Transcribe your podcast

Hello from the Lincoln Project and welcome back. I'm Ron Suskind. Today, we're bringing you another explained episode where we take a question we get frequently from our listeners and take a deep dive to explain it for you. If you have any questions you'd like us to cover on upcoming explained episodes about the upcoming election or omission or anything else, you can reach us at podcast at Lincoln Project that us. So let's dive in. One of the questions we get most often is about the United States Senate.


Most people understand the Lincoln Project's opposition to Trump. Usually we'll get asked why, as current and former Republicans were putting energy and effort into removing some Republican senators for office.


So to help us break this down, we have my fellow Lincoln Project co-founder, legendary ad maker and author of The New York Times best selling book, Everything Trump Touches Dies Rick Wilson with 47 days left to go until the election. Thank you for making time for us again today.


Well, I am delighted to be here. Rick, I'm going to break down this question into a couple of different questions that seem to come up all the time. So the first is it's not really possible to talk about the Senate without talking about Trump ism, which is embedded in our mission. And this is a term we use all the time. So to start with, can you break down for our listeners what we mean when we say Trump ism broadly and then specifically about where we've seen Trump ism in the Senate?


Sure. Well, I mean, Ron, one of the most important things we've done is to shine a light on the fact that you can't have a Donald Trump without enablers. And those enablers have done things for Donald Trump that have protected him from the illegality and the criminality and the incompetence that he has displayed as president. And in many cases, those people have gleefully enabled him while abandoning their responsibilities while abandoning their oath of office and while pretending that what he's done and what he is doing is not an egregious affront to the Constitution and to the law and to the the needs of the American people.


So when we say that we are going after Trump and Trump ism and its enablers, those are two categories in the Senate. There are some people in the Senate who pretend that they're not fans of Donald Trump, Owusu Collins or Sue Collins. However, when it really counts, is always there for when it really matters. She's always there for Donald Trump. And so in that regard, you know, she has found herself on our target list. There are other people who are who are overt fans of Donald Trump who believe in the kind of statism and the kind of nascent authoritarianism and the nationalist populism that Donald Trump espouses and models.


And those are people who who are like Tom Cotton and Ron Johnson and Martha McSally and others. Some of them are up for reelection this year. Some of them are going to be up for re-election two years from now. And it's our belief that we we all committed to as founders that we were going to pursue Trump and Trump ism because the idea of Trump is not something as the ideal Trump is philosophy is not something you just get to run to the car wash and pretend never happened.


We believe that it is a dangerous anti conservative anti-American philosophy and ideology and it needs to be addressed. And so that's why we're going after members of the U.S. Senate, in part because there are those who have enabled empowered him and and who have who have served as cover for him, even if they don't believe in him or claim not to. And there are those who deserve to be visited electoral with electoral consequences, because at vital moments, they have sided with Donald Trump in ways that abrogated their oath of office.


Can you talk a bit about how you have had this conversation on town halls before? And I think it's true to say that none of these senators, you know, they don't have an excuse of not knowing any better. Right? Right. These are people who are now completely exposed to the realities of Trump ism. They are completely briefed on the consequences of their behavior. These are people who, knowing that they knew Donald Trump, knew they get it and they know that he's lying all the time.


And so when they go when they go into a hearing about covid or about Russia or about anything else, and Donald Trump doesn't get any kind of scrutiny from them or he gets excuses from them, that's that we're done. Those people have decided they're going to look the other way. No knowing what they know and and still stick with Trump. And it's all because, as you and I both know, it's not really about anything more than cowardice and opportunism.


They are afraid of Donald Trump tweeting a mean tweet of them and they are desperately afraid of of Donald Trump's base and his media audience at Fox News and elsewhere attacking them.


So this really comes down to a question of duty? I think so. Can you explain to our listeners what duties a senator has to uphold the Constitution and where Republican senators have fallen short? Specifically, they have consistently been unable to reconcile their oath of office and the duty they owe their constituents and the nation with the actions that they've taken to defend Donald Trump over and over again. They have done things. For instance, when the Rubio report was released, what it revealed was that every Republican senator on that committee.


Including Mitch McConnell, who allowed the report to go forward, they knew that Donald Trump had vastly deeper relationships with Russia than had been admitted during the investigation and prior they knew that they knew Donald Trump was lying. They knew he was attempting to manipulate witnesses. They understood all of it. And instead of doing their duty, which was to bring this thing forward for for examination, discussion and litigation inside the Senate as a case, they waved a magic wand and walked away and said, no, where I can investigate.


We're not going to do anything. He's not accountable. Moving on. And it's a difficult thing to reconcile with. It's difficult to reconcile with a with a White House that is lawless and reckless. And people say, oh, well, you know, the Senate and the Congress can check their behavior. Well, as long as Mitch McConnell has a full complement of a majority and the Senate, nothing will happen because they have put Trump ism before the country and they've done it time and again.


So part of this is a question about values, because on the one hand, there's the power that comes with controlling the Senate, which you just mentioned. But on the other hand, there's this constitutional duty to hold the president accountable when he steps out of bounds. So can you talk about how or whether you see these two values competing currently?


Well, there's really no competition. Unfortunately, the way competition ended the day that they decided that Donald Trump would not have to face consequences on the impeachment investigation, they had a very clear signal that no matter what he does, no matter what he's done, and that he will never be held to account, that they will protect him over all else, that nothing else matters except him. And and for an authoritarian or a wannabe authoritarian, that was an absolute moment of pure political magic.


And and it is it is horrifying. And it's disgusting to see that these people who claim to be strong leaders and people who claim to represent this country and who believe that the Constitution is vital. But in all those in all of those cases, you know, they have they have said, no, there is no competition between Trump and duty, Trump and the law, trump and reality, trump and political reality. And that's the irony of it.


Ron, is so many of these people like Martha McSally, she's going down in flames in her election because she was sold to the people of Arizona as somebody who was like a Goldwater or a McCain or a Jigar, somebody who was a fighter, somebody who was tough principle, going to go out there and based on her military service and background, was going to be a person fiercely committed to this country and the Constitution. And of what turned out, none of that was true.


Just to piggyback on that question for a minute, I want to follow it through to to where it leads, which I think our listeners are probably very concerned by as we are. So what does it mean for the country when there aren't people in the U.S. Senate who can and will hold a wannabe dictator in check? Where does that lead us?


It leads us to a very dark place as a country. It leads us to a moment where unless we remove Donald Trump from office and his acolytes and his allies from office, you will always get more bad behavior if you permit it. The more you permit something bad to happen where you could and should stand up against it, the more that you'll get. That's what's happening right now in this country with these with these folks who who have who have absolutely nothing to lose and absolutely nothing in this in this battle that would hurt them in any way if they stood up and told the truth.


A tweet is not going to hurt them. The loss of their dignity, their reputation, their legacy, that will hurt them. There are many people in the Senate right now who went in with great intentions, who went in with with clear ideological and philosophical predicates that they wanted to that they wanted to be able to work on and execute on who have now become nothing but maintenance boys at the Trump Country Club. They have become nothing more than caddies for this president.


They are not leaders. They are not legislators. They are functionaries. They are junior employees that are Trump Golf Resort. And those are people who thought they could be president. Many of them, you know, you look at Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, they both ran presidential campaigns, raised tons of money. People thought they could actually be president. Well, we now know neither of those two men ever had the backbone, either in the campaign or after to stand up to Donald Trump.


We look at people like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley and Nikki Haley, all of whom want to play the game of nationalist populism that Donald Trump has as clumsily tried to implement in his quest for power. And that nationalist populism is, of course, anathema to both the Constitution as it is written and to the conservative philosophy they all claimed to embrace. All right.


So I want to talk about the other side of this coin, which is the people that the Lincoln Project wants in the Senate. So let's go back to The New York Times op ed that launched on December 17th when we talked about electing Patriots to hold the line of the rule of law and the Constitution. So what does that look like in 20, 20 right now with the Senate races that we're targeting because some of them will be Democrats?


Well, I would like to point out two of them right off the top. That really struck me as as people who are not stereotypical progressive Democrats, but who are running in two red states and doing very, very well. Outgrowths in Alaska. Dr. Outgrossed, who we've done some work to support and help to grow a social following, helped him get his message out. And we've got about a million dollars worth of advertising there. Al Gross is a six foot, eight inch tall man mountain from Alaska.


He is a commercial fisherman and an orthopedic surgeon and has the bonus of having killed a grizzly bear when it attacked him. This guy is so purely Alaska, but he's also said, look, I'm going to go there to do the job of a U.S. senator. I'm not going there to be part of like a big party apparatus in Montana. Governor Bullock, who was a centrist Democrat as governor, not some far left figment of the of the Trumpy and nightmare cabinet is running a very competitive race against Steve Daines, who is a waterboy for Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell.


And and Bullock has a reputation as being a fighter for his state. We think he's in a very good position to do very well in that. And we also think he's the kind of guy who would go to Washington and uphold the rule of law and follow the follow the Constitution and do the things that have to be done. And look, I want people to be willing to impeach a person of their own party because that's the real where the real rubber meets the road.


And that's the test. There were people willing to impeach Richard Nixon. There were Democrats willing to impeach Bill Clinton if it had come to that. And in all these cases, it was a matter of having some guts and some honesty and some courage and standing up for what was right. And and while that is not easy in today's partisan environment, I think those two guys, particularly I think Jamie Harrison would do the same thing again. Jim Harrison is a South Carolina Democrat.


He's a moderate to moderate to center Democrat. And it's really hard for somebody like Lindsey Graham who has the morals of a of a catfish.


And who has gone back and forth on every single thing he ever said he believed in in all those cases? I think Jamie Harrison would be a a more law abiding rule following member of the U.S. Senate that Lindsey Graham, who is part of this gigantic propaganda effort on the Trump campaign's part to push out this deep state conspiracy at the end of the campaign. I'm going to end with a softball here, which is, you know, we've talked a little bit about duty that senators have, but can you talk a little bit about what duties the American people have when senators act as enablers?


Well, look, the American people for too long, I think, have seen themselves as passengers in this process, their drivers. And the way you take command of the vehicle, if you're unhappy with it, you have to get out there and take the wheel, take the throttle, take the stick, and you've got to go and do the things that send a clear message to those in office that you have a standard. The standard is not just, you know, don't break the law.


The standard is uphold the law. The standard isn't just, you know, do what I want. The standard is do the right thing. And so getting out to vote is the highest obligation of an American citizen. This election season, by far, it is an absolute you cannot negotiate it. You can't walk away from it. It's an absolute responsibility of every American citizen to get out vote. And that's one of the things we're encouraging here at the Lincoln Project, which is to to get folks to remember that all the bitching in the world about Donald Trump or Mitch McConnell or Lindsey Graham or Cory Gardner or Sue Collins means nothing unless you go out and you send the loudest, sharpest message you can at the ballot box this year.


So we're helping a lot of folks get information out about the dates for which you can request an absentee ballot on the dates, which you can vote on the dates which you have to have your seatbelt turned in by. And it's important we get all those folks out there motivated and remember that there is nothing that Donald Trump can do to stop you from voting.


Only you can stop yourself from voting. Don't let him scare you. Don't let him intimidate you.


Get out there and do the most powerful thing in the world, which is select an American president who will uphold the honor, values, traditions and decency of this country. Thank you to Rick for being on today and explaining this to us.


And thanks to all of you at home for listening. In our last explained episodes we've talked about and voting with Galen and how ballots are counted with Mike Madrid. We've designed these episodes based on the great questions we've received from all of you.


So keep them coming. If there's some topic or question you would like to hear, explain, please let us know. You can reach us at a podcast at Lincoln Project us for the Lincoln Project. I'm Destler and I'll see you in the next episode.