Nationally syndicated radio talk-show host Dennis Prager had Seth Leibsohn and Chris Buskirk on the air Wednesday to discuss their new book, American Greatness: How Conservatism, Inc. Missed the 2016 Election & What the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn.
Dennis Prager: Hi there, everybody. Dennis Prager here, I have two terrific men on the line here. Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn. By the way, they do a show, Seth and Chris. It’s a terrific show on a Salem radio station. I am syndicated by Salem radio. How do they say, that is complete disclosure? Full disclosure, yeah.
Chris Buskirk: Total transparency.
Prager: Total transparency? Is that the word?
Prager: That’s it. They’re on 960 AM, KKNT in Phoenix, the station I have been on for almost 20 years and love very much. It’s a great station, got a huge audience there. They have collaborated these two hosts in a book titled American Greatness. There is also a website, American Greatness. Chris, you’re the one who started that, correct?
Buskirk: I am. I had a few co-founders, of course. Ben Boychuk, who’s our managing editor; [the mighty] Julie Ponzi [who is the Nexus of the Crisis and the Origin of Storms]; and of course Seth was right there at the beginning, too. So it’s very much been a collaborative . . .
Prager: Well, let me just say to everybody, it has become … Really, I want you to know, in the short time you exist, you have become one of the staples I go to. They’re among the most thoughtful pieces about American life and world life on a given website, so congratulations to you.
Buskirk: Well, thanks, Dennis. I mean, coming from you, that is high praise and I take it as such, so thanks very much.
Prager: It is meant from my heart. So you have written a book here, the two of you, American Greatness: How Conservatism, Incorporated Missed the 2016 election, and what the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn. All right, so explain the subtitle.
Buskirk: Well, yeah, it’s funny. When you hear the subtitle, I was just thinking as I was listening to you read it back to me… Of course, I know our subtitle, but I’m thinking I’m surprised we left it at only one volume telling the D.C. establishment what they need to learn.
Yet, Seth and I were both struck . . . We did radio all through the election season through ’15 and ’16 together. So we’d have these daily conversations and we realized as we were watching the rise of Donald Trump that there was something more to it than just Donald Trump, not to in any way denigrate him or what he’s accomplished. Just the opposite, to say that actually he was the tribune of a larger movement. Something that’s been percolating, I think on the right in particular, but across the ideological spectrum for at least a generation, if not more. I mean, it should tell us something that Bernie Sanders was so popular in 2015, 16. By the way, it’s looking like he’ll be popular in 2020 if he chooses to run.
But our concern was with the Right. We think that the right is where historical American values are most valued, and where they are treasured. We are the people who have self consciously decided . . . People on the right have decided that we will be keepers of that plane, we’re the . . .
Prager: What does it mean though? How Conservatism, incorporated missed the 2016 election?
Buskirk: Well, yeah, Conservatism, Inc., it’s a little bit of jargon on our part. So what is it? Conservatism, Inc. is what we think of as that archipelago of institutions and journals that we grew up. The ones that we’ve respected and listened to as the ones to turn to for opinion on America and on politics. We said they missed the 2016 election, why? The why that we think is because they became insulated and isolated from the rest of the country and from a lot of the ideas that they’ve said that they espouse, and from a historical Americanism. Our goal is to re-educate people as to what that all means. Where did we go wrong on the right, and how do we recapture what made the conservatism so dynamic in the 60s and 70s leading up to the election of Reagan?
Prager: What websites do you now like?
Buskirk: Well of course, we like our own. So it’s the cook likes their own cooking, so there’s that. But we read the PowerLine Blog every day. Seth has his own, I like that very much. Real Clear Politics is a great curator. Ace of Spades, I think, is very good, doing good work there. City Journal, of course, I think is always good. The New Criterion is fantastic.
Seth, you’ve got some that you go to all the time …
Seth Leibsohn: All of those, Dennis. Certainly those. We probably play your Prager University stuff on our own show as often as you put those teachings out. I think you’ve done a tremendous service. We also read some of the Conservatism, Inc. websites. We’re all mature enough to read things we disagree with, and occasionally they have their dissenting voices, too. But, yeah, I start every day probably with Power Line, and I work upwards from there.
Prager: Fascinating. Hold on, Gentlemen, I’ve gotta take a break here . . . Book is American Greatness: How Conservatism, Inc. Missed the 2016 Election and what the D.C. Establishment Needs to Learn. The book is by two men who have their own radio show, a very popular one in Phoenix, AM 960. Is it known as The Answer in Phoenix as well?
Buskirk: No, we’re The Patriot.
Prager: The Patriot. That’s why I asked. …Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn, I’ve known Seth many years and have great admiration for him. And Chris has started this fantastic website, American Greatness. They’ve collaborated on this book. Why did John McCain, in your view, do what he did with regard to not replacing Obamacare?
Leibsohn: Oh, Dennis, thank you and thank you for your kind words. It’s been a treasure knowing you. I would say everything I’ve learned in radio, I’ve learned from two people. You’re one of them. You just have the best show in the country and we learn tremendously from you.
Prager: Thank you.
Leibsohn: I guess there’s going to be a lot of thesis and a lot of speculation about John McCain’s vote and will be his last six years at least … Or I should say at most, in office. My best guess is John McCain is trying to solidify his legacy, as a lot of people do in their twilight years of service, as the Republican who bucked Donald Trump, the Republican who bucked “the extreme part of the party”. I think that’s what he’s doing more than anything else. I think he’s trying to build and solidify and encrust his reputation as a moderate, reasonable Republican.
Prager: So in other words … So he cares what the New York Times will say?
Leibsohn: I think he’s always said that, and I remember him bragging about them being his base. I do think that, and I think that …
Prager: Wait, wait, I’m sorry. Who did he say was his base?
Leibsohn: John McCain, when he ran for president the first time said that that was his base, the New York Times was his base. I think he’s long cared about that reputation. Maverick can mean many things, and to him it means as much bucking his own party as anyone else.
I’ll never forget Rick Santorum, when he was in the Senate, said there were always three parties in the Senate. There were the Republicans, there the Democrats, and there was John McCain.
Prager: Interesting. You don’t think that the vote … I’m not trying to lead you there, but you don’t think the vote was a personal way of saying “Screw you” to the president over the earlier comments of being taken prisoner?
Leibsohn: No. No, I don’t. I mean, as I say, anyone can speculate and we all want to honor the Goldwater Rule in trying to analyze someone who’s not our patient, right? We’re doctors in political science more than psychology or psychiatry, but no, I have never thought John McCain took that to his vote. I think it’s more about what he wants his legacy to be in amber. We’ve seen this with Supreme Court justices, haven’t we? I think we see this with John McCain.
Prager: There is … I Just learned of this yesterday. There is some old, old rule from the early 20th century that a senator from a state from which a justice is nominated can block the nomination single-handedly. Is that correct?
Leibsohn: This is what’s playing out in Minnesota right now, if I’m not mistaken, with Al Franken.
Prager: Yes, yes. Correct.
Leibsohn: It’s abstruse, it’s not done much, and you know, gosh, just when you thought you knew I’m just a bill on Capitol Hill, and how our democracy works, you find some other complicating factor. This is what the American people don’t like. This is part of our book, Dennis. I think they just got tired of these abstruse rules, the lack of common sense, things they didn’t understand. You know, people grow up understanding from eighth-grade civics, a president nominates a justice, the Senate votes on him, and unless there’s some major defect of character or scandal, the president gets his nominees. You know? 51 votes gets you legislation, that sort of thing.
Washington stopped making sense to people and I think that, in part, also animated the support for Donald Trump. He was a man who spoke to basic common sense.
Leibsohn: Which as you know, has long been outside the mainstream, at least when it comes to the media or academia.
Prager: Yes, right. So, one final question to you guys as such political realists and your knowledge of the political scene. If the Republicans lose more seats in the Senate next year, in the 2018 off-year elections, if they do and they also do not pick up seats in the House, what will they say?
Buskirk: That’s a good question, Dennis. And the question that I always think is when you say Republicans, the question will be which Republicans? Are we talking about voters or are we talking about elected Republicans? If you talk about the congressional leadership, they will do what they’ve been doing for two years, which is they’ll point their finger at Donald Trump.
If you’re talking about the base, you know, look at the popularity of Congress. They will look at a do-nothing Republican Congress and say, “We gave you what you’ve been telling us you wanted. We gave you unified control of two of the three branches of government, of Congress, and of the presidency, and you did nothing. That is the bigger danger that Republicans face next year in 2018.
Prager: Right, all right, so that is how Republicans would react, and that’s very important. But if the Republicans do win seats … See, the Democrats now say … I read them all the time. The Democrats say the country hates Donald Trump, it’s going to show its hatred in November of 2018. But what if the country doesn’t? What if they actually elect more Republicans? What will the Democrat say?
Leibsohn: Dennis, I think that they are tearing their hair out. While I think it is very interesting for a lot of the analysts to look at the divisions, or the perhaps houses divided within the Republican party, I think you’re right, that the Democratic party is the one to watch.
Chris was joking on the radio the other day, you look at their three leading candidates for the presidency in 2020, you add their ages together, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden, that may perhaps be the road to 270, when you had their ages. I think the Democratic Party itself is having the biggest problem, and I think if the Republicans do well in the midterms, it’s going to be in large part because of the leadership Donald Trump has given them. I mean, this is the biggest breath of fresh air put into the party since Ronald Reagan. [crosstalk 00:12:11]
Prager: Right. Well, it’s a time to watch. All right, gentlemen, I’ve got to mention your book, because I want people to read it. American Greatness, it’s up at DennisPrager.com. Chris Buskirk and Seth Leibsohn, thank you and good luck.