Sykes On ‘How The Right Lost Its Mind’

Former talk show host talks up his new book, stresses he's still a conservative.

By - Sep 28th, 2017 12:04 pm
Charlie Sykes. Photo by Michael Horne.

Charlie Sykes. Photo by Michael Horne.

It has been nine months since Charlie Sykes’ voice went silent on the local airwaves.

But the veteran political commentator known for his conservative bent has not stopped speaking his mind and making headlines. In fact, one could argue he has made more headlines as he has expanded his sphere of influence on a national scale.

Sykes, who hosted his morning show on WTMJ-AM 620 for multiple decades, left the local radio scene with a splash. In his last year on the air, he routinely blasted then-candidate Donald Trump.

He also made waves when he joined the “Never Trump movement” even after the now-president was named the Republican Party’s nominee at last year’s convention.

“How the Right Lost its Mind” by Charlie Sykes.

“How the Right Lost its Mind” by Charlie Sykes.

Since leaving WTMJ in December, Sykes has popped up in some prominent places — including MSNBC, the National Review, New York Times and Wall Street Journal. He also has authored a book, “How the Right Lost its Mind,” which is due out Oct. 3.

On Tuesday, Sykes chatted with another broadcast veteran, Mike Gousha, for the latter’s On the Issues series at Marquette University. The two Milwaukee media figures delved into a range of political issues and looked into the rearview mirror at last year’s unprecedented campaign season.

Sykes, who was raked over the coals by many of his longtime listeners for refusing to back Trump, said he did not regret taking such a stance. He also adamantly asserted he still considers himself a conservative.

“I am saying exactly the same thing now that I said two years ago (at WTMJ),” Sykes said. “I haven’t changed anything.”

Immediately after retiring from his daily radio gig, Sykes did raise eyebrows on both sides of the political isle when he announced he was serving as a political commentator on MSNBC, oftentimes viewed as the polar opposite of Fox News.

During the Q-and-A, Gousha jokingly asked, “Doesn’t it feel like you’re sleeping with the enemy?”

He might appear on left-leaning — or, at least left friendly — outlets, but Sykes said he openly and freely shares his conservative viewpoint on any number of issues.

“No one has ever asked me to say something I don’t believe,” Sykes said. “I feel very liberated not being part of the tribe.”

That liberation has resulted in more offers in surprising places. Gousha, for instance, pressed Sykes on actor and outspoken liberal Rob Reiner’s offer to have Sykes serve on a committee investigating possible Russian involvement in the election.

Sykes said he initially was hesitant to serve on the panel. Recounting his initial reaction to Reiner’s overture, Sykes said, “OK, this is weird. (Reiner and I) agree on probably nothing.”

At the end of the day, however, Sykes said he did agree to join. “This is not a left-wing issue. It’s something you ought to care about.”

Sykes, who once worked as a newspaper reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, also shared his concerns with the state of journalism today in an era where the commander in chief routinely takes pot shots at media outlets.

“Something changed in 2016,” Sykes said of attempts to dispel untrue information. “It became harder and harder to push back. There are no more referees.”

When such venerable, well-resourced news institutions as the New York Times and Washington Post and routinely put through the ringer, Sykes said, “Clearly, something has shifted in American media culture.”

But Sykes said he does not lay all of the blame at the alt-right or alt-left movements. The established media institutions “need to ask some tough questions of themselves,” he said. “What have they done to squander their own credibility?”

The very basic core principles of democracy are at a turning point, Sykes said, which is a theme he weaves throughout his new book.

“This is a moment where (democracy) is being tested,” he said. “It’s being tested in a big way.”

Categories: Politics

10 thoughts on “Sykes On ‘How The Right Lost Its Mind’”

  1. Vincent Hanna says:

    There seems to be a huge schism on the right. Sykes considers himself a conservative, but many on the right probably feel he’s anything but due to his criticism of Trump and talk radio. Echoing that is a discussion I heard on NPR today. On Point was discussing Roy Moore’s primary win. A caller from Alabama called the host and guests (including the conservative Byron York) “Marxist” and praised Moore for promising to burn down Congress. Another caller labeled himself a conservative and said he finds the caller and Moore terrifying. So what does it mean to be a conservative now? Has there ever been a schism like this before? Is this new or just cyclical?

  2. Not to worry, Vincent. There has been a schism like this in American politics. The Whig Party was the voice of fiscal reason, but a certain faction within the party felt that our country could be improved by perhaps rolling back, or even eliminating, slavery. This led to the formation of the Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln. Now, it is the Republican Party that has lost its way and is trying to live in the past.

  3. Vincent Hanna says:

    Not worried so much as curious. What about more recent history? I’m familiar with the formation of the Republican Party.

  4. happyjack27 says:

    I don’t think it’s so much a schism as anyone who doesn’t match lockstep with the most extreme elements of the party is immediately an outcast. It’s even that way for as long as I e been watching politics, which has been almost 2 decades now. It’s always sad when you watch one of them take a single self-directed step and suddenly see the whole party disown them and turn on them like they were always worthless. You just can’t help but feel bad for them — the shock they must feel.

  5. Vincent Hanna says:

    I don’t know. The GOP seemed more unified throughout the 80s, 90s, and 00s. You always have extremes but this seems different. Hence people like Roy Moore winning elections. Did Republicans run on burning down Congress 10 or 20 years ago?

  6. Max says:

    Never underestimate the impact of Russian-Breitbart propaganda, it’s sophisticated, widespread, and enables Trump the colluder to trash talk daily, and still keep 1/3 of the population captive. The goal is to create wide spread division, chaos, and the least competent and able running government at the federal and state levels. Putin declared war on us, as he did to entire West, with Trump his greatest triumph, the GOP and conservatism the likes of Reagan/Goldwater the first casualty.

  7. This is not Urban Milwaukee it is Urban whiners with Sykes lead whiner of all. Charley always took care of Charlie,. He knew the words but he was for Charlei first and last. Ask his wives.

    Anyone here want to attack Milwaukee problems or would they rather whine about Trump, Walker, Assembly mean to the Left .

  8. The year’s biggest irony is that Charlie Sykes has become the new darling of the left, Exhibit A in the museum of radio blatherers who have seen the light. Charlie still is the most Trumplike person I can think of without being Trump himself. He still plays to his base, the nincompoops who constantly need affirmation for their myths, and he still attacks any one who criticizes him. He could be president. Furthermore, like Trump, his sole concern is ratings, which were falling when he became the anti-Trump. The left have restored the ratings. The only thing that’s missing from the new Charlie is the weekly, infantile, public flushing of the toilet that he did on his WTMJ talk show. How can anyone take this cynical scammer seriously?

  9. Vincent Hanna says:

    WCD we aren’t simple-minded like you right-wingers. We can acknowledge Milwaukee has problems and also believe it’s a great city while being disappointed by the policies of Walker and Trump (along with the latter’s complete incompetence and inability to be a dignified human being). Cause the world is complicated. There are shades of gray. But you and your ilk see everything in black and white, far removed from reality.

  10. JPKMKE says:

    Clearly the gap is widening between the stated parties’ platforms and the actual dialogue or actions of the politicians. It is difficult to disagree with most of either party’s written platform, and so the contention becomes how we move forward, rather than the platform itself. The dialogue becomes more about how someone said something or didn’t say something, identity politics, and extremists who do not represent the party(s), rather than the substance of the debate. It’s disappointing really. I wonder if political leaders who have been in office for several decades are not able to move progressive policies. Is it their long standing favors and political debts or lack of ability to understand where the country is already headed?

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