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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Dr. Larry Arnn On Clinton, Trump, and the Unity Powers of the Commander-In-Chief

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HH: Welcome to the last radio hour of the week, which means it’s time for the Hillsdale Dialogue, more often than not with Dr. Larry Arnn, as it is today, president of Hillsdale College. All things Hillsdale available at All of our dialogues over the last four years available at I encourage you to take the online courses at, and to binge listen to the Hillsdale Dialogues with Dr. Arnn and his colleagues on the Hillsdale faculty. Larry Arnn, last night after listening to Hillary Clinton’s speech and being on TV talking about it, I did what any sensible person should do. I reread Chapter Four in your magnificent book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government, on, titled The Strategist, about Churchill at war, and came away with these questions. Does Donald Trump have a strategic vision? Does he have the rhetoric and the ability to communicate that vision? Could he actually bring allies onto the field as Churchill said can be sometimes as important as winning a battle? And what about Hillary and all those questions? What’s your short answer and your long answer to that?

LA: Well, first of all, let me begin by cursing you, because I had to get up this morning and watch Hillary Clinton’s speech.

HH: (laughing)

LA: (laughing) I read it, and I watched it. So that’s hard duty. I ought to be getting paid by the hour here. But yeah, so does he have a strategy? Well, he, he has, there’s something really interesting about what he says about foreign policy, and that is that he wants to begin thinking about foreign policy by beginning, thinking about what’s good for the people of the United States. And they all say that. Hillary Clinton said it in her speech. But he is insistent about it with a different intensity than anybody else has had. And if you just think about what Churchill believed, Churchill believed this simple problem occurs today. We run these liberal societies. People are supposed to be free. Assets are supposed to remain in their pockets. And yet, war is all consuming. You can convert a whole nation to war. We’ve done it twice in American history, a whole nation to military pursuits. It goes on for years. And Churchill’s view was you very much want to avoid that. If you have to do it, you have to do it. But anytime you do, it’s a failure. Churchill called the Second World War, where he won his fame and glory, the unnecessary war. And he thought the great failure was not to get ready in time to prevent it. Trump talks like that. And he wants to protect the country. I’m comforted, sometimes Trump, you know, one, he used in his foreign policy speech, which I think was very good, America first as a theme. And that harks back to the 19, late 20s and early 30s, to a movement in America that was isolationist and didn’t want to get involved in the Second World War. But Trump praises our involvement in the Second World War, and he likes that phrase. It is actually a really good phrase, because it is how you would start thinking about a strategy. So the answer is does he have one? The makings of one. Also, Churchill, sorry, talking about Churchill, Trump is consistent in saying that we need to actually get the substance of the military, and the military is the basis of foreign policy. That is just a fact. If that is weak, you will not be taken seriously in the world.

HH: Now let me, if it is weak, we won’t be. But here’s how Hillary, let’s dive right in and grate on the ears of our audience as well, since I asked you to be ready for this, the key claim in her speech is this one, cut number three:

HRC: Donald Trump’s ideas aren’t just different, they are dangerously incoherent. They’re not even really ideas, just a series of bizarre rants, personal feuds and outright lies. He is not just unprepared. He is temperamentally unfit to hold an office that requires knowledge, stability and immense responsibility.

HH: She expands on that much later, cut number 18:

HRC: There’s no risk of people losing their lives if you blow up a golf course deal. But it doesn’t work like that in world affairs. Just like being interviewed on the same episode of 60 Minutes, as Putin was, is not the same thing as actually dealing with Putin. So the stakes in global statecraft are infinitely higher and more complex than in the world of luxury hotels. We all know the tools Donald Trump brings to the table – bragging, mocking, composing nasty Tweets. I’m willing to bet he’s writing a few right now. But those tools won’t do the trick. Rather than solving global crises, he would create new ones. He has no sense of what it takes to deal with multiple countries with competing interests, and reaching a solution that everyone can get behind. In fact, he is downright contemptuous of that work. And that means he’s much more likely to end up leading us into conflict.

HH: So Dr. Larry Arnn, that is her central claim. And as John Podhoretz wrote yesterday, she will make it repeatedly over the next five months, and it’s powerful if it’s unrebutted.

LA: Well, I don’t think there’s much danger that what she says about Trump is going to go unrebutted.

HH: (laughing) Maybe I should have said effectively unrebutted.

LA: Yeah, there we go. So yeah, those are good points, right? So the fairest criticism I know of Trump, and I know a few that I regard as fair, the fairest one I know is he would be the first guy elected president as his first public office. And that’s his disadvantage. And her advantage is she has vast government experience. But as you said last night on TV, that is also her disadvantage, is it not? And because there are things to say about her claims about her own service, and so he will make, he will say those things. And the people will have to decide then between those, you know, because there are real differences in her speech and in what, between her speech and the substantive things, and there are many, that he has said about foreign policy. And in the end, the people are going to have her experience and her claims on the one hand, and his inexperience and his claims on the other, and that’s how they’re going to make up their minds.

HH: Let’s listen to her claims, cut number 7:

HRC: Even if I weren’t in this race, I’d be doing everything I could to make sure Donald Trump never becomes president, because I believe he will take our country down a truly dangerous path. Unlike him, I have some experience with the tough calls and the hard work of statecraft. I wrestled with the Chinese over a climate deal in Copenhagen, brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, negotiated the reduction of nuclear weapons with Russia, twisted arms to bring the world together in global sanctions against Iran, and stood up for the rights of women, religious minorities and LGBT people around the world.

HH: So Larry Arnn, she wrestled with the Chinese on a climate deal. She negotiated a ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. She got the Russians to trump us in the nuke deal, which was very bad for us. She organized sanctions, she protected religious minorities and LGBT. It’s very carefully crafted series of half-truths and outrights lies, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

LA: Yeah, it does and it doesn’t. It depends on whether, you know, the whole trump phenomenon depends on whether people are in fact, as they say, sick to death of all this, and think that the country needs to turn in a new direction. And you just have to remember the number of people who say this is always north of 60%, and often north of 70% when you…and so she’s going to say I’m experience, I’ve done a great job. And you know, you’re going to have to wonder whether people are going to like that or not. But remember also she’s saying things that are hallowed tenets of foreign policy often of both parties. For example, how often, I defy anybody to find it in a speech by Winston Churchill, do we start out to say our great national power depends upon our power at home. And then, because Sir Churchill says that all the time. And then what follows is we, the government’s got to spend more money and regulate more stuff, right? And what Churchill always follows with, strong, free economy, trading all over the world. Churchill was a free trader, whereas Trump and Lincoln are not. And so her prescription, just if you read the speech and think what’s she going to do, what’s in there is the whole regulatory agenda, the whole campaign of addressing the American people in the groups of whom they’re part, right? Whereas Trump is really an interesting guy, right? He just talks to the people as the American people.

HH: When we come back, probably no speech has used the word statecraft more than Hillary Clinton’s speech did yesterday. It’s the central chapter in Churchill’s Trial by Larry Arnn, a chapter about statecraft. And we’ll talk more about Churchill’s Trial, Hillary and Trump when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

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HH: We are talking about Hillary Clinton’s speech yesterday in which strategy and global strategy and strategist and statecraft were mentioned more than perhaps any speech I have heard in a decade, and earnestly so by the former Secretary of State, making claims about her superiority. One of the things she said, Dr. Arnn, on Page 77 of Churchill’s Trial, you quote Churchill as saying the maneuver which brings an ally into the field as serviceable as that which wins a great battle. The maneuver which gains an important strategic point may be less valuable than that which placates or overawes a dangerous neutral. And then Hillary kind of went after him on this point yesterday by talking about how he will be very, very bad for our allies, cut number 14:

HRC: It is no small passing thing when he talks about leaving NATO, or says he’ll stay neutral on Israel’s security. It’s no small thing when he calls Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers. We’re lucky to have two friendly neighbors on our land borders. Why would he want to make one of them an enemy?

HH: So isn’t she making the very point that Churchill made?

LA: Yeah, of course, you know, I hasten to say that we’re introducing a different scale of values when we introduce Winston Churchill into the discussion. But of course, we have to proceed by alliances in a world where we can be struck from abroad in minutes by terrible powers. Of course, we do. But then the question is how do you do that? So here’s an example of Churchill making an ally. Greece and Turkey are in NATO largely because of the personal efforts of Winston Churchill, because at the end of the Second World War, in ’43 and ’44 and ’45, he just wooed and courted them, and made a deal with Stalin so he could get into Greece and suppress the Greek Communist Party. He did all that. How did he woo Turkey? He went to them, he offered them things, he gave them things, and then he got them involved, and then he threatened them sometimes. And he pushed them, and he said he might go away and leave them alone with the Soviet Union. In other words, he was, it was a maneuver, and it had both carrots and sticks in it. And so one thing going on with Trump, it looks to me like, and remember, you have to remember Trump, Hillary’s right, Trump hasn’t done this. But one of the things that it sounds to me like he’s saying is something Reagan loved to say in the 80s, and that is we can’t really buy the friendship of other people. We have to demand their respect.

HH: Now last night or yesterday afternoon after the speech, I was on with Brian Williams. Dianne Feinstein preceded me, and Brian Williams brought to her attention an article by a man of the left, Frank Rich of the New York Times, that said there’s a whole lot of the Ronald in the Donald, in other words, that Democrats said about Ronald Reagan in ’79 and ’80 that he was dangerous and a cowboy. And Dianne Feinstein reacted with outrage and condescension towards Brian Williams, and I came on and said no, you’re absolutely right, Brian. I was there. I worked for him. They used to call him a cowboy. They actually reran the Daisy ad in 1984, Walter Mondale trying to make it seem like he was dangerous and unstable. And it was right, but is Frank Rich overstating it to make the comparison between Trump and Reagan even as the way you say we ought to be careful about introducing Churchill into these arguments?

LA: Yeah, well, Hillary makes the point in her speech that Trump took out some ads criticizing Reagan in the 80s, and I had forgotten that, if I knew it. And I looked up an account of them, I couldn’t find the ads. I wish I could. I will find them. But what do they say? What they say is some of the things he’s saying now. He’s saying we are subsidizing our allies in ways that spoils them, and you know, and what was going on in Europe in the 80s? And see, I believe Reagan was masterful in his dealing with all of that. But it was a close run thing, because nuclear freeze movements everywhere in Europe, and people demonstrating against us while we were taking risks that affected their immediate security more than it affected ours.

HH: I will be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn,, The book, Churchill’s Trial, I Tweeted out earlier you should be reading it in this campaign especially.

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HH: I understand from my friend, Mike Reid, that you had a wonderful crowd in Fort Worth, Texas, Dr. Arnn, and I’m glad to hear that as you go about on the road that you are increasingly met by larger crowds that want to talk about first and serious things. Let me bring two to your attention. Not only did Hillary Clinton assert yesterday that Donald Trump would be dangerous to our allies and to the world order, the lead story at the New York Times at this hour is titled Trump Could Threaten U.S. Rule of Law, scholars say. It’s by Adam Liptak, and it quotes, among others, Ilya Shapiro at the Cato Institute, Richard Epstein, who’s, you know, a great legal scholar, David Post, a law professor retired now who writes for the Volokh Conspiracy, who says this is how authoritarianism starts with a president who does not respect the judiciary. You can criticize the judicial system, you can criticize individual cases, you can criticize individual judges. But the president has to be clear that the law is the law, and that he enforces the law. That is his Constitutional obligation. You have Randy Barnett, a great law professor at Georgetown, saying you would like a president with some idea about Constitutional limits on presidential powers, on Congressional powers, on federal powers. And I doubt Mr. Trump has any awareness of such limits. The story does quote Mitch McConnell telling me on Monday that Trump will have a White House counsel, there will be others who will point out there are certain things you can do and you can’t do. It quotes McCain as saying there’s no problem, the Senator from Arizona believes our institutions are strong. But then it goes back to quoting John Yoo and others as saying there are real dangers here in Donald Trump’s rhetoric and his attacks. What do you make of all this?

LA: So here’s Donald Trump, and I read that article this morning. I don’t find this, this I’m about to read to you quoted. This is Donald Trump writing in the January 28th Reno, Nevada Gazette. “The United States of America is a land of laws. And the Americans value the rule of law above all. Why then has our Congress allowed the president and the executive branch to take on near dictatorial power?” Then further on, he writes, he writes, “What is needed in Washington is a president who will rein in the executive branch and work with Congress to make sure the legislative branch does its job. What is needed in Washington is a president who has the will, strength and courage to lead, not beholden to special interests. I will bring the executive branch back inside the Constitution, and will work with Congress to put America first. I will lead the effort to gain meaningful tax reform.” So now, I read that article, and it’s the Reno, Nevada Gazette, January 28th. Look it up. Look up Bureau of Land Management, Trump. And so I got my salutatorian of this year, Jack Shannon, and I said Jack, you’ve got a week. Go find me everything Donald Trump has said about these things. And he finds quotes back to 2000 where Trump consistently says that Congress has to make the laws, not the bureaucracy, and the President should enforce only those. So the point is I don’t, I can’t figure out why people don’t talk about that. And you know, you can make the case that Trump, because of his manner, because he places himself in the center of everything, because he says he’s going to fix it, you can say that this is a guy who doesn’t talk enough about the Constitution. But he does talk a lot about it, and Constitutionally, especially as regards to executive power.

HH: So that is our second curiosity. We have Hillary Clinton attacking him for being dangerous when in fact she has failed, then we have the New York Times attacking him for being authoritarian and a danger to Constitutional law when he has spoken on behalf of it. And then, we come to the third. People worried about free speech and Donald Trump, and yet last night in San Jose, Sanders and Clinton supporters attacked, physically shut down, punched, beat, threw eggs at, Trump supporters. And in last week’s New Yorker, there’s a story about American education called The Big Uneasy, a letter from Oberlin, which if you haven’t read, you have to read, that concludes with this. “On February 25th, published an article that included screen shots from the Facebook feed of Joy Karega, an assistant professor of rhetoric and composition at Oberlin. The post suggested, among other things, that Zionists had been involved in the 9/11 plot, that ISIS was a puppet of Mossad and the CIA, and that the Rothchild family owned your news, the media, the oil and your government. The post did not sit well with everyone at Oberlin where weeks earlier, a group of alumni and students had written the president with worries about anti-Semitism on campus. The board of trustees denounced the Facebook activities of Karega. As a teacher, however, she’d been involved and beloved by many students, considered an advocate for the school’s black undergraduates. The need for allyship became acute, and so with spring approaching, students and faculty at one of America’s most progressive colleges felt pressured to make an awkward judgment – whether to ally themselves with the black community, or whether to ally themselves with the offended Jews.” Then writes its students at Oberlin, it wanted trigger warnings attached to Antigone, and it goes through the upsets at Yale, at Claremont McKenna, at Harvard. And you know, there’s this disaster of free speech on the campuses, but people are worried about Trump being the disaster for free speech. Where’s the real problem, Larry Arnn?

LA: Yeah, Trump is busting through a lot of the politically correct codes that are controlling speech in America, and control the political debate, because that’s what this is about in the end. And you know, I happen to work in a college, and what’s our rule? We have rules, and the rule is basically, and we have the same rule that we’ve had for 173 years. When you talk at Hillsdale College, you’re supposed to be academic and civil in the way you go about it. Academic means you have to make serious arguments. And civil means you have to be respectful of the people who are in the college with you. They are colleagues, which means they are partners with you And that means, however, that if you have a serious argument to make, you’re actually obliged to make it, and make it in that way. That’s, in fact, you go to college to learn to do that. So Trump breaks through all that stuff, and that’s one reason, it’s not the only reason, but it’s one reason why he sounds uncivil a lot. And I will tell you that sometimes in these things that are called incivility from Trump, I glory in them, although sometimes, I don’t. And that, you know, that whole thing that you can’t say anything bad, just think the way the foreign policy of the United States is run today. Hillary’s speech is an appeal to our membership in the international community. Well, I happen to believe that there is no such community. What we have is a very divided world. And so what we might do is side up with the people who are respectful of the rights of their own citizens, and who are friends of the United States. And I would put them first. Trump has been critical of some of them in ways that, Japan, in particular, I would be very careful about Japan these days, because Japan is close to China, and a strong power. So I wouldn’t say some of the things Trump says. But much of the spirit of them, put it that way, much of the spirit of them is, in my opinion, just what we need. Isn’t it true that the government of the United States works for the people of the United States? One people, and they should be addressed as one people.

HH: It is true, but Hillary Clinton has figured out what you just referenced, and understands it to be a soft spot in the underbelly of Trumpism, and went after it yesterday. Play cut 21, if you will, Adam, please.

HRC: I have to say I don’t understand Donald’s bizarre fascination with dictators and strongmen who have no love for America. He praised China for the Tiananmen Square massacre. He said it showed strength. He said you’ve got to give Kim Jung Un credit for taking over North Korea, something he did by murdering everyone he saw as a threat, including his own uncle, which Donald described gleefully like he was recapping an action movie. And he said if he were grading Vladimir Putin as a leader, he’d give him an A. Now I will leave it to the psychiatrists to explain his affection for tyrants. I just wonder how anyone could be so wrong about who America’s real friends are, because it matters. If you don’t know exactly who you’re dealing with, men like Putin will eat your lunch.

HH: Dr. Arnn?

LA: Okay, that’s, you’re right, there’s legitimacy to that criticism. And there’s not complete legitimacy to it. Strength is a virtue. Winston Churchill, and I hate to even mention this, but I will. In 1936, Churchill wrote a profile of Adolf Hitler. Now there’s no sense in any place or time where Churchill was a friend of Adolf Hitler – not in 1936, not in any other time. And if you read the essay through, we can put it up on the web if people want to look at it, you will see that what he says is Hitler has arrived at a moment where he has recovered the strength of Germany, and restored its self-respect. And now, he has a choice to make. Is he going to lead the country to destruction? Or is he going to lead it to sanity, civilization and friendship with free peoples? And he puts that choice to Hitler. But in that is a legitimate admiration of the fact that Germany was in a God awful mess at the end of the Weimar period, and Hitler has brought it coherence and strength and prosperity. So Churchill did that, and it depends on how Trump argues. And a lot depends on how he argues from here, because he’s about to come under these attacks. And we know of him, if past record is any indication, once can have confidence that he is going to respond to these things, and we’ll see what he says. His way emphasizes that we should treat other people as other people, and we should be friends with them when it’s in our interest. And you know, one should add also that Trump has not gone fist-bumping with Hugo Chavez as Obama did, and Trump has not bowed to the King of Saudi Arabia, as Obama did.

HH: And he has not done a deal with the Ayatollah Khamenei, and today in the Wall Street Journal. And by the way, Hillary made great glory of her negotiations to bring sanctions to Iran. And today, the Wall Street Journal has a story of a man who blew up our Embassy in Beirut in the 80s leading the Shia militias, the arms of Khamenei, against the ISIS in the ongoing takeover of the Iraq that Hillary Clinton superintended our evacuation from.

LA: Yeah, I mean, her, you know, her foreign policy, I mean goodness, Libya, right? It’s not just that this thing happened where a bunch of Americans were killed, memorialized in that movie that you like, in Benghazi, and that they weren’t helped, it looks like, and that she went to bed and all that stuff, and wasn’t involved.

HH: Right.

LA: But it’s also true that she helped to make that situation in Libya.

HH: We came, we saw, he died, she said. And of course, 1,030 people are dead in the Med this week because they passed through Libya, a failed state, and got on boats from Libyan smugglers and went down, and they’re trying to get where 22,000 people had gotten the month before, illegally, into Italy. It’s really remarkable, Dr. Arnn. Stand by, I’ll be right back. I want to ask you about unity of command, because there is a tension here between, and I want to urge the audience to go get Churchill’s Trial. I think it is so appropriate to the choice we’re staring at, and the arguments that Hillary Clinton made yesterday, that you really ought to read Dr. Arnn’s book.

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HH: Dr. Arnn, two points. Number one, Fraser Nelson is the editor of the British magazine, the Spectator. He’s a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He wrote today America is tired of being the world’s protector. We have been warned. He doesn’t like Donald Trump, but he is saying Trump is playing to a deep chord in America that says we are not carrying our fair share, and we’d better check, do a self-check on that. He’s having an effect, isn’t he, on Europe?

LA: Oh, yeah. And see, those countries, you know, we don’t do them a favor if we take out of their hands their, the means of their own defense, right? And we should be mindful. First of all, I’m for the alliances, right? And I believe that they’re really grand, and they’ve been good for the world. But look who we’re allied with today, right? Great, massive bureaucratic, internationally-governed countries all over Europe that are enormous regulatory states, and that neglect their defense. And so wouldn’t anybody that’s president of the United States address that point? Of course, they would. And one of the maneuvers that you would use in dealing with them is saying look, you know, why don’t you take care of yourselves, right? Do you care about your own security? And see, here’s a point that’s worth entering here, right? It’s not possible to do what Churchill did again exactly, because Churchill was a genius, and because the circumstances are different. It’s not possible to do what Reagan did again exactly. One can only think about the principles they held, and how they applied them in prudential situations and meditate on that, and use history as the chief way to get experience, and then make judgments about the circumstances today. And Trump is bringing something very new into American politics, right? There’s, in my opinion, there’s been too much, and sometimes, I think there’s too little admiration of Reagan, but there’s been too much just repeating of his phrases. You have to think through what were the circumstances, and how did he apply the principles, and then think about our circumstances today, and try to copy that as best you can.

HH: Last question. People are playing on fears of Donald Trump having too much authority. But in The Strategist chapter of Churchill’s Trial, you write about Churchill insisting on unity of command. He was the servant of the House of Commons, he would submit his resignation on a moment’s notice, but he would not allow them to take away one of his two jobs during the war. We have unity of command in America. Dick Cheney was one of its preeminent spokespeople when the commander-in-chief acts. Ought we to be worried about that in the context of someone who has never wielded that power before in any shape or part?

LA: Yeah, well, first of all, the unity of command point, Churchill regarded that as a fine, most of his, almost always, almost always, Churchill very much admired the Constitution of the United States second only to the British. Sometimes, he implied that it had superiority to the British. But one particular aspect was this, it automatically produces something the founders wanted, and that is when the executive branch acts, especially in regard to questions of war and foreign relations, it has the power to act. It can just go. Now it’s limited by two things, by time, that is to say, the president has got to seek election again. And it’s limited by Congress, because Congress has got to vote the money, and they used to have to vote the wars. So there is separation of powers, but the president runs the executive branch himself. And that’s a great advantage. And so whoever we’re electing, we’re electing somebody to do that. That’s the nature of the office. And you know, as we said at the beginning of this, we have a choice between somebody experienced at this, and somebody inexperienced. And there are advantages and disadvantages to both positions.

HH: And I would encourage people making that choice and thinking it through to go and get Dr. Arnn’s book, Churchill’s Trial. I doubt there’s a more necessary book and a better read. I want to close today’s program with the Navy Hymn, a Navy Blue Angel lost yesterday, died in the crash of his aircraft in the United States, so we salute him and all the pilots in the sky, and we will be back on Monday with the next Hugh Hewitt Show.

End of interview.


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