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Chuck Todd On Interviewing Candidates (And A Preview Of This Weekend’s “Meet The Press” On Which I Appear Sunday)

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Chuck Todd joined me on the show today, and I will be joining him on the Meet The Press panel Sunday:




HH: I’m joined now by Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet the Press. I’ll be joining on the panel on Sunday, and quite a panel it is with Tom Brokaw, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Joy Reid. Chuck Todd, I don’t want to spend too much time on this Donald Trump imbroglio in which I am, but what did you make of it?

CT: I’m not surprised by his struggles in the answers. I went through the same thing. I think what’s interesting is we know how he responds to these and I think what’s more interesting to me is how the other candidates are responding, Hugh. Three weeks ago when he was telling me he didn’t know he didn’t know – when I asked him where did you get military advice, and he says watched the shows. Other candidates didn’t pounce as much. They did behind the scenes, but they didn’t do it themselves. The difference with what happened with you is that other candidates have decided they can’t let this go anymore. Here’s an opportunity. Here’s an opening, and they’re going to go. Whether it works or not. I don’t know. One thing about Donald Trump is that he’s very good about almost adding to chaos, if you know by it?

HH: Yes.

CT: He messes up with you, so he quickly does three or four other shows and almost creates shiny, metal objects over there to distract everybody and you forget about the other controversies. He’s better at this than anyone I’ve ever seen before.

HH: What was interesting to me is the choice he made because in the interview that I conducted he had some very substantive and detailed answers to difficult questions. The China-PRC attack hypothetical, the stand with Israel one. He chose, though, to emphasize what he said – and I dispute this, but holding him open to critiques – a “gotcha question.” I think your theory might be right about that, but you’re also right. Marco Rubio saw a door open and here’s what the Senator from Florida said.
Reporter: That’s not a “gotcha question” in your mind?

MR: No, I don’t. National security is the most important obligation of the federal government, and if you’re going to be a presidential candidate, you need to take it seriously, and I think that’s important.

R: Is Donald Trump not taking this seriously enough, and should that answer be disqualifying?

MR: I think if you don’t the answer to those questions, then you’re not going to be able to serve as commander-in-chief. Now as I’ve said before, people can learn about these issues if they take the time to do it. The middle of the campaign is probably not the ideal time to get caught up. This should be part of the reason why you’re running is because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have a deep understanding, and you have an understanding of what to do about them. And if someone doesn’t, I think it’s very concerning.

HH: Chuck Todd, the idea that it should be a “a part of the reason that you are running” is novel and interesting for Rubio to argue.

CT: Well, because here’s the point – had Marco Rubio made those mistakes with you, he’d be out. If Scott Walker told me he watches TV shows to get military advice, he’d be out. He’d be totally disqualified. You know the interesting thing about Trump, and you’re right, on the stuff he cares about the most, he does have an idea, and I think his Achille’s Heel is that he doesn’t like to admit when he doesn’t know something. And so he wings, wanting to almost talk his way through it so the person thinks they know that he knows something about it when he would have better off telling you, “You know what, I don’t know a lot of these names yet. I know a lot about the region. I know about this. But I don’t know these names yet. It would’ve more authentic.

HH: Well, it’ll be interesting to see by the debate what happens and whether or not he’ll continue to say it doesn’t much matter if Hamas and Hezbollah – they’ll be changing their leaders. We’ll see how that changes. The other news of the day, though – I’ve been in studio chairs all day talking about Trump-Hewitt which is not my way to spend a Friday–

CT: (Laughs) You’re forced to talking about your own interview. I know what you mean. I hate that.

HH: Oh, it’s terrible. But Andrea Mitchell made huge news and got an exclusive with Hilary Clinton. What is the news? I saw bits of it. What’s the key news out of that interview?

CT: I would say the key news is she, while stopping short of apologizing for doing what she did, she’s apologizing for the confusion that she’s created. So I guess her point is, it’s more contrition, it is taking more seriously, it is acknowledging that questions about it are legitimate. And I don’t think it does anything to end this controversy, but what it does do is, you see she’s trying to accept the fact that this story is not going, we’re going to have monthly reminders of email releases, the October Benghazi hearing is going to be like nothing we’ve ever seen. And so she needs to start admitting that, okay, it’s over here. It’s in a box. She’s still yet to answer the “why.” Why did she do it? Because the convenient answer just makes sense. I keep going back – is it more convenient to set up a server at your house or to allow the IT department at your place of work to handle your email. Anybody who lives where they work out their house or don’t work out the house, but work in an office, will tell you, “Oh my God, why would I try to send an IT structured modem in my house?” It’s more complicated, so I don’t she cleared that up, but it was more stylistic in tone.

HH: Now Chuck, I don’t know what the pre-show is, the panel I’m looking forward to because Doris Kearns Goodwin was actually the first professor I’ve ever heard lecture when I went to college, and so I hold her in such high esteem. But I’m certain about one thing, twenty-five years from now – if the world hasn’t been blown up because of the Iran deal – this week’s news will be a picture of a Syrian toddler on the beach. It breaks everybody’s hearts, and sometimes pictures change news curbs. What do you think of that picture and this story that is suddenly everywhere and rightly so?

CT: No. I can tell you what we’re doing on the show, obviously you know we have General Colin Powell – and that will be a significant conversation on a lot of issues, and I believe we’re going to hear about his take on Iran for the first time publicly – but I’m also going to have David Miliband who while, also a former British politician, he has a major charity that’s dealing head-on with this refugee crisis that Europe is in and forget the conversation about where do these folks go, and Hilary Clinton was asked about this and – by the way – she gave a very interesting answer that has not gotten a lot of coverage. She -when Andrea asked her about the Syrian refugee crisis – she said, “Well, you know, this is why I advocated a robust response.”

HH: Oh. . .

CT: It was her more subtle way–

HH: Oh. . .

CT: . . . to distance herself from the Obama policies on Syria, but I’m wondering is will this change the conversation about what we should be doing in Syria that what we’re doing – maybe the European powers realize we have to more active in Syria because guess what? If we’re not, then we have an immigration crisis in our borders. So I think it has the possibly – I think you’re right, Hugh – I think that it’s a possibility to change foreign policy. Not just how we deal with this humanitarian crisis, but do we have to deal with Assad differently now because guess what, the unintended consequences in this immigration crisis in Europe.

HH: A week ago, both Marco Rubio and Scott Walker gave foreign policy speeches, and the Walker speech he called attention to the Libyan port exodus and Rubio as well has been talking about the unforeseen consequences of the Qaddafi take-down and so, Mrs. Clinton’s declaration – I have to go and read that. I hope they post the transcript of that–

CT: Yeah, the whole transcript is there. Take a look at the Syria question. It was subtle, but it was a “hey, that’s why I advocated a more aggressive response.”

HH: Yeah, that is newsworthy and has not gotten much attention. General Powell endorsed President Obama eight years ago. Has he said anything about that. Has he indicated – I’m just aware of him saying much about how this has all gone.

CT: No, he’s not. I want to hear him on ISIS, I want to hear him on Syria, I want to hear him on the President’s foreign policy now and whether it has been a success or failure, and I think that seven years in, I think a lot of us are curious. And don’t forget this is a guy who – every time a Bush has run for president, he’s endorsed a Bush or worked for a Bush. I’m curious what he thinks about Jeb as well.

HH: Oh, very interesting. I haven’t thought about that either. You’re right. He has been part of Bush administrations from the get-go when he was on the National Security Council as a deputy to McFarland, then of course at the Pentagon, then of course, as the Secretary of State. I look forward to seeing you Chuck. Thanks for the invitation. What a great panel, and what a great day to be on Meet the Press. I’ll see you on Sunday.


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