Brendan Buck on the Lessons of the Trump Disaster & the Urgent Need for GOP Pols to Tell the Truth to their Voters

Brendan Buck worked for two Republican Speakers of the House: John Boehner and Paul Ryan. He's now a partner at the strategic comms shop Seven Letter. I first met him when I was writing about the rise of the Tea Party a decade ago, which feels like much longer than that. We talk about some of the ways that American politics is structured to make it hard for politicians to do what they know is right, including telling the truth to their own supporters. Brendan thinks that is one of the main reasons we are in this mess, bc the GOP in particular has lied to its own voters for many years, telling them that the government is all bad and that the Republican party is not fighting hard enough for them.

This is the first episode of 2021. Almost exactly a month ago, in mid-December, on the last episode, John Dickerson of CBS News said that the failure of Republican leaders like Mitch McConnell to rebuke President Trump's lies about the 2020 election had done "real damage" to American democracy.

At the time, one of McConnell's top advisers, Josh Holmes, mocked Dickerson.

"It’s genuinely astonishing how little the media knows about American politics today and the American electorate. They still operate as though they’re Walter Cronkite telling you “that’s the way it is” when in reality over half of America believes, with cause, nothing they say," Holmes tweeted.

In another tweet, Holmes said that "media isn't relevant."

Steven Law, another close McConnell adviser, tweeted in response that Holmes' rebuke was "the wake-up call the American media needs but will never hear as they get left further and further behind."

I'm most interested in looking forward to solving problems. But this dismissal of sober warnings about the danger of lying to the American people, and of authoritarian behavior, is a lesson going forward. What happened at the U.S. capitol last week: THAT is the wake up call.

Going forward, there are legitimate considerations among Republicans for a variety of strategies to rid itself of the influence of Trumpism. Liz Cheney represents the faction that seeks to directly confront it. Kevin McCarthy may have coddled and encouraged Trump's lies about the election, but he did take some initial steps toward telling Republican voters the truth -- long overdue -- on Wednesday.

McCarthy opposed the impeachment vote, but he called for the House to censure Trump and rejected the alternative reality that many Trump supporters live in. McCarthy forcefully and clearly said that Democratic President-elect Joe Biden won the 2020 election, he rejected false conspiracy theories about Antifa activists assaulting the capitol, and he held Trump responsible for the violence.“The president bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters. He should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding,” McCarthy said.

It remains to be seen what happens in the U.S. Senate when they take up the impeachment issue likely near the end of next week. What I'm praying for between now and then is an uneventful and peaceful several days during which Joe Biden will be inaugurated the next president.

But whatever the strategy is going forward, we have learned a painful lesson. Leaders who engage in endless lying, show clear disregard for the rule of law and the Constitution, and express clear authoritarian leanings, must be confronted and stopped. This was the animating idea that sparked the creation of this podcast in 2017. If the Republican party had done this in 2015, America would have been spared so much pain...

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