Former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich ripped into his former political party, the Democrats, and laid out why he considers himself now a “Trumpocrat” in a broad, nearly 30-minute-long exclusive interview with Breitbart News on Saturday morning.
Appearing on Breitbart News Saturday on SiriusXM 125 the Patriot Channel, Blagojevich—whose sentence President Donald Trump commuted last month, releasing him from federal prison—laid out how his old political party has “abandoned” American workers and black voters.
Blagojevich said a number of policies his former party’s leaders, from former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama to former Vice President Joe Biden to even his home-state Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), have put forward have hurt African Americans and working class Americans economically and socially—and now that he is out of prison, and clear of the Democrat Party machine, he is speaking out against it all.
What’s more, Blagojevich says the great irony of American politics is that Trump—a Republican—has done more to rectify these problems that Democrats created for black and working class Americans than any of America’s other recent presidents, in large part because Trump has ditched the “traditional” GOP playbook to pursue a more solutions-oriented agenda. Upon his release from prison, Blagojevich announced he is a “Trumpocrat”–making him the highest profile such Democrat who has left the Democratic Party to join President Trump–and here he explains his views in the most in-depth interview yet since his release.
“When I say I’m a Trumpocrat—and hopefully a lot of others are as well, and I believe they are—it’s largely because the Democratic Party has not only left us but it’s abandoned traditional Democratic constituencies like working people, factory workers like my father an immigrant who came to America and spent all of his time here as a working man working in a steel factory,” Blagojevich said. “And also, the Democratic Party has for far too long taken the African American community for granted. They’ve not only abandoned them, they’ve sold them out when they passed the crime bill in 1994 that President Clinton and Vice President Biden, then-Senator Biden backed and voted for. Our senator here, Sen. Durbin, voted for it. It’s a bill that led to the mass incarceration of a whole new generation of African American men for nonviolent first-time drug offenses, over-sentencing them and then putting them in a position where they can have no opportunity whatsoever to begin a new life after correcting the mistakes that they made and paying their debts to society, frankly, for the crimes that they committed. President Trump, interestingly enough, is speaking to those constituencies in ways that traditional Republicans never did.”
Blagojevich said that whether it’s through his economic policies or his criminal justice reform policies or other norm-challenging fights, Trump has upended the normal political battle lines in a way that is “revolutionizing American politics” and “re-aligning” what would be considered “traditional” political coalitions by zoning in on and successfully “drawing from” what were considered “Democratic constituency groups.”
“And I think he’s not only been successful politically because he’s done it, I think he’s revolutionizing American politics,” Blagojevich said. “He’s re-aligning politics in America by drawing from those traditional Democratic constituency groups, the factory worker that used to work in a factory that’s gone because of the 1994 NAFTA bill that President Clinton signed sending all those jobs away. President Trump is bringing them back in places like western Pennsylvania and Michigan and Wisconsin and southern Illinois—the rust belt states. One of the many frustrations I had as governor was when I would leave the Chicagoland area where I’m from—I’m from Chicago—and I’d visit places like the Quad Cities or Marion, Illinois, or Franklin County, Illinois, where they used to have coal mines and people were working and that was the economic anchor of the community or you’d go to a place like Galesburg, Illinois, where the Maytag factory once was but has left because of NAFTA and President Clinton and the policies of the Democratic Party that’s supposed to be the party that protected those people and looked out for their interests. It’s hard to be able to explain to those communities that there was hope, that there was a possibility that we might be able to bring some of those economic engines back to the state. Now, at last, we have a president who not only promised to do it but he’s doing it. I think President Trump is making real strides in succeeding in that but more importantly he’s actually addressing the needs of the American worker. And with the First Step Act, he’s actually done something for a community that overwhelming votes for Democrats like me. We easily get 90 percent or better of the African American vote when we run against Republicans. Yet, the Democratic Party I would say cynically has taken the African American community for granted. It’s almost immoral, their treatment of the African American community by sort of just keeping them dependent and in a certain place where they have to look to government for all the answers when at the same it’s actually government through over-sentencing and targeting African Americans that are causing a lot of the problems and conditions in these very communities.”
Blagojevich served almost eight years of a 14-year sentence handed down after multiple trials finally resulted in partial convictions, some of which were later vacated on appeal. The first time they came at Blagojevich, he was convicted on only one of 24 charges—the charge was lying to the FBI, something the agency has similarly used to target Trump allies in the various scandals he’s been entangled in—but then prosecutors retried him on 20 counts and he was convicted on 17 of them, acquitted on one, and on the other two no verdict was rendered. Later, on appeal, five of the counts were vacated and Blagojevich’s lawyers continued fighting for years to try to get the Supreme Court to hear them.
But eventually, it was Trump in early 2020 who commuted his sentence—and let him out after eight years behind bars. Blagojevich to this day insists he did nothing wrong, and that what he was put away for was politics as usual. In fact the core allegation that he tried to sell Obama’s U.S. Senate seat when Obama was president-elect and Blagojevich was to appoint Obama’s successor, was one of the conviction charges vacated—or overturned—on appeal. But the broader point Blagojevich tells with this story is that there is a serious problem in America’s criminal justice system, and what happened to him could happen to anyone.
“On this subject, sadly and unfortunately it took this long—I had this experience I had to endure and I will tell your listeners they put me in prison for things that are routine politics. I didn’t cross any lines,” Blagojevich said. “We were doing routine political things. The sale of the Senate seat was never a crime. That was reversed by the appellate court. I was there for some fundraising requests and they convicted me by moving the line and telling the jury you can be convicted for seeking a campaign contribution without any evidence of a promise or a threat because there was none. But anyway, having said all of that, this long unhappy experience has given me a unique perspective. I truly believe I am an expert witness on this. I have street cred having done eight years in prison and I spent the first 32 months in prison as probably the only governor in American history to be in a high security prison behind what the inmates call ‘the razor wire,’ where I spent nearly three years with over 900 inmates coming and going where some would leave and new ones would come in. They were largely drug dealers, gang-bangers, cartel members, there were bank robbers here, there men there who had committed murder, only two percent were so-called ‘white collar.’ So, I really got a firsthand lesson on real life and yes of course I met a lot of my fellow inmates—particularly drug dealers—who experienced over sentencing. Here’s a classic example, Jonair Moore, my friend who I just left behind is in his 11th year or actually just starting his 12th year of prison as part of a 26-year sentence as a first-time non-violent drug offender, a young African American man. Consider the fact that the average rapist in America serves no more than four years, and here’s Jonair—he’s not unusual, he’s actually the rule not the exception, sent to prison for a quarter of a century for a one-time mistake when no one was hurt. The system is broken and it disproportionately discriminates against African Americans. It’s what the author Michelle Alexander has called ‘The New Jim Crow in America.’”
Trump, Blagojevich said, has done more to reform this broken system than any Democrat has—including the first black president, Obama—and he said it was Democrats who created the problem to begin with when Biden and Clinton and Durbin teamed up to push the 1994 crime bill that Obama did nothing to alleviate.
“I’ll say this, this is one of the great ironies in modern history: On this issue, it’s actually Donald Trump who’s trumping the first African American president—Obama—and actually doing something to solve this problem and undo the racist injustice caused by that 1994 crime bill, which has led to the current conditions we’re facing,” Blagojevich said. “This was a bill Joe Biden not only voted for, but Joe Biden was a vocal advocate for and so were most of the leading Democrats including my senator here in Illinois Dick Durbin and of course President Clinton was the who signed it.”
Asked if these actions by Trump on this front, and what Trump has done with the economy and school choice among other efforts are winning the president support in the black community, Blagojevich said that “my instincts tell me that it will and it will be a dramatic improvement among President Trump’s performance in the African American community among voters.” Democrats have usually won around 90 percent or more of the black vote in most elections. Trump won about eight percent in 2016, which, while better than failed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney’s six percent that year, is still a very small percentage.
“I’ve only been home a little over two weeks so I haven’t been as plugged into the community as I was in the good old days, but I have made an appearance on an African American radio station here in Chicago maybe the second or third day I was home and I got the sense there was a growing sense President Trump was someone who was actually addressing the problems in the African American community that they have gotten all too often almost accepting that they’re going to receive from the politicians they elected is just lip service,” Blagojevich said. “I think there’s a real sense among people, and it’s growing as the truth gets out, and I think there’s going to be more and more people in the African American community who see that this president, President Trump, is a very different kind of leader than a traditional politician. This is a guy who solves problems as opposed to making honestly—very too often, politicians make promises they have no intention of following through on to begin with. I think that when it comes to criminal justice reform, this is a case where this is a president who’s actually doing real meaningful things that’s leading to the end of over-sentencing of many African Americans in the system. I saw a few guys go home before I went home because of the First Step Act. In terms of the guys I went to prison with, are they seeing what President Trump is doing? The answer is: yes, they are. And I also think a lot of these guys like the fact that this is a president with a badass style and a guy that actually fights. I think they like that too, and that’s waking up a lot of people. They’re sick and tired of the BS.”
Blagojevich, who was the home state governor of Obama’s Illinois in 2008, when the former president was first elected to the White House, and was the first governor in America to endorse him that year, also told Breitbart News he now considers it a mistake to have endorsed Obama. Blagojevich said that Obama promised all sorts of changes and hope for the country—“hope and change” were the now former president’s infamous campaign slogan—but Blagojevich says now upon reflection that Obama failed in every respect to bring either to the country, and that they were empty rhetorical catchphrases with no substance behind them. He said Trump, on the other hand, has actually delivered whereObama failed.
“President Obama was elected in 2008. Here’s something I’ll plead guilty to: I was the first governor to endorse him,” Blagojevich said. “That I did, and it was wrong—but at the time I thought it was right. Obama’s election if you really think about it was based very little on detail. It was based on his themes ‘hope and change.’ People were sick and tired of the usual baloney in politics and fake solutions dressed up as solutions but they’re not real. ‘These guys are saying they did something for us somehow, but I’m not feeling it. Things continued to stay the same and the lobbyists and the insiders are all getting rich in Washington or in my case in Illinois in Springfield, but how come my tax bill is going up?’ Obama was elected because the American people felt they wanted change and this was a new candidate who was talking about hope and change. It wasn’t a lot of substance under it, but they were so hungry for change they took a leap of faith on President Obama and did something historic electing our first African American president in the history of our country—which is a very good thing for our country. It turns out however Obama was just that, all rhetoric. It was just a slogan. He didn’t do it. So I think that eight years later, when President Trump came down that escalator—I was watching that in prison on one of those televisions in prison—I felt the same way you did. He started to talk and then he didn’t back down. He was losing big because of some of the tough positions he was taking, but I was convinced at that time he was going to win. Now, you have a guy who’s not just saying he’s going to bring change—he’s bringing real hope that he’s going to stand up for something and take the hit and lose something for what he was going to get. It’s not real change unless you ruffle some feathers and make a few enemies. That I think is what President Trump is doing. I think some of the guys I was in prison with, African American guys who are seeing this new president as a very different kind of leader than Obama and frankly all the other ones that preceded President Trump leading up to his election.”
Asked about the unique populist space that Trump has found in American politics, Blagojevich said he believes it is the future—whether it’s on trade deals like the USMCA, which got more than 380 votes in the House and 89 votes in the Senate, or on forthcoming major policy packages like infrastructure. He noted, too, that while he disagrees with the socialist solutions offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), he thinks that Sanders is zoning in on some of the core problems facing the country—and the culprits in Washington and on Wall Street behind such problems.
“President Trump has filled that vacuum,” Blagojevich said. “That’s absolutely right. That’s what’s going on. You see it, frankly, even with Bernie Sanders and his supporters. He’s taken positions and views and he’s offered solutions to the problems that I think frankly are unworkable. History proves that socialism never works, and actually is counter-productive. But at least Bernie Sanders is actually talking about identifying some of the problems that are facing our country. Now, President Trump on the other hand is not only addressing those issues but he’s now the president and he’s actually achieving things and providing real, meaningful solutions that are leading to an economy that is booming because of the very things he has done whether it’s the tax cuts, reducing the regulations, and these trade deals—all are absolutely long overdue. Here again is an example of a different philosophy that Trump is offering to the American people and I think he’s speaking to a whole bunch of different people who frankly tuned out of the process long ago because they understand how full of baloney the political system has become for a long, long time. They’re now coming back into the political system.”
Blagojevich added that Trump’s success is in large part marked by how many “enemies” he’s amassed in Washington trying to take him down and stop his progress.
“You got a lot of voters who are not even being called by pollsters because they haven’t voted for several elections, but now because President Trump is actually bringing real change and actually keeping promises that he’s making and solving those problems and among the evidence that he’s doing it is that he’s got so many enemies that want to destroy him,” Blagojevich said. “One of the Roosevelt presidents, I think it was Franklin but it could have been Teddy, he said ‘ah, you have enemies. Good. That means you stand for something.’ The fact that President Trump is getting so much pushback and the opposition is so determined to destroy him—and that raise a whole bunch of other issues, and I’m also an expert witness on this and how when you go down and try to shake things up and change things the political establishment comes after you and destroys you personally, this is a real serious problem for another discussion—but the fact that President Trump is getting that kind of response and that the Democrats decided to abuse the impeachment process and use it as a political weapon frankly is a badge of honor for President Trump. It’s more evidence he’s doing what he said he was going to do and he’s changing things and they know it in that establishment in Washington and they don’t like it. So the more he keeps fighting and achieves things and changes things, like USMCA as you say in spite of all this opposition to be able to do the necessary things to get the bipartisan support to pass those trade deals, because he’s been able to use Twitter and the ability to communicate directly to the people, he’s been able to force those people like the operatives and congressmen in Washington to respond to his leadership and support some of his stuff because even though they don’t want to give him a political win they got to support this stuff to get re-elected. So yeah, I think there’s a tremendous space—a lot of room in that area—of those non-voters who tuned out a long time ago and I think you’re going to see President Trump being very successful in November and I think you’re going to see the number of votes that he gets will far exceed what he got the first time and a lot of those will be voters who haven’t been voting for a long time. A lot of them came out in 2016, but my prediction is a lot more of them will come out in 2020 since President Trump has proven to be different from the usual politicians. This is a guy who actually fights to get things done.”
Blagojevich said that the same Democrat machine that targeted him—and Trump—is also trying to take down Sanders. That is because, he said, the Democrat Party is now “the party of Wall Street,” he said.
“Absolutely, and it seems so transparent to me. This is the new Democratic Party, the Chuck Schumer-Nancy Pelosi Democratic Party,” Blagojevich said. “It’s the party—ready for this—of Wall Street. They’ve become the party of Wall Street. That’s why they sold out the American worker with NAFTA. They went to Wall Street because it’s loaded with campaign contributions. Now, the Democratic Party today because of the growth of the internet and online communications, now the Democratic Party is also the party of Silicon Valley—again, at the expense of the working person and family and the African American community because of some of the other things that they do. They cynically have abandoned the African American community and made a determination to keep that part of our nation dependent upon government in a way so that they have no other place to go but to vote for Democrats and the simple way for Democrats to keep them voting for them is call anybody who offers some kind of solution like school choice or other reforms like criminal justice reform, to call them racists. It’s a real cynical ugly kind of politics that the modern Democratic Party is engaged in. Of course they’re going to do anything they can to keep Bernie Sanders from winning and they’re going to be successful in doing it with the establishment ganging up on him. Bernie, again, is wrong on the solutions but at least he has the courage to raise the issues. I remember here’s where he was so right and I was so wrong. I remember when I was a brand new congressman back after 9/11, me and everybody else we all voted for the Patriot Act. Then there was Bernie Sanders, that crazy guy from Vermont—Bernie voted against the Patriot Act. I remember thinking how crazy he was. He was right, and we were wrong. That Patriot Act has led to the undermining of civil liberties, giving unchecked power of prosecutors who have weaponized their power and now criminalized routine practices motivated not by the desire to serve the interests of justice but instead to go after political enemies or people they want to bring down who are ruffling the feathers of the establishment. Frankly, what they did at the AAA level to a Democratic governor, to me—a lot of the same people, Comey, Fitzgerald, and Mueller, the same ones have been trying to do it at the major league level to a Republican president in President Trump. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us and the Democratic establishment abandoned these traditional voting groups and Bernie Sanders is going to pay a price because he’s got the chutzpah enough to challenge and raise questions that frankly question the establishment.”
For Blagojevich, for now, he is unclear about the future—he says he wants to write a book or two, and find a way to help champion the issues he cares about–especially criminal justice reform. But one thing he is certain of: He is “everlastingly grateful” to Trump for having the “testicular virility” that he says Obama did not ever have to right the wrong he considers was done to him by the criminal justice system.
“I’m not sure, it’s all very new, I’ve never come out of prison before so after eight years it’s a new experience,” Blagojevich said. “I hope to write a book or two—I’d like to write a book about my experience and what I’ve learned along the way. I think I can offer a unique perspective. I’d also like to write a book about helping people through their struggles and adversity because I share with them how I found the inspiration and the strength and purpose that worked through the long dark wilderness that I was in. I’d like maybe to be able to do something like that that could be helpful to people. I’d like to fight for criminal justice reform and I do believe I have a lot I can say about that from both sides, as a former governor where we did certain things but could have done so much more but also what I went through and have come out of. Right now, I’m doing this thing called Cameo where you do shout-outs to people and it’s a way to earn a living and it’s actually kind of nice because I’ll get a request from a daughter and she wants to celebrate her mother’s birthday so she’ll ask ‘hey governor can you say to my mother you’re a great mother and thank you for raising us children and loving us as you have?’ So you bring a little smile on the faces of people who make these requests, so that’s been nice. But in terms of what I’m going to do in the way of something lasting, it’s unclear right now. It’s all very new. But let me say this—whatever it is, it’s way better than what it was. There’s nothing like being home and being with your family and I’m blessed to be with my daughters and with my wife Patti who are the purpose and inspiration for me to come out and find a way back home. I’m grateful, everlastingly grateful, to President Trump again for having the testicular virility to trump Obama and do the right thing.”
LISTEN TO FORMER ILLINOIS GOV. ROD BLAGOJEVICH ON BREITBART NEWS SATURDAY: