It was poignant to interview Steve Schmidt in the same week that his former boss John McCain decided to discontinue treatment for his brain cancer, which he has been battling since last summer.
Schmidt famously spearheaded McCain’s 2008 bid for the White House and the recruiting of Sarah Palin as his running mate, a role reprised on-screen by Woody Harrelson in HBO's 2012 film Game Change.
He once again admitted that picking Palin as number two was a mistake and talked about many other topics in a podcast we recorded earlier this week, zeroing in on his "painful" decision to leave the Republican Party after 29 years and his frustration with a president he described as the "inciter-in-chief" and an RNC that resembles something from "The Handmaid’s Tale."
After the McCain bid, Schmidt spent eight years at Edelman as vice-chair, public affairs, leaving the firm this summer to pursue new, as yet unspecified interests – beyond launching a podcast called Words Matter with former colleague Elise Jordan and "getting ready to go fishing in British Columbia."
The challenge when interviewing someone like Schmidt is to get a word in edgewise but also tread new ground that the ubiquitous media pundit hasn’t already covered elsewhere.
However, he is always good for a one-liner and here are some of the most memorable ones from the podcast:
- "I strongly believe that the Republican and Democratic Parties are two of the most important institutions in the history of the world for the advancement of human freedom and dignity."
- "To see the party of Lincoln, Eisenhower, and Reagan taken over by Trump
- "If the Conservative movement is to be reborn there needs to be a forest fire to destroy it and complete renewal afterwards."
- "I don’t think the Republican Party can survive the Trump presidency, though it’s entirely possible Trump will get elected for a second term."
- "When two unelectable candidates run against each other, one of them will win – and the advantage goes to the unelectable candidate who is president."
- "Republican Party is becoming uneducated, white, and rural – it does not represent modern America."
- "Even John Kasich says he looks at the Republican Party nowadays and has no idea what it stands for."
- "The Republican Party I was born into was a personal responsibility party, not a victim party. Nowadays everybody’s a victim – and Trump made this virtuous."
- "By defeating this ‘vile malignancy,’ maybe the Democratic Party will be responsible for saving one of the other great institutions – the Republican Party."
- "If you want to go to the epicenter of out-of-touched-ness in all of the world, go to Davos in January."
- "You see billionaires get down on their hands and knees in a fog-filled room and go through the ‘refugee experience.’"
- "These people couldn’t be more out of touch with what’s going on in their countries and with working-class people than if they lived on the backside of the lunar base and hadn’t been to earth in 20 years."
- "People are living longer and more prosperously than any human beings in history… but 40% of the country doesn’t have $400 of cash available for an emergency. Working people haven’t seen a real pay raise in 25 years."
- "The overall amount of trust in the ecosystem is seeping out."
- "40% of the country has surrendered their intellectual sovereignty and submitted to a strong-man leader – thankfully 40% is not a majority."
- "From the moment the first people got off the boat in Jamestown in 1607, 25% of them have been nut jobs. That’s a constant through American history. But the majority of decent people is large enough to repudiate it."
- "Politics used to be a business of persuasion - it’s become a game of incitement."
- "I’ve been on the White House lawn and done my fair share of tap-dancing. It’s part of politics. Evasiveness and trying to explain what’s hard to explain is not lying. But if the President asks you to get up and lie it eviscerates your credibility for all time."
There are many more nuggets of wisdom where this came from and I strongly recommend you take a listen if you want some insight into modern politics, the future of the Republican and Democratic parties, and the implications of the last two years on the communications profession.