The Current

How the right went wrong: Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes

Charlie Sykes had been a proud Republican for decades. Then an on-air confrontation with then-presidential candidate Donald Trump changed everything.
Conservative commentator Charlie Sykes says Republicans abandoned their principles to embrace Trump as leader. (Raincoast Books/Charlie Sykes)

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Charlie Sykes has been a fixture on the Wisconsin political right for decades.

As the host of the state's number one Conservative radio talk show, he helped build the careers of Wisconsin Congressman and now House Speaker Paul Ryan and Republican Governor Scott Walker.

But then Donald Trump ran for president and Sykes' world was turned upside down. 

During the campaign, the radio host was clear about his opposition to Trump's run to be the leader of the Republican Party. In one particularly volatile interview, he accused the candidate of behaving like a kid in a playground.

Sykes says he was surprised at the overwhelming response to the interview. 

"This was at the end of March of  2016, and apparently this was one of the first time that anybody in the Conservative media had actually pushed back against Donald Trump," Sykes tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"Which is really quite remarkable when you think about it."

Sykes says his opposition to Trump was met with outrage by many of his listeners. 

"In my home state of Wisconsin, I think it's fair to say I have been excommunicated from the Conservative movement," he laughs. 

"There are people who continue to be Trump skeptics, but we're a much smaller band of brother and sisters than I think we expected." 

He tells Tremonti that during the second half of last year people would call in to his radio show saying, "'We will never listen to your again. We are going to boycott your show. You're a Judas. You have betrayed the cause. You are the traitor.'"

Sykes tells his critics that he has been saying the same thing about Trump since he announced he was running for president — "I have not changed one thing." 
Longtime right-wing talk show host Charlie Sykes says he has always been a #NeverTrump guy and calls his presidency so far 'shambolic.' (The Associated Press)

Sykes writes about his dismay over the state of the Republican Party in his new book How the Right Lost Its Mind. He says watching the Conservative movement during the Trump campaign and presidency has been like experiencing a slow rolling "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." 

"This was watching Conservatives, including people that I had known for 20 years — intelligent, decent, principled individuals who value character and judgment — one after another decide that they were going to get on the Trump train and watching as they sold out their principles, swallowed down their objections," he says.

"I'm talking about people who decided that they were going  to drink the orange Kool-Aid, that decided that maybe this was the man on the white horse, maybe this was the man who was going to make America great again."

"And one after another, I would look them in the eye and say, 'No, no, not you too.'"

Listen to the full conversation near the top of this web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Howard Goldenthal.