On Thursday, Oct. 17, The Daily Princetonian sat down with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin for an interview. Rubin, a Republican, is one of the foremost advocates of the Never Trump movement and has repeatedly denounced her former party in her columns and on MSNBC, where she is a frequent commentator. Rubin visited the Woodrow Wilson School through the Christian A. Johnson Endeavor Foundation Leadership through Mentorship Program.
The Daily Princetonian: I want to start off with a question that’s not really politics-related: what is the last book you read, and would you recommend it?
Jennifer Rubin: Right now, I’m reading a tremendous amount on women, gender, and politics. I'm writing a book, and I’m doing what all journalists do, which is looking at what smart people have said and discovered before me. I’m going back to some old classics in the compendium of gender studies and some new work as well.
It is incredibly helpful and informative in terms of the thesis that I’m trying to propel, which is that in the age of Trump, American women are hyper-engaged, highly active, and, in fact, responsible for a lot of the shift away from Trump. So we'll see how that research goes.
DP: I want to focus on politics a little bit. You consider yourself a conservative, though you famously asked for a purge of the Republican Party at the polls. Can you talk a little bit more about that, and where you currently stand politically?
JR: I think the current Republican Party is in no way, shape, or form “conservative,” at least in my understanding. It’s not temperamentally conservative — and by that I mean that conservatives are supposed to have an appreciation for unintended consequences, a respect for existing institutions, a preference for incrementalism. That does not describe the Republican party, which is reactionary and radical at this point.
Also, on a range of policy issues which I put high on my priority list — trade, immigration, foreign policy — they are completely out of step with conservative values. They don’t reflect any coherent marketplace theory that I’m aware of. We’ve just learned that [Trump’s] trade advisor has apparently made up characters to use as references because no credible economists will say the things that he says. So I think my abandonment of the Republican Party is out of necessity, because they no longer reflect my views or my values.
I think I have been more consistent than not over time, and that the things I believed in since the Reagan years — whether it was a strong U.S. military or whether it was free trade — I still believe. But we all live with experience, and are shaped by that experience. I think in some ways I’ve become much more attuned to the political implications of income inequality, for example. And therefore, I'm somewhat more disposed to look at government intervention in order to ameliorate that gap.
DP: And has this change in your perspective affected relationships with other Republicans, maybe on the Hill or in the political commentary world?
JR: I think, in the commentary world, we’ve had a very public schism between the so-called “Never Trumpers,” of which I am a proud, card-carrying member, and people who have essentially become apologists for Trump — and there are some people do a little bit of both. I think it’s, as the phrase goes, “a time for choosing”: whether we’re engaged in some sort of policy and philosophical introspection and investigation, or whether we’re just a bunch of political hacks that are coming up with excuses for whatever the administration does.
I’m dismayed that there are many more who have done [the latter] than have joined us. We’re sitting in a very small office, and the entire Never Trump population could probably fit in here.
DP: Moving away from politics for a little bit, this is a question near and dear to my heart as a writer for a somewhat local newspaper: the trend has been pretty well documented that most local newspapers have been going out of business and shutting down. I’m curious what you think this means for democracy, and whether the trend can be reversed.
JR: I think it’s a tremendous loss. We have state capitals that have not a single newspaper that are now covering them. An awful lot goes on at the state and local level — most issues that affect regular people’s lives are decided in state and local [governments]. That is really an impediment to an informed citizenry and to a good and responsive government. So I think that is one of the most disconcerting trends in journalism today.
Conversely, I think, frankly, the role of university newspapers, especially ones that are well-funded and professionally run, becomes that much more important. If you can’t find what’s going on in Princeton in a college town [newspaper], or a nearby college town [newspaper], or in a state [newspaper], you can look to The Daily Princetonian to figure it out. I think college newspapers are the savior of local coverage, and sometimes state coverage.
So I think the better ones — and I actually do read you guys — are covering not just what goes on around campus, but what goes on in their immediate surroundings. I think factual reporting and smart analysis are some of the contributions that college papers can make.
DP: I don’t want to take up too much more of your time, but I do have one more, broader question: what is an issue you think is unfairly neglected in American life? Or, in other words, what is an issue that not a lot of Americans know about that they should know about?
JR: I mean, there are several of them. I think the American electorate is becoming more informed on issues of race, but there is still an experience gap, empathy gap, and information gap. To understand the deep racial divide in this country, you now have polls showing that a significant segment of white America thinks whites are the victims of discrimination in this country, which is factually absurd. So I think in terms of news media coverage, the more we can do to factually inform the entire country, the more able we are — without rhetoric, without bias, and without antagonism — to resolve some of these problems.
And, I would look to criminal justice reform, which only recently has become a main topic for mainstream news organizations, to be quite frank. I think the subject of poverty, the subject of homelessness, all of these issues, fundamentally affect what kind of country we have, and what kind of democracy we have.
And, as I said at the beginning of the interview, one of the things I’m now particularly attuned to is that a democracy can’t function properly with alienated groups that are hopeless, that have no opportunity, and have nothing to look forward to. They’re easy prey for demagogues — and if we want to prevent the next Trump from rising, that’s one bit of democratic hygiene we can all engage in.