Steve Schmidt seems like a good guy. Between his thick Maryland accent, his moderate conservatism and the fact that he pronounces “Clinton” as “CLI’in,” he appears earnest and personable, in spite of his politics. Like Michael Steele, he’s an MSNBC conservative, and therefore he’s rational and even-keeled, though not usually right (small “r”) on the issues.
You might also remember Schmidt from the 2008 presidential campaign in which he famously advised then-candidate John McCain during the senator’s ill-fated run. We’ll circle back to this.
Meanwhile, Schmidt delivered a monologue on MSNBC last Tuesday, following the Indiana primary, in which his rationality and insight was on full display. The topic was, of course, the implosion of the conservative movement under the weight of Donald Trump and the conservative entertainment complex — specifically AM talk radio.
Schmidt blamed the ascension of Trump on the influence of hate radio and screechers like Mark Levin and Michael Savage (and many others), who have collectively desensitized and adapted conservatives to the inchoate venom being ejaculated from the mouths of these bastards in front of 50 million listeners nationwide.
You have to read this (or watch the video below):
STEVE SCHMIDT: A lot of commentators say — they scratch their chins — they say, my God, the tone of this election. Have they not listened to talk radio for five minutes in this country that reaches 50 million people a day for a moment in the last ten years? The tone is disgusting around our political discourse and Trump has been a reflection of that tone in this steel cage match Republican primary. You look at the intellectual collapse of the conservative movement, the fading of giants like William F. Buckley, the replacements of purveyors of blogs and polemics that — and it’s all collapsed.
CHRIS MATTHEWS (HOST): Who won when Trump won? Did Mark Levin win? Did Michael Savage? He’s still on the air. Who are these people?
SCHMIDT: Mark Levin is decrying this tonight. He’s series-A round investor in the demise of the conservative movement in the Republican Party. He, very famously, a woman calls up his show and has the gall to just disagree with Mark Levin, who calls himself the great one. Talk about narcissist, talk about self-aggrandizers. Mark Levin asked do you have a gun in the house, go find it and blow your brains out. This is the tone that has emanated from talk radio and this cancer has spread and that tone has infected the whole of the party. And so this moment that we’ve arrived at, where there’s been a serverability now between issues and conservatism, and the test of who is the conservative in the race is who has the loudest voice of opposition.
Schmidt was more or less spot-on, but he’s neglecting two key players in the gradual descent into Trump madness: George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.
Both of these characters were proto-Trumps, making it acceptable for Americans to elevate folksy, intellectually violent doofuses to the highest offices in the land. Bush, and Palin in his wake, raised the bar in terms of being absolutely unqualified by standard measures, but completely qualified in the minds of low-information kneejerk voters who thought it was better to have a president who’s just like us, rather than a president who’s vastly wiser and more disciplined than us.
Rather than rising to the challenge of becoming among the smartest and most benevolent among us, Bush and Palin changed the rules of the game by appealing to voters who were blinded by ideology and racist madness — sidestepping hard questions with whiny, petulant foot-stomping about the so-called “lamestream media.”
And here’s where Schmidt loses me. When he’s talking about the decline of the GOP and the intellectual aspects of the conservative movement, he continues to overlook Palin and the fact that Schmidt was one of the architects behind her ascendancy. While I give him credit for spotting most of the problems, he seems to be in denial over the fact that he was part of the problem — that Palin paved the way for Trump — indeed making it possible for Trump’s existence by softening the expectations of GOP voters and altering what it means to be presidential (or vice-presidential, as the case may be).
Palin’s nincompoopery is, of course, legendary. But there are still large swaths of GOP voters who genuflect before her white-trash feet. It’s very likely that those voters are now Trump disciples with the same anti-foreigner, anti-minority grievances as we witnessed in those infamous Palin rally lines back in the Fall of ’08.
Schmidt, regardless of how right he is on the influence of talk radio, helped to build this bewigged, orange monster. And until he and his colleagues fully identify who and what specifically manufactured the nomination of Trump, they’ll never solve the problem or bottle the acid.