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Opinion | A Fox News ‘Defector’ on How the Network ‘Played Footsie’ With Trump

[THEME MUSIC]

(SINGING) When you walk in the room, do you have sway?

kara swisher

I’m Kara Swisher, and you’re listening to “Sway.” What’s going on in America looks very different for those who, like my mother, consume a media diet that’s way too heavy on Fox News. For instance, you might buy a conspiracy theory that the January 6 attack was plotted by the deep state to justify a war on Republicans. That’s the premise of Tucker Carlson’s recent documentary, “Patriot Purge.” And yes, it was full of misinformation.

archived recording (tucker carlson)

It makes you wonder if permanent Washington is willing to launch a second war on terror on its own citizens, what else are they capable of?

kara swisher

It was the final straw for Fox contributor Jonah Goldberg. He left the network late last year, along with his business partner, Stephen Hayes, with whom Goldberg runs the conservative media network, The Dispatch. In defecting, they became part of a group of recent high profile departures that also includes Chris Wallace and Shepard Smith.

This may seem like a backlash against the network’s push toward an editorial extreme, but it begs the question, if those who want to change things leave, who will be left to actually change things? And of course, do they want to change anything at all? So I called up Goldberg to talk to him about his recent exit from Fox, the future of media, and of course, what he makes of a potential Trump comeback. Jonah Goldberg, welcome to “Sway.”

jonah goldberg

It’s great to be here. Thank you very much for having me.

kara swisher

Let’s first talk about leaving Fox. You’ve been called the Fox defector, so I wanted to talk to you about why you left. I think it was catalyzed by “Patriot Purge,” the Tucker Carlson special on the January 6 mob, right? And I hate to even play this. Disclaimer— it’s filled with falsehoods. But let’s hear a bit of Carlson’s intro.

archived recording (tucker carlson)

January 6 is being used as a pretext to strip millions of Americans, disfavored Americans, of their core constitutional rights and to defame them as domestic terrorists. But what exactly happened on January 6? How much of what we were told about that day is a lie?

kara swisher

He’s just asking questions, Jonah. Anyway, let’s talk about your reaction to that.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I think you used a good word for it. Steve and I kind of differ on this at the margins, but I’ve been saying it was sort of the straw that broke the camel’s back, which is not to say that it was just a straw. You know, it was sort of like the anvil that broke the camel’s back. But I had been very frustrated with my place at Fox during the Trump years for a while.

And, you know, there have been other things I strongly disagree with and I disliked that had gone out mostly through the opinion side. I think the distinction between the news and the opinion side is a meaningful one. Doesn’t mean I’m not without criticism of the news side, but that’s much more between the 40-yard lines of normal media criticism than the opinion side, which I do think, particularly in prime time, has gone off the rails. And—

kara swisher

Give me an example of the things that sort of led up to it.

jonah goldberg

Well, the anti-vax stuff, which is still very strong, was very, very frustrating to me. The indulgence that they gave the— again, on the opinion side, that the election was fraudulent and stolen was very frustrating to me. I mean, I will note Bret Baier is a friend. He reported throughout all of that that it wasn’t true. They did good journalistic work on that. But on the opinion side, even post the Dominion lawsuit, they still played footsie with it and gave it oxygen or minimized the countervailing evidence. And that was exhausting.

And also just the general sense that you got from four years of watching the opinion side that the job of a conservative or a right of center person in public life was simply to clean up everything bad about Donald Trump, minimize it, recontextualize it, spin it, and say you know, the people who are upset about these things are the real idiots or problems or whatever. Just, that stuff was exhausting.

kara swisher

So let me ask you that. Was it a Tucker Carlson problem or a Fox problem? He’s just doing him, right? They let him.

jonah goldberg

Oh, it’s a Fox problem, and he is the most pronounced and, really, most skillful face of that larger problem by my lights.

kara swisher

How did opinion sections get so much power over news? Let’s talk specifically at Fox. And then if you’d like to talk about other cable stations, please do.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I mean, I want to be clear that some of this is just my observations as someone who wasn’t— you know, I wasn’t in planning meetings. Some of it is just from talking to friends and colleagues around and also just watching the product. My sense of it is that, first of all, the opinion side drives ratings, drives revenue.

And I think something that we could agree on in broad brushstrokes is that Roger Ailes was a flawed human being, but he was also a kind of brilliant guy. I mean, the first time I met him, I came out and I said, that is the strangest mix of Boss Hogg and Aristotle I ever met. And he understood that for Fox to have credibility or even for the Fox opinion side to have credibility, it needed to uphold quality news reporting and journalism.

And I think because of Ailes’s, let’s just stipulate, deserved downfall, there was a real power vacuum that came in the wake of that. And my sense of it was that the powers that be at News Corp and Murdoch world were in the business of basically riding out this business model before it dies. The Fox audience is among the least likely to cord cut, but even so, they were losing audience. And so they just decided to simply lean into the cash machine.

And some of it had to do with the decision that they were going to go all in for Trump. And some of it had to do with the fact that there really was nobody internally that I could see— maybe there was and they just lost a lot of fights that I never heard about— who was trying to say, all right, first of all, we’ve got to rein in the irresponsible opinion stuff, but second of all, we have to lean into the reporting stuff. And so instead, my impression is just that a lot of the people like Chris Wallace, Bret Baier, and others, they kind of decided for reasonable reasons internal to Fox, to just protect their own turf.

kara swisher

Meaning they didn’t push internally against some of the outrageous stuff. Now Chris Wallace reportedly did. And others didn’t—

jonah goldberg

Well, and I think Bret did, too. I don’t want to make it sound like they didn’t. But the focus was Bret wanted to protect the integrity of Special Report. And I think there are a lot of journalists who just sort of kept their head down and said I don’t want anything to do with all of that stuff.

And so the problem was just basically a collective action problem, is that you didn’t have anybody in the C-suites, saying— Roger Ailes was sort of legendary— at least, this is the way the story goes— where he would tell opinion guys, you’re just not going on air tonight, just to prove to them that this was his network and not theirs. And that kind of brushing back the excesses of the opinion side not only seemed to vanish, but they seemed to sort of decide at some sort of level, we’re just going to let these people gallop free.

kara swisher

I may push back on you on the idea of Roger Ailes created that, too, the anger, the constant repetition, the propaganda. He created the business in which they then leaned into, right? Maybe he didn’t want it to go that far.

jonah goldberg

Sure, yeah.

kara swisher

But he certainly— he made the little Frankenstein, and then Frankenstein grew up. That’s how I look at it.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, a lot of his past was prologue. I think that’s perfectly fair to argue, sure.

kara swisher

So let me get away from Roger Ailes, whatever you think of him, which I don’t think a lot of him. But the role of leadership, obviously, Rupert Murdoch is the center. He seems to escape some of this, in a lot of ways. I worked for him. I left because of him. I found him very pleasant, but ultimately, completely malevolent, as far as I was concerned.

And I couldn’t work for an organization he owned anymore. And I wasn’t being, you know, I’m going to huff and puff my way out. I just was like, no, I don’t think so. I don’t want to help this. Talk a little bit about him because he sort of shifts as time goes on. At one point, he’s embracing Obama at many years ago, and then, of course, Trump, who he must despise from things I know about him. He’s got to despise the whole thing.

jonah goldberg

I would think.

kara swisher

But talk a little bit about that leadership, what happens there.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, again, you’re sort of asking someone on the periphery of the Russian Empire about the tsar’s inner workings. I’ve met Rupert Murdoch a couple of times, not in the context of Fox at all, I don’t think. But I had no real interactions with him. My sense is that Rupert Murdoch got old. Rupert Murdoch got invested in the chummy relationship with Trump for reasons that I think were a little Faustian, or maybe not reasons, but consequences were a little Faustian.

And my sense is that Lachlan really never gave a rat’s ass about the finer points of American politics or the finer distinctions that I care a lot about among conservatives. And the thing I would hear sometimes is that the board meetings would be much more about making sure they’ve got a good N.F.L. contract than anything that was being spewed at, at Fox. I do think that they were all taken by surprise, which gets to this point about a leadership vacuum, by the “Patriot Purge” thing by Tucker. That’s mostly based on anecdote, but my sense is, is that they were fairly blindsided by it. And to me, that’s not a great defense if you’re supposed to be in charge of the place.

kara swisher

Although weasels are going to weasel. When you think about why that was, was it the role of social media companies in fueling the take-off of the Opinion section? Or it’s a lack of leadership, compelling content, whether you agree with it or not— it’s also repetitive. I’ve watched my own mother fall for it very heavily, especially around early Covid stuff. What was the dynamic you think that moved it into what appears to be power?

jonah goldberg

My sense of it is, is that absent people saying, you’re doing it wrong, the sort of safe harbor, if you were a line producer or a segment producer, is ratings and virality. And, you know, there were some responsible people who actually kept much worse stuff off air. And so you have a bunch of 20 somethings. It’s very analogous to what’s happening to the Republican Party on Capitol Hill, where lots of new congressmen are hiring these kids who don’t know jack about legislation or even public policy, but they know how to come up with great memes.

And so that bubble, sort of cultural milieu of responding to what trends on Twitter, what gives you that 2 percent bump for this 15 minutes over those 15 minutes, absent guidance, that becomes the default position at Fox. And it also became, I would argue, becomes the default position of cable news in a lot of places.

kara swisher

How did Trump play in this dynamic? Beacuse he certain is the original troll or the hot-take hacker, someone which is reductive in the moment, simple messaging that lights everything on fire, essentially, and then watches it burn.

jonah goldberg

I watched up close as the right very quickly succumbed to Trumpism. And it broke my heart. And I wrote this piece years ago about how it was like the “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” where I would see people one day, and they’d be talking about how horrible Trump was. And then they go to sleep and wake up the next day and talk about, you know, comrade Trump delivering the greatest harvests east of the Urals we’ve ever seen. And you’re like, what the hell happened? The mob got to you.

kara swisher

Let me just cough for a second— Nikki Haley. Go ahead. Go ahead.

jonah goldberg

And I think that one of the key indicators about whether or not you were going to flip is to look at people and institutions that were dependent upon mass audiences. If you were talk radio, which depended on maintaining your audience, those were the first gatekeepers, as it were, who flipped. And you could hear this on the “Rush Limbaugh Show.” I mean, you really could. In the early parts, he would criticize Trump and then he would catch hell from his listeners. And by the end of it, he saw his role as defending Trump, rather than actually keeping a Republican president honest.

And we got this dysfunctional, sociological phenomenon that said any criticism of Trump was joining the libs, blah, blah, blah, all that nonsense, but also that Trump himself was utterly immune to constructive criticism. And the way you would get praise from him is only by compliments. And we saw this with people like Lindsey Graham. If you can only influence someone through compliments, you get sucked into the logic of that, and everything that they do is great.

And on the intellectual side, you know, there was a real attempt— and some people are still trying, I think in vain— to create a coherent intellectual construct called Trumpism. And the problem with that is that Trump has no core principles. So if you are in a situation where you have a president who, as a matter of pride, boasts that he will change his mind on a dime, where he says, I go by my instincts and I’m not bound by any ideology and all this kind of stuff, the only safe harbor is cult of personality. And that cult of personality thing spread.

kara swisher

So how much responsibility does Fox have in this in that it decided to go in that direction? Is it just this financial decision? Or is it something else? Because you’re talking about something else, which is mass delusion, I suppose.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I mean, again, it’s a case by case basis because there are some people who, just like on Capitol Hill, there are a lot of closet normals who don’t like Donald Trump, but they won’t say it publicly. And—

kara swisher

Closet normals.

jonah goldberg

—part of that stems from—

kara swisher

I won’t go there.

jonah goldberg

—his role in the primaries, right? Trump’s superpower is that he can ruin your primary chances. He’s not very powerful in the general election in that sense. So there are some people at Fox who think it’s just entertainment. We’re giving the people what they want. I think there is a lot of that at MSNBC, too. I think people are looking for sticky audiences that are small, rather than big audiences that are broad. Some of it’s cynicism. We only have a few more years of this business model before it implodes so let’s monetize the hell out of it while we can.

So I don’t think you can say there’s one simple explanation. But if people weren’t making a lot of money from it, the other things would not be major factors. And in fact, this is the larger problem. If you’re a normal viewer of Fox and the only people you ever see criticize Donald Trump are Democrats, the impression you would get is that definitionally, conservatism has no problem with Donald Trump. And the reality is that there are a lot of conservatives who have big problems, but the nature of cable news— and again, I think all three networks have this problem— is to send the signal of essentially ideological conformity.

The most interesting fights in America today are intrapartisan, not crosspartisan. And so you have five guests on an MSNBC show, and it’s how do you agree with me now? How do you agree with me? And on Fox, it’s the same thing. And I’m not making a both sides argument. There’s an asymmetry insofar as the things that conservatives are being asked to conform to are worse.

kara swisher

So let’s talk about the asymmetry public-private divide. We saw this on January 6 where Fox hosts were texting Trump one thing and going on the air to say something completely different. What do you think the role of January 6 will be in driving change here at Fox?

jonah goldberg

Limited, I mean, unfortunately, with the caveat we don’t know what the January 6 commission is going to come out with, right? But views about January 6 are kind of baked into the cake. And by that, I do not mean that the average normal Republican voter thinks January 6 was a great thing. I don’t think that’s the case. I think there’s a really loud minority that actually buys all that garbage.

But the broader takeaway from the kind of messaging that the right has been getting is that a lot of Republicans are like, oh, the liberals are making too big a deal about it. Oh, the January 6 committee is this partisan thing. And no, I don’t want to see that kind of thing happen again. And yeah, the people who actually committed violence should get prosecuted, I guess, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. But I just don’t want to talk about it. I don’t think they’re getting any feedback from the audience, saying, we need a real accounting about January 6. And I think that they know how to tune out that kind of criticism from the broader public or from other journalistic outlets.

kara swisher

Yeah, it’s kind of like we don’t talk about Trumpo. No, no, no. That’s an “Encanto” reference in case you’re interested. I think you probably know that. But you and Sean Hannity got in a fight in 2016 when he was reportedly advising Trump behind the scenes. He didn’t stop, apparently. The texts have been going on, including the attack where he was advising to stop the election lies.

Laura Ingraham also said the president needs to tell people at the Capitol go home. This is hurting all of us. He’s destroying his legacy. Later on the air, she said, from a chaotic Washington tonight, earlier today, the Capitol was under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement. So you had been early to saying, what are you doing here? Because as a conservative, you want to be close to the people, but also be able to disagree with them, correct?

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I mean, look, I think a lot of journalistic discussions about journalistic ethics are needlessly complicated. My fundamental definition of journalistic ethics is, never say things or write things that you do not believe to be true.

kara swisher

Mm-hmm, that’s a good one.

jonah goldberg

Right? And it sort of just boils down to that. And way too much of the sort of entertainment wing of the right thinks that their job is to tell their audiences what they want to hear, rather than what they need to hear.

And so those texts, they don’t surprise me that much because the blood brain barrier between— I use brain advisedly with Sean, but the blood brain barrier between sort of Sean Hannity and Tucker and Laura and the Trump White House, that was broken long ago. I mean, Laura spoke at the convention, you know? And then she was brought on Fox. There used to be a higher wall of separation between that kind of stuff. And I think that’s one of the things that has broke down in lots of places. But it was particularly acute because Trump, he’s the weirdest mix of sort of—

kara swisher

He’s a media creature.

jonah goldberg

Total creature of the media. He’ll see people on Fox. He’ll call them. He’ll lavish them with praise or invite them to the White House. The lead-up to the election, I still want to see better reporting on how many people were invited down to Mar-a-Lago to hang out with him. There was an enormous amount of cultivation of these people. And anyway, I—

kara swisher

So let me ask you. You left Fox. Is there anything to be done about this? If this blood brain barrier is gone, it doesn’t matter anymore. You know, they’re hiding, of course, behind it’s an opinion show, even though, say, Laura’s opinion, presumably, isn’t even her opinion, given what she’s writing versus what she says.

jonah goldberg

I said, look, there was special circumstances for me. And if you go back and you read the statement that Steve and I wrote about all of this—

kara swisher

I did.

jonah goldberg

—there are still good people there. And they’re still trying to do right as they see it. And I am not going to tell people they are somehow morally obliged to do what I did.

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kara swisher

We’ll be back in a minute.

If you like this interview and want to hear others, follow us on your favorite podcast app. You’ll be able to catch up on “Sway” episodes you may have missed, like my conversation with Jake Tapper. And you’ll get new ones delivered directly to you. More with Jonah Goldberg after the break.

So you’ve left. You have this life raft at Substack, which made it easier to leave. It’s a conservative newsletter called The Dispatch. I want to talk a little bit about whether this is the future of media. How many subscribers do you have now?

jonah goldberg

Sure. I mean, just to be clear, we are on Substack as a platform, but The Dispatch is broader than— it’s, I don’t know— we got five, six newsletters, and we’re basically a publication that uses them as a platform. And it’s been a nice relationship. We love Chris Best and those guys. And I don’t know— we have 160,000 unpaid subscribers and at or around 30,000 paid.

kara swisher

So do you think this idea of pulling away is the future of media, a way to solve the arrangement equals engagement problem on cable news and social media? I did just interview Chris Best last year, actually. And his pitch was that it sidesteps the engagement problem. Instead of trying to go viral, Substack writers were incentivized to earn and keep readers’ trust, whoever they happen to be. Can you talk about this idea of if it’s possible or it’s possible only for a few people to do this?

jonah goldberg

Again, because I don’t want to throw those guys under the bus, I am more skeptical of a lot of the grand vision stuff about Substack. I know you’ve been covering the internet for 20 years.

kara swisher

30.

jonah goldberg

I was the founding editor of National Review online. So like in internet years, we’re both Methuselah, right? And—

kara swisher

Yes, yeah, exactly.

jonah goldberg

And there’s a lot about the newsletter thing, not just Substack— because lots of people are getting into newsletters, right— that feels very bloggy circa 2007 to me.

kara swisher

Sure.

jonah goldberg

And it’s interesting, if you look at the most successful people on Substack, it’s very top heavy with famous or successful bloggers— me, David French, Matt Yglesias, Andrew Sullivan, right? And so I think the old rule of the blogging era still has some juice left in it, which is that individual personalities can generate loyalty from readers. I am less confident that there is a technological fix and like, oh, we just got the right platform. That will solve these problems. I just, I don’t buy it.

Chris is a great guy, but he has this view of Substack being this haven for free speech stuff. And one of the fundamental contradictions of this era— and I’m a pro free speech guy, but if you are truly all in for free speech the first people who will flock to your platform—

kara swisher

Are heinous people.

jonah goldberg

Look at Parler, you know? Because they’re censored or blocked other places. It’s sort of why pornography always was so innovative technologically because it needed to be to get around the old gates.

kara swisher

It was. It remains. So when you look at things like this, do you see it being a viable way for many journalists to operate if they don’t want to be part of these larger systems, whether it’s Fox News or MSNBC or anything else, even The New York Times?

jonah goldberg

No, I think it’s a perfectly fine thing to have on the menu. But at the end of the day, I mean, one of the things we’re learning on a daily basis, reporting is just friggin’ expensive.

kara swisher

It is.

jonah goldberg

You need a certain amount of scale to do some of that stuff. Newsletters are great for established writers with something interesting to say. But I don’t see it as an answer to—

kara swisher

The bigger media problem.

jonah goldberg

—what the whales are doing, you know? And it’s a way to keep the whales honest at the margins, but it’s not— I come from a family that one of my dad’s true passions was hating The New York Times.

kara swisher

It’s a lot of people’s true passions.

jonah goldberg

One of the reasons why it— for my dad, who was a media guy, a newspaper man all his life, it was like Sherlock Holmes to Moriarty. He—

kara swisher

Yeah.

jonah goldberg

He thought it was worth being mad at because it was such a good publication.

kara swisher

I see.

jonah goldberg

Right? And I think The New York Times makes lots of editorial mistakes, but I would not want to live in a world without The New York Times.

kara swisher

How do you get, then, in this new media environment accountability like that? I mean, that’s one thing that does keep The New York Times in check in a lot of ways. And of course, also publishers, not just The Times, that have incentive to cure their problems, they’re aware. So what happens when Facebook and Twitter and the others, or Facebook and Google mostly, are sucking all the value out of it?

jonah goldberg

It’s a difficult question that I don’t have a great answer for. I’m personally not on Facebook. The Dispatch is part of the Facebook fact-checking program, as a matter of full disclosure. One of my hopes is that we as a culture kind of grow out of a lot of this stuff. I’ve read and I’ve followed your arguments about Facebook, and I agree with a lot of your descriptive parts about it. Facebook has a role to play in a lot of our problems. I don’t dispute that for a second— Twitter, too.

I just get very nervous as someone who, one of my favorite historians is Gabriel Kolko, who walks the reader through how most of the big industries that the muckrakers and the Upton Sinclair’s and all that kind of stuff, rather than the heroic tale of progressive government imposing great reforms on them, it was really a corporatist strategy where big corporations beg to be regulated so they could have a barrier to entry from competition.

kara swisher

Yes, I’m aware.

jonah goldberg

And every morning, I just see ads from Facebook where they talk about how much we need regulation. Please regulate me. That makes me nervous.

kara swisher

I agree, but there could be a need for regulation without needing the regulation they want, right? And create regulation that does impose problems for them that allows innovation. I’m more interested in allowing innovation to beat them, eventually. That’s my goal, is— but they’ve structured it in such a way that you can’t.

And then my biggest problem I think is the concentration of power. For example, Donald Trump being kicked off of Twitter and Facebook, one of his principal means of media, I would say— mostly Twitter, but also Facebook very much so. I would agree with their decision because he was a constant rule breaker. At the same time, nervous that two people made that decision. What did you think of that?

jonah goldberg

I’m with you. I think it raises troubling questions that need to be thought through. At the same time, I think it is indisputably true that it has made society better off that he’s not on Twitter. Now that’s not— I’m not trying to make the ends justify the means argument. I’m just observing as a fact that it’s better that he is not in everybody’s brains the same way. Whether that’s a justification for the decision, I don’t know. But I—

kara swisher

Do you think they should let him back on if he runs again in 2024? Kind of an interesting decision.

jonah goldberg

I think they’re in a mess of a situation then, right? And this is the problem with decisions like this, is that people don’t think through, you know, the long-term consequences of this. Certainly, if he wins again, which I’m skeptical about, they’re in a real pickle because they allow dictators and mass murderers who are heads of state to tweet, and that’s part of their policy. And it’d be just kind of weird that that’s how you would come back in. So I don’t have a great answer. I hadn’t really thought about it.

kara swisher

Yeah. Do you think he’ll run again in 2024?

jonah goldberg

A lot of smart people I know really think he will. I am less convinced. There are green shoots, right? I mean like, I understand where you come from politically, you probably don’t like Mitch McConnell. That’s fine. I got my criticisms of Mitch McConnell. But the simple fact is Trump hates Mitch McConnell, and he can’t get the Republicans to ditch him. There have been all sorts of Trump-anointed candidates in various primaries that have not been doing well. The polling is moving in a direction away from Trump insofar as more and more people say their first allegiance is to the G.O.P. than to Trump.

The thing that concerns me is, you know, before the Popular Frontism, the cult of personality stuff kicked in, Trump was not very popular among Republicans. But you had a collective action problem of 16, 17 people running. And it was a belling the cat problem, right? It’s in every mouse’s individual interest to put a bell on the cat, but it’s in no mouse’s individual interest to be the one to put the bell on the cat.

kara swisher

Right, right.

jonah goldberg

And so he had pluralities that grew after each guy he destroyed. If it’s a 10-way race with a bunch of jackwads in there and all that, it’s entirely possible that he could sweep up through the primaries again. And I’m someone who hates primaries. I mean, I think they’ve done enormous damage to American life.

And it’s part of the Fox story, which is that you now have politicians who can go on T.V. And if they win the Fox primary, they win. If they go on and they say ridiculous things like Josh Hawley and JD Vance, they don’t care that big donors are turned off by their garbage. They get enough small donors that they have all the money that they need. Marjorie Taylor Greene is a huge fundraiser because of these small donors.

And those voters who are not a majority of the G.O.P. primary voters have this outsized role in our politics. So there’s definitely a path for Trump to do it. I think ultimately, the best argument for why Trump might not do it is he is pathologically afraid of seeming like a loser, which is why he can’t admit that he lost the election. And if he could be persuaded that there’s a non-trivial chance that he could be really humiliated, he might just say, it’s not worth doing it.

kara swisher

I’m not even going to play. Is there a Republican that could beat him? Just, the media keeps bringing up this Ron DeSantis war, which seems—

jonah goldberg

Overblown. I think it’s real, but it’s overblown. I don’t know. I think there’s a non-trivial chance that Tucker Carlson could beat him. I don’t know this. You know, Tucker and I are not nearly as friendly as we once were. But I’ve long said that I think Tucker smells the opportunity to be the new Pat Buchanan of the right. And that means running for office at some point. And he would be good as a candidate. I mean, he would be terrible for the country, I would argue, for conservatism, but he would be a formidable candidate.

Doing straight line projections right now, it’s very difficult to look at anybody other than DeSantis. Nikki Haley, I think, ill-advisedly said that if he runs, she won’t. I don’t think that’s smart. Part of my indictment of the media generally is that weak parties create strong partisanship because what happens is the parties outsource the stuff that they’re supposed to be doing to other institutions. For example, regardless of the issues that they represent, Planned Parenthood and the N.R.A. do a lot of party work. Lots of media outlets do party work by proxy.

And I wore a lot different hats. I was a think tank guy. I was a pundit, a columnist, a T.V. guy. I gave speeches. And I never found any fundamental contradiction between all those different hats. And then comes 2016, and what 2016 asked a lot of people in my line of work to do is, what hat are you not willing to take off? And I was stunned by how many people, the one hat they wouldn’t take off was the party hat. At the end of the day, they’re going to be a loyal Republican over all the other stuff. And I’m more cognizant of that stuff than I’ve ever been before because I now see the distinctions more clearly.

kara swisher

So talk about this. Would you call yourself a Never Trumper? How is that movement doing?

jonah goldberg

So when Trump got elected, I said I wasn’t going to call myself Never Trump anymore because he was president, right? And for me, the way I define Never Trump was I was never going to endorse him, I was never going to vote for him. I was never going to lie for him or any of those things. And I still won’t do that.

But the Never Trump thing, to me, was part of a particular moment in your politics. And once he’s president, you sort of have an obligation to at least give him a shot to do it right. He did not. I was a very forceful critic of Donald Trump for all four years of his presidency. But I find it to be a less than useful term. I think the Never Trump movement such as it was is very splintered. And the catch-all doesn’t really capture everybody because—

kara swisher

What is the catch-all? Because you seem skeptical of Trump, but he’s leading in the polls, right? I mean, it is what it is. Whether he’s—

jonah goldberg

Look, as a matter—

kara swisher

He may be waning, and you’re starting to see those little cracks, but—

jonah goldberg

Yeah, but I mean, so it depends what your question is. I mean, if you’re asking about what the Never Trump thing is, you had people who are Never Trump who are now expressly just not conservatives anymore. I mean, Jen Rubin or Max Boot, they’re pretty honest about it, right? I’m still a conservative, and I’m still one of these Japanese soldiers trying to defend the—

kara swisher

It didn’t end well for them.

jonah goldberg

No, it didn’t, you know? But look, there’s a reason why my podcast is called “The Remnant.” And so it’s absolutely true that Trump could still be the nominee. And it’s absolutely true that he has outside political influence on Republicans. I take some solace in the fact that there are scores of Republican politicians who, if you talk to them in private, say terrible things about Donald Trump and hate him. They just can’t say it publicly.

kara swisher

Let me just then ask about Liz Cheney, who does that. I bet there’s a lot of Liz Cheney’s out there, tons. She just happens to be the one who actually says it in public and quite forthrightly. Of course, she gets slapped back by a lot of people because she does that. I’m kind of like, let her do what she wants if you believe in free speech. How do you look at that? Because if they’re there and silent and she’s getting the crap beat out of her in public and in Wyoming, what’s the hope for the Republican Party if there’s a lot of silent people and just her?

jonah goldberg

Well, time. You never want to be in a position where you find that the rosiest scenario for the politics that you want involve someone dying. So I’m not making that argument. But Trump will die, and I don’t think that there is anybody who will obviously and capably replace him. In terms of Liz Cheney herself, I find it very depressing.

And it sort of gets to this point I was making about Fox in general, is, I have no problem with people who want to argue that what Liz Cheney is doing is bad politics or bad for the Republican Party or even bad for the country, which, I mean, I’ll disagree with all three of those, but fine. But there are reasonable people who can make one version of those arguments. The idea that because she’s a disloyal Republican means she’s not a conservative—

kara swisher

Oh, she is.

jonah goldberg

—that drives me crazy. And so personally, I think what Liz is doing is heroic. And January 6 was, for her, what “Patriot Purge” was for me. It was the last straw because she played the political game. She was the number three person in leadership when she finally said, enough is enough.

And I find her analysis correct that not having a proper accounting of what happened on January 6, which was an attempted self coup, doesn’t mean everybody involved was all in for a coup, but enough people were, including the sitting president of the United States. You need an accounting of that. And the Republican Party will be tainted forever more without it. And so I agree with her on the analysis. But I also think her political prospects in the near term are pretty limited. I do think since you were asking about Republican primary, I think if Trump runs, she runs, just to give him hell.

kara swisher

What about a Biden, Liz Cheney ticket? Have you heard that?

jonah goldberg

All due respect to your colleague, Tom Friedman, I think that’s an insane idea.

kara swisher

I do agree. Sorry, Tom, we think you’re insane.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I just think it’s a non-starter. I mean, it just— it doesn’t—

kara swisher

Yeah.

jonah goldberg

It wouldn’t work.

kara swisher

So you think she’s going to run just to fuck with him.

jonah goldberg

I don’t know if she’ll run if Trump doesn’t run. But I would not be at all surprised that she, like Banquo’s ghost, just gets in to plague the guy or something.

kara swisher

I haven’t heard a good Banquo’s ghost reference in a long time. So put yourself 20 years from now, not what you hope will happen. Trump will be dead. I mean, let’s agree unless he lives to 100 and whatever the heck he is. What happens to the Republican Party? Does it turn back? Is the fever over, or is it just more of the same? If you had to pick.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I mean, my friend Yuval Levin says he doesn’t like the word “optimism” because it deprives people of agency. He likes hopefulness better because it puts you in the mix. And I am more hopeful than you might think that this is a fever. I understand why people might not like Glenn Youngkin, but like one of my operative heuristics is that both parties seem determined to do fan service for their most ardent base.

And one of the reasons why I think Joe Biden is in such trouble is that he was elected not to be that. There were lots of base candidates in that field, and he beat them all. And he campaigned on being a normal guy and more liberal than I would like, but like a normal Democrat guy. And he hasn’t stood up to the base of his own party and to the blue checkmark liberals who goad him and his administration to doing bad things.

And Glenn Youngkin comes along. And yeah, he played more footsie with Trump than I would like. But he basically ran as sort of a normal soccer dad, rich, suburban Republican guy. And those Biden, Youngkin voters, I think are the key to— whichever party has any chance of being a majority party needs to figure out how to hold onto those people.

kara swisher

Well, who on the Democrat side is that if, say, Biden didn’t run?

jonah goldberg

Well, I mean, the funniest irony about the war on Joe Manchin is that Joe Manchin is probably more reflective of the median Democrat in this country than Joe Biden or Harris, you know. And just underscore, 10 years ago, he would have been considered on his positions a huge big spending liberal. But it shows you how far both parties have moved. I think the Democratic Party on policy has moved more to the left than the Republican Party has moved more to the right. The Republican Party has moved more radically towards rhetorical asininity than the Democratic Party. But that’s another asymmetry.

And so I think the old rules of politics are still true, which is that the incentive structures are screwed up. The majority of voters in this country are somewhere in the middle, you know right of center, left of center, and all that kind of stuff. And what we need to figure out is how to get the incentive structures right so that politicians are responsive to those voters, rather than the ones who have—

kara swisher

Screamed the loudest.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, who are performative. And the performative thing is a problem in American politics generally. And cable news, social media are part of the mix about why they are so entrenched in our politics.

kara swisher

I’ve had so many people saying to me silent majority, which was such a recollection of Nixon, of course, in a bad way. Lots of different people, both conservative and more liberal, saying that word to me over and over and over again, which is really kind of interesting.

jonah goldberg

Yeah, I mean, there’s an interesting analog to this in the sort of intellectual space, where prior to 2015, very enormous number of liberals who, for good reasons and bad, hated my guts. And there were enormous number of liberals who I was not fond of either. And what’s weird is like I’ve become a bit more classically liberal in my outlook, but at the same time, one of my views is that I just think facts matter.

And so I have much more in common with the guys at Persuasion and these other places where we can argue about whether the size of the welfare state is too big or there are perverse incentives in this program or that program. But the idea that democracy is a good thing, that the actual facts should influence your position, creates this interesting crosspartisan conversations that I don’t think existed in the same way 15 years ago.

kara swisher

In 10 years, you’ll be dining with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nightly and stuff like that. It’s going to—

jonah goldberg

I’m not sure I see that happening.

kara swisher

I know, but you know.

jonah goldberg

If she invited me, I’d have dinner with her. It’d be fun, I’m sure.

kara swisher

Good. That’s really good.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

“Sway” is a production of New York Times Opinion. It’s produced by Nayeema Raza, Blakeney Schick, Daphne Chen, Caitlin O’Keefe, and Wyatt Orme; edited by Nayeema Raza, with original music by Isaac Jones; mixing by Sonia Herrero and Carole Sabouraud; and fact-checking by Kate Sinclair and Mary Marge Locker. Special thanks to Shannon Busta, Kristin Lin, and Kristina Samulewski. Irene Noguchi is the executive producer of New York Times Opinion audio.

If you’re in a podcast app already, you know how to get your podcasts, so follow this one. If you’re listening on The Times website and want to get each new episode of “Sway” delivered to you, haunting you like Banquo’s ghost, download any podcast app, then search for “Sway“, and follow the show. We release every Monday and Thursday. Thanks for listening.

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