Charlie Sykes: “One of Those Moments Where You Have to Stand Up”

Posted on Categories Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at Marquette

Charlie Sykes a turncoat and opportunist?

At an ”On the Issues with Mike Gousha” program at Marquette Law School on Tuesday, Sykes said he’s not surprised some people say that. The long time conservative radio talk show host from Milwaukee is a prominent critic of President Trump, a Republican backed (at least in some fashions) by most conservatives. And Sykes is appearing frequently these days on MSNBC, which has a reputation as a liberal-oriented network, on NPR (likewise), and in the pages of the New York Times (likewise).

Sykes sees it differently, to say the least. “I was a Never Trump guy from the moment he came down that golden escalator” in Trump Tower in 2015 to announce his candidacy. “I’ve been saying (in recent times) the same thing I’ve been saying for two years. . . .

“The notion that it’s somehow opportunistic – show me what I’ve changed my position on. I just happen to say it on a larger, different platform.”

Sykes’ criticisms and fears about Trump and his impact is explored in full in a book he authored, to be published next week. Its title: “How the Right Lost Its Mind.” Sykes described writing the book as painful to the point of being “soul-crushing” because of how far off track he sees most conservatives to be now and because he believes his two-plus decades as a voice for conservativism means he shares in the blame.

With so many of his long-time allies supporting Trump, Sykes said he feels like he’s been ex-communicated from the conservative movement. But when Gousha asked him if there were any points where he regretted not joining the Trump movement, Sykes said no. He said there was never one moment when he felt Trump was fit to be president.

Sykes highlighted two reasons why conservatives got behind Trump, the power of “tribalism” in American politics and the belief that the 2016 presidential election offered “a binary choice,” one in which many thought Hillary Clinton was worse than Trump and Republicans such as House Speaker Paul Ryan thought that if Trump was president, things that Ryan wanted, such as tax reform, would get enacted.

But in supporting Trump, people were supporting a war against facts and truth and were accepting someone whose list of problems include promoting racism and xenophobia, Sykes said.

Since leaving his position of more than 20 years at WTMJ radio in Milwaukee in late 2016, Sykes’ national profile has grown. Gousha asked him, given the places where he is appearing now, if Sykes feels  like he is sleeping with the enemy. “It feels pretty good,” Sykes said. “Nobody has ever asked me to say anything I don’t believe.” He said he likes having dialogue with serious people with other views, and he described not being part of “the tribe” as “incredibly liberating.”

Gousha asked if Sykes thought the Trump election was an aberration in American politics and the pendulum will swing back or whether it signals long-term change. Sykes was inclined toward the latter. He said America is still feeling the effects of having a president 20 years ago, namely Democrat Bill Clinton, who had sexual episodes in the Oval Office and committed perjury. The long-term negative impact of Trump could be great, Sykes said. He wondered out loud if American democratic institutions are more fragile than a lot of people realize.

“I do think we’re at this pivotal moment,” he said. “I do think we’re being tested. I do think the democracy is being tested. I think our character is being tested. This is one of those moments where you have to stand up.”

To view the hour-long conversation, click here.

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