Exclusive - Jonathan Chait Extended Interview

January 11, 2017 - Jonathan Chait 01/11/2017 Views: 19,998

"Audacity" author Jonathan Chait explains how the GOP responded to eight years under President Obama with a Tea Party movement, which contributed to Donald Trump's election. (9:38)

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Please welcome Jonathan Chait.

(applause and cheering)

-Thank you so much.-Yeah.

Thank you very much.

-Welcome to the show.-Thank you very much.

-I'm a huge fan of your writing.-That's very kind.

And the book is no different.

What a time for the bookto come out.

Audacity : How Barack Obama Defied His Critics

-and Created a Legacy That Will Prevail. -Yeah.

-What I love about this titleis that you changed it. -Yeah.

-I did.-Because you wrote the book

before Trump won.

Right. Most of it...

I actually wrote a decent chunkafter Trump won.

Yes. I think I have it there.

The original title was, uh...

It was How Barack Obama Defied His Critics

and Transformed America. -Mm-hmm. Yup.

And then, Trump,and then you're like,

-"No, it didn't transform."-(laughter)

No, that's not the point.

-(laughter) -So, as soonas the election happens...

-Yes. -As soonas the election happens,

basically, everyone jumpsto the conclusion

-that it's all gone...-Yes.

...Trump is going to erase itwithin the first week.

And that waswhat everyone thought,

and I want to make the casein this book, and I do,

that that's not really true.

And I think we're already seeingthat that's not really true.

-But I mean, Trump sayshe's going to come in... -Yeah.

-and reverse all of theexecutive... -Right. Right.

...you know, orders that Obamahas put into place.

-Mm-hmm.-He's going to erase Obama.

-Right. -He's goingto replace Obamacare

-with something much better.-Right.

So, essentially,is that not the legacy

that people are worried,

you know,Donald Trump can erase?

So, the ideathat Obama only did things

with executive actions isa myth that Republicans used,

I think, to attack his programs,and it's...

And if you read the book,it's not really true.

He passed a lot of laws

that peoplewere not paying attention to

in his first two years, andhe did use executive actions.

But he-he putthese things together

in a way that's goingto be very durable,

even the executive actions.

-Like on the...on the environment... -Yeah.

they did a lot of regulations,and he made a deal with China

on climate change,and then they got

the world's firstclimate change agreement.

And that's moving forward, andthe United States may pull out,

but the world is not gonna stopcaring about climate change.

So these agreementsthey put into place,

no matter what Trump does,

I think that'sstill going to be there.

And on Obamacare,another great example,

-Yeah. -everyone said,"After the election, gone."

They're farther awayfrom replacing that thing now

than they wereafter the election.

They're moving backwards.They're bleeding votes.

Every... Right?They said, "We know what to do,"

and then it's like, "Well...I think we know what to do,"

and then it's like, "Does anyonehave an idea what we should do?"

-Right? I mean, they're...they're... -Yeah.

-they're in chaos now...-Well, you got to replace it

with something much better,that's all you got to do.

Right. Something better, but...and cheaper.

-Yes. Better and cheaper.-Everyone's gonna have

-great care and it's gonna costless. -Yeah, better and cheaper.

That's all you need.Better and cheaper.

I'm glad we agree on this.Um... this is

what fascinates me about thebook, is this is a book, really,

that talks through, as you say,

many of Barack Obama'sachievements.

Now, I go...

should there be a needfor a book like this

if Barack Obama were betterat touting his own achievements?

Because evenin his farewell address...

-Right.-it felt like Barack Obama

was more about the generalmessaging of the country,

-Yeah.-subtweeting Donald Trump,

-Right. Right.-you know, but it...

you don't really havemany memories

of Barack Obama doing a...you know, an a la Trump,

going: Look at Carrier,and now look at Ford,

-Right. -and now look at thisand now look at that.

Do you thinkhe could have done a better job

of telling the American peopleevery time

-he did something good?-Yeah. I think you're right.

I mean, the contrast with Trump

between doingand talking about jobs

is-is pretty remarkable, right?

The stimulus,according to economists,

-saved, like, millions of jobs.-Yes.

-I mean, they came in...-But Trump

-got 700 for Carrier.-Right, right. It's-- right.

Trump spent more time talkingabout, like, those 700 jobs

than Obama did, like,the three million jobs

-that were savedby the stimulus. -Yes.

But also the-the bank rescueand the auto bail out,

these are things that peoplehave forgotten about.

And they were tremendouslyunpopular at the time.

Wh-wh-- The president didadmit-- he said he felt

that maybe at times he was toomuch of a, uh, you know,

-a policy wonk, you know.-Right.

-If-if that's the termyou want to use. -Right.

But that's the kindof admission you make

when you say, what's yourbiggest failing?

You know, I work too hard.

It's like, I-I haven't donea good enough job

convincing peoplehow great I am,

-is sort of his admission.-Which is, which is part of--

But that-- isn't that partof being a politician?

-Is your job not to make sure-It is.

that people vote for your party

and try and continue what you'retrying to do for the country?

I think that's right,but I also think,

I think, I think it's right.

I think you have toconcede that.

But there are circumstances

that I think made that the case

that he couldn'tnecessarily control.

Number one, he comes in in-inthe biggest economic emergency

-in 75 years.-Yes.

So what's going to happen first?

The first thing that's goingto happen

is things are gonna get worse.

Barack Obama's the president,your life gets worse.

And that's unavoidable.

What he could do was say it'sgonna be so much less worse

than it would have been if wehadn't done what I'm saying.

But that's, like,an impossible argument.

Like, find me a politicianwho got credit from people

for preventing something that--bad from happening

but that never happened. No.

Politicians get credit forresponding to bad things

-that have already happened,-Yes.

not for preventing new ones,right?

Wh-when we look at, you know,a-a lot of, uh, instances

that-that you bring upin the book.

One of the ideas-- and I mean,

this is sort ofreading between the lines,

but do you agree or disagreewith people who say,

the election of Donald Trump

or Trump being electedinto office,

is a response to eight yearsof Obama?

-Or do you say...-Yeah.

You know, do you have a responsethat maybe, you know,

an opinion that differsfrom that?

No, I think in some ways it is.And I think the election

of Donald Trump...it-it was a big part of my book,

and it was a big... and Trump'srise was a big part of my book

-before I thoughthe was going to win. -Yeah.

Because if you trace the shapeof the Republican response

to Obama, it was movingin a Trumpist direction

from the very beginning.It was...

There was an argumentbetween right and left about

what is this Tea Partyrebellion about,

-what is this response about.-Yes.

And-and conservatives said,"It's-it's about

"a principled response,about the...

"restoring the Constitution

and limited governmentand the deficit."

And-and liberals said,"No, we think

"this is a sort of racializedresponse to social change,

and it's not reallyabout those ideas."

And I thinkthat argument is over.

Trump has won the argumentfor the liberal side

about what this responseto Obama was.

-Wow, you think so?-I-I do.

I think if it was any ofthe things that conservatives

said the Tea Party was about,they would have

nominated anybodyexcept Donald Trump.

He would... literallywould have finished 17th

out of 17 candidates if it wasabout limited government

-Yes. -and democracyand the Constitution.

That was the one thing heoffered that nobody else did

on the-on the surface.

Right. He understoodthat their stated concerns

were a pile of crap.He understood that the things

that they said that they wereupset about with Obama weren't

-the things they were reallyupset about with Obama. -Yes.

Le-Let's talk real quick...Uh, 'cause I mean, it-it really

is a truly, truly interestingbook that-that tackles

all of these issues and tiesObama and Trump together.

I then go, if it is so hard

to walk back what Barack Obamahas done in his te...

-in his time in office...-Yeah.

then should we be worriedabout how hard it will be

to undo whatPresident Donald Trump

-will be able to doin his time in office? -Yes.

I think the way to think aboutthe Trump threat

is not that he's going to undothe legacy of Barack Obama,

but that he'sgoing to undo the legacy

of all 44 presidentsthat came before Donald Trump.

Well, that's a-that's a...that's a... Thank you.

-A comforting thought.I didn't... Don't worry. -Right.

Obama's legacy is safe,it's everyone's legacy that you

-have to worry about.-I'm not saying that you

shouldn't be concerned. Youshould be very, very concerned.

What do you...But what do you mean by that?

The concern is that he's goingto decra... degrade the quality

of our democratic institutionsand he's going to degrade

the normsthat have held together

the way American politics worksfor decades

and he'll get away with itbecause the Republican Party

-will let him do it.-You-you work in, uh, the press.

Now, we know that 75%of the press is scum.

-Uh, very dishonest.-Yeah.

-You guys lie. Failing.-Failing. Sad.

(laughter)

Is this the time for the pressto come together, almost,

and say, "Hey, you realizewe are stronger together

than we are apart"?Or is everyone just going,

"Hey, we're in it for ourselves.Let's see what happens."

Is-is there any sortof game plan in your world?

With a man who specificallysaid, "I think we need to..."

'Cause, don't forget,there's the libel laws

that he talked about thathe seems very serious about.

-Yeah. -And today, as we sawin the press conference,

he's not afraid to say, "No,you don't exist in my world.

-You are fake news." -Right.Complete delegitimization

-of the media. Um,and legitimizing sources -Yes.

of media that even previousconservative Republicans

did not want to legitimize,right, like, um, Alex Jones.

-Yes. -Alex Jones was a lunaticwho would...

who couldn't be touchedby normal Republican politicians

until Donald Trump came along.Um, Breitbart was sort of

on the fringes, like someRepublicans would deal with it,

but it was kind of icky andgross. And now they're, like,

Trump news. Um, and, obviously,Fox News was already sort of

-the official Republican...-Are you... are you even

a little bit afraidfor yourself?

No, I don't thinkhe's gonna bother with me. He...

First of all, he's not a reader.

-(laughter)-He's not. He's not a reader.

-(cheering and applause)-Um...

I mean, um...

He would...He watches television.

Maybe you've got somethingto worry about.

But, like, if he's clickingthrough the tube

and he comes to your show,he might be upset.

But, really, like, he-hedoesn't read something longer

-than 140 characters,so I'm not concerned. -Well,

I'm-I'm also not worried.Remotes have big buttons.

We'll be good. Thank you so muchfor joining us.

You can read an excerptfrom Audacity

in this week's New York magazine,

and the book will be availableon January 17.

-Jonathan Chait, everybody.-(cheering and applause)

Thank you so much.

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