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weekend interview

'A plane flying into a mountain' - the man who advised Bush and McCain is very worried about the Republican party

John Weaver has advised George Bush Sr and John McCain. He’s a Republican to the core. He’s never seen anything like Donald Trump.

JohnWeaver Weaver (right) with John McCain

WHEN YOU’VE WORKED for some of the most high-profile American politicians of the past 50 years, you learn a thing or two about the state of US politics.

So when John Weaver tells you that he’s profoundly worried about what’s going on under Donald Trump, you’d do well to sit up and take notice.

59-year-old Weaver cut his teeth as a political strategist for George Bush Sr during his time in the White House (1989-1993) and subsequent loss to Bill Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.

More recently he’s served as adviser to Republican party royalty John McCain (twice, for presidential campaigns in 2000 and 2008) and Ohio governor John Kasich (his current gig – Kasich ran unsuccessfully in the Republican primaries ahead of the 2016 election). He describes those men with obvious affection (“both speak from the heart, are intellectually curious and have great empathy for the common man”).

He’s coming to Ireland (something he does every year with his family) in September to address the Kennedy Summer School in Co Wexford. The topic? The future of the Republican Party in the US. A subject dear to his heart. And one he sees as bleak.

“I think the Republican party is in great peril because it’s handcuffed to this man,” he tells (you can probably guess to whom he’s referring).

‘Plane heading for a mountain’

“It’s a plane heading for a mountain. And the cowardice in the party, the fear of retribution from the president or his base, is just making it worse. It’s all very well speaking privately about how Trump is unhinged, how he’s unfit, how his trade policies are crazy. You have to lead, and Congressional Republicans are refusing to do so.”

While a more than agreeable conversationalist, Weaver nevertheless doesn’t mask  his sheer disdain for Trump. Not that he thinks he’s a madman.

“No, I think he’s a narcissist, who cares only for himself. On his list of priorities he accounts for probably the top nine positions. He’s an impulsive, narcissistic, congenital liar.”

1996 Republican National Convention - San Diego John McCain pictured in November 2017 Sachs Ron / CNP/ABACA Sachs Ron / CNP/ABACA / CNP/ABACA

But is there not a degree of entertainment to Trump’s antics? Politics meets reality TV as it were.

“I don’t think you’d find him entertaining if you’re Hispanic, if you’re in the military, if you’re a woman,” Weaver says. But, we point out, many of those cohorts voted for Trump in their droves. “That’s what makes me wonder a great deal about the party and about the country,” is the reply.

Trump’s first 16 months have, of course, been something of a rollercoaster of outrage, political faux pas, and covfefe memes. Nevertheless, the idea persists that while the president’s intellect or conviction in his administration’s actions can be called into question, his agenda is a reasonably solid, and understandable, one. Isn’t that why people voted for him?

‘You just want to win’

“Well it’s like following a team, it’s all tribal. You’re either for your guy or you’re against him. And people don’t care about facts or personalities. Like if you’re a Mayo football fan, you don’t care what they do, you just want them to win,” he says.

But this is the real world and what Trump does affects real people. People will lose their freedom, people lose their lives via his actions. They have real impact. There’s another side though. There’s a great gulf in the middle of the spectrum, of people who are getting sicker and sicker of this. Hopefully they can vote us back to reality, to a rational discourse.

Not that Weaver would call the leader of the free world a fascist, as Irish Times columnist Fintan O’Toole did in a notable column earlier this week:

“I don’t think Trump could spell fascism, but he admires dictators,” Weaver says. “Turkey, China, he admires strongmen. He abhors free media, fee assembly, the right to petition government, the right to counsel and due process. He tries to undermine all of those principles constantly. And if  you look at fascism, the first things to go are the rule of law and the free press.”

But personally, I don’t believe it. I think the only ism there is Trumpism. Mind you he may not understand fascism, but some of the people who’ve been around him, like Steve Bannon, most certainly do.

Which brings us to a tricky conversation. There hasn’t been a global conflict in the truest sense of the word in 70 years. But the world seems to be on a knife-edge at present – could a world war happen in the foreseeable future?

“Well at the very least you’d have to see the situation as the worst since the Cold War,” is the less-than-reassuring response. “Putin is  dangerous man – he wants to row back on the actions of Boris Yeltsin, the splitting up of the Soviet Union. Europe, which was the tinderbox for two world wars remember, is in a bad place with Russia on one side with maybe expansionist ideas, and Brexit on the far side. You have two strongman stooges of Putin in Poland and Hungary.”

“We know historically that when trade stops, when nations are threatened and nationalism rises, then the world becomes a dangerous place. That’s why Nato (an entity that Trump, naturally, has threatened to pull the US out of) is so important. It keeps the peace basically, keeps people communicating.”


Trump is heading into the November mid-term Congressional elections – which, no different to local elections in Ireland, serve as something of a litmus test for an incumbent administration. How they go should give an indication as to how Trumpism is perceived nationwide. Weaver is absolutely dead certain on what will happen.

Trump Putin Summit Confusion Trump shakes hands with Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki last week Pablo Martinez Monsivais / PA Images Pablo Martinez Monsivais / PA Images / PA Images

“It’s going to be a dreadful November. All the energy in the country is with the centre left. You can see it recently with replacement elections going to the Dems – seats that the Republicans have held for 60 years or more.”

“At the very least I think the Democrats will take the House back (of Representatives, thus giving the GOP’s old enemy the swinging majority needed to get legislation through). The Senate is a little different. But I’d be stunned if they don’t win control of the House.”

That remains to be seen. Trump is nothing if not expert at confounding expectations.

We chat about other topics of interest in American politics currently, but realistically, all roads lead back to the real estate mogul turned 45th president of the united states.

Cambridge Analytica, disinformation, and Russian hacking? Weaver expects it to be an issue once more in November.

“It could impact the mid-terms. I think law enforcement has responded well here, despite the administration running interference. There’s nothing that Putin has wanted more than to sow division in liberal democracies. They’ve done it in France, Germany, it’s been successful here. You’ll never be able to prove how many votes it swung in 2016, but it certainly had its effect.”

He says “you have to wonder why” Trump is so keen to delegitimise Robert Mueller and the special investigation into alleged Russian interference in Trump’s election.

The Mueller probe

“What causes someone to conduct himself that way? An innocent person acts innocent. Nothing Trump says or does speaks to innocence.”

Not that he thinks Mueller can be derailed. “He could fire him, but that would probably be a step too far for Congress. And Mueller has done a good job pushing the investigation through the justice department, so even if he fired him the work would continue.”

But that’s not what worries Weaver. What worries him, and there have been snippets of this in the past – such as 10 days before the election when Trump said if he lost it would be because the vote had been rigged, and said he would only accept the result if he won – is what will go down if an attempt is launched to remove him.

“No, I worry about the day, when it comes, that time is up for Mr Trump. What will he do to stay in office? Start a war? With North Korea? Venezuela.”

And what a dangerous moment for America that will be.

John Weaver will take to the stage at the Kennedy Summer School in New Ross, Wexford on 8 September, where he’ll be talking to columnist Larry Donnelly. For further details click here

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