Kruse and Zelizer sat down with The Daily Beast to talk about how we got where we are.
The last two presidents have been a mixed-race professor with a Muslim name and an openly racist reality TV host. Are we at a point where history doesn’t offer much guidance for what comes next?
KRUSE: We’re historians. Our training is in hindsight. In a lot of ways, Trump does recall past presidential candidates. George Wallace is somebody who always comes to mind when I watch a Trump rally. You can look at what Pat Buchanan’s run did to the Republican Party as a precursor to Trumpism. What’s happening with social media builds on what happened with the internet and with cable TV before that and with talk radio before that.
We’re off the chart in a lot of ways, but we seem to be coming back to topics we’ve seen before. The question of what to do about the many misdeeds of the Trump administration leads back to the impeachment of Bill Clinton and to Watergate before that. I think it’s useful to use the past examples as a guide for what might come next.
A lot of what’s off the chart comes from Donald Trump.
ZELIZER: Even in the things that seem the most remarkable or unprecedented, we are trying in the book to provide some historical foundation for those changes. How do you have a president who breaks with norms and institutions? There are things that are very unique to him, but we have a lot in the book about how the Tea Party generation of Republicans—like government shutdowns—created room in the party for a president who plays by those rules.
We didn’t write the book to explain President Trump. We finished most of the book before Trump became president to explain the current era, and that context is what historians can add.
Does the change in public opinion on Richard Nixon in 1973 and 1974 tell you much about factionalism or partisanship today, or was that a much different social environment?
KRUSE: If you look at Nixon’s approval ratings, there was a full quarter of the country that still approved of him right through his resignation. There was still 25 percent of the country in his corner even when he left office in disgrace.