Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
MAGA media outlets are showcasing the extreme policies a second Trump administration would enact

MAGA media outlets are showcasing the extreme policies a second Trump administration would enact

Matt Gertz and Madeline Peltz of Media Matters discuss new report on far-right media

Whatever you may happen to think about Joe Biden or Donald Trump, the presidency is not a one-person job. Overwhelmingly, the work inside any White House is done by the advisors. They form policies, promote them to the public, and then make the federal government carry them out.

Ultimately, part of determining who you you want to be president should be examining who is giving them advice. In Joe Biden's case, he has surrounded himself by experienced and well-qualified officials, usually people who have [00:02:00] worked in their fields for many decades and have a lot of experience.

That can have some problems of its own in terms of insularity or perhaps or being too routine in their thinking. But whatever those problems are, they pale in comparison to the dangers of the people who are angling to staff a Donald Trump White House.

As extreme as Trump and his cronies were the first time around — which included sending a violent mob of supporters to the Capitol to attack the vice president and the Congress — a second Trump term promises to be much more radical. That's largely because since he was evicted from the White House, Trump has kept in touch with the same final crew of advisors who accepted and helped his plot to try to steal the 2020 presidential election. They have been radicalizing in tandem for years to fully commit to an authoritarian politics that includes everything from prison camps for immigrants to gulags for political opponents.

In most cases, a president's advisers usually work behind the scenes and the public doesn't get a chance to know much about them. But Donald Trump is different from other politicians in that he takes his advisors from the world of right-wing media, a sector of America's economy that has grown immensely since he came on the political scene.

There are a lot of people who will have Trump's ear should he win a second term, and fortunately, Media Matters for America, a progressive media analysis organization, has compiled a huge dossier of who these people are and what they want to do.

Joining me to discuss this dossier are Matt Gertz, he's a senior fellow at Media Matters who specializes in the connections between right-wing media and the Republican Party. And also Madeline Peltz, she is the deputy director of rapid response at Media Matters, where she focuses on emerging trends in right-wing media.

The transcript of our March 8, 2024 conversation is below. Because of its length, some podcast apps and email programs may truncate it. Access the episode page to get the complete text.

The video of this episode will be available on April 1, 2024 at 10:00 am Eastern.

Cover photo: Steve Bannon speaking with attendees at the 2023 Turning Point Action Conference at the Palm Beach County Convention Center in West Palm Beach, Florida. July 16, 2023. Credit: Gage Skidmore/CC by 2.0

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Audio Chapters

00:00 — Introduction

04:02 — Right-wing media were always integral to Republican politics, but Donald Trump made them essential parts

08:38 — Web and set-top streaming networks have enabled the launch of multiple Fox News alternatives that are far more extreme

11:15 — Extremist spotlight: Steve Bannon, MAGA's mastermind

18:57 — Project 2025: The Christian right's plan to impose its doctrines with the federal bureaucracy

24:15 — Extremist spotlight: Russ Vought, architect of Christian supremacism

31:17 — Extremist spotlight: Mike Davis, MAGA's authoritarian lawyer

35:44 — Right-wing activists frequently talk about imprisoning political critics while also claiming that Republicans are victimized by “cancel culture”

38:00 — Extremist spotlight: Stephen Miller, speechwriter and gulag designer

42:46 — Why MAGA activists lean into absurdity to describe their radical policies

Audio Transcript

The following is a machine-generated transcript of the audio that has not been verified. It is provided for convenience purposes only.

MATTHEW SHEFFIELD: Let's start with the historical points here, that right-wing media has always been kind of integral to the Republican party, much more so than left-wing media for the Democratic Party. But under Trump, things became much, much tighter than they ever had before.

MATT GERTZ: That's right. And it's the reason for that is because Donald Trump is himself very much a creation of the right-wing media, at least in his more recent incarnation as a Republican party politician. He is someone who in the wake of his repeated claims that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States snagged a weekly guest spot on Fox and Friends, which is the sort of insipid morning show analog on Fox News, and in that role was really able to get a hold of the wants and [00:05:00] desires of the Republican base by participating in that discourse by having an opportunity every week to give his take on the various grievances that were flowing through Fox News at the time.

And so what we saw during Trump was very much a Fox News creation and Fox News super fan acting from the White House. Donald Trump would get up every morning. He would watch Fox and Friends and other Fox shows beginning early in the morning, continuing to late at night.

And what he saw on that network really shaped his views, shaped his communication strategies all aspects of policy coming out of the White House from pardons to policies, to legislation in a real sense Fox News and the right-wing media more broadly we're a partner to the president on a [00:06:00] level that we've really never seen in modern American history.

And so it was really an extension of this trend that we've seen of sort of energy between the right wing politicians and media on steroids, so to speak. And that's continued with even more reactionary figures up to the present day.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, that's right. And actually the other thing that happened during Trump that really kind of exploded was that there was a profusion of other right-wing media outlets, which were even more radical than Fox news.

Can we talk about those a little bit? I want you both to weigh in on that. Matt, why don't you start first and then Madeline, I want to hear from you.

GERTZ: I think what we have to remember about this is that the right new media is based on a political and business model in which the primary adversary is often the mainstream press. [00:07:00] If you watch or read or consume any sort of right-wing media, one of the first things you'll notice is that the level of media criticism bleeding through is much, much higher than you see in the mainstream press. They are constantly attacking mainstream news outlets and presenting them as illegitimate. And when you do that, you're creating more customers.

So what we've seen over the years is as the right has been able to delegitimize the mainstream press in the eyes of its supporters they've created more and more people who only want to consume right-wing media.

That has obviously created major outlets like Fox News that are fairly well-known throughout the media and political ecosystems, but also a wealth of competitors, smaller TV outlets like Newsmax, like OAN, as well as streaming giants like the Daily Wire, a wealth of [00:08:00] radio shows and a lot of independent and independent individuals as well. People who often were on Fox News like Megan Kelly or Lou Dobbs and lost their jobs there for one reason or another, and now are setting off on their own, this creates a real feeding frenzy that we'll often see in which these are very competitive outlets all trying to get market share from one another and so the fights between them can become quite fierce.

'Over the top' streaming networks have enabled the launch of multiple Fox News alternatives that are far more extreme

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, that's right. And the other outlets, many of them are taking advantage of what's known in the media industry as over the top cable distribution and using digital platforms like Roku or Apple TV. Madeline, can you talk about some of these other channels in addition to Newsmax?

I think for people who aren't steeped in right-wing media, [00:09:00] there are so many of them out there and if you're just like a regular cable subscriber or you don't look at what's on the Samsung TV or Apple TV news section, you don't even know these things are out there, but they have tons and tons of viewers. And then of course around YouTube and other places as well.

MADELINE PELTZ: MAGA media certainly has coalesced towards over the top streaming. You see it with QAnon platforms having a sizable presence on Roku, and you also see it on platforms like Real America's Voice and Right Side Broadcasting, which each have their own little shtick.

In the case of Real America's Voice, it's Like a Fox News on an acid trip. Essentially you have you have personalities from the very deepest, darkest corners of the right-wing media hosting their own shows, just praising Trump completely, 24 hours a day, [00:10:00] seven days a week.

And this is a platform that the most hardcore MAGA fans are very in tune with and in touch with. Another example is Right Side Broadcasting, which really the bread and butter of RSBN is these live Trump events and live events. In fact, in general, they have a roving correspondent that is speaking to people in the crowds in rallies.

And so if you're a Trump fan and you're tuning into these rallies, which we're seeing increasingly, you're probably watching RSBN. So as the media landscape continues to fracture further and further the same way that major media companies are trying to get a bite over, over the top streaming so too are these fringe MAGA platforms.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, they definitely are. And they, in many cases are getting hundreds of thousands of views on their, on their streams and on their videos, and certainly in the aggregate per month, millions of views across all the different platforms they're on. And then of course we have Rumble as well, which is a Peter Thiel-funded alternative to [00:11:00] YouTube, which is running all kinds of openly racist white nationalist content and has no problem with it, except when occasionally they get called out for something extremely egregious that is undeniable.

Extremist spotlight: Steve Bannon, MAGA's mastermind

SHEFFIELD: But in the case though, with some of the channels themselves, Steve Bannon is definitely the star over at Real America's Voice. And we know that he will play a role for a second Trump White House, because he worked in the first one. But he was fired so early on in the Trump White House the first time that I think to some degree, unless you're really into analyzing and reading right-wing media, I think people might've forgotten just what he was up to and how awful he was.

So I'm going to just play one of the clips that he said, this was something that he said in 2020, which got him banned from Twitter and Facebook when he said this.

(Begin video clip)

STEVE BANNON: Second term, second term kicks off with firing Ray, firing Fauci.

Now, I actually want to go a step [00:12:00] further, but I realize the president is a kind hearted man and a good man. I'd actually like to go back to the old times of Tudor England. I'd put the heads on pikes, right? I'd put them at the two corners of the White House. As a warning to federal bureaucrats, you either get with the program or you're gone.

Time to stop playing games. Blow it all out. Put Rick Grinnell today as the interim head of the FBI. That'll, that'll light some, that'll light them up, right?

Unidentified Man: You know what, Steve? Just yesterday, there was the anniversary of the hanging of two Tories in Philadelphia. These were Quaker businessmen who had cohabitated, if you will, with the British while they were occupying Philadelphia.

These people were hung. This is what we used to do to traitors.

BANNON: That's how you won the revolution. Nobody wants to talk about it, but the Revolution wasn't some sort of garden party, right? It was not, it was a civil war. It was a civil war.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: So, yeah. And that is somebody who, would [00:13:00] like to be Donald Trump's chief of staff once again. And Matt, when you watch that clip, a lot, some of these MAGA media figures, far-right figures, they like to say: 'Well, I was just exaggerating for dramatic effect. And I'm not actually trying to do that.' How serious can we take those claims? What's your take on when they say we shouldn't take that seriously?

GERTZ: I think you should assume that they will go as far as they are allowed to go, as far as they are able to go. And the last several years have been an exercise in removing any guardrails that might exist on what they might be able to do if they were given power.

I mean, as you mentioned, Steve Bannon was someone who was fired fairly early on from the Trump administration someone who had been an early supporter of Donald Trump someone who chaired his campaign in its final stages in [00:14:00] 2016. But there were at the time some numbers of Republicans, even within the White House, who thought that someone like Steve Bannon was going too far.

What we've seen both throughout Trump's administration and certainly in the years since the 2020 election and January 6th is a steady move to purge critics of Donald Trump, purge people who might stand up against anything he might do from positions of power within the Republican party.

It is very much Trump's party now. It is effectively a cult, and because of that, if people like Bannon are put in positions of power, they will have a much more ability to carry out whatever they want to do than they had during Trump's previous administration.

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SHEFFIELD: [00:15:00] Yeah, that's right. And to your point, one of the things that he did say explicitly is that, denying the reality that Donald Trump lost in 2020 should be a core platform of the Republican party and, and a prerequisite for working in a second Trump White House. So we'll roll the tape.

(Begin video clip)

STEVE BANNON: If you don't believe that Trump won in 2020 was stolen, you shouldn't be a senior party of you shouldn't be a senior member of the RNC, you just shouldn't. It's not a loyalty test It's a logic test because the whole thing flows from that and we wouldn't have spent 350 million dollars Remember in economics, you have two types of costs the types of costs that cost you money and resources You look at that. Hey, here's what's going to cost me, but the other is opportunity cost.

What could I've done with this? These resources if I'd done taken another course of action. What does that course of action looks like?

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: So, yeah, I mean, he's basically, [00:16:00] and he's gotten his, his way on that. I mean, he, he made that remark just last month as we were recording this, I said that in February.

And I think he was describing a reality that already existed, pretty much right, Madeline?

PELTZ: Absolutely. And it's an, it's a reality that he created through his show War Room. The comment that about the RNC is one tiny data point in the overall picture of the Republican party and the right-wing media at the moment, which is that this is the attitude that the myth, the lie that the election was stolen in 2020 lives on and not only that, but is a central point that they are driving home to their base as in an attempt to motivate them to vote. And that's the core of their strategy at this point, all these months out, and we'll see how it trends over time.

But we arrived here today by years of driving this point [00:17:00] home again and again, since before any ballots were cast in the 2020 election, to the chaotic post election period to leading up to January 6th, every single day since. They've been driving home this idea that the election was stolen and that Trump's return in 2024 is a act of vengeance and revenge.

And you've seen that on the campaign trail in some of the comments that Trump has been making. It's a central refrain that the advisors closest to him are trying to distance themselves from to very little success.

GERTZ: Just to add to that, table stakes right now to become someone in a position of authority in a future Trump administration is acknowledging and, as Bannon says, believing that the 2020 election was stolen.

Table stakes for becoming Trump's VP pick. Is acknowledging or [00:18:00] saying out loud in public that if you had been in Mike Pence's position you would have done whatever Trump wanted to ensure that he could remain in power, throw out electoral votes, whatever anyone who gets in that position is going to do so because they were willing to come forward and say that.

And Steve Bannon is the person who's ensuring that that's the case.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and it's that's an incredibly dangerous loyalty test that he's having. He's claiming it's not. But of course, that's what it is. And, either you're going to be somebody who's so insanely delusional that you actually believe that, the nonsense, or you're so sociopathic that you will say it anyway and not believe it.

And, neither one of those scenarios is somebody who I think most people would want to be in a significant position of power in the United States.

Project 2025: The Christian right's plan to impose its doctrines with the federal bureaucracy

SHEFFIELD: And of course, Steve Bannon [00:19:00] is just one of the cogs in this machine and the report that you guys compiled talks about many other people.

And one of the core things that they're doing and and they're using this kind of plausible deniability strategy of farming out a lot of the planning to third-party groups, so that they can say, well, we didn't really have anything to do with this. That's unofficial. These are other people that aren't working with the campaign, but if the campaign themselves isn't doing anything and isn't releasing any plans, then, isn't that, that's certainly fair to go off, I think. Can you Madeline, tell us about this whole Project 2025 thing?

PELTZ: Sure. Project 2025 is a initiative led by the conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation. It is based off of a 900 or page policy book that covers every possible plank of a potential hypothetical [00:20:00] Trump, second Trump administration's agenda from governance and staffing policy to a review of every single department at the federal level, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, education policy, and certainly climate denial is factors very heavily. And the initiative is backed by a coalition of over 100 conservative allied organizations. So it's not just the Heritage Foundation. It's the entire conservative movement that has built out the most robust infrastructure behind a potential transition to a second Trump administration.

And that's what the 2025 refers to. At the forefront of this effort is, the first thing they really put forward is it is an attempt to purge the civil service to replace career bureaucrats, experienced diplomats, lawyers et cetera, with Trump loyalists. And they've [00:21:00] repeatedly emphasized that loyalty is prioritized over competency.

That's a very, very important thing. At the very forefront of, of the message of Project 2025 and they've implemented a system of loyalty tests that that are meant to vet applicants into their system to potentially staff a second Trump administration and really dismantle any safeguards that Any safeguards within the federal bureaucracy and consolidate control under what is called the unitary executive theory.

But and a lot of their policy plans are centered around the idea of Christian nationalism that America is 1st and foremost, a Christian nation and that, Biblical principles are at the forefront of any governing agenda for the next Republican administration.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. That's right. And, and we'll talk about that more specifically in one of the other people that we talk about next here, but Kevin Roberts, [00:22:00] who is the president of the Heritage Foundation, he also has explicitly said that they have even more radical plans but they're not sharing them with

(Begin video clip)

KEVIN ROBERTS: The basis of the plan is public. You can see that at project 2025. org. There are parts of the plan that we will not share with the left, the executive orders, the rules and regulations, just like a good football team.

We wouldn't want to tip off our playbook to the left.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: So, Matt do you think that the national news media in the reporting side, are they taking this stuff seriously, do you think so?

GERTZ: It's always hard to say. I mean, when you come down to it, if you are interested in information about project 2025, you can find it in accounts from the New York Times and other major outlets.

Are they flooding the zone with constant coverage about every aspect of how extreme these policies are? No, they [00:23:00] are not. When you look at the polling, you see that the American public has really been able to forget about a lot of the worst aspects of the Trump administration and as a result are not, I think, properly prepared for how bad things could be if he returns to that position.

I mean, part of, part of this, and I think. The reason why Schedule F is such an important part of this discussion is while Trump was able to accomplish a lot of terrible things, he was at times stymied by the federal bureaucracy by Republicans and Democrats who would block his various actions.

And people like Kevin Roberts and the Project 2025 plan and Steve Bannon are all really designed to make sure that doesn't happen again. Loyalty to Trump is the first principle [00:24:00] of anyone who goes into a future Trump administration, and that they will do whatever he says without considerations of whether or not it's a good idea or legal or ethical or anything else.

Extremist spotlight: Russ Vought, architect of Christian supremacism

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And as you said, Madeline, that a core component of this is Christian supremacism or Christian nationalism, as people sometimes call it. And this is a bedrock principle for the American reactionary movement. They've always had this desire. But the Republicans who came before Trump, the politicians, they were not really interested in doing that. Because in many cases, they were not, like Ronald Reagan was not religious really at all. And George H. W. Bush, what we seem to be kind of just like a, generic kind of a Anglican, I believe he was when when he was alive and.

But Trump, he doesn't really, he's not religious himself either, of course, but he knows that these [00:25:00] people are his most rabid supporters and will work tirelessly to give him power, and that's enough for him.

There's a guy named Russ Vought who is he is kind of the leader behind all of this, the Christian nationalist stuff. And let's talk about him in a bit here, but let's play something from him first.

(Begin video clip)

STEVE BANNON: Are you, you're, I guess your idea is to create kind of, uh, Handmaid's Tale and uh, and, and Cromwell's uh, you know, Cromwell's Puritan movement. All in the united states at the same time that punch list she went to went through is pretty uh, It is it's pretty interesting. Is is there any reality? To uh their overreaction and meltdown on all this sir

RUSS VOUGHT: No, they're just trying to scare Christians across the country from being engaged in the political process. And this is actually part of a 100 year strategy, and it's to level accusations on any particular regime priority, whether that's uh, [00:26:00] uh, you know, having a, a, a rule of law that considers all of us on the basis of being made in the image of God.

They call us bigots for believing that. They call us racist for believing that. And now in this area, they want us if you're a Christian, they want to call you a Christian nationalist. And all we're saying, all I'm saying is that we were meant to be a Christian nation. We should be a Christian nation. We should provide religious liberty for everyone in this country to practice their faith.

But that the Constitution, the system doesn't work. Western civilization does not work without the underpinnings of a Judeo-Christian worldview. That is the bedrock for all of our laws. So it is not unnatural for Christians to be a part of the, the political sphere, the public square, and to say, this is what I believe.

This is the bedrock for which I believe it. And to have it reflected in our laws, in just policies, in healthy—

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: [00:27:00] Yeah, so it's I mean, that's and once again, just to go back, Matt, to what we were talking about earlier, like, this, of course, is a conversation that occurs on Steve Bannon's show, because he is the hub for all this stuff. But he once again is doing this 'You shouldn't take it seriously when we say extreme things.'

This is a very, very common rhetorical trope for these guys. And it's a way to kind of shield their extremism to make people not take it seriously, even their own supporters seems like. Or I don't know, what's going on here?

GERTZ: I mean, I think a big part of it is, is interfactional in nature. I mean, obviously the Christian nationalists are a increasingly powerful part of the Republican party, but they're not the only part of the Republican party. And so, keeping at least a little bit quiet on exactly what that movement is trying to accomplish is in its [00:28:00] interests right now.

I mean, you could, you could sort of hear it when he kind of throws in the, the Judeo-Christian worldview in the end there, you, the Jews can have a cookie. It's fine. Yes, it's a Christian nation and everyone else here is just our guests, but don't worry, it'll, it'll, it'll all work out.

They, they are trying, and, and you see that every time this idea of Christian nationalist makes its way into a, a mass audience. The, the instant recoil from the people who establish its principles is to say, Oh, no, no, this is just an attack on Christians. It's fairly dishonest, but that that's basically par for the course.

SHEFFIELD: It is and for people who are interested we actually have on Theory of Change done a couple of episodes on the history of the term, Judeo-Christian. It was completely made up. And doesn't really have any sort of meaningful context in the, in the American legal system, because the American legal system is mostly based [00:29:00] on Roman law and English law. And those, of course, really have nothing to do with the Bible, needless to say.

So, we'll have links in the show notes for anybody who wants to check those out. Did you want to weigh in on that clip at all, Madeline, or we can move on?

PELTZ: Yeah, I think Christian nationalism is just the latest nomenclature on the right for the longstanding Christian white supremacist agenda that has gripped the Republican party. And the fruits that you're seeing bear today really started being organized in the 90s, in a lot of ways with the Moral Majority, the election of George W. Bush and the first mobilization of evangelicals as a major voting block.

And as the Republican party has further radicalized, moved towards explicit white supremacist ideology, the religious fundamentalism has fused with Trumpism to create [00:30:00] what they're calling Christian nationalism.

And it's really just repackaging of longstanding trends on the right. Trump isn't exactly a churchy guy. He isn't someone who. Is you see going to mass every day, but they have somehow turned him into this Jesus-like figure. And so so there is a fusion between the brash sort of playboy billionaire style and the religious fundamentalism that has undergirded the right for decades.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Yeah. And, and, to circle back on the Judeo-Christian term, like it's as, as you were saying, Matt, it is kind of a fig leaf to try to pretend to be religiously pluralist. But it's notable that, they don't mention, well, what about Hindus? What about Muslims? What about atheists? All of those non-Christians and non Jews do not have religious freedom. [00:31:00]

And if you look, if you delve deeper within the right wing theological systems, they do explicitly state that, that only Christians deserve full religious freedom, and Jews can have some, and everybody else, they're lucky if they live here at all.

Extremist spotlight: Mike Davis, MAGA's authoritarian lawyer

SHEFFIELD: And, one of the other figures who is very pivotal to this MAGA media universe and political sort of kitchen cabinet for Donald Trump is this guy named Mike Davis. I don't have a good clip for him because most of his stuff is Twitter posting. His most radical stuff is on Twitter. He did say, for instance. How about gas chamber for members of Congress lying to and he has talked about putting various people that he doesn't like in a gulag multiple times and it's, it's extremely concerning, right Madeline?

PELTZ: Yeah, Mike Davis spends [00:32:00] a good portion of his day unloading his unfiltered stream of consciousness onto the internet. A lot of that ends up being racist, targeted attacks against prominent Black women in American politics. As you said, he has many fantasies of extrajudicial murder in response to crime problems in American cities.

He is a advocate for undermining the rule of law, especially at the executive level. And he is the founder of this think tank, legal think tank called Article Three Project that really sprung onto the scene in the right-wing media with the nomination of Kentonji Brown Jackson. And he was pretty instrumental in pushing this smear that she was somehow a defender of heinous crimes against children. That was really something that Mike Davis drew drove.

And so, I think it's telling that so much of his profile has been established by [00:33:00] these heinous attacks on black women.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, and it's important to note that. Mike Davis is not just some, random guy shit posting on Twitter. He is somebody who was a clerk for Brett Kavanaugh when he was in lower a lower level judge.

And he, Steve Bannon often touts him as somebody he would like to see be the attorney general. And if not that have some, some non confirmed White House position within the Trump administration. And that seems extremely likely that he would have such a a high status position.

So I mean, this guy, I think out of all the people that we are talking about here today is, to me, the most deranged and sociopathic individual, I would say.

GERTZ: I will say that Mike Davis is the only person on this list who has called for me personally to be arrested and jailed. So there, there is that yeah, he just, he spends a [00:34:00] lot of his time going on different podcasts and going on social media and explaining that he has lists of people that he has developed, who would be arrested, charged, imprisoned, deported.

If you were to have a high ranking position in the Justice Department, it's never clear how much of that is a shtick or how much of it is serious. Again my general tendency is to assume that these people will go as far as they are able to go and that shtick can very easily become reality under those circumstances.

So, yes, I mean, the fact that he is someone who can be mentioned by Donald Trump's son by Steve Bannon as a possible attorney general pick is concerning. After all, the entire The view that Donald Trump has of the Justice Department is an organization that is supposed to exist to defend him and his allies and punish his [00:35:00] enemies. He got very, very angry during his term in the White House when the Justice Department did not behave that way and I think one of his top priorities, if he returns to that office, will be to make sure that the Justice Department does not exist as an organization separate from his personal whims, and someone like Mike Davis would certainly be willing to be the hammer that Trump is looking for.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And he would certainly know what layer, what buttons to push, and who to fire and, and what policies to put in because he knows it from the inside as a clerk for a high level federal judge.

Right-wing activists frequently talk about imprisoning political criticis while also claiming that Republicans are victimized by "cancel culture"

SHEFFIELD: To your point about these lists of people that he claims he wants to imprison or do whatever to, as we played earlier, wants to fire people who don't agree with him about 2020.

The mainstream media is very, very [00:36:00] terrible at promoting right-wing narratives about cancel culture. That they allow far right activists to claim that they're not allowed to discuss anything in public, that no one with a conservative opinion is allowed to participate in public life. And yet, you have people who would potentially be Cabinet-level officials in a Trump administration talking about imprisoning people for political disagreements.

I mean, we should never hear another word about cancel culture in the political system when they're talking like this. I mean, what do you think?

GERTZ: Yeah, I mean, the top priority of Donald Trump, if he is elected president, he has said, is retribution. He wants to punish people he dislikes and he wants as many levers of power to do so as possible.

He was kind of inept during his first term in office because he doesn't have a lot of interest in public [00:37:00] policy because he does not have a lot of know how of how the system works. But what Project 2025 is supposed to do is ensure that there is a real plan to carry out Trump's mission of retribution against the left, against the parts of the country that didn't support him, and it's really a pretty scary situation.

SHEFFIELD: It is. And we saw a preview of that with the Trump administration's COVID policy, that when the pandemic first broke out, the Trump White House explicitly said, well, we don't have to do very much because it's in a Democrat area. Which is, where the, the initial deaths were primarily in San Francisco and New York City.

And so, they've shown that they are capable of doing this and, and Project 2025 is, is the road map of how they'll do it on a much, much greater [00:38:00] scale.

Extremist spotlight: Stephen Miller, speechwriter and gulag designer

SHEFFIELD: And to that point, though we have another figure that is worth talking about here. People have, he's definitely more well known than Mike Davis. It's Stephen Miller, Donald Trump's longtime speechwriter and anti immigrant activist.

(Begin video clip)

MIKE DAVIS: And with this non controversial topic, immigration we have president Biden importing 10 million people into this country. These, a lot of these people are. Unvetted. They don't share our values. They don't want to assimilate many of them.

And so I'm going to start this with Stephen Miller, who's been the tip of the spear on immigration. What should we be doing in a Trump 47 administration to fix this disaster, this invasion of our southern border?

STEPHEN MILLER: Well, as I say sometimes, the immigration issue is extremely simple. The policies involved in fixing it are very complicated.

The simple part is, seal the border, deport all the illegals. [00:39:00] Now, that's the, that's the short answer, right? It's very, you get in, you have two policy objectives that you proceed with utter determination on. Seal the border, no illegals in, everyone here goes out. That's very straightforward. In terms of the policy sets to accomplish this, as President Trump showed in his first term, It's, it's a, it's a series of interlocking domestic and foreign policies to accomplish this goal.

In no particular order, just to rattle off a few fast, you have your safe third agreements, you have remain in Mexico, finish the wall, you have robust prosecutions of illegal aliens, you do interior repatriation flights to Mexico and not back to the north of Mexico, it's very important, you re implement Title 42, you have several muscular 212Fs, that's the travel ban authority, We did a few of those in the Trump administration.

You would bring those back and add new ones on top of that. You would establish large scale staging grounds for removal flights. So you grab illegal immigrants and then [00:40:00] you move them to the staging grounds. And that's what the planes are waiting for federal law enforcement to then move those illegals home.

You deputize the National Guard to carry out immigration enforcement. And then you also deploy the military to the southern border, not just with a mission to observe, but with an impedance and denial mission. In other words, you reassert the fundamental constitutional principle that you don't have a right to enter into our sovereign territory, to even request the asylum claim.

The military has the right to establish a fortress position on the border and to say no one can cross here at all.

(End video clip)

SHEFFIELD: So, yeah, that's actually some incredibly radical policy that he just described there. Matt, you want to kind of summarize what, like, if people aren't familiar with some of the terminology that he used there, what exactly did he mean?

GERTZ: What he means [00:41:00] is that they're going to deputize the National Guard from red states and nationalize it in blue states. They're going to then basically go door to door through US cities rounding up anyone who looks like they might be An immigrant, which means, brown people, effectively. And then they're gonna try to put them in camps and deport them somehow.

This is a horrifying plan. It is one that is against our fundamental values. It is one that would cause horrific damage to families across the country. It is also a, a very poorly thought out plan. And because of that will almost would almost certainly be a total shit show disaster. We're talking about millions and millions of people, some of whom who have been here for decades trying to round them up and put them on planes is going to cost a substantial fraction of the U. S. Budget for many years. This is very complicated as well [00:42:00] as sort of, villainous in its very nature but it's something that people like Stephen Miller are saying that they want to do and something that Trump supports and throws as much weight of his weight behind as possible.

And so, again, we need to take seriously that these sorts of horrific policies, which are very obviously in violation of human rights. U. S. law treaty obligations and basic humanity could actually come to pass.

SHEFFIELD: They could. Yeah. And I mean, these are prison camps like that. He's talking about large prison camps with millions of tens of millions of people potentially being constructed in the United States.

Why MAGA authoritarians lean into absurdity to describe their extreme policies

SHEFFIELD: And Trump, as you said, has in fact, endorsed this idea. But to the extent that you hear coverage of Donald Trump's more negative aspects, it's more, he said this thing he, he, he made this [00:43:00] post on his website and it's not so much about the policy.

And I don't know if there's been any polling on this that I can think of off the top of my head, but on abortion, for instance, multiple pollsters have asked the public, who do you think is responsible for Roe versus Wade ending?

The majority of people say, do not say Donald Trump was responsible for it. And I think a similar thing, if you ask the average American, do you know that Donald Trump wants to build prison camps for millions of people in the United States, and do you support that? It's almost unbelievable in some sense, right, Madeline?

And that's goes back to the idea of the absurdity, that they intermingle the authoritarian and the absurd simultaneously, such that it won't be taken seriously, is what I would say. What's your thought?

PELTZ: Yeah, and I think that's why you see the Biden administration or the Biden campaign really zooming in on people, Project 2025 [00:44:00] as a heuristic for these extreme policies, I think.

In that CPAC panel, I was in the room when that panel was happening, and just the extreme arrogance and hubris of these people that this, the idea that these policies are widely popular, I think, is a miscalculation on their part.

In this past week, Miller, Bannon and others have made clear that the results from Super Tuesday and the general election candidacy, presumptively of Donald Trump, will be a referendum on mass deportations.

And that's the bet that they're making. And I think that it's, It's critical for the mainstream media to make that front and center, that the top priority of a second Trump administration is not kitchen table issues like health care or taxes. It's punishing brown people [00:45:00] and making sweeping assumptions about who should and shouldn't be here.

And then ripping the fathers and mothers and children out of their long held neighborhoods and sending them back to a country that many people don't know as their home. And so this is the choice that's in front of us right now.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. And in many cases because they have also talked about getting rid of the idea of birthright citizenship, they're talking about sending people to a country they have never even been to.

And dumping them off there. And it's just, yeah, like this, this is the kind of stuff that the mainstream media should be talking about that instead of, particular scuttlebutt about, what attorneys of Trump are mad at each other. Or, these, these things he, nasty thing he said about a judge or whatever.

Like, obviously those things deserve some amount of coverage, but the things that [00:46:00] people should know are the, are the, is the actual agenda and it's. It needs a lot more coverage on it, what's your take on that?

GERTZ: Yeah, I think that's right. I mean, Donald Trump is someone who says that immigrants are poisoning the blood of the country and that his political enemies are vermin.

That is a level of rhetoric that is so wildly oppressive. inappropriate, so, out of step with America's historic values, that it really should be front page news every time he says something like that, but it's not. I think in many cases we've seen the mainstream press become kind of inured to the his most extreme language and has really in by doing that allowed the American public to kind of fall asleep on some of these horrific statements and plans.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah, well, I think that is the, the last of [00:47:00] our clips here that we've got for the episode. Is there anything that either one of you wanted to add or feel like we didn't touch on that? We should

PELTZ: Just the Media Matters is sharpening our focus on the MAGA media and we're going to continue to ramp up coverage over the next year less than a year to the election.

And this is something that we're really closely paying attention to. And we hope that our audience is too.

SHEFFIELD: Yeah. Okay. And I should also mention that people should also check out the full guide because the people that we discussed here on this conversation, this, this was only a subset of the individuals who are covered.

And then there is a whole array of other people who may not have an official role in the Donald Trump White House, but they certainly speak for the people who would work in there. And sometimes they're used to kind of test a idea or concept with complete plausible [00:48:00] deniability because they can say, well, I don't have any position with (Trump.) And I say that because this happened with regard to abortion and no exceptions for any kind of abortion and very early, bans on the procedure, like in vitro fertilization, and now they're ramping it up against birth control.

Like that's. This, that's another critical area where I think that the average, non political person especially if you are somebody who can, have children, that this is something that will directly impact you and they want to take it away.

All right, well, Madeline, so for people who want to keep up with you on social media where should people go for that?

PELTZ: I'm on all of the platforms. My handle is PeltzMadeline, I'm on X, but also on Threads and Bluesky, so you can check me out there. But most importantly, just follow my work on the Media Matters website.

SHEFFIELD: Okay. And how about you?

GERTZ: And I'm @MattGertz, [00:49:00] not @MattGaetz, at all of the major platforms as well.

SHEFFIELD: Okay, great. Well, I encourage everybody to follow you on those places and thanks for being here.

PELTZ: Thanks so much.

GERTZ: Thank you.

SHEFFIELD: All right, so that is the program for today. I appreciate everybody joining us for the conversation. And you can always get more if you go to theoryofchange.show. You can get the video, audio, and transcript of all the episodes.

And if you are a paid subscribing member, thank you very much. You are making this possible, and I really, really do appreciate it. And I understand if you can't afford to subscribe right now but you can help out the show if you just leave a short little review on Apple Podcasts, tell people that you think it's great, that actually is really helpful. It helps Apple or Spotify or any of the other ones that you might be listening to recommend it to the other people who are on the site. So if you can do that, I really do appreciate that.

And if you're watching on YouTube, please do click the like and subscribe button so you can get notified whenever we post a new [00:50:00] episode. That is helpful.

So that's it for this one. I will see you next time.

Theory of Change Podcast With Matthew Sheffield
Lots of people want to change the world. But how does change happen? Join Matthew Sheffield and his guests as they explore larger trends and intersections in politics, religion, technology, and media.