- John Nicholspolitical writer at The Nation. His new book, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America, is out today.
John Nichols of The Nation talks about his new book, “Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America.” The book looks at who is running the government under President Trump, from Betsy DeVos to Scott Pruitt and Elaine Chao to Stephen Miller.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, as we go to Part 2 of our conversation with John Nichols.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America. That’s the new name of a book by John Nichols. The book looks at who is running the government under President Trump, from Rex Tillerson to Scott Pruitt to Elaine Chao to Stephen Miller.
AMY GOODMAN: John Nichols is a political writer for The Nation. We’re going to continue this conversation now. Juan described it well, as a kind of deck of baseball cards, of, well, as you put it, “a field guide to the most dangerous people in America.” We’re talking amidst the devastation of an American city, the fourth-largest city in the United States. And we’re speaking on the day that President Trump is going there. Now, President Trump just recently threatened to shut down the government if Congress doesn’t approve payment for the wall on the Mexican border. Talk about how that, you think, links into the Trumpocalypse.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, it says it all, in many ways, because we have a president who is focused on a handful of issues. These are the issues that he believes elected him. And because his popularity level is so low, instead of trying to build his popularity out, he is collapsing into his base. He is giving them more and more. He is pardoning Joe Arpaio. He is doubling down after Charlottesville on some of his worst statements and instincts.
And he keeps going back to the wall. Can you imagine, just imagine, any other president of the United States in history saying, at a time of crisis in the country, globally recognized crisis in Houston, that you might shut the entire federal government down because you want to build a wall that everyone agrees isn’t going to work, isn’t going to have any useful effect, just make people’s lives harder, literally in the state where the flooding is occurring?
And you say, “Well, where does this come from? Does this just come from Donald Trump?” And, of course, the answer is no. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. was right: We have an imperial presidency. The way to understand an imperial presidency is immense power in the executive branch, but that power is then distributed by the president to mandarins, to viscounts, to all these people he puts in charge of different agencies, with a purpose. And his purpose—his purpose is to implement what Steve Bannon promised. Bannon may not be there, but the promise remains: deconstruction of the regulatory state, a real shifting of things over toward a certain type of highly politicized symbolic actions, like the wall, even at the expense of shutting down the government.
And I’ll tell you bluntly—I profile in the book Mick Mulvaney, the guy who’s in charge of the Office of Management and Budget. Usually the person who’s at OMB is somebody—a budget director type who’s very serious about this stuff and, you know, kind of pauses and says, “You know, look, we’ve got to be sensible.” No. When he was in the House, Mulvaney was one of the leading advocates for government shutdowns. So, Donald Trump has empowered people who tell him to be worse than his worst instincts. And that’s the way to understand the horsemen of the Trumpocalypse.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, John, much of the attention on Trump is focused on the outrageous Trump tweets, but not as much on the Trump team and its actions. And you go in your book one by one through all of these folks. Could you talk about this issue of privatizing the moon?
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes. Oh, it’s one of my favorites. You know, when I was researching the book—the biggest section of the book is on privatization, because I happen to believe economics matter, and that when you get the power of the purse—it’s supposed to be with Congress, but in this imperial presidency it’s so much with the executive branch—that what they do and why they are driven, what their motivations are, is a big deal.
And one of the things I write about in the section on privateers, those who literally come in to like rip apart the government, is this passion for privatizing outer space. It dates back to Newt Gingrich. He talked a lot about some of these issues. But there are other people who are advising the president who have been put into positions of responsibility, and even up to Vice President Mike Pence, who entertain this notion that planets—the moon and Mars and other places—are potentially exploitable for business purposes.
And the problem with that is that some of the best treaties that this country has, established back in the '60s and ’70s, are our space treaties. We actually—the whole world came together and said, “Boy, outer space ought to be not militarized and not commercialized.” There's a lot of danger in that. There’s a lot of reasons why you don’t want to do that.
AMY GOODMAN: Has Donald Trump called it yet the worst deal ever?
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes! He hasn’t said that, but trust me, they—Trump, during the campaign—
I write a lot about this—during the campaign, he talked a lot about outer space. It was one of the—you know, he was so busy saying other things, we missed this part of it. But as I detail in the book, there is simply no question: There are people in the Trump administration who entertain all sorts of notions about commercializing space.
And the threat that that poses to these space treaties is something we should not dismiss. We should—this isn’t, you know, Governor Moonbeam stuff or stuff that people casually say, “Oh, that’s talking about some outer space thing.” No. This is pure and simple privatization, looking for ways to make money, but potentially gutting out treaties that keep us safe in all sorts of ways.
And also, by the way, one final thing: Outer space can be polluted. Think about that. If you’ve got people who are really unconcerned about pollution and climate and all these other issues, once they’ve wrecked the Earth, they’ve got other places to look at.
AMY GOODMAN: So, John, you were just mentioning Steve Bannon, who is now out of the White House, the man who talked about deconstructing the regulatory state. He says he will be pushing for Trump’s agenda from his perch that he was at before, Breitbart News. Another person who will be joining him is Sebastian Gorka, who also was either just thrown out or quit, depending on who you talk to, the White House. You write about Sebastian Gorka. Talk about his significance and what he represents.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, Gorka just left the other day, sort of on one of the busy Friday evenings that we now have with this administration where they try to clean up their messes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The Friday night purge.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes. Well, I’m not sure how much of a purge it is with Bannon or with Gorka. I think these are people that Trump actually likes and trusts. And let’s just quickly start with Gorka—or, with Bannon and then go to Gorka. I think it’s important to understand that Bannon’s title throughout the campaign and now has been chief strategist. He’s a very, very smart man, an incredibly well-read man, who researches, studies, looks at scenarios a lot. And so, I don’t think we should underestimate the possibility that Bannon himself decided, you know, “Things are getting hot. Things are getting really bad, and I’m a focus of a lot of this. I think I’ll step out of the administration and form this kind of broader circle inside-outside.” I expect we’ll see Bannon back around Trump, you know, maybe not officially, but in many ways.
Now, Gorka is a more complex figure.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I mean, I think Trump—
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —was in a very vulnerable position.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: He wanted to keep Bannon. He’s hung onto him for a long time. But because of Charlottesville, because he expressed his views, talking about the white supremacists, about being the legally permitted one, the very fine people—
JOHN NICHOLS: And fine people marching with, you know, fascists.
AMY GOODMAN: —that those who wanted him out ultimately succeeded in getting him out. But Bannon says he’s going to use Breitbart as a weapon, as a killing machine.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, I’d just be very, very careful about assuming even that those who wanted him out got him out. I would suggest to you there’s a decent chance that Steve Bannon got himself out, because he really is a very savvy strategist. You know, if you look at all the interviews that Bannon did during the course of these six months or so of the Trump presidency that was there, he actually came off as very calculating, structured. He wasn’t saying, you know, things that in and of themselves would terrify people, unless you actually looked at the words, right? You know, his style is actually a relatively moderating one. And that’s because this guy knows how to take some of the scariest stuff, as regards race and xenophobia and all these things that divide us so horribly, and package them. And so, don’t underestimate this departure as a part of packaging, and then coming in with an inside-outside strategy.
But that does bring us to Gorka. And here I have to give highest compliments to The Forward, which is the historic Jewish daily newspaper, now online in all sorts of ways and in print. They did incredible research on Sebastian Gorka, because of an incredible thing. They saw, at a certain point—he appeared, I believe at the inaugural, wearing some badges. And someone recognized and said, “You know, those badges look like the badges of Vitézi Rend,” which is a group that historically, back in Hungary, had neofascist and even fascist ties, especially going back during World War II era. And so they put—The Forward put a reporter working on this in Eastern Europe and got—basically blew the story open that Gorka had all these ties.
This came out, and a great congressman from New York, Jerry Nadler, who represents the West Side of New York, he said, “You can’t have a guy like this in the administration,” and who has questions about how he entered the U.S., whether he acknowledged that he had ties to this group and other things. And—
AMY GOODMAN: He said he was wearing it in honor of his father.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes, he did. But the people in Hungary said, “Oh, yeah, he’s one of us.” Right? You know, or we’ve—and so, we can have this debate. But even if we’re having this debate, about people with clear ties and connections to things that are so unsettling—and then the fact that Gorka himself had incredibly dubious background. Experts in the area of counterterrorism say he’s not, you know, somebody who’s at the forefront of this. So there’s a lot on Gorka that was very troubling. And his exit is an easy one for Trump. He’s somebody who should have gone. I think that he might have gone earlier if Bannon hadn’t protected him.
But I will just counsel that here we talk about Bannon, we talk about Gorka. What we don’t pay anywhere near enough attention to is the fact that, in my mind, the most dangerous of the bunch, Stephen Miller, is still there. Stephen Miller is 32 years old, and yet he has almost two decades—because it goes back to like high school time—of activism on the far right, of brutal anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, you know, just incredibly divisive politics. This is a guy—and I write about him a great deal in the book—who, at Duke, defended the lacrosse players and saying, “Well, they were victims of reverse racism,” and stuff like that, that white guys were being picked on. And—
AMY GOODMAN: The people who were accused of rape?
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes, yes. And he got a national name for that. He was also there at the same time Richard Spencer was there, the guy who’s very, very tied to all these Charlottesville atrocities and marches.
But then he went to work for Jeff Sessions. And that’s the important thing to understand. You know, we don’t begin to look at this administration as—I think, as we should. And that is to say that there are power bases within it. And one of the power bases is perhaps even in some ways more powerful than Trump, and that is Jeff Sessions. You know, Jeff Sessions is a guy who supposedly Trump’s mad at, and yet he’s still there. Stephen Miller is still there. These two men worked together for many, many years. In many ways, they put some of the most visceral anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim politics into the forefront within the Republican Party. And then it was Miller who really connected all of this into the Trump campaign. And for all we talk about—
AMY GOODMAN: So he moved from Sessions.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And then he was the guy—the warm-up act—
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —for Trump during his campaign. He would often give these vicious anti-immigrant speeches, whip up the crowd.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, he made Trump look moderate. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then Trump would come out.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: And then he ends up in the White House.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes. And there’s little question that he had a key role in writing the kind of over-the-top incendiary inaugural address. He was clearly involved with the Muslim ban and in pushing Trump on that. There is talk that he’s been around the Arpaio stuff. And understand what Stephen Miller does. Stephen Miller is—he has some title as adviser. He’s in charge of the care and feeding of the extremist base. He’s, you know, making sure that those signals are sent.
And in the book, I write about, after the inauguration, there was a white nationalist, white supremacist, who was at the inauguration, and he did a blog post where he reviewed the administration. He said, “You know, Donald Trump, he’s not really a racially conscious man. He doesn’t get it. But there are men around him who do get it, people like—or who at least understand some of these issues: Bannon, Sessions and Stephen Miller.” And I would just emphasize, keep an eye on these guys.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you about one of my favorites in the administration, Betsy DeVos, and the impact potentially she’s going to have on the public education system of the United States.
JOHN NICHOLS: I’m glad you asked, Juan. Betsy DeVos is essentially the centerpiece of the book. It opens with her hearing. She’s a massive Republican donor who’s been obsessed with restructuring public education to make it less public, more private, for a very, very long time. She’s poured immense amounts of her great fortune into it. I referenced this show in talking about it, because, of course, Jeremy Scahill pointed out the connections to Blackwater and Betsy DeVos.
AMY GOODMAN: Because her brother is—
JOHN NICHOLS: Her brother, Erik Prince, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Her brother, Erik Prince, who was with President Trump on election night.
JOHN NICHOLS: You know, I mean, these connections are—they’re there. And if we spend time looking at them, we become even more shocked.
But the thing to understand about Betsy DeVos is, she’s not good at what she does. She supposedly spent years getting to know education. And when she had her hearings before the Senate, she struggled. She literally didn’t know basic programs. And yet, even though that was all exposed by people like Maggie Hassan from up in New Hampshire, the most incredible moment was when Bernie Sanders said to her, “Do you think you’d be here if you and your family hadn’t given $200 million to Republican candidates?” And instead of saying, “No, Senator, I’m insulted by that question. Of course I’ve spent my life doing this,” she said, “Well, you know, I think it’s possible.” Right? Even she recognizes she—I don’t—she wouldn’t say it in so many words. But I think she recognizes she shouldn’t be in this position.
And the reason it is so dangerous to have her in this position is because this administration, it doesn’t operate like cabinets have in the past, where presidents were closely connected to their cabinet members. In this administration. Donald Trump gives people he knows are ideologues, who are extremists, positions, and then basically says, “Go and do your thing.” And with Betsy DeVos, we know what her thing is. It is privatization of education. It is the diminishing of the progress we have made on all sorts of diversity issues. I mean, she is a very, very dangerous player here.
Now, the federal government does not control education in every school district around the country. That’s a local issue. But what the federal government can do is set standards, set principles, and, most importantly, can decide where federal money goes. And already Betsy DeVos has shown an incredible bias toward privatization of education, which is something we should be terrified by.
AMY GOODMAN: Right now, the discussion is the adults in the room, like Ivanka Trump, like John Kelly, now the chief of staff. Now President Trump is surrounded by his family members and generals. You’ve got the chief of staff, a general, John Kelly, former head of DHS, before that, SOUTHCOM, Southern Command. You’ve got H.R. McMaster who is the national security adviser—not usually a general. He’s a general. And you’ve got General Mattis. People forget that the secretary of defense is not usually a general, but a civilian. He had to get a waiver for that position. What about the significance of this and who these people are?
JOHN NICHOLS: This is hugely significant. And I divide the book into different sections, where I look at all the players in different areas, privatization being the biggest. But I have a section on the military-industrial complex. And I think it’s important to understand it as such. You just ran down the list of generals. But I also put Rex Tillerson in there. Why? I mean, he’s a CEO of an oil company formerly. But he is systematically dismantling the State Department. He is diminishing the State Department, which has existed since the founding of the republic, and he is making it less of a player. What happens when we make the State Department less of a player? Diplomacy, international aid, all these responses that are alternatives to war are diminished.
And what I would suggest to you in this administration is that many of the people we call adults in the room are called adults in the room because our media thinks that if you talk tough about war and militarism, you’re an adult. And this is what General Mattis, McMaster, Kelly have done for very, very long time. Trump has assembled a group of people who he wanted in those positions. There’s some sort of weird fantasy out there that, oh, somebody snuck Mattis in, or somebody snuck MacMaster in. No. These are men who have written about maximum war. They’ve written about, you know, hyperfunding of the Pentagon. They have really had a vision that the defense establishment should call the shots on questions of how we deal with troublesome countries around the world.
In fact, if you look at McMaster, who’s sometimes held up as a sort of heroic figure, if you look at what he wrote about Vietnam, he wasn’t writing, “Yeah, we shouldn’t have been there.” Or maybe he accepts that we shouldn’t have been there, but once we were there, he thinks that the military folks didn’t take enough charge, that they didn’t say, you know, “Hey, get aside, you civilians. We really need to focus on this.” These are not people that are going to stop Donald Trump.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: You also write about the financiers.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Those who are handling our money here: Steve Mnuchin in Treasury, Gary Cohn as the head of the National Economic Council and Jay Clayton at the Securities and Exchange Commission.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, I mean, these are incredibly conflicted people. Can you imagine Franklin Roosevelt, who really—good and bad, not a perfect guy, but he did establish a lot of the regulatory state. We set up these agencies. We empowered them in certain ways. Can you imagine saying, “Yeah, we’re going to put a lawyer for all the bankers and everybody in charge of securities and exchange”? That’s what you get with Jay Clayton.
Mnuchin, who—I mean, I don’t think we even have to—do we have to really spell out the crisis of this guy? I mean, he’s royal almost. And a lot of controversy in the last few days about literally, you know, how he uses the federal government to go look at the eclipse.
AMY GOODMAN: That he stood on Fort Knox.
JOHN NICHOLS: What is—I mean, it’s insulting to Marie Antoinette to make comparisons with these people. And Mnuchin is a terribly bad player. I write in the book about some of the financial stuff he was involved in, especially in Ohio. It’s incredibly scandalous.
AMY GOODMAN: What’s that?
JOHN NICHOLS: This is on mortgages and on a host of banking issues, where that was—the Ohio attorney general and others looked into how this stuff operated. I mean, you see all this bad paper, you know, and ways that poor people and working-class people have been put into terrible positions, losing their homes, losing their equity. Mnuchin has—he was literally creating companies that were playing in this area. He should never have been allowed anywhere near the Department of Treasury. Even as a lobbyist, he shouldn’t have been near it. To be in charge of it is shocking.
And at the core of this thing, though—you asked about the financiers and this—what is now referred to as “Government Sachs,” right? Goldman Sachs’s deep weave into this administration, present and former Goldman Sachs people. And Gary Cohn’s at the top of that. And there’s this—I think there’s an almost obsessive desire to make Gary Cohn into some sort of adult, to say, you know, “This guy has spent his lifetime making money”—in often very troublesome and nefarious ways. Yes, it is true that he tells Donald Trump—I assume he probably does tell Donald Trump sometimes to, you know, kind of tone it down a little. But the reason—why does he tell him to tone it down?
AMY GOODMAN: Well, the rumor was that he had already written his resignation letter after Charlottesville.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah. And so, the question is: What exactly will it take to make him resign? I mean, with all due respect, you know, there are literally people marching under the Confederate flag saying horrible things about African Americans and Hispanics and Jews, and that’s not enough. “I’m going to stick around, because maybe I can temper the situation.”
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, the dream of every Goldman Sachs banker to run the Federal Reserve, which is—
JOHN NICHOLS: Which is a possibility. And so, here’s what I would say about Gary Cohn. And this is the important thing. I think we have—as people who talk about it—not you folks, but a lot of our media—we’ve lost sight of the fact that we’re living in a crisis of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism is a disaster. It’s been a disaster for the U.S. and for countries around the world, combining austerity for everybody who works for a living; huge tax breaks, redistribution of the wealth upwards for the very rich; and hypermilitarized, big military spending. And Gary Cohn is—that’s him. That’s what he advances.
And so, to make him a hero within this administration is to somehow say, “Well, yeah, there’s horrible stuff they’re doing on a lot of other issues, and he kind of is troubled by that. And so he’s a hero.” But we’re not going to pay attention to the fact that what he’s doing as regards to advancing neoliberalism is incredibly dispiriting and disastrous for working-class people, people of color, women—people of every background who aren’t rich. And the fact of the matter is, the thing I walked away with is—the Trumpocalypse that I talk about in this book is really the dominance of everything that we do by the rich.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking as Houston is underwater. An apocalypse—
JOHN NICHOLS: It’s close, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —is basically what we’re seeing there right now. The former governor of Texas, who is Rick Perry, a key member of President Trump’s administration. I mean, you’ve got the whole Texas team—
JOHN NICHOLS: Oh, yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: —from Cruz and Cornyn to the congressmembers who fought against helping out the New York and New Jersey area during Hurricane Sandy. Now, of course, they’re going to have to be looking for help, and they’re the ones who want to shrink government, calling for the shrinking, for example, of FEMA. So that’s what they’re dealing with now. But then you’ve got Rick Perry as secretary of energy.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yes. And this is a huge deal. I mean, in—
AMY GOODMAN: The department he said he wanted to get rid of.
JOHN NICHOLS: Well, no, he didn’t remember it. But the incredible thing about it is, Rick Perry runs—and I recount it in the book—he runs the department he couldn’t remember. And when, brutally, Ron Paul, who is actually very smart, whether you like him or not, and Mitt Romney kept going, “Is it Energy?” and stuff like that, during this debate, just—
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that clip.
JOHN NICHOLS: They were taunting Perry.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to that clip.
GOV. RICK PERRY: It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone: Commerce, Education and the—what’s the third one there? Let’s see.
RON PAUL: You need five.
GOV. RICK PERRY: Oh, five, OK. So, Commerce, Education and the—ummm…
JOHN HARWOOD: EPA?
GOV. RICK PERRY: EPA, there you go. No.
JOHN HARWOOD: Seriously?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s the clip that, John Nichols, you’re talking about here.
JOHN NICHOLS: It’s comic. And, I mean, what sort of Broadway play, you know, comedy, would you create, where a guy who is in a debate and can’t remember the agency he wants to get rid of ends up in charge of the agency?
But here’s what’s deeply troubling. Again, when George Washington was president, he had four Cabinet members, right? And we knew who they—we know their names to this day—Jefferson and Hamilton. But we don’t—as a media, we way under-cover these agencies, which have budgets bigger than many countries, which are in fact incredibly powerful. And I know you two know this, but not everybody knows what the Department of Energy does. You know what one of the biggest things it does, is deal with nuclear waste. It’s a huge issue. We don’t know where to put it. Maybe we ought to stop producing it. But the fact of the matter is that Rick Perry is like buddies with people who want to privatize the disposal of nuclear waste.
And if you just want to spend a little bit of time getting scared, think about people who cut corners being in charge of nuclear waste. Rick Perry is a big fan of this idea. In fact, The Texas Tribune gets huge credit, and Texas journalists have done a lot of investigative reporting on this. When he was governor, he was all over this idea of privatizing disposal of nuclear waste and privatizing disposal of toxics and things like that. And the stories of how horribly this is done and how irresponsible the players are, but also what large campaign contributions they give, that’s—I tell about that in the book. And I think putting Rick Perry in charge of energy, a department that Barack Obama put a Nobel Prize winner in charge of, right? Now you have Rick Perry, who’s—
AMY GOODMAN: Who helped negotiate the Paris climate accord.
JOHN NICHOLS: Yeah, I mean, it’s—I’m sorry. I am, as—you know me pretty well. We’ve been talking for a long time. I’m not somebody who’s like ranting and raving that often. I’m relatively calm. But this is just nuts. And what I want to argue is that, again and again and again, Donald Trump has put people in charge of incredibly powerful agencies, which are under-covered, but which have immense authority to define the future of the world.
And we need to keep conscious of everything that Donald Trump is doing. I’m not one of these people who says we shouldn’t follow his tweets. I think we should follow what he tweets. I think we should follow what he says. I think what he said after Charlottesville, in my opinion—I agree with Congressman Cohen from Tennessee, who introduced articles of impeachment, saying a president that’s that divisive shouldn’t be there. So I understand all that, not diminishing that for a second. But I’m saying we’ve got to expand our focus. We need to, on a daily basis, be looking at what people like Perry and Elaine Chao and others are doing, because if we don’t, Donald Trump may be a failure as a president, and yet the extreme-right-wing policies he supports may well be implemented for the long term.
AMY GOODMAN: And those who say that House Speaker Paul Ryan, that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, that Ivanka Trump, his daughter and senior adviser, will save us?
JOHN NICHOLS: I laugh at these. I mean, you know, this is just painful to hear. Paul Ryan is the number one facilitator of Donald Trump in America, no question about it. And why is he that? It isn’t—you know, Stephen Miller may have gone to the rallies. But every time Donald Trump did something horrible—and you covered this, Amy and Juan—going back, you know, all the way into 2015, Donald Trump would say something horrible about Muslims. Paul Ryan would come and say, “Ah, you know, I really wouldn’t have said it that way.”
AMY GOODMAN: He’s from your state, Wisconsin.
JOHN NICHOLS: He is, yeah. In fact, his dad went to law school with my dad. He comes from just down the road in Janesville. I’ve followed him for a long time. And I can tell you this. You know, he’s a nice guy, one on one. And he does present this very respectable demeanor. And that’s why he’s so dangerous, because when Trump would say something horrible about Muslims, he’d say, “Oh, I wouldn’t say it that way,” or “I don’t know about that.” But then he’d say, “But if he’s the nominee, I’ll back him.” Again and again and again, he did it. He was chairman of the convention which legitimized Trump in the eyes of Republicans. And as Trump became president, he, again and again and again, says, “Oh, I don’t know if I agree, but, you know, I’m still going to keep working with him.” What Paul Ryan has done is taken the small area of what’s acceptable within the Republican Party, and expanded it out far to the right. He’s said, “Donald Trump is acceptable as a Republican president.” Until he calls for the removal of Donald Trump, 'til he says this can't continue, Paul Ryan facilitates Donald Trump.
Mitch McConnell bent over backwards, did incredible things to get these Cabinet picks across the line. There were Republicans saying, “You know, look, this is too much,” with Betsy DeVos and stuff like that. And yet McConnell made it happen. So I don’t care whether Trump and McConnell are arguing now.
AMY GOODMAN: Of course, he’s the husband of Elaine Chao—
JOHN NICHOLS: Elaine Chao.
AMY GOODMAN: —the secretary of transportation.
JOHN NICHOLS: But I don’t care if they’re arguing now. The fact of the matter is, McConnell delivered a service to him that was beyond comprehension.
And as for Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway, I write a lot about them in the book for an interesting reason. When Donald Trump was caught on the bus—you know, the old tape of him saying horrible things about women—
DONALD TRUMP: You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful—I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. I just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.
BILLY BUSH: Whatever you want.
DONALD TRUMP: Grab ’em by the pussy. You can do anything.
JOHN NICHOLS: —there was a brief—there was a day or so there where everybody thought, “Boy, this is the breaking point. This is really going to be the end of it.” And a couple days later, they had that debate with Hillary Clinton, where everybody thought it was just crash and burn, it was done for Trump. Ivanka Trump and Kellyanne Conway provided essential defenses for Donald Trump at that point, as women, as prominent women, who both have, you know, careers and accomplishment and ought to be respected for that, and yet they provided tremendous amounts of cover for Donald Trump.
And I would argue that with Ivanka Trump, that continues to be her role. She supposedly cares about climate change. And yet, on August 15th, the president did what the Sierra Club refers to as climate change at its most—or, climate denial at its most dangerous, when he wiped out flood control rules that were supposed to make sure that our infrastructure is climate-resilient. And so, the bottom line is, Ivanka Trump, even Jared Kushner, are presented as somewhat more moderate, somewhat more liberal folks, and yet, again and again and again, Donald Trump goes and does what a Steve Bannon or a Steve Miller would want him to do, not what an Ivanka Trump would want him to do.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you, John Nichols, for joining us, political writer for The Nation. His new book, out today, Horsemen of the Trumpocalypse: A Field Guide to the Most Dangerous People in America. And we’ll link to your piece, “How Donald Trump and Elaine Chao Sold Off Flood-Control Policy to the Highest Bidders.”
For Part 1 of our conversation, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.