CNBC’s John Harwood joined me today to talk about Dr. Ben Carson’s complaints to him –about me:
HH: I begin this hour with John Harwood, one of his colleagues at the New York Times, also Washington political reporter for CNBC. Hello, John, welcome to the program, it’s New York Times day at the Hugh Hewitt Show.
JH: Hi, Hugh, thanks for having me on.
HH: Oh, it’s terrific. And you had a great interview with Ben Carson last week, which I want to lead into this way. First of all, how difficult was it for you to get a sit-down setup with Dr. Carson?
JH: It wasn’t, it didn’t seem especially difficult. You know, he was preparing to announce his campaign, and this is somebody who has got a substantial grassroots following, but I think he also wants to reach more of what you might call establishment media audiences, and certainly the CNBC audience. It’s business and financial, predominantly, and I think that that’s a group that any presidential candidate, looking at the money you have to raise, is interested in reaching.
HH: Now I was on the Meet the Press panel the Sunday that, he hadn’t announced, yet. It wasn’t last week, it was a couple of months ago with Chuck doing the lead interview with him. And he was very well-prepared, at the same time cautious and slow in responding to some questions – deliberate, not slow, but deliberate. Did you find him to be the same way?
JH: Definitely. Remember, this guy is new to this arena, and as exceptionally gifted as he is in medicine, this is a tough transition that he’s making, and I think he was deliberate in that, and also combative in some ways against what he thinks is, are people in the media who are trying to burn him.
HH: And interestingly, he puts me in that category, I guess.
JH: I, honestly, I was stunned by that, because I listened to your interview as part of my homework before going up to talk to him. And I, like you, I don’t do gotcha interviews. And you prefaced your questions to him in that way, and I thought were not trying to trip him up. But when I raised the interview with him, your interview, he said, oh, he was giving me a pop quiz, and he was so gleeful when I messed it up. I don’t think any fair-minded person could actually listen to the tape of your interview and reach that conclusion, but he did.
HH: Well, I’m going to play three segments. And I’m going to play two from my interview with Ben Carson, and then your entire conversation with him as it referenced me, so the audience can judge. Cut number one is my first question where there’s sort of a stumble on NATO by Dr. Carson.
HH: The Baltic States are very nervous, and we have troops in the Baltic States. Ought NATO to be willing to go to war if Putin attempts in the Baltic States anything like he’s attempted in Ukraine?
BC: I think they would be willing to go to war if they knew that they were backed up by us. I think part of the problem throughout the world right now is that our allies cannot be 100% certain that we’re behind them.
HH: And so should we have that sort of commitment, that if Putin makes a move on the Baltic States, we’d go to war?
BC: Well, if we have them involved in NATO. We need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO.
HH: Well, the Balts, they are in NATO. So that’s, we’ll come back after break and continue that conversation.
HH: Now when I came back after break, I didn’t immediately go right back to that question, but I did eventually come back around to it in this cut.
HH: But Dr. Carson, one of the things I know that’s going to come up, and again, I don’t do ambush interviews, but when it appeared that you didn’t know that the Baltic States were a part of NATO, or where you date the…
BC: Well, when you were saying Baltic States, I thought you were continuing our conversation about the former components of the Soviet Union. Obviously, there’s only three Baltic States.
HH: Right, and they’re all part of NATO.
HH: So what I worry about as a Republican, as a conservative, is that, because you’ve been being a great neurosurgeon all these years, you haven’t been deep into geopolitics, and that the same kind of questions that tripped up Sarah Palin early in her campaign are going to trip you up when, for example, the gotcha question, does she believe in the Bush Doctrine when it depends on how you define the Bush Doctrine. How are you going to navigate that, because I mean, you’ve only, have you been doing geopolitics? Do you read this stuff? Do you immerse yourself in it?
BC: I’ve read a lot in the last six months, and no question about that. There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that.
HH: And then, John Harwood, here is your exchange with him on that exchange from last week.
JH: I read an interview that you did with Hugh Hewitt. You seemed unaware, to him, that the three Baltic States were in NATO.
BC: But I, but did you listen to the rest of the interview?
JH: I listened to the whole thing.
BC: …because I was talking to him about how important it is to get people involved in a protective organization. And I thought he was continuing along those lines. I didn’t know he was giving me a quiz on who are members of NATO. I could have told him a lot about the Baltic States. I mean, and recognizing that they’re all part of NATO along the whole Baltic rim, which I’ve visited almost all the countries in the Baltic rim. He was so gleeful about thinking that he had caught me on something.
JH: He wasn’t really gleeful. I thought he was quite respectful of you. You didn’t think so?
BC: I didn’t think so.
JH: If you’re president, there’s a lot riding on every single thing you say. And financial markets react to it, and other countries react to it. Are you sobered by the idea that wow, I’m really new to this, stakes are pretty high, and I could mess this up?
BC: Well, you’re sobered by it, but you also recognize, let’s say you were talking to somebody, and they thought that you didn’t know who the members of NATO are, and you could sit there and tell him the whole history of NATO, tell him that in the Baltic rim, you know, Sweden has had a stormy relationship with NATO, that France and Spain have come and gone, that they’re back with it now. And if that was something that would satisfy them, you could have that whole conversation and straighten that out pretty quickly.
HH: So John Harwood, I am really perplexed, because first of all, I don’t think he knew the Baltic States were in NATO. Do you?
JH: Boy, I don’t know what’s in his head. He was suggesting to me that he actually did, and he just expressed himself imprecisely. But I thought there were two things really interesting about that. One is the, if he thinks that you were gleeful in trying to trip him up, that suggests to me that the defense mechanism and the instinctive aversion to the back and forth of questions is very powerful in him. And it’s not just liberal media, it’s anybody closely questioning him.
HH: I’m conservative media.
JH: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. But the second part was that when I then subsequently broadened the question, he set about in his answer to kind of refute you by coming back and doing this thing about well, yeah, let’s take, for example, somebody thinks I don’t know about NATO, and I could tell them all about NATO, and I’ve been to these countries. There’s a defensiveness there that you know, I think he’s, as he gets out on the trail, if he’s going to be a durable candidate, he’s going to have to overcome that, I think.
HH: I agree with you. I contrast it with Ted Cruz’ interview with Mark Halperin over the weekend, for which Mark Halperin apologized today.
HH: And I want to play that if I can. This is what Mark Halperin did with Ted Cruz two weeks ago.
MH: So people are really interested in you and your identity, so I just want to you ask you as a historical matter, when you filled out your application to Princeton, to Harvard Law School, did you list yourself as an Hispanic?
TC: Oh, sure. I’ve listed myself as Cuban-America. That’s my heritage and my background.
MH: Okay, and in the following categories, whether you have an affinity for or connection to anything part of your Cuban past. You got a favorite Cuban food, Cuban dish?
TC: Oh, I grew up eating Cuban food all the time.
MH: What’s your favorite dish?
TC: My grandparents…you know, picadillo.
MH: All right, favorite, you like Cuban music? You have a favorite Cuban singer?
TC: You know, I have to admit in that, I’m much more of a Texan. I tend to listen to country music more than Cuban music.
MH: All right, finally, we wanted to give you the opportunity to directly welcome your colleague, Senator Sanders, to the race, and I’d like you to do it, if you would, en Espanol.
HH: Now John Harwood, contrast that with my conversation with Ben Carson. If I were, Cruz kept his calm through that when it’s obviously gotcha, and Ben Carson is still kind of ticked off over a non-gotcha. That’s not good, actually.
JH: I see it exactly the same way that you do, and you know, he’s not the only one in this race who is prickly at questions. Rand Paul does not like being questioned in a skeptical way. Many people have experienced that, including me. I interviewed him on the radio a couple of years ago, and he bristled at some of the questions. And I remember thinking at that time if you’re going to play Major League Baseball in a presidential campaign, you’ve got to be able to stand in, you know, stand in the box and watch the fastballs come.
HH: John, last question. This is, I think we’re in a world where the umpires are social media. And if Mark Halperin is unfair, he gets hammered. But I wasn’t hammered, because I wasn’t, I think social media actually plays umpire here, doesn’t it?
JH: Absolutely, and the reason you didn’t get hammered was, as I said, I don’t think any fair-minded person could listen to the way you introduced the interview, the way you moved through the interview and questioned him and come away with any conclusion other than you had respect for Carson, that you had respect for the fact that he was new to the game, and were asking him, you know, we’re not, our goal is not to make people look bad. It’s to figure out how they think. And that’s what you were trying to do.
HH: Exactly. Exactly. John Harwood, come back again soon. Great piece with Ben Carson, and we’ll have Dr. Carson on, America. If you’re a Carsonite, don’t worry, I’ll have him back. We’ll talk more about this, obviously.
End of interview.