HH: On a day that is going to be extraordinary in American political history, I can think of no one better to start it with than Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press. Chuck, your name was invoked earlier today by Carl Bernstein, who was here with me talking about Hillary, but he said he tried to hire you when he started the first political website. You wouldn’t go, but he agreed you ought to be moderating debates in the fall. I didn’t know that Carl had tried to lure the Hot Line director away back in the old days.
CT: It’s somewhat news to me, too, but I’ll take it.
HH: Okay, now let me start with your observation last night.
CT: No, no, no, Go ahead.
HH: Your observation last night. They botched the Mike Pence rollout twice. You came on and said it exactly. It was a complete screw-up.
CT: Look, first of all, what a night. That was a blast, okay? That was fun, that was entertaining, all those things. Okay, this was the highest political theater, unscripted, all those things, and it was unbelievable. And what I’m trying to cut through here, and I think we’re all trying, is it’s almost as if there’s a fog of war feel this morning, right? Trump people feel energized at this point. I just saw Don, Jr. There’s an energy, there’s something about what Cruz did to them that sort of, oh yeah, you know, there’s sort of, it’s almost like a Braveheart moment. They’re like oh, we’re, you know, and I’ll tell you, it did do something positive for Trump short term. It added to the electricity to this convention that didn’t have it. It was lacking electricity. And I questioned, I was concerned that Cruz had more passion in that hall than Trump, like I was wondering if tonight that Trump, the crowd was going to be exuberant enough for Trump. You know, he needs to feed off of that moment, all those things. That’s how I think, I think that question’s been answered to me. But the long term…
HH: I saw you say that last night, and I agreed 100%. But I have to say, it was one of those moments where I was glad to be there. People will talk about this for years, because it combined Rockefeller getting booed in ’64 at the Cow Palace with Ronald Reagan’s ’76 speech in which he said support, in so many words, support Gerald Ford, but won the hearts of conservatives. Ted Cruz got both, but I’m not sure it helped Ted Cruz long term the way that Reagan helped himself in ’76. What do you think?
CT: Well, I, that’s, look, Cruz is making a bet that Trump loses big. That’s the risk here. You know, Cruz is making, he’s making a big bet, and he’s making a big bet that he’ll lose big, because if he loses small, you know, if he loses by a couple of points, the anger that’s going to be, the blame, the finger pointing, so you know, it’s not just betting on Trump losing, it’s betting on Trump getting slaughtered in this fight.
HH: That’s exactly right. And…
CT: And you know, but I have to say you know, we lament politicians never speaking their minds, telling us how they really feel, and I’ll tell you know, I admire a politician that you know, shows something, that’s willing to do that, okay, because too few are.
HH: He did. He did bring his game.
CT: You know?
HH: Now I believe there’s an intensely personal element to this, and I tweeted out last night revenge is a dish best served bold, in this case, in front of 20 million people in all capital BOLD.
CT: I saw that. But you’re right. We, let’s not forget that you know, the things that Trump said, you know, Trump isn’t, you know, when he issues an insult, he goes for humiliation sometimes. And you know, some people brush it off. And you try to, but you know, sometimes you go too far. It stings. And this man went after his wife’s looks, went after his father and accused him of being involved in the killing of a president. And you know, Trump thinks ah, that’s just me joking, can’t everybody know that there’s nothing to these things? I don’t think that’s the way Cruz took it.
HH: He also called him repeatedly a liar, and a good friend of Ted Cruz told me that just ate away at him. You and I have both been, we’ve got our Trump tattoos, but it’s about ratings. You know, who cares, right? It’s not personal, it’s kind of a standard issue Trump insult.
CT: Yeah, and it’s sort of like with Trump, you know, if he’s insulting you, it means, you know, he cares what you think, and he cares what you’re asking.
CT: You know…
HH: Yup. But let me go to what your major point last night, and by the way, you’re having a hell of a convention. So is Jacob Soboroff, by the way. Everyone, there’s always a breakout reporter at a convention.
CT: Jacob is doing terrific.
HH: There are people like you who are already there. But Jacob is having a hell…he got Nikki Haley to endorse Donald Trump last night, a big scoop.
CT: Yeah, yeah. No, no, no, he’s been, and very, a lot of energy on that floor. He’s shown a lot of energy.
HH: Yeah, but going back to what you said about Mike Pence, they botched his rollout twice. He gave a great speech. Self-deprecating humor is my favorite weapon in the arsenal of political rhetoric. He did it perfectly. But did anyone notice, Chuck Todd?
CT: I don’t think anyone noticed. And it’s just, and then not only that, I was just, I can’t believe that Trump couldn’t stand out there, I couldn’t believe they couldn’t raise their arms. Where were the families? I just, you know, they couldn’t choreograph anything there last night. It was, did you see the awkward way that Pence backed away from the podium?
HH: Oh, yeah.
CT: He wasn’t sure what was happening, what was coming next. I mean, it was, and I agree with you, I thought the speech, but you know, I thought the speech was too correct for Trump…
CT: …meaning that it was, I agree with you. I think that in a traditional Republican convention, that that was a great speech. It was a perfect speech. For the Trump ticket, I don’t know. You know what I mean by that?
HH: It was…
CT: It’s like, I think this is always going to be helpful to Pence in the long run, this speech, right? It is never going to hurt him. It is always going to be a positive for him.
HH: I think if…
CT: But was it the best speech for Trump right now? I don’t know.
HH: He’s, it was great for Rob Portman. It was great for Kelly Ayotte. It was great for Pat Toomey. I’m not sure about Trump. In the end, if Trump loses, Mike Pence is going to be the next Republican National Committee chair if Reince retires, I think. But let me, you go back to that awkward Eric kiss and the backing away. We remember the weirdest things. I remember Bill Clinton’s long walk in 2000…
CT: In 2000, yes.
HH: When the teleprompter failed, right? the lower third scroll failed.
HH: The funniest things you remember about conventions. I think you said this as well, it might have been Brian, it might have been Rachel. This has been a wild convention for television people. This is great.
CT: It is. It is. Look, going back to, you brought up conventions past, going back, this Cruz moment, I mean, this is now, I had the media consultant, the guy who did the ads for Jimmy Carter, a guy named Jerry Rafshoon, who of course is…
HH: Oh, yeah.
CT: …a lot of stuff in Hollywood. He sent me an email last night. He goes, oh, look who gets the Ted Kennedy award for party unity. And I can tell you Carter people are still bitter about that moment at the ’80 convention when literally Carter’s looking for Kennedy to get over here so they can raise the arms together, and that, you know, not since that moment have we had where, you know, two rivals, where a second place rival just wasn’t ready to give it up.
HH: And I think I can look ahead to 2020. If Donald Trump loses, and Ted Cruz is running again, someone will play a funeral music sinister background over a deep voice saying Ted Cruz, in a moment of crisis, decided it was more important to settle a personal score than to save the country, and then they’ll play the booing.
HH: It’s never good to get booed off of a stage, Chuck Todd, ever.
CT: Never. It isn’t, but Hugh, the most important thing I forgot, there’s been a lot of puns this morning, right? Cruz in the punchbowl, Cruz missile, all these things. But my favorite is the Ted wedding.
HH: (laughing) I wish I’d said that.
CT: (laughing) That was my favorite. It was my favorite. No, somebody just Tweeted it. Mark Murray sent it to me. He’s also a big Game of Thrones fan. So this is now, we’ll know this episode. This is the Ted wedding episode.
HH: (laughing) Who gets the credit for that? That’s great.
CT: I’ve got to find, it was somebody on Twitter, somebody on Twitter, not someone I can remember right away, but Mark Murray, yeah.
HH: Somebody deserves…
CT: Yeah, I agree.
HH: …a huge deal like… so what do you expect tonight? Can Donald Trump carry this off, Chuck Todd?
CT: Look, I expect a, I actually do. I think this will feed him. I think this will energize him, and I think he kind of needed that. The question I have is can he restrain himself on Cruz? Can he, you know, I think he’s going to be tempted to sort of be Trump a little bit and sort of acknowledge some of the week and deal with the Cruz thing, because I think, and it’s going to be awkward if he does do that in an acceptance speech, right, because this is a moment where everybody’s tuning in to see, well, tell me your presidential agenda. So that’s what I’m, I think, that’s where I’m not sure what path Trump takes tonight.
HH: And last question…
CT: How much of the retribution, you know, how much political punditry does he include in his speech, is probably the way to put it.
HH: Yeah, if I was his advisor, I would not mention one other person other than, I wouldn’t mention any of your rivals. I wouldn’t mention Ted Cruz, but it’s Donald Trump. Who knows? The three Trump children have batted three for three. They’ve had five stars between Tiffany, Donald, Jr., and Eric. They’ve all hit it out of the park. Eric’s speech was a little overshadowed last night by the Cruz brouhaha. What do you expect from Ivanka leading up to this tonight?
CT: Oh, I think, you know, I think that’s not going to, I think she’s going to, I think, very much light up the room, the perfect person to introduce her father. So no, I mean, I think she’ll, she’s going to, she’ll be the star for a second until her dad comes in, but I expect her to be, she’s incredibly poised. I think she’s going to be very popular in that room.
HH: And Chuck, who do you have on Sunday from Philadelphia for Meet the Press? Who’s the big get?
CT: Well, we’re working on it, but we’re still reeling from this one, so give us, this is…
HH: Now I’ve got to ask. Aren’t you exhausted that you have to go to another convention? I’m going to New York, which is a lot easier than going to Philadelphia. What do you think?
CT: I’m trying to figure out. I mean, you know, the Clinton campaign, look, they’re going to put on a very correct convention, if you know what I mean, right? It’s all going to probably be well run and everybody will speak on time, and they’ll all be on message. And we’re going to be bored.
HH: Well, let’s hope Bernie throws a monkey wrench in there, because you’re right. After this week, where nothing has gone according to plan, that would be a little dull. Chuck Todd, see you on Sunday on the show, because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press. Don’t go anywhere, America.
End of interview.