HH: I begin today with McKay Coppins of BuzzFeed. McKay has a new article on Paul Ryan – “Paul Ryan’s Inner City Education.” And it’s a terrific piece worth reading, I’m going to argue about some parts of it, but I linked it over at Hughhewitt.com. McKay, welcome, great to talk to you.
MC: Hey, Hugh, I’m glad to be on.
HH: Now I’ve got to begin, I was just talking before you came in about the story in Egypt where the hanging judge has sentence 680 other people to death. So I’ve just got to ask, isn’t that Hillary and Barack Obama’s legacy to Egypt?
MC: You know, I think we’re going to be digesting their legacy not just in Egypt, but in the Middle East in general, for probably the next decade or so. I think that the real like sharp analysis hasn’t really been written about that, and we won’t really know for a few years.
HH: But I mean, this is al-Sisi. They started out with Mubarak. I mean, this is wholly-owned. They can’t blame George W. Bush for Egypt today.
MC: No, that’s right. No, that’s absolutely right. They own this 100%. And you know, I think that when we look back in a decade or so on the story of this region, actually, they’ll have ownership over a lot more of it than Democrats are willing to admit right now.
HH: Well said. Okay, McKay, let’s get on to your piece on Paul Ryan. First of all, why did Paul Ryan let you do this?
MC: Why did he let me do it? You know, I’ve covered him in the past. I’ve worked with their office, and I’ve written a lot about his emphasis on poverty as a policy issue. But they have not let a reporter come on one of these trips that he’s been taking over the past year, and so I just worked with his office, his aides, convinced them that I was sincere and really wanted to explore this in a way that a lot of reporters haven’t, yet.
HH: Okay, let’s go with the sincerity part. I would of course put you through a much closer vetting, McKay, if I was going to let you come with me anywhere, and I would have asked do you know anything about, does Paul Ryan, to your knowledge, has he ever visited, prior to the last year, black congregations or inner city congregations of any sort?
MC: You’re asking me?
MC: Or are you saying they should have asked me?
HH: No, I’m asking you. Do you know if he did or not?
MC: Yeah, he has occasionally. It just has…what…these specific visits are very tailored to community groups that are focused on curing poverty. He’s been in black churches. He’s obviously been around African-Americans and minorities before, but not in the same kind of immersive way that he has in the past year.
HH: You see, because I think you made it sound like this was a wholly new experience for Paul Ryan. And my guess is that Paul Ryan has been in scores if not hundreds of urban situations with poor people, because he’s a Jack Kemp guy. And here’s my first…
MC: Right, so…
HH: Go ahead.
MC: Yeah, so earlier in his career, absolutely, especially when he was starting out. Like you said, Jack Kemp was his mentor, and this is, Jack Kemp’s work, you know, Republican outreach to urban centers, and particularly poverty-stricken urban centers, is what inspired him to do this. But he actually admits in the piece when we talked that he, you know, Jack Kemp kind of led this sort of revolution within the Republican Party to start talking about these issues in a real way, and that he was very much part of that. And then he said our party, we just kind of let it atrophy in our party, and I was part of that atrophy. You know, I focused on budgets and macroeconomics, and now I want to get back to these issues.
HH: All right, now what I want to ask you, McKay, and we’ll come back to Ryan in the next two segments, but just off the top of your head, if you took the average white, liberal, agnostic atheist versus the average white, Evangelical or Mass-attending Catholic, which is more likely to have spent time among the poor?
MC: Oh, absolutely, I think, you know, I don’t know average averages. I haven’t crunched the numbers. But I would say if you are a religious person, you are probably, and deeply religious and active in your religious faith, you probably spend time serving the poor, and I think Paul Ryan has shown that in the past.
HH: Yeah, and that’s what I, the one thing I thought about the article is you make it sound like Republicans don’t serve the poor, or that they’re late to this game. In fact, I’ll bet you Al Mohler, who’s the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, has probably spent more time in the black church than any other white man I know. And I just know that there are lots of white people spending a lot of time with black people in urban settings. You made it sound like it was a trip across the apartheid wire.
MC: Well, I wouldn’t go that far, but I do think there is something to the fact that because the urban poor and people of color have not traditionally, or at least in the past few decades, been part of the natural Republican political coalition, and you can say there are many different reasons for that, but because of that, in your day to day campaigning, or you know, outreach or work like that, Republicans don’t need to spend that much time in these situations. And I think what Paul Ryan is doing is interesting, because it’s not something that he would naturally do. I mean, it’s probably likely that most of the people in these, at that church that he was at, did not vote for him and Mitt Romney in 2012.
HH: Oh, that’s probably true they didn’t vote for us, but I also would go to, you know, the problem of getting people to hire ex-cons. Did the name Father Gregory Boyle ever come up?
MC: No, he didn’t, I actually am familiar with that, but no, he didn’t mention that.
HH: Because Boyle is like the all-time validator of gang bangers gone right, and he gets them jobs all the time. I mean, those kind of connectors exist all over the country.
HH: I’m surprised that in the conversation that he and Woodson and you had, that didn’t come up. But skipping around here, one more technical question before we come back after the break, you mentioned that Paul Ryan was on a conservative talk show when he got in trouble about mentioning the inner city.
HH: As a matter of fact, he was on Bill Bennett’s show. Now why wouldn’t you put that on there?
MC: I saw you mention this on your website. What’s your problem with that, the way I described it?
HH: Because Bill Bennett, and especially Elayne Bennett, his wife, have spent more time in the African-American community mentoring African-Americans, and Paul Ryan split his internship with Bennett and Kemp.
HH: So there’s absolutely no way that it was a dog whistle. There’s no way that you could…
MC: Oh, I…
HH: And so…
MC: Yeah, I agree. I agree with you there. I mean, I think I make clear in the piece that I buy his argument that he did not mean to be winking at racists with that comment.
HH: But that’s why…
MC: …that it was genuinely just an insensitive comment.
HH: If you had mentioned…
MC: He didn’t realize it was insensitive.
HH: If he had been on some shows, and let’s, for example, say Michael Savage’s show…
HH: …as opposed to Bill Bennett’s show, I mean, the show matters a great deal.
HH: I’m just curious, why didn’t you put the name in?
MC: No, that’s fair. That’s a fair point. There are any number of critiques of this story that I don’t have perfect answers to.
HH: Oh, you bet there are. More coming after the break.
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HH: It is an interesting piece. I’ve got my problems with it, but I also have some compliments for it. It’s good reporting, and it’s fun to write. But I’ve got to ask a couple of things here, McKay. You seem to think that Paul Ryan selectively believes in the Catholic Catechism, but you say he conveniently leaves out sections of the Catechism that don’t quite square with the Republican Party’s platform, like support for labor unions. I would actually bet that Paul Ryan supports labor unions.
MC: He’s pretty skeptical. I mean, obviously, I don’t think he wants to abolish all labor unions, but he’s pretty skeptical of them and their power.
HH: I actually, I would have loved to have you, I am a big proponent of labor unions in the private sector, 1,000% for them. I am myself a union member. I honestly, I don’t know any Catholic Republican who is against labor unions. Now I might be for right to work states, too, where you’re not obliged to join them. And I might be against compulsory looting of a dues check for political purposes. But I just think that’s unfair to Ryan, so I just, I’ll bet you he’s very pro-union. He just doesn’t like some of their politics. Let me ask you about this. When you describe the Republican approach to poverty, Ryan’s trying to come up with some new ideas. But did he talk at all about no-tax zones?
MC: He didn’t talk about it in this meeting, but I’ve heard him talk about it in the past, and that’s obviously an idea that people like Rand Paul have also floated. The general approach that he’s advocating is that it’s called civil society, right? This is what Republicans always talk about, is the idea is that generally speaking, top down management of these anti-poverty programs, meaning that the Washington bureaucrats decide how money is allocated, is not working, and that instead, they should cut some of the spending, and then reallocate these resources toward community-based groups that have a proven track record of working. So no tax zones is part of that, because you know, the idea is that people who are very poor, maybe working minimum wage jobs or part-time jobs, should be able to keep at much of their money as possible, and that there should be an incentive for businesses to come in and start there. I’ve heard many Republicans talk about that. That’s certainly a policy that conservatives are considering.
HH: Yeah, I mean, if I were king of the world, not queen, not duke, not earl, I would declare Detroit a tax-free zone for manufacturing, not for venture capital. I don’t want to make it into the Grand Cayman.
HH: But if you build something there and you can sell it, I’d say it’s yours. And you would see manufacturing flow in there. Did you hear the story I started with today, that Toyota is leaving Torrance, California, for Texas?
MC: Yeah, yeah.
HH: That’s going to disemploy, I don’t know, thousands of people in California. It’s going to reemploy thousands of people in Texas. But why is that happening, McKay? Why do you think?
MC: Well, I mean, I think that part of the problem with this approach is that a lot of these, and not all of them, obviously, but a lot of these urban centers that are really poverty-stricken are in blue states, right, where these tax-free zones are very unlikely to be implemented. So Indianapolis is not one of those places. And in fact, Detroit could be a place where that could happen. But I think in general, you know, actually, at one point of the article that I wrote, there is a concern that, stated by a business owner in Indianapolis who owns a factory in a very poor part of town, and he’s made efforts to employ poor African-Americans, people who are ex-convicts, some of them who are, have not had very much education, and he says part of the problem is not just, you know, getting businesses into those neighborhoods, but also training the workforce.
HH: Yeah, let me read that paragraph. It says, “When the owner of a local factory named A.J. Beer complains that his efforts to hire employees from the poor neighborhood of Martindale and Brightwood have resulted in a subpar workforce. ‘It’s 60% African-American in the back half of the shop. The education system has just failed them,’ he says. ‘A lot of them can’t read, they can’t do basic math, they’ve never been disciplined before, so they don’t know how to follow a process.’ So I see what you’re saying to Robert Woodson. I’m on it. I’ll drink the Kool-Aid. But do you see what I’m saying?” And that’s very tough talk about the education system, right?
MC: Right, and this is part of the reason the Republicans also advocate charter schools. I mean, you go into a lot of these cities, and the public schools have just totally failed, right? And so the idea is that if we, you know, if you create more competition, bring these charter schools in, you can help to train them. But you’re also going to have to start looking at programs besides traditional education, traditional schools, and that’s where, for example, this pastor, Pastor Webster in Indianapolis, he’s trying to take people who have already graduated or dropped out of high school, and help train them and turn them into dependable employees with skills that are marketable. And that’s something that…
HH: Yeah, this is why I’m a big Doug Ducey fan in Arizona, because he helped grow Coldstone Creamery to thousands of stores which employ people in their first jobs serving up ice cream, where the key thing is to show up on time and smile at the customer and clean up the spilled ice cream.
HH: And he’s trained literally tens of thousands of people on how to be good employees. And Ryan, I think, is just trying to figure out how to speak that language. I’ve got to say, you know what was an unfair part of your article? And I say this half with tongue in cheek?
MC: Let’s hear it.
HH: You can’t take any Irish Catholic in America, and I include myself in this subset, and put them in a black church and make them look at ease. It is not possible.
HH: I have been there, I have done that, I cannot sing, I cannot worship in that style. Catholics are taught not to move…
HH: And Catholics don’t sing.
MC: That’s right. You know, he said that, actually, afterward. I mean, Ryan, you know, tried to go along with all the congregation, but afterward, he said you know, I’m Catholic. I’m still goofy with this stuff, because it’s just not, you know, it’s not how I was raised. It’s not what I know. And look, I understand. I’m a Mormon, and Mormon services are fairly subdued. We don’t have a lot of shouting Amens and standing up and clapping along. So trust me, I get it.
HH: Okay, so the key thing is, and what I want to focus on now, and as we go into the break, you’re pretty cynical about Ryan, because you write that Ryan’s visit to Emmanuel Missionaries, his twelfth such venture into the world of urban poverty since last year, over the past fourteen months, the former running mate to Mitt Romney has toured the country, praying with heroin addicts in San Antonio, hanging out with former gang bangers in Milwaukee. Like any savvy politician, he began this chapter of his career with a happy ending pre-written. On April 30th, he will chair a House Budget hearing loftily titled A Progress Report on the War on Poverty: Lessons From the Front Line. 30 seconds to the break, isn’t that kind of cynical?
MC: I mean, I don’t think it’s that cynical. I think it’s an acknowledgement of reality. Any politician, regardless of where you are, you’re going to have to take into account the politics. This is his job. And what I say is that you know, there’s space between being purely cynical and craven, and being 100% idealistic. And I think that’s where most politicians operate.
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HH: Now McKay, you are writing a book on the GOP, right?
MC: I am.
HH: Well now, I have a few questions.
MC: Okay, let’s talk.
(Monty Python: Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition)
HH: All right, I want to know, if you’re writing a book on the GOP, have you heard of Doug Ducey before I mentioned him to you?
MC: Only because Paul Ryan has talked about him in the past and I’ve read about him.
HH: Okay. Have you heard anything about Jodi Ernst?
MC: Jodi Ernst? I can’t tell you for sure, probably not.
HH: How about Monica Wehby?
MC: Monical Levee?
MC: Well, how long is this pop quiz going?
HH: It’s going to be six names. I wrote about them all today at the Washington Examiner, and I’m not making them up. It’s the list of the GOP bench strength – Monica Wehby and Terri Lynn Land – have you written about them, yet?
MC: I have not written about them, no.
HH: Do you know much about them?
MC: Not that much. I mean, what should I know? You can be my editor here. What should I be…
HH: I will. How about…
MC: What should I be writing about them?
HH: Two more – Mike Pompeo and Ron DeSantis – do they ring any bells?
MC: Pompeo does, but not DeSan…what was the last one, DeSantos?
HH: DeSantis, yeah.
HH: Okay, so I’m a Republican partisan, but I’m also a broadcast journalist. And I live and breathe GOP stuff, and I know who our brightest stars are. So I just named, and Tom Cotton is on my list, but I assume you know who that is. So I think if you’re writing a book about the GOP, and you don’t know who the top seven guys on the AAA team are, maybe you’re not getting out of D.C. enough.
MC: Well, that’s fair. I mean, I think the book is going to focus on the people who are shaping the Republican Party right now. Pompeo and the other people you mentioned are obviously players, but they’re not the leading voices in the party, and that’s what the book is about.
HH: But they actually are. The leading voices in the party, I don’t know who you think they are, but they’re not. These…
MC: So you would say Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, these people are not the leading voices in the Republican Party?
HH: No, those guys are, but those four are all the youngsters. I thought you were going to talk about John Boehner.
MC: No, no, no. See, the people who are coming up who are the new crop of Republican stars. That’s what the book is focused on.
HH: Yeah, but the new crop are, I just named six of the new crop. That’s what, the Beltway is always behind the political story. It’s always behind.
MC: You would say Mike Pompeo is on the same level as Marco Rubio in terms of stardom in the party?
HH: Yes, because Mike Pompeo will go to the Senate from Kansas whenever Pat Roberts retires. And he is a West Point graduate, combat veteran, multi-millionaire business owner, and one of the smartest guys in the Congress. And he’s going to be making policy in the GOP for the next 30 years. And if Terri Lynn Land wins in Michigan, she’ll be on everyone’s short list for vice president. And Doug Ducey is just an engine of jobs. He ought to be, Roman Catholic, he ought to be the poster boy for the GOP. And I think when you write about…
MC: He ought to be, but he’s not right now, right?
HH: But he will be. I’m just saying three years ago, no one had heard of Ted Cruz except me, and I have him on the radio show weekly. So you ought to be talking…
MC: Well, this is why you need to have me on more often, Hugh.
HH: Well, that’s why, I’m just educating you. I want you to make sure that your GOP book is out there and full of the promise. So here’s my question. Is Paul Ryan running for president?
MC: Is Paul Ryan running for president? I think he is genuinely undecided. I think he very well could, and I think the chances that he will are better than people think they are.
HH: So what did you think of my Mitt Romney creating an open convention movement?
MC: I thought it was fascinating. It was very provocative. That was the most interesting piece I’ve read about Mitt Romney 2016 buzz, because it wasn’t actually about Mitt Romney. And I think an open convention is a pretty interesting idea that the party should consider more seriously. Certainly from a reporter standpoint, and you got us, it’s in your piece, it would make it a lot more fun to cover.
HH: U.S. News & World Report carried a story today about Rule 40, and they gave me the credit that is due, and I always want credit. Rule 40 is a huge problem that no one is focusing…you’ve got to win eight states, or you don’t get nominated.
MC: Yeah, I mean, it does seem like the rules that the RNC has put in place have basically been working in the opposite direction of what you’re advocating for, right? They want an establishment Republican to be able to sew up the nomination fairly early, and then be able to direct their firepower at Democrats.
HH: That’s not happening.
MC: Your argument is that it would actually be better for the party if this debate is prolonged, and we have a messy, loud, noisy debate that ends at the convention, right?
HH: Yeah, and stay low. Don’t give the Dems a target until it’s an equal sprint to the finish line.
HH: Stay very low to the ground. McKay Coppins from BuzzFeed, as always, a pleasure, great, interesting work on Paul Ryan, but always name the talk show host. Always name the talk show host.
End of interview.