Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol joined me today to survey the political landscape two weeks out from Iowa:
HH: I begin this hour with Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard. Long-time friend of mine and I think, like me, has confused a prognosticator as anyone out there. Bill, how are you?
BK: I’m fine, Hugh, and I’m honored to be as confused as you are, really.
BK: We’re not an exclusive group this year, however.
HH: I got into an argument yesterday on Meet the Press with Steve Schmidt from the old McCain campaign and he says, “Look, it’s going to be Trump or Cruz.” And I said, “Honest to gosh, Steve, I don’t know anyone says anything about this race after the way that it’s gone. What’s Bill Kristol’s take two weeks up from Iowa?
BK: Well, Trump and Cruz are ahead, so it’s more likely to be them than anyone else, but you can write a scenario for example – Trump and Cruz are now engaged in a serious fight I think, and they are both pretty effective fighters and they might to damage to each other and could be like 2004 on the Democratic side when Howard Dean was ahead at this point. Sort of resembles Trump in some ways, I don’t mean resembles, but the kind of wave of unanticipated support for Dean somewhat resembles what Trump has been able to do in the past six months. Dean got into this serious fight, lot of negative advertisement both ways and John Kerry kind of sailed past both of them and ended up winning Iowa. Is it possible that Marco Rubio is the John Kerry of this cycle who wins Iowa after Trump and Cruz do a lot of damage to each other? It seems to be unlikely, I would bet on either Trump and Cruz winning Iowa, but it’s been so unpredictable so far, why should it suddenly start becoming predictable.
HH: Right now, as I have been saying all day, I think Ted Cruz is going to win Iowa and I think Donald Trump is going to win New Hampshire, but South Carolina is anyone’s guess. Bill Kristol, quick quiz to see if you’re watching Meet the Press. When was the Last time that a New Yorker, a big-time New Yorker political figure took on a would-be president of the United States not bor n in the United States?
BK: I was not watching Meet the Press and therefore, I don’t know the answer.
HH: The answer is when Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton in 1804 (laughs).
BK: Geez, that’s a good comparison.
HH: (Laughs) Well, you and I were together–
BK: . . . The greatest Founder and just thinking about his unjust death at the hands of Aaron Burr when he threw away his shot and Burr didn’t do what you’re supposed toa do. What most gentlemen’s duels by the time was not to actually to shoot to kill and Burr of course and did and killed Hamilton.
HH: The only reason I know that Hamilton was born on Nevis was because I went on a Weekly Standard cruise.
BK: We saw Hamilton’s birthplace.
HH: Yes (laughs). And so they wrote the Constitution specifically to make him eligible and so I brought that up yesterday and people looked at me a little – do you think – I think this is a politically malignant argument about Cruz’s citizen ship – a legally bankrupt one, but a politically effective. What do you think?
BK: I think it might be, at least the Cruz camp might have thought that it was becoming effective which might be why Cruz decided to go on a counteroffensive on New York values. On the New York values thing, I curious what you think about that, Hugh. I thought at first a little bit of a mistake by Cruz, too clever by half , just attack Trump which I think would be a good idea on substance, on policy. He can’t be reliably counted on to appoint conservative judges. He hasn’t been pro-life, etc. etc. Instead, I thought the New York values was kind of a too clever by half way of getting at it, but now I’m rethinking that. I wonder if he didn’t a chord with that. He’s expanded the New York values argument into an argument about the judges and the courts and the life issue and other things and I wonder if that may end up being a winning argument for Cruz even though he kind of lost on the debate stage that night. What do you think?
HH: I think it’s to be continued because it’s one of those rare instances where they both won that night. I think Donald Trump won the country by being an aggrieved party genuinely upset that someone would call in to question New Yorkers’ citizenship and patriotism and all that because it resonates with people, they all remember 9/11, and it may play in South Carolina. At the same time, Ted Cruz was messaging into the Iowa caucuses and I thought that was very effectively don, so it might work for both of them.
BK: And it allows him to bring up the photo of the Clintons at the Trumps wedding and the whole kind of “you scratch my back, I scratch your back” crony liberal capitalism of New York which fits the sort of crony government capitalism of DC and I think Donald Trump is vulnerable on that. If Cruz can launch an ideological assault on Trump, God knows he’s been impervious to everything so far, but I still think that at some point, voters don’t realize just how unreliable Trump’s quasi-conservatism is , and I think that’s Cruz’s best shot and I think he’s taking a pretty good shot at it.
HH: MY colleague on the radio airwaves, Mark Levin, launched a missile at Donald Trump yesterday and it crystallized this assessment – the national security conservatives are either with Rubio, Christie or Jeb. The legal conservatives , the sort of Fed-Soc, the Scalias, the Levins, they are with Ted Cruz because of his constitutional chops, but the disconnected Reagan democrats, this is kind of cliché’, love Donald Trump because he owns that non-PC turf that no one else can own. Any argument with that, Bill Kristol?
BK: I agree with it, but I think Cruz could take some of them back. The Tea Party’s talked a lot about the Constitution, a lot of those disaffected people think the problem is unlimited government, Washington out-of-control, no one is serious about fixing Washington. I think Cruz, and to some degree, Rubio, could make the case that they really are serious about radically changing Washington, about restoring Constitutional government. The trouble is, so many Republicans and conservatives are so unhappy about Obama, they are so disillusioned by Republicans who got elected saying they were going to stop Obama from doing what he’s doing as they haven’t, that they think iin the sense we need our Obama. We need our guy who will run roughshod if need be because you know what, all this nice talk, getting fastidious about the Constitution gets us nowhere. If Cruz and Rubio can convince Republican primary voters that they are going to fight as effectively as Trump but with Constitutional goals in mind and conservative goals in mind, I think they would have as hot winning over some of those Trump supporter, but Trumps been very clever and very effective at obviously, making his case.
HH: I’ve said online and I’ve said offline to Donald Trurmp, I though Trump and Rubio won the debate and I think Rubio was tied for the gold because he went after Hillary effectively displaying what you just said, the ability to take her on and beat her. The question is for Christie, Bush, Rubio, anyone else, where do they win? Is it South Carolina? Maybe Iowa, but if Rubio breaks through in Iowa, that’s a whole new ballgame.
BK: It’s huge. I think for Rubio, he needs to be a clear, at least there in Iowa, way ahead of all the governors. At that point, right now, they’re sort of tied for second in New Hampshire within a couple of points of each other. I think if you’re a more established-oriented voter in New Hampshire and you suddenly see Rubio at say, 21-percent in third in Iowa and it went up in single digits, or even 18-percent, you think, you know what, Rubio is the one guy who has the chance to play on the same field as Cruz or Trump, I’m going to go to Rubio, so I don’t really buy the argument that those New Hampshire numbers are stable. I think Iowa will affect New Hampshire a lot. I think that’s Rubio’s huge opportunity. The best way for Rubio to do well in New Hampshire I think is to do well in Iowa. Conversely, I think Cruz could do very well in Iowa, even win it, that I don’t you can afford to think too far into New Hampshire. Then you start to look a little like a better-funded version of Santorum or Huckabee – the social conservative candidate—
BK: . . . Who does well regionally but it isn’t ultimately successful in the Midwest as a real national candidate. So I think for Cruz, he actually has to think a lot about New Hampshire at the same time that he thinks about Iowa, so they all have trick, complicated – it’s a very interesting race politically. A lot hinges on it obviously and I have my preferences, but just look at it as someone who’s been a couple of these like we have and is interested in analyzing them, it’s a really interesting three-dimension chess game at this point.
HH: Yeah, I’m calling myself the Howard Cosell of this cycle. I don’t really care who wins, but what a hell of fight it is. Let me close with a question that I can only aske Bill Kristol. In 1992, then-Prime Minister John Major was expected to lose, but he won because of the so-called shy Tories, people who were embarrassed to tell pollster they were going to vote for the rather dull, bland Major. Who are the shy voters here? Are they people who are afraid to admit that they are for Trump, are they people that are afraid they are against Trump because online response ins ferocious? Who are the shy voters here who aren’t speaking up.
BK: On the Republican side, I could equally argue that Trump has a hidden vote or that the Trump vote is exaggerated and falls off as we get to election day and people get a little more serious. Don’t you think the Democratic side, incidentally, there could be a hidden Sanders vote?
BK: I do, and I think what happens if Sanders wins Iowa and then New Hampshire, which I think is possible, one-in-four, one-in-three chance that wins both. At that the point, does the Hillary juggernaut just chug along and they’re counting on their so-called firewall in South Carolina? Is it out of the question that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are the nominees of the two major parties.
HH: No it’s not, and I said on Meet the Press yesterday, it’s Groundhog’s Day, the movie, for Hillary. She’s been in this movie before, it does not end well if you lose the first two primaries or even one.
BK: Right, I think people still haven’t sort of internalized that possibility. New Hampshire is on February 9, Tuesday night, February 10th could be an amazing morning in American politics.
HH: You’re right, inevitability is a fragile thing, it’s a dangerous thing to have cloaked around you because if someone shoots to kill the king and they kill the king, they kill the king. Bill Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, always a pleasure.
End of Interview