"Donald Trump Scares Me": Ex-GOP Lawmaker on the '16 Race, Climate Denialism & the Supreme Court

March 15, 2016
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Mickey Edwards

former Republican congressmember from Oklahoma. He served as chair of the House Republican Policy Committee and was a founding trustee of the conservative Heritage Foundation. He is author of the book The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.

Former Republican Congressmember Mickey Edwards has been described as a founding father of the modern conservative movement. He was a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. He chaired the House Republican Policy Committee. But his analysis of the nation’s current political situation may surprise you, from his take on the presidential race to climate change to Guantánamo.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to be speaking to a scholar on fascism in our last segment, as Robert Reich talks about Donald Trump being "the American fascist." Is this true? But right now, we’re talking to Mickey Edwards, served 16 years as a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, chaired the Republican Policy Committee, wrote the book The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans. Let’s talk Donald Trump. How did he rise to this point? Has it surprised you?

MICKEY EDWARDS: You know, it bothers me a lot, the things he says. I don’t think comparing him, say, to the rise of a Mussolini is unfair. I mean, I think there is this bias, this bigotry, this roughing up people who come to primaries—I mean, to his rallies. I think that’s valid. I do think that when people like Obama and the left try to say this is Republicans, I think they undermine their own credibility, because if you look, there’s been 23—not counting today, 23 Republican primaries and caucuses; not one of them has Trump got a majority. You know, in most—in 17 of them, there—he has then had two-thirds to 70 percent of Republicans vote against him. This is not the Republican Party, you know, but there is some force out there that is angry, that is—they’re outraged about something. Who knows what? And it’s dangerous. I mean, look, I think—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, there are more Republicans coming out to vote now—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —than ever before. But still, that’s only something like 17 percent.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: And he’s getting less than half of that.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Democrats are also up, despite this fact—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —that Donald Trump says they’re down. But less than 12 percent of Democrats are coming out to vote in the primaries.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, yeah. And part of it is that, you know, Hillary doesn’t generate as much—I mean, she’s been around a long time. She doesn’t generate as much enthusiasm. But I think we have to keep—the fact that Donald Trump is getting—he’s winning because he’s got all these people running against him, and they’re dividing up the vote. The overwhelming majority, in state after state after state, of Republicans can’t stand Donald Trump. You know, and so, when people try to say, "Oh, this is Republicans, Republicans brought this on themselves," I mean, that’s nonsense. You know, Donald Trump is a standalone, scary dude. He really is.

AMY GOODMAN: Did you have any dealings with him? Did you know him?

MICKEY EDWARDS: No. Are you kidding me? I try to be more careful about the people I associate with.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, Donald Trump is not alone when talking about, you know, sort of scorched-earth policies after 9/11, in talking about foreign policy.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: And he’s not alone, sort of led the candidates, when talking about waterboarding.

DONALD TRUMP: We’re going to rebuild our military. We’re going to knock out ISIS so violently and so fast. They chop off heads. They do things that we haven’t seen since medieval times, and we’re worried about waterboarding. So here, very—wait, wait, wait. Sit down. Sit down. Let me just tell you. OK? Excuse me. So I want to stay within the laws, and right now we have the laws, but I want to make those laws stronger so that we can better compete with a vicious group of animals, OK?

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Donald Trump. Former Congressmember Mickey Edwards?

MICKEY EDWARDS: You know, he wants to deal with the animals by making us animals. You know, the fact of the matter is, yes, they may cut off heads, but we don’t waterboard, because we’re America, we’re different. You know, our Constitution prohibits habeas corpus being suspended, even though George W. Bush ignored that. It is not us. We don’t commit torture. We’re not ISIS. And—

AMY GOODMAN: George W. Bush was in power for eight years.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, I know. I know. And some of the stuff he did was outrageous, too. It was—you know, this is not Republican or Democrat. This is a problem with people who forget what American values are supposed to be.

AMY GOODMAN: Soon after you left office, Timothy McVeigh blew up the Oklahoma City building.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yes, he did.

AMY GOODMAN: Right? April 19, 1995.

MICKEY EDWARDS: And I had friends in that building who died in that building, yeah. That was my district.

AMY GOODMAN: The horror of that.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: What, 163 people died?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Children, babies, too, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about how the Oklahoma City bombing was treated differently than any other terrorist attack. I mean, he was a white, Christian, Army vet.

MICKEY EDWARDS: And he was on trial in the United States, in our court system, and he was found guilty, and he was executed. And so, what I compare that to is now the argument that is being made by a lot of people in my party, you know, that you can’t close Guantánamo and bring people back to stand trial, as though our court systems don’t work. Well, it certainly worked in the case of Timothy McVeigh. You know, it worked in the case of the people who did the bombing at the Boston Marathon. You know, our court systems can work. And so, some of this stuff, like we can’t bring them here and put them on trial—I mean, we’ve got people in my party who are acting like absolute cowards. You know, like, do they still believe in America? Do they still believe in our justice system? I don’t know. I’m worried about, you know, what’s driving this willingness to set aside all of our values in order to—you know, because we’re terrified.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressman Edwards, what happened to the Heritage Foundation? What did you establish it as? Where do you think it is today?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Interesting story. So, I wrote a book earlier, before this book. It was called Reclaiming Conservatism. It’s looking at how American conservatism had changed over the years. And so, I gave a speech at the Heritage Foundation. They weren’t going to invite me. They wouldn’t let me come in. I said, "I was one of your founders. You’re not going to tell me I can’t come." So, you know, I went. They let me in.

And the person who introduced me first started talking to the people in the audience and saying, "Let us tell you about the Heritage Foundation. Here’s what we’re for. We’re for strong defense and less regulation and for fighting for traditional social values." And I got up, and I said, "Wait a minute. You know, I helped write the mission statement in 1973. There was nothing about traditional social values in it until 1993." So, little by little—the Heritage Foundation started—it was a think tank. That’s all it was. It was a think tank to come up with a way to frame conservative views in policy terms. And little by—

AMY GOODMAN: And what is it today?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Oh, well, Jim DeMint took it over. He’s turned it into an activist group, an advocacy group for the far right. So, here, I don’t recognize it anymore. I was one of their founders, but that was a totally different organization when we founded it in 1973.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the issue of climate change. This was a pretty interesting moment. In an exchange from last week’s CNN debate, actually climate change came up, which is very rare in these debates. This is moderator Jake Tapper addressing Florida Senator Marco Rubio.

JAKE TAPPER: I reached out to the Republican mayor of Miami, Tomás Regalado, to find out what he wanted to hear from you this evening. Mayor Regalado told me, quote, "Climate change means rising ocean levels, which in South Florida means flooding downtown and in our neighborhoods." ... Senator Rubio, the Miami mayor has endorsed you. Will you honor his request for a pledge and acknowledge the reality of the scientific consensus of climate change and pledge to do something about it?

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Well, sure, the climate is changing. And one of the reasons why the climate is changing is because the climate has always been changing. ... So, on the issue of flooding in Miami, it’s caused by two things. Number one, South Florida is largely built on land that was once a swamp. And number two, because if there is higher sea levels or whatever it may be—be happening, we do need to deal with that through mitigation. And I have long supported mitigation efforts.

But as far as a law that we can pass in Washington to change the weather, there’s no such thing. On the contrary, there is a—there is laws they want us to pass—there are laws they want us to pass that would be devastating for our economy. The—or these programs like what the president’s put in with the Clean Power Act or all these sorts of things that he’s forcing down our throat on the war on coal. Let me tell you who’s going to pay the price of that: Americans are going to pay the price of that. The cost of doing that is going to be rammed down the throat of the American consumer, the single parent, the working family, who are going to see increases in the cost of living.

AMY GOODMAN: That is Marco Rubio, who is hoping to win his home state of Florida. Can you talk about the—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, "Little Marco," as he’s called, right, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’re quoting the man you don’t like very much, Donald Trump.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah. Yeah, I know.

AMY GOODMAN: But can you talk about Republicans and climate change?

MICKEY EDWARDS: You know, I think Republicans have been looking at climate change mostly as how any of the changes or any of the mitigation, whatever, are going to affect economics, how it’s going to affect growth, how it’s going to affect jobs. And, you know, that’s a—that’s a legitimate—

AMY GOODMAN: But in so doing, they deny the science.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, that’s a legitimate concern. But if there—you know, let’s say that there’s only 5 percent chance that it is human activity, only 5 percent chance that it’s human activity that is affecting the changes in the climate that are potentially dangerous. Then you still do something about it, right? I mean, that’s—if there was a 5 percent chance of anything else that could be really dramatic and bad, you would try to do something.

AMY GOODMAN: Like a terrorist attacking?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Right, exactly. You know, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, when they were in the White House, you know, if there was a 1 percent chance that there could be a terrorist attack, you’ve got to do something to prevent it. Well, you know, this is pretty serious stuff. And if there’s a 5 percent chance that what we’re doing is contributing to the change, even just a partial contribution, then you have to take some action to try to deal with it. And it seems to be—it’s not climate denial. It’s not scientific denial. It’s a refusal to look at the whole picture. And all it is is about how do you create jobs. And, you know, that’s a piece of the puzzle. But, you know, I can’t take Marco seriously when he does that.

AMY GOODMAN: And it’s not, of course, Marco; it’s across the board.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, sure.

AMY GOODMAN: Donald Trump said he was refusing to go see the pope because the pope was talking about climate change.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, well, I don’t include Donald Trump in any other category here. He’s Donald Trump. What scares me, though—you keep bringing back Donald Trump. So, he scares me. You know what scares me a lot more than Donald Trump? It’s the tens of thousands of people who come out to those rallies and cheer for him. That’s scary. That is a really scary development in American politics. We’ve seen it happen before. We’ve seen it happen in Europe. And I don’t think we should take it lightly. And if there is a chance, you know, through a brokered convention, through whatever—if there’s a chance to stop that man from becoming one of the two candidates for president, we’ve got to—we’ve got to do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what a brokered convention would look like. I think a lot of people—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —have trouble understanding this.

MICKEY EDWARDS: This is why John Kasich’s race today in Ohio is so important, because to win the nomination at the convention, Trump needs to receive, you know, a certain number of delegates. You’ve got to keep him from getting there. Once that happens, there are so many Republicans who are opposed to Trump that if he hasn’t sewn it up, gotten all the delegates he needs, then you can start working on the floor, and you can say, "Amy, you know, you’re committed. You have a commitment here. But after the first ballot, when he falls short, you’re not committed anymore. And so let’s talk to you about what’s realistic. Who can win the election?" you know, and so forth.

What bothers me—kind of morphing off it—what bothers me is hearing my fellow Republicans talk about Donald Trump being bad for the party. Who cares about the party? He’s going to bad for America. And the idea that some of our candidates, who have accurately talked about his bigotry and all that stuff, then say, "Oh, but if he gets the nomination, we’ll support him," that’s absurd.

AMY GOODMAN: Ted Cruz won your state, won Oklahoma.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yes, he did. Well, I—you know, I don’t like Ted Cruz at all, but I’m glad that he stopped Donald Trump there. It’s amazing. You know, there are people—

AMY GOODMAN: What do you most object to about Ted Cruz?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Ted Cruz—you know, there are 320 million Americans. We’re very diverse. You know, look at your audience. You know, we’re a very diverse country. The only way you can govern a country like this is through compromise, through being able to sit down together. Nobody gets all that they want. He doesn’t believe in compromise. You know, he believes in "this is my plan, this is what we’re going to do." I think that’s why people like Bob Dole, it’s people—you know, and members—other members of Congress would rather even have Trump than have Ted Cruz, because they think they can deal maybe with Trump. They can’t deal with Cruz. Cruz is like a block of concrete.

AMY GOODMAN: If Donald Trump got the Republican nomination, would you vote for him?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Oh, no.

AMY GOODMAN: You’re a longtime Republican congressman.

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah, well, no. Would I vote for Donald Trump? Never. You know, I—

AMY GOODMAN: Who would you vote for?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Well, my choices at that point would be, you know, either to not vote at all or to vote for the Democratic candidate, if I thought not voting at all would increase the chances of Trump winning. I mean, I think it’s—some of the—

AMY GOODMAN: You come from the state of Woody Guthrie.

MICKEY EDWARDS: I do, yeah, although I can’t sing. You know, it’s—well, I come from the state of Woody Guthrie, but also a lot of the top country-western people, which is kind of my thing.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to ask you about the Supreme Court.

MICKEY EDWARDS: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Speaking in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said his party would not hold hearings to consider any nominee put forward by President Obama to replace Antonin Scalia.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It’s been more than 80 years—80 years—since a Supreme Court vacancy arose and was filled in a presidential election year. And that, Mr. President, was when the Senate majority and the president were from the same political party—the same political party. It’s been 80—80 years. Since we have divided government today, it means we have to look back almost 130 years to the last time a nominee was confirmed in similar circumstances. That’s back when politicians like mugwumps were debating policies like free silver, and a guy named Grover ran the country. Think about that. As senators, it leaves us with a choice: Will we allow the people to continue deciding who will nominate the next justice, or will we empower a lame-duck president to make that decision on his way out the door instead?

AMY GOODMAN: Mitch McConnell. Your response, Congressmember Mickey Edwards of Oklahoma?

MICKEY EDWARDS: How Mitch McConnell can become a spokesman for a national party is just beyond me. But here’s—so, there’s the question—first of all, yes, the president should nominate somebody. That’s what the Constitution requires him to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Wouldn’t he be guilty of dereliction of duty if—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Sure, if there’s a vacancy in the Supreme Court, and he refuses to nominate somebody. The Constitution says appoint, but it’s not. It’s a nomination. The Senate can turn the person down or not. You know, they have—but the president has an obligation to do this.

You know, there is a bigger problem here, though, Amy, you know, and it’s not about a successor to Scalia, who it is. Both parties, Republican and Democrat alike, have stopped thinking of the Supreme Court as a judicial branch that has the job of determining what’s constitutional and what’s not. Both Republicans and Democrats treat the Supreme Court today as a third branch of the Legislature. You know, Hillary has a litmus test, Bernie has a litmus test, Cruz has a litmus test, Rubio has a litmus test, you know, as though—as though they’re electing another senator. And if they can’t get it through the regular Congress, then you have a super Congress. And that’s not the role of the court. And that’s why you have this battle. Neither side wants to give in, because they see it as how they’re going to win the political battle.

AMY GOODMAN: Forty years ago, there was another Supreme Court nominee, Lewis Powell, who had something to do with the founding of the Heritage Foundation, like you did. Can you talk about Lewis Powell and the Powell Memo?

MICKEY EDWARDS: No, I can’t. I don’t remember it, Amy. I’m sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, talk, finally, about where you see this country going right now.

MICKEY EDWARDS: I think we have a lot of problems. And the—look, the problems are not just politics. You know, we have systemic problems in politics. The fact that the parties are able to decide what bills will be considered, the parties are able to decide who can be on the general election ballot, the parties can decide who can vote in what election, that’s a problem. But it’s not the only problem.

We have an education system today that doesn’t teach the humanities, doesn’t teach art, literature, poetry, you know, science. We’re treating people to be cogs in an economic machine. You know, all of our colleges are becoming voc-tech schools, about how you make a living. But the way you make people citizens is with philosophy and literature and critical thinking. So that’s a problem.

The media—the media has been a majorly—complicit in the rise of Trump. Just like Moonves said, you know, from CBS: "Hey, we’re making money!" So, Donald Trump was given all this time on 60 Minutes. He was given all this time on Saturday Night Live. And they’re cheering, because it’s these great crowds, because "Who cares about America? Let’s make money." You know, and so it’s a big problem, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally—finally, Congressman Edwards, could you see yourself voting for Bernie Sanders?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Well, you know, I like Bernie. I think he’s honest. I think most of his—you know, the thing—I think most of his solutions—most of his perceptions of the problem are pretty good.

AMY GOODMAN: You agree with his assessment of Wall Street?

MICKEY EDWARDS: Oh, yeah. But I think most of his prescriptions are wrong. But that doesn’t matter, because none of it would pass—

AMY GOODMAN: You don’t think he should break up the big banks?

MICKEY EDWARDS: None of it would matter anyway. Well, you know, sure, getting rid of Glass-Steagall was a serious, serious problem. So, yeah, if you’re too big to fail, you’re too big to exist.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you see the Republican Party as possibly breaking apart?

MICKEY EDWARDS: The Republican Party—so, my earlier book about reclaiming conservatism, the Republican Party used to be the party of small business, not corporate America. It used to be the business of Main Street, not Wall Street, you know, and that’s been lost. But, you know, let me caution you. The idea that the Republican Party is about to go out of business and break up—this is the party that controls almost all the state legislatures, both houses of Congress and most of the governorships. If either party is in danger of becoming not a national party, it’s the Democrats.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. And I thank you very much—

MICKEY EDWARDS: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —Mickey Edwards, for joining us. Mickey Edwards served for 16 years as a Republican congressman from Oklahoma, chaired the Republican Policy Committee, a founding trustee of the Heritage Foundation. He’s written a number of books—the latest, The Parties Versus the People: How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans.

Can you call Donald Trump a fascist? That is the question we will put to professor Robert Paxton, who is an expert on fascism. Stay with us.


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