Chuck Todd joined me on the morning after the last debate of the very, very long election cycle:
HH: I am joined by NBC’s Chuck Todd, host of Meet the Press every Sunday. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press, and most days on Meet the Press Daily. Chuck, are you still in Las Vegas? Or have you headed east?
CT: No, still in Las Vegas, which means you and I, when we got up this morning, most of the people we ran into, shall we say, were probably enjoying Las Vegas.
HH: A little wobbly as I walked from room to room.
HH: (laughing) You see a lot of interesting things in a casino at 2:45 in the morning. Wow.
CT: Always interesting when you’re sober and they’re not in the middle of the night.
HH: And they’re not. Absolutely true. Chuck Todd, hit me with the neutral, your take on last night.
CT: Well, it’s totally crowded out by, to me, two things, right, that he sort of stepped on it with Trump, which is you know, the headline is this issue with the election, that he’s given three chances by Chris Wallace to say he’s going to, you know, accept the outcome or you know, some form of that, and he wouldn’t do it. It stepped on anything he could have done. I mean, the first 30 minutes, you and I talked about this, the first 30 minutes of that debate was music to Paul Ryan’s ears, Richard Burr’s ears, Mitch McConnell’s ears. I can go on and on. And if he would have been just literally been rendered mute for the next hour, mission accomplished, you know? It’s sort of party kept together, House is saved, Senate’s still competitive. Maybe it’s not enough to catch up in the presidential, but it’s, the Republican Party fights to live another day down the ballot. That isn’t what today is going to be like. Now, there is, Republicans who are looking for a way to distance themselves from Trump without unendorsing have been handed another opportunity today. And you and I both know a bunch of them are going to take that opportunity, because they feel as if they need to be able to say they’re mad at him to swing voters, and still be able to stick with him to his voters.
HH: Now Chuck Todd, my friend, Jon Voight, has a theory that I want to test out on you. I barnstormed for Trump prior to the Access Hollywood video with Jon Voight and David Clarke, and Jon would argue that when Donald Trump says something completely outside of the norm, for example, on this show when I said I understand what you mean about President Obama founding ISIS, you mean that he created a vacuum. And he said to me, no, he created ISIS.
HH: Jon Voight’s theory is that Trump says something intentionally outside of the guardrails in order to draw attention to it, so that he can later revise and extend his remarks. A) do you believe that that’s what happened last night? And B) do you think a personal, not by Kellyanne Conway, not by Ivanka Trump, not by Mike Pence, all of whom yesterday revised and extended his remarks peremptorily…
HH: …will he come out today and revise and extend his remarks?
CT: You know, first of all, I actually completely agree with Jon Voight on that. I think his take is absolutely right. I think that is how, but it’s not about Donald Trump in politics. It’s about Donald Trump the public persona. I think this is how he has marketed his hotels, right? It’s over the top opulence, over the top this. So that is his instinct. It’s been his instinct for his whole, essentially, professional life. So the idea that he would transfer that style to the political arena makes perfect sense. Now here’s where I disagree with him. I don’t think that was indeed the intent last night. I don’t think that was the intent at all last night. So that’s, I think that’s always the problem with Trump, right? No strategery around him. Now here’s what you just brought up, the important point. That’s what, how we’ll know how the next 48 hours go. How does he respond to the avalanche of criticism that is coming left, right and center to him on this issue, of not, leaving the door open of not accepting the results? How does he respond this morning? I assume you and I are probably going to be monitoring his Twitter feed. How he does it will set the tone for the next 24 to 48 hours.
HH: Completely agree. Next point, I agree with you about the down ballot impact of the first 30 minutes unequivocally. You and I might part company. I think at the end of the night, the Republicans were extremely relieved anyway for this reason. The Supreme Court discussion solidified pro-life. The abortion, late term abortion, partial-birth abortion discussion solidified pro-life. The 2nd Amendment solidified 2nd Amendment voters. So Kelly Ayotte, Pat Toomey, Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, they all get the benefit. Not only that, they get the benefit of the media telegraphing that they think it’s a lock for Hillary, and therefore the need to throw up a wall around her except in the 5% of the Trump people that will vote out of anger not for Republicans, and they exist. They’re just not as big as their voice is amplified. I think down ticket did very well yesterday. Your reaction to my theory?
CT: Here’s to me the unknown question. What does the, I believe that the remaining undecided voter is basically a Republican, is a Republican that doesn’t like Trump, all right? That’s the undecided voter in this election overall. And it’s probably in their mind, you know, it’s bothering them a little bit, too, that the whole Republican Party has accepting him. But essentially, you know, when pressed, they’re going to be Republican voters. The question I have is, is reelecting Kelly Ayotte motivation to make sure I leave work early on time to get up there and vote? Is that, I mean, that, to me, is the big, to me, the big fear. And I’ve had this conversation with a bunch of Republican strategists over the last 48 hours. The fear is not somehow having people punish you for supporting Trump. The fear is that voter just says it’s not worth it, I want to be able to say I didn’t vote for either Trump or Hillary, and I’m not pulling that lever for Gary Johnson. And you know what? I don’t love Kelly Ayotte enough to do this. You know, that’s the fear, and that’s my, that, to me, is the, that’s an unknown. I can’t sit here and tell you for sure that’s going to happen. I agree that the case was made as well as it could be made for down ballot about why choose conservatives, about why you should want to have a Republican check on her in Congress.
HH: He has relentlessly hammered her, yeah.
CT: But Hugh, let me ask you this. And you start saying that now publicly, will Trump supporters take that as a slight?
HH: It cannot be said by Republican electeds very, very bluntly. They can say…
CT: I had a Republican consultant who makes TV ads say the ad tests through the roof with swing voters, the idea of having a check on Hillary Clinton, right?
CT: The problem is they’re afraid of running the ad, because they’re afraid because Trump voters see that as a concession.
HH: I think the technique has to be media is attempting to elect Hillary Clinton. If they succeed, then you need to vote for Kelly Ayotte. That’s the technique I would use to both keep the Trump people assured that…
CT: That’s an interesting ad. Man, you ought to write spots.
HH: I wish I could do debate prep. I wish I could, you know, last night, he brought up Project Veritas without explaining it. He brought up General Cartwright without naming him.
CT: That’s always what he does.
HH: But it makes me crazy. Now a blunt question. Do you think media is obliged today, Chuck Todd, to explain Project Veritas, even if they debunk it, in order, and I tried to make this argument to Joy Reid last night, and I don’t think she was hearing me. If you want to kill the rigged media narrative, you have to talk about Project Veritas, or it plays into the rigged media narrative. Do you get my point?
CT: Yeah, look, I get your point. I mean, look, the problem, O’Keefe has been sort of a proven questionable provocateur and he’s had some stuff disproven.
CT: So you cannot go off on his. Now hard stop. What you do is say hey, whatever you think of how this guy went about doing it, the fact of the matter is a strategist quit the campaign because of what happened. So something happened here. So yeah, I do think it is a legitimate thing to say okay, what was he talking about? Well, here’s what it is. Here’s the story, and here are the facts about the story. And you know, whatever you think of O’Keefe there, the fact of the matter is the videos came out and this strategist quit.
HH: Now what’s interesting to me is birddogging is a term of art which is in the Project Veritas video. It has not, to my knowledge, appeared in the Podesta emails, which buttresses Hillary’s claim that she has got nothing to do with it, that it would be arm’s length. And I say to my less cynical friends, deniability, plausible deniability in a campaign about Dick Tuck tricksterism has always been a feature of campaigns, has it not, Chuck?
CT: Of course, it has. Of course, it has, and the point is you don’t telegraph it. I mean, it is, and you know, I’m not going to…this stuff happened. You know, it’s like the, it’s, you know, and it’s like the idea of passing around fliers that you know, are somehow, somebody on the right passes around fliers that attacks your opponent from the left, or somebody on the left attacks their opponent from the right. You know, nefarious stuff like that happens all the time. It’s sort of within some accepted guardrails. But yes, on that front, it does.
HH: All right, last question, because this is a big question.
CT: And nobody has clean hands.
HH: No one has clean hands in politics. Oh, dirty tricks, my gosh, no, they just got it on film with Project Veritas. Has Donald Trump so badly damaged her credibility with regards to the 33,000 emails, the nasty woman, you know, the litany of attacks, many of which has a base. We have a minute, Chuck, that her ability to govern, should she win, is compromised?
CT: Look, I think, I believe Wikileaks is providing a progressive vice grip on her. I think she is, she, I don’t know if it can have an impact on this campaign, because Trump is not really positioned to take advantage of it the way, I mean, this would have been Wikileaks much more damaging in the primary. I totally believe that. But I think it is, I think with everything that’s come out, I think between the political discomfort it causes among liberal allies of hers, to bigger issues that may come up, especially if Republicans still have control of the House, yes, I think it’s going to make for a nightmare first year for a President Hillary Clinton on the governing front.
HH: And a very influential Paul Ryan, if he retains the House, probably the key figure in America if he retains the House and the Speakership. Chuck Todd, always a pleasure to see you live. I’ll talk to you back in D.C.
End of interview.