Ezra Klein Interviews Mark Leibovich: What We Are in Now Is an Era of Profound Party Change

From a New York Times story headlined “Ezra Klein Interviews Mark Leibovich”:

EZRA KLEIN: I’m Ezra Klein. This is “The Ezra Klein Show.”

America has a two-party system. And if you go by the language we use, we’ve had the same two-party system since the mid-1800s — Republicans and Democrats. That is the essential, unchanging competition that defines American politics.

But the stability of that language obscures really big upheavals in what those parties are. Democrats were once the party of racist hierarchy. Later, they became the party of civil rights and Barack Obama. Republicans were once the party of Abraham Lincoln. Later, they became the party of reaction and Jesse Helms.

But you don’t just have to look on the time scale of centuries. This, what we are in right now, has been an era of profound party change. The Republican Party of George W. Bush is not the Republican Party of Donald Trump. Hell, the Republican Party of Paul Ryan, which existed during the Republican Party of Donald Trump, is not the Republican Party of Donald Trump.

If Republicans win in 2022 and even more so in 2024, the Republican Party that will take power then will be different than the one that took power in 2017. That was a party in uneasy coalition with Donald Trump and the forces he represented and channeled. Now Donald Trump is the establishment of the Republican Party. He is its power broker. He is its center. Power in the party flows from his favor.

If many Republicans, I think probably most elected Republicans, in 2017 wanted to use Donald Trump to their ends, in 2022 they’re eager to be used by him for his ends. What does it mean for that party to win power? What even is that party?

This year, Mark Leibovich, a staff writer at “The Atlantic,” published a unique book on the Trump era. It’s one that hit a side of it that has been the most fascinating to me personally. “Thank You For Your Servitude,” his book, isn’t about Donald Trump. It is about the Republicans who bent the knee to him. It is about why they did it, and how they justified it, and how they came in many cases to enjoy it, to love it, to be proud of it.

And so what Leibovich ends up tracking with really extraordinary access to some of these key players and politicians is the way the Republican Party changed in the era of Trump through the eyes of individual Republicans who were changing. So what does that tell us about what this Republican Party will be if it is in charge of Congress next year and the White House a couple years after that?

EZRA KLEIN: So tell me how the Republican Party that might win the midterms in 2022 is different than the one that won the midterms in 2010.

MARK LEIBOVICH: I think it’s different because the stakes are higher. I think it’s different because we’re at the next degree. I mean, Donald Trump has basically rewritten the script of nihilistic behavior within the Republican Party. It’s not too much to say now that democracy is somewhat on the ballot, and things like peaceful transfers of power and majority rule and rule of law are all things that have been thrown into some turmoil over the last few years by the Trump era.

And it’s so bizarre to say, but in 2010 what were we talking about? I mean, the weird — whatever the Tea Party represented, it was kind of ephemeral. There was anger at Obamacare. I mean, that at least was a policy proposition. So now it feels much more foundational.

EZRA KLEIN: Does the Republican Party believe different things or have a different vision for the country today than it did then?

MARK LEIBOVICH: It’s hard to say what their vision for the country is now except for — I mean, you could put a large blanket around the two and say they were both driven by self-perpetuation and fear, whether it was of getting primaried by Tea Party candidate X in 2010 or getting attacked by Donald Trump and winding up on the wrong side of him and on the wrong side of a Republican primary that was going to put you out of work.

But I think to some degree I don’t, even looking back, don’t remember any great sort of policy imperative other than the reflexive tax cuts or kill Obamacare, which I don’t even know they were sincere about then. Now I don’t think there’s any policy framework at all to what they’re doing except for the cult of personality around Trump, the fear of winding up on the wrong side of that cult, if you want to call it that, and what have you. But no, I just think it’s gone from one flavor of nihilism to the next.

EZRA KLEIN: That’s interesting. Let me try to push you on this. So when I think of the Republican Party that I covered in 2010, it’s around the time that Paul Ryan is beginning to rise up. He’s got these really intense budgets. And I remember being one of the early people to cover those budgets.

And my argument about them and why they’re worth taking seriously is here’s a Republican finally saying and putting to paper with a lot of magic asterisks and bad budget math — but still — what they really believe and what they want to do. They want to balance the budget on the backs of the poor in a really profound way. They not just want to repeal Obamacare. They want to privatize Medicare and cut Medicaid to the bone.

And Ryan previously had been a big advocate of privatizing Social Security. Ryan, a couple years later, of course, becomes vice-presidential candidate and nominee and then speaker. And so there was a sense to me that the Republican Party was this very extreme policy coalition, that they had policies that were unbelievably unpopular, and they tried very hard to figure out how to either not talk about them or muddy up what it was they were talking about. But they believed in something.

And now I think it’s almost the reverse, that they believe in really nothing policy-wise. Some of them will still make Ryan-like sounds, if you read some of the random budgets that various conservative backbenchers will put out today. But the party seems animated much more by a sense of resentment, a will to power, a fear that the people who have captured the commanding heights of American society under the banner of wokeness are going to annihilate them. And whatever policy they ever believed in has more or less collapsed. Whatever you have to say to win that power is just fine. So they’ve become, in a weird way, less extreme on policy, but much more extreme in the threat or their views on the fundamental political system they’re part of.

MARK LEIBOVICH: You might be challenging me, but I basically agree with you 100 percent. So I mean, I would agree. I mean, I think Paul Ryan was criticized a great deal. He was dismissed as a lightweight. I’ve been criticized over the years for taking him, I think, more seriously than many people in the media did.

At least there was a policy framework around then. I think it sort of started chipping away fairly early on after 2010. I think if you look at when some of the early Tea Party members of Congress sort of were forcing John Boehner into the debt ceiling gamesmanship, I mean, that to me was a brute force tactic against not so much Obamacare or the debt ceiling per se, but just as a way to mess with the incumbent president.

And then when you sort of jump ahead a few years, Mitch McConnell blockading Merrick Garland’s nomination, that was the same bizarre, dramatic busting of norms which became a sign of blunt force that usurped any kind of policy proposition whatsoever. It was about keeping the government closed or sort of holding Obama hostage. It was about basically stealing a Supreme Court seat.

And then Trump was that blunt force expression of a candidate of politics in general and, again, like any policy underpinning whatsoever, got lost. Now, yes, I would say their big policy victory was tax reform or tax — whatever the neutral way of saying it was. It turned out to be not that popular. It blew up the budget. But at least Paul Ryan had that box checked before he retired.

Now, again, four years out from that, there is nothing. It is just nothing but brute force. And instead of Social Security being at risk or Obamacare being at risk, it’s, again, peaceful transfers of power, Democratic elections being at risk, and, again, things that I still find myself struggling to get my head around. So yeah, I agree. I just think that we’ve seen this erosion over time that keeps getting scarier and scarier.

EZRA KLEIN: It sometimes seems to me that the stability in the names of the parties belies how much is going on here. I mean, it was called the Republican Party then. It’s called the Republican Party now.

But I want to ask you about a contrast here. You go back to — again, let’s use 2010 as our example. And you look at who the leaders of the Democratic Party. You have Barack Obama. You have Joe Biden. You have Nancy Pelosi in the House. You have Steny Hoyer as her deputy. You have, in the Senate, Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer.

And Harry Reid has died, but there’s been a tremendous amount of stability in the leadership of the Democratic Party. Now, Bernie Sanders rose up. A.O.C. rose up. But in terms of who still has institutional power today, it is held almost eerily steadily. I mean, the level of stability in the House Democratic caucus is weird.

And then you look at the Republican Party in that period and who are the leaders or about to be the leaders. So I think John Boehner, Paul Ryan is rising. You have the Bushes maybe, the Cheneys maybe. John McCain was just the nominee. Mitt Romney will be the next nominee, Mitch McConnell. And with the only possible exception of McConnell, who I think is viewed with at least some suspicion, every one of these others is now something like a heretic within the party. Tell me about just the collapse of the relationship between the entire leadership class of the Republican Party circa 2010 and today.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Well, I mean, McCarthy became whip after that election. And he didn’t really stand for anything then, and he doesn’t stand for anything now, I mean, except, again, just survival, being in the frame, being in the young guns back in that period and now being on the right side of Trump and hoping that he can still be someone who can work with him.

But you’re right. I mean, I think Trump himself has — not only did he just storm the gates and get the nomination, and then win the presidency, but the seed corn of the Republican Party have been this cast of somewhat outlandish but in many cases very effective imitators of him, whether it’s Ron DeSantis or then even far downstream you have — if Dr. Oz, or Herschel Walker, or Marjorie Taylor Greene are ascendant.

I mean, so yes. I mean, these are all people who came from the completely dramatic reinvention that Trump reimposed — or imposed on the party in 2016. I don’t think the Democrats’ problem right now is the lack of new or fresh blood, to be honest with you. And I don’t think the Republicans’ problem right now is the lack of or need for newer fresh blood. I mean, I think the personalities themselves have sort of written this story. And the tension is — it is what it is.

Yeah, I think it would be wonderful if Biden didn’t run again. I think it would be wonderful if Pelosi retired. I think it would be wonderful personally if Democrats keep the Senate and someone like Tim Ryan or John Fetterman or Mandela Barnes or Val Demings or someone could all of a sudden become a national figure. But again, I mean, that’s why these elections are so consequential in addition to everything else.

EZRA KLEIN: So you wrote this book that is, I think, distinctive in the Trump literature because it’s not really about Trump. It’s about all the people in the party who bend the knee to him and what their individual and collective rationalizations for doing it are. Why focus there? Tell me about the genesis of the project.

MARK LEIBOVICH: I thought it was an untold story. I didn’t want to try to out-Woodward Bob Woodward or out-Maggie Maggie Haberman. I mean, God bless them both. But I didn’t feel like I had anything to add to the story of who Donald Trump is; what kind of White House intrigue happened; what happened around Jan. 6; who are the Trump supporters out in Ohio that we didn’t understand; and so forth.

Now, I wanted to keep pounding home the message that it is the Kevin McCarthys and the Lindsey Grahams and the Marco Rubios and the Mitch McConnells — and to some degree the Paul Ryans and the Mike Pences that allowed him to happen and continue to allow him to happen. I mean, it is an astounding thing to me that Donald Trump survived everything he survived.

But even after Jan. 6, because we all remember the time when it seemed like this story finally had ended or was winding down, and he continues to be propped up. And I wanted to write a book about what Washington was like and what these years were like through the experience of the enablers and what was the psychology behind the Lindsey Grahams and the Kevin McCarthys of the world that allowed them to make the deals they did, to live with themselves the way they did. And bizarrely, they mostly talked to me and were pretty transparent in ways that I didn’t expect.

But again, I think that the story is much broader than Trump. I think the story is what has happened to the Republican Party and the people who have continued to allow this to happen. Because I think that this is a uniquely dangerous time we’re living through.


EZRA KLEIN: So when I was reading the book, I began thinking about this taxonomy of the way people justified working for Trump. I think it’d be helpful to go through it in some version of this and talk about the individuals as exemplars. Because behind each one person you profile, there are 30, 50, 100 who are doing the same thing in a less obvious way.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Less egregious way, yeah.

EZRA KLEIN: So five categories dominated for me. I want to run them by you, and then we can go through them or through them with any modifications you want to make. So to me, I could see that there were people who understood themselves early on as martyrs. They’re there heroically, working in this clown house to prevent terrible things from happening. There are pragmatists who see themselves as making a transaction with Donald Trump to pass tax cuts or get Supreme Court nominees, or whatever it might be. There are climbers who attached to Donald Trump to further their own career.

There are — I don’t know how to put this — like Democratic accommodationists, people who take the view that whatever you say, I represent these Republican voters. Donald Trump clearly represents them better than I do. They like him more than they like me. So as a representative, it’s on me to accommodate this, to try to see what he’s seeing, and voice it as best I can. And then, of course, there are real believers. First, does that feel like a fair breakdown?

MARK LEIBOVICH: It does. There definitely are true believers. OK. And then what was the fourth one? Because the fourth one made me —

EZRA KLEIN: Accommodationists.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Accommodationists. Yeah.

EZRA KLEIN: The people who are not saying exactly that they believe in him, but it’s a lot of, well, you can’t deny that he has picked up something about the country, and you can’t deny that my voters are out there yelling at me, telling me that he’s right, and he’s our president. And I do represent them in a representative democracy and so.

MARK LEIBOVICH: No, correct. I mean, that’s a big — I mean, there’s a lot of overlap between all these categories. That is a big one. And what I find truly offensive about that category is that it completely forecloses any possibility of leadership.

Now, on the same time you would say, OK, so Liz Cheney has demonstrated leadership by speaking her truth, speaking what I think is an objective truth about what happened Jan. 6, what happened with the election, and so forth, and she will no longer have a seat in Congress in a few months. So maybe she wasn’t pragmatic enough. I would start from a lot of overlap here. I mean, start from a position that virtually everyone except for category five, the true believers, has serious, serious ambivalence at best, contempt at worst for this person and did from the start.

Now, a lot of this is on the record from Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz and Paul Ryan and so forth back from 2016. Paul Ryan is an interesting category because he wasn’t necessarily a climber because he became speaker before Trump was nominated. He, I think, probably was a little too ostentatious in talking about, oh, I never wanted this job. I just want to be chairman of ways and means. I don’t want to be speaker. So he was speaker.

Anyway, he was, but he did not use Trump to make him speaker. But from a policy position, he did — tax cuts and deregulation were two of his real cherished babies over the years. And he did get them by way of Trump.

EZRA KLEIN: Well, let’s talk about him. And so to me — and you can tell me if you think this is wrong. Let’s start with the pragmatist category because I think that was a pretty big one. A lot of people didn’t think Trump was going to win the election, including among the Republicans, then he does. They are there in Washington presumably to do something. Politics is a transactional business.

And I think the calculation many of them make, and I think a lot of them think that calculation came out pretty well in the end — I mean, Paul Ryan tells you in the book he would do it all over again the same way — is, if I work with this guy and I defend this guy when he needs defending and I tell reporters I’m late for lunch when they’re asking me about his latest tweet, I can get these tax cuts passed. I can get maybe Obamacare repealed. It doesn’t work out, but Donald Trump would have signed it. I can get Supreme Court nominees appointed, which they do. And that has had really profound reverberations across American society and made good on very longtime promises to the right wing of the party.

So I think you have this world of the pragmatists who it’s not that they’re exactly pro-Trump, but they’re pro using their power. And to use their power, they have to go into alliance with this guy. And Paul Ryan strikes me as a very, very good example of that, but so too does Mitch McConnell.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, I think Mitch McConnell is almost better. I mean, Mitch McConnell is still putting up with the day-to-day grief, whereas Ryan is sitting on boards, including the Fox News board, and still claiming to be sort of an adult. But no, you’re right.

And when I was writing about Ryan, I remember, in 2018, I mean, he kept throwing the counterfactual back in my face, which was, all right, so I could just pick a fight with him every day, and we would be at war, and we would get absolutely nothing done. And now because I’ve worked it this way, we have our tax cut. And so there is that. I mean, I think there’s another piece of Ryan where he was a big proponent — you had a lot of White House people saying this, where they said it would have been so much worse without me, without what I did here. I was an adult in the room.

EZRA KLEIN: Yeah, these are the martyrs.

MARK LEIBOVICH: These are the martyrs. And look, I have been dismissive and even disdainful of that line of thinking and that rap for a number of years. However, if I’m being honest, people who even at extremely late times, whether you’re Mike Pence or Bill Barr, being an adult in the room, again, it may have been way, way, way late, and it might have been the bare minimum, probably were forces for good.

Now, does it justify everything to that point? No, absolutely not. But I don’t want to be too glib to say that there is no place for an adult in the room. That’s just a rationalization. Or there’s no place for a Paul Ryan being a pragmatist so you can get your deregulation and get your tax cuts and so forth.

Because yeah. I mean, I think it’s a perfectly legitimate argument in the other direction. So I think in the large sort of sweep of time, I’ve come to appreciate that perspective maybe more than I had as it was happening.

EZRA KLEIN: Tell me a bit about how you understand the way Mitch McConnell sees American politics at this point. What is, as best you can channel it, Mitch McConnell’s view of what’s going on here?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, I think — look, he’s very shrewd. I mean, people say he’s a strategic genius. He’s very disciplined. All of that is true. I don’t think he has any sense of where this was headed. I don’t think he has control of the situation.

Look, he got his three Supreme Court judges in a whole bunch of other appeals court judges. And I mean, that was, he would say, his baby, that and keeping the majority. And look, he’s got a decent shot of getting the majority back in a few weeks. And if that happens and he’s elected majority leader, which I assume he will be, he will have won. He will have defeated the Democrats. And he will have ostensibly defeated Trump, because Trump, at least in 2023, will not have deposed him. And then we would have 2025 to look forward to if McConnell is still in that chair and Trump somehow gets elected and comes back to the White House.

But look, I think McConnell is made the most of an extremely untenable situation. And look, he’s 80 years old. I mean, he’s in the exact same cohort as the whole group that you mentioned before — Hoyer, Clyburn, Pelosi, Biden. I mean, go down the list. And after a while, it just sort of becomes a how long can you race the clock until someone tells you you can’t come anymore? So my guess is — and I haven’t talked to him in a long time — that he is just — he’s just playing it out and hoping to just sort of be in the chair for as long as possible, and that’s really all that matters to him.

EZRA KLEIN: Within the pragmatist subcategory here, I think it’s interesting to contrast Ryan and McConnell as two different weird species. I don’t think Paul Ryan’s decision to resign from Congress and the speakership is some kind of honorable decision. And then to go sit on the Fox News board, you’re definitely not outside of what is coarsening American politics when you’re getting paid off of Tucker Carlson’s checks and fame.

But Ryan clearly makes a decision that he doesn’t want to be here, being the face of this thing anymore. And he’s going to leave. And McConnell makes a decision that he might not like a lot of this thing, but he’s going to stay and try to wield his power as best he can. And what neither of them make the decision to do — and this includes around things like Jan. 6, the Capitol being actually invaded while they are there, while their colleagues are there, while Donald Trump cheers it on — what neither of them at any point decide to do is fight, is to actually say in any real way, yeah, this shouldn’t happen. I’m willing to go here, but not further.

I think if you had described the situation to both of them in 2006, just a hypothetical situation to these people who love to call themselves constitutional conservatives, they would have told you that in that case, of course, that’ll be a profile in courage. And actually, maybe it wouldn’t even take that much courage. Because I mean, this is such a weirdly outrageous example you’re giving me. Give me a hard hypothetical here.

Why don’t they ever try to fight? Why is there not a point of, OK, I am in my late 70s here. I don’t just want to quietly resign. I don’t just want to accommodate myself to it. I want to make sure that I’m not somebody understood as having traded tax cuts and Supreme Court nominations to help erode the very foundations of the country and the political system that at least I claim to love.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Great question. I mean, it’s a question we from the outside have been asking for years now. Is it really worth it? Is the indignity that you are demonstrating really worth it? Is the job really that — you can’t really envision yourself without the job. Is it just that unthinkable to be tweeted about by Donald Trump in a disparaging way?

When I reported the book and I had these conversations with people, one of the more depressing things I realized was that it was not a decision of virtue or a decision of — I mean, there was certainly pragmatism, but it was not a decision of principle or character. A lot of the time it was just abject fear. And sometimes — and I mean that literally sometimes. I think people talk abstractly about, oh, yeah, well so-and-so is getting death threats and so forth.

I mean, there is a whole lot of testimony out there now from people who said, yes, I wanted to do this. I wanted to say this. I wanted to vote a certain way. But I was worried about my family.

And yeah. I mean, a lot of them just walked away. I mean, Paul Ryan walked away. He didn’t really fight.

I do think people — I mean, Republicans love to point to Liz Cheney as like, oh, well, she’ll be irrelevant soon because she’ll be out of a job. Or look at Jeff Flake. Where is he now? And McCarthy was always saying to me when I put this question to him, where’s the statue to Jeff Flake in the Senate or in the House?

EZRA KLEIN: He would actually say that to you?

MARK LEIBOVICH: He did. He said it explicitly.

EZRA KLEIN: Oh my god.

MARK LEIBOVICH: He basically said — he said, oh, yeah, the Jeff Flake thing. I would ask him, and I would ask Graham this. I asked him all variations on the do you worry how history will remember you question or how your grandchildren think about you if they ever read about you. And they would all just shake their heads and roll their eyes.

And McCarthy would say, oh, yeah, yeah, the Jeff Flake thing. And I said, what do you mean the Jeff Flake thing? Well, Jeff Flake, where is his statue? OK, he was principled, and where is he now? Like Biden’s ambassador to Austria? Who’s going to remember him?

And so extremely dismissive. And again, it’s part of the same nihilism. I mean, it’s anti-history. It’s anti-character. It’s anti-patriotism. It’s just doing everything for self-preservation and fear.

So again, I mean, none of this is flattering at all, but unfortunately it is a pervasive reality of how these people are thinking when they decide to just go along and get along. And it’s stunning to me. It is absolutely stunning to me from a point of view of pride or principle or character — whatever big words you want to throw out there.

But it happens every day. I mean, I guess there was a moment in — was it the Republican debate — or the Senate debate in Ohio the other day when Tim Ryan went after J.D. Vance for just having no pride. And Trump said, J.D.’s been kissing my ass; he wants my support so bad. And Ryan said, you just went right up there, and you just continue to do it because that’s what you needed to do. And how could you do that? In my world — and he’s probably channeling a diverse — or macho Ohio football clique sensibility of manhood or something.

But the point is the same, which is that is the job really that important? Are you really so scared of this guy that you know or I’m pretty sure you have not a lot of respect for privately. Because again, I don’t think most of them do. But again, it’s a really, really depressing window into the character or lack thereof of a lot of the people who are putative leaders now and could be running the country again in a few months.

EZRA KLEIN: Let me take a quick detour into J.D. Vance, and then I want to talk about Kevin McCarthy. So J.D. Vance, Senate candidate from Ohio, a Peter Thiel protégé, the author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” which is a book on Appalachian whites. Which if you read “Hillbilly Elegy,” it is very much about how that area of the country is responsible for its own problems. It’s a very strange book, given what his career becomes, because it is not a fan of systemic analysis. It takes the old cultural pathology arguments that used to be used on Black communities and applies them to white communities. And then Vance flips and becomes a systemic guy and says, you’re all against my friends here.

I interviewed Vance in those periods, know him a little bit. A lot of people know him. He was a very, very anti-Trump guy, a guy who was a very preening, moralistic guy, very into civility in the way we treat one another and healing the country. And at some point, he talks about whether or not Trump is going to be our Hitler.

And what always strikes me about him — and I’ve reached out to him. You don’t get an answer when you do that. He’s actually said in interviews, which I just find so weird — he’s like, David Brooks and Ezra Klein were these people you used to be able to talk to, and then they really change in the Trump era. And it’s such a weird psychology because we didn’t change at all. I believed what I believed about Trump in 2016 and 2020. I believed what J.D. Vance believed about Donald Trump in 2016. And J.D. Vance doesn’t believe that in 2022.

There is something about the ability to rationalize out your own sense of self. I’m not a big fan of how will history judge you. I think the people who say that is a secular yearning for divine punishment or basically write about it. But I do think about the question of how do you judge yourself. And I don’t think these are folks without a sense of self-awareness.

And I can understand how you rationalize certain versions of this, how you’re angry at how you become an anti-anti-Trumper or something. But something like the J.D. Vance pivot to full ass kisser and full culture warrior, and to totally overhaul your own personality into this just bloodied gash of resentment, I don’t understand how you maintain any stability in your self-conception. And you watched a bunch of people do this. I mean, Lindsey Graham’s someone we’ll talk about. And I’m curious what you think of that because that strikes me as the hard thing to get over.

MARK LEIBOVICH: It does. And the examples, as you said, are legion — I mean, Cruz, Rubio, I mean, everyone who basically ran against him in ’16.

EZRA KLEIN: You have a very funny section in the book of all these people calling Donald Trump a cancer.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, cancer.

EZRA KLEIN: As you say, it’s very brave how they all learn to live with cancer.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yes, exactly. Now, cancer, they loved that metaphor. But yeah, they’re cancer survivors.

No, you’re right. And I do agree with you. I mean, I do think the verdict of history thing is a cliché. And in some ways they have assumed the Trump lesson of rationalization, projection in some ways because Ezra Klein and David Brooks changed. I mean, that’s classic projection coming from J.D. Vance.

I don’t think I could do it. I honestly don’t. I mean, I don’t think being a senator from Ohio would be worth it. But again, I’ve never been in front of a crowd with Donald Trump before. I’ve never been offered a job that powerful, that visible, before a crowd that big. Maybe there’s something there, or maybe there’s something just so terrifying about being denied that, or something so magical about the spell of Donald Trump.

I don’t think so. I mean, I spent way more time than I would have wanted to in late ’15 for a magazine profile of him, and I didn’t get it. But I mean, maybe it does exist because some people do. I do think though if you look at the profile of the educated voter and how they typically feel about Trump, whether they go to Harvard or Yale, or wherever J.D. Vance or Josh Hawley or Ted Cruz went, it’s a real, real reach to think that they are able to suspend disbelief, or self-criticism, or self-assessment to the degree that they do without just playacting and knowing that they’re playacting.

But again, it’s depressing. I also think it’s just worth condemnation at the highest levels. I mean, I cannot tell you the level of contempt I still have for many of these folks that are far greater in some ways for Donald Trump himself because — I don’t know — I think he’s his own pathology and is a stand-alone thing. But yeah, no. I mean, unfortunately, that dynamic is what is propelling the Republican Party right now.

EZRA KLEIN: If you look at the polls, you look at the forecasts, Kevin McCarthy is likely to be speaker after the election, then McConnell is to be Senate majority leader, which isn’t to say they both won’t get their hope for jobs.

But tell me about Kevin McCarthy. How should somebody who doesn’t know that much about him understand what he is, what he wants, what kind of House speaker he’d be?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, I don’t think he’ll be a very good House speaker. I think he would be — I think it would be a miserable experience for him. But I also think that backing up, he’s a very personable guy. If you’re someone who can play the game of sitting down and having dinner, and gossiping about politics and talking about sports and talking about Washington and do you know this person, do you know that person, I mean, he’s a thoroughly back slappery Paul to have dinner with. He’s not, I don’t think, that smart, but I don’t think he’s that principled. I think he is more star struck than anything else.

I mean, I had dinner with him a couple times in Bakersfield, his district. And he just spent a lot of it just showing me pictures of himself with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Donald Trump, Gavin Newsom, I mean, anyone — Kobe Bryant, I mean, anyone famous that — he’s got this full iPhone of, hey, get a load of me and this person and that person. And look, we’re on Air Force One, and we’re with Jerry Brown here, and Paul Ryan was in town, and Arnold was — I mean, it was like being with a 15-year-old at a —

EZRA KLEIN: He’s actually showing these to a reporter?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, he is. Yeah, just showing me across the table. And he wouldn’t — and I’d be asking him pretty serious questions about Jan. 6 and stuff, and he’d be scrolling through his phone. And I thought maybe he was getting urgent text messages or something, but then he had flipped the phone around and say, yeah, here is me and my high school buddies. This guy is the assistant football coach at Stanford now. And oh, yeah, here’s me and Trump when he came through Bakersfield. Oh, here’s me and Pompeo.

It really — it was — and I’m always amazed at how unselfconscious people who should be that accustomed to being assessed in such a public forum can be that way. But look, he’s a back slapper. He wants to be liked. He basically just wants to be speaker. He wants the gavel. He wants to be able to say for two probably miserable years, because he’s going to be led around by the nose by the Marjorie Taylor Greenes and Jim Jordans of the world, I suspect, and Donald Trumps of the world, I suspect, that, look, he will be able to go through his entire life as a former speaker of the House.

And his mentor Bill Thomas, the longtime ways and means chair of the House, his mentor used to work for Thomas. Thomas has a terminal at the Bakersfield Airport named after him. Terminal A is now the Bill Thomas Terminal.

Now, if Kevin McCarthy gets to be speaker, he might get the Bakersfield Airport. That’s his calculation. He’s like, Bakersfield Airport could be the Kevin McCarthy Airport. And that would redeem everything. It would redeem the abuse he gets from Trump, whatever machinations the Freedom Caucus makes him go through, the distrust from so much of the base.

So look, that’s McCarthy. He just wants the job. And if he can be speaker of the House, it’ll all be worth it in his mind.

EZRA KLEIN: I was just thinking while you were saying that that when I read out that list of plausible leaders of the Republican Party a couple years back, I actually forgot somebody, who is Eric Cantor. And when we talk about the young guns, it was Paul Ryan, it was Eric Cantor, and it was Kevin McCarthy. They were the three up and coming Republican House members.

And Cantor was the bet everybody made to be the next speaker — not Ryan, not McCarthy. And Cantor loses in this really spectacular way.

Can you talk a bit about that and what effect you think it had on McCarthy in particular, but also possibly — because I do think of it as a bit of a forerunner to the Trump stuff on the Republican Party and politicians more generally.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah. I mean, so Eric Cantor, like you said, I mean, he was seen to be the speaker in waiting whenever Boehner retired. And all of a sudden — I guess it was 2014 — he was cruising to victory like he always did in his Virginia district. And yeah, he gets primaried by this guy named David Brat, who was a college professor, real Tea Party or whatever the 2014 version of a Tea Party person was — very conservative, very ideological.

And somehow he upset Eric Cantor out of nowhere, which was — as you said, it was really — it was a seminal moment because no one — I think that was a real congressional primary upset. And it became a cautionary tale of, this can happen to you too if you don’t cater to the crazies sufficiently. And I think McCarthy, who was actually in line to be speaker a year, a year and a half later, took that as like, I will never allow myself to be defeated by the what is now known as the base.

And look, Cantor is rarely heard from anymore. He’s in private equity. I talked to him a couple years ago when I was writing about McCarthy. And he seems pretty depressed from the outside about what he sees. I don’t think he would say that he would be willing to do half of what Kevin McCarthy has been willing to do to placate Trump and Trump supporters and so forth.

But yeah, no. Eric Cantor is a classic and as you said an oft-forgotten figure in this in that he was the classic up and comer and speaker in waiting a decade ago and just slunked away. And McCarthy, I think, took the lesson of him and Paul Ryan and said, OK, I’m just not going to be outpandered or outmaneuvered by anyone. I’m just going to do whatever it takes to stay on the right side of the people who can make me speaker of the House.

EZRA KLEIN: I think it’s easy to see McCarthy as a comic figure. I think he’s often played that way in Washington, somebody people know is going to have, has, and will have a lot of power, but even the way you describe him here, not somebody people take very seriously. But I want to draw this out just a little bit. Because look, I don’t think Paul Ryan, as I’ve said, was any profound profile in courage. But House speaker is incredibly powerful. And he really did set the Republicans’ actual agenda under Donald Trump. And then in the back half of the Trump presidency, Nancy Pelosi was speaker.

So if you imagine McCarthy becoming speaker after the 2022 election, even after 2024, and a Trump or Trump-like figure winning in 2024, even compared to Ryan, you’re talking about a much more servile speaker —

MARK LEIBOVICH: Oh, 100 percent.

EZRA KLEIN: — and House than we saw in 2017 or 2018. And I’m curious what effect you think that would have. How is it meaningful for a Donald Trump or Trump-like figure to have a Kevin McCarthy as speaker as opposed to the opposition party or even somebody with a little bit more spine in their own party?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s extremely meaningful. I mean, if you look at — if Donald Trump were to get elected again, one, presumably, he would be term limited. So he would not have to face voters again. So that would uncheck him that much more.

And also presumably, the people in power around him will be that much more accommodating. So you would have McCarthy instead of Paul Ryan. And again, I mean, Ryan wasn’t a great person of backbone, but he at least — he condemned Charlottesville. He retired. Apparently, they had a lot of arguments in private.

EZRA KLEIN: Ryan’s big line is, you have no idea what I prevented.

MARK LEIBOVICH: You have no idea what I prevented.

EZRA KLEIN: And that could mean nothing, actually.

MARK LEIBOVICH: It could mean nothing.

EZRA KLEIN: Or it could mean something.

MARK LEIBOVICH: It could mean — at least he was a — I don’t know. I don’t discount that totally. But either way, McCarthy is not going to instill fear in anybody, both in his caucus, I don’t think, and certainly in the White House if Trump is in there or someone like Trump is in there.

And unfortunately, that’s the tip of the iceberg. I mean, you could have Vice President Kari Lake, and you’d be longing for the profile and backbone that was former Vice President Mike Pence or Attorney General — I don’t know — John Eastman. I don’t know.

I mean, look. I mean, I have no reason. And this is — I mean, it sounds absurd on its face, but four years ago the thought of the Capitol being stormed on Jan. 6 would have been absurd on its face. But look, I can’t think of a member of the Republican Senate outside of maybe a handful who are going to say, no, this is a bridge too far. I’m going to vote against the nomination of Attorney General Eastman, or Secretary of Defense Flynn, or Secretary of State Kushner. I don’t know.

I mean, the scenario of him getting elected, again, brings all kinds of adjacent scenarios that are really hard to get your head around. But again, we’ve seen this stair stepping of possibilities come true. And who knows what we’ll be seeing is possible in a couple of years?

EZRA KLEIN: I think of McCarthy as a canonical climber, but another person in House leadership who is sometimes even more extraordinary to me in their trajectory here is Elise Stefanik. Tell me a bit about her.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Elise Stefanik is — she was — it’s funny. When I was writing about Ryan in 2018, they were dying for me to talk to Elise Stefanik because she loved Paul Ryan, and she loved Liz Cheney. These were her idols. These were the people she kept talking about as people she wanted to be like. And moderate, very big advocate for getting more women involved in Republican policies, condemned Trump quite a bit, went to Harvard, had a reputation as a real young, female, bright, moderate who really could be the future or play a real role in the future of the Republican Party.

And I remember she was on the first impeachment committee on the intelligence committee. And I remember thinking, sitting in that room, yeah, you had the Jim Jordans and the Louie Gohmerts, and you knew what the hardcore Trumpers were going to say and what their lines were going to be. But I remember looking to Elise Stefanik and thinking, OK, this is where the gray matter of this committee and so much as there is any on the Republican side is going to be. And maybe she will play a more critical role.

And on day one, her going after Adam Schiff and saying this witch hunt against Donald Trump. And I just remember my heart sinking. And look, I mean, she has gone all in. She clearly knows better. She’s quite distrusted within her own caucus, by the way. I mean, most — and I assume there are a lot of people who are going to be competing for the same leadership positions if McCarthy’s speaker.

But look, Trump loves her, and she’s a made woman inside MAGA world at this point. But it’s extremely depressing because the journey she made from just a couple of years ago — we’re talking two or three years ago — is breathtaking. But again, I guess maybe we should stop using terms like breathtaking because it’s happened over and over and over again, the other people who I’ve been surprised by.

EZRA KLEIN: They’re obviously the politicians whom it’s just very pure ambition. And for a lot of them, that’s a big part of it. It’s very easy to justify what your self-interest needs you to justify.

But something I see sometimes with a Stefanik, with a Lindsey Graham, with a bunch of them is what I’ve come to think of as the anti-anti-Trump ratchet. So you start out not pro-Trump, but you’re a Republican. You don’t hate everything about the guy. You do think the media is unfair to him. You think they’re really unfair to his supporters, who are many of your supporters.

And so you pick some fights because it’s good for you to pick some fights on behalf of him when you’re critical of him elsewhere or you’ve been critical of him in the past. You step out when you think you can. And then you get a big reaction backwards, a big blowback, like how dare you. We thought we knew you.

And every one of them has their moments in this. I think for Lindsey Graham, the Brett Kavanaugh hearings were a big moment. Stefanik has hers. I’ve heard this from a bunch of people. But there’s this way in which you start out not exactly Trump positive, but open. And you’re Republican, and you also don’t really like liberals because you’re not a liberal.

And something about the back-and-forth of stepping out for Trump a bit, then getting this blowback, then stepping out a bit more and getting this blowback. And soon your friends are totally different, your enemies are totally different, who likes you is different. And I’ve watched this in politicians before as a psychological dynamic. And I’ve actually seen it in pundits too. As a psychological dynamic, this is often a pathway to a very different politics in three years. You can look at a Glenn Greenwald like this, I think.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yes. Interesting.

EZRA KLEIN: You see this a lot, the social dynamics of odd bedfellows becoming a greased path towards ending up in a place that, I think, four years ago you could have never imagined yourself being. I’m curious how much you saw that and how you understand it operating.

MARK LEIBOVICH: I think that’s a great point. You see it a lot. You shouldn’t underestimate the power of the bunker mentality, but also yeah. I mean, you realize that your only supporters are these people now. So you sort of throw in with them.

And there’s a passage in my book in which Adam Schiff is talking about Devin Nunes. And the two of them had a real — it sounds like a pretty authentic working relationship in the maybe early mid-teens. I mean, they were both on the intelligence committee. I think they were chair and ranking coach. I mean, they were both pretty high up in seniority on their respective sides. They’re both from California.

They worked together fairly closely. They had a working relationship. And Schiff spoke pretty — not nostalgically for it, but it sounded like a pretty good advertisement for the kind of productive relationship a Democrat and Republican could have. Nunes used to be considered one of the sane ones, although Nunes had a few — not blind spots, but very Trumpy pet interests like around the deep state, around the F.B.I., around things that Trump had a real being despondent about. And Nunes had a similar aversion.

And he became very, very enamored of Trump, and he endorsed him fairly early. But then what happened was Nunes started doing some really weird stuff. He did that midnight run where he had this information around the Russia investigation. He went to the White House at midnight and tried to share it with the White House before sharing with the rest of the committee. He has to recuse himself. I mean, the blowback was insane.

And Schiff talked about seeing him become suddenly a pariah among many of his centrist Republicans, but many Democratic friends. Because this was still — I mean, it sounds a long time ago. It was seven years ago. But this was still a time when institutional respect meant something from a bipartisan perspective and so forth.

And Schiff describes just this spiral that Nunes went down essentially into madness and a cultic Trumpian loyalty that turned him into the hyper-Trumpist that he became at the end of his career, that he abruptly retired from Congress for and is now, I guess, last I heard running Truth Social or something. I mean, you shouldn’t underestimate the seductive power of having allies and also just the trauma of the level of contempt that is coming back at you from people that you probably on some level have always respected and probably on some level know is probably right, which creates a great deal of dissonance, which in some ways hardens your loyalty to the side you’re now affiliated with.

EZRA KLEIN: And just makes you more open to their arguments. I mean, to make this argument against interests so it doesn’t just sound like something I’m saying about Trumpists, you really see this, in my view, with the Never Trumpers. So I’ve known people like Bill Kristol or Jen Rubin or a bunch of the Project Lincoln folks for a very long time. And eight years ago, we had similar views on Donald Trump and very different views on taxes or Obamacare.

And over time, a bunch of these folks — it’s not just that they’re anti-Trump. It’s that they’ve developed views closer to mine on taxation, on health care, on other things. And I’m not against that. I want people to hold my views —


EZRA KLEIN: — on domestic policy. But I do think there’s an interesting dynamic where when the people who were once your allies turn on you because they feel you’ve turned on them, then it’s not just that you like the people who were once your opponents, your antagonists a lot better, but all of a sudden you’re also open to other things they say. I mean, the world is complicated. On some level the fundamental, empirical, and ontological choice we make every day is simply, who do we trust? And we tend to trust people we think like us and who we like. And so it’s just a very — I just think this is a very powerful and underappreciated sociopolitical dynamic.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah. No, it’s true too. I mean, I’ve had — I mean, first of all, it is bizarre and ironic, and I would never have predicted this, but if you want to look at real profiles of courage on the right, I mean, a lot of it comes from the consultant world or the sort of people we would have called hacks many years ago. But I’ve been — intellectually speaking — and I don’t know — I think you might agree with this — I’ve found I have had much more common cause with conservatives over the last half dozen years than I ever had before. I’ve read more conservative writing. And the power of the unity around norms, around democracy, around basic seriousness has been a very powerful thing that I think has brought the classic right and the classic left together.

Now, one unfortunate symptom of what we’ve all been living through is I think the term conservative has been really perverted. I mean, I think now people say, oh, well, the real Trumpists like Roger Stone and John Eastman or Steve Bannon, they are hyperconservatives. And the people who go to Trump rallies are the real hardcore conservatives.

They’re not conservative, I mean, not in any classic sense. They’re Trumpists. And I realize that people — I mean, the term Trumpist is not all that satisfying because it basically just everything associated with Trump. But again, I think conservatism in its purest form has had some very, very eloquent advocates over the last few years that I’ve sort of appreciated listening to and learning from. And I think, again, a conservatism that doesn’t so much exist in the political square as it did maybe 10 years ago I have a greater appreciation for.

EZRA KLEIN: Let’s talk a bit about the true believers. Because one thing about this category, particularly inside official Republican circles, is it wasn’t very big in 2017, and it is very big now. I would make the argument that in this typology, that in 2017 you were very tilted in Congress towards pragmatists, maybe some accommodationists, maybe some martyrs. And now it’s much more accommodationists and true believers.

So tell me a bit about the true believers. Who comes to your mind there, and what sort of Republican are they? How are they different than a Kevin McCarthy?

MARK LEIBOVICH: Well, part of it is just numbers. I mean, I think in around 2018, 2019, David Wasserman of — was it Cook Political Report? He’s at Cook, right? He’s the congressional expert, real guru. He calculated that about half of the Republicans who were in office in Congress in 2016 on Election Day had either been defeated, retired or were planning to retire — not running for re-election. So basically right there take half of whatever the mainstream of the Republican Party in the House was in early 2017 and just sort of sweep them out — the Kevin Bradys, the Mark Sanfords.

I mean, there’s just a lot of retirements — Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, moderates, pure conservatives, and so forth. And yeah. I mean, they have been replaced by Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene. And I guess — I don’t know when Paul Gosar came in. But they have all ascended — I mean, Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows before he left to go to the White House.

But these were fringe figures in 2015, and now they are core figures. They will extract, if McCarthy becomes speaker, pretty high-level leadership positions as chairman, whether as whips or majority leaders and so forth. And also many of the people who were here in 2016, we talked about before, have, I think, had a fairly center-right orientation, were very enamored of Paul Ryan very enamored of even Lindsey Graham early on, and then quickly saw where the passion in the party was and transformed themselves into basically election deniers. I mean, they all voted against certification, which would have been a radical act in any previous election.

And so you have the people who would have been considered potentially serious members of Congress elevated to powerful kooks, or you have authentic kooks like Marjorie Taylor Greene getting elected. And she, again, will have an inordinate amount of power over Kevin McCarthy, partly because Trump likes her and because she has a level of following. So yeah. No, it’s a very different Republican Party now than it was four or five years ago.

EZRA KLEIN: And this strikes me as, again, a way, if Republicans take the House, take the Senate, take the White House in 2024, I think there is more of a sense of continuity in that than would actually be true. Because I think for the time period in which Donald Trump held the presidency and held Congress, he was working with a Republican Congress that was trying to mostly bend Donald Trump to their agenda. He didn’t have that much of his own agenda. They didn’t really like him that much. It was a weird alliance of convenience and political necessity.

And so they were trying to get him to do what they wanted and in many cases I think did to everybody’s political detriment — the tax cuts, the efforts to repeal Obamacare. But I think if Donald Trump or some other Trump-like figure wins in 2024 and has Congress, they’re going to be working with a Republican Congress that is much more oriented towards wanting to support the president’s agenda or wanting to help the president convert or translate his intuitions into an agenda. Whatever tension there was — and I’m not saying it was greatly protective for the Republic or anything, but I do think there was friction in the system. I think that friction is basically gone.

MARK LEIBOVICH: I completely agree. To be honest with you, I think the greater peril is not so much that there might be another massive budget-busting tax cut or something, or deregulation, but something like leaving NATO, something like formalizing the election denialism, the kind of fascist, semi-fascist, whatever you want to call it, ideas that Trump was promoting at the end. So yeah.

Again, that’s where I would leave policy behind for a second, which I’m loathe to do. Because obviously, theoretically, policy is what everyone is here for, but that’s not really the case anymore. I mean, we’re talking about a perch of power where they could re-engineer the basic rules of our government and our democracy in a way that would make it very hard for not only Democrats to get anything done in a Trump White House, in a Republican House or Senate, but actually win elections going forward. So again, I mean, to me this feels a lot more existential than whether we’re debating a tax cut or not.

EZRA KLEIN: Do you think Donald Trump as a candidate at this point is all that unique inside the Republican Party and inside its presidential jockeying? Or have we hit that point where — I was talking to the political scientist Daniel Ziblatt. And he was saying that he thinks people think that the danger of Trump is unique, but he wonders if it’s become more like Bonapartism.

There was sort of Napoleon, and then for a long time Bonapartism, even arguably still is just a strain, a coherent strain in French politics. And Ziblatt’s view is that Trump is becoming just a strain in American politics. Even if Trump himself leaves the picture, there are so many candidates who have become something like him that there’s no way of excising that from our politics, much less from the Republican Party.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Yeah, I don’t disagree with that. I mean, just for starters, I don’t want Bonapartism in our country either. So let’s put that on the record. I think Trump is obviously not new anymore. I don’t think Ron DeSantis would scale particularly well, especially if he runs against Trump. I mean, I think everyone’s like, oh, well, DeSantis is like Trump with a brain and with discipline.

But no. I mean, DeSantis doesn’t have any of the appeal of Trump. I mean, he’s a very different character and so forth. But yeah, no. I mean, Trump unfortunately is not an unknown entity anymore. There’s nothing new about him. But very unfortunately, we know exactly what he’s capable of and might try next. I mean, like any authoritarian, he is going to do whatever he can get away with until he is stopped.

And I believe — and again, this was one of the reasons I wrote the book. I mean, I think the place to do this is the Republican Party. I mean, if it’s going to be a serious party, if it’s going to be a major party, that’s where this needs to stop. Otherwise, they continue to be this person, this set of ideas, and frankly this pile of incredible resentment to so much of what we would like to think that what used to be called the civilized world would represent.

So I don’t think Trump was that interesting then. I don’t think he’s that interesting now. But unfortunately if he runs for the nomination, he’s probably going to win it. And then it’s 80-however-year-old Joe Biden against him, and who knows who’s going to win?

EZRA KLEIN: Let me then end by asking a question about the Democrats. So given what the Republican Party is now, given what Trumpism is, given what they are facing as a coalition, what is your sense of how they should engage with it? And I guess I mean that in terms of politics, but also how do they engage a Republican Party that they actually do govern alongside? Should the Democratic Party be treating Republicans as beyond the pale?

How do you see the counterreaction in the Democratic Party? Is it sufficient? Is it insufficient? Do they appreciate what they’re looking at? What’s your view?

MARK LEIBOVICH: That’s a great question. I mean, I think, first of all, the Democrats, as we know, are not that organized. So there is not exactly a cohesive or coherent strategy here. I mean, I think — look, they have proven that it’s hard enough just to govern on its own. I mean, I think that Biden gets a great deal of mockery, I think, from the left, especially for his talk of unity, his talk of trying, hoping against hope that he can find some common cause with Republicans.

I do think that that’s probably the correct instinct. I think eventually, if you keep trying, you can maybe pick away. I don’t think the Republican Party is going anywhere. But at the same time, it’s painful to have to talk to Marjorie Taylor Greene. It’s painful to have to talk to Kevin McCarthy. It’s painful to have to convince an election denier that, no, Joe Biden really was legitimately elected as your 46th president.

So I don’t know. I mean, I think —do you just have to hold your nose that much harder? Maybe. But ultimately, I would be a lot more frontal in attacking Trump and the level of menace that Republicans have imposed upon the country. I do think that the existential threats to the country now reside inside the Republican Party. I think Liz Cheney, Dick Cheney have said as much explicitly. I don’t think that’s overstated.

And look, I don’t think it’s — everyone’s like, oh, don’t mention Trump, or don’t make it about Trump. Focus on kitchen table issues, and we’re going to help you keep your health care and so forth. I mean, yeah, all of that is compelling and probably very effective at a district-wide level.

But I don’t know. I think that in some ways, Republicans haven’t been vilified enough by Democrats. I think the contrast could be a lot more sharply drawn than it is.

I don’t know if Biden is the one to do it necessarily. I don’t think he really has it in him, and I don’t I don’t think he wants to govern that way. But I don’t know. I would think that Republicans could be called out a lot more directly than they are now.

EZRA KLEIN: I think that’s a good place to come to an end. Always our final question, what are three books you’d recommend to the audience?

MARK LEIBOVICH: I love Tim Miller’s book, “Why We Did It.” I hope I’m saying it right. Tim Miller is a longtime Republican operative who basically wrote about his journey to disenchantment in the Trump years.

Reading our colleague — or actually not our colleague because I don’t work here anymore, but Maggie Haberman’s book. Enjoying it. A little burnt out on the Trump genre, but I’m enjoying it.

I’m reading a fiction book by someone who works for my agent’s office, and it’s called “NSFW,” Not Safe For Work. And it’s by a very talented young writer named Isabel Kaplan. Everyone should buy it. I grabbed it off of her desk or off my agent’s desk, read it when I was on a plane, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So read “NSFW.” I always get those four letters right. So yeah, those are three, three recent ones.

EZRA KLEIN: And your new book is “Thank You For Your Servitude: Donald Trump’s Washington and the Price of Submission.” Mark Leibovich, thank you very much.

MARK LEIBOVICH: Ezra, thanks so much for having me.

EZRA KLEIN: “The Ezra Klein Show” is produced by Emefa Agawu, Annie Galvin, Jeff Geld and Rogé Karma. Fact checking by Michelle Harris, Mary Marge Locker and Kate Sinclair. Original music by Isaac Jones, mixing by Jeff Geld. Audience strategy by Shannon Busta. Special thanks to Kristin Lin and Kristina Samulewski.

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