Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.

Donate
Topics

Onetime McCain strategist Steve Schmidt talks about a time when politicians could disagree respectfully

The Al Franken podcast is about remembering a time when Democrats and Republicans could respect one another across areas of disagreement, and debate those disagreements using honest facts and logic.

Steve Schmidt
Steve Schmidt
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Since the spring weather has arrived (and, one might note, the COVID-19 pandemic did not “disappear, like a miracle,” with the warmer weather as one seer had predicted) I have taken great comfort in long walks along Minnehaha Creek (I live within a couple of blocks of the Minnehaha Parkway and can hoof it easily to a lap around either Harriet or Nokomis if I’m feeling really ambitious). I have greatly increased my consumption of political and historical podcasts, which I can listen to as I walk and pretend to be sort of working). 

One of my favorites is the Al Franken podcast, and his most recent episode is a pip.

His guest was Steve Schmidt, a stalwart long-time Republican, who was the senior campaign strategist and top adviser to John McCain during the 2008 election. Schmidt, a mountain of a man, had not yet left the GOP when I covered his May 2018 talk at the Westminster Town Hall Forum, and he devoted his prepared remarks to other topics, but he was trying on his voice as a Republican never Trumper even back then. Asked about Trump that day, he answered:

“A third of the country may choose to live in Trumpistan. Good for them. Sixty to 65 percent of us prefer to continue living in America.”

Article continues after advertisement

The next month he quit the GOP, on anti-Trump grounds, although he has not joined the Democrats either. He came across on the Franken podcast as a man of deep principle, who absolutely knows his mind, who revered the kind of Republicanism that McCain symbolized (but absolutely detested the choice of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running-mate, as he made clearer than ever in the Franken interview).

Franken, a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat, held back his own disagreement with Schmidt on many specific issues while probing Schmidt on why he left the party, while expressing his clear admiration of Schmidt as a person of deep principles.

I listen regularly to Franken’s podcasts and recommend the habit

But this one was not about why liberals are right and conservatives were wrong. It was about remembering a time when Democrats and Republicans could respect one another across areas of disagreement, and debate those disagreements using honest facts and logic in that zone of discussion rooted in that respect.

I seem to remember when I could more easily have such conversations with conservative friends. Often I would learn things I hadn’t known, things that were rooted in mutual respect for logic and factual accuracy. Damn, I miss those days.

Anyway, if you want to share that experience, this link will get you straight to the Schmidt-Franken exchange, which unfortunately is headlined: “Steve Schmidt Tears Trump and the Republican Party A New One.” The discussion was far more respectful than that headline.

I would have headlined it something like “Steve Schmidt explains the difference between honest conservatism and Trumpism.”