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Putting Trump's Inauguration Into Context With Past GOP Presidents


And Rachel, we should say, we're getting reports from our colleagues who are covering these events. All over the city, there are people already lining up before sunrise to get into the inaugural events. So the lines are building. And we're going to be listening to a range of voices this morning, reflections on what this day means. And joining us now from New York is John Podhoretz.

He's the editor of Commentary magazine, also worked as a speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan and served briefly in the White House of George H.W. Bush. He's been an outspoken critic of the president-elect. Mr. Podhoretz, good morning.

JOHN PODHORETZ: Good morning, how are you?

GREENE: I'm well, thank you. How are you feeling this morning? You were not a supporter of Donald Trump. I wonder what, you know, where you are right now on this inauguration morning.

PODHORETZ: Well, I'm of two minds. One of which is that it still seems to me to be surreal that this is happening, that a man who was best known 18 months ago for being the sort of caricature star of a television show about being rich has, you know, is now ascending to the highest office in the land and, you know, where only 44 men over 240 years have served before him.

At the same time, I'm also very struck by the panic and terror that I see and hear from many people who do not share my conservative ideological perspective, who are behaving as though what has happened here is essentially a kind of coup. I mean, not that - some of them think he's illegitimate, a lot of people are, you know, in a state of shock and mourning and terror and rage.

GREENE: And you think that's an overreaction. You don't think this is a moment for people to be terrified at all.

PODHORETZ: No, I mean, well, I mean, if you are - if one thinks that a conservative president pursuing a conservative agenda is a terrifying creature, then you can be full of shock and rage. But the unprecedented nature of Donald Trump isn't that he is going to pursue conservative policies, it's that he is someone who got elected, you know, never having been in politics before at all and who comes with a kind of the imprimatur of pop culture rather than policy.

And that's not what people, I think, are afraid by - scared by. They're scared by how conservative a lot of what it is that he's talking about is. I'm worried about the tariffs, I'm worried about the trade issues. But a lot of people are, you know, that I know are really in horror from Betsy DeVos, the education secretary designate, who has views that are entirely within the mainstream of conservative opinion on education.


Let me ask you, Mr. Podhoretz - it's Rachel Martin here. When you take the big picture, I mean, when you think about the Republican Party that existed when you served in the White House, when you worked for Ronald Reagan, when you worked for George H.W. Bush, how has it evolved? What does it look like to be a Republican in 2017 in the era of Trump?

PODHORETZ: Well, it's interesting because, of course, the Republican Party is much larger and more powerful in its own way than it was then. There were, I think, twice as many Democrats among registered voters as there were Republicans in the 1980s. That number has shrunk to, I don't know, a gap of 5 or 6 percent, something like that. Republicans are, you know, during the Obama era, Republicans took control of the House, the Senate, a thousand seats at, you know, below the national level in states.

So it's actually much larger and institutionally much more powerful. But it's also much less cohesive in some ways.

GREENE: You like some things that have happened to the party in this moment.

PODHORETZ: Well, I mean, I think I like the fact that the party has become, you know, did not lie down and die when it was shellacked in 2006 and 2008 and did not take lying down the arrival of the most liberal president in American history. And it rallied and it found new ways to reach out to voters and to reach out to Americans.

I am very concerned that core principles about, you know, say, economics, like that protectionism actually hurts the country, that takes on protectionist policies are being lost...


GREENE: All right, we'll have to because of time stop there but much more conversation to be had. That was John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.