Dana Milbank on “Destructionist” House Republicans, the Trump-Led Primary, and the Joys of Gardening

Dana Milbank on “Destructionist” House Republicans, the Trump-Led Primary, and the Joys of Gardening

“Have I been too glum?” Dana Milbank asked me.

I had just spent 20 minutes with the Washington Post columnist talking about the GOP, the party that is currently struggling to unite around a House Speaker after ousting Kevin McCarthy. The party that appears to be on the cusp of nominating Donald Trump—the twice-impeached former president facing four separate felony indictments, who less than three years ago capped off his term by inciting a failed insurrection at the Capitol. The party that is not just in disarray—but is dragging the country down with it into a dark hole of conspiracy theories, divisiveness, and disinformation. Was Milbank being depressing? Maybe. But what else was he supposed to be, given the matter at hand?

“I think your tone was appropriate,” I told him.

In an interview, which has been edited for clarity and length, the opinion writer discussed the chaos of the House GOP and the Trump-dominated presidential primary; the comfort he’s taken in writing columns about gardening instead of politics; and The Destructionists, out in paperback later this month, which traces the history of the Republican Party’s antidemocratic streak from the early 1990s to now. “It is our democratic way of life at stake here,” as Milbank told me. “I think it’s the number one issue, because without a functioning democracy, no other issue that you care about can be resolved.”

Vanity Fair: The hardcover of your book came out in August 2022. Would you say, in your view, the outlook for democracy has improved, worsened, stayed about the same, or been more of a mixed bag since then?

Dana Milbank: Unfortunately, I think it’s sort of steadily worsening. It spreads cancer-like—to use that overworked metaphor. You know, in many ways, I think after [Joe Biden’s] election, and that little event of January 6—I think people thought, Alright, we’ve got a reprieve here. Things are going to return to normal. But that never happened. We returned to some sense of calm—you didn’t wake up one day and find out, you know, we’re trying to buy Greenland or something. But the same ills that brought us 2016 and the Trump presidency, the January 6 insurrection—they’re still there. The disinformation, the white nationalism, just sort of this hacking away at the institutions of democracy. That has continued apace. So you’ve seen just a continuation of the sort of inability to govern—the anti-government actions that at this moment have just completely paralyzed the House. And then you’ve seen it with the constant attacks on the rule of law and the prosecutors and the judges in the various Trump cases. You’ve seen it in the ways people have gone after the president, who is somehow simultaneously completely senile yet also a criminal mastermind. And you see it with [the way] disinformation has become the coin of the realm. Once you start down that track, it just keeps getting worse and worse, so that’s the most worrisome thing—that the disinformation is just so commonplace. Now we can’t even have a debate in the United States, because we have no overlapping, shared set of facts anymore.