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Dr. Larry Arnn On GOP Debate Preview

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HH: The Hillsdale Dialogue must go on. Every Friday at this hour, I join either Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College or one of his colleagues to talk about one of the great works of Western literature or an important volume. In recent weeks, we have been talking about Dr. Arnn’s brand new book, Churchill’s Trial, which is available at and a perfect Christmas present. But last week and this, we’ve been sort of setting aside our ordinary course of events to focus on that which happened in Larry and my own backyard in San Bernardino and the aftermath that has followed, because it requires a great deal of attention and careful response. Dr. Arnn, welcome back to the Hugh Hewitt Show, great to have you.

LA: Great to be here, Hugh.

HH: In the week since we talked, in the ten days since the massacre, what do you make of American political discourse? Is it focused on what it needs to be focused on? Or is it off on tangents?

LA: Well, of course, there’s a huge partisan bitterness, but also, there’s a bunch of good ideas. And they’re being debated. Some of them were in the President’s speech, and more of them were elsewhere, and some things were left out of the President’s speech that I didn’t, I thought ought to be there. But you know, there’s a lot that can be done. And we talked about it last time we talked about this subject. One thing is we have an advantage over these terrorists in that we are a people used to taking care of themselves. And we don’t mean harm to one another in an overwhelming majority of cases. And we’re a heavily-armed population. So I wonder why they don’t, I said last time, they should deputize people. Somebody wrote in who knew a lot about that and said that was a good idea. Somebody wrote to you. I think we should do that, and I think that the concealed carry laws should be taken advantage of, and we should offer training and instruction to people about what to do in the case there’s an active shooter somewhere. And so we should be prepared to rise up as a people against these people.

HH: Now Dr. Arnn, when you made that comment, and I began putting that out there, of course, pushback came from the left that the answer to gun violence is not more guns, and that’s mis-defining the problem. But it also misses the point. I did, however, and I pointed this out last night, Donald Trump was interviewed by Don Lemon on Wednesday night, two nights ago, and Mr. Trump made the point the bad guys will always have guns in our society. And it’s a trivial point, because it’s made so often among the gun-owning club around. But a lot of people in the country fail to realize that you really cannot get guns out of the hands of bad people.

LA: It’s very hard, and you know, these people have guns in Europe, right? And the gun laws are strict there. And the Paris attack, that was heavy weapons. And smuggling is, these people have organizations. They may not have had, the ones who attacked in San Bernardino, but they do all over the world. And you know, lots of stuff comes and goes across the border all the time. And it’s not all looked at. It can’t be. So there’s, you know, that strategy, what the President said in his speech was we have to make that harder. And you know, he spent a fair amount of time in that speech about that point. And that doesn’t look to me like that offers much promise. But that is, isn’t it part of the tendency, right, that when we’re attacked, we curtail the power of the American people to exercise their right and to get involved in fighting this fight. So I would discard that for sure.

HH: About, he also spent almost no time in that speech, if you wish to praise him, I don’t want to stand in your way, but I want to begin with this critique. He spent almost no time in that speech, Larry Arnn, talking about the origins of what confronts us – Wahhabism in its modern Islamist variety. And anyone who reads Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower will recognize that this has been with us since the early post-World War II era in Egypt. The ideology goes back a hundred years beyond that. And it has been growing parallel, but not intertwining, with Western secularism. And now, the two are meeting, finally, for the first time in 75 years.

LA: Yeah, I think so, and you know, some, a friend of mine from high school sent me an article from Le Monde today, and it makes the, it basically makes the argument that our war on evil is the cause of the evil. And it attributes to George W. Bush, as Obama is given to do, the cause of a lot of this radicalism. But the truth of the matter is these movements are very old. You know, Winston Churchill fought a battle against them in 1898 in the Sudan. And some of the relations, descendants of that Mahdi, that leader that he fought against, are ruling Sudan today and involved in Osama bin Laden’s life, and in al Qaeda. It’s been going on a long time. And whatever made the Mahdi mad, it wasn’t anything that happened in the United States of America.

HH: And I had former Vice President Cheney in my studio here in Colorado this week, and maybe I’ll play for you an excerpt of, if they have it handy, of what he had to say generally about Donald Trump. But more specifically, he pointed out that when we were attacked in 9/11, we had done nothing to endanger that, that in the first Gulf War, he had gone, he had made a promise to King Fahd. We kept that promise. We came, we saw, we conquered and we left, but that did not satisfy those who wished to have a war with us. And I don’t know that the President gets it. Here’s what, by the way, the Vice President said about Mr. Trump’s proposal.

HH: Mr. Vice President, before I turn to other things, there are a lot of proposals about refuges out there. About Syrian refugees, Donald Trump has said no Muslims whatsoever. A lot of people are on the scale in between. What do you think ought to be the American policy towards welcoming people from that part of the world, which is predominantly Muslim right now?

DC: Well, I think this whole notion that somehow we can just say no more Muslims, and just ban a whole religion, goes against everything we stand for and believe in. I mean, religious freedom’s been a very important part of our history. And where we came from, a lot of people, even my ancestors got here, because they were Puritans. There wasn’t anybody here then when they came. But it’s a mistaken notion. It’s a serious problem, this refugee problem is. It’s a serious problem to make certain that the people coming in don’t represent ISIS. You’ve got to set up a vetting process. And that’s crucial, but I think the way you’ve got to begin to deal with that problem is go back and look at why they’re here. And they’re here because of what’s going on in the Middle East. And what’s going on in the Middle East is a result of a U.S. vacuum. It’s a result of the rise of ISIS, the civil war in Syria. I’ve heard proposals that I think make sense that we ought to establish safety zones, if you will, in a poor part of the northern part of Syria where you’ve got them secured, you’ve got sufficient forces, hopefully of locals that would be there to protect the area, but that’s where people who are fleeing the terrible tragedy that’s going on inside the caliphate a place where they could reside. But it also takes the pressure, then, off the refugee flow, the move to Europe of thousands of refugees and the move here to the United States. I think that makes a lot more sense than what’s happening now.

HH: So Larry Arnn, you heard him immediately reject some of the more stringent proposals put forward, including that by Mr. Trump, but at the same time saying we are not the problem. The problem is over there, and the problem has been over there. And we’ve now fought two wars, and we’ve retreated twice, and it doesn’t go way. So you think we would learn something.

LA: You would. You know, I think whatever we do over there, we should do with an aim to do it as cheaply as possible, because we, you know, we have good allies over there where our troops are welcomed and stationed, and those are bases from which we can operate and strike. And occupying large swathes of territory and patrolling cities with hundreds of thousands of troops is hard to sustain for a long time. So it would be great if we didn’t have to do that. And you know, I noticed, let me make a point, I noticed that Dick Cheney calls the movement, whatever that thing is over there, ISIS, which stands, I think, for Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. And the President calls is ISIL, which stands, I think, for Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. And that’s a broader areas.

HH: Yup.

LA: And I wonder why he picks that? I don’t understand it. Is he ceding their claim? Or is he recognizing their claim to a wider area, because…

HH: Well you know why I think, I think he does it simply because it’s a vain attempt to distinguish his grasp of the situation, much like he uses the pronunciation of Pakistan to demonstrate that somehow, he’s deeper versed in such matters than the average American. It’s one of those ticks that he has that is so annoying. When we come back from break, Dr. Arnn and I are going to talk about how one does go about responding, if you are a member of Congress, to this situation. We’ve had Senator Cotton and Mike Pompeo on the program this week, and Senator Cotton has been pretty much everywhere. Has he been, have you chatted with him this week, Larry Arnn?

LA: I saw him in the airport, talked to him for five minutes, but that’s all in Washington the other day. I was over there for a day. And yeah, he’s, and see, he’s a very skillful and knowledgeable man, and he’s a hardliner, and he’s just got lots of information about things the government can do that don’t threaten our liberty. And so he’s a fount of wisdom.

HH: That’s exactly right. He and Pompeo both serve on their respective Intelligence Committees.

LA: Yeah.

HH: …in the Senate and the House, and we’ll talk about serious things that can be done when we return on this Hillsdale Dialogue, all of them collected at

— – — – –

HH: When we went to break, we were talking about Senator Tom Cotton and Mike Pompeo. On this program on Wednesday, Larry Arnn, Mike Pompeo said Kansas, simple Kansas, has dozens and dozens of open investigations into Islamic radicals – Kansas. I do not believe, and I wonder what you think about this, the American people quite yet understand the breadth and the depth of the threat within.

LA: Yeah, it’s, you know, these, first of all, if you saw the Wall Street Journal earlier this week with the front above the fold photograph, a big photograph of those two people who murdered those people in San Bernardino coming into the country, it’s just shocking. And you know, Donald Trump is making hay over that. And you know, he’s got a point. I agree with Dick Cheney. I don’t think we can ban all Muslims, but here’s something we could do. There’s a very good article in the Wall Street Journal today about visa policies. And you know, there’s a whole bunch of countries where they have pretty open borders with these radical places in the Middle East where they can, people can just come without a visa over here. And if you have to get a visa, you have to go, you have to arrange in advance, and you have to go to a consular office, and you have to put in your stuff, and it can be checked. And there’s a very good article about how you would go about tightening all that up. It shouldn’t be so easy to come here for people who have radical intentions. And you know, I travel abroad, and I love it when there are no lines. And in principle, it’s better if people and goods move freely everywhere in the world. But it is the purpose of ISIS to disrupt all of that. And so…

HH: And our friend, Jim Geraghty, from National Review, got in a mild bit of controversy today because he tweeted out Angela Merkel, the Time Magazine person of the year, has done more to reshape the ethnic face of Europe since…well, never mind. She has, and she is in that sense of the word a major international figure. But there is something to be said for borders, Dr. Arnn.

LA: Oh, yeah. You know, if you ever meet, if you go to Prague, the former president of the Czech Republic is Vaclav Klaus, a friend of mine, and he makes this simple point about the European Union. He says I lived most of my life without any borders. We were part of the Warsaw Pact. And that meant the big places could do to us Czechs whatever they pleased. And it’s so precious to have a country that you can participate in the governance of, and control its borders. And a Europe without borders, that was the Eastern Europe/Warsaw Pact part, that was a scene of misery and degradation for everybody who lived there except those in power, who of course, lived the way tyrants live, in fear all the time. So that’s a terrible thing, right? And countries are a natural phenomenon. And so the idea that we’re going to supersede that or transcend that, and you know, the plan on the table is we transcend that by the cooperation of international bureaucrats. That’s not likely to go very well.

HH: Now there is a way to do that. There is a way to make borders accessible. And there’s a beautiful, new movie out called Brooklyn. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to see that, yet, with the wonderful Mrs. Arnn. Penny will appreciate it, though it’s about Irish immigrants to the United States in the early 1950s moving to Brooklyn and how they assimilated, and the institutions which helped them assimilate, and how they intermarried and how they built the country. It’s really a beautiful story. So there is a way that borders are borders, but at the same time, are porous to the degree that is useful to the country allowing them to be porous.

LA: Uh-huh. And you know, there, a country can’t be a country if it doesn’t have the authority to control its frontiers, because it has to have a border to be a country. And I very much believe in free trade and free movement, as free as possible. But gracious sakes, when we’ve got a thing like this going on, and you know, we’ll be a different country if we get, Coleman Jenkins writes a good article today, he’s very smart, writes for the Wall Street Journal. And he says you know, what’s it going to be like when conditions are here as they are in Israel, where you just expect that every week there’s going to be some murder, and you’ve got to be constantly on your guard. We should do all we can to prevent that from happening. And as I say, involve all of us in the response to it.

HH: Now Mike Pompeo and Tom Cotton both stated there are many things that can be done about visa changes and biometric controls. But mostly, it comes down to warning people that we have to do something about ISIS, the Islamic State, because they are exporting jihad. And then the media instantly reacted, and I found it almost humorous, if it were not so sad, by pointing out that the male terrorist in San Bernardino had been radicalized prior to 2012 as though the rise of ISIS marked the beginning of the ideology. The ideology is older than you and me.

LA: Much older. And you know, I’m no expert on this, but I have talked with historians about this who, and many of them who are sympathetic to Islam. Islam has been in a struggle from the beginning about whether it’s a state that deploys force and dictates law, or whether it’s a faith. And there have been large forces in Islam from the beginning that have thought it’s the latter, and there have been large forces from the beginning that thought it’s the former. And you know, do we not, here’s a very important point. The West is so uncertain of its message, and fails so much to salute the meaning written in human nature that people ought to be free to worship God as they please, that a lot of our young people are radicalized, and they’re attracted to this life of rich meaning and glory that’s offered by joining the jihad. And they flock to it from Europe and from America. And so one thing we need to do is we need to argue against this thing. And we’re so careful not to criticize the roots of this thing, that we are disarmed in the part of the thing that we should be most equipped to win, which is the argument part of it.

HH: Now I wrapped up a class yesterday, which the foundational texts were Churchill’s History of the English-Speaking People, and Lynne Cheney’s biography of Madison. And the culmination of Madison’s work, of course, is the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and then The Looming Tower and the great war of our time about Sayyid Qutb. And so Qutb and Madison collide, Dr. Arnn. The profit of religious toleration, religious freedom, and the profit of an absolute rejection of that in modern times in the name of these Prophet. Is that reconcilable? Are those two thought systems reconcilable?

LA: Well, only insofar as X and not X can mean the same thing (laughing).

HH: Well said.

LA: So no, of course, they’re not. And you know, Lincoln said about the people who thought they were some halfway house between slavery and freedom, he said that’s like saying a person can be neither a living nor a dead man at the same time. So we have to choose about that, right? We have to choose up sides.

HH: And I’ll be right back with Dr. Arnn. Choosing up sides is what I will be about next week on Tuesday, the process of choosing up sides, not a vote caster, but a question asker. And I’ll ask for Dr. Arnn’s suggestions when we return to the Hugh Hewitt Show. Stay tuned.

— – – – –

HH: Every day brought a new set of details about the terror attack that was disquieting. Yesterday, news that the woman terrorist had been part of a terror group that was arrested in 2012, and nevertheless allowed to enter the United States, not exactly confidence inspiring, Larry Arnn, in our terror prevention systems from people entering the country, is it?

LA: Well, we need data, right? And we need to put it together. And there’s a lot of hesitation, and rightful hesitation in people about that. But if we have this system of checks and balances, where the executive branch gathers data and acts, and judges that are independent of them approve what they do, and laws are passed in advance that justify what they may do, if we can put that system, and Tom Cotton says that it is extensively there, by the way, then we should gather the information about people. It’s a point that was made today in the press by a very brilliant man who I mentioned already, that if you know that somebody has spent a lot of time in these countries, and that is to be known if they come here. You know, if they have to get a visa to come here, you would know that. And then you know that they are assembling weapons and traveling back and forth to those places, then that becomes interesting, right?

HH: Yes, very.

LA: And if you can isolate those people, then you can leave the rest of us alone. And that’s a better thing to do. And you know, you wonder what to ask. I would ask, you ask very good questions, by the way.

HH: Yes, because of the debate next week. It’s the debate Tuesday night, the presidential candidates, and I was turning now with Dr. Arnn. We have two segments. What would you go after?

LA: I would have, first of all, I would ask how do you fight this war vigorously, and in a way to strengthen and preserve the liberties of the American people. That’s Churchill’s concern in war all the time. He’s so careful that the Parliamentary processes should continue. And he acted under color of law in the biggest wars in history. And you know, the whole society was martialed, but care was taken that its institutions with their restraints were preserved. So that’s the art, right? We have to do that. And another element of that is we have to fight these wars, and they just go on, you know, and God knows how they’ll ever stop, but then if we’re going to have to live like this, we should find a way to fight them as economically as we can. And you know, that looks to me like that’s the art, right? If this was Sparta, or if this was the Soviet Union, then you know, everybody’s always martialed all the time. And then it doesn’t change the regime to be at war for a long time. But in ours, we have to be careful that we don’t just lose the way we live.

HH: And very easily, it can happen. I mean, it can happen in a nanosecond if you start allowing warrantless searches of people’s homes. But it does go back to finding the probable cause, which the framers, for those who have dismissed their incredible genius, they did have this balance in mind. They knew there would be threats, but they also knew that there would be the necessity of tools to answer them that were providently granted by judges overseeing them.

LA: That’s it.

HH: What else would you ask them?

LA: Well, there’s a push for, you know, large forces to be located, and to destroy ISIS. And I would ask them do you favor that, and I would ask them how, what’s the end game? We need to think about that when we do that. And you know, we did that once, right? And it was very divisive. And yet we got Iraq into a reasonably pacific condition. I mean, it was a victory, and it was hard fought, and it was politically very divisive. And then darned if we didn’t up and leave. And now, we’re going back in there. And so that stopping and starting is a terrible thing. So it looks to me like you need a stopping place that preserves what you’ve gained, and yet is, puts Americans at risk as little as possible, and involves as little expense as possible.

HH: Now I know you have not taken sides in the presidential race, but how do you assess it at this moment, including the Democratic nominee presumptive, it’s like calling the air presumptive, Queen Hillary. What, how do you assess where we are 45 days before the voting starts?

LA: Well, my first remark is the word presumption, and the word presumptive, are cognate. So it’s possible that we have both a presumptive and a presumptuous…

HH: Both, yes.

LA: …nominee on one side. You know, I have been thinking this. I’ve been thinking that the field has got to narrow pretty soon. And I think that will be very healthy. I think that some of the people in the debates have been strengthening steadily while the debate goes on, and they’re well-poised in the polls. And so I’d like to see Rubio and Cruz in the final cut. And I suspect that Trump is going to be there for a while, because he’s got a lot of numbers. And I think that most of the others…

HH: Well, hold that thought. Hold that thought until we come back, because I want to talk about most of the others after the break. I’m talking with Dr. Larry Arnn on a Hillsdale Dialogue. Go nowhere, America, is where they are all collected.

— – – — –

HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt with Dr. Larry Arnn talking about the Republican presidential race, and he just pointed out he expects Rubio and Cruz to be there for the distance. Dr. Arnn, it takes 1,236 delegates to be nominated. Iowa offers up 30 to be divided proportionally, excuse me, 23, no 30 to be divided proportionally, New Hampshire, 23, South Carolina, 50, Nevada, 30. Then, on the first super Tuesday, 565. Then, in the days following up until March 15th, an assortment of about 300 delegates, so about a thousand delegates will be on the table before March 15th divided 12 ways. And if Donald Trump holds at 35%, you know, he’ll have about 350 of the 1,236 he needs. I actually believe we could be headed to a brokered convention. What do you think?

LA: Yeah, it’s a better race than we have seen in recent times, in my opinion, and there’s talent in it. And I hope we don’t get there. I hope, rather, you see, you need two things. You need some process, where people get to show their talent, and that might be a wider process like we’ve got now, and then at some point, it’s got to come to a focus. You know, it wasn’t Lincoln-Douglas-Seward-Chase-Breckenridge. It was Lincoln and Douglas. And the arguments became sharp and clear because of that. And we need that, right? And there’s, those two senators I named, and you know, I’m leaving out Rand Paul, who’s obviously qualified for the office, and his poll numbers are poor, and events are moving against some of his points, it looks to me like. He’s a talent, and I’m leaving out Ben Carson, who’s a wonderful man, but it’s a fact that nobody ever got elected president of the United States as their first public office.

HH: Right.

LA: Leaving out of account generals who hold important public offices.

HH: Right.

LA: So there’s some talent that needs to be, you know, whoever it is, needs to be eliminated so that the debate can become coherent, and we can start forming the consensus we need to choose a president in the fall. And so I hope it narrows soon. That’s the main thing, I think. And I think when it does, I think it could possibly do that in a hurry.

HH: As for question sets, I’m disagreeing with you here. I don’t think it’s going to narrow in a hurry, because I think people have a formed, in ways we haven’t seen since 1976, emotional attachments to candidates.

LA: Yeah.

HH: In this case, in 1976, there were only two, so one of them had to win a majority. This year, there are emotional attachments to candidates which are four and five and six, and I think we might get to Cleveland, and there are going to be, there’s going to be a need for a group of people who have stature with any number of candidates. Do such people exist?

LA: Yeah…

HH: Hint, hint.

LA: Well, yeah, okay, so tell me. Make the hint broader so I can follow it.

HH: You.

LA: Oh, I see.

HH: I think that you and DeMint and a few other people who may not themselves be delegates…

LA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

HH: …have got to be very careful about committing one way or the other so that there might be conversations in Cleveland about how to salvage the whole thing.

LA: Well, I know several of them, and I have not committed to them, and there’s, let me make sure I get my numbers right, there are three of them with whom I am fond. I like them. I know them well enough to like them a lot, and two of them who are, you know, I hope it’s one of them, I guess I’d say. But I haven’t committed to any of them, and I’m choosing my words carefully now, in part because this is why we have a campaign, you know? Like I’m not looking for a job in the government. I never had one. And so one of the reasons, a motive somebody commits to somebody early is so they can have influence, and maybe get a job. And what I’m thinking is I should have influence, if I have any, because I know something that’s helpful. So I am going to conduct myself that way, and wish them well. And any of them that ask me a question, I answer it to the best of my ability, and some of them do.

HH: And all of them ought to continue to do so. I also think, and I want to begin the boomlet with Dr. Arnn, you mentioned young Tom Cotton earlier, although it will be outside of many people’s lists, there’s something to be said for having a combat veteran who has patrolled the streets of Baghdad and fought this enemy as your running mate, regardless of who the nominee is.

LA: Yeah, I agree with that. And you know, he’s an immense talent, and he’s going to go further places in American politics, and sooner is better than later. And you know, we need, there’s, there are, you know, there’s, it’s a terrible situation right now in America, but it’s calling forth a lot of talent. And that talent is rising to high places in national prominence, and so I regard that as a hopeful process. I’m very glad to see it, want to do all I can to help it.

HH: When Churchill put together his war cabinet, did he insist upon experience in office or an age test, or anything like that?

LA: Well, you know, those cabinets are put together politically, right? So there were, the war cabinet was five people. Three of them were Conservatives, and two of them were Labour. And the Labour had to come in in order to call it a national government. The Liberal Party, which Churchill had been a member of, had shrunken, and they didn’t get a war cabinet spot. Well, who were the ones? The Conservatives were Lord Halifax, and Neville Chamberlain, whom Churchill replaced, and they were the leading appeasers, right? But they were powerful men, and they were very experienced. And you know, they did a good job in there. And the Liberals were the senior Liberals, Clement Attlee, the leader of the party, and Herbert Morrison, and he was, they were both names to conjure with. So it was a little bit like Lincoln’s thing, you know? Those were great powers in British politics, and they came together, and you know, for all their differences, and they were very great, they fought the war together, and well.

HH: And that is, you know, it’s an admonition to our current political people that they ought to be looking across the aisle for some help on these things. And I don’t see any Democrat stepping up, yet, to say we’ve really botched this. And we have one minute left, Dr. Arnn. Don’t we need that from them? Did the appeasers ever make an admission of error that was useful to the clearing of the decks?

LA: Yeah, not a kind of a, what they did do was they supported Churchill very much. You know, Churchill was extremely kind to Neville Chamberlain, who died a few months after Churchill took office as prime minister. Edward Halifax was eventually sent in a few months to America to be the ambassador, and he developed a very great admiration for Churchill, and wrote some wonderful things about that.

HH: My friend, good to talk to you, and we’ll talk to you next week after the debate. If you have other questions that come to mind, please send them off to me so I can keep them in mind. All the Hillsdale Dialogues available at, Hillsdale, of course, at And then if you’re thinking about should your child go there and be saved from the ravages of higher modern education, is the place to check out everything about the college, Stay with us.

End of interview.


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