Meet the Press host Chuck Todd joined me for his regur Friday appearance:
HH: Coming up after the bottom of the hour, the parade of candidates ends with Mike Huckabee, but I’ve asked NBC host of Meet the Press – Chuck Todd – to join me for two segments today because any week when I talk to Trump, Fiorina, Kasich, Walker, Rubio, and Huckabee is a week that I really need to sit down with the man who began his career at Hotline – the political junkie’s continual fix. Chuck Todd, how are you? It’s great to talk to you.
CT: I’m good. Happy Friday. Happy end of August.
HH: And to you. What do you do in this weekend? This is – it’s a week of tragedy. The assassination of the newsmen. We lost two special operators in Afghanistan. Political news blowing up. What are you going to do?
CT: Well, it’s funny you say that. I don’t want to say it’s – look, I got Scott Walker. I’m sitting down with him after you’re going to be in studio this weekend. After he gives his citadel speech. I do want to do the big foreign policy interview him. Go through the world with him. Obviously, they feel as if they’re prepared to do that, so that’s part one. I’m also doing ISIS – here we are, ISIS one year later from – Hugh, it was a year ago this week that the president infamously said we have no strategy yet. And then of course, by a week or two, they rolled out a strategy, but here we are a year later and – you know – we’re basically at square one. Even worse, the administration putting somebody to try and defend their position – will also have a couple of other people respond to it – Brett McGurk will come on and – it’s a tough thing for them to sell because I think everybody is acknowledging that the strategy doesn’t work. I have a different way of trying to do Katrina with Malcolm Gladwell. He wrote a very–
HH: Oh interesting.
CT: . . . provocative piece about New Orleans and Katrina. And essentially – you can’t help but read that piece and say, “Did Katrina save New Orleans?” I know it’s a little counterintuitive, but New Orleans a mess. New Orleans was plagued by so many problems. . .
HH: And they got to rebuild in their school system.
CT: The clean slate gave it a chance to survive.
HH: Yeah. How interesting. That’s–
CT: So anyway. Trying to do a little differently there than the typical stuff other people have been doing.
HH: Well, I just finished a lengthy interview with Walker, mostly about foreign policy, so I’ll be interested to watch you drill down further.
CT: Yeah. Alright.
HH: It’s posted over at Hugh Hewitt.
CT: That’s good stuff (laughs).
HH: But let me give the first question I asked him which wasn’t about foreign policy. I’m just curious about your take on this. Cut number eight – Scott Walker with me earlier at the last hour. How Speaker Boehner – who Wednesday at a fundraiser here in Colorado – I’m here at Colorado – Colorado Christian University – he called Senator Ted Cruz a “jackass.” Now I know you’re competing against the senator, but he’s a friend of mine and he’s one of the great Constitutional litigators of our time. What do you think of the Speaker’s slam on the senator?
SW: Well, I think it’s just wrong. I was, I’m in South Carolina today, and I was here at the beginning of the week. Senator Cruz and I and Ben Carson spoke to Congressman Duncan’s event, and even though I don’t know Senator Cruz as well as I know some of the governors, I’ve grown to like him and admire him quite a bit on the campaign trail.
HH: Are you surprised, Chuck Todd, that Walker stood up for Cruz?
CT: I’m not. First of all, let’s think about – let’s be crafty here – what’s Walker’s path to the nomination? It’s a lot of anti-establishment. To me, it’s less about Cruz to me and more about standing up against John Boehner. You don’t want to be perceived as defending Washington right now in this Republican primary.
HH: True, true.
CT: So I think it’s about the coalition of voters he needs to get the nomination. And Walker’s supposed to be the guy that’s supposed to bridge the gap – supposedly – between that. The whole idea of Walker from the insiders that were betting on him over Jeb six months ago was he’s the guy that appeal to the anti-establishment crowd, but also not scare away the establishment. They are running a very traditional campaign essentially trying to do just that. I think right now he’s been eclipsed by this phenomenon that’s Trump and the fact that maybe the anti-establishment wants more just what Scott Walker’s resume says. They want a bolder personality.
HH: Everybody’ been eclipsed. I talked to him about that, and I talked to him a lot about the China thing. But I also had Rubio on this week. I got to play for you a Rubio cut. Cut number three for Chuck Todd from Marco Rubio. . . How will you meet Joe Biden on a debate stage and hold your own on issues of foreign policy and national security?
MR: Yeah, he has a lot of experience on being wrong. He was wrong. He didn’t want to do the bin Laden raid. It’s been documented. He was against the bin Laden raid. I mean, he’s been wrong time and again on issue after issue. He was a huge fan of the reset with Russia. He’s got this personal friendship with the president of China that he brags about, the guy who he told, basically, you know, we talk about human rights for domestic, political purposes, but we don’t really mean it. We don’t really, we’re not going to let human rights get in the way of closer relations between our countries, or get in the way, for example, of discussions over climate change. So Joe Biden is actually a very nice person, but he’s been wrong on every major foreign policy issue before this country over the last 20 years. He would be a disaster as commander-in-chief.
HH: Chuck Todd, both Walker and Rubio seem prepped for my Biden question, and they slammed him hard. I think the campaign staffs are already preparing for a Biden campaign.
CT: Well (laughs), that’s an interesting – as if he was parodying the Bob Gates criticism–
HH: Yes. I mentioned that.
CT: . . . of President Biden. And look at the fact is we saw Joe Biden with Paul Ryan – found out, Joe Biden is not easy to debate. The guy is really good.
CT: And Joe Biden would fight back. I think one thing he feels as if – and I’ve heard this from Biden – that he feels as if he’s been vindicated on is everybody mocked on the idea that Iraq just wasn’t going to be able to hang as country and I think he feels vindicated on that. On that today. Now whether partitioning then was the right idea – we can all debate the idea of partitioning, but I’ve heard him that that’s his biggest push-back on that criticism in general.
HH: That’s a lot – by the way – the reminder about the Paul Ryan debate is a very good one for Republicans because he was a machete in that thing. Last candidate–
CT: Yeah. He was. What’s funny about Biden, by the way, very quickly. Biden has no problem going on the attack against a Republican. He’s never been comfortable going on attack against a Democrat. I don’t think he’s got the fire and ability to blast at Hilary Clinton. He’s got the fire and ability to run for president, but if you’re going to run, you got to beat her. And she’s doing a “play tough.” I don’t know if he will.
HH: How interesting. After the break, I want to talk to you about Trump. But before we go to break, John Kasich is another one of those people trying to escape the Planet Trump eclipse like Walker and Rubio. He came on this show this week. I talked him about the assassination in Virginia. . . Today, we had this terrible assassination of a TV reporter and her cameraman by a disgruntled employee who turned the gun on himself. Hilary Clinton immediately took to Twitter, called for gun control. Do you think gun control has anything to do with stopping things like this?
JK: No, I don’t. And frankly, you know, I don’t know the history of the shooter, but I think we all can agree that it is very important that we keep guns out of the hands of those who are mentally disturbed. And if there’s anything we need to work on, it’s we need to make sure that we have a database that can be accessed that can reflect the problem that a person would have. But look, people want to have firearms for a variety of reasons. It is the 2nd Amendment. And at the end of the day, this wouldn’t have been stopped because we had gun control. You know, it just doesn’t work that way.
HH: Chuck Todd, what do you think of that response?
CT: Well I think politically, it’s a smart response. You can’t win a Republican nomination and be for gun control, let’s me realistic there. It is interesting on this story that everybody – you’ve seen Democrats have reacted, gone gun control. Republicans have reacted and have gone mental health. But everybody goes to their corners – by the way, no one is proposing to do anything. I think there is a universal acknowledgement that clearly the background check system and the mental health aspect is flawed. What are we going to do to fix that? Instead, everybody says it’s the right thing, but at some point, the public is going to get pretty cynical about this, and there is going to be a tipping point of frustration here because this is one of those everybody says their political rhetoric, but nobody wants to do anything.
HH: Well, Kasich has got a pretty recordon mental health in Ohio.
CT: I know he does. Absolutely. I think in Ohio, that’s a strong case for him, and what he’s done there has sort of fit his compassion – sort of that compassion of the conservative case that he makes.
HH: Right, and that’s why his answer on gun control, “It doesn’t work that way” – background checks really can’t find people like this unless they are truly the Aurora shooter in Colorado. I never use the name.
CT: I think the background check system obviously isn’t working very well. We found that out, and the background check system works better or more properly if Dylan Roof might not have gotten an attack gun. That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t have any gun, but he wouldn’t have gotten an attack gun.
CT: So that flaw, there ought to be a little more sense of urgency on that. But the mental health thing. Look, that’s going to trigger the larger debate of privacy concerns versus who can make these decisions and these are conversation[s] nobody wants to have because it starts getting into individual arrests.
HH: Exactly correct, and the general election campaign, I think is going to get there. Now let me turn to Donald Trump. I had him on – I’ll open every show with I say that everyday if he’s available because he’s so great for ratings, but listen to this exchange, Chuck Todd, and then let’s talk about Carly Fiorina had to say about Trump as well. They were both on sort of the same day. Here’s Donald Trump. . . In tough times, republics turn to tough men. It’s happened throughout history – Caesar, Napoleon, the last century had a lot of republics fail, and I don’t have to invoke Godwin’s Law and go that far, but are you tickling that temptation in democracies that they go for tough guys in tough times, and it’s called the authoritarian temptation? Is that’s what’s playing for Trump?
DT: Well, I think we’ve had very weak people. I think we have very weak people even running. I look at some of the people that are running, and I think they’re not strong people. And they’re good people. I’m not saying they’re not good people, but I think it is time to have tough, smart people. If you look at China, if you look at some of these countries that are just eating our lunch, they have tough, smart people. It’s time that we have tough, smart people, because we’re not going to be able to go much longer the way we’re going right now. We owe $18 trillion. And by the way, that $18 trillion’s going to be about $21 trillion very quickly. You know, it builds, it’s going to build, right now, from this point, very, very rapidly. We’re not doing well. That, I can tell you. So…
HH: Well then, when people say Trump will an authoritarian, once he gets power, he won’t give it back, what’s the response going to be?
DT: Well, no, I just want to make the country great again. I’m not looking to do this. I have a wonderful life. People say why are you even doing it.
HH: Yes, you do.
DT: I love my life. I love what I’ve done. I’ve built a great company. But I want to make this country great again. I owe a lot to this country, and I want to make it great again. And we can do it. And honestly, it cannot continue to go like this, otherwise, there’ll be a point at which you can’t bring it back, Hugh.
HH: But you’ll play by the rules if you win?
DT: 100%. 100%. I always play by the rules.
HH: The Constitution, I mean, by the Constitution, you wouldn’t…
DT: No, Obama doesn’t play. He goes out…
DT: …and dodged, he signs his executive orders all over the place, because he doesn’t want to meet with people and try and convince them to do what the right thing to do is. No, he’s not playing by the rules. No, I do play by the rules. I will play by the rules, too.
CT: Chuck Todd, “tough, smart people,” “100% I’ll play by the rules.” It sometimes doesn’t seem like it, does it? He’s going to get the wall built. Mexico’s going to pay for it. Is he tickling that authoritarian temptation?
CT: Well, I think he is, and I’ve heard his answer on Obama’s executive orders differently than what he gave you. I’ve heard him say, “I love executive order. You don’t have to worry about Congress, so he’s going to use them. I get to go in there and use them, too.” So, I think you bring up a larger point here and that is, what do we do as a country whenever we change presidents? We don’t necessarily change parties, but when we change presidents, we usually take somebody with an attribute that we saw that the last one was missing that we didn’t like.
CT: Right? And you go back through – whether it’s touchy, feely Bill Clinton, out-of-touch George H. W. Bush. Whether it’s the moralist George W. Bush versus the immorality of Bill Clinton and what he did inside the White House. Or it’s the black-and-white with-me-or-against-me of George W. Bush versus the nuanced, gray-area of Barack Obama. And so I do think we are due – the public wants, I think is gravitating towards more of a stronger person who sees things more black-and-white and doesn’t want the nuanced. And that’s going to be the attribute they’re looking for to replace Obama, so I think that that is something there. I actually think that the thing that hurts Jeb Bush the most right now, is that there’s too much Obama in Jeb Bush for the voter right now.
CT: Jeb Bush is a nuanced guy. He’s a grey area guy. Think about his answer on Iran – which of course Scott Walker is trying to excoriate – where Jeb Bush very logically said, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to scrap the deal on day one. I got to make sure I have a Secretary of State placed. You got to do these things.” That’s how Obama would have answered that question as a candidated (laughs). Right? That’s gray area there.
HH: You know, Chuck, I just know what to promote this interview. I’m going to tweet out there’s too much Obama in Jeb Bush. I’m going to that.
CT: Oh no. Oh my God (laughs).
CT: No, but I wonder in this political environment–
HH: I agree with you.
CT: . . . if that’s hurting Jeb. Is the perception that he’s too rational, that he’s–
HH: Your macro-assessment of this race is exactly right because we do elect the person that we don’t have, that we want, and that we do again and again and again. And you’re absolutely right. Trump is the most anti-Obama – not on politics, but in personality – and the Republican field will be assessed that way. Here’s what Carly Fiorina said about Trump. I raised with her this – first of all – the anger in the country, and here’s what follow. . .
CF: Just anger and frustration won’t change anything. And, stoking people’s anger and frustration and fear can make things far worse over time as your question suggests.
HH: Do you think Donald Trump is doing that?
CF: I do.
HH: And that’s the blunt response, and Carly’s kind of in the middle personality type between Donald Trump and Jeb Bush and Rubio and Walker – in that constellation – Kasich and Cruz. Those are the seven who are on the top seven of everyone’s list right now. What’s the middle ground here, Chuck Todd? If you want to be. . .
CT: I don’t know. It’s funny, I thought she really has improved as a candidate. This is a different Carly Fiorina than I had last week than the one I had six months earlier when she was first starting. I saw her on the start. This is somebody who, six months ago, it looked she was a green-room candidate. This was just somebody who was stumping around in northern New Hampshire. She’s looking for a vote at the time as that somebody that has taken that next step. And you can feel it, you can see it. But look at her answer. That was a nuanced answer. That’s essentially what Jeb Bush is saying. It’s the same critique of Trump that Jeb Bush is saying – we can’t do it this way. You’re right, I think that she might get a little more benefit of the doubt right now because she’s playing to the “I’m a political outsider” card which might give her some credibility with the set that is starting to see themselves attracted to Trump. The person is best is able to not channel the anger, but explain the anger and not criticize the anger, and I thought she walks the line there of criticizing the anger. You got be careful there.
HH: That’s a very difficult line.
CT: Voters will want a little bit. They want a little bit of the anger to go with the candidate to Washington.
HH: Thirty seconds. Terry McAuliffe said today there are too many guns in the wrong hands. Is he trying to get out ahead of Hilary, test some themes because he’s such a Clinton person. She’s had such a bad week.
CT: (Laughs) Well, I think this a governor of a state that’s just going – and don’t forget, let’s think about the grown up commmunity – Blacksburg, this isn’t that long ago – what happened in Blacksburg not very far from Roanoke.
HH: Virginia type. Yep.
CT: I’m not reading politics into that one.
HH: Chuck, always great to talk to you. Great show ahead on Meet the Press this Sunday. Thanks for joining for an extended couple of segments. We’ll watch on Sunday on Meet the Press.