A Feral Trump Leads the Feral Right: An Interview with Rick Perlstein

Historians in the News
tags: Trump



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Donald Trump speaks at the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/ flickr CC 2.0)


EDITOR’S NOTE: Take a long look at the photograph above of Donald Trump speaking to the American Conservative Union, the umbrella organization of the right. The ACU was founded in 1964, the year conservative icon Barry Goldwater won the Republican nomination for president and was crushed at the polls that fall by the liberal, Lyndon B. Johnson. Keep that photograph in mind as you read my conversation with historian Rick Perlstein, which we might have subtitled “From Barry Goldwater to Donald Trump: You Must Be Kidding!” Perlstein has now written three best-selling books on the modern conservative movement. He still blinks at the thought of Trump’s triumph in capturing the Republican nomination last year and then beating Hillary Clinton. The photograph suggests the seminal moment in 2015 that led to both victories — as Trump convinced conservatives he was one of them. The legacy of both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan is now his. So is the Republican Party. He tightened his grip on the GOP in the last few days when two prominent Republican senators who are leaving politics rebuked the president as “dangerous to our democracy,” even as some of their colleagues were rushing into Trump’s arms with wet kisses, fearing, perhaps, that if they were any less ardent, Steve Bannon would come galloping down upon them in a future primary with an even more radical challenger. I asked Rick Perlstein to talk about these matters. 

                                                                                                                              —Bill Moyers

 

Moyers: So Republican Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker gave up, and others, like Sen. Lindsey Graham, gave in. And here are the headlines in The New York Times: 

CRITICS GIVE WAY AS THE GOP TILT TO TRUMP’S ORBIT

Acquiesce or Go Home

Party With Less and Less Room for Older Breed Of Conservative


In other words, Donald Trump owns the Republican Party.

Rick Perlstein: That’s right. It’s like Ivory soap, “99 and 1/100 percent pure,” remember? Oh, the apostasy of Jeff Flake. The senator from Arizona gives this very histrionic speech about how Trump has introduced evasion and demagoguery and all these awful things into the Republican Party — and then announces he’s quitting. He’s really saying, “I’m not going to fight it. I’m going to surrender to it.” Remember, he’s voted 90 percent of the time with the Trump/Republican agenda. And then later that day, he and the other brave, bold critic in the Republican establishment, Sen. Bob Corker, both voted to end the rule that would have allowed people to sue banks and credit card companies that rip them off. They get to have their cake and eat it, too. They basically make a material contribution to the very damage to the body politic in the afternoon that they decry in the morning.
 
Moyers: Sens. Murkowski of Alaska, Collins of Maine, Sasse of Nebraska and McCain of Arizona — John McCain! — also voted for Trump’s giveaway to Wall Street. Political commentator Kyle Kulinski called it “Your daily reminder that establishment Republicans want Trump to do every single thing he’s doing minus the mean tweets.”

Perlstein: I read Jeff Flake’s book, Conscience of a Conservative, written in homage to Barry Goldwater. Here’s a guy staking out in his ideology in terms that are quite reactionary, in a book that supposedly decries the turn of the Republican Party to dangerous reaction. ...





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