Podcast / The Time of Monsters / Aug 27, 2023

The Trump Wannabees

On this episode of the The Time of Monsters, Chris Lehmann discusses the GOP candidates on the debate stage trying to copy the party’s one true star.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

The Trump Wannabees | Time of Monsters with Jeet Heer
byThe Nation Magazine

The GOP held their first presidential debate for the 2024 election cycle and the crowded stage was notable for a significant absence.

Former president Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen. Enjoying a commanding lead in the polls, Trump rightly felt that it was beneath his dignity to share a stage with a crew of also-rans. So the evening became a contest to see who could imitate Trump best. But Trump did remain in the news thanks to fresh new indictments in Georgia over his alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

To examine the debates and Trump’s domination of the GOP, fellow Nation writer Chris Lehmann joins the Time of Monsters podcast. He's written on these topics lately, and we had a robust discussion about a party in deep trouble.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis listens as former vice president Mike Pence and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy talk at the same time during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by the Fox News Channel on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis listens as former vice president Mike Pence and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy talk at the same time during a Republican presidential primary debate hosted by the FOX News Channel on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2023, in Milwaukee.

(Morry Gash / AP Photo)

The GOP held their first presidential debate for the 2024 election cycle, and the crowded stage was notable for a significant absence.

Former president Donald Trump was nowhere to be seen. Enjoying a commanding lead in the polls, Trump rightly felt that it was beneath his dignity to share a stage with a crew of also-rans. So the evening became a contest to see who could imitate Trump best. But Trump did remain in the news thanks to fresh new indictments in Georgia over his alleged conspiracy to overturn the 2020 election.

To examine the debates and Trump’s domination of the GOP, fellow Nation writer Chris Lehmann joins the podcast. He’s written on these topics lately, and we had a robust discussion about a party in deep trouble.

The Nation Podcasts
The Nation Podcasts

Here's where to find podcasts from The Nation. Political talk without the boring parts, featuring the writers, activists and artists who shape the news, from a progressive perspective.

Please note that this transcript was auto-generated and may contain errors.

Jeet Heer: The old world is dying. The new world struggles to be born. Now is the time of monsters. With those words from Gramsci, I welcome you to the Time of Monsters podcast. Um, this podcast is sponsored by the Nation Magazine. Uh, and you can, um, listen to it, uh, on the website of the nation, uh, but it’s also widely available.

Um, in all the sort of platforms that carry a podcast, um, I should mention that the, um, Music at the beginning is from, uh, Micah Whitman. And, uh, we’re very grateful, uh, for his contributions, which, uh, uh, get us off to a good start every, uh, week. So this week, um, we got a sort of full.

panoply of American monsters, uh, on our TV screens, uh, through the, um, debates at, uh, the first Republican, uh, presidential debate, um, for 2024. Uh, the absent, of course, the, uh, biggest monster of all Donald J. Trump, um, who is, uh, first of all, as the. Front runner by, by a wide margin, doesn’t, uh, feel himself, um, compelled to debate these lesser lights, uh, but is also undergoing, um, a lot of, uh, legal problems as, uh, of his own.

Um, so I. Uh, to talk about this, the, uh, the presidential debates and what it kind of says. Uh, I’m very happy to have, um, on, uh, Chris Lehman. Uh, he’s a fellow writer at the nation and he’s recently, uh, about the debates and he’s also recently written about the, uh, indictments of Donald Trump and, um, uh, where, uh, we are, um, in terms of having a, you know, some sort of.

Um, legal redress, uh, for Trump’s many, uh, crimes against the Republic. Uh, so, uh, Chris, I’m very, uh, happy to, uh, have you on, um, uh, I mean, you know, Trump wasn’t there, but he was also there. It’s kind of like Schroder, um, shredding yours, Trump, uh, or the Cheshire of Trump. He, uh, uh, I, you know, like, uh, not on the debate stage, but a kind of looming, invisible presence, uh, did, did what, what were your impressions of the debate?

Chris Lehmann: Yeah, I think it, it’s, you know, there were a number of narratives to sort of track, um, during the melee that, that transpired in Milwaukee. Um, one is obviously, you know, there’s with Trump’s lead so commanding in the early polling. Um, you know, everyone sort of described this as an after card. Um, Event that, uh, you know, these were people largely positioning either for, you know, Greater traction in future presidential runs, or, you know, the, the strangely coveted slot of being Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee.

Um, given that, um, Trump’s last vice president who was also on the, on the stage, you know, ended, um, his term in office, uh, receiving death threats choreographed by Trump. I’m not sure why. You know, people are followed over themselves to be Trump’s vice presidential nominee. Um, except it’s the old narrative of, you know, people going after power by any means necessary.

And also I think, diluting themselves as everyone has throughout Donald Trump’s career. And in, uh, thinking, well, I’ll be the, I’ll be the exception. I’ll be the one who charms the monster. And, you know, we. Win his favor and go on to still greater, uh, things. You can ask Michael Cohen how, how that line of thinking tends to pan out and, and you know, the four Trump attorneys who just turned themselves in, in Georgia.

Uh, but in any event, um, yeah, I think, you know, the Republican Party is in this really bizarre plight that, um, you know, It, it freakishly came into power under Donald Trump’s leadership in 2016 due to a whole series of, I, I think, pretty random and unrepeatable events. And now they’re, um, you know, deadlocked, uh, in, in the grip of Trumpism, even though the last three election cycles have not gone their way.

Um, and that’s conventionally the time when you hit the reset button if you’re a major political party. Um, and so, you know, in a way the debate was really a scrum to see who could be the most palatable version of Donald Trump, given that Donald Trump may end up, you know, if not in an orange jumpsuit, you know, maybe disqualified from, um, the presidency.

Um, certainly damaged by his legal troubles. Um, and, you know, it was yet another reminder of how unrepeatable Donald Trump himself is, you know, there, there is no. Pat formula to kind of, you know, hit the right number of, um, you know, insult drive by attacks. And, um, you know, soliloquy is about wind power or, um, toilets not flushing properly.

You know, these are all very sweet, generous kind of. Features of, of the Trump brand, the Trump political brand. Um, so you had, you know, these kind of, you know, in my mind, um, both ludicrous and a little poignant, um, efforts to impersonate Trump in a more palatable manner. You know, you had, um, Ron DeSantis trying to be, you know, as cold and vicious a version of the, the Trump agenda.

You know, he. Relish saying he would, uh, kill car cartel members, um, stone Cold Dead, and invade Mexico. Um, his first day in office, um, you had, you know, Mike Pence in this, you know, kind of impossible position of having been the person who, who, you know, with legitimate honor face down, uh, the, the January 6th coup and wanting kind of credit for that.

But also saying, you know, he’s incredibly proud of the, the Trump Pence administration. Um, you had, you know, Tim Scott, um, trying to, um, dress up the, the Trump message with, you know, full scale attacks on the I r s, the, um, department of Education teachers unions. It’s, it all is, just comes across in this Mad Libs fashion.

Like, you know, um, they, these are all, you know, random elements of, uh, a reactionary ideology that now runs the Republican party, but without the kind of central, weirdly charismatic figure of Donald Trump. They just. Fall completely flat. And that’s why all these candidates are, um, failing so badly in the polling.

And, and we should also obviously mention vi Vivec, uh, Ramis Swami who, uh, did the most impassioned kind of millennial, uh, Trump I imitation. Um, you know, just. You know, declaring, he would wipe out the administrative state to court, create a revolution. Um, and, you know, saying climate change was a hoax. All of this, you know, Stuff.

Jeet Heer: Yeah. Well, I, I, I mean, in some ways I, I, I do think, um, uh, of the various Trump imitators, you know, um, uh, the cover, Trump cover bans, we could call them, right? I, I, I do think that, uh, Ramis Swami, uh, sort of came the closest and it, it is worth asking like, you know, why, um, he was a, uh, able to do that and it’s partially, um, He’s never held elected office.

So he is not bound by the kind of, you know, record and, and, uh, rules and conventions of, uh, sort of normal politics. He is a bit, uh, I mean, I think Republican voters have shown a certain propensity to be attracted to the kind of, um, abusive boss figure. The ceo, you know, the, uh, take charge. C e o who will like fire everybody.

Um, and Trump had that to perfection ’cause he played that character on the Apprentice on television, right? Television own. So, so obviously had to, had the au authenticity that you could only, uh, get from reality tv. Um, uh, but, but, but you know, Ram uh, Ram Swami can, um, do that with. Some degree of, um, uh, credibility, uh, if he is a C E o I, I mean, I think his business model, like as people will inspect it, um, seems a little bit crooked, but that’s also true of Trump.

Oh yeah. So, and so I, uh, I, I think that, uh, um, and so, so, so he is able to come at, I am the political outsider. I’m not beholden to the donor class, um, uh, a as Trump. Claimed in 20 15, 20 16. Uh, you know, and, um, I, I’m my own, uh, man, and I’m also a c, you know, uh, c e o. So, um, I think that’s a pretty attractive, uh, package.

And I have to say, you know, um, I. Speaking as someone who’s born in India himself, like, uh, you know, like, I think there’s a kind, um, I was born in India, uh, Vikk, uh, was obviously, uh, born in the United States, but he is of, uh, um, uh, Indian heritage and, you know, he falls into this sort of category of the sort of model minority that is, uh, willing to.

Uh, polite, his status as a person of color, uh, to ingratiate himself to Republicans who, like nothing more than a person of color who says, you know, reverse racism is the real racism. Racism. Right, right. So, um, so I mean, uh, so altogether like, you know, okay, none of these guys are gonna take. Overtake trumps what?

Well, some of them, well, one of the, uh, will end up in his cabinet. Um, one of them could end up as the vice presidential, um, nominee. Uh, and I have to say, you know, um, of the people on stage, I, I think, um, uh, Vikk, uh, Ramas Swami, um, seems like, uh, uh, he did the best, uh, Trump impersonation.

Chris Lehmann: Yeah. No, I, I, I think that’s right.

And there’s also the generational millennial aspect of it, um, which, uh, he played up very aggressively. Um, this idea that, you know, as he charted Mike Pence, you know, the Cold War ended in 1989. You know, we need a new cohort of leaders. Um, and it’s interesting, you know, it’s, um, it became really clear that, um, The other candidate of Indian American descent on the stage was Nikki Haley.

And there’s like this really palpable tension, uh, between those, those two rivals. Um, and I think there’s some weird anxiety of influence on, on Haley’s part, like, you know, this was supposed to be my slot, you know, and, uh, VBAC is this, you know, um, as you say, this kind of, um, Up kid who’s, uh, you know, um, who relishes being attacked.

It was very clear. He was smiling as, you know, everyone else clammed to, to go after him. And that’s another, you know, kind of, um, little remarked feature of Trump’s appeal. You know, he’s so, um, associated with this dower kind of spangler vision of, you know, American carnage. American carnage. Exactly.

Everyone forgets that. He’s a, Trump is a, a textbook apostle of positive thinking. You know, Norman Vincent Peele was his preacher presided over his first wedding. Um, and all the election denial stuff is pure Norman Vincent Peele. It is just like it is, you create a mental universe in which it’s literally impossible for you to think about failing.

Um, and all of that. Um, comes from Trump, I think, and, and Ramis Swami is also that kind of weird, you know, happy warrior, even though he wound up saying things like, we’re in a very dark time. There’s an internal cold civil war that we’re living through. Um, but he does it in this kind of like, um, Yeah, it’s, it’s a really difficult, um, mindset to characterize ’cause it’s so contradictory.

Um, but

Jeet Heer: for sure, yeah, I, I mean it’s a sort of very pessimistic about sort of public life and the state of the American project, but very, I. Uh, hyper optimistic about, you know, one’s, uh, the personal competence of this sort of c e o class. Right. You know? Right. I their business io can fix it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

Sort of, you know, to, uh, since we started with Gramsci, you know, like when can flip, uh, Gramsci s thing, it’s a kind of, you know, pessimism of the. Social order combined with an optimism of, um, uh, self-help ideology.

Chris Lehmann: Right, right. Exactly. It’s, it’s, it’s a real, and it’s such a deeply American thing, and they, what’s interesting about DeSantis is he, you know, is hammering away you.

Every other sentence out of his mouth was like, America is in decline. Um, and you know, he, he only offers like this, you know, grim, um, you know, punishment minded. You know, he is gonna kill the cartel, um, Lords in Mexico. He is gonna. Ban, you know, break the teacher’s unions. He, you know, it’s like he is going down this checklist of enemies and he has no, um, you know, his, his affect is all just, you know, grim, shouty, um, you know, um, Commands, he’s barking essentially, and, and it yeah.

Utterly fails to land with the Trump base. Yeah, yeah. Which is interesting because policy-wise he’s, you know, it’s like Trump on steroids, you know, it’s, it’s doing all the culture war stuff. It’s doing all of the, the kind of, you know, assaults on the deep state bureaucracy and getting none of the traction.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, no. I mean, it perhaps shows how little policies actually, you know, behind how much, how much, uh, affect. And, but also, like, I mean, I think, I think that, um, uh, self-help, uh, you know, positive thinking, uh, uh, component is so strong and it’s, it’s interesting that, um, uh, some of the Trump imitators don’t see that, right?

I mean, you mentioned, you know, uh, Ram Swami smiling, uh, The sort of happy warrior willing to, you know, take the, the arrows of his opponent and just mock them. You know, it would compare to like, you know, Ron DeSantis, it’s actually painful to see this guy try to smile, like Yeah, it’s an effort. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.

If you can, uh, you can easily find these, uh, that images on, um, on social media. But there, there was an attempt, um, at, at a smile and, uh, you know, like, you, you, you. Felt like, uh, this is, um, yeah. The, this robot, uh, is, is not, uh, achieving, uh, this AI is not achieving sentience..

Chris Lehmann: Yeah. No. Operator’s manual needs to be updated.

Jeet Heer: That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. So, um, yeah. Yeah. No, I, I, so, I, I mean, I, I do think. Well, obviously it’s interesting that like so much the attack was aimed at, um, uh, Vivic, um, uh, ami, um, um, AMI, uh, uh, Because you would think that DeSantis as the number two candidate, you know, he as the leader on that stage would be the one that was under attack.

Um, right. And uh, but, uh, so clearly everyone kind of senses that Vik is the guy with the energy, with the juice. Um, he’s the one, you know, you don’t wanna see rise. Um, and one would imagine that, you know, like. Coming out of the, um, debate, we’re seeing, you know, sort of, um, um, indications just based on sort of Google searches, but also, um, some focus groups, you know, that, um, Vikk did the best, um, and the Nikki Haley case sort of came in second.

Uh, but if that’s the case, like he’s gonna be, get under more attacks and like, what, where do we think the attacks are gonna come from?

Chris Lehmann: Yeah, it’s interesting. I mean, there were, you know, lots of, you know, uh, you know, Mike Pence said something like, not, this is not the time for on the job training. You know, a lot of attacks on his experience.

Um, which again, you know, it’s exactly what everyone did to Trump in 2016 and it just did not matter.

Jeet Heer: Of course, be because you have a voting base that like hates Washington, hates um, exactly the Establ establ order and actually hates the Republican party. Right. So to to say like I’m a Republican governor.

With a record. And, uh, this businessman has no experience, but you’re slitting your own throat.

Chris Lehmann: Yeah, it’s, it’s the Jeb Bush playbook. It’s just like, yeah. We know where that leads, um, in the Trump era. And it’s also interesting, I was thinking about this, um, you know, when, um, Ram Swami first announced, I wrote a, a piece for the nation about.

Um, how he is, um, touting, you know, the mistaken American version of the meritocratic ideal, like he is, you know, his whole assault on woke is predicated on this idea that, you know, merit is the, um, ironclad and steadfast determinant of individual virtue of success in the capitalist economy. Um, all of which is discredited by almost the entirety of American history.

Um, and it’s interesting ’cause I was also thinking back in, uh, 2016, I, I wrote a couple columns about. How Trump was the anti meritocratic candidate. You know, he, um, stood up in this field of, you know, sort of seasoned politicians and governors touting their records and said the entire system is corrupt.

And I, yes, I donated to Democrats. I. Because that’s how the game is played. And you know, this is how you get access in a totally corrupt system. He, you know, just gleefully, toppled the whole ideology of meritocracy. Um, and it’s an interesting, again, this, this, you know, desperate need to, to find a formula to replicate Trump on the right.

You know, you just keep. Running into these kind, you know, he has somehow, as you were saying, forged this bond with, with the Republican base so that they, you know, just basically. Um, reject everything about Confe, you know, the conventional modelers of political leadership. You know, they don’t want experts.

They don’t want, you know, I r ss bureaucracies. They don’t want the deep state. They don’t want people cooperating across the aisle. They want break things. Um, yeah, and, you know, Ramas Swami definitely can break things as I, as you alluded to in his business career. It’s all private equity of sort of, Pharmaceutical, um, grift.

Um, so, but he still has this kind of residual attachment to the meritocratic dream in America that, you know, uh, I don’t know how that that will play. I, it’s, it’s a cudgel against the, the alleged forces of wokeness. But as you and I have both written the, uh, the, the great. Counter revolution against wokeness has not really yielded, um, significant political turns on the right returns.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, no, no, exactly. And I, I was actually kind of struck with the debate. There was some talk of wokeness, but not, not as much as, uh,

Chris Lehmann: yeah, no, it was, it was quite, you know, there were, there were anti-trans things, um, you know, that people sort of did as asides because that. That is something that all the Republicans feel comfortable with, you know?

Jeet Heer: Yeah, yeah. But, but not, not, not, not a lot. And I, I do think that, you know, they’re kind of waking up, uh, to the fact that this is not the political winner that they’ve

Chris Lehmann: been done. Yeah. Not everyone thought it was after Glenn Youngen, right?

Jeet Heer: Yeah. Yeah. No, no. Um, uh, I mean, the whole meritocracy thing, I, I, I mean, It’s interesting, there’s such a distrust.

Um, and this goes beyond the Republican base, but it’s particular in the strong, in the Republican base of, of institutions of like, you know, like these authority figures. Um, but I think though maybe among Republicans, the one place where. They still kind of believe in meritocracy is money. Right? Like, if you’re right, you know, you’re, you’re the figure that made the money that right, that, that shows that you know what you’re doing more so than, you know, the egghead, the experts, the, uh, um, yeah, that’s,

Chris Lehmann: that’s right.

Jeet Heer: Yeah. So, so, and he has, um, uh, you know, like, uh, Ramis Swami has a, you know, uh, um, a compelling sort of story for that base of, you know, like, like, uh, being a billionaire, uh, you know, one can. You know, like I, as with Trump, you can like look at that and say like, actually these businesses, you know, are kind of, you know, like, uh, fraudulent or whatever.

Challenged. Right. But, but to under, I mean, within the context of American capitalism, I, I, I don’t think people care. Or at least Republican voters don’t care. Like, you know, whether you made your money honestly or not, or it’s Oh, no. In fact, this, is this the party, this is the party of used car dealers, right?

Like Right. This is the, the party. So of car dealers in general. So, I mean, you know, it’s kind of accepted that, uh, you do have a little bit of blarney and a little bit of like, uh, uh, salesmanship, um, uh, in order to like, you know, make, make the final sale, right. Like you have, yeah. Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Uh, so I, I kind of, um, so I, I, I, I, I do, uh, feel, um, Um, I, I mean the, the contrast between, um, uh, Ramis Swami and Nikki Haley is interesting because they’re both, um, you know, I think exploiting the status as a model minority, but to different, uh, factions of the party.

Like, I feel like to the extent that there is still this old Republican establishment, um, uh, Nikki Healy, Is perhaps, uh, sewing that up and getting, you know, like she will maybe become the favorite candidate of the donor class. And, uh, uh, you know, like she has their policies in both sort of economics, you know, like complaining about government spending, uh, and on foreign policy saying like, we have to, you know, stay in Ukraine and that China’s like the, the big enemy.

Uh, so I, I sort of feel like, um, I mean, it’s interesting. I mean, it’s, I would not have predicted that, you know, Um, that, uh, you know, that leaving Trump aside, the two kind of avatars of the two wings to the party would both be of, uh, you know, south Asian descent,

Chris Lehmann: right?

Jeet Heer: It’s, it’s, it’s, and, and I have to say like of the two wings, like, you know, like the donor class can get you money and some attention and a lot of favorable media coverage, but are they gonna get you, um, uh, Uh, I think that the, uh, that the sort of maga base that distrust all this, that, you know, like isn’t sure, you know, like, why are we spending money on Ukraine when we could be killing Mexicans?

Uh, right, right. Exactly.

Chris Lehmann: Bring the war back home. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Jeet Heer: So, so, so, um, yeah, I, I just think like, yeah, I mean, I, I’d like you maybe get, get your thoughts on this, but I feel like of the two, uh, if these are the two emerging figures, like I feel that, uh, Ram. You know, has an edge over, um, Hayley, um, not with the donor class, but with the, with the G o P masses.

Chris Lehmann: Yeah, no, I, I think he definitely represents the future of Trumpism, you know, or a figure like him. Um, and he is clearly, um, you know, adapting very rapidly to like, you know, the, the profound shifts in our politics. Um, I I was also thinking when you were describing, you know, the, the kind of grift like character of both his and Trump’s fortune.

I remember when, uh, the Apprentice first aired some critic, you know, uh, read about the, you know, there, there were many scenes in the penthouse apartment of Trump Tower where Trump lives and, you know, it’s like a gilded bathroom, a gold toilet. It’s, um, and um, Some TV critic wrote at the time that Donald Trump is a, um, poor person’s model of a rich person.

Mm-hmm. And I do think that is, you know, God knows how much ink has been spilled about, you know, the somewhat mythical, you know, attraction of Trump to the white working class. But I do think that kind of brash and unapologetic. Embrace of wealth, um, as, as the metric of, you know, success and achievement is very, um, it’s, it’s kind of the original d n a of the Republican party going back, you know, to its 19th century roots.

Um, and I think, you know, um, Ramas Swami understands the, the kind of, um, Populist, uh, appeal of, you know, trashing the administrative state of, um, saying, you know, that the, these are, uh, doomed wars that we’re once again going into and Ukraine is just like Vietnam or, or Iraq. Um, that, um, that is gonna really play, I think with the MAGA base.

The other thing I always say about the, the present condition of American politics is that, The Republican party is afraid of its space and the Democratic party hates its space. And so you have very different dynamics, you know, in the scrum for, for party leadership in, in both parties as a result. And you know, the trick for, you know, aspiring Republican leaders is again, to do the Unrepeatable Trump thing of sort of get the base riled up about, you know, Whatever it is, you know, the, you know, uh, Colin Kaepernick one week and then, you know, China and Covid the next.

It’s, you know, always a moving target. And then just do nothing to, uh, you know, these aren’t really solvable problems anyway that they’re all justing toward. And, um, and you know, that. That part Ram Swami has down, like, like it’s obvious he’s not gonna, if he were somehow to be elected president, he wouldn’t be able to dismantle the federal workforce overnight and, you know, do all of these things.

But, you know, it makes great, you know, pseudo populous theater to say you’re gonna do all that. And it gets the, the base, you know, riled up in, in the way that Trump knows how to do.

Jeet Heer: Yeah. No, I, I, I, I, I, I think that’s right. Like, I mean, Trump’s own presidency shows the, the model of this that, you know, there are real limits, um, uh, as to what, uh, uh, Republican president could do even, you know, during the brief, uh, period where like Trump, uh, enjoyed, uh, a trifecta, uh, but.

I mean, in some ways the two sides feed on each other. It’s the precisely the gridlock of the political system that is really unable, like, you know, under Democrats are Republicans to, you know, seriously address any, you know, major problem that like no problem. Makes Yeah, yeah. Makes it so appealing to like, you know, well, at least we can have entertainment, right? Like

Chris Lehmann: Right. And also like you.

You know, fulfillment wish of like, um, burning it all down, you know? Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s like, you know. Yeah. Send the IRS packing, send the teachers unions packing, you know, um, we’ll, we’ll have whatever, a a, a Calvin Coolidge like, you know, government once again. Um, you know, it’s so hilarious to me where, you know, Mike Pence was simultaneously touting, you know, what we’re toward the end of the T Trump years, you know, low unemployment, you know, historic low unemployment for, um, women, for African Americans and Hispanic workers.

Um, and never acknow, you know, I virtually the same breath denouncing rampant government spending when. All of the, uh, you know, sort of economic gains. Um, that Trump was able to realize occurred through massive deficit spending. Like, you know, not only during the Covid emergency, which was a, you know, a weird reversion to an American welfare state that the Republican party, you know, reviles in theory, uh, but also the massive tax cuts enacted in, in 2017.

You know, that was already a historic level of deficit. Spending and then you had Covid on top of that. And so Mike Pence is now gonna run around and say, you know, Joe Biden is spending like a drunken sailor like. Yeah. Again, policy just does not matter.

Jeet Heer: No, no, no. Although I, I, I will say like, I think one thing where like, um, the Republican Trump wannabes, uh, I, it seems that they are different or they’re failing, is there is a reversion to the old sort of, You know, Paul Ryan, you know, like, uh, right, Randy started.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We got, you know, deficits too high. We gotta start, you know, tightening the belt and Trump doesn’t talk like that. Like I, uh, yeah. And then Trump, he is like, you know, it looks like, uh, I mean, his most recent policy statement, which is like, uh, you know, like a 10% tariff, uh, yeah, right. You know, like is, uh, uh, you know, like, um, dubious on its own right.

But it kind of, He doesn’t talk about cutting social security or Medicare. Uh, and, and so, I mean, again, I think that gives him an edge. Um, Uh, like, you know, a a against people who like, um, give all the evidence of still being so beholden to the donor class that they will like, you know, advocate wildly unpopular.

Sss uh, yeah, no, it is, that’s what the politic cross wanna hear. Uh, but, but since we’re talking about Trump, I, I mean, do you wanna just, uh, maybe round this out with, you know, like where you think the, um, the indictment stands? Uh, I’ve always felt that the Georgia case was the. Most serious, you know, a little, I mean, obviously the, the, um, the Jack Smith stuff with, um, um, January 6th is also important, but I mean, I thought the Georgia case seemed to give like the most, um, uh, is the richest sort of target area in terms of having like the most Yeah, like evidence of like, you know, Just how Trump’s operation worked.

And, uh, in your column, you kind of talked about it as, uh, um, you know, this kind of, uh, criminal enterprise, and I don’t think it’s an accident that, you know, they used, uh, the sort of Rico laws that one would normally, you know, bring to bear upon, uh, MAFIAA sos, uh, on this. So, so, so, yeah, I mean, w w w what’s your impression of, uh, uh, the, uh, the case that’s now being brought against him?

Chris Lehmann: Yeah, no, I, I think a, a number of things are striking when you sort of lay, uh, the Georgia indictment alongside the Jack Smith January 6th indictment. Uh, first of all, um, in Jack Smith’s indictment, Donald Trump is the only person named. Mm-hmm. Um, in the Georgia indictment, there are 18 other, um, Um, charged co-conspirators who have already started to turn themselves in against the, the deadline, uh, for the, uh, defendants to turn themselves in and be arraigned is tomorrow.

Uh, and Trump is, I think in the process of, of, uh, appearing, um, for what is now his third, uh, criminal arraignment, um, uh, as we speak. So, um, The other thing that’s worth noting, you know, I mean, there’s a whole theory that, that the main reason Trump is running for president this time out is to ensure that he doesn’t land in jail.

Um, that namely that he can, you know, pardon himself, he can, um, you know, sort of wipe the slate clean of all the, the federal charges against him. That’s not the case in Georgia. It’s a state level prosecution. It’s also noteworthy that Georgia, I think, is one of two states in which, um, the governor does not have pardon power.

So he could not lean on Brian Kemp, um, who is trying to be a good, you know, uh, Loyal soldier, um, in, in the MAGA cause, um, to, to pardon him, there’s a five person board that does pardons and that’s gonna be a, a pretty difficult needle for someone like Trump to thread. Um, and you know, it’s also the case because it’s a Rico prosecution with all of these defendants.

Um, you’re gonna have many, it’s, it’s gonna be like a more conventional, um, Uh, DA prosecution where you’re gonna try to get people to flip under threat of, um, Serious jail time. Um, so, you know, we’re already seeing Mark Meadows like frantically whirling around trying to get his case, you know, reclassified as a, a federal, uh, case, which has already been, um, Request, it’s already been struck down.

Um, there’s just gonna be a lot of activity around, you know, these other, um, appic in the, in the Trump world who, um, would prefer not to be behind bars. So, um, it’s gonna be, yeah, I think the, the potential both for long-term serious consequences, um, for, for Trump. Personally are far greater. And, um, the potential for getting, you know, I’ve always said like, I, you know, how much corroboration do we need?

Like, this is also a case where Donald Trump is literally on tape trying to get, uh, Brad Waffens ger to. Quote, find him 12,000 votes. Um, this does not seem like, you know, a head scratcher from any, uh, you know, for any competent prosecutor, um, to proceed with. So, So yeah, we’ll see. Um, you know, obviously the big caveat here is that, you know, um, republicans are fond of saying there’s a two-tiered justice system and they’re right, but it’s not the two-tiered justice system.

They imagine it’s a two-tiered justice system that benefits people like Donald Trump, who are immensely wealthy and powerful. Um, so we’ll see it. Yeah. Yeah.

Jeet Heer: No, and in particular Trump’s case, even beyond being a very wealthy, uh, person, uh, de he’s already been allowed to get away with a lot more than Oh, sure.

Uh, any other, can, uh, any other, um, person facing, uh, these charges, uh, just in terms of like witness tampering, you know, like threats.

Chris Lehmann: Oh, yeah, I know. I mean, he should be in jail right now on those grounds alone. Yeah. Yeah. He should have been led away in leg irons on January 7th, but that’s a whole.

Jeet Heer: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Well, the, the, yeah. In this case, yeah, justice is grinding extremely slowly, uh, and imperfectly. But, uh, yeah, there, there is something, there’s actually a movement happening and it, it’s gonna, I mean, the whole combination that we’re seeing of Trump. As the front runner because like all these, uh, indictments just make, um, uh, the, his base love him all the more, um, uh, combined.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Combined with the, um, uh, the justice system, um, working, I mean, it’s, it’s, uh, we’re really in uncharted territory here. Like Absolutely. Yeah. If one, if one nihilist one would almost, uh, uh, The prospect of, uh, uh, president Trump, uh, serving, uh, the, the hi, uh, his presidency. Not in the White House, but, uh, from jail.

Chris Lehmann: Right. Sort of like Paul Servino and Goodfellows, right?

Jeet Heer: That, that’s right. That’s right. That’s right. Yeah. But, uh, uh, anyways, we, we, we’ll, uh, continue to watch what happens and, uh, see what happens. And, uh, you can read, uh, Chris’s writing in, in the Nation, uh, with, um, this podcast is also carried. Uh, and, uh, yeah, so, um, Uh, once again, thanks for, uh, being on the, uh, program.

Chris Lehmann: Oh, thanks for having me, Jeet. Always a pleasure. 

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Jeet Heer

Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation and host of the weekly Nation podcast, The Time of Monsters. He also pens the monthly column “Morbid Symptoms.” The author of In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman (2013) and Sweet Lechery: Reviews, Essays and Profiles (2014), Heer has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The American Prospect, The GuardianThe New Republic, and The Boston Globe.

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