As a prominent ‘never-Trumper’ who pens regular columns criticizing the current direction of the GOP, veteran political adviser Rick Wilson represents an increasingly disenchanted wing of the old Republican Party.
On Wednesday’s Powerhouse Politics podcast, Wilson discussed his new book, "Everything Trump Touches Dies," and his turn away from a GOP he believes is in tatters. Though he has long been loyal, Wilson said, “I reached a point where I couldn’t make a moral compromise with everything that my party claimed to believe in and the things that drew me to it in the first place.”
He went further, calling President Donald Trump the “seeds of destruction” for both the GOP and the conservative movement. And he fears that the worst is yet to come: Russia collusion is “the first inning of the first game of the World Series. We're not even anywhere close to where the pain level gets really high,” he said.
The latest round of indictments, he said, confirms concerns about the president that he voiced early on, prior to Trump’s ascendancy.
“While I hate taking the victory lap in some ways, and I hate doing the ‘I told you guys’ act in some ways, the degree to which he proved me correct every day both saddens, infuriates and delights me,” Wilson said.
Referring to the Watergate scandal and its down-ballot electoral fallout, Wilson said that the most recent news of endemic corruption surrounding Trump and his administration may have serious consequences for upcoming midterm elections and beyond – consequences party leaders are only beginning to reckon with.
Wilson compared the present political moment to the turning point during the Nixon presidency, when the GOP moved “from 1973, where the Republicans were screaming, “Oh it's a put-on job by the by the media, Watergate is just a lie and it's a scam,” to 1974, when we lost 49 House seats and eight Senate seats.”
While he painted a grim picture of the GOP’s electoral future, asked about Democrats’ prospects for impeaching the president – a call that has been raised, in some corners since the Michael Cohen plea deal – Wilson said he is skeptical that Democrats could find the votes.
Even if Democrats have “the best day ever” in the midterms and pick up dozens of seats, he said, impeachment would still be a long shot.
“There's no way you're getting the two thirds in the Senate,” he said. “The Republican base, shrunken as it is, is still with Trump. They don't care about the facts; they don't care about the law.”
Meanwhile, Wilson argued, Trump is gearing up to run a campaign for re-election with striking similarities to Nixon’s re-election bid, in both substance and message.
“He is clearly framing out, in a sort of 1972 Nixonian frame, ‘vote for the dark people and their wave of crime and violence or stick with me, and we will have safety and security.’ I mean, Roger Ailes may be dead, but his playbook is still very much front and center in Donald Trump's mind – from the Nixon re-elect,” he said.
While Republicans in Congress may not approve of the president’s messaging, tactics or policy, Wilson said, they find it paralyzing. In private conversations, he noted, Republicans say they are unsure how to vocally oppose the President without facing a backlash from his base.
“These guys are petrified of Donald Trump, and more to the point, they're petrified of his followers,” Wilson said. “They say things like well if he tweets about me the crazies are going to come after me.”
“Even if Trump engages in overtly lawless behavior in the Oval Office, the Republican Party has now sold itself to him... they've locked their fortunes to Donald Trump, and I don't know where they go from here unless they figure out an exit strategy,” Wilson said.
Increasingly unlikely. https://t.co/55DssBBpOZ— Rick Wilson (@TheRickWilson) August 22, 2018
Asked what the best strategy for the GOP would be going forward, Wilson wryly suggested that disillusioned Republicans stop acting like “a bunch of junior assistant managers at the gift shop of the Trump golf club.”
Every Wednesday, ABC Radio and iTunes brings you the Powerhouse Politics podcast, which includes headliner interviews and in-depth looks at the people and events shaping U.S. politics. Hosted by ABC News’ Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl and ABC News Political Director Rick Klein.