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Chuck Todd on Trump Transition

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The transcript:

HH: Joined by Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s, of course, Meet the Press, and every day, Meet the Press Daily. Chuck, I spent yesterday with James Carville. We were doing an event together. I always enjoy being with him. But he was telling the audience about being seated between you and me on Election night, and you were doing data downloads from Florida, and they looked pretty good, and then all of a sudden, I read him the upshot number, and his stomach fell. It was really a memorable night with Brokaw, Holt, Todd, Carville and myself. I’ll just never forget that evening. I’ve been able to get some sleep since then. Have you?

CT: A little bit, but you’re absolutely right. It was around then, it’s funny, it was funny, we were joking. We could have just had a camera on James Carville all night and you would have known the night without having to report data, right?

HH: With it muted. It could have been muted.

CT: Muted, right. He was, you know, giddy at the beginning, and just, you know, Florida, the way Florida came in, it was one of those where it, if you followed Florida forever, she won all of those counties you’re supposed to win by the numbers she’s supposed to win by, the way it works. And then when it didn’t do it, you saw the flip. You know, for me, it was about 8:15 when Broward came in and it didn’t change the number, that I think I basically called Florida before we did it, and said well, you know, there’s no path here in Florida, let’s move to another state. And that’s when, and I think when I knew the night was turning, and you could see it in Carville’s face. That was for sure. And you know, the most important thing Carville said that night that is starting to get some traction is if you recall, I think you were sitting there, and I said how much does it bug former President Clinton that working people aren’t supporting his wife, right, that this is a problem, that it all, you know, went to Trump? And he said, you know, and if you recall, James said I can’t say everything he’s thinking.

HH: Yes, indeed.

CT: And we’ve now since heard that, you know…

HH: Oh, yeah.

CT: It was something he was bugging Robby Mook about, and Robby was basically saying hey, man, you’re from another era, dude.

HH: He was hinting at the same thing yesterday…

CT: Yeah.

HH: …that a lot of, and I made this argument to him yesterday, because I’ve been reflecting on this a lot, Chuck. Secretary Clinton won the three debates, or at least she believes she won the three debates. And she had the best convention, as Carville pointed out. Do you think because they never had a crisis of the ordinary, they had the server crisis, that perhaps they never went all hands on deck, they never reassessed? They just put it on autopilot?

CT: I do think they got, I have, the epiphany I’ve come up with is they did, they made the same mistakes that 16 Republican candidates made, and they made the same mistakes that many of us early on in the media made, which is they focused on Donald Trump the individual rather than Donald Trump the phenomenon. And if you focus on Donald Trump the individual, all you see is all the things that offend you. All you see are his business failings. All you see are all of, all you see are the warts. If you focused on Donald Trump the phenomenon, then you would have focused on him from Macomb County. You have focused on him from Dubuque, Iowa. You would have focused on him from Springfield, Missouri. The point is, is that you would have looked at him through somebody else’s eyes.

HH: Yeah.

CT: You’d have looked at him through the voter eyes. And I think, you know, again, I think part of the media pile on was the incredulously this whole idea of like don’t you know the guy we know? And it was less about a party bias and was more about almost like too much Trump knowledge bias.

HH: I have read this morning on the air Peggy Noonan’s Protected-Unprotected column, and Ross Douthat’s Samantha Bee column. And I’ve referenced J.D. Vance’s book, Hillbilly Elegy. I think there’s lots of reflection to go on, and that brings me to the story I’ve been discussing with Peter Baker on Twitter this morning, the transition stories. I was the acting OPM director during the St. Valentine’s Day massacre transition of ’88-’89 when the Bush people lined up the Reagan appointees, and basically threw them over the side of the boat. And it was rough and ugly, and I’ve just been looking at these transition stories, Chuck, and you have institutional memory. This isn’t that different from everything we’ve seen. Yeah, Bannon’s a different kind of character, but in terms of chaos and speculation and not going to shake hands and have tea with the third-tier political appointees who are left, that’s just all same old, same old.

CT: I agree. I don’t, I’m not ready to say transition is a total disaster and problematic for another week. If we’re sitting here in this same situation, I mean, look, Bill Clinton’s transition was a mess. And Bill Clinton’s, and part of, I always thought, part of the Bill Clinton phenomenon is the same thing that’s happening here with Trump. Bill Clinton’s transition was the first one done in a 24 hour news environment where every little speck of it was followed.

HH: Yup, yup.

CT: Well, this is on steroids with Trump. You know, Obama’s transition was relatively smooth, because we were in the middle of a national crisis, right, the economic crises, so there was a bigger story we were all focusing on. In some ways, the appointments were secondary, right, because it was a different, you know, I think we forget how intense that period was.

HH: Yup.

CT: I mean, my God, they were having to pass more TARP, right?

HH: Yup.

CT: It was all feeling so, you know, this, Bill Clinton’s was that way, and I feel like with Trump, there’s such a, you know, it’s, there’s so much coverage of everything. And he doesn’t have a big circle, right? So he does have to bring new people in to fill some of the first-tier jobs. Normally, with a winning presidential candidate, you know who are going to get the first-tier jobs, right? They’re all sitting there. That’s not the case with Trump, because it was a smaller crew. So that’s what makes, creates some of the uncertainty.

HH: Yeah.

CT: But I’m not, I’m with you. I sort of give him a, you know, let’s see how he does with national security advisor and the national security team. But if that first couple of days after Thanksgiving we’re not seeing some progress, then I think it’s time to press the panic button.

HH: That’s the actual time frame, from post-Thanksgiving to December the 2nd. You have to put your serious players in place. There is this outsider-insider narrative, and I love it. I hope they bring in, for example, Scott Pruitt to Justice from the Oklahoma Attorney General’s office. I hope they bring in Rick Grenell to the U.N. But there’s also a non-partisan partisan. I want to get your take on this, Chuck. I am advocating that DHS needs to be de-partisanized. It has to go to sort of the NSA level of hyper-professionalism. I’d love to see Stanley McChrystal there. I’d love to see someone like that who everybody can have confidence in. What are the chances of that, that Trump not only goes outside-inside, but de-politicizes parts of the government that simply shouldn’t be political?

CT: I don’t know. I mean, I think that’s a, I agree with you in that, and if you look at the four that we’ve had, they’ve certainly tried very hard to get, if you think about it, Jeh Johnson was a big Bob Gates guy, right?

HH: Right.

CT: And close with Rudy Giuliani. And Janet Napolitano was one of those that had Republicans that liked her. And you had Chertoff, who had a lot of Democratic friends, and Ridge, right? so there has been an attempt, if you look at the history of this, to find the least partisan of the partisans, right, if you will, right, to sort of keep it less partisan. So I hear you there. I just think because it involves immigration, I just don’t, I mean, I think that Trump owes it to his political base to name somebody that he feels is going to carry out his policies. So I think from 30,000 feet, you make a good point. I don’t know if I’m giving him political advice to survive in Washington, I give him that advice. I don’t know if I give him that advice for the base. I really don’t. I don’t know if that’s the smartest move.

HH: The base might not like it, but we’ve got to be safe. We’re getting hammered on cyber again. I mean, we’re just getting crushed in the last week. People don’t know that story. And it’s, DHS has got to get up to game. I’ve got to ask you both about Sunday’s show and my next guest. Coming up after you, Tim Ryan, is an old friend of mine, both at the same high school. I’m hoping he wins as a friend, but as a Republican, I’m hoping he’s losing, because I want Nancy Pelosi to stay. What are his odds, Chuck Todd?

CT: I think they’re pretty low, but they shouldn’t be. I mean, I can’t, by the way, it’s sort of like I’ve been wondering what is it going to take for House Democrats to say Nancy Pelosi’s not the best leader anymore. I guess getting shellacked in 2010 wasn’t enough. And not getting the House back in 2012 wasn’t enough. Getting shellacked again in 2014 wasn’t enough. But now it is? Look, it should have happened years ago.

HH: It’s just on simple branding. She’s been around since W. And I think when people look at her, they say oh, my gosh, this is W. and Obama. Are they ever going to change?

CT: And I’m sorry, this is where the Republican Party, and you know, you don’t, get about two cycles, right?

HH: Yeah, you get two cycles.

CT: You’re out.

HH: Who is on Sunday? Who’s going to be on Meet the Press?

CT: And I don’t think you can wait or be patient. I’m trying to think what I’m allowed to say, yet, I’ll be honest, because I know we’re going to have, I think I’m going to have somebody with a chief of staff title. I’m pretty sure, but I’m not sure quite when to say it, so there, I’ll let you guess which one of the two that you might have.

HH: Okay, we’ll infer from that. I am, by the way, I had so much fun last Sunday. Nina Turner, it was a great panel.

CT: She’s a treat.

HH: But before that…

CT: That was a great panel.

HH: The last time I met Gwen Ifill, last time I was with her, it was on your set.

CT: Yeah.

HH: And I know you were friends, and I am sorry for your loss. She was an amazing, I didn’t know her that well. I just know her from your set and from other sets. But I know she was your friend, and I’m sorry. What a blow to Washington.

CT: Can I just tell you, all you have to do is read David Brooks. I thought he captured her beautifully, captured her beautifully, because she had this tough grace about her. I don’t know how else to put it, and I thought he did it really well, which is she had a toughness to her, but it came with grace, and that’s a rare find.

HH: I will go and read that Brooks column during the break. Thank you, my friend. Meet the Press on Sunday, be looking for a big name, because if it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press.

End of interview.


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