• Show Notes
  • Transcript

On this week’s episode of Stay Tuned, “Trumpeachment,” Preet answers listener questions about bills of attainder, the use of multimedia in Trump’s Senate impeachment trial, and the Biden administration’s decision to ask for the resignations of 56 Trump-appointed U.S. Attorneys. 

Then, Preet is joined by David Frum, a Staff Writer at The Atlantic and a key voice in conservative politics. Frum and Preet discuss the utility of impeachment and the future of the Republican Party. 

In the Stay Tuned bonus, Frum discusses his dual Canadian-American citizenship and how 9/11 changed the way he thought about nationhood. 

To listen, try the CAFE Insider membership free for two weeks and get access to the full archive of exclusive content, including the CAFE Insider podcast co-hosted by Preet and Anne Milgram. 

Listen to the first three episodes of Doing Justice, Preet’s new free six-part podcast based on his bestselling book of the same name. You can hear Preet’s incredible stories from his time as U.S. Attorney on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

Sign up to receive the CAFE Brief, a weekly newsletter featuring analysis by Elie Honig, a weekly roundup of politically charged legal news, and historical lookbacks that help inform our current political challenges.

As always, tweet your questions to @PreetBharara with hashtag #askpreet, email us at [email protected], or call 669-247-7338 to leave a voicemail.

 

Stay Tuned with Preet is produced by CAFE Studios. 

Executive Producer: Tamara Sepper; Senior Editorial Producer: Adam Waller; Technical Director: David Tatasciore; Audio Producer: Matthew Billy; Editorial Producers: David Kurlander, Noa Azulai, Sam Ozer-Staton.

 

REFERENCES AND SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIALS

Q&A:

  • Lyle Denniston, “Rediscovering the ancient ‘bill of attainder,’” Constitution Center, 5/24/2019
  • Daniel Hemel, “Using the 14th Amendment to bar Trump from office could take years,” Washington Post, 1/12/2021
  • Noah Feldman, “Trump’s Impeachment Filing Contains a Bizarre Legal Argument,” Bloomberg, 2/2/2021
  • Evan Perez & Christina Carrega, “DOJ asks Trump-appointed US attorneys to resign,” CNN, 2/8/2021

THE INTERVIEW:

  • David Frum on Stay Tuned with Preet, CAFE, 1/31/2019
  • David Frum, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy, HarperCollins, 5/2020

THE VALUE OF IMPEACHMENT 

  • David Frum, “Impeachment Is Working—Just Not as the Framers Expected,” The Atlantic, 2/7/2021
  • Luke Broadwater, “‘The president’s lawyer just rambled on and on.’ Trump defense lawyer leaves some senators scratching their heads,” New York Times, 2/9/2021
  • Abigail Weinberg, “Will Someone Please Explain What the Heck Trump’s Opening Defense Was About?” Mother Jones, 2/10/2021
  • Giovanni Russinello, “Biden’s Approval Rating Is Trump’s in Reverse,” New York Times, 2/1/2021

CLINTON’S IMPEACHMENT

  • David Frum, “Bill Clinton Had a Strategy. Trump Is Doing the Opposite,” The Atlantic, 9/30/2019
  • “Poll: Clinton’s approval rating up in wake of impeachment,” CNN, 12/20/1998
  • Drew Desilver, “Clinton’s impeachment barely dented his public support, and it turned off many Americans,” Pew Research, 10/3/2019
  • McKay Coppins, “The Man Who Broke Politics,” The Atlantic, 10/17/2018
  • Eric Planin, “Livingston Quits as Speaker-Designate,” Washington Post, 12/20/1998

THE TRUMP “COALITION”

  • David Frum, “The Conservative Cult of Victimhood,” The Atlantic, 1/11/2021
  • Geraldo Cadava, “The Deep Origins of Latino Support for Trump,” The New Yorker, 12/29/2020
  • Shane Goldmacher, “Ted Cruz’s evangelical problem,” Politico, 4/1/2016
  • David Leonhardt, “Marco Rubio, Trumpified,” New York Times, 11/14/2018

THE TRIAL: DAY 1

  • Manu Raju and Caroline Kelly, “Bill Cassidy joins five other Republican senators who broke ranks to vote that Trump’s impeachment trial is constitutional,” CNN, 2/10/2021
  • David Frum’s Twitter Thread on Impeachment Briefs, Twitter, 2/9/2021
  • Gabriel T. Rubin, “Trump Impeachment Trial: The Republican Senators to Watch,” Wall Street Journal, 2/9/2021

BIDEN’S STRATEGY

  • David Frum, “The Conservative Case for Voting for Clinton,” The Atlantic, 11/2/2016
  • Rebecca Stewart, “Barbour’s ‘main thing,’” CNN, 2/12/2011
  • Elaine Godfrey, “The Sound of Silence,” The Atlantic, 1/20/2021
  • Mike Mashon, “Silent Cal, Not So Silent,” Library of Congress, 11/3/2016

FUTURE OF THE GOP 

  • David Frum, “The Man Who Killed Republican Reform,” The Atlantic, 4/12/2018
  • David Frum, “Why I’ll Vote for Romney,” The Daily Beast, 11/1/2012
  • David Frum Tweet on Marjorie Taylor Greene, Twitter, 2/2/2021
  • David Frum Tweet on House Speaker Rayburn, Twitter, 1/28/2021
  • Jaclyn Peiser, “Despite denouncing QAnon months ago, Kevin McCarthy now says, ‘I don’t even know what it is,’” Washington Post, 2/4/2021
  • Jack M. Balkin, “The Not-So-Happy Anniversary of the Debt-Ceiling Crisis,” The Atlantic, 7/31/2012
  • Gary Abernathy, “Trump Country’s reaction to the Mueller report: ‘So what?’” Washington Post, 3/25/2019

AMERICAN INSTITUTIONS

  • Preet at the Oxford Union, YouTube, 7/26/2017
  • John Herrman, “What Was Donald Trump’s Twitter?” New York Times, 1/12/2021

 Impeaching Trump matters — even if he’s not convicted. 

The Bush administration speechwriter and The Atlantic staff writer explains why he thinks Trump will pay a serious political price.

David Frum has been a major figure in conservative thought for three decades, but that hasn’t stopped him from being one of the most incisive voices arguing to impeach former President Trump. Frum joins Preet to talk about his journey from coining the “axis of evil” terminology of the George W. Bush years to being a fierce critic of the contemporary GOP. He reaffirms his faith in democracy and majoritarianism, and sketches out a path that could bring the two-party system back from the brink. 

Frum also doesn’t hold back in identifying the compromises and misjudgments he blames for the downfall of the Republican Party, from the rise of the Tea Party to the Party’s embrace of Trump during his 2016 run. Frum also has harsh words for freshman congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has become a lightning rod over debates about QAnon, civility, and how to effectively limit right-wing radicalism on Capitol Hill. 

The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

(Recorded 2/10/21) 

Preet Bharara:

From CAFE, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

David Frum:

We have to begin by understanding, he’s not a fully rational political actor, and what people do is they insert the moderately rational, self-seeking politician in the Donald Trump place. So this is a deeply, psychologically damaged person who’s driven in the first place by his ego needs and driven in the second place by his money-making desires and his total lack of ethics about how money is made.

Preet Bharara:

That’s David Frum, he’s a conservative political commentator and staff writer at the Atlantic magazine. Frum served as a presidential speech writer at the start of the George W. Bush administration and he’s been credited with coining the term access of evil, which Bush used frequently in the lead up to the Iraq war. These days Frum is a prominent critic of Trump and the modern Republican party. His most recent book Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy focuses on how we recover from the last four years. Frum joins me today in the throes of the former president’s historic second Senate impeachment trial. We discuss how the trial is going, the state of the GOP and Frum’s view that impeachment, even without conviction is an effective political remedy. That’s coming up, stay tuned.

LISTENER Q&A

This question comes in a tweet from @trishmactweets who writes, “Serious question from the nosebleed section. If Trump’s attorneys are so inept that they make this a complete disaster, can this be thrown out, declared a mistrial? I realize there’s probably little precedent, but I can’t help wonder.”

 

So your question goes to a point that I’ve been making, not just for the past few weeks, but for the past year and a half, whenever the subject of the Senate trial on impeachment comes up.

We keep calling it a trial, senators call it a trial, commentators call it a trial, but in very significant ways, including the way in which you talk about it, it’s not a trial in the traditional sense that we understand it in state or federal court, whether it’s a civil trial or a criminal trial. As you may recall, I discussed with Dan Goldman and Adam Schiff last week.

One of the revelations I had in the middle of the interview is that there’s literally nothing that I could think of or that we could think of that could cause a mistrial because there’s no real presiding officer. There’s no real rules governing prejudice to the defendant. All sorts of ways in which the trial is constructed and the jurors are designated make it something that would immediately result in a mistrial in an ordinary court. All the senators know the defendant, all the senators have a view on the defendant. The senators are reading about the case, which is a no-no in real court. Some of them are even making news. They’re all witnesses with respect to this particular impeachment proceeding.

Many of them consider themselves to be victims. Some of them may be even participated in the incitement insurrection. So it’s a bubbling over cauldron of conflicts and mistrial possibilities, but none of that will happen and it won’t happen even here, no matter how terrible the lawyers are or their performances are judged to be. By the way, it is very difficult to make any hay out of incompetence of a lawyer if at the end of the day, the lawyers defendant is acquitted, which it’s too early to tell just yet, but the good money is on the fact that 17 Republicans will not join the Democrats in finding Donald Trump guilty. So, it is an interesting exercise to discuss the ineptitude of the lawyers, but I don’t think it will have much consequence.

So speaking of the arguments and the quality of the lawyering on behalf of Donald Trump at the impeachment trial, I got this email from Jake in New York who asks, “Why did Trump’s lawyers make the bill of attainder argument? What is that, and why does it apply here?”

So these are good questions. I have been refreshing my recollection about bills of attainder, which is not something that comes up that often in my prior practice. So first, you go to the constitution, article one, section nine, clause three very helpfully says, no bill of attainder or ex post facto law shall be passed. Oh, but it doesn’t define what a bill of attainder is. So for that, you go to some case law and the Supreme Court has addressed this issue a number of times as have other courts. Basically a bill of attainder is an act by Congress, a bill of Congress that demonizes or punishes a particular person, single someone out for punishment through a non-judicial process.

So the elements you have to show to determine whether something is or is not a bill of attainder, is that one, the law specifically target individuals or groups, two it must inflict a punishment, impose some penalty on that person or group and it must lack a provision for judicial trial. So basically Congress is not allowed to take the law in its own hands and that’s why the founders decided to have a prohibition against bills of attainder. So Trump’s lawyers have basically said in a novel and kind of perplexing way that that’s what this impeachment trial is. That it is, I guess, targeting an individual, Donald Trump, attempting to impose punishment, and then not having a trial in a court.

Well, that’s a cute argument. The overwhelming majority of folks, in fact, I’m not aware of anyone who thinks this is a logical argument. Everyone thinks it’s a ridiculous argument in part because the constitution itself spells out the power of impeachment that lies solely with the House to impeach and the Senate to try impeachments and a governing rule of constitutional interpretation, formerly espoused by conservative lawyers on the Republican side is that you don’t make part of the constitution, a language of the constitution a nullity based on some interpretation of another part of the constitution. Obviously, bills of attainder don’t apply to impeachments because impeachments are set forth specifically in the constitution.

It makes no sense. It’s also, by a logic of Trump’s lawyers, no impeachment would be permissible because every impeachment would check all of these three boxes and would be an unlawful bill of attainder according to the Trump lawyers arguments. As Noah Feldman and some other commentators point out, there’s another reason why impeachment is not a bill of attainder because it’s not a bill. It’s a process of adjudication that can be accomplished by the Congress itself, first by the House, acting the Senate, holding a trial and as you know, from the days of Schoolhouse Rock! a bill to become a law has to be signed by the president. So in multiple respects because it’s set forth in the constitution because it doesn’t have the structure of a bill, the bill of attainder argument is silly and encompass.

This question comes in an email from Bob in Indianapolis. “Hi Preet. With so much of the lead-up and day of activity on January 6th having been recorded, how important is it to have a multimedia presentation to lay out the facts of the case? Thanks for your attention. Bob.”

Well, Bob that’s an interesting question. The Trump lawyers spent some time, both in advance and in the moment attacking what you call a multimedia presentation, which was basically just a video, not a fake video, not a reconstructed video, not a deep fake video, but actual video of people storming the Capitol, engaging in violence, the president’s words, unredacted, showing you the timeline of what happened that day, which was very powerful. The Trump lawyers referred to that as an attempt to glorify the violence, which makes little sense to me.

Think it was an effort to show the horror of the violence and why the stakes are so high and why there must be accountability. Look, images are powerful. They say a picture’s worth a thousand words. Video may be worth several thousand and every good trial lawyer knows that if you have visual evidence, you use it and if you can play it again and again, all the better and so long as you’re not taking license or liberties, which I don’t think they did in the powerful video, it’s all actual footage taken that day and just put together in sequential order, then I think you have a powerful effect on jurors. Whether or not it will have an effect on the senators, such that they will change their vote, I don’t know, but I think it does have an effect. I think it’s very important. I’ll tell you a story about when I was at the US attorney.

We had a three judge panel come and give advice about how to be effective in their courtrooms, and generally speaking, the judges were pretty laudatory of the people in my office and how they tried cases. A central criticism made by a particular judge, which goes to your point, was that the assistant US attorneys in his experience, were not using enough multimedia presentations. They were not showing enough pictures. They did not have enough charts. They were not showing enough graphics and to his mind, and this was a neutral judge, not someone who had been in my office, not someone who had been a prosecutor, emphasized the importance of that kind of connection to a jury and explanatory function to a jury. So it’s important, not just because I’m saying so, but because a well-esteemed judge on the Southern district of New York bench has been saying that for a long time,

This question comes in an email from Maddie who asks, “What do you make of the news that the Biden administration is firing 56 Senate-confirmed US attorneys appointed by Trump. Is this normal?”

Well, so that’s interesting question and I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. I don’t know that I love this particular approach. This won’t be the first or last time that I questioned something the Biden administration is doing. So the news is, according to CNN and other outlets that think attorney general, Monte Wilkinson, who I know and I think this is a lovely person, and a smart person, and full of integrity on a conference call, this wasn’t done by letter, in a conference call told the Senate, confirmed us attorneys, that they were being asked to submit their letters of resignation and they would be effective as of February 28th.

What is normal every single time a new president of a different party comes in, sometimes the president of the same party, that the US attorneys and other political appointees know that their time is running out and they may no plans to leave like I did when Donald Trump got elected. My situation was different because he singled me out to stay and then fired me later anyway. So my situation is completely done different from the regular practice. Bill Clinton’s administration famously sent letters to all the US attorneys telling them that they had to lead by a particular date, but what I think the best practices, unless there are particular situations where you want to keep someone and that’s happening here by the way, because of a sensitive investigation or for some other reason, or there’s a reason or basis to believe that someone is not doing the job properly and you want to get them out more quickly, but the normal transition is, fairly early on in the term, based on senators recommendations, new US attorneys are nominated and by the time they’re confirmed the prior administration US attorney leave.

Sometimes they do that anyway and their deputy takes over. So you have some transition period. You have some continuity of cases. You have some continuity of leadership in those places. So that would have been my favorite approach. You’ll note that significant Democratic supporters of Biden and his administration seem to have taken issue with this move. Both Illinois senators, Tammy Duckworth, and Dick Durbin, according to CNN expressed their disappointment this week, that Biden didn’t consult with them about terminating the US attorney for the Northern district of Illinois. They wrote this in a joint statement, “While the president has the right to remove you US attorneys, there is incident for US attorneys in the Northern district of Illinois to remain in office to conclude sensitive investigations.

We believe that Mr. Lausch should be permitted to continue in his position until his successor is confirmed by the Senate, and we urge the Biden administration to allow him to do so.” That tends to be my view also. Maybe there’s concerns about singling, some people out for removal. I think there’s maybe a question about some of the replacements that were done, perhaps for example, the Atlanta US attorney who was previously pushed out on the eve of the inauguration, but the president has the right to do this. At a minimum, I think it’s a good thing that there’s some period of weeks for transition. You’ll recall that on the day that I was asked for my letter of resignation, 40 some odd other US attorneys were also asked to do the same thing and in almost every case, they were asked to vacate the premises that day.

That I think is a bad move and that I think may no sense unless you think that something devious and disastrous is going on behind the scenes. The last point I would make is, which I think is a good thing and I think helpful optically and ethically that at least two US attorneys who were appointed by Donald Trump are being asked to remain, not being asked to resign. One is the US attorney in Delaware who reportedly is overseeing the investigation of Joe Biden’s own son, Hunter Biden and the other is John Durham, the US attorney in Connecticut, who has been overseeing the investigation of the investigators in the Russia probe.

Unclear if he will stay on as US attorney, but he will at least reportedly stay on in that role. So Biden is not trying to undo things that were undertaken that are sensitive and relate to his administration or his family in this move to remove a bunch of US attorneys. So that’s positive. I think overall, he has the right to do it. I think there was a slightly better way to have gone about it.

THE INTERVIEW

Preet Bharara:

My guest this week is David Frum. He’s a staff writer at the Atlantic and has been a key voice in conservative politics for decades. Today, he’s better known for his criticism of Donald Trump and the GOP. As America tunes into the Senate impeachment trial this week, Frum joins me to break down what’s happening with the Republican party and how we approach a future beyond Trump. David Frum, welcome back to the show.

David Frum:

It’s such a pleasure to return.

Preet Bharara:

How are you? It’s a fraud question these days.

David Frum:

Well, I feel a little guilty answering it because my family has been lightly touched by this pandemic. We’ve had a good fortune and at a time when so many people have not.

Preet Bharara:

So I should note for the audience that we are recording late morning on Wednesday, February 10th. We have all endured one day of the second Senate impeachment trial of Donald Trump, and before we started recording, you and I were talking about it a little bit, what’d you make of it generally?

David Frum:

Well, I think I was telling you that my late father spent the early part of his career as a real estate developer in some very small towns and he said he learned from that experience that whenever anyone began talking by introducing themselves as just a simple country lawyer, clutch your wallet with both hands, because you were about to be taken to the cleaners. I thought it was just so refreshing that there stood, in the well of ascendance, someone who presented himself as a simple country lawyer and he was a simple country lawyer, the simplest most countrified lawyer ever and he couldn’t believe it. It was like he was doing shout outs and wow, the United States Senate, this is so cool. I’m here. I don’t know why, I don’t know what I want to do, but it’s amazing that I’m here.

Preet Bharara:

You’re speaking of course, about Bruce Castor.

David Frum:

He did have notes incredibly, but my suspicion was-

Preet Bharara:

On a legal pad, which makes him a lawyer, I think.

David Frum:

I think the note said, it was like three points. Point one, Everett Dirksen. Point two partisanship.

Preet Bharara:

So you realize, you saw the reporting that he wasn’t supposed to speak first. I’m not sure he was supposed to speak at all on the first day and as he conceded during his presentation, he and his partner, David Schoen were so impressed by the presentation of the Democrats, the House managers that I think the strategy was Bruce Castor would try to diffuse the feeling in the room and not really address legal points so much as try to be, as you say, a country lawyer.

Bruce Castor:

I’ll be quite frank with you. We changed what we were going to do on account that we thought that the House manager’s presentation was well done.

Preet Bharara:

Is that smart, on the spur of the moment to change up your whole strategy because you thought the other guys did a good job?

David Frum:

Well, I’m hardly going to instruct you a practitioner, but let me ask you this. What kind of lawyer defending a case that turns on highly emotive visual imagery would be surprised by the presentation of highly emotive visual imagery?

Preet Bharara:

I don’t know. I don’t really follow.

David Frum:

We’re putting Osama bin Laden on trial. It never occurred to us that the prosecutors would use footage of that horrible day on 9/11.

Preet Bharara:

Also, you don’t respond to that by telling stories about Everett Dirksen. You respond to that with your own visuals. You respond to that with some other argument. So I’m not quite sure what was going on there. But does it matter-

David Frum:

I have a different view on this whole process though, than many people do. There has been, I think, among those who are in the large majority of Americans who were appalled by what happened on January 6th and who do hold Donald Trump responsible for it, and who have been appalled generally by the course of his presidency, there’s been a mood of despair that the impeachment mechanism doesn’t work because it’s not likely to lead to removal.

David Frum:

I have been arguing for a while that what we are seeing is the impeachment mechanism is indeed very powerful. It’s just not powerful in the way that the framers of the constitution imagined it would be, but because it’s not working the way they imagined in 1787, don’t think it isn’t working at all because it is.

Preet Bharara:

So I’ll quote from you. You wrote in the Atlantic very recently, “The impeachment remedy is not debt. It remains extraordinarily powerful,” and as you just said, “Just in ways different from those imagined by the authors of the constitution. There have been four presidential impeachment processes in 1787, non has resulted in removal, but all four had seismic political consequences.” What’s the seismic political consequence of two impeachments of Donald Trump.

David Frum:

Donald Trump is a first-term president who lost reelection. He has seen his support in the country crushed. The first impeachment, I think, doomed any chance that he might have had of being reelected. It consolidated the anti-Trump majority, and now the second one is expanding that anti-Trump majority from the 51, 52% that we saw all through the Trump presidency to nearly 60%.

Preet Bharara:

Wait a minute, can we pause on that for a second? You know I love you, but I think you said a second ago that it was the first impeachment that destroyed Trump’s chances for reelection. You think it was that not his response to coronavirus?

David Frum:

There was no one cause, but I believe that Donald Trump was in terrible political trouble all through his presidency. He was the least popular first-term president in the history of polling. There was not a single day in his presidency where he had even 50% approval in any poll, except [inaudible 00:18:15]-

Preet Bharara:

But he wasn’t hurt in the polls too significantly in my recollection, after the first impeachment. In fact, didn’t he come out emboldened based on both the acquittal and also the polling?

David Frum:

The first impeachment left him trapped with his doom strategy of relying only on his most committed supporters. What Donald Trump of course ought to have been doing all through his first term is trying to expand his 46% of the vote, his base was smaller, but the 46% he won in 2016 that a savvier politician would have understood. That was pretty fluky to convert 46% into an electoral college majority. It’s probably not going to happen twice. I need to drive this up and he never did and the impeachment, I think, made it impossible. It consolidated the view of the people against him. It mobilized the anti-Trump majority. Given that he couldn’t expand his vote, his hope for survival was to somehow deflate the opponents. Make them less committed, to make them less frightened of him.

David Frum:

That first impeachment trial was a key, crucial factor along with coronavirus, along with other things in mobilizing, but it’s worth contrasting. Donald Trump people wanted to say that first impeachment was harmless. It’s worth contrasting that with the second most recent impeachment, the Bill Clinton impeachment. Bill Clinton’s poll numbers Rose all through his impeachment trial. When the country is rejecting an impeachment process, it’s really clear and that impeachment, although it didn’t remove Bill Clinton, it also had seismic political consequences. It led to the end of the electoral career of Newt Gingrich, Bill Clinton’s main prosecutor, and then Newt Gingrich’s immediate successor, a man named Bob Livingston, who was the designated, he was never quite elected House speaker. He also resigned.

David Frum:

Bill Clinton’s party picked up seats in the election of 1998, a remarkable achievement for the party of the president in the sixth year. So what impeachment does is it forces the country, it elevates an issue and forces the country to react one way or the other and they reacted strongly in bill Clinton’s favor in 1998. I was on the other side of that, and it reacted not in Donald Trump’s favor, and it’s going to be even worse for him this time.

David Frum:

Donald Trump, as he left the presidency, once he realized he couldn’t keep it, he had a sequence of political goals and the last of them, and maybe the most important was to frighten away prosecutors, to send a message to state and federal prosecutors. It is just too dangerous to the society to hold me accountable for other legal infractions, but with the country so decisively in favor of the removal, 56% in favor of removal 44% opposed and only about 30% who will say that Donald Trump did nothing wrong, actually less than 30% will say he did nothing wrong. That is a green light to prosecutors in New York, in New Jersey, in Florida, if you find evidence that Donald Trump broke other laws do not be afraid to pursue him.

Preet Bharara:

You said something a second ago, that caught my ear. You said Donald Trump failed to expand his base. That’s true, but only in so far as you think he tried to expand his base. I don’t see any evidence that he ever tried and I wonder, I’ve always wondered this, and I’m curious what you think. You would think logically and practically, succeed or fail that he would have tried to expand his base, expand his message, bring more people in since he had a minority of the population, especially moving into the race for reelection. It seems to me there’s some argument that he thought that to do that, he would lose some part of his base. That he had to be laser focused on the cultish-like folks who wouldn’t mind if he shot someone on 5th Avenue. Do you think he ever tried to expand his base, and if not, why not?

David Frum:

We have to begin by understanding, he’s not a fully rational political actor. We’ll say things like Donald Trump would think, and what people do is they insert the moderately rational self-seeking politician in the Donald Trump place. So this is a deeply psychologically damaged person who’s driven in the first place by his ego needs and driven in the second place by his money-making desires and his total lack of ethics about how money is made and then his impatience and intolerance of criticism. Only in some very foggy way does he think about politics the way a politician does.

David Frum:

So, when you say, why didn’t he do it? What he did do was he showed some possibilities that some other politician of the future might try to pursue who was less psychologically damaged, but he was unable to do it, but he also bumped into some objective realities, which is the country is the country. If you want to build a voting majority, you have to deal with the country as it is and he was just never able to manage that psychologically and politically.

Preet Bharara:

Is that because partly he doesn’t know how to talk to people on the other side?

David Frum:

Look, sides are constantly shifting and one of-

Preet Bharara:

I think we should define what the sides are, because I don’t know what they are anymore.

David Frum:

So I think we are living through one of those moments, like the Vietnam Watergate moment, where the parties are reshuffling the deck of American politics and different groups are moving in different ways. So you can see that, historically if you were a white person with a college degree, you were a Republican and even more, if you were married and lived in a suburb and those people are moving fast into the Democratic coalition. Meanwhile, what we can see is the beginnings of movement of some recent immigrant groups into the Republican party. Donald Trump probably slowed that movement because he was so obnoxious and never understood their concerns, but the Donald Trump didn’t do great among Latinos. He lost, I think almost two thirds of them, but he did better than most people expected he would.

David Frum:

You can see a rising trend and different people have different views about why that’s happening. I think it’s very telling that the same election that delivered such a decisive repudiation of Donald Trump also slapped down a proposal in the state of California to restore racial preferences and admission in government contracting. That the politics of the new multi-ethnic America are not going to look like classic civil rights politics. That is a change of the political structure that more normal politicians than Donald Trump are going to make something up.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think it’s odd that Donald Trump, having lost the election, kept trying to overturn the election, that he figured out a way in the final days of his presidency to do something so dramatic and so outrageous, bordering on the criminal, perhaps in fact, criminal, that he got himself impeached a second time? That’s not something he saw. That’s not something he desired. How does that happen to him?

David Frum:

My assessment of Trump is that while he’s psychologically damaged and certainly no genius that he has a couple of superpowers, and one of his superpowers is his instinct for any kind of weakness. If a person has any kind of ethical or psychological weakness, Donald Trump finds. That’s why he’s so good at insults. He finds the thing that really … He didn’t say liddle Ted Cruz and lyin’ Marco Rubio. He said it the other way round. That-

Preet Bharara:

Literally, last night at the dinner table, and maybe we have a peculiar dinner table conversation, but now I’m at home every night. One of my kids brought up Marco Rubio. I don’t know why, and one of the other kids immediately called him little Marco. You’re supposed to call them little Marco. That has stuck with my teenage kids for four years.

David Frum:

Yeah, because what Trump saw was there something small about Rubio. He saw there’s something existentially false about Ted Cruz. Here’s this brilliant lawyer, the person with the most modern marriage of any of the Republican candidates in 2016, whose wife was his closest political advisor and she herself is a brilliant and highly educated woman who managed a bank in Texas. Ted has no interest in the reactionary social agenda of the Republican party at all and he presented himself as the evangelical candidate for president. He sustained it day in, day out. That kind of falsehood is hard.

David Frum:

Meanwhile, Rubio, every time Rubio was in a false position, you can see the misery in his face. When he does these videos, begging the country to stop making him take sides on Donald Trump. You can just see how he’s suffering. Ted Cruz doesn’t suffer in that position. He carries it off. Marco Rubio can’t, but he’s just broken and we can all see how broken he is and Donald Trump saw it.

Preet Bharara:

So how did that get him impeached?

David Frum:

Along with that ability to see weakness in people, Donald Trump saw the weaknesses in the American system and he used them and there are weaknesses, and there’s a lot of self-congratulation that Americans have about their political system and maybe because I’m from Canada originally, I have not tended to share it and I think now we’ve all had an education and where the weaknesses are. Donald Trump sees weaknesses and he is able to use them and that’s how we got this whole impeachment crisis, because Donald Trump saw how much of the American electoral system rests on assumptions about how it should work rather than positive laws and how by the way, how much weaker the positive law of electioneering in the United States is than it was 15 years.

Preet Bharara:

Can I ask you to do something that you’re not going to like, and you will claim that you haven’t been a practitioner, but you’re smart guy and you’re an articulate guy. If you had been Donald Trump’s impeachment lawyer, what would you be focusing on as the main focus of the defense?

David Frum:

I would not try to argue the rights and wrongs of the cases. It’s very good to have a good argument, but it’s better to have a novel jury. He’s got the jury. So his job is just-

Preet Bharara:

Does he even need to put out a defense?

David Frum:

My goal as his representative would be to say, “I want the shortest possible trial with the least possible evidence. I don’t want to make an affirmative case. I don’t want to deal with the precedence and what my argument would be senators, it really is time to move to the next chapter of American history. You all have a lot of work to do. Opinions will differ. Let’s leave this one to the history books. Donald Trump will not be president. It is exceedingly unlikely that he will ever try to run for any other office. Really, you have work to do.”

Preet Bharara:

Well, you know what, until the insurrection I was saying, because what do I know? I don’t know anything and I pontificate. I absolutely believed he was running again for office in 2024, and I think that’s the thing that changed the outlook. You think there’s no chance now. Four years is a long time. Americans forget.

David Frum:

I don’t think there’s no chance that he will do it, and also because he’s such a crook, when he thinks about running, his first thought is, can I make money out of this? Are there still rubes and suckers out there who will send me their nickels and dimes and that is for him, the kind of impetus that for most politicians, the hope of winning is. So I’m not saying that he won’t try to stand up a campaign if he thinks there’s a dishonest dollar to be obtained that way, but what I do notice is first that his political position is weaker than it was even in 2020 when he lost so decisively and lost the Senate. That the Republican party is splitting, that there are five Republican senators voted to proceed on the first vote, six on the second.

David Frum:

This is unheard of. Presidents do not lose senators of their own party in these hearings. Not since the emergence of the modern party system. I also notice that the COVID rollout seems to be moving fast, and if this continues ’21 and ’22 should be good years for the American nation, and that will be pro incumbent. I think that the tendency of the out party, find some way to turn the page and to change the issues. We’ve already tested. If you make Donald Trump the ballot question, what happens? He gets 46% of the vote the first time, he gets 46.9% of the vote the second time, and he loses. So you don’t want Donald Trump to be the ballot question if you’re the Republican party.

Preet Bharara:

So, that’s interesting way of thinking about it that historically speaking, the other political party who’s pressing impeachment got a number of senators, which doesn’t happen. A lot of people look at the glass as half empty and say, “Why isn’t it more given the strength of the evidence, given the legal questions, that issue,” and the thing that was debated mostly on the first day of impeachment on Tuesday, February 9th was the constitutionality of proceeding with an impeachment trial against a president who’s no longer in office. There was one flip, as you pointed out, it was Senator Bill Cassidy who said pretty straightforwardly when asked, why did you switch.

Bill Cassidy:

I said I’d be an impartial juror. Anyone listening to those arguments, the House managers were focused. They were organized. They relied upon both precedent, the constitution and legal scholars. They made a compelling argument. President Trump’s team were disorganized. They did everything they could but to talk about the question at hand, and when they talked about it, they kind of glided over it almost as if they were embarrassed of their arguments. Now, if I’m an impartial juror and one side is doing a great job, and the other side is doing a terrible job on the issue at hand, as an impartial juror, I’m going to vote for the side. that did the good job.

Preet Bharara:

Is that something about which given where you stand, that that’s a good thing and it’s a great thing that at least one senator switched or the way I think about it is why didn’t more switch like Mitch McConnell, for example, who, by the way, it’s reported never wants to speak to Donald Trump again. Must believe that Donald Trump is ruining and destroying the Republican party and yet even he, after Trump was out of office, couldn’t vote what I think is the obvious, correct right way on the constitutional question.

David Frum:

Well, let me go down a little historical path and I did this in the article you were kind enough to support. Why does the United States have an impeachment as the remedy for abuse of power? Alexis de Tocqueville thought it was a bad idea, and why is the impeachment tried in the Senate of all places? The answer is that when the authors of the 1787 constitution devised this system, they had a good idea, a clear idea of what they thought the House of Representatives would look like. It would look like one of the colonial legislatures that knew so well, very loosely derived from the House of Commons in England and it would be a place of factions and it would be place of political point of view.

David Frum:

They didn’t exactly anticipate parties, but there were already, in their times, strong factions in colonial legislatures and in the House of Commons, but they didn’t know what the Senate was going to look like. In their mind, it was kind of a blur of a little bit of the British House of Lords, a little bit of the Roman Senate. The Roman Senate is where the advice and consent function comes from. The Senate was sort of a partner of the executive branch of the Roman Republic, or so they understood it with the books they had available to them at the time. So they imagined the Senate as a place that would be somehow apart from politics, that could exercise a judicial role and would be a place that could dispassionately and judiciously here and weigh allegations of wrongdoing.

David Frum:

So they got that wrong. The Senate turned out to be a partisan body, just like the House of Representatives. So it’s never functioned as a good place to do trials and for that reason in our time, the impeachment of subordinate officials and we’ve had judicial impeachments, but mostly the system rejects them and says, you know what, if a judge takes a bribe, usually what happens is it’s left to the federal Department of Justice under the public integrity rules that you helped to enforce and they’re like two dozen public integrity cases a month in the federal Department of Justice, federal and state.

David Frum:

So the Senate doesn’t really work as a judicial body. It’s not how you would do it if you were doing it again with perfect information. So under those circumstances, knowing what a partisan body it is, one to lose Mitt Romney, not only a Senator, but a former presidential nominee in the first trial, to lose five Republicans on the first vote in the second trial, six on the second vote, that is unheard of in modern times.

Preet Bharara:

I want to ask you how you think Joe Biden is approaching this. I want to share a personal story. I went to the store this week and if you must know, it was the wine store. I was talking to the guy there, just making small talk as I was paying and we talked a little bit about politics and by the way, I have no idea if he’s a Democrat or Republican. He’s a small business owner. I think he might be a sort of classical Republican. I just don’t know. He said, “The smartest guy in America right now is Joe Biden. He’s not talking about Trump. He’s not talking about impeachment. He’s keeping his head down. He’s just trying to do his job. What a smart guy that is.” Do you agree with that assessment?

David Frum:

Haley Barbour, who was probably the most successful head of the Republican National Committee back in the 80, had a saying, “The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing.”

Preet Bharara:

Right, I remember that. I wish I’d come up with that.

David Frum:

So the main thing right now is COVID. The kids want to go back to school. Young people want to date. Everyone wants to go back to the office. We all want to go to a cafe. We just want to have life go back to normal. That’s the most important thing right now. We all know the economic benefits that will flow and the social benefits will flow and Biden is saying, “Right, that’s what I’m working on,” and not only that, Joe Biden, who was famously one of the most garrulous senators in the United States Senate has become Silent Cal as president. He just keeps his mouth shut.

Preet Bharara:

Silent what? Silent what?

David Frum:

It’s Calvin Coolidge. He was called Silent Cal.

Preet Bharara:

I know Silent Bob. That’s a totally different cultural figure.

David Frum:

Calvin Coolidge had this rule. He never talked, and he explained that people would burst into the oval office and they would demand your time. He said, “But even the noisiest of them, if you don’t talk for two or three minutes consecutively, they just wind down.” Biden, he’s just not talking. What happens is if people see you focused on the thing that they care about, and they don’t hear you saying anything that they might possibly not like, they give you credit for what you’re trying to do and what is also happening is this vaccine thing and I have an unusual view on this.

David Frum:

Most people, we’re stuck on how awful things are, but as you see this mighty machinery revving up and moving faster and faster, I keep thinking, it’s not going to work perfectly. It’s not going to work as fast as we would like, but it’s working. It’s amazing and at the end of that, people are going to recognize it and give credit to the people who were there when it worked.

Preet Bharara:

It’s funny. Imagine how different it would be if Donald Trump had done that, focused on the main thing, keeping it the main thing. In fact, there’s a lot of people who’ve observed, Donald Trump sort of succeeded in a way by doing the exact opposite of that. Always putting the main thing to the side and creating a distraction from the distraction he created the day before, but in a way, because so many bad things were going on, the distraction strategy was a little bit better for him, perhaps than the focus strategy. Is that a ridiculous assessment?

David Frum:

Well, this is where you get to the damaged quality of Donald Trump. For Donald Trump, the main thing was-

Preet Bharara:

Was him.

David Frum:

Was fending off injuries to his ego. So Donald Trump has gone through life being really bad at things and needing to believe that he was really good at things and because he started with an enormous amount of money and disdainful attitude toward the law and because of his abilities at self promotion and his sense for the weakness of others, he was able to keep things at bay, but when the coronavirus materialized Donald Trump interpreted it as a critic, a tiny microscopic critic. The way he deals with critics is he refuses to acknowledge that they exist.

David Frum:

This is a classic behavioral trait of capital N, capital P, capital D narcissistic personality disorder, personalities and if you’ve had the misery to have one of those in your social circle, you recognize what I’m talking about. They give you the silent treatment. They don’t see things and he gave the coronavirus the silent treatment. He would not dignify it with his notice because it was hurting his feelings.

Preet Bharara:

I haven’t thought of it that way. Can I ask you about the Republican Party that Donald Trump still punitively leads. Is the party that he leads a cult?

David Frum:

Well, I’m still a registered Republican.

Preet Bharara:

You are?

David Frum:

I am.

Preet Bharara:

When are you going to fix that?

David Frum:

No, I’m staying.

Preet Bharara:

Okay.

David Frum:

I’m staying because until we change the voting mechanism, this is a two-party system and it does no good at all to have one of two parties in a two-party system committed to democratic norms. You need both of them. So for those of us, especially, I worked in an administration that was not altogether successful, to put it mildly. So I’ve always had this view that politically I have this karmic debt to the universe. So my role on this earth is to try to turn this thing around and it may not happen so fast, but it has to happen. If we can change the voting system and have a multi-party system, then it won’t matter that the Republican Party is turning into the French National Front.

Preet Bharara:

But that seems less likely than the first possibility.

David Frum:

The second is less likely than the first. So, you have to stay and you have to fight and not leave it to the weirdos and that doesn’t mean I have to vote Republican every single time. Obviously I don’t do that. That’s not the way American parties work. You can cross party lines. There are lots of Democrats who voted for Nixon against George McGovern, just as there were a lot of Republicans who voted for Joe Biden against Donald Trump. I voted for Hillary Clinton too against Donald Trump, but I’m staying to fight for this thing because it’s essential that it be returned to the democratic camp [inaudible 00:40:23].

Preet Bharara:

So what are you now? Are you a Liz Cheney, Republican? Who do you follow? Who do you think is the future of the party? Who do you want to be the future of your party?

David Frum:

Well, I think the future are not people who are as old as that. I think Liz Cheney has behaved very well in the last little while. I think Mitt Romney … I did vote for Mitt Romney in 2012. I always thought he had the potential to be a great president. I think he got pulled in directions, even in that race, in which he did not intend to go. I think the decision to align himself with the ideas of Paul Ryan was a big mistake and a costly mistake. I think one of the things that has been inspiring is to see him return to the Senate and he was going to be his own man in a way that he was as governor of Massachusetts and then wasn’t when he started trying to position himself as more right wing than he really was in 2008 and 2012.

David Frum:

The future is going to be the emergence of Republicans at the state level. The party will regenerate itself at the states dealing with practical problems. So I don’t see those people yet, but they will grow and I think they will especially grow because I think we’re moving into an era where the country is going to go through a period of correction to the political left. We’re going to go into an era of Democratic strength and politics never works perfectly. There are always problems and every political failure is born of the previous round of political success.

David Frum:

So just as the Roosevelt-Johnson style of Democratic Party bred the Nixon-Reagan Republican Party, because it overreached, things didn’t work and just as the Reagan tradition ran out of steam. So I think that the present form of the Democratic, I think is going to be quite dominant for the next half decade or so and then it’s going to bump into problems because there things it’s going to fail at. I can begin to imagine what a healthy republicanism would look like, but it’s going to depend on events too.

Preet Bharara:

I can’t help a note for the record, sir, that you were unable to identify with particularity any sort of prototypical Republican that you think should be the future of the party, other than decide some hypothetical young people in the state legislature. That’s interesting to me. Is there anyone who has some national stature that you would like to associate the party with?

David Frum:

I have some friends who at the beginning of the Trump years … I’m not going to use names because at this point I am such a persona non grata in the Republican world that if I say anything nice about anybody…

Preet Bharara:

It hurts them.

David Frum:

It hurts them. I often say to my friends, “Look, I’ll praise you if it’s helpful or I’ll criticize you if it’s more helpful.” I remember saying to a friend of mine who did have aspirations to higher office at the beginning of the Trump years, and who was quite young, don’t be a hero. That your job is to preserve your vibe. Just use your birthday to avoid taking stances on anything beyond your immediate concerns at your level of government, and just don’t comment on Trump. I’ll fight this fight. You don’t have to and be ready. So I think we have to-

Preet Bharara:

Was that Kevin McCarthy? Because I take issue a little bit with that advice, sir.

David Frum:

There are times in politics when politicians need … A lot of the art of politics is being ready for when your country needs you and sometimes if you’re not the person your country needs at that moment, your duty is to be quiet.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think that was true of John Kelly, chief of staff?

David Frum:

The truly heroic rule is the guy who goes on the mission, knowing he probably won’t come back. People like John Kelly sacrifice their reputations and part of their soul in an effort to try to keep the country on some kind of footing. Most of the people in the Trump orbit were weirdos and creeps and fanatics and crooks. There were people of conscience and John Kelly was one of them and they got chewed up and compromised and they paid a terrible price, but someone had to do the job.

Preet Bharara:

What do you make of the top Republican in the House coming out of a meeting with Representative Greene, the newly elected conspiracy theorist, QAnon supporter, and mispronounced the name of that group, QAnon?

Kevin McCarthy:

I think it would be helpful if you could hear exactly what she told all of us, denouncing Qon I don’t know if I say it right. I don’t even know what it is.

Preet Bharara:

He’s an intelligent guy.

David Frum:

Ish.

Preet Bharara:

Well, I say this and I get in trouble. I’ve been in places where he has been, where there are no cameras and there are no microphones and he strikes me as a different kind of person. He doesn’t strike me as an imbecile.

David Frum:

No, but he’s no Mitch McConnell. He’s not doing chess problems in his head-

Preet Bharara:

But he knows exactly what he’s doing and I think this is a nonpartisan observation. It’s one thing to be conservative or not. It’s one thing to believe in conspiracy theories or not. It’s another thing to just insult the basic intelligence of average Americans and think that you can come out and pretend that you don’t even know what the issue is. I don’t know why. That moment struck me as one of his worst moments. What is it about the psychology of someone who is a leader in the Republican Party that causes him to abase himself in such a pathetic way?

David Frum:

Well, I think he is not a real leader. He doesn’t have a plan and he’s dealing with this problem … Remember we talked about the resorting of the political system. So when you go through the districts that historically have been the most Republican districts in the country, they have moved decisively into the Democratic column over the past half decade. The district that was George H.W. Bush’s district that he won in the sixties and stayed Republican from 60s to 2018, that’s a Democratic district. Newt Gingrich’s former district is a Democratic district. Eric Cantor’s former district is a Democratic district. The district on the South bank of the Potomac River that was Republican for 60 of the 66 years leading to 2018, it’s Democratic. So the way you would traditionally balance your caucus in the House, is you would have these sort of affluent suburban Bush, Romney Republican type districts, and then you would have these more rural, more exurban, more farm districts, and you would try to thread your way.

David Frum:

So McCarthy is dealing with a party that has been getting stronger and stronger in rural America, in white America, in the parts of America where people are suspicious of the global economy, where things aren’t working, where health problems are worst and it’s just dying in the prosperous dynamic parts of America, where the Republican Party was based when he began his political career. So he doesn’t know how to manage this party and one option is just to say, “You know what? We are going to be the party of Kentucky and Oklahoma. We’ll be the William Jennings Bryan party,” but that’s a path to permanent minority status.

David Frum:

The other is to find some way to reconnect to the districts where Romney was strong, where Bill Clinton was strong, the districts that swing back and forth through moderate Republicanism and moderate Democratic Party but he doesn’t know how to do that and if you do that, you provoke the ire of Donald Trump and you alienate Fox news. It’s an objectively very difficult problem and you would need to be a very cunning person with a lot of leeway in your party in order to solve it and McCarthy is not that person.

Preet Bharara:

I just wonder if sometimes the psychology is some version of people like Kevin McCarthy thinking mistaking shrewdness for cowardice. They think they’re being clever and they’re threading the needle, and really bottom line is they’re just being cowards.

David Frum:

Well, my advice to somebody like McCarthy, which is different from my advice to my much younger friend would be, when you’re faced with a really difficult political problem, it’s very hard to see what is the shrewd thing. So do the right thing.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah. I agree with that. I agree with that. That’s how I felt about the first controversy over whether or not Donald Trump should be impeached and where it should go, and there was a lot of discussion about what’s wise, what’s smart politically. It was still the middle of his term, and if you don’t know, your best bet is to do what you think is right and what you think your duty obliges you to do. We’ll be right back to my interview with David Frum after this.

Preet Bharara:

So can we talk about that one particular weirdo? Again, I’m using your term. Marjorie Taylor Greene, and I don’t think I need to recite for our audience, because we talked about it before, but she is among other things, someone who’s questioned whether or not, I mean, flatly questioned whether or not a plane flew into the Pentagon on 9/11, whether the Parkland shooting happened, whether the Sandy Hook shooting happened and a host of other terrible things. I won’t even get into the space laser thing, and you tweeted a few days ago, “The Greene debate,” meaning the debate about Marjorie Taylor Greene, “The Greene debate is a proxy for debate about Trump. I think everybody understands that, especially her anti-Greene defenders.” What did you mean by that?

David Frum:

Well, there are people in the public discussion who obviously don’t agree with her about her loony views, but who hate it when she gets criticized and why? Why is that important to them? Why would personalities on television and radio and in the House, why would they rally to her? It’s because they understand what I’m about to say. So Sam Rayburn, who was speaker of the House in the 1950s famously refused even to speak to freshmen members of the House of Representatives, because he used to say, “The American people will elect anybody to anything once.” So there have always been low grade people in the House of Representatives and they got either winnowed away or they improve themselves or the party pressured them to come into line with American norms.

David Frum:

What is strange about Greene is it’s not just that she’s a crank and a weirdo and a self-promoter and obviously someone with [inaudible 00:50:46] and just not only crazy views, but a detestable personality who would harass young people who’d been through a school shooting the way she did, but the problem here is it’s not just some fluky thing that happened because she was strong in her district.

David Frum:

She’s not a native of Dalton, Georgia. She moved there. She is a product of the right wing ecosystem and the part of the right wing ecosystem that is terrifying Fox and making it more crazy since the election, because this is crazier even than Fox and McCarthy is frightened of that ecosystem. That ecosystem is where Donald Trump draws his strength. So if you’re going to fight with Marjorie Taylor Greene, you are fighting with a much bigger set of social forces and ultimately those forces will draw you into confrontation with Donald Trump. So when you’re ready for that fight, if you choose that fight, that’s what you’re choosing and that’s why it was so remarkable that Liz Cheney and others did what they did because they were not just picking on this one weirdo, freshman congressperson, they were challenging the whole permission structure out of which Donald Trump came and ultimately Trump himself who talks to Marjorie Taylor Greene and promoted her.

Preet Bharara:

So I’m going to ask you another version of a question that I asked you before. It’s a parallel question. Shouldn’t there be more Liz Cheneys on this point, or are you going to do the glass half full thing again?

David Frum:

No, I’m going to say I think that Republicans need to learn through some adversity. People say, “Why don’t the Republicans do this?” But modern parties don’t have leadership the way they used to do and they’re agglomerations of self-seeking individuals. So the incentives that each politician has, are very different from what would be in the interest of the group. It’s hard, and there aren’t mechanisms to make the group work and until you invent those mechanisms again or reinvent them. So I think there are a lot of members of the House who agree with Liz Cheney. That’s why she kept her leadership position, but they don’t want to say so, because think of all the people you have to tangle with.

Preet Bharara:

I guess there’s one issue that is reflected in the popularity in some circles of Marjorie Taylor Greene, that also is implicated in the crisis with respect to the coronavirus that I have some trouble figuring out and that is the nature of expertise, the alienation of people from expertise, this progressive idea, which I think I have a fairly complicated relationship with that ordinary people don’t know anything and can’t understand what the right thing to do is because science is king and we must defer certain political decision making, this is the argument that some people would make. We must defer political decision-making to the so-called experts, the scientists, the doctors, and everyone else.

Preet Bharara:

There are people even on the progressive side, I suppose you could say, Professor Michael Sandel, who has been a guest on the show has talked about this. There is something alienating to a lot of people if you over exalt expertise. Saying that by the way is a little bit of heresy on the liberal side. How do you think about expertise and how politicians talk about expertise and defer to it?

David Frum:

Well, first you may have something of a non-problem on your hands. I have an article going off in the Atlantic in a few days that makes the point that Americans inherit a political system that is based on distrust of the emotionalism and irrationality of the majority and hyper confidence in the wisdom of the select few, it’s especially nervous of the unproperly people who live in cities and great confidence in property people live in the countryside, and that’s why we have the Senate and the Electoral College and so many other similar institutions.

David Frum:

In fact, over the past decade, what we’ve seen is the American majority has consistently showed itself moderate and sensible, and it has been the minority drawn from the places where the founders had the most confidence that’s behaved like crazy people. Back in 2011, when the question was, should the United States default on its debt to prove a point or should it pay its debts and preserve its credit and the American economy and the world economy, big majority of the American people were on the side of pay the debt and it was a fanatical minority who said, “Let’s see what happens if we don’t.”

David Frum:

Through the coronavirus on questions like masking you have, the majority has happily deferred to elite medical expertise. It’s been a reactionary minority that has been resistant. On the question of violence, I looked this up the other day, 70% of Americans, America basically has a pro gun majority, but 70% of Americans and more say guns have no place in public buildings or at polling stations. The big majority understands there’s no place for political violence in elections, but there’s a minority who thinks so. So the idea that there is some kind of mass of the people who are disaffected from expertise and disaffected from paying debts and wearing masks in an airborne epidemic and not bringing guns to a political rough, no, that’s where the majority are.

David Frum:

So we’re talking about this reactionary minority. They’re the issue, and I think one of the things we need to do, and this has been, I think, a place where I’ve shifted my view is … I talked about at the beginning of the program, we need to see the country. We need to see it as it is. I remember being in Germany, I guess, before the 2018 election and talking to a journalist, and he was telling me about his travel plan. He’d gotten a big budget to travel the United States and he told me where he was going. I said, “Please tell me you’re not going to rural Pennsylvania,” and of course he was. I said, “Please tell me you’re going somewhere where there isn’t a grain silo,” and he wasn’t.

David Frum:

I said, “Why don’t you go to Santa Monica and go to a SoulCycle and interview people there.” He said, “Wow, talk to me wife’s friends?

Preet Bharara:

The forgotten Americans.

David Frum:

The real country, the real country.

Preet Bharara:

You know you’re going to get mail for this and I’m going to mail.

David Frum:

The Washington post did a feature that I quoted one of my books called, in Trump country, no one’s concerned about the Russia matter. This was the beginning of the Russia hearings and they found some place in Wilmington, Ohio. So I look up the population of that County had a smaller population than the Westwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. The place where all the reporters love to go Lucerne County, Pennsylvania, that’s Selena Zito’s stomping ground. So many articles are delivered there. That’s bigger. That’s got the population of Manhattan, south of Washington Square Park. Mike, this is an urban country and that urban majority produces 70% of the national wealth. When you start thinking about them as Americans, even though they don’t live in the vicinity of a grain silo-

Preet Bharara:

But they’re underrepresented, but they’re underrepresented based on our Federalist system.

David Frum:

I understand that from the point of view of political pragmatism, we overpay attention to overrepresented groups because that’s where the votes are. I understand that but if you’re actually thinking about how do Americans interact with expertise, this country actually was happy to do what Dr. Fauci said. It was a reactionary minority that was not, and they have excess of political power, but they are not excessively numerous.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s comforting. I don’t remember if I mentioned this to you last time you were on the show, which was a couple of years ago, but shortly after I was fired by the president from my job as US attorney, I got an invitation to go speak at Oxford. The thing that I was planning to address and that they wanted me to address was the strength, and this was early on. This is, I think in May or June, of 2017. The strength of American political institutions, including the three branches of government. I chose also to speak about the fourth estate, the media and I was sitting in one of the Oxford libraries, and I was doing some reading to inform my thoughts.

Preet Bharara:

I came across an article by David Frum which I largely crypt from. It’s not plagiarism because I mentioned your name and I quoted from you and I cited the quotations and you by name, because we sort of were of the same mind about how American political institutions were doing at that time. So now it’s been another four years. How do you think we did? The executive branch, the judiciary, the legislative branch and the press?

David Frum:

Different parts did better and worse. So the institution that did worst was Congress. It just completely abdicated its oversight responsibilities. It completely subordinated its institutional role to its party role to the point where I’m not sure we can even talk about there being such a thing as Congress anymore, just the parties in Congress. The Department of Justice that you served so faithfully, I think it performed poorly on the whole. It showed itself and it’s engineered to be more vulnerable to politics than any comparable institution anywhere the democratic world is.

David Frum:

The idea that US attorneys are appointed effectively by the president for patronage reasons. Nobody else does prosecutors that way. No other democracy does, but other institutions did better. The federal courts did better. Much of the technical parts of the federal bureaucracy did better. The press is a complicated story because probably most of us who listen to podcasts like this, when we think of the press, we think of the New York times or NPR. I hope the Atlantic but by far, the most important media institution in the country is Facebook and YouTube, owned by Google is second and they were abominable and they remain abominable. Facebook remains a gigantic problem for democracies everywhere. It’s not obvious what to do. I have a few suggestions, but they’re probably ineffective.

Preet Bharara:

Is there anything about the Twitter ban of Donald Trump that bothers you as a conservative?

David Frum:

There’s a phrase people use, good in theory, bad in practice. I think this is the opposite. It’s very bad in theory, but very good in practice.

Preet Bharara:

Is it just because your daily life and enjoyment of companionships and entertainment has improved by the silence of the Trump?

David Frum:

My wife says it’s like your neighbor has a vicious barking dog that starts barking at five in the morning and keeps going till midnight, and then the neighbor somehow moves away and the dog stops.

Preet Bharara:

I was [inaudible 01:01:22] there’s a construction site next to your house for like four years and they finally stopped and you’re like, “Wow, I can fly.”

David Frum:

Yeah. [inaudible 01:01:30] that I think it’s part of one of the reasons why we’ve been able to get this vaccination process moving as rapidly, that it just gets the country focused on the right kind of thing. So I think it’s had nothing but positive consequences. It’s a little hard to justify in abstract terms, and of course there’s the problem, which is there’s no principle here on the part of Twitter. If Donald Trump had won reelection, they never would have done anything and Facebook in the same way. Facebook’s mantra is just, they’re like the old cigarette companies. Our business model depends on giving people cancer but we want to stay on the weather side of the federal authorities. So we want to not be caught giving any more cancer than the federal authorities allow, but that’s our model. I think these are not conscientious actions by these companies, but nonetheless, I think America is a better place with Donald Trump not being on Twitter

Preet Bharara:

Before I let you go, I have been remiss and I should let you explain to people why they should buy and read your most recent book, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy, which came out just last year.

David Frum:

I published two books on the Trump period, Trumpocracy and Trumpocalypse.

Preet Bharara:

Oh, really? What’s your feeling about that?

David Frum:

Actually, I was on another podcast hosted by Clay Aiken and he said, “Are you going to write a third book?” I said, “Not on this subject.” He said, “Oh, that’s too bad because I have your title for you.”

Preet Bharara:

Oh, what was it?

David Frum:

Trumpcarceration. It’s fantastic. So I doubt that very many people will buy many more copies of these books now that Trump is out of office, but I wish they would at least get them out of the library because about half the content of each book is a meditation on the danger zones of American democracy and things you should do to fix them. I will tell you that one of the ways that Donald Trump has changed my thinking has been that I’ve become convinced that we need a much more radical return to a majoritarian democracy in the United States. We need to bring back … We need a new voting rights act. We need to de-politicize the Department of Justice. Many of these things are embedded in the constitution, but there are things that are not.

David Frum:

You could have less partisan districting enforced by voter referendum and this is really so important because Donald Trump is not the end of our problems. Our problem is that Trump made Republicans aware that their hopes depend on knowingly defeating the will of the majority. Maybe in the past, they did it without quite knowing it, but now we have a self-conscious anti majoritarian party in the United States that is using the tools of anti majoritarianism to win, not by building majorities, but by preventing majorities from voting and that’s really dangerous and that has to stop.

Preet Bharara:

I agree. David Frum thanks for coming back on the show. Congratulations on your book, stay safe, and we’ll talk again soon.

David Frum:

Thank you.

Preet Bharara:

My conversation with David Frum continues for members of the CAFE Insider community. To try out the membership free for two weeks, head to cafe.com/insider. Again, that’s cafe.com/insider. Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, David Frum. If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple podcasts or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics and justice. Tweet them to me @PreetBharara with the #askpreet, or you can call and leave me a message at (669) 247-7338.

Preet Bharara:

That’s (669) 24-Preet, or you can send an email to [email protected] Stay Tuned is presented by CAFE studios. Your host is Preet Bharara. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior producer is Adam Waller. The technical director is David Tatasciore and the CAFE team is Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Sam Ozer-Staton, Noa Azulai, Nat Weiner, Jake Kaplan, Geoff Isenman, Chris Boylan, Sean Walsh, and Margot Maley. Our music is by Andrew Dost. I’m Preet Bharara, stay tuned.