WATCH: Eric Bolling and Charlie Sykes Clash in Tense Morning Joe Battle Over the Soul of the GOP


On Morning Joe Tuesday, for the second day in a row, the Weekly Standard‘s Charlie Sykes faced off against CRTV’s Eric Bolling, formerly of Fox News. The topic, once again: Donald Trump as moral and political leader of the GOP.

The Weekly Standard column upon with the discussion begin argued that the position conservative critics of Trump have taken, which is “calling balls and strikes,” is equally as damaging as the total embrace that base voters have offered Trump. Co-host Willie Geist began the segment by quoting the article at length.

“When the stakes are low, itemizing and compartmentalizing may be sensible,” wrote Andy Smarick, in the portion that Geist quoted. “But given the enormity of the stakes, placing a gold star on the president’s occasional successful assignment is unwarranted and unwise. The road to Hell is paved with a piecemeal, situational approach to morality.”

With that quote, Scarborough turned first to Bolling and asked if he agreed, beginning the debate.

“How could I agree with that, Joe,” said Bolling. “You know what the piece forgets to mention is there’s a reason why Donald Trump is able to appoint a second Supreme Court justice, maybe a third in his term, who knows. It is because he won, Joe.”

Coming out of the gate with the chief point that Trump’s ascendance in the party was decided by the voters, who wanted Trump specifically, not incidentally. “The reason why he won is because he was Donald Trump.”

Bolling also said that the article itself was harmful, calling Weekly Standard publisher Bill Kristol a “NeverTrump”, which in MAGA circles is a pejorative. “That piece is more damaging to the GOP and conservatism that Donald Trump ever will be,” said Bolling.

They each had one minute to answer the questions posed by the hosts, which Scarborough humorously and with no small amount of technical difficulty timed with his phone and marked by the sound of “Baba O’Riley” by The Who. As he attempted to have the phone situation handled, he turned the question to Sykes.

Sykes argued, as did the Weekly Standard article, that accepting Trumpism comes with steep downsides.

“Well, it is a Faustian bargain and I do appreciate the people who say, but Gorsuch, but the question is what is the price? In a Faustian bargain you get a lot of what you like, but it turns out the price is way more than you expected,” he said.

“The problem is that, you know, Trump, Trumpism is making the conservative movement and the Republican Party, it is making it dumber, crueler, more dishonest, more disconnected with reality, more extreme, I think they’re going to pay a price,” he continued. “But the Republican Party and the conservative movement need to be more than a cult of personality and a slogan on a hat.”

Sykes said it’s a balancing act between what you stand for, and what you’re willing to accept. “How much are you willing to give up? How many of your principles, how many lies are you willing to accept, how many outrages are you willing to enable and rationalize? What sort of behavior are conservatives willing to accept,” he asked.

Scarborough then said the line was the so-called “Muslim ban”, starting back in 2015 when Trump first brought it up on the campaign trail. “For others it might have been Charlottesville,” he said. “For others it might have been when he was tweeting out fascist videos. How do you look past that if you are a Republican?”

The CRTV host replied by first drawing a distinction between what Trump promised regarding the ban while he was campaigning, and how the actual policy worked out once he was in office. Scarborough pushed back by saying that what we go was not what Trump wanted or ran on.

“Donald Trump, if he had his way, would have banned 1.5 billion people,” said Scarborough. “He could’t do it for constitutional reasons, but wasn’t that a time for republicans to stand up and say ‘we want no part of this guy’?”

“Well, they did,” said Bolling. “They had the opportunity to do that, Joe, in November of 2016. They said in mass we do want this guy, and we do want this guy to represent us.” A reminder that the GOP voted specifically for what Trump said in the campaign.

“What about Charlottesville?” Scarborough said.

“Listen I can’t defend Charlottesville,” said Bolling. “I cannot defend Charlottesville, other than, it was a moment and, I think – listen I agree with you it was ugly. It was ugly what was going in Charlottesville, and there’s no time to stand up for that.”

Scarborough had more examples. “What about when he denied knowing who David Duke was and when he denied knowing what the Ku Klux Klan had done the Sunday before Super Tuesday.”

“He is not a fluffy, soft president, lovable president” Bolling said and Scarborough replied “There’s a difference between being soft and fluffy and being a racist.”

“Joe, you and I both know Donald Trump personally, you and I both know. I will tell you unequivocally — the man is not racist,” said Bolling. “We can paint him with a racist brush if we don’t like his policy, but that’s not who the man is. When you dig deep into the guy, when you dig into his heart, we know he is not racist.”

At that point Sykes was able to break back in, and he repeated the question of the hour. How much?

“Look, part of it is, what are you willing to accept, you know, how much of the racism, how much of the xenophobia, how much of the anti-Muslim bias, how much of the treatment of women… You know, I remember when conservatives said character matters.”

He noted the change in how republicans respond to policy. “It is the reversal of positions on free trade, on American leadership, on character, on corruption,’ he said. “I understand that Donald Trump won. I understand you are getting a lot of what you want, but the transformation of the conservative movement, what he is doing to American political culture, that is also a dramatic, that’s a dramatic price that we are paying for it.”

“Get used to it, Trump is the new conservative movement,” said Bolling, as the two went into a bit of crosstalk.

“There’s no question about it that right now the Republican party is Donald Trump’s party. There’s no question about it,’ said Sykes to Geist. “Those of us who are conservative Trump critics are very much in the wilderness.”

“This a party that has moved from being, you know, the party of ideas to being the party of Fox and Friends,” he added, saying that Trumpism is an “existential danger to the Republican party and the conservative movement.”

In Bolling’s rejoinder, he put emphasis on the word “new” in front of “conservative movement”.

“You know what’s not real existential danger to the republican party and the new conservative movement? Low unemployment, Low unemployment for African-Americans, low unemployment for women. Across the board record lows. Business attitude going forward is positive,” said Bolling, who was originally a financial news contributor for Fox. He added in that Trump’s court appointments have been conservative wins, saying that if you can’t praise that, “guess what, you’re not conservative.”

They never really resolved the question of what one is willing to trade from being conservative in order to obtain particular objectives.

Charlie Sykes is asking how much Trump the conservative movement should tolerate. Eric Bolling’s point is that Trump is is the “new conservative movement.” Whatever he is, that is what conservatives are, not something with which they must bargain or tolerate.

It is practically a pristine look at the two loudest points of view in the party, how they clash, and whether there is any common ground.

The two guests will be on again together, said Scarborough at the end of the segment. If there is common ground, that’s their chance to explain it.

CORRECTION: This article has been changed to reflect that Charlie Sykes was the editor for the article quoted in the segment. The article was written by the R Street Insitute’s Andy Smarick.

[Featured image via screengrab]

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