John Heilemann, Mock Convention’s Spring Kickoff speaker, didn’t hold back when discussing President Donald Trump.
“Whether you’re conservative or liberal, whether you’re Trump’s friend or foe, these past three years have been crazy and chaotic,” Heilemann, who has interviwed Trump upwards of 30 times, said.
Heilemann kicked off the beginning of the Mock Convention 2020 cycle. Mock Convention is one of Washington and Lee’s most anticipated events, taking place in the beginning of a presidential election year in an attempt to predict, with surprising accuracy, who the nominee of the non-incumbent party will be.
Heilemann is the executive producer of Showtime’s The Circus, apolitical documentary series chronicling the 2016 presidential campaign, the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency and the 2018 midterm elections. He drew laughs from the crowd consistently.
Heilemann said that for the past two years, the White House has been operating under a cloud of uncertainty. The announcement of the Mueller probe has been the origin of much of the controversy revolving around the presidency.
Now that the Mueller report has been released, the main threat to Trump’s presidency has passed. Heilemann said he believes Trump would have been facing impeachment and imprisonment if the report had given sufficient evidence of collusion; but since they weren’t able to prove that conspiracy had occurred, he will not be impeached.
“Democrats think he’s a horrible president, Republicans think there’s been a coup attempt,” Heilemann said. “The level of invective and the negative, dark connotations of this presidency, the way the president conducts himself unlike any other president has ever done… the degree of partisan intensity around this issue is not going away.”
Heilemann offered his thoughts on the current political climate in the United States.
“The two main factors de ning politics over the past thirty years arepolarization and populism,” Heilemann said.
Several presidents have tried to depolarize the nation, but all have failed in bridging political parties. Heilemann said the failure shows how “deeply baked into the cake” the problem is.
Heilemann witnessed the increase in depolarization and populism in 1995, when he traveled to Ohio with the Secretary of Labor, who was selling Clinton’s State of the Union address. During the question-and- answer section, Heilemann said one woman exclaimed, “I hate your guts. You work for that satanist, anarchist, socialist president. I’m convinced he should be in jail, his wife should be in jail, his family should be in jail, YOU should be in jail. You bastard.”
Heilemann pushed his point further and added, “we have mixed race couples, we have mixed religion couples, but we don’t have people marrying outside of their parties.”
Heilemann said Donald Trump was a “different cat” from the moment he stepped onto the scene.
He said Trump ran for office without a single mention of attempting to bring the country together. Instead of aligning with party ideals immediately, he marketed himself as the “greatest dealmaker ever.” Trump was, at least according to him, above party politics.
Heilemann discussed how since Trump attacked the Affordable Care Act, everything about Trump’s behavior has showed that he does not care about repairing the political split in the U.S.
Moving past Trump, Heilemann made his prediction for the upcoming presidential campaign.
“What’s depressing about what’s about to unfold is that it’s likely that we’re going to experience the most invective-laden, mean-spirited, dark, apocalyptic campaign we’ve ever seen,” he said.
Mock Con’s Director of Communications Annie Lentz said the original plan was to host the Keynote speaker in the Cohen Family Amphitheater, but they had to relocate when Washington and Lee was chosen to host the Old Dominion Athletic Conference lacrosse tournament at the same time.
“It worked out perfectly,” Lentz said. “Stackhouse was a great size, we packed the place with eager alums and students, and the best of all was that everyone could hear Heilemann’s great message.”