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Transcript: The Beat with Ari Melber, 6/22/22

Guests: Christine Todd Whitman, Nate Hochman, Chai Komanduri

Summary

Department of Justice subpoenaed two people over possible crimes in elector fraud plot, while the January 6th hearing revealed new information on coup coming up. Texts showed Wisconsin Republican Senator Ron Johnson`s staff pushed possible fraudulent documents on the Senate floor to then Vice President Mike Pence on January 6th. Nate Hochman a fellow at the conservative National Review and political history expert Chai Komanduri joins Ari Melber to talk about the GOP embracing Trumpian candidates and the religious right losing power because the GOP eyes their next leader.

Transcript

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Welcome to THE BEAT. I`m Ari Melber. And we begin with some breaking news tonight on what are signs clearly of the intersection between these hearings we`ve been covering and the actual criminal investigations and prosecutions.

The DOJ dropping two new subpoenas today targeting a Trump elector in Georgia who may have committed fraud by trying to impersonate what was required in that state which was only Biden electors. The other, a Trump campaign lawyer who worked in Arizona and New Mexico.

And here`s what that fraud meeting looked like in Georgia where Republicans just got together and together sat in a room and claimed to represent the will of the voters. Whether this is elector fraud or massive voter fraud is something that is being investigated.

Then you have the Georgia man who got today`s subpoena, Brad Carver, there he was, so happy at the moment there, putting it on film, criming and telling on themselves. Of course as I mentioned we`ll find out, according to prosecutors whether this is a chargeable crime.

The January 6th Committee revealed Trump`s lawyers, though, for starters thought the whole thing looked illegal.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you hear the White House Counsel`s Office say that this plan to have alternate electors meet and cast votes for Donald Trump in states that he had lost was not legally sound?

CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER AIDE TO MARK MEADOWS: Yes, sir. Mr. Meadows, Mr. Giuliani, and a few of Mr. Giuliani`s associates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: They knew it at the time. Then there is this secret footage we keep hearing about from a so-called Trump documentary with hours of interviews with Trump, his family, Mike Pence, all in that critical period leading up to the insurrection. Ivanka Trump very supportive at the time of basically overthrowing the election, according to reporting. So she struck a different tone there than she did under oath in these recent hearings which used her under oath video testimony.

There`s also a clue here in the weeks ahead of filing that discusses, quote, "the relationship between the Trump administration and the Proud Boys will be the subject of a future January 6th Committee hearing."

Again, two parts of the government independent but overlapping in their work, in their subpoena power, and in some of the evidence that`s emerging. All of it driving announcement today that the committee will be holding more hearings, plural, next month.

That`s the update. I want to keep it moving because we have on hand former RNC chair Michael Steele.

Good to have you back, sir.

MICHAEL STEELE, FORMER RNC CHAIR: Hey, man. Good to be with you.

MELBER: Our rule of thumb is when there is a lot of news at the top, we run through it. If there`s a little less, we run through it. So I`m done with that, although I have more coming up later in the hour on different topics. The biggest news of course came through yesterday and that`s still being absorbed.

What do you see here in the fact that something which at times has been minimized, oh, people smiling, taking photos, they were just doing what they could. This was just in case, quote-unquote, versus what we`re seeing the signal from prosecutors. This may have been a chargeable election crime.

STEELE: Yes. I think what you`re sort of getting a taste of is the level of cockiness involved here. The level of, yes, we can do this. The criminality of it was not so much a concern because they figure, well, you know, we just went through everything with the, you know, the hearings and the impeachment trials and nothing came of that. There was no one held accountable anywhere of that. So there`s a level of cockiness that builds up within the mindset of these folks.

And you see it played out. You know, I know, you know, there is conversation, lawyers are sitting there and saying, I don`t know if you can do this, but everyone is like, hey, let`s get it on film. And so I think from now going forward, which I`m really happy that Chairman Thompson has decided to extend the hearings on this to continue the investigation, my concern was that there was much more out there, Ari.

And they`re just going to get to June 30th and go well, that`s all we can do because, well, they`re saying no. We`re going to follow this evidence because apparently there`s a lot of it. And when you start taking what we know with what is still coming in, that narrative, I think, is really pushing this thing to the point where the American people are saying, there really is more here than we thought was possibly in front of us.

MELBER: Yes. Oh, yes. Right. And as you say, because you follow this stuff kind of, if you`re any good at what you do, Michael, and we think you are, outside of all the jargon and the little details, what did they say in the new e-mail newsletter about, you know, D.C. subcommittee -- no, we`re talking about what`s breaking through to the public about something of significance.

[18:05:08]

Mr. John Eastman, not necessarily a household name to the level of, say, a Rudy Giuliani. But boy does he look like he tried to out-Giuliani Giuliani. And that`s the lawyer who lost his law license. Can`t practice right now. That`s how bad it is. Can`t. Literally not allowed to practice. It could be worse.

"Rolling Stone" has a report with anonymous sources and they say in the top ranks of MAGA land, the attitude towards Eastman, they derisively call him Johnny. He might be going down. So be it. As long as he doesn`t take anyone else down with him. And then Mr. Eastman appears to know that this is a real problem. Here`s some of what we saw in the hearing about how he responded to even basic questions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN EASTMAN, FORMER TRUMP LAWYER: I assert my Fifth Amendment right against being compelled to be a witness against myself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Is that statement in this memo true?

EASTMAN: Fifth. Fifth. Fifth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: What do you see as the import here for Mr. Eastman who was, as I emphasized, after Barr left, after Giuliani drew a line, maybe in the dirt, in the White House, the vegetable garden.

STEELE: Right.

MELBER: But he drew a line somewhere. After all that, Mr. Eastman said, I`ll do it, boss. I got these plans.

STEELE: Right.

MELBER: And he`s taking the Fifth now. And we`re learning and hearing a bit more about it. Your thoughts on all that?

STEELE: He`s going to need a Fifth after all of this. And he better make it a stiff one because the reality of it is he`s on the hook for a lot of stuff here. He is the guy that is the care taker, the arbiter, the creator, the person who`s going to push through the stuff that Giuliani and others are kind of crafting in their head as he`s crafting it as well.

I take note of the fact that yes. You know, he`s going to take the fall as long as he doesn`t take anybody else with him which means, OK, keep your mouth shut. And the question is how much of that he`ll be able to do. I don`t know what the upside is in keeping your mouth shut for Donald Trump. I assume for some people, it is. Now, maybe there is some backend arrangement. We don`t know.

But whatever is going to be happening with Eastman is going to be drama of a whole another level. He is at the center of a lot of this and has been in many ways the architect of what is in Donald Trump`s mind. And I think that that`s an important feature for me as I look at this. Donald Trump is like, I know I won this election, prove it. And Eastman was like, I think we have a way, a few ways we can do that.

And so you have this combination when people talk about mens rea, and what Trump is thinking. Trump surrounds himself with people who execute on things that he says out loud, without having to put it on paper, without having drawn out memos. That`s why there`s very little paper trail. But follow the actions of the people around him. Follow the steps they take. Because that begins to lead to with the bread comes back to what Donald Trump was thinking. These folks do not act, nor execute without his sign off.

That`s just the way his world works. So he`s not -- Eastman is not going to go out there and put all this in motion without doubling back with Trump.

MELBER: Yes.

STEELE: Without talking back with Giuliani and confirming that at least the three of them are on the same page.

MELBER: Well, you make it so clear, Michael. It`s like, you know how you cannot throw yourself a surprise party?

STEELE: Yes.

MELBER: It`s not possible.

STEELE: It`s not possible.

MELBER: Right. The one thing about a surprise party is that the subject, the star, the birthday person, has to be surprised.

STEELE: Right.

MELBER: You cannot throw yourself a surprise coup.

STEELE: No. And no matter how --

MELBER: If you`re going to do it, you`re instructing it. Go ahead.

STEELE: Well, I was going to say, and no matter how much you walk in the room after the fact and go, what? Who me? Everybody knows.

MELBER: This military junta for me? Yes, oh. Yes, exactly.

STEELE: Right. Love that color blue. Well, yes. Because I picked it out. Right?

MELBER: Right.

STEELE: And that`s how Trump operates. And people fundamentally need to understand what`s driving this train. And it`s Trump.

MELBER: Yes.

STEELE: It`s always been Trump.

MELBER: Amen. And that`s important because it goes to what Eastman is about. It`s funny but not funny ha-ha. It`s funny authoritarian, which is not our favorite time of funny, Michael. But we`ll do. I appreciate you kicking us off today.

STEELE: Hey, man, always. Always, brother. Take care of yourself.

MELBER: Yes, sir. You too.

Michael Steele, coming to you live and direct.

As I mentioned, we have a lot coming up including why Ron Johnson, who you see here, faking a phone call is under calls to resign. I have a breakdown on that and a fact check. And tonight, our deep dive on why the religious right is declining in America. What that means as we keep an eye on the Supreme Court, and our friend Chai Komanduri, all here up ahead. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:14:19]

MELBER: Republican Senator Ron Johnson facing this new scandal and even some calls to resign after that insurrection hearing broke the news that as Mike Pence was preparing to certify the now infamous election procedure on January 6th, Johnson was still agitating to personally confront Pence, and tried to give him these possibly fraudulent documents that would back some kind of voter fraud on the Senate floor potentially.

All of this moments before the Capitol was breached. Now Pence had rejected Trump`s illegal orders to try to steal the election but Johnson pressed on. His top aides saying Johnson needs to hand something to VPOTUS, please. An aide asked what it was, perhaps aware of the plot, and the staffer responds, it`s the, quote, "alternate slate of electors from Michigan and Wisconsin. The archivists didn`t receive them," as if they were real or valid which again shows being involved in actually submitting this.

[18:015:14]

Pence aide responds, "Do not give that to him."

Well, that`s crystal clear. Johnson had these fraudulent papers identified by state. Knew they had not been received because they were not valid but intended to push them on to Pence even after Pence was rejecting this whole scheme. And no Senate staffer tees up that kind of unusual White House level contact with a senator handing over these once secret items unless the senator directs it, which is why Johnson has been in trouble since the news broke.

He`s not even trying to do the usual deflection or claim fake news. He`s apparently so worried about taking questions on this that he tried to avoid any further comment by basically faking a phone call when pressed for answers leaving the Capitol. So we want to show you exactly how that went. How it fully transpired along with a fact check.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: How much did you know about what your chief of staff was doing with the alternate slates of electors?

SEN. RON JOHNSON (R-WI): I`m on the phone right now.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: No, you`re not. I can see your phone. I can see your screen. Does your chief of staff still work for you, Senator?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Can you see what happened there? Why was your chief of staff even offering this to the vice president?

JOHNSON: That`s a complete non-story. We`ve issued a statement, and this is a complete non-story. I don`t know what you`re even concerned about here.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, they said that -- your chief of staff is saying that you offered, you wanted to provide --

JOHNSON: No, no, no.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- alternative electors from Michigan and Wisconsin to Vice President Mike Pence.

JOHNSON: This is a staff-to-staff exchange. And I was basically unaware of it. And the chief staff contacted the vice president`s staff and said, do you want this, he said no. And we didn`t deliver it. That`s the end of story.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Well, why was he even asking for that?

JOHNSON: Because somebody delivered this to our office and asked us to deliver that to the vice president.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Did you support his efforts to try to get those slates to the vice president?

JOHNSON: No. I had no knowledge of this. I had no knowledge of this. I had no knowledge of this.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who`s the person that delivered --

JOHNSON: You know, I had no involvement in an alternate slate of electors. I had no idea this would be delivered to us, got delivered staff to staff. My chief of staff did the right thing. Contact the vice president`s staff. They said didn`t want it so he didn`t deliver it.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who`s the --

JOHNSON: That`s the end of story.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s not the end of the story. That`s a fact check there. And you can see the reporter is pressing him in real time which actually worked the get the senator to stop conducting his fake phone call and further explain himself.

Johnson learned that that busy phone trick it works better if you`re actually on a call. As the saying goes, you used to call me on my cell phone when you need my fraudulent documents? I don`t know. Something like that.

But beyond the clumsy misdirection here, the senator cannot reasonably claim that fraudulent coup documents were all just his staff going rogue. The substance matters because the evidence shows, as we reported yesterday, he was pushing this last-ditch fraud plot at, as you see on the screen, 12:37 p.m. on January 6th. Within 20 minutes of what you see on the right, Pence entering the Capitol to certify the election at that very period of time.

Within that half-hour, was this push to still give Pence fraud, voter fraud, about two different states. So the questions here are serious. They may require answers under oath. Who did provide the documents? Why did Senator Johnson want to then provide knowingly fraudulent materials to then Vice President Pence? Did the senator intend for them to change that day`s proceeding in some manner? Or override lawful votes from states, including his state?

Those are potential crimes. Who was this staffer who is being so anonymously maligned? Would this staffer tell prosecutors under oath that they went rogue and this was all their idea? Those questions about fraudulent documents to steal an election are even more important than that clumsy attempt at hotline bling.

Now we have a former Republican governor, Christine Todd Whitman, with us when we`re back in just one minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:20:45]

MELBER: Welcome back to THE BEAT. We have been covering many aspects of the revelations in just the most recent round of insurrection hearing, including a fact pattern I just walked through that is at least raising questions for Senator Ron Johnson. And I`m joined now by former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman.

Welcome back to THE BEAT.

CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY: Always good to be with you, Ari.

MELBER: Good to have you. We`ve been looking at different aspects of this. One of the striking parts of these hearings, I`m curious to hear your views, is how careful and factual much of it has been including in the testimony. Given the issue we`re just discussing, I want to play here an attorney talking about, at the time on the Republican side, where the line was for them on some of these very same plots that I just described. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN CLARK, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN LAWYER: I just remember, I either replied or called somebody saying, unless we have litigation pending that`s like in these states, like, I don`t think this is appropriate. And I got into a little bit of a back and forth. And I think it was with Ken Cheeseboro, where I said, all right, you know, you just get after it, like, I`m out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: That`s a, again, politically, ideologically, someone loyal to Donald Trump who wanted him to exhaust all his legal remedies but who said he was, quote, "out" when the court doors were closed and the efforts seemed to change into what we just describe. Potential fraud, misleading documents, fake electors.

What do you think of that plot in general and what we`re hearing from Senator Johnson?

WHITMAN: Well, Ari, this whole thing has been such a miscarriage of our process and our system. The lies have been compounded over and over again. We`ve heard extraordinary testimony, really, all the way through January 6th. The commission has done a really good job of just presenting facts.

I mean, this really -- it is a bipartisan commission with bipartisan staff and they`re just, they`re just presenting facts to people. I mean, how could you have listened to yesterday`s testimony when you have people who are Republicans who had voted for Trump and wanted him to win? I mean, in this particular instance with the fake ballots or the electors, Ron Johnson either has to admit that he has no control over his staff and they (INAUDIBLE) him, or he`s lying.

I mean, neither one is particularly good for him. He`s dumb or he`s lying. That`s not kind of the face you want to put forward for your constituents. But as you look at the whole of these plots and things that are going on, you see a much bigger picture that was very thoughtfully planned out in many ways. I mean, there was a system they were trying to undo. They were trying to take over our democracy. And they`re still doing it. And that`s really the concern that we have to have.

MELBER: Have you ever seen anything like this? You`ve been around, I think our viewers know, you`ve had extensive experience at the executive level and in a Republican administration. Have you ever seen -- is this normal? Is this acceptable as this just in case thing to have electors to override the voters?

WHITMAN: No, no. This kind of thing has never happened before. We have never seen a defeated candidate, especially for the presidency, who absolutely refused to admit he was defeated. And unfortunately, he has been promoting that for so long. He did it way before the election. He said -- he actually started back in 2016 and even before that saying if he ever lost an election, it was because of fraud.

But he`s been pounding that message so consistently, and you`ve got to give him credit for that. That a lot of people have bought into it. And unfortunately the whole purpose is to undermine the people`s confidence in our electoral system in order to claim in the next election cycle, if they don`t win, it was because of fraud. And I`ve talked to people who are well- educated, intelligent people, who are going down that rabbit hole. And I would only hope that they would at least, you know, look up after the fact.

Some of the testimony that we`ve heard, particularly yesterday which I felt were extraordinarily powerful because they came from the heart. And again, with Rusty Bowers, you had a Republican who voted for Trump twice, who was a conservative, and he just wasn`t going to void his oath of office. The same with Raffensperger. I mean, these are people who supported the president.

[18:25:02]

But they honored their oaths, they honored the Constitution, they believed in the rule of law. And that`s what we need. And we need to honor those people who held fast and saved us because this could have been an overturn of our democracy right on January 6th.

MELBER: Yes. You make it clear and plain and have the stature to do so, so I`m glad to have the benefit of you joining us tonight. I hope people are listening. And Governor Christine Todd Whitman, always good to see you.

WHITMAN: Good to see you, Ari. Thank you.

MELBER: Thank you. When we come back, we will have the full explanation for why the start of the show has been a little different because we`ve been saving time to do something very important.

It is about your rights, human rights, women`s rights, the waning power of the religious right in America, and thinking about some things anew with our friend Chai Komanduri and another very special guest. If I seem excited, it`s because I am. We`ve been working on this, we`re going to share it with you right after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:14]

MELBER: These insurrection hearings that featured vital and dramatic testimony about coups and crimes. And yet for some, a standout moment came yesterday when Republican Rusty Bowers recounted his resistance to Trump`s illegal demands, as a matter of faith.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. RUSTY BOWERS (R-ARI), HOUSE SPEAKER: It is a tenant of my faith. That the constitution is divinely inspired of my most basic foundational beliefs.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Now, that`s not a common refrain for investigative hearings, or for a lot of the Americans who have been outraged by the Trump administration`s crime spree, its lack of ethics. In fact, American cities and democratic areas are increasingly secular places, which is something that Republican leaders used to just rail against. To take one example was well-known the Nixon aide turned religious warrior, Pat Buchanan, back in the day, quite literally warned of secular Americans oppressing religious Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR: The agenda that Clinton and Clinton would impose on America, abortion on demand, a litmus test for the Supreme Court, homosexual rights, discrimination against religious schools, women in combat units, that`s changed, alright. It`s not the kind of change we can abide in a nation we still call god`s country. There is a religious war going on --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: A religious war. That argument was central to the Republican Party`s alliance with religious conservatives. After Clinton, the party leaned into a religious pitch for George W. Bush and spent years appointing the very judges who now are really in a way doing the opposite of Buchanan`s warning. It is a Bush appointee, Justice Alito, who led and wrote the draft opinion that overrules Roe v. Wade and supports strict abortion bans.

That`s the draft we`ve seen. A ruling expected any week now after it was leaked in unusual circumstances. And that ruling going after women`s rights is viewed as a capstone on a multi-decade religious quest, to really -- if we`re being honest, makes scripture and certain selected religious tenants the foundation of American law. So, judges appointed in a past era come in and try to change the rules.

So big government regulates women`s lives and rights as if this were a long bygone era. Now against that context, something else is also happening. Americans across the spectrum are actually more supportive of women`s rights and choice. 79 percent supporting gender equality, most opposing overturning Roe opposing the vision of these judges installed by politicians in bed with the Religious Right. And we have people moving away from politicized religion, taking cues even on the right for more secular leaders on the new right like Tucker Carlson, who is really the most popular conservative on T.V. and does not push specifically Christian themes.

Focusing more on race, immigration in class, or a right-wing warrior cited most frequently as potentially next up in the GOP. You know what I`m talking about, DeSantis, that he attacks big government and COVID rules but quote, rarely discussed his religion publicly. A several of those points and quotes and the attention here on this secular emphasis are drawn from a New York Times essay by a conservative writer tracing this shift that may be happening in plain sight.

How today`s Republican Party has begun its divorce from the religious right. And to document that is times piece suggests that ongoing conservative support for Trump reflects kind of a new normal, not some aberration, that 20 years ago, might have been unthinkable that someone with Donald Trump`s personal history, aggressively vulgar, secular style, and obvious ignorance of Christianity could ever get the Republican nomination.

Forget everything else. He just couldn`t get past the religious right`s power over the more conservative voting base. Well, Trump got the nomination twice. And some of his top rivals, as mentioned are not much more publicly religious than he is. Which is really saying something.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When I talk about the Bible, it`s very personal. So, I don`t want to get into -- I don`t want to get into -- no --

MARK HALPERIN, HOST, NEWSMAX T.V.: It means a lot to you that you think about or cite.

TRUMP: The Bible means a lot to me, but I don`t want to get into specifics.

JOHN HEILEMANN, NATIONAL AFFAIRS ANALYST, MSNBC: Old Testament guy or New Testament?

TRUMP: Probably equal. I think it`s just an incredible. The whole Bible is an incredible. You got to see this guy. Ah, I don`t know what I said. Ah, I don`t remember. He`s going to lie. I don`t remember either. Oh, maybe that`s what I said. You know when we go and church and when I drink my little wine and have my little cracker, I guess that`s a form of asking for forgiveness and I do that as often as possible.

[18:35:00]

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Sure. But church-going Republicans were not fooled by a lot of that. In the 2016 primary, over 60 percent of Republicans who go to church weekly, shows any other candidate but Trump, who was of course the most famous candidate and went on to win, so that`s striking, he only got 32 percent of church-going Republicans. His nomination victory then was powered by these ascendant secular conservatives.

He won 62 percent of Republicans who never go to church. They powered him. And there are signs that group remains potent on the right. And this Times essay, conservative writer, Nate Hochman identifies this new group as, quote, non-college-educated, middle and lower-class, white people with a populist hostility to the elites. It`s a project that uses quote, distinctly Marxian terms of a class struggle, and he dubs the middle American radicals, right-wing radicals.

And he`s writing from a conservative perspective. Now, this may keep some of the fervor of the religious right and that style of politics. But we don`t see religion as the main north star for the policy or ethics of these groups, and they don`t really claim so. Indeed, it may speak to a kind of mixed conservative activism that really is more about protecting a certain way of life.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Giving parents a private right of action to be able to enforce the prohibition on CRT.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They are an activist school board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We`re not going to reorganize society, and pretend that biology doesn`t exist.

REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): The Democrats are the party of pedophiles. The Democrats are the party of teachers, elementary school teachers trying to transition their elementary school-aged children convince them they`re a different gender.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: So, some of all that might be obviously dismissed as lies, conspiracy theories. Some can be rebuked as code words for the same old ignorance, fear, and bigotry. If you watch this program, you may know we do a lot of reporting on civil rights and equality, to deal with exactly those kinds of code words. But if you broaden out to the shifting patterns of these 10s of millions of people on religion and other issues, some of it may also reflect shifting beliefs, and political alliances, which may shape our politics.

And if people try to understand and reason with each other in a democracy, it is certainly worth trying to understand each other accurately as a lot of stuff changes. Take a tough complex clash that we`ve always tried to treat with precision here on this news program, the COVID Wars. Here`s just two facts, one, people attacking science and vaccines made things much worse. Two safety rules have trade-offs.

And many of those trade-offs hit working in poor people harder, not elites. The data shows pandemic job paying fell an evenly on the poor and minorities while big companies flourished. And some of the leaders of this so-called new write have seized on COVID policy as much as any topic. Skewering, allegedly heavy-handed, and elite-friendly COVID rules to attack Democrats.

It was one of the factors that voters cited in backing first-time Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin, in Virginia last year, you remember that off to your race. It may speak to what some conservatives call an overreach and a kind of liberal technocratic approach to policy or safety, or how to back or even mandate certain progressive goals.

So, the debate is certainly fair game. And for those who find themselves uncomfortable at even thinking about challenging even one potential orthodoxy. Well, that`s usually a time to try even harder to keep an open mind. I guess alternatively, you could just watch Tucker Carlson in a fetal ball. But who wants to do that? We`re not doing a version of that.

And if this new conservatism involves conservatives and Republicans living a bit more like liberals, less church, less religious dogma guiding their choices and priorities, then why does the left and rights seem more polarized than ever, and why, big question, is the Supreme Court still on the precipice of making scripture, the law of the land to regulate and oppress women?

All right. That`s a lot. And as I mentioned, it draws on that piece, and to explore the answer we have the author of that New York Times essay about the decline of the religious right, Nate Hochman, was here. His first time on THE BEAT. A fellow at the conservative National Review. Joined by Obama campaign veteran and political history expert Chai Komanduri. Welcome to both of you.

[18:40:00]

NATE HOCHMAN, FELLOW, NATIONAL REVIEW: Thank you.

CHAI KOMANDURI, POLITICAL STRATEGIST: Good to be here, Ari.

MELBER: Absolutely. So, we`ll talk it all out, which we`d like to do on THE BEAT. Nate, the piece was very interesting, people are reacting to read a lot, which I think is a credit to -- at least the way you wrote it or some of what you excavated. I post some questions there. So, the floor is yours to introduce yourself and answer.

HOCHMAN: Right. So, thanks for having me on. First of all, the premise of the piece was basically that it`s no secret to anyone who`s been paying attention to religion and American culture in the past couple of decades, that America is secularized. Rapidly, we are seeing fewer and fewer people go to church in really precipitous declines over the course of the last couple of decades.

But one thing that really hasn`t been paid as much attention to over the last decade or so is the fact that this is not just happening on the left, it`s happening on the right, as well. So, the decline in American religion began in sort of liberal Protestant mainstream denominations. But it has actually expanded to a lot of conservative evangelical denominations, too.

So, the republican party today is more secular and less religious than it has been in a generation or two, at the very least. And that`s going to have a substantive effect on the politics of the GOP and of conservatism. So, I was trying to wrestle really with, what does a secular, quote unquote, post-Christian conservatism look like?

It`s going to be more amenable to issues like gay marriage, for example. But it`s also going to focus on other culture-war issues that are broadly appealing to a much more secular voter base. And I think that`s kind of the realignment that you`re seeing today.

MELBER: Chai?

KOMANDURI: Well, I`m not so sure that it`s going to be more amenable to gay marriage. I mean, if you look at Ron DeSantis, what the Texas GOP recently did, you know, basically taking a very strong line against homosexuality. I don`t necessarily think that that is true. I do agree with Nate, that religion has definitely declined in America. I don`t think there`s any question about that.

And I do think that one of the reasons for that -- one of the reasons for Trump was that decline, as people stopped identifying as Christians, they started identifying more by race and gender, specifically for Trump voters, their white identity, and their male identity came much more to the forefront. I think that there`s a sort of a false belief among a lot of intellectuals, that as people become less religious, they`re going to turn toward secular humanism.

History has shown us that that is not true. However, I do think that this new sort of Trumpist right, has all of the negatives of the old religious right. It is full of hypocrisy, selective outrage, and it really has this materialist sort of obsession with power that is really at odds with spirituality. So, I think the same way that the old religious right was bad for politics and bad for religion, I think that`s going to be very much true for the new Trump is non-religious right.

MELBER: Nate?

HOCHMAN: Well, 55 percent of Republican voters today support gay marriage. So, I`m not so sure, you know, Ron DeSantis actually hasn`t said anything about it opposing gay marriage, so I`m not totally sure.

MELBER: Well, he did the Disney thing.

HOCHMAN: Right. But that doesn`t -- that`s not an opposition to gay marriage. It has to do with debates over the role of, you know, sexual and gender instruction and for young children in schools. But in terms of, you know, the sort of accusations that this is all bigotry, the Republican party today, the electoral coalition is the most racially diverse that it has been in modern history, you know, at least since the early 1900s.

If you look at Mayra Flores` upset victory in South Texas, just last week. She won a 80 to 90 percent Hispanic district that Joe Biden carried by four points, just 2020 -- 20. So, it`s pretty clear to me that a lot of the politics that we`re talking about today is actually more appealing to a lot of racial minorities who traditionally voted for Democrats. And I think that`s something that Democrats and progressives have --

MELBER: I let Chai respond, that you`re grading on a curve. I mean, if you say, oh, compared to just this post, Jim Crow era, when Republicans fortified a white ruling class, and it`s better than that, sure, but quite a curve. You also make -- hold on, hold on, let me finish, hold on. But you also make a point that there are people being elected in a diverse coalition. So that is a real thing.

What I want to also steer you to and then have Chai respond to is the other controversial point you make in the piece as you position a lot of what`s happening, or some of what`s happening. As a response to overreach. I alluded to that in the COVID example, reasonable people can debate these things.

Just to be clear, what portion of what you`re diagnosing and do you think really is a response to what you call wokeism or the left, because, during the Trump era, they weren`t in power federally, so it`s sort of like what is the response to and then Chai and respond to you.

HOCHMAN: Right, so I was responding to the specific claim that the decline of the religious right has supplanted sort of gender and racial grievance in place of religious observance. I think that`s clearly not true. If you look at the rapid racial diversification of the GOP coalition, but I think a lot of it has to do with sort of progressive overreach in our cultural institutions.

[18:45:00]

The fact that progressives and Democrats weren`t necessarily in power, at least for the first half of the Trump administration in Congress doesn`t change the fact that they have an enormous amount of power and a lot of our cultural institutions. And a lot of sort of more culturally conservative, not necessarily white working in middle-class voters are really uncomfortable with aspects of the post-Obama cultural progressive agenda.

And that is what is driving them towards the GOP. Again, if you look at Mayra Flores for victory in this 80 to 90 percent, Hispanic, South Texas district, she ran specifically on the border and immigration. She was telling those voters that Democrats will abandon them --

MELBER: As promised, let me bring Chai.

KOMANDURI: Yes, I mean, I think that you know -- yes, Trump did do a little bit better. George W. Bush did a lot more -- much, much, much better in 2004 if people remember. And so, you`re starting from a very low bar. And I think there`s a lot of other things and other factors that kind of play into that. I do think that the appeal to male identity, potentially could reach across racial lines.

But I also don`t think that`s a development that Republicans or Americans should celebrate. And as far as you know, your discussions about wokeism, look, one thing I`ll say, is religion has many things. OK? It`s a way of life. It`s a philosophy, it`s all those things. But one of those things that it is, is it is a stone to throw at people you do not like. And when people wonder why so many evangelicals supported Donald Trump.

Donald Trump said very clearly, I will throw those stones, I will throw those stones at Muslims, I`ll throw the stones at Mexicans, I`ll throw those stones at media, I will throw stones at the deep state. And I think one thing that Christians, I would urge them to think about, is this something you want to be associated with? Is this the type of spirituality, this stone-throwing spirituality that you want to be associated with? I think that`s a very deep question for a lot of people of faith going --

MELBER: It is deep and especially speaks to the enthusiasm, not just the divorce and the peace with Trump. But the enthusiasm for Trump on the right, which we`ve seen in those hearings about who`s really going to put up with that. This brings us to one piece of sound we have when we look at some of the people you`re talking about.

I don`t know whether these would fit into your lexicon or not. But this is real people on the right. And some of what they`re saying about policy does overlap with fear of others and bigotry. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t like the things that are happening with the illegal immigrants are taking our jobs.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: These people that are coming in are getting free handouts and everything else like that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You think that people are living off of the state --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think it`s bull (BLEEP).

STEVEN WHALEN, AUDIT MANAGER: It`s not my job to subsidize someone that`s here illegally.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`re trying to wash out our votes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Change our demographic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it`s important for us to put America and Americans first.

(End VT)

MELBER: You both get 30 seconds. And Nate, I want to be very precise. I`m not referring to your essay. But some of what we just heard there gets closer to what Tucker does, which gets closer to replacement theory, minorities, racial minorities, Jews, they`re here in a conspiracy to destroy white Americans, Christian or not, blah, blah, blah, not saying you say that. But where is the role in this movement that you`re diagnosing, to stand up and confront that if you say that is not a good part of democracy?

HOCHMAN: Well, look, I think I would caution against sort of taking the sort of anecdotes that you hear from folks when you go out and interview random people on the street. And taking that and extrapolating it to describe a broader electoral trend, right? It is -- as I said, clear that the GOP is on its way to being the most racially diverse coalition that has been in a century.

So, if you reduce all of those developments, to racism and bigotry, what you`re essentially saying is that all of these non-white voters who are moving into the GOP coalition actually don`t know or aren`t actually conscious or aware of --

MELBER: I`ll let you finish. You must be using poetic license. Because when you said the words, you must be saying, you can`t mean literally me, because I`m doing this segment to explore your ideas. But I`m also holding you accountable for the rise of replacement theory, which overlaps with immigration policy, I will let you finish as (INAUDIBLE) but I hope you don`t mean me.

HOCHMAN: No, it`s -- it is -- I`m not specifically talking about you. But this is obviously an argument that you hear from a lot of mainstream outlets, or general arguments in general, which is that what is driving any aspect of GOP politics really can be reduced to the country and racism and sexism, etc. I would -- I would sort -- you know, I would caution your progressive viewers to give into that framework.

I think if -- especially if Democrats actually want to be electorally viable with demographics, like Latinos, for example, who are rapidly moving right. They have to take seriously the possibility that people are pro-life for example because they actually have a different conception of when life begins. They don`t just hate women, right? They`re not just --

(CROSSTALK)

MELBER: I have to do the referee thing and get Chai his 30 seconds. We`re running over on time. Chai?

KOMANDURI: Yes, look, when it comes to religion there are a lot of people on the left who might cheer the demise of religion. I`m not one of them, you know. I`m somebody like Elvis Costello who would like some more peace, love, and understanding in our society in our politics. However, keep in mind that the religious right and the Trumpist religious right or non- religious right as you put it is none of those things. He will bring -- none of those things are our politics. We`re bad for our politics and will be bad for religion.

[18:50:00]

MELBER: Appreciate both of you having this conversation. We do need that, as Elvis Costello would say we`re watching the detectives and you are both detectives for your respective political movements. I tried. We`ll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD RAFFENSPERGER, GEORGIA SECRETARY OF STATE: 28,000 Georgians skipped the presidential race, and yet they voted down ballot and other races. And the Republican congressman ended up getting 33,000 more votes than President Trump and that`s why President Trump came up short.

[18:55:00]

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MELBER: Facts, that`s actually a really interesting political point that came in and otherwise large discussion of law-breaking and coups. The top elections official in Georgia, noting Republicans specifically abandoned Trump. Republicans in other races won over 2.49 million votes, but Trump came in there much shorter 2.46, which made all the difference, meaning even Republicans turned on him in that traditionally often red state.

Now, Trump has claimed that it`s, quote, inconceivable that Biden did better than Obama in the election. He views it as quote, impossible. And if you have a random Republican friend who likes Trump and hasn`t followed the news, you could see how they would potentially have that logic. But Donald Trump lost, we`ve always known that from the facts and are nonpartisan supervision of elections.

Politics are a side point that are also interesting. He was a weak candidate both times he will run -- ran I should say. He was a weak candidate both times he ran, and he never won the popular vote, and the second time Republicans just had had it. Does it for us. "THE REIDOUT" is up next.

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