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Blind loyalty is helping sustain Trump's power in the Republican party, new book says

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Donald Trump has been teasing he plans to run for president in 2024. The first time he ran for president, his fellow Republicans - well, they were not so welcoming.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

LINDSEY GRAHAM: He's a race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot.

MARCO RUBIO: We are not going to turn over the conservative movement to a con artist who is telling...

TED CRUZ: This man is a pathological liar. The man is utterly amoral. Morality does not exist for him.

SUMMERS: Well, those Republicans - South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, Florida Senator Marco Rubio, Texas Senator Ted Cruz - and many others have since changed their tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

GRAHAM: Trump can be a handful, but he is the most dominant figure in the Republican Party.

RUBIO: Donald Trump has committed to cut taxes.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: ...The Republican candidate for president, Donald J. Trump.

CRUZ: Well, I am supporting the Republican nominee because I think Hillary Clinton is...

SUMMERS: That fealty, that blind loyalty is something that Atlantic writer Mark Leibovich says has been central to Trump's ability to hold on to power in the Republican Party. And it's also the subject of his new book, "Thank You For Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington And The Price Of Submission." Mark Leibovich joins me now. Hey there.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Hey, Juana.

SUMMERS: So your book begins in the midst of the 2016 Republican presidential primary. But I want to focus on, actually, some of the later years that your book covers - the period surrounding the 2020 election and culminating with the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6. You know, we are on the eve of new hearings by the congressional panel investigating those attacks. And I'm so curious - watching them with this book and your interviews for it in the background, what have you learned about the former president and his allies?

LEIBOVICH: Nothing good. What's astonishing to me, first of all, I mean, given everything we've been through with Donald Trump and continue to learn about Donald Trump, you know, he remains so wildly popular in the Republican Party, which is ultimately his superpower. The reason for this superpower is because none of the putative leaders of the Republican Party have pushed back on him at all. Kevin McCarthy, Lindsey Graham, even, you know, Mitch McConnell, Paul Ryan, who might be less vocal about it, have enabled him at every turn.

And also, with the hearings, you see the performance of Liz Cheney, Cassidy Hutchinson, some of these state election workers who come before them and their very simple, brave testimony doing their patriotic work despite great risk to themselves, threats, intimidation. They do it anyway, and that stands in such sharp relief from the utter silence that continues from Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell on down. They are pretending that these hearings don't exist. And what this book does is it gives a voice to all of them as they made this deal, made this calculation over the last five, six years.

SUMMERS: You brought up the names there of a number of prominent Republicans who you spoke to about the events of January 6. And I have to say I was particularly struck by what former House Speaker Paul Ryan told you about what that day was like for him. You wrote that he broke down into tears that day.

LEIBOVICH: Well, I mean, I think Paul Ryan is an interesting case. I mean, he clearly was not a big Trump fan and didn't do that much to hide it early on. But he worked very, very closely with Donald Trump because nothing was more important to Paul Ryan than, one, keeping his caucus happy but, two, tax reform. So fast-forward to a few months ago. I sort of asked him about what it was like to see what he was there for the inception for and what it turned out to be at the insurrection. And he described just sitting there, watching things unfold on January 6, 2021, and just sobbing and sobbing uncontrollably. And he said, look, I'm not a crier. And there I was, just sobbing in front of the TV. I recognized a lot of my old security details, you know, sort of going mano a mano against the rioters on TV. I wrote them emails trying to buck them up. I didn't know what else to do.

And, you know, he looked so miserable at the prospect of what has happened and very despairing. And I finally said, do you yourself have any regrets? Were any of these tears of complicity? And as we're sitting here, you're still on the board of Fox News. I mean, yeah, there is a very direct correlation between Donald Trump's continued viability in your party and Fox News. And he didn't want to go there. He didn't want to sort of explore the issues of complicity, certainly on the record, that I wanted him to go to. But clearly, the conflict was very much brought to bear in that conversation.

SUMMERS: There are also Republicans involved, like Cassidy Hutchinson, for example, who, despite threats and enormous pressure, testified before the January 6 committee. Do you think something like that - and we may hear more from other similarly minded Republicans soon. Is something like that enough to turn the tide?

LEIBOVICH: That's a great question, Juana. I've thought a lot about that. I think, you know, one of the gifts of the January 6 committee - I mean, obviously, Republicans are saying, oh, it's a slanted committee; it's not legitimate; we're just ignoring it. Most of the testimony has come from Republicans. And the example of Cassidy Hutchinson, the example of the Ukraine resistance, the example of even, you know, the conservatives in the British Parliament. I mean, there are examples all around us of what courage looks like - simple courage, just simply telling the truth. And it has never been cast in sharper relief.

And I have to think that what has been going on in these 1/6 committee meetings has been quite shaming, probably more so than Republicans realize, which might, I think, account for maybe why Pat Cipollone, the former White House counsel, agreed to testify in a transcribed session, but also why I think others might come forward in the next few weeks, and hopefully they will.

SUMMERS: By and large, your book focuses on the class of elected Republicans, and I guess I'll call them professional Republicans, who are in many ways responsible for or have a hand in President Trump's rise. But at the same time, there are many voters out there who support the former president, his ideologies, the ways in which he walks through the world. So can you kind of talk about that interplay there? People liked what he was selling.

LEIBOVICH: Absolutely. Yeah. No, I mean, look, this is not an indictment of Republican voters necessarily - or Trump voters. And I don't think anyone reading this will look to it to understand - what are they thinking? What are their concerns? Why do they still like Trump? My focus was on the people who have allowed Donald Trump to remain so popular, i.e. the putative leaders of the Republican Party in the various states, in the House, in the Senate, who continue to support him, who continue to live in such fear of him - and also, look, a lot of his Cabinet. I mean, you know, up and down the ladder. I mean, they all very privately know exactly what this guy is all about.

Does Mike Pence get credit for doing the bare minimum to actually stand before Donald Trump and actually say no at the very end? Sure, I give him some credit. But ultimately, if you're going to try to make a dent in Donald Trump's devotion and the cult of personality that he continues to enjoy within the Republican Party, you need to do more than the bare minimum.

SUMMERS: You have been a chronicler of Washington for a long time now, and you have known many of the people that you're writing about here are - the elected officials, the operatives from top to bottom for some time. In writing this book, was there anything that you learned that surprised you?

LEIBOVICH: I mean, I think a lot of it with some of them has just been utter disappointment, given the level of submission and the level of sort of soul-selling that so many people that have been sort of entrenched figures in D.C. for so long have been engaging in. I have never seen, as a reporter in Washington covering politics for, you know, almost a quarter century, a bigger gap between what elected Republican, quote-unquote, "leaders" will say to me privately versus what they will say on the record. The yawning gap between the public and private is just striking because they all know better.

SUMMERS: Mark Leibovich is the author of "Thank You For Your Servitude: Donald Trump's Washington And The Price Of Submission." Thanks so much for being here.

LEIBOVICH: Thanks, Juana. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH SONG, "STREET KNOWLEDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.