Ep. 391 Charlie Sykes
And now from University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN audio. The axe files with your host. David, axelrod. Once Charlie Sykes was the king of conservative Talk Radio in Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin had a lot to do with the election of Scott Walker Ron, Johnson, and the resurgence of Republican dominance there, but then in two thousand and sixteen, he split with the Party over the nomination of Donald Trump lost his radio GIG and set out in a new direction as the leader of the Republican and Conservative resistance. He now runs a social media site called the bulwark, which is a home for anti-trump conservative writings and commentary I sat down with Charlie this week to talk about his journey and the state of politics and conservatism today. Charlie Sykes, it's. It's really good to see you. There's so much to talk about. That's going on right now, but your journey is really almost unique from a liberal and growing up in a really liberal household to so the quintessential conservative talk show host. I remember what power you were in Republican politics up there in Wisconsin, and now apostate a very consistent voice about trumpism and dangerous for the Republican. Party, there's so much to talk about. That's going on now as I. I said but let's review that incredible journey I and explain how Charlie Sykes got to this moment and tell me a little bit about your folks. I was stunned to learn that. Your Dad ran the McCarthy Eugene McCarthy campaign in the State of Wisconsin in nineteen, Sixty, eight, the antiwar, iconic Liberal Democratic candidate. Tell me about your folks that that that's you by the way I. Think I should put up a pasta on my business cards. Because what else would I describe I? Know it's it's. It's not a bad thing. No. One thousand, nine, hundred, thirty eight is still the center of my political universe, and that's where I really got started in the policy that was an eighth grade, and not only was my dad. The campaign manager, few gene McCarthy I remember in November of nineteen, sixty seven. He and I and one other guy opened the first McCarthy headquarters in a criminal little room in the Wisconsin Hotel and there were just three of us, and so your eighth grader and you start this and. And you're licking envelopes. And this thing just kept growing and growing until after the New Hampshire primary. You had these thousands of kids descending on Wisconsin and it was. It was a heady experience I. I got the chance to get to know, US Senator McCarthy and I think that kind of spoiled me about politics because I really thought that politicians could be like that as opposed to what we know they really are. What do you mean describe McCarthy as you remember him. Remember him as being kind of a gentle soul, probably too gentle for that particular, rough and tumble, but he was a man of such obvious principle, integrity and intelligence and eloquence, and that that you know that appeal to me, I thought this was the kind of and of course he was running at that point again, Robert F Kennedy Robert Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Was this iconic figure, so you look back on one, thousand, nine, hundred, sixty, eight, and everything felt larger than life. Now of course I'm a kid. You would normally think that, but even in retrospect it felt like that and my dad actually brought me along to the Chicago Convention and I was a of your page there. I heard I was a page and one of my proudest achievements at the time was because of course I i. I realized this was. This was a big deal that I decided. I was going to get the Wisconsin Banner. Remember when they used to have the the cardboard sure stanchions, yes, and I I wanted that stanchion sure enough at the end of the Convention I've been a win through all the crowd and everything. Grab that thing, and for many years it was in our garage. I WANNA I WANNA ask you about that convention in your experience in Chicago before I, just went back up a bit. Led, your dad to be a such a a fervent progressive I know that he served in the war, and he went to law school, and then he decide to become a journalist, which is what took you to your family to Wisconsin? Tell me about him as a person because I know, he was very formative in your life very very much. So now you're right. He was. He was a code breaker in world. War Two went to law. School was bored to death with being a lawyer and decided he was much more interested in politics and up. had a series of completely unsuccessful political runs and ended up as a as a as a journalist and an editorial writer. Writer for the the Marquis Sentinel which no longer exists and the Marquis Sentinel was a very conservative publication, and he was the token liberal. So I think it was very. It was kind of a stressful situation. So at a certain point he left for academia became a professor of journalism, became the president of the Wisconsin Civil Liberties Union ran McCarthy's campaign but he was always. He was very much a contrarian i. mean he was a he was a free spirit he was. He was the opposite of the Party Apparatchik loyalist, and which is why I think. He and McCarthy hit it off. He was very close with William Proxies. Meyer are senator. In fact, he wrote. prox- Meyer's biography. because I think that they were they were gadflies yeah. Yeah Well Your Dad passed away relatively young at sixty three. He would probably be pretty happy about the role. You're playing now for pure contrary and ISM. Standing up to your party or the party that you identified with for so long. He ran for office as well. ran for Lieutenant Governor in Wisconsin and spectacularly failed. You have to also understand that. He also became in the early Seventies. He also became much more conservative. I think in reaction to some of the. The excesses of the antiwar war movement and I think one of his turning points was. When was student student? Demonstrators tried to shut down his school University of Wisconsin Milwaukee and trash the library and he was, he was repelled, even though his credentials, his antiwar liberal credentials were absolutely impeccable. He was very much a repelled by that and I think began. He started moving to the right really almost before I did. Just about nineteen sixty eight. You talked about how it looms large in your memory. It also looms large in history and a lot of people myself included because we're about the same age. has have been thinking about nineteen sixty eight in the last few weeks. as we've seen these protests all over the country around the issue of race. When you were page at that convention. In Chicago there were antiwar protests, and there were protests in the inner city of Chicago You must have been aware of that as a thirteen year old boy when that was my first encounter with tear-gas. Just getting to and from getting to and from the Convention, Hall So, Yes, and of course we had riots here in Milwaukee. The year before so this. This was a time that. You're right I often it does feel like a little bit of a flashback to then because you had the sense that things were falling apart and that make a great issues were very much in play. So let me ask you about today. In that context, obviously, the sixties were an era of ferment about civil rights, and and there was progress made in the civil rights. ACT The voting rights, act, but now we find ourselves having discussions having I as a young reporter. You became a reporter I covered the issues of police brutality forty five years ago forty seven years ago. A lot of the issues that are being contested and protested today are the same ones that we were talking about fifty years ago from your perspective. How do we take the next step how we get beyond this? How do we deal with a legacy? That just haunts us to this day. Well I think the shock that we're experiencing now is that we didn't move as far beyond that as we thought that I think a lot of people on the ride felt that we turn to page on race relations, and we did make some progress, but and then going to daily basis we find how far we have to go. And I and I I will say I've been when I was a journalist, I wrote up long magazine story about police misconduct. In I think it was in in the nineteen eighties, so it was not something that I was naive about, but even I have to admit. that. The extent of the violence, the extent of what's been happening is been shocking and I'm not proud to say that the variable here is the videotape. Let's face it. You know we are confronted with. It is not possible to deny it. It's not possible to rationalize him. You know. And I know that that a lot of people on the right have spent the last twenty years essentially saying look, we need to side with the police about this A. If if you don't want to you don't WanNa, get shot. You just need to not break the law. You need to cooperate and I think that. That that illusion delusion has been has really been shattered, so I'm hearing from a lot of people. Know on the right who are as disillusioned and stunned by this as anyone else. That doesn't mean that the the the trump world will react that way. He obviously sees this as a and you've written. You wrote about this the other day. He sees this as a moment to further mine, the cultural divide that he thinks animates his campaign used suggested in your piece that he's misreading the moment i. I think he is misreading. The moment I mean I. think that that he thinks that if he keeps going back to the same playbook of playing the playing the race card standing behind the police Cetera the law and order card, there will have the same reaction that it's had so many times in the past he'll get nineteen, sixty, eight or nineteen seventy-two all over again, but this is where I think. His instincts are failing. Because something has shifted and you can just, you can feel that. That, you know as a e, even though and I'm describes having sort of Reptilian instinct, Reptilian, cunning and he. He thinks he has the he knows. How to exploit the divisions in the cultural war and it's not working this this time I i. do think that he's misreading misreading the moment badly one place where his miss reading, the moment is in suburban communities. You I look at your state, Wisconsin and the to borrow a word you're found of the bullwork of of republicanism in Wisconsin where the suburban areas around Milwaukee, and they're still republican areas, but they they they're shifting. You had a very significant supreme court race in March there. That pitted a a very liberal candidate against a sitting justice of the Supreme Court there. There was quite conservative, the liberal one, and in far better in some of those suburban areas than was customary for these kinds of races, trump has actually shifted or accelerated a shift in these areas. Has He not no, he really has the so-called wild counties in Wisconsin Waukesha Ezaki Washington. County kind of legendary counties usually is overwhelmingly Republican. I mean they were. They were so republican that they could counter big democratic margins from Milwaukee and Waukesha but you're not seeing that anymore you're. You are seeing the erosion here that you saw elsewhere now I have to be honest with you though. You know this is where I do think that folks on the left the Democratic Party need to be somewhat cautious because the win many of these voters here defunding of the police or abolish the police. Were Watch. Police stand back and places like Madison. They do go back to some of their route, so there's a little bit of risk there, but I'm over the weekend I. Think you know Joe. Biden has made it clear is not going to fund the the police and James Clyburn. This is very very important. We as I mentioned this here very important. When you're talking about these suburban voters, it's not clear really what the word means because it means different things to different people, but and you're right Biden was quick to renounce the word. Everybody's talking about and I. Think it makes sense you probably think makes sense about serve reimagining how we approach public safety. Safety about making some investments elsewhere to get at some of the root issues that we see there seems more to be more and I'm interested for as your from your perspective as a conservative, but there seems to be more receptivity to that idea that it's not just about the relationship between police and community, but it's about larger issues that we just have an address. No, and I think there's this moment right now where I think that there is this cross partisan willingness to ask these questions you know look at issues like qualified immunity. Ask You. How does the criminal justice system really work? You know. Are the police really there to serve and protect and. You're seeing this reflected in the polls and I think you're seeing this reflected in conversations that people have with one another and a should you know we've probably shouldn't have taken videotapes to get to this moment, but that's that's where we are Charlie. This is sort of I was having this discussion the other day with somebody else. This is kind of the way history works Emmett till's mother leaves the coffin open, and people see how we beat and savaged. He was John Lewis and the protesters get brutally beaten by bull connor in Selma. These kinds of images galvanize a country and I think that's what that horrific video from Minneapolis did. Let's just return to your story. We've got plenty more to talk about about where we are today. You found your way following in your father's footsteps into journalism. What what led you there? You know that that that's that's a good question I. was an English Literature Major in College, and apparently, and at some point decided the perhaps there was no career path whatsoever. This was the least practical major. You didn't just want to set up like a little corner English literature store, and you know I wonder what for a weekly newspaper, and then was hired by the daily newspaper, the Milwaukee Journal and quickly became the City Hall reporter and I think. Think you and I talked about this. I have to say the looking back on. That was the best job I ever had. I enjoyed daily journalism I enjoyed the deadlines really more than anything. Else I've had better jobs better. Paying jobs jobs with better hours, but just for the pure fun of doing it I. Love being a reporter I loved asking questions. I love making trouble. I love the investigation of breaking stories. and I think that that's that's. That's a anyone who's gone through. It knows that that's a formative experience and everything else. Kind of is a little bit Paler Yano I I love to every bit of it. And I you and I both had the experience of covering larger than life characters I covered well several I had Richard J Daley for brief time but Jane Byrne and then Herald Washington in Chicago you. Had you covered an iconic Mayor Henry Maier? WHO was there? There for twenty eight years, and really ruled over the town and you you. You said you say not exaggerating that you love me trouble. You made a lot of trouble when you're there and you really challenged City Hall. Tell me about covering mayor. Meyer there who still remembered in Milwaukee as a legendary figure? Well, he has a very eccentric guy and I I was in my early twenties, and he had already been mayor for nearly twenty years and. To say that he was a little bit paranoid is putting it mildly. Kind of a little bit Nick Sonian in a in a way, and absolutely hated the media, so he was even almost before agnew, he was running against the left wing media, so we would have press conferences where he would you know he would refuse to answer my questions and because of the biased, but I I and they found the. I found the role of being a journalist as being someone who would challenge and dig. And and not be cowed. you know someone like this because? I mean he tried to I. Mean we're part of his strategy was to call you him. and. Unleashes string of. Obscenities at you and explain what he was. You know the anatomical things he would do to. You and I'm twenty two years old and I could have like okay I'm really sorry. I'm really sorry Mr Mayor to do this, but it was like screw. This you know didn't go. What is the point so I think that that was? That was where my contrarian streak helped me. A good deal. Yeah, no, I had the same burn. was unhappy with my coverage and threatened to banish me from City Hall which obviously had some legal. There were legal barriers to that, but it was exhilarating to shine a bright light in those dark corners, and when you have a long term mayor like Meyer You know he's not accustomed to that kind of scrutiny so I'm sure you as a little whippersnapper, or were not well received over there, but you left. You left after what six years or so yeah, yeah, about six years was about six year they may I had the chance to go work for a city magazine which also had a hard edge to it and. That was a longer form although I will I will admit that it was a culture shock going from a daily newspaper to a monthly magazine. That has to be like. I used to walk around the newsroom until about two hours before my piece was due, and then I frantic furiously right the piece, but I needed the deadline to get me going I I would have a hard time making that transition to full Time magazine writing now for some reason I just sort of what went from the ultimate at least at that time ultimate. Instant gratification, which is you write a story at eleven o'clock in the morning, and it was out on the street by one fifteen to do going to a magazine where it's once a month, and then I started writing books, which means write something, and then you wait a year for it to be published so. It's it's. It's more enjoyable to do podcasts and. Things on our daily website where he feels more like daily journalism than a lot of things I'd spent the last few years doing. We're GONNA take a short break and we'll be right back with more of the X. Files. 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You talked earlier about your father's transition of conservatism. You've said yourself that would happen. At the University of Wisconsin in Nineteen, seventy, where buildings were blown up, was a impetus, but over time you made a full transition. Tell me about that. I think that was certainly part of it and I think part of was. Seen a lot of the social programs of the. Of of the era, the the great society and some of the things that Jimmy Carter was doing watching it, they they come in. They just work they. They weren't succeeding many of these these experiments when you see them up close. The gap between the intention on the reality so I. Think became more skeptical of government I'm not sure that that pushed me completely over the line but I think that that was one where I consider. Remember in the late nineteen seventies that I would ask questions. Is this really a good idea? Is this you know and I would be denounced like well? You can't say these things that you sound like a right winger. You sound like a conservative and initially that was horrible and. Shocking then I realized well. Maybe I am. And Again I. was you know the? Kind, of willing at that point to. Savings that at least felt very unorthodox. At the time you know I often think that we sometimes get to wedded to means rather than ends and that if things don't work that, you ought to try something else but I also think that there are. and. We're seeing it again. In a really dramatic way. There are endemic inequities in our society in our country in our economy that sort of make a mockery of the notion that. If you just work hard, you'll get ahead. Some people face barriers that are very very difficult to traverse. People of Color have a generally faced these huge barriers. Poor people tend to stay poor in this country. So what? What do you put in place of those well-intended programs that you discard? That's the good question that of course is something that I got arrested with over the next twenty years, or so and one of the things that I I kept talking about even when I became a conservative radio talk show host, and became really quite conservative, and maybe part of that movement was inner city school. Choice and Milwaukee was kind of ground zero there. There were some folks of the Bradley Foundation. The played a key role in all of that and I was very closely associated with them and I. Really Convince Myself that that was these civil rights movement of the of the nineteen nineties. That's. That's sort thing to break. The monopolies to do to break the the the the opposition to a reform that you often had from the teachers, unions and I would like to say that was more successful than in reality was, but that was certainly one of the ways I looked at it was which was I want schools that are going to be more effective. No one should be forced to go to a failing bad school, so I actually felt that I was more reforms place by moving right on some of those shes. Yeah, as you point out privately run. Schools have had mixed results. Just as public schools had mixed results I. do think you know. I mean I'm pro-labor. Person I do think that teachers unions have been a barrier at times to reforms that are necessary. Just as by the way police unions have been a barrier to reforms that are necessary. We're seeing that in in stark relief, you wrote you wrote a book. In Two thousand twelve called a nation of Moocher's America's addiction to getting something for nothing and I'm wondering put that. Put that book in the context of where we are today. Are there things that you would rethink about that? You've made it clear that you think that there are programs that failed, but there are also programs that are necessary to see it. During this covid nineteen disaster, people relying on unemployment, insurance, food stamps and other things well. If you flip over the back of of that connection a Moocher, you'll see that the the blurb is from Paul Ryan and afterwards I think both he and I went boy. You know what that whole makers versus takers thing. A little bit of stated and so yeah, that is not a book that I think I would write these days a, but about half of that book is devoted to corporate welfare into the special interest with their hands out. And to that extent that that's still holds up pretty well under Donald Trump's kleptocracy. Where you're, you're seeing the the the the administration rewarding. It's the people who are politically well-connected, because those folks are Moocher's as well. Some of those major corporations, but yeah I think that. You know when when you think about what it's like to be vulnerable to understand. the number of people who are living absolutely on the margin, they are one car break down away from losing their job and their livelihood. You know one financial setback away from being infected from their apartment. unable to access health insurance. This is not about Moocher's. This is about whether or not you have a society that in fact is focused not on some abstract principle, but on providing opportunity and help for people who need that help so. I would think that unfortunately that book lacked the kind of empathy that I wish it would have had and. sort of parenthetically. I think it probably contributed to Mitt Romney's worst moments. When he talked about the forty seven percent, the takers in society, the yeah, I remember that yeah, there were a couple of articles that sort of linked my approach to his on all of that, but yeah, I think that was the you know part of what I think. The good conservative movement had done was to cultivate a certain amount of insensitivity. A certain amount of you're on your own that. That was one thing to talk about the ownership society which I found very very appealing when Jack Kemp talked about. It's something else when it's like you know what if you're not doing well, it's your fault and we have no obligation to do anything for you and I I think that's salon. That was that was reflected a bit in that book, particularly in a society where everyone's opportunity to be rewarded for their work together ahead, and so on is not. Not Equal and we know that, and that's really central to the discussion. We're having right now. Well, that's right, and and you don't mean back. When when I wrote that I was I was a big believer in the mobility of American society that that that if you did certain things that, in fact, you could overcome any of these barriers and I think that was naive. Wrong headed to a certain extent. Sure I mean obviously there are a lot of ways, would you can? Can Change your socioeconomic situation, but the deck is so badly stacked. You mentioned that your transition I started at the top by referencing this man. You're you're a legend. Milwaukee you're on the radio there for a quarter of a century and You were in fact when you pointed to when people pointed to conservative Talk Radio, Charlie spikes was one of the names that always came up because you were such a dominant voice at a very dominant radio station in the state of. Wisconsin. Tell me about that transition. What attracted you to it and how you reflect on those years now. It does seem like a different life. I'll be honest with you and at this point and I got into radio completely by accident. I had been writing and I. Think finished my first book or maybe my second book and I was asked to do some backup work, and then one of the hosts, one of the stations was busted for soliciting a prostitute is the old story, and so they asked me to come in and I and I stayed around I don't know. Part of it was I think in the beginning I really thought that we were just simply creating an alternative voice, and to the extent that the rest of the media decided to ignore the things that we were talking about and not speak to it. They kind of opened the field for us that we're the only people talking about these sorts of issues, and so they ceded to us the monopoly, so for example as the population was moving out of Milwaukee, going into the wild counties. Much of the rest of the media instead of just ignore them in focused on other things so Again I. The way it morphed though and nominee fast forward here. I really did think that we were affordable. Alternative and I really kind of flattered myself in the audience into saying look. Folks have great deal a common sense. They are very sophisticated and up until Twenty fifteen twenty sixteen. I I really did think that Wisconsin. People had a level of engagement that was different than. Anywhere else in the country, and of course they didn't by trump during the primary. So What crept up on me was the way in which the conservative media in general had become an alternative reality silo and had broken down immunity to other points of view in our audience, and I know that I contributed to that, but that doesn't lessen the shock. I mean when I thought what do I. Do in the morning while I'm GonNa sit. Here I'm going to read a George will column or women. I talk about what Charles Krauthammer had to say were back before the. The Wall Street Journal editorial board lost its mind look at their analysis of all of this, and then let's talk about this. Not Trying to be a rush limbaugh at all and the audience liked it, and they went along with it, but it apparently was much thinner on the ground than I would've liked to have believed. Midwestern republicanism was a very genteel kind of republicanism, a very moderate kind of republicanism for generations. You kind of coined the phrase rhinos, which is now used against you. Republicans in name only and so you know that my response. Shocking well. I didn't say I I'M NOT I'm not entirely ascribing to you, but but but it's, but it's something that you these are references that you made and. I mean you know the fact is one of the ways that you guys and anybody? Frankly, but donald trump is discovered this to. If you're the more incisive, you are, the more cutting and biting you are. You're good listening. You refer to Janet Reno's justice. Department is not unlike Nazi, Germany, and and you know stuff like that. That is a familiar kind of me M- in Conservative Talk Radio, and now you formed a site called the bulwark. You have two podcasts there the. The bulwark is really really good reading and I. Try and keep up because it is thoughtful and always agree with everything you guys right, but it's thoughtful and you talk about civil discourse and I'm wondering how the Charlie Sykes of today reconciles with Charlie Sykes of you know so. You're hotter moments back in the day when you were ruling talk radio in in Milwaukee Well I. I'm not sure I rolled it. W-. We add a culture being this no time for false modesty. We had a culture of. Five conservative talk shows that we're all you know really pretty successful here, so you know and and I tried not to be necessarily like all those but it, but it's still a fair question David and I asked myself this all the time. Did I know. Why did I get drawn into VAT? kind of tribalism, because okay, so I'm talking about being a contrarian, but you know at a certain point you get drawn into this and talk. Radio has its its greatest hits. It has its themes, and I think one of the really wrenching things with the trump. Era is hearing some of the things that we probably talked about. But sort of played back to us in the crudest most naked bizarro sort of way so I, recognize it and I say okay. Is this the kind of thing that I was saying or did? I was addressing it up in a way that? That I didn't understand how dumb it was at the time or or the or the way that it would be heard so. You know these are tough times I know for people on the left, but I had to tell you. It was soul crushing to go through this to watch the people who listen to you for twenty years by individuals, and then belatedly after I left the show have to go back and say to what extent that I contribute to this is. I didn't think so I. Mean I in Two Thousand Sixteen. I thought we were GONNA. Stop them, I thought. There's no way people are going to buy any of this stuff on your show. You actually had a a pretty brisk and pointed exchange with him when he was passing through Wisconsin running in the Wisconsin primary. Well, it turned out to be kind of a turning point, but it was for me. It was just a combination of six months of almost every single day. Saying don't do this. People really this is not who we are. He's a caricature of everything they say about us. You know for twenty years. They've been saying that. We are racists and Misogynists, and all of this stuff, and here comes along this cartoon image of everything. They've said about us. Don't validate this, so he calls in on March. Twenty Eighth Two Thousand Sixteen I didn't think he was going to call my show. If they had spent ten seconds doing any research, they would have known I was never trump, but he did call in, and I asked him some of the things that were in my mind. Like. Why do you talk about ironically enough you know? Why does somebody who wants the job that Abraham Lincoln once held. What are you spend time making fun mocking The looks of Ted Cruz Wife. That was the thing in the in the air. You know like seriously. You want to be president. You sound like an eight year old on the playground. A lot of attention, and he said and his and his response was as he has in many other occasions will he started it I know he was, he was pure trump. And you know the good news is that he lost badly in Wisconsin, but then as the year went on the people who listen to me decided that the the this trickle forces or the gravitational pull of partisanship meant that they were going to buy into trump and a very disillusioning, so you asked me actually very pointed question about civility. and. You know it's. It's there's there's there's there's no question about I. Don't think that I would like to go back and listen to some of my shows. You know I ask you about it, not not as an indictment, but because I'm trying to work my way through an environment now in which we are all silo D-, and in which you know this this podcast began as a place where I could have conversations with people of different points of view, and people could learn who they were, and we could of take the dehumanisation out of it and and have real conversations it. It is so much harder to day to to do that. because people on the left say well. Why would you have that person on your podcast and people on the right? So why would you go on that podcast? And so you and I can have good faith differences about how we might approach problems. We probably wouldn't have good differences about you know. Fundamental facts which has become a problem today because the president and his supporters are pretty in in their version of facts and events, and when they're inconvenient, they change, but my my point is had we. Find that place where we can have good faith discussions again. You know really worries me Charlie. And and it's a crucial question. I will tell you after. After I left the the radio show the the the first first time I was able to have a conversation like this. It did feel extraordinarily liberating to have a conversation across the line where you simply weren't using languages a casual and I think that you know. When I think back on I. was I was on the air for twenty three years, and for some of that time we did try I. Did it would have Democrats and liberals on? We did and I have a weekly television show, and we always had a mixed panel, and the conversations were were civil, but I think that as time went on. it became more and more red versus blue, and instead of having a discussion like you're describing it was. How do we provide ammunition in user shows as cudgels. and. The contrast between that and then sort of the world that I'm trying to live in now, which is, can we actually have these reason discussions? It's it's a very dramatic contrast, but I can still see back when I listen to conservative talk, radio or I watched Fox. News I can recognize the world and I can recognize what it is that you're striking certain notes. You're playing certain hits you running through certain means and narratives, you're creating a safe space for your audience, and the the goal is always to defend your team and demonize the other team. And the playbook is very obvious to me and so I, e everything that I've written about about this alternative media I think everything's getting worse at the moment. That playbook was written by Roger Ailes, and you know I knew Roger. We competed against each other when I was a political consultant when I was a media consultant, and I knew him lie in later years. When I work for Obama, he understood that. Better than anyone that I know he he saw those faultlines. He knew how to mine those faultlines and he created a You know this this incredibly profitable machine for Rupert Murdoch along way, but you know trump has taken it to another level. It's kind of interesting now is to watch, trump say will fox news is not trump enough well. He's yeah. He would like to be his own state. State on media, nobody that I can't remember who think was Jon, favreau who identified this early on Donner's Dan. Donald Trump you have to understand the first real talk radio candidate. His entire presidency is like what would play on talk radio today. Not The best shows the worst shows the word lowest common denominator shows, and he has that he he knows what buttons to push so it is impossible, but. Again not trying to to rationalize. Let me tell you why. A Lotta this came as such a shock to me and a lot of your listeners. We know we'll be as appalled by this as anything else, but. I thought the future of the Republican Party and the kind of person that I would have on. My show has got a Paul Ryan. and you know as a reformist and what Paul was going through in the latter years worth he was actually. After he lost in two thousand twelve. He was going around in a war of central cities to try to understand. What was going on? He was making this effort to start lesson now he was, he had moved past the makers and takers stuff He was spending time with a guy named Robert Woodson. And, I thought you know. Here's this is a smart guy. You can disagree with Paul I know you disagree with Paul, but I think he was a fundamentally decent person to watch him be swept away by trumpism. These are two polar opposite views of the future of the party, and we know by the end of twenty sixteen. To Watch as Republicans in Wisconsin decisively rejected Paul Ryan and embraced Donald, trump was an extraordinary thing and I think the Republican. Party is simply accelerated this where they've gone dumber meaner cruder. Across the board I thought there'd be more resistance to what trump was trying to do. Trump hasn't changed, but he's shooting the Party and the grass roots away. That is that it's going to have long long term at damage I want to ask you that what I mean. Trump may be gone in January he certainly will be gone for years from January, if not January increasingly looking like it will be January. But what happens next in the Republican Party? Because first of all, he's not going to go away I. Mean He may hijack another media outlet and use that as his base, but he's GonNa. Be Out there agitating. What does the future for the Republican Party that Charlie Sykes in his heart of hearts would love to see versus the Republican. Party that is today I. Don't Consider Myself Republic anymore. Mainly because I don't want to be part of any tribe I. Don't think whatever I would hope it would be. Is something that I'm going to get or or we're going to see, and this is why you point that number one trump doesn't go away. And in Trumpian politics at home I can articulate this. You know the the grievance. Politics doesn't mind losing. I know this may sound a little bit paradoxical because he's all about winning and everything, but if both. The style of politics all about indulging your feelings. Feeling aggrieved. And, therefore actually having responsibility is not necessarily an asset, so you know his folks are still going to be out there. Unless there's a you know, it's a it's. Overwhelming landslide victory, but he don't even count on. And I think that the way the party has shown its willingness to be adapted. That's going to be hard to come back from because you're going to have people like Tom. Cotton and Josh Holly trump will perhaps a little bit more competence coming along plus I think we've just discovered is what the Republican base is prepared to accept, because look I mean they're not about fiscal responsibility or free trade They're not about it being more inclusive mean what is it is it is about this tribal loyalty, and whoever taps in with a grievance and makes them feel. They know trump can never lose right David he can only be betrayed run. He can only he can only be cheated, so you will have an angrier an angry, bitter aggrieved party that will see itself as victimized, and then, of course they will do what they do best and I certainly know this they will unite in opposition to whatever the Democrats in power do. Get, that's really that's their naturally there. They really do know they may not be. Clear about what they're four, but they're definitely clear about what they're aganst. And now a word from our sponsors, we'll be right back with more of the X. Files. Do, we need a new capitalism. Has the coronavirus pandemic been a wakeup call for CEO's and leaders around the world this week on boss fouls, I talked to salesforce, founder, and CEO Mark Benny off about his call for what he says. Is the need from work, compassionate capitalism and the responsibility of businesses to think about all of their stakeholders. Not just their shareholders tune into boss files wherever you get your podcast. What has been like for you. Now you you pier on Msnbc you run the bulwark, which is often critical of the president. You know what do your old friends said to you I should have gone back and looked at what your social media feed is like, but I'm sure that it's not all bouquets and hugs and kisses now I I I wish i. had old friends anymore There's there's been an alien nation. And you know by the end of Twenty Sixteen I'm and I felt I was being excommunicated, and by the way I understand why others have been. You know unwilling to break with trump because it's not just that you take a position you. Could you lose your whole social universe I mean we talk about tribalism, but tribalism is a network of people and Network of of folks who? Are Part of your support network. They're your friends. And in the current environment you break with trump and it's gone. I'm not playing the victim card here. what I do say about some of my old friends like say, let's say Paul. Ryan is that we're? We're taking a break from one another and seeing other people so. I hope at some point. There'll be some conversation about like. That was some crazy ship. I I will say that it's it's. It's. It's been hard. To realize that I am. Really frankly disliked and despised by many of the people that. Listen to me for twenty years and decided that the support of trump was the mountain. They were willing to die on. Did you have to leave that show? I mean. Could you have kept on doing that? Show live? Yes, and no, they're actually at another year on my contract, so it was completely voluntary. I decided to do it long before the election for personal reasons. But I don't know the answer to your question. About, could I have actually continued at? What would have happened? if in two thousand seventeen. If I continue to say what I was thinking and was going to say about trump. I would have lost the audience. I would have been every single day going in and realizing that it was swimming upstream there was. Trump that was there were maybe one or two issues where I knew that I was cross ways with the audience, but it was very rare. so it would have been incredibly painful, and it probably would have ended badly. You would have been like Howard Beale at the end of his a at the end there when you change your point of view and lose your audience, which was. which is unacceptable to to to the broadcasters? They were invested in Charlie Sykes. As Charlie Sykes was not Charlie Sykes the critic of trump. No. Rain in the end of of of two thousand sixteen and I didn't think it was GONNA be a bad as it was so when I left in December of twenty. Sixteen you know I had every every Republican you can think of called into the show and participated in the farewells and I was Ed at dinner and I'm staying next to Tommy Thompson in the various members of the congressional. Delegation, Governor Yep I look back on that now. Realize you know that that now I mean. This is like a completely different world because they all by going to pick on Tommy. They, they've all gone. No full trump Ron Johnson, we what the Hell and Scott Walker is become Charlie. Kirk on twitter and it. The Rick Wilson says everything trump touches dies, but to watch this transformation up close people that I've known for many years has been amazing. So, yeah, it's it's not it's not. It's not been fun the part that's the strangest for me. Though are the ones who say you sold out she now you get to go to all these cocktail parties in Georgetown. I'm sitting in my freaking basement here in MEK one. Parties anywhere and so You know when you when you when you lose your entire universe. That's not that's not necessarily a way of you know cashing in so tax your Wisconsin insights because Wisconsin could well be Ground Zero in two thousand and twenty Joe Biden has held a steady but small lead in polling in. Person Rarely over fifty. And if you talk to people on both sides say. Well, there are a lot of unregistered white voters who fit the trump profile. They might play a role here. I mean. How do you size up the situation or as Donald Trump over the last three months just sealed his fate in your in your view, I don't I. Don't think it's over I think it will be closer in Wisconsin Wisconsin is keep in mind that I'm not sure what the exact numbers are, but we're very close to Michigan in having some of the lowest percentage of. College educated voters in the electorate I'm not seeing tremendous erosion of support in the in the hardcore trump base, but going back to our earlier conversation. He's lagging in the key suburbs and he's going to have to for trump to win. He's going to have to come up with these unregistered. White rural voters in northern and western Wisconsin and I don't know that there are enough of them to counter the big variable in. Wisconsin is the intensity of the democratic vote. Madison Dane County question about it. They have been turning out in massive numbers. They actually turned out for Hillary Clinton Milwaukee, being more of question, but I think that if if anything that Supreme Court election that you mentioned was an indication that the democratic enthusiasm is extremely high, and they're doing a much better job. Turning out the vote, it used to be that. That Republicans this is one of the legacies of of reince Priebus and Paul Ryan and Scott Walker as they created this massive. Get out the vote effort here in Wisconsin and they were way better than the Democrats at it. I'm not sure that's the case anymore. First of all they're all gone, and the Democrats appear to be quite arouse so I think I. Think Wisconsin. Is I agree? It's going to be a tipping point but I think it's going to be very close here. You know on the subject of turning out. The vote you witnessed would happen in Wisconsin before the primary. The governor wanted to postpone the primary as other governors did because of covid nineteen The legislature overruled him in the supreme. Court. The State Supreme Court upheld the legislature. Say State Supreme Court has. A conservative Republican majority. Even though it's a nonpartisan office extensively, and what happened was there was a huge I think. Eighty percent of the vote was done by mail absentee ballots, but in the city of Milwaukee there were one hundred seventy polling places they shrunk. They only were able to open five. Now there's this big battle over this right in voting. What's going to happen there? And what from your perspective know? It strikes me. Republicans used to love absentee ballots. I used to be great at it. It was a big strength of Republicans. Now it's become a sin to vote by mail. How do you interpret all of this and the impact? It might have the I think that the there's GonNa be a lot of backlash. Backlash to what happened of those scenes from Milwaukee I think we're pretty horrific I think you can have a backlash in Wisconsin like the backlash in Georgia to to all of this No part of it is is that our politics in Wisconsin it's incredibly dysfunctional and I'll be honest with you. I think the The the Democratic governor here could've handled that a lot better. the Republican legislature you know was. Performed the way they usually performed but To your point about the mail in voting. I think one of the most dangerous things Republicans are doing right now. is saying the quiet part out loud about not wanting the maximum number of people to vote. The the way that voter suppression. has become just part of the routine of Republican politics now and the way that people will openly talk about it that you know when when Donald Trump says. You know if everybody's allowed to vote, we would never have a Republican winning again. Well, if that's the mentality. Then, you're in a very dangerous place politically so I'm also very very concerned about the November election, and whether or not in whether or not we're going to have a replay of two thousand over the hanging chads and. Controversy about that well, you pointed out that you know. There are two outcomes as far as presidents concern either he wins, or it's stolen. There's no third option, so you know if all of this adds to and you know, look malign forces all over the world starting with the Russians, who will Russian and no pun intended, and and try and influence. People's thinking about the integrity of the election. No and And that's and that's exactly the way I'm concerned about it because the damage can be long term where it's not just who wins and loses, but but whether or not there will be a concerted effort to de legitimize the election de-legitimize our democracy and I think that that's another. One of the prices were paying from from Donald Trump. So you know I mean one of the things that I've said over and over again. Now trump is often I made it clear where I stand on Donald, trump but to a certain extent, Donald Trump doesn't bother me because I mean with the. Maybe back. Trump is trump. He is exactly. We thought he was going to obey. He is living his life. He's doing his thing. The the worst damage that's being done. By all the people who've enabled him and the damage, he's done the political culture the damage you can do to our constitutional norms and he's being allowed to do this so at the end of four years if if if he finally leaves office, but he's left these constitutional norms in tatters, the country is bitterly divided as ever and the legitimacy of our democracy question. This will be a horrific legacy, and you can't separate that from the what the Republican Party has allowed him to do. And therefore, whether Republican Party has become back in January and February after the impeachment his numbers were rising. The economy looks strong, and the speculation was. He's in relatively good shape. for reelection. How do you rate his chances? Now it is interesting. You think back to what you were thinking three months ago. What the world looked like three months ago? Look maybe I suffer from post. Traumatic stress disorder like everybody else. Having had experienced what happened in in twenty sixteen. But it does feel as if you have multiple collapses. If at the moment, the American people were paying attention to him. You have the economic problems you have mishandling of the corona virus. You have his huntingdale approach to the issues that are dividing us on on race, and he's not getting any of those right now. He can spin those. He'll get his base behind him. He'll play the victim card. But how do you get reelected? You have double digit unemployment, hundred and fifty. Fifty thousand dead Americans in the country. Realizing the you are just have no empathy for the divisions that were experiencing right now so I think he's on the wrong side of all of those, and you know it's one thing to vote for a guy who's GonNa, be the chaos candidate who will burn it all down and it's another thing to realize that you're living in the country, and it's burning down so i. AM feeling. The law and order candidate when you flout the laws and create disorder wherever you go I. Don't know how you Richard Nixon ran on the law and order platform. He was wondering resident thousand American trump. Divided own. He's not helping. Are So. It's a really tough row to Hoe. And as you point out, you know, the base is not big enough. He needs to add to the base, and he is shrinking his possibilities by the day Charlie Sykes. You're a good man. It's good to talk to you. I enjoyed our last conversation I enjoyed this conversation. I hope it'll be a one of many in the years to come. We'll thanks. Thank you so much has been fine. Thank you for listening to the X.. Files brought to you by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN audio. The executive producer of the acts files. Is Emily Standards? The show also produced by Miriam Annenberg. Samantha Neil and Allison Seagull. And special thanks to our partners at CNN including. Courtney Coop Mega Marcus and Ashley less. For more programming from I O P visit, politics dot EU, CHICAGO DOT EDU.