Day 6

Conservative Charlie Sykes on Trump and how the American right lost its way

Conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes is a Republican who adamantly opposes his party's candidate for President. As the U.S. campaign turned to questions about Hillary Clinton's health this week, Brent talks with Charlie Sykes about what it's like to take on Trump supporters and what role American talk radio has been playing in Trump's rise.
PENSACOLA, FL - SEPTEMBER 09: Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a rally at the Pensacola Bay Center on September 9, 2016 in Pensacola, Florida. Polls show that Trump and Clinton are tied in Florida. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

by Brent Bambury (@notrexmurphy)

Last week, Hillary Clinton's campaign released a new commercial featuring prominent political figures denouncing Donald Trump's suitability for office. They were all Republicans.

Mitt Romney, Jeff Flake, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham each took shots at their own nominee.

"I believe he's disqualified himself to be President," says New York congressman Richard Hannah.

The tagline: Unfit. Dangerous. Even for Republicans.

But Republican Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes, an author, editor, TV host and friend and supporter of Governor Scott Walker wishes more members of his party, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, would speak out like the talking heads in Clinton's commercial.

"I do think when you look back at this if you had a principled intelligent conservative like Paul Ryan say, 'You know, no, this is a bridge too far', that might have changed the dynamics of this year. I mean, that's where you come back to if the best among us will not stand against this, then...."

"Then, that's how we get to this moment."


​Charlie Sykes sees a sharp divide between the conservative values he identifies as Republican and the candidate his party has nominated. It's made him one of the faces of the #NeverTrump movement.

And to be accurate, his full hashtag is #NeverTrumporHillary. As the race tightens, Sykes continues to believe Trump will not be elected President in November. But if that happens, that means almost certainly that Hillary Clinton will.

Trump supporter Sean Hannity says he will hold the #NeverTrump movement responsible for a Clinton presidency. Is Sykes willing to take the blame?

"No. If Hillary Clinton wins, people like Sean Hannity and other Trump supporters and Trump enablers who pushed him to the nomination, they are going to own this. Look,we spent six months or more warning about the consequences of nominating someone like Donald Trump," says Sykes.

A tough message for Republicans

Hannity isn't the only Republican angry at the #NeverTrump movement. Many of Sykes' listeners and people calling into his radio show on WTMJ-AM are onside with their party's nominee.

Last week he asked his guest Matt Lewis, "How did (conservatives) get this dumb?"

I wondered if he is worried that his fans are turning off his show.

"Look," Sykes said, "There's no question in my mind that I'm losing listeners because I am challenging what they expect from conservative talk radio. We have failed to live down to their expectation that we carry water for whoever the nominee is."

Sykes says he's willing to lose listeners, if that's the price of defending conservatism over his party's nominee. And despite the risk to his profession, it's a decision he can live with.

"So yes I have to make a decision. You know I'm either going to roll over or, you know, become a fanboy like, you know, Sean Hannity or others. Or I'm going to speak out about what I believe in. And if I do that, I'm going to lose listeners and I'm going to offend listeners. "

November 9th, 2016

So what happens after the election? If Sykes gets his way and Trump loses, the party will need to decide if Trumpism represents a giant mistake or a way forward. What will Sykes radio show be like on November 9th?

"What I'm going to start to do is, you know; try to figure out a way to pick up the pieces. So at the end of this campaign is going to be the beginning of a long, long, long period of introspection for conservatives."

"I'm definitely going to try to avoid saying, 'I told you so'."