Max Boot joined me Thursday morning to discuss his new book, “The Corrosion of Conservatism,” and of course the #NeverTrump movement:
HH: Pleased to welcome back Max Boot. Max is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. He’s a columnist, as I am, for the Washington Post. He’s a global affairs analyst for CNN. He has a brand new book out, The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right, which is a fascinating memoir and a window into the Never Trump movement, which is why I invited Max on. He’s been a guest a number of times on my show, but this is, in essence, a memoir. Is that fair to say, Max, of our life as well as of the Never Trump movement?
MB: It is definitely a memoir, Hugh, and I want to thank you for having me on. I mean, there’s not a lot of conservative talkers or Trump supporters who would have me on to discuss this. So you know, even though we may disagree, I really applaud your openness to debate and discussion.
HH: Well, most of the Never Trumpers are my friends and have been guests for years, and so I like the conversation. I have to disclose the context, though it does not impact me. But listeners and readers might not believe that, so let me read from Page 79. “Even Hugh Hewitt, who has shown up Trump’s staggering ignorance and had earned the candidate’s wrath in return became an enthusiastic supporter apparently after having been instructed by his employer, Salem Media Group, to get aboard the Trump train. I had often been a guest on Hewitt’s radio show and found him to be a smart, well-informed interviewer. I had thought he was a cut above the Fox rabble rousers. I was wrong.” Now I just want to say that’s wrong. Like you and the Council on Foreign Relations, I have never been told in 18 years what to say by Salem, NBC, the Washington Post, and I’m disappointed you didn’t note my rejection of that charge in the very article you footnoted, or my calling on Trump to drop out of the race after the Access Hollywood tape, which is sort of dispositive of Salem making its hosts do anything. But it’s a genuinely interesting book, and I don’t mind taking a shot. I really don’t. I just bring it up to alert the audience. I hope you’ll accept at the beginning, I have good faith in this interview, and that context was necessary.
MB: Well, I appreciate it, Hugh, and if I got the facts wrong, I apologize. But let me ask you a question. I mean, if you actually had turned against Trump as I have, would you be able to keep your radio show? Would you keep your listenership?
HH: I don’t know. I actually have a great center-right audience. And if I really believed in other than when I call balls and strikes on Trump, I think they’d stick with me. But I am what I am. And you are what you are. And I didn’t…
MB: I think you’re right.
HH: Yeah, it’s just good faith, and I wanted people to understand that. Now let me get first to the bio, because this is the most interesting part of the book to me. I did not know, Max, that you were a refugee from the Soviet Union. And stunningly, imagine I’m reading the book over the last four days, and on Page 8, you write about your family. “We were only able to finance the transition to a new life in the United States with loans from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.” That is exactly the aid society that motivated the Trump-hating neo-Nazi to go and murder 11 Jews in Pittsburgh. What was your reaction when you found out that the people who helped you were the source of the venom in this evil man’s hatred?
MB: Well, it was a feeling of nausea. I mean, it was so disgusting. I think the fact that this neo-Nazi had such venom against HIAS, which is a wonderful organization that helps refugees and not just Jewish refugees. Now it helps refugees all over the world. And the fact that this became the trigger for his murderous rage is a terrible sign of where we are in America. And sadly, I think the fact that Donald Trump and the Republicans are feeding this hysteria about this caravan, pretending that this caravan is about to invade America, that they have leprosy and smallpox, they’re financed by George Soros and all this other nonsense. And I’m afraid that’s the kind of message that helped to spur this evil killer into action.
HH: Even though he was, he hates Trump. He thinks Trump is controlled by the globalist Jews as well, and I would point out, by the way, I’ve contributed to HIAS at the suggestion of David Axelrod, and I would encourage all of my audience to do the same.
MB: Yes. And I just did that as well. I think that’s a great cause.
HH: It’s the way for people to…good. Yeah, it is. Let’s go, go back to bio. Riverside, you moved to Riverside. My wife’s family is a Riverside family, so I know Riverside pretty well. Then, you went to L.A. But that’s not, you know, there can’t be a lot of Russians running around Riverside when you moved there at the age of seven, were there, Max?
MB: No, no. It was, believe me, moving from Moscow to Riverside is about as dislocating an experience as you can possibly have.
HH: It is. And it’s actually astonishing to me. I wouldn’t have thought anyone would send someone to Riverside, but your mom got a job at UCR. Then she went to UCLA, and I love this quote. “I was a humanities nerd, history division.” So was I. You were captain of the debate team. So was I. Do you think that public intellectuals are born very early in their life that way?
MB: Well, that’s probably the case, or you know, at least they have the potential to do that fairly early on. And not all people wind up doing what we do, which is talking about public issues. I mean, a lot of people have to make a living some other way, but I think we’re very lucky that we’re able to do so by engaging what the big issues of the day.
HH: It is, we are incredibly blessed. You had an interesting relationship with your birth father, your step-father as well. But your birth father disappointed you greatly. Is it fair to say in summary because he was a poser, that he wasn’t what he said he was?
MB: Yeah, I think so. I mean, he’s a very exasperating person, I find. I mean, he’s got some virtues, but I’ve, you know, I find it very hard to get along with him. And the fact is he calls himself a conservative, but has always had a very different viewpoint than I do. I mean, he’s much more of a European reactionary type of a conservative, even a monarchist, oddly enough. And so that was something that alerted me early on the fact that the conservative label actually hides a lot of different viewpoints.
HH: Amen. I laughed when I read that you wanted to grow up to be George Will. I used to tell people that. And I read National Review like you did. In fact, I was introduced by letter by William F. Buckley to Charles Kessler. We met the first day I went to Harvard. It’s an odd thing, isn’t it, to be a young person reading National Review? I mean, was there anyone else in your life like that?
MB: There were not a lot of people. I mean, as I confess in the book, to give an indication of what an uber nerd I was, you know, when other kids my age probably had, you know, posters of Farrah Fawcett Majors or somebody on their wall, I had a poster of Winston Churchill, so that’s where I was coming from.
HH: And you read The History of the English-Speaking People, which is one of the magnificent ways to be drawn into history, because Churchill, whatever people say, is a historian. He’s a marvelous purveyor of drama and story. What do you make of his style as a writer, Max Boot?
MB: Well, I was fairly florid. I mean, I think today it would be considered a little excessive, because you know, he had kind of the baroque rhythms of the Victorian era, and we’ve come to be used to the more spare Hemmingwayesque prose. But I think he was a marvelous writer. I mean, just one of the greatest writers and speakers and communicators in history, I mean, just such a joy to read. And one of my favorite books of his which doesn’t get as much attention is My Early Life about his adventures as a young man, which is just a wonderful adventure story that I would commend to anybody.
HH: Yeah. I think my favorite is Marlborough, because I didn’t know anything about those wars or the Marlborough story and Queen Anne. But that’s another thing. A quote from Max Boot on early in the book. “I spent a lot of my childhood by myself lost in my own head.” So it’s not surprising to me, Max, that you end up in New York, because the Manhattan-Beltway Acela corridor is like Hollywood for untalented people. It’s the nerd prom, right – the Washington Correspondent’s dinner. You set out intentionally to develop the life of a public intellectual. And you got very lucky. Tell people about Robert Bartley.
MB: Well, Bob Bartley was the long-time editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page from the early 1970s until right around 9/11 for a long time, won a Pulitzer Prize, and really shaped the Wall Street Journal editorial page to be the intellectual leader of American conservatism. He became a trendsetter for the entire Republican Party, champion supply side economics, was very influential in the Reagan administration, and that was a place that I dreamed of working, because I read the Wall Street Journal editorial page and was very influenced by it. And so I would mail them my clippings from other newspapers and hope to get a job. And then I didn’t hear very much until finally one day in 1995, lo and behold, I was told that Robert Bartley was going to be in Boston where I was then working for the Christian Science Monitor. And so I had a meeting with him, and I was incredibly nervous. And you know, I was thinking in my head about all of the great conservative philosophy that I would share with him, and imagining that he would quiz me on, you know, sections from Edmund Burke or Adam Smith or something like that. And of course, it was a completely different conversation. It was actually a very stilted conversation, because I quickly discovered that Bob was one of the odder people in the world, very hard to talk to, very silent, very withdrawn, very shy in person. And yet he could be very cutting and scathing and ferocious in print.
HH: But he hired you, and I made a note in my book that life consists of lucky breaks for which you work very hard to have happen to you. It’s not, because you have to work, you have to send all those clippings. You were at the Daily Cal, the editor and the commentary editor at Berkeley’s student newspaper. You went to the Monitor. And so you have to work very hard to get that kind of break. But to be the op-ed editor of the Wall Street Journal at 28, is that a good idea in retrospect to let a 28 year old run the most influential op-ed page in America?
MB: Well, I mean, I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I think I did a pretty good job in part because I mean, again, the reason I got that job was because of a series of lucky breaks, because the people who preceded me, like David Brooks and David Asman and so forth, they went on to other jobs. And so I was just the last man left standing. But I think I actually did a pretty good job, because I, you know, one of the points that I make in the book is that I’ve always been fairly intolerant of orthodoxy, even when I basically agree with that orthodoxy. So I didn’t want to just have the page beat the drums for what it believed in. I wanted to have different viewpoints and non-political viewpoints and get a wider variety of contributors. And I think I did that.
HH: You also began to write books. “Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption and Incompetence on the Bench,” which by the way, makes Max one of the few public intellectuals who’s not a lawyer who actually knows what he’s talking about when he talks about the courts. “The Savage Wars of Peace,” which is where I met you first. I think that’s the first time I interviewed you, because it’s a terrific book on small wars and the rise of American power.
MB: Thank you. Thank you.
HH: But I noticed a couple of, that you are regretful of some things. You’re regretful of your Berkeley editorial about the biggest first threat to the 1st Amendment coming from the left. You’re regretful of Out of Order: Arrogance, Corruption. You even kind of regret your very famous Weekly Standard piece, The Case For American Empire, which included the line Afghanistan and other troubled lands today cry out for the sort of enlightened foreign administration once provided by self-confident Englishmen in jodhpurs and pith helmets.” So I found Corrosion of Conservatism bracingly honest in that you put forward your regrets. Is that fair?
MB: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I do have a fair number of regrets. I mean, those aren’t my worst ones. I have worse regrets than that. I mean, I’m not that proud of Out of Order, for example, because it was, you know, a book written by a very young man in a hurry. And I don’t think it had the depth of research and thought behind it that it really needed to have. And I think I was really regurgitating the arguments that were made by folks like Robert Bork, who wrote the forward for that book. So I don’t think it was terribly original, but hey, on the other hand, it got me my start in book writing, and it did help to pay the mortgage on my first house. So I don’t regret everything about it, but it’s just not, I mean, in the book, I kind of joke. I’m like a well-known actress who made a porno movie when she was starting out and is not very proud of it anymore. That’s kind of, this is like intellectual porn, I guess.
HH: And so it sets up the question, though, because you are willing to look back and say I was wrong here, I was overstating it there. Do you think you will regret The Corrosion of Conservatism down, you know, 15 years down the road, because it is, it is very harsh on many people.
MB: Who knows, I mean, what’s going to happen in 15 years? I don’t know where I’m going to be. I don’t know where this country’s going to be. But I, you know, it’s hard to predict. But I’ve tried to be as bracingly honest as I can in dealing with the moment and dealing with my role in it and dealing with others. I mean, I have my, I did not call out a lot of private individuals by name, which I could have done, but I didn’t, chose not to do. I mean, the people I’m calling out are really politicians, leading figures in the Republican Party. I’m not attacking friends by name, but you know, I’m basically at the point where I just wanted to let it rip. I’m very disturbed by what is going on in America, and the Republican Party’s complicity with what was going on in America. And I want to be able to register my dissent in honest and bracing terms.
HH: You write, “Much to my chagrin,” about your advocacy for American empire, “I now realize that the failed policies I advocated in 2003 helped 13 years later to elect a president who stands in opposition to nearly everything that I believe in.” I don’t regret the Iraq invasion. I may be one of the few that don’t. And you explicitly say Iraq would have been better off with Saddam still in power. Let’s talk about that, Max. Robert Kaplan wrote a book about Iraq about how dark it was when we got there. And remember the UN Food for Oil scandals. [Saddam] was poisoning the world, and he was maintaining the ability to do WMD. Are you sure that it was a mistake to go into Iraq?
MB: I think it was a mistake, and that’s something that was very hard for me to come to terms with, because I was an advocate for the war, and I was very deep in denial, and for a lot of years afterwards, very defensive about my role in it. And I have come to conclude it was a mistake. That’s not because I think that Saddam was a wonderful person. But in hindsight, I wish I had listened to some of the wise old hands in the Republican Party like Brent Scowcroft who said don’t wage a preventative war when Saddam is being contained. And I think that judgment was correct, because it turned out he did not have weapons of mass destruction. And it turns out that the Bush administration was not remotely prepared for the task of nation building in Iraq. And because we mishandled it so badly, we lost more than 4,000 fine Americans, and many more wounded. We incurred massive costs in financial terms, and we basically, in many ways, created an opening for both Sunni and Shiite extremists in a way that nobody who advocated the war could have possibly imagined. So yes, I do think it was a mistake.
HH: Now let’s turn to the President, because we’ve got a half hour, and I want to make sure we cover everything. Did you ever happen to listen to Donald Trump’s testimony about the remodel of the United Nations building? It was the first time he ever appeared on the Senate stage, and it was an amazing display of a detailed critique of building. People didn’t take Trump seriously.
MB: I missed that. I missed that.
HH: Do you… I would encourage you to go and watch it.
HH: It’s when he’s in his element, right? He’s a builder. He’s a developer.
HH: But as you point out, he doesn’t know much about a lot of stuff. But do you think that public intellectuals underestimate the value of street smarts not just in Trump, but in everyone?
MB: Oh, sure. I mean, there’s no question that Trump is supremely ignorant of what he needs to know to be president. He knows almost nothing of public policy, economics, history, foreign policy, etc. But he does have one overriding talent, which is that he is a showman. He is a salesman. He is somebody who is very good at marketing, or if you prefer, bamboozling. And that is a skill set that certainly those of us who are in the policy business underestimate. And of course, he showed us all that you know, he is not to be underestimated, because I was certainly one of those people who never expected that he would win the Republican nomination, much less the presidency.
HH: Neither did I. And I did four debates, right? I saw it firsthand. But he has a skill set that the other ones didn’t have, which he knew how to play the television set.
MB: I’ll certainly grant him that. I mean, I think he is a horribly destructive demagogue, but he is very, he’s an effective demagogue. There’s no question about it.
HH: Now you also, and by the way, you worked for the Christian Science Monitor. You talked about the beliefs of Christians. Are you a religious believer at all, Max?
MB: No, I’m pretty areligious. I mean, my, although you know, I’m Jewish ethnically, and you know, I’m sympathetic to Judaism, but I’m not a very active religious believer. And I mean, my creed, my faith has always been Americanism. My faith in this country as a force for good, as the place that took my family and took so many other families in and has done so much good for the world in the last century, and you know, frankly, my faith in America is being shaken right now by what is going on, because I never imagined that you could have this kind of populist demagogue taking power in this country with the support of so many people. It’s the kind of thing that I saw happening in other countries. And to see it happening here is disturbing to me as somebody who’s always had this kind of wide-eyed faith in America.
HH: Now the proposition I’ll put forward for your comment is I think a lot of the Never Trumpers are not particularly religious. I don’t know if they’re atheists or they think, I think they’re secularists. And I think that people like me who are, you know, I call myself an Evangelical Roman Catholic Presbyterian, I take it very seriously. I believe it, that we have a completely different reaction not because I approve of the President’s personal life, but because I think he cares about religious freedom and the judges who will protect it. In fact, that is my, along with the military rebuild, my major reason for supporting him. Do you think I’m right about my observation as a clinical matter that Never Trump doesn’t have many people of faith in it? They’ve got very smart people, very good people, but not many religious people.
MB: I’m not sure that’s right. I mean, my observation about Never Trumpers, and there’s about a dozen of us, so it’s a pretty small group, but my observation is that Never Trumpers, many of them, are from minority groups. There’s many of them who are Jewish, and others who are Mormon. And I think minorities are much more sensitive to majoritarian abuses, to rising authoritarianism and to scapegoating of minorities. And so I think that’s actually what a lot of Never Trumpers have in common.
HH: Now Page 99, Max Boot, “Trump’s tenure, in fact, felt more like the reign of a Roman emperor than a normal American president.” Let’s dwell on that for a moment. What does a reign of a Roman empire feel like? I mean, I read Plutarch. I had Stanley McChrystal on this week. There are a lot of Roman empires. A lot of them were good. I mean, are you talking Marcus Aurelius? Or are you talking Sejanus?
MB: I mean, I think I was talking more Nero there, or some of the less reputable Roman emperors. I mean, that was kind of a flight of fancy, but basically just suggesting that Trump is outside of our normal boundaries of a president of a democratic republic. We’ve never had a president in our long history who has acted remotely like Trump. And you know, the way he acts, I find, is very disturbing.
HH: I know that. Larry Arnn is a frequent guest on our program, the president of Hillsdale College, believes he is a committed Constitutionalist. And I do, too, in that he will push the boundaries…
MB: Wait, but, wait. Hugh, This committed Constitutionalist, didn’t he just say this week that he wants to rescind the 14th Amendment by executive fiat to eliminate birthright citizenship?
HH: No, not really. And as a Con Law professor, what he said is he’s going to use an executive order to challenge that, and that is a case of first impression which I think he will lose. But it is perfectly Constitutional to issue executive orders and then have them tested, provided that you abide by the conclusion of the court at the end. And so pushing an argument is not to be anti-Constitutional. It is to operate within the Constitutional norms. And I think, Max, that’s where a lot of the disagreement between you and I occur. I haven’t seen him do a single unconstitutional thing. Not one.
MB: Okay, well, that’s a fairly low standard, Hugh. And I mean, I’m sure he would love to do some things that are unconstitutional, but he has abided by the judgment of the courts. I mean, I don’t know that we should give an American president a lot of credit for listening to court judgments. But what he has done is he has, I would not say that he has violated the Constitution, but what he has done is he has violated the norms of American democracy, the boundaries that have governed the conduct of American presidents. He has busted through the guardrails in all kinds of ways. I mean, he began it, it happened at the very beginning of his campaign in 2015 when he came down that escalator and started attacking Mexicans as rapists and murderers, which is not something you could ever imagine a president of the United States doing, and he did it. And he attacked John McCain for being a POW. He attacked the disabled. He mocked a disabled reporter. You know, he continues to violate the norms of American politics, not disclosing his taxes, not putting his business holdings into a blind trust, assaulting the attorney general that he appointed, trying to undermine the FBI and the Department of Justice. I mean, these are all norms. It’s not a violation of the Constitution, but it is a norms of what, how we expect a president to act.
HH: And I agree with many of your critiques. I’ve done it myself. I think it’s very wrong to call the media the “enemy of the people.” It’s a Stalinist term, and you as a Soviet original will know that that usually preceded, was followed by a bullet to the back of the neck, right?
HH: And so I don’t like that. But I nevertheless don’t think it’s remotely close to, on Page 111, you write, “Trump has not imposed fascism as many, including me, have feared.” Really? Did you really worry that he was going to do away with elections and with representative government and abiding by the court? Did you really believe that, Max?
MB: Well, I didn’t, I don’t think that he, no, I don’t know that I ever thought he was going to abolish American democracy, because I think our democracy is stronger than that. But I think you know, Michael Gerson had a good point in a recent column in the Washington Post where he said even though Trump is not imposing fascism, he is spreading a fascist mindset among many Republicans. And you see it now where they engage in conspiracy mongering, scapegoating of minorities, pretending that George Soros is responsible for this caravan, pretending he’s responsible for the anti-Kavanaugh protests, demagoguing about illegal immigration even though illegal immigration is actually down 80% since the year 2000, pretending that all illegal immigrants are criminals, even though the native born actually commit crimes at a higher rate than immigrants do. So I mean, these, you know, vilifying the press as the enemy of the people, as you said, you know, glorifying violence committed by a Congressman against a reporter, I mean, these are all fascist tendencies that Trump promotes. But you know, I do think, and I’ve said it repeatedly, that I do think that American democracy is stronger than this. We will survive. But I do think also that the norms are being chipped away. And the kind of conduct that we expect from a president and his party is, this is not what we would expect.
HH: Okay, now we disagree on a lot of the specifics there, and I don’t think we’re anywhere remotely close to fascism. And I think he’s done a lot of good, including the appointment of Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, which if we do a counterfactual, unless you have a counterfactual that Kennedy doesn’t retire, if Secretary Clinton had been President Clinton, the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence would have been unalterably diverted into the living Constitution stream from which so much ill has come. And so I once argued with another Never Trumper friend of yours and mine that the second Supreme Court [appointee] is dispositive on the wisdom of voting for Trump in 2016. I just would love your response to that, Max.
MB: I mean, you could say that he’s done a few things. But other Republican presidents would have done and that you approve of, including the court appointments, including the tax cut. But to my mind, it’s greatly outweighed by all the harm that he’s doing to our democracy and to our standing in the world. And it’s hard for me to again see Donald Trump as this great champion of the rule of law or originalism where he is assaulting the 14th Amendment. Again, you think that it’s okay, but he seems to think that he can rescind birthright citizenship by fiat. He is assaulting the FBI and the Justice Department in a way that no previous president has done. So it’s hard for me to see this guy as somebody who is upholding the rule of law. And in fact, again, I admit in the book that he’s done a few things that from a conservative perspective, you can applaud. But I think the harm he has done greatly outweighs that.
HH: Now let me, before we run out of time, get to one of your insights which I think is very, very important – the origins of Trumpism. You put that on Sarah Palin. I agree with you. She introduced populism into the Republican Party in a way that I think triggered the Tea Party. And is that a fair assessment of your argument with which I’m agreeing?
MB: I mean, I wouldn’t put it all on Sarah Palin. I think it actually goes back farther than that. I mean, I actually go back to the roots of modern conservatism in the 50s and 60s and reading the world of Phyllis Schlafly and Barry Goldwater. And I think there are roots back then to what is happening now. But I think it accelerated in the 1990s with the rise of Fox News and Newt Gingrich, and then Sarah Palin was certainly an important weigh station, and then the rise of the Tea Party and then Donald Trump. So yes, I mean, I think a lot of those things did lead in the direction of Trump.
HH: And so when we sit down with our friends, Nicole Wallace and Steve Schmidt, and Steve Schmidt is responsible for Sarah Palin being on the ticket, Nicole was her advisor. Do you ever…
MB: Well, ultimately, and you know, it was obviously John McCain…
HH: John McCain.
MB: The buck stops with John McCain.
HH: But it’s Never Trumpers are responsible for Sarah Palin, who you argue is part of the river of Trumpism running into America. Ought that not to induce at least a little bit of humility among Never Trumpers that if they did not speak out against McCain and Palin, that they ought not now to be so emotionally invested in attacking Trump?
MB: Well, there’s a big difference. I mean, Sarah Palin was not the president of the United States. I mean, John McCain was running, and I still think he was a great man for whom I have nothing but love and confidence, and I wish he would have won. I do think he made a big mistake in choosing Sarah Palin, and he admitted that near the end of his life. And you know, I, as you alluded to, I think I do have a fair amount of humility in the book.
HH: You do.
MB: Because I am very hard on myself.
HH: You do.
MB: And I admit a lot of mistakes that I made along the way…
HH: You do.
MB: …and including thinking that Sarah Palin was more innocuous than she turned out to be. So I’m not absolving myself of blame at all. I mean, I’m as guilty as anybody.
HH: You do, and in fact, if you, if all the Never Trumpers had the humility that Max Boot has in The Corrosion of Conservatism, I think we’d go a long way to healing the breach on the right, which is deep though it’s, there are very few Never Trumpers left. Very quickly before we run out of time, Page 179. “The rise of Palin and now Trump indicates that the GOP really, truly has become the stupid party,” to which I respond I had Mike Gallagher on today, Congressman, Joni Ernst, Dan Sullivan, Todd Young, Tom Cotton, Martha McSally, is this really the stupid party, Max Boot?
MB: Yeah, it really is. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some smart people in the Republican Party. But what I write in the book is that the dominant vibe is just unrelenting anger and assault on rationality when you have, you know, leading Republicans like Chuck Grassley or Donald Trump suggesting that George Soros is behind the anti-Kavanaugh protests, or the caravan in Central America? I mean, there is not an iota of evidence for that. And yet this is the kind of conspiracy theory that is widely believed in the Republican Party, whereas the reality of climate change is widely disbelieved, despite the overwhelming science in favor of that. So yes, I think it is very fair to say the Republican Party has in fact become the stupid party even though there are smart people in it. But that intelligence which is there is not what’s driving the party. It’s Donald Trump and his populist rabble rousing that is, which is at odds with the truth and at odds with reason that is what the Republican Party is about now.
HH: You know, I just think, Max, that’s wrong. I go out and I talk to my radio audiences, my television audiences. I’ve been in Columbus, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida in the last week doing events. And people care about Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. They don’t bring up George Soros to me. There is a fringe 1% on the left, and a fringe 1% on the right.
MB: Okay, but let me ask you, Hugh, if people care about Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, how come Trump is concluding the campaign not with Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, but with this horrible racist demagoguing about immigrants and claiming that Democrats are in favor of some cop killer illegal immigrant?
HH: I don’t know why the President has chosen to go that way. I suspect that it’s about base turnout, and that the people who care about immigration, that 5%, need an additional move to the center. But Josh Hawley’s not campaigning on that. Martha McSally’s not campaigning on that. What I think is the problem, Max, with the Never Trumpers, and I think The Corrosion of Conservatism is a brilliantly revealed memoir of Never Trumpism, is that you lack distinctions on the right. For example, you link Mark Levin and Michael Savage. Now Michael Savage is a moron. Mark Levin is a Con Law scholar and a brilliant man with whom I worked with Ed Meese at the Department of Justice, and then I went over to the White House with the Chief Justice as a lawyer. They’re just not the same. And so because of the need to attack Trump, you’re erasing distinctions that matter. Your response?
MB: Well, you know, I actually happened to look at Mark Levin’s Twitter feed yesterday. And it’s full of unrelenting abuse against anybody who criticizes Trump, calling them moron, stupid, all sorts of terms of abuse. And that’s what’s on his Twitter feed. And so I don’t doubt that Mark Levin is probably a smart person. But what he is doing, I find, to be very reprehensible and really lowering the course of, lowering the level of public debate.
HH: I can find Twitter feeds on left and right. I can find, Twitter is not conducive to American democracy being healthy. I just talked with Chuck Todd about that. And neither is Facebook. But let me conclude this way, Max. The election’s going to come in. The Republicans are going to hold the Senate. They might even pick up three, four, five seats. They may hold the House, though it looks like it’s likely to be Democratic. When the country does not embrace the alarmism of Never Trumpers, and you, I think you have a Washington Post op-ed today that says don’t vote for any Republican. And my position is don’t vote for any Democrat. If the results go against you, will you rethink what Donald Trump’s appeal is, because I think, I’m a balls and strikes guy on Trump. I like a lot and I dislike a lot. But I think that the Never Trumpers fundamentally misapprehend his connection with middle America. And it’s not because of despair, it’s because middle America deeply resents elites in New York and Washington, D.C.
MB: I don’t disagree with you at all, Hugh. Didn’t I just say that he’s a master salesman and demagogue? He is somebody who is able to channel anger and harness is for his own political purposes. And sadly, he makes people direct their anger at minority groups, at Latinos, at Muslims. He engages in anti-Semitic imagery with these globalists and George Soros and all that. He is brilliant at that, as other demagogues have been. I don’t doubt that at all. Maybe he will win. He could easily win on Tuesday. I don’t doubt that at all. I never thought he’d win in 2016. He could win next week. He could win in 2020. But none of that is going to change one iota my conviction that he is a great danger to American democracy, and what he is doing is fundamentally wrong not just on a policy level, but on a moral level.
HH: Boy, do we just disagree, because I think, what I keep going back to is that the people that he is channeling and what their concern is, and it’s not anger, it is actually resentment of elites. And he is very masterful at it.
MB: I mean, I don’t know what the difference is between resentment and anger, Hugh. I mean, he is clearly channeling anger when he calls Democrats traitors and evil, and they’re going to create another Venezuela. He calls the press the enemy of the people. He suggests that all these immigrants are animals who breed and infest their own criminals. I mean, this is textbook demagoguery. That is what he is doing.
HH: And what we disagree is what portion of Trump’s message is that, because I try and watch as much as possible. I’ve interviewed him 16 times and at four debates. It’s much broader than that, and he is committed to the Constitution and to leaving people alone. And I think that’s what resonates. But Max, I want to give you the last word. Have you had any other interview about your book this detailed with someone who has obviously read it?
MB: I mean, I have had some pretty detailed interviews with people who have read it, including David Frum. But I have to commend you, this is my first interview like this with somebody who is a Trump supporter. And so I have to really give you props, Hugh, for your honesty and for your willingness to engage in this kind of debate and discussion. I think America would be a better place if we talked more across these divides instead of just screaming and throwing insults, which is something that sadly President Trump does as much as anybody.
HH: And you see, I think the problem in America is not a particular political figure, but that television and social media is narrowing the opportunity to talk, whereas talk radio opens it. This is a long interview, and we’ll post it all, and some of it, most of it will play. But the, most of it’s already played. I’ve gone off the air live now, and we’re finishing up. But talk radio is the place where this happens. I had John Kerry on for two hours. I had James Clapper for an hour and a half and Hillary Clinton for an hour. Television is killing us, Max, and Twitter and social media. Nobody talks to anybody anymore.
MB: I think there’s some truth to that. I mean, I think radio and podcasts, you can certainly have longer form conversations which I think are very healthy.
HH: Well, good luck with The Corrosion of Conservatism. Come back. The new book is The Corrosion of Conservatism: Why I Left the Right by Max Boot. You’re always welcome here, Max. Thank you for joining me.
MB: Again, I really appreciate it. I think it means a lot to me that I, you know, I’m able to be on your show even though we disagree so profoundly about President Trump.
HH: I want everyone to read your story. I mean, I find your biography fascinating. It is the 20th and 21st Century. It is the promise of America. It’s actually unbelievable that you became Max Boot. It’s unbelievable, and that the Hebrew International Aid Society brought you here, and yet is, it’s not ironic. That’s the wrong word. It’s dizzying to me that our country is so confused right now about what is good and what is bad. But hopefully, we’ll get through it. Thank you, Max.
MB: Thank you for reminding me about what’s great about America and always has been.
HH: Terrific. Have a good one.
MB: You, too.
End of interview.