes. Now Donald Trump could lose. And if they think that that loss is illegitimate, I think we should just be prepared for them to feel the way anyone would feel. If they they think that what Donald Trump said was true, that the election was stolen from them.
We've been listening to him for six months. Tell us that he's going to try to steal the election. I mean, it's just been very straightforward about it. His his his little argument at the Republican National Convention was there are two outcomes, an outcome where I win and an outcome that's illegitimate. There's no way we can lose. He told his people there's no way we can lose unless they steal it from us. Meaning the left right. We'll see what happens.
But I don't think that, you know, Donald Trump doesn't do something consistently over many months, stay on the same message over and over again if he doesn't intend to follow through on. You know, I'll end with this last question, which is every time there's been a proxy war where Donald Trump's name was not on the ballot, but other Republicans were on the ballot off year elections, midterm elections, local elections, state level election, special elections by elections, anything, there has been no way or there's been a place where voters have been given a choice to vote on Donald Trump and Donald Trump's policies by proxy because they could vote for a different Republican.
Republicans have gotten their asses handed, the clocks cleaned for four years. So it would be a strange thing if you combine that with the data. It would be a very strange thing for Joe Biden to lose, given the trend in the trajectory.
Right. So if we end up there, Joe Biden wins, maybe wins decisively, maybe wins really big. You still are going to have a president who's faced with a very with at least some something like 40 percent of the country, that's going to feel as though that it was a it was a conspiracy, that it was a coup. You know, all of the Trump is solid.
Trump's people will still be out there saying this was not a real election. This was bogus. It was phony. It was rigged. It was stolen. And Trump is and will still be alive in the Republican Party. And we'll still have a pandemic to cope with and we will still have systemic racial injustice in the country. I mean, this is the optimistic outcome. Joe Biden wins, right? It's still like think just imagine like what it's what it is to be Joe Biden and have all of that on your plate starting in January.
Obviously, a lot of people that's the preferable outcome. But do you have a lot of confidence that Joe Biden, the people around him, are up to the challenge of governing, given all of that? Well, I think we don't have a choice but to have confidence in Biden being up to the task of governing, and I think I actually think if Biden wins, the transition becomes the biggest story of the Trump presidency because Bush won after the recount.
The big scoop was that they've taken a few WS off the keyboards. I mean, there could be dead Russian hookers trapped in the basement of the West.
I mean, this president has been lawless. This president has been willfully, you know, trying to move the levers of the Justice Department, the CIA. I mean, I think it would be the most riveting transition in American presidential history.
And I think that it'll call on people to take jobs that maybe thought they were done with government. And I'm not saying everyone has to be old, but it'll call on people from other walks of life to try to to unite the country. It'll call on a big sort of cultural effort to bring the country together. I mean, Joe Biden has run on uniting the country, hasn't run on punishing Trump ism. He just hasn't. So I think they'll be a big fight on the left about how far to go.
And I think Biden's instincts in this may be an unpopular thing to say, but I think Biden's instincts will be to let the country heal. And I think tourists want to hold Trump and his family accountable for crimes against them. So I think the story changes dramatically. And I'm not saying it's going to be an uplifting one, but I don't I just I don't know that we have a choice as a country. If Joe Biden wins, we have to try to get back to sort of some equilibrium.
And I would just say what I said at the beginning, that he's constantly exceeded the expectations of the media, the Republicans and the Democrats. And I guess I would hope that he continues to do so.
Nicole, you are like we've already gone over time. And I apologize for taking a few minutes past when I said I was going to let you go. It's like I just never want to stop talking to you.
It's such a like it's like a I feel like I'm going to cry about this, the country and the situation. And my son's in there taking himself to remote third grade dogs, barking mikes, trying to work such a crazy.
Which is why I need to let you go to manage that chaos that I improve any of those four swirling pots.
But but it really is true.
Like, I could just basically like I feel like we are in this like non-stop kind of infinite conversation and it's just dipped into it now. Decided to record a little bit of it here. But I could like I really could like I think about the rest of my day and I'm like what I'd rather do go face the rest of my day or just like sit on the Zoome with you. I'd rather just sit here and talk to you for a little while longer and we'll do it some more.
And I'm going to need it. I'm going to need it this week and maybe we'll maybe we'll update this on a Wednesday morning.
The Koosh, thank you for taking the time. Love you. And we'll talk to you soon, OK? All right. Bye, sweetie.
Hell and High Water is a podcast from the Recount and I Heart Radio. Thanks again to Nicolle Wallace for being on the pod. If you like this episode of Pelini Water, please subscribe to the podcast and leave a rating in the Apple podcast app. A nice one, please.
Helps people find out what we're doing around here. I'm your host and the executive editor of the Weekly, John Heilemann. Grace Weinstein is a co creator of Hell or High Water. Olivia Jackson and Scott Carroll engineered the podcast. Justin Turmel and Diana Rowden handle research. Sorry, Soffer is our producer and Christian Fidel Castro. Russell is our executive producer.
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