This week, Ana (@anamariecox) sat down for her regular check-in with WFLT’s favorite Never Trumper Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson). They kicked things off prognosticating about President Trump’s upcoming summit with Vladimir Putin, which Rick has low expectations for. He expects Putin to treat Trump-like an intelligence asset rather than a serious negotiator because Trump is easily manipulated.
“With a certain amount of flattery and a certain amount of ass kissing, Donald Trump will say great things about the worst people in the world,” Rick said.
Rick didn’t mince words when describing the reasons why past American leaders have treated Vladimir Putin with caution: his regime kills journalists and jails political opponents while enriching Putin and his friends and allies. Rick then pointed out another reason for his low expectations for this meeting: because of the terrible things Trump is doing in America, Putin can enter the meeting knowing he won’t be held to account for human rights violations by Trump the way he was by Presidents Obama and Bush.
Ana then asked Rick whether he believes the pee tape exists. He doesn’t know whether the pee tape specifically does, but said, “If you’re in Russia, you’re on tape. Smile, you’re on candid camera.”
While Ana described speculating about the pee tape as “the national pastime,” she was also clear that there are two realities in our country and other, more important things to deal with. She then turned to talk about why Rick’s work in foreign policy dovetails with his strategy and ad-making work because the image is so important in foreign policy. That means that little things, like body language and when Trump blows off meetings, matters for how the rest of the world views the United States.
Eventually, those slights on the rest of the world, and our NATO allies, in particular, will have lasting consequences, reducing American power and influence throughout the world. When asked by Ana how to make the case for American influence to people that don’t understand how it benefits their lives, Rick said that “we’ve learned a few lessons over the years about pulling back from the world. Sometimes they’re Pearl Harbors and sometimes they’re 9/11’s. The philosophy of conventional deterrence, of having American troops deployed in Europe, and keeping the peace through that conventional system, is a success for 70 years.”
Their discussion got more depressing, as Ana acknowledged when Rick painted a dark picture of a future when the alliance of liberal democracies could fail, and kleptocracies rise up and overtake them. Despite that, he and Ana found some hope in the enduring importance and power of the myriad institutions that have sustained the liberal international order since World War II. Should the Trump Administration stretch on into a second term, they said that a broader international alliance could reduce American influence on the world stage, moving towards the science fiction trope of a world governed by some form of United Nations with real political power.
That’s a future neither wants to see because despite the flaws with the liberal order, and the flaws in the United States itself, both retain a belief in American exceptionalism and want the country to lead on the world stage.
Afterward, Ana shifted course and asked Rick about Brett Kavanaugh. His verdict: “He’s not going to be the Handmaid’s Tale, terrifying monster for liberals that they think right now, and on the other hand he’s not going to be the guy who overturns Roe v. Wade and becomes a judicial activist on the right that a lot of conservatives think he’ll be.”
Ana and Rick were both deeply disturbed by Kavanaugh’s remarks to the American people after Trump announced his nomination, and by the fact that Trump expects loyalty from his Supreme Court justices. By doing that, and all of his other norm-busting things, Trump has harmed the source code that underpins the American political system.
Ana then asked Rick what his plans are moving forward, and whether he could forego the chance to remake the Supreme Court as a fundamentally conservative institution and work for a Democratic Presidential candidate. “Anybody who fetishizes one branch only is committing a category error,” he said.
He went to say he’s willing to make sacrifices to prevent another year of Trump, although he doesn’t yet know who he’ll work for in 2020. Part of the reason he doesn’t is that Rick remains hopeful Trump won’t be the Republican nominee in two years.
“Don’t give up hope on Robert Mueller, and don’t give up hope on the fact that guy shovels down Kentucky Fried Chicken and Filet o’Fish every day,” he said.
Rick’s hope extends to Trump’s trade war and dreams of it eroding his support among voters in the South and Midwest. With that support eroded, he believes a Democratic Party that talks to normal people and has space for the Conor Lamb’s and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s of the world can beat back Trump and Trumpism.
Rick’s book, Everything Trump Touches Dies, comes out next month! You can find it here.
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