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Dr. Larry Arnn On National Review’s Anti-Trump Issue And Principled Statesmanship

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HH: As Snowmageddon ravages Washington, D.C., I was dispirited, actually, to learn from Kyle, who is Dr. Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College’s key aide, that Dr. Arnn was snowbound in Washington, D.C. And I said you know, we Ohioans consider this a flurry. And I thought he was made of sterner stuff than this to be snowbound by a couple of inches of snow. But nevertheless, we find him squirreled away and snowbound in Washington, D.C. this afternoon. Dr. Arnn, welcome, it’s great to speak with you.

LA: Great to speak with you, and I’m working, Hugh.

HH: Well, I just, I can’t believe that you are quartered there. This is, if you were in Michigan, I could understand it. But you don’t consider this a snowstorm, do you?

LA: It’s worse than you know, I got in this afternoon on the last plane into Washington before they closed the airport. And all the meetings that I came for have been cancelled, and I found that out in the air. (laughing)

HH: (laughing) Of course. Didn’t anyone figure that out? Is that not…

LA: I’ll tell you what, it’s, you know, everybody also on the plane was anxious to get home, and I was the one who said I don’t want to go.

HH: This is the only weekend I am not in Washington or New York for the next eight weeks, and I’m so blessed that I am not there. Let me ask you, I also told Kyle to send word that I set aside, we were supposed to talk about, and we will return to your book, Churchill’s Trial. We were supposed to talk about Chapter 4, and we may talk about the strategies a bit, anyway, but there’s a crisis in conservatism today. And I can’t think of anyone better, actually, to talk to it about. You are sort of like me. You’re a Switzerland here. The Kirby Center of Hillsdale College in Washington, D.C. is like the Hugh Hewitt Show. It’s Switzerland. Everyone is welcome there from the Republican Party. But the National Review, which I’m sure you have read since you were in Arkansas, which is at least seven, eight decades ago.

LA: It was 400 years ago.

HH: …has come out with a special issue against a man.

LA: Yeah.

HH: And that’s significant. What do you make of that?

LA: I don’t know that they’ve done it before.

HH: I don’t think they have.

LA: Yeah, I’ve read most of it this afternoon, because of course, I have to do all kinds of things because you make me.

HH: (laughing)

LA: But I am surprised by it. And you know, it’s a big thig. It’s a big statement.

HH: It is a statement of what, though? I have only read bits and pieces, but you and I have many friends who wrote for that issue. I did not write for it, nor would I have written for it, because I’m pledged to neutrality, nor would you have written for it for the same reason. But what…

LA: I would have written something analytical and neutral for it, but that’s not what it’s like. And it’s, you know, a lot of my friends are there, and the articles are strong. I’m not critical of National Review. But it is a big thing, and you know, they have taken the frontrunner on the Republican side, fifteen or so people, I didn’t count the number, have attacked him hard, and on a lot of different grounds. And so, and a lot of them think, and I don’t really myself know what to think about this, I see arguments on both sides, think that if he’s nominated, that it will be a blow to the Republican Party and to conservatism, and they might not recover.

HH: At the same time, your friend, and I admire him greatly, Rush Limbaugh, was talking today, and I agree with him about this, that many people are attacking Ted Cruz anonymously, surreptitiously, somewhat deceitfully, behind closed doors who will not say things about him out front. And Senator Cruz is a conservative. Whether or not they cotton to his politics in the Senate, if he were the nominee, he’d be the easiest nominee in the world to support. He’s a conservative. And Rush posited that conservatism has changed, that he hasn’t changed, but that the Republicans in D.C. have changed. Now you just went to their retreat. What do you think of his assessment?

LA: Well, of course, these were not the Republicans I was with in D.C. that are writing in National Review. Those were officeholders.

HH: Right.

LA: And they were, you know, first of all, people think Trump might win. I think that. And I’m the last guy in the world to start thinking that, because you know, as I’m fond of pointing out, the people who have been elected president of the United States come from a pretty narrow range of backgrounds, and nobody has ever been elected president to their first high public office. And on the other hand, Trump has gone farther than any I know of, and farther than I thought he would. And as we speak right now, he’s gaining strength. And that, you know, and that’s, and you know there are some good effects of his gaining strength that shouldn’t be ignored, and there are some potential enormously ill effects that also shouldn’t be ignored. But I did see some openness to him, and you know, lots of criticism and lots of hostility, too, but I saw some openness to him there.

HH: Now as he gathers strength, even as a storm bears down on Washington, D.C., it gathers strength, but then it dissipates, or it moves on and it leaves an aftereffect for a long, long time. And my question is, as he gathers strength, over on the left, there’s a parallel movement, and that’s Bernie Sanders, who is urging the United States to go full Sweden, and he’s gaining strength. Now when we began diving into contemporary politics just a few weeks ago as the election approached, the primary season, it was against the backdrop of a yearlong conversation that America is at a crisis moment. Do you, is this consistent with that analysis that the left has grown more left, and the Republican Party has fractured?

LA: Well, first of all, the Republican Party has not fractured, yet. It may, but it hasn’t. And you know, the situations are different, right? First of all, Hillary Clinton is a terrible candidate for president so far, just terrible. And every kind of negative reaction is being made. And there’s some danger that she’s going to be indicted. Bernie Sanders is gaining strength while that’s going on, right? On the other hand, the Republican field is strong, relatively speaking, to what I’ve seen in the past. And a couple of them are obviously, you know, maybe three or four, but a couple of them for sure, are obviously excellent candidates for president. And the sound…

HH: Oh, that’s true. I spent the first hour of today’s show with Marco Rubio, and yesterday with Chris Christie, and the day before with John Kasich, and the day before with Carly Fiorina. Each of those four people could be president of the United States, and I would sleep soundly at night. Would you not?

LA: I would, too. Yeah, yeah, and lump in Cruz, because he’s sort of running second right now.

HH: And I can say this…yeah.

LA: And the same with him, right?

HH: Right.

LA: And so the Trump thing is a phenomenon, and you know, I’m more inclined to think about what it means than I am to say it’s the death of everything if he wins.

HH: Okay, and I’m with you. So that, let’s go and ask and excavate what it means. And if you can, this is the Churchill series that has wandered far and back from Churchill, was there any figure, who was the guy who sort of, he wasn’t a fascist, but he was a brown shirted kind of character in England during the 30s? What was his name?

LA: Oswald Mosley.

HH: Mosley. Mosley. And I am not comparing Trump to Mosley, but during difficult times, movements arise. So do we have a contemporary counterpart to Trump in the life of Churchill – a big businessman who was, I mean, actually, we talked about Beaverbrook last week, didn’t we?

LA: Yeah, yeah. Beaverbrook was Churchill’s friend, and they fought plenty, but they were friends, too. And yeah, he wasn’t like Trump. And see, remember, the question, what is Trump like, is a difficult question to answer, because his record is not really long, and many of the things he’s saying are very much need to be said. And when I say there are good things happening, the idea that we could approach these big questions – immigration, and the terror war especially, on the ground of what is the interest of the United States of America, and to address it on that ground first, and overwhelmingly, that’s a really good idea. And Trump has done that really boldly, sometimes in ways that I don’t like, and even extremely. But you know, there’s something good about that, too. You know, we do not owe it to the world to surrender our principles or our securities or our borders. Nobody can rightly be asked to do that. No country can.

HH: And the least likely country to do so is England, because its border is an ocean, so it never has to build a fence. It’s got a fence.

LA: Right.

HH: And so when Trump talks about you can’t be a country without a border, I actually think that’s the secret of everything here, Larry, is that the Congress has passed, have offered a fence many, many times. They’ve promised a fence many, many times. They never built a fence. And whether or not it is true that they believe people stream across that border by the thousands on a daily basis, and it doesn’t matter if it’s true, that’s what they believe. And you’re not going to change that in a political cycle. Is that the secret of Trump’s appeal?

LA: Well, it’s got to be the single most important thing.

HH: Yup.

LA: And remember, it’s immoderate. It’s not a reasonable position if you’ve got, you know, some millions of people coming into the country illegally not to do something about it. And the doing something about it seems to be feasible. I know serious people who argue that the fence works where it exists, and you know, if you just, you don’t have to shoot people, but if you make it harder to get across, there’ll be fewer come. And you know, I’m a man who’s for very wide immigration, and I think it should be based on ability to contribute as a citizen of the United States by conviction and talent, and I don’t think it has anything to do with race.

HH: I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn. It’s the Hillsdale Dialogue, this week about contemporary politics for a very important reason, The National Review issue which came out and the crisis, or not, of conservatism, with Dr. Larry Arnn, President of Hillsdale College. All of these dialogues available at

— – —

HH: All of these dialogues, this is the fourth year of the dialogues, are available at You’re surprised they are four years, especially if you’re on Valdosta, Georgia on my new affiliate, because Dr. Arnn is so mean to me. But we are actually friends. And so we’ve been doing this for a long time, but he has, he takes liberties. He’s allowed to take liberties with me, because he is my friend. But when we went to break, we were talking about the fence. Now I have a, this is a far-fetched theory, but it’s my theory. Around the college of Hillsdale, there are many statues. You have erected statues that are expressions of who the college is, or that community, and what it represents. In one important respect, the fence is a statue. It’s a symbol, Larry Arnn. It is an effective symbol. It will obstruct, it will delay, it will block, but it’s also the visible expression of an inward resolve to be a country.

LA: Yeah, I think so. And you know, that thing, right, in other words, if you couple with this fact that we have forever failed to do what we could do to stop this porous border, with the fact that now, really bold, and to my mind lawless actions have been taken by the President to naturalize those people. What that suggests is now the government, which is supposed to be picked by the people, is going to pick the people. And that’s, you know, and people, you know, American people, very large numbers of them, and the last time I looked, it was over 65%, will say that they are afraid of their government.

HH: Yup.

LA: And you can’t get 25% of them to say that they live in a system where they have consent of the governed. And so, and then it does right, right? And it’s obviously immigration. Every time the question of the fence comes up, it’s obviously a partisan tool, and obviously the parties are thinking about who these immigrants are going to vote for if they get the vote. And so, and you know, who the other Hispanics are going to vote for based on what the immigration issue says, and so it’s just political, right? It’s just about getting elected. And that’s too bad, right? And people are tired of that, and then this bold man comes along and says he’s going to do something about it in language that makes a firestorm. And then he doesn’t back down. And that’s something new, right?

HH: That’s potent.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It’s very potent.

LA: And it has been very potent. I looked at Trump’s website, and I, you know, I thought I’m going to go read what he says, right? Well, first of all, there’s a glaring admission on the website, right? It doesn’t say much about national security. But…and I don’t like his tax plan, although I understand why it’s popular. I like a lot about it, but his plan is to take everybody off the tax rolls, or near, very large numbers, more people off the tax rolls, and I like Ben Carson better about that, who says everybody ought to pay at least something. And I think it should be small. People who don’t make so much money shouldn’t pay very much income tax. But everybody should pay something. Everybody’s a citizen. And so I prefer that, right? So that means I don’t like his tax plan. But some of the others, I don’t like, too. And his immigration thing, I don’t like the idea of excluding all Muslims from the United States. And there’s a lot of reasons for that, but one of them is are we going to exclude Jordanians and Kuwaitis on the ground of their religion?

HH: Right.

LA: You know, we have a lot of friends in those countries, and if things go the way they’re going, and they’re likely to, we’re going to need those friends very much. So that was a rash thing to say. And one of the things about Trump is he says really strong things, and then as he keeps talking, he moderates them. And that means he kind of goes backwards. And I think that’s part of his appeal. It sounds like he really means it.

HH: That’s opposite of Lincoln, though, isn’t it? Isn’t that the opposite of Lincoln, who would say really mild things and then ratchet them up as he had to?

LA: A mixture. You know, Lincoln was so artful, it’s like asking the question how did Mozart write a symphony. And the answer is he had more than one way of going about it. But, yeah, but yeah, above all, you know, I wish Trump were more, I wish everybody, but I wish Trump were more artful at locating his positions in the context of the principles and institutions of America. I wish he talked more like that. But you know, I wish everybody talked more like that. And so…

HH: Let me speak about one of those institutions that was provoked this week. The Supreme Court accepted cert in the immigration cases where the President has been lawless, and not only did they accept cert, they did something unprecedented that has Constitutional heads shaking. They demanded a new question not briefed, not presented by the appellate court be opened and argued, that is, is the President taking care that the laws are faithfully executed? Now this is new in Constitutional law. That’s very rare that something is new in Constitutional law, and that they have asked for a briefing on a clause that’s never been interpreted is really quite amazing. What did you make of that?

LA: Yeah, well, it’s, Obama has a bad record in front of the Supreme Court when questions arise about his use of his powers. And you know, so first of all, if you think about those precedents, he’s lost a few cases 9-0 in the past when he did something and was sued for it, as beyond his authorities.

HH: That’s correct.

LA: This one doesn’t look good, you know?

HH: Now I’m quite certain we’re going to win this. It’s a question of, I think the Chief will take the opinion, and he’ll write it to try and get a six or a seventh vote with him, maybe more.

LA: Well, he’s had all nine a time or two.

HH: And that’s because the Constitution matters to these justices, and they swear oaths. And oaths ought to matter to them, and he is not taking care that the laws are faithfully executed by his own admission.

LA: That’s right. I’ll go back to something about Trump in this context. One of the things you have to have, to have popular government, is that the laws and actions of the government need to be simple so that they can be understood. And government is hugely complex, and Trump is simple to understand. And the Court is trying to defend the rule of law in an age where the laws are so complex that it’s hard to even know what they are. One of my students, who clerked for a very distinguished appellate justice out on the West Coast said to me that it’s very often true when, she works for a big law firm in D.C. now. She said it’s very often true now that it takes most of her time trying to find what in fact is the law about something, and this is a girl who went to a top five law school and clerked at a high level. She’s extremely skilled. And so…

HH: But it takes, yeah…

LA: People think maybe Trump’s going to break through all that. But well, I think whoever wins, if they win, it’ll be partly because people think that about them.

HH: I could not agree with you more. People are tired of being told it’s above their pay grade. The Constitution was written for farmers to read, understand and apply, Dr. Arnn.

LA: That’s right.

HH: It’s not a secret society. It’s not a robed elite. I’ll be right back with Dr. Larry Arnn.

—- – – —

HH: Dr. Arnn, yesterday, former Secretary of Defense, former Director of the CIA, former chancellor of the University of Texas A&M, Robert Gates, was my guest, and we were talking about his very provocative new book, A Passion For Leadership: Lessons On Change And Reform From 50 Years Of Public Service. The book is much better than its subtitle, by the way. He quotes Jacques Barzun and a book, From Dawn To Decadence, with which I am not familiar, and I haven’t read it. But he quotes a great paragraph which I asked him about, and it reminded me of your book, Churchill’s Trial: Winston Churchill And The Salvation Of Free Government. Here’s the quotation from Barzun. “To govern well requires two distinct kinds of ability – political skill and the administrative mind. Both are very rare, either in combination or separately. The former depends on sensing what can be done at what moment and how to move others to want it. But one can be a true politico, and be at the same time incapable of administration. To administer is to keep order in a situation that continually tends toward disorder. In running any organization, both people and things have to be kept straight from day to day.” First of all, do you agree with the truth of that statement, that concise statement?

LA: I think there’s a truth that’s more fundamental than that about what makes a statesman, and it’s written in Aristotle. But I do agree with that, that, especially, you see, legislators are statesmen, and they don’t administer anything. And there have been very great ones. So I’m not sure that quite gets at what has to happen. But it is true that an executive has got to be able to manage things. And that involves understanding people and things in a big way.

HH: And so political skill, obviously you need that to be elected president. But then administrative skill, what is, by the way, what does Aristotle say that is more fundamental?

LA: Well, first of all, it’s, everything in life is like what I’m about to say. We have bodies like animals, and we have needs, and we feel pain, and we have pleasures, and we have to eat. And I may be fleeing from the cold tomorrow. And what animals do is they just follow instincts to solve their problems. But we are a very different kind of being, because even after we do a thing, we can regret it or even be embarrassed about it, or be proud of it. And those are a judgment we make separately from our interests. And we have to serve our interest, or we’ll die. And our interest is always defined by the circumstances, right? I was in Florida this morning, and if I was still down there, I wouldn’t be talking to you about the cold.

HH: That’s correct.

LA: So, although they’re complaining about the cold in Florida. It’s 50.

HH: (laughing)

LA: And talk about wienies. But you see, in other words, statesmanship exists in a combination of ability to understand and manage circumstances, all the details of them, and the right sense of principle to show the ultimate way, which can seldom be served directly. And so the world is full of statesmen who believe in real politick. That just means doing whatever you want, whatever you think will work out for you. And you know, pragmatism and progressivism, what are they except the turning away from the idea of enduring principles to just trying to make things work, they say. And they forget, how do you know when they work, right? What if you’re rich and comfortable, and you get it by enslaving and abusing people? That’s not working. That doesn’t work, and it leads to friction and misery, finally. So the point is statesmanship is that intellectually, it involves that intellectual virtue that has its eye on two things all the time, and finds ways to bring them together. And you know, that’s why, if you think about the fact that those two things are so urgent, that is to say especially necessity is urgent, you know, Churchill was in big wars. And then rare among people of our time, Churchill was a constitutionalist.

HH: Yes.

LA: And a constitution is a bunch of rules made up a long time in advance that are very hard to change. Just listen to Obama talk. He always says something has got to be done. The Congress is in a deadlock, forgets to say in a deadlock with him, and so I’m going to act, right? You won’t hear Winston Churchill making speeches like that. Indeed, today, I was reading Volume 19 of the document volumes, and we’re at October, 1943, right? And things are about to get very difficult between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

HH: Then hold that thought for after the break, because I don’t want to interrupt it when you begin, because this will take us back to Trump and the right sense of principle. Stay tuned, America.

—- – — –

HH: Dr. Arnn, when we went to break, you said you had pulled a volume of Churchill from the stack today. What was it, volume 18?

LA: Well, no, we’re actually editing the documents that are going to be published in this Volume 19, and so I’m working on it on my computer on the airplane. And there’s a regulation, 18B, that was put in place in Britain at the beginning of the 2nd World War when the Germans might invade any day. And it allowed the executive to round up people if on good, for good reason, they suspected that they were aiding the Germans or would, and confine them. And many people were confined under that. In 1943, Churchill says the danger of invasion is gone, and so we must give this power back forthwith.

HH: Huh.

LA: And there was reluctance about it. There was a particular case of a man suspected. And they thought we won’t be able to arrest this man. And Churchill said time for this power to end. Only the direst of emergencies…

HH: How amazing that in a, in a random selection, it’s random, because you were randomly on the plane, you were randomly editing that, and we are talking about that subject right now.

LA: That’s right.

HH: I find that remarkable that in every, almost every day of Churchill’s life, you can find something applicable to the present exigency.

LA: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah.

HH: So the surrender of power just doesn’t happen anymore.

LA: That’s right. You need to, you know, he, Churchill believed in freedom, and he was extremely, you know, so first of all, there’s not likely to be anybody in the race with such a deep understanding as Churchill had. It’s almost unprecedented, although I think there are some very good candidates in the race. And we won’t really know how deep they are until we see them do, right? You’re actually guessing about everybody in the race.

HH: That’s correct. Except Hillary.

LA: And some of them have never done this before.

HH: We’re not guessing about Hillary.

LA: (laughing) Well, she’s actually never held executive authority, although I guess she’s held Bill when he had…

HH: (laughing) So I think we’re not guessing about Hillary. But I want to go back, before we run out of time, you mentioned in the last segment statesmen must have the right sense of principle. And I began today by talking about the National Review issue which came out, which has provoked, in fact, it’s actually benefited me. They’ve withdrawn National Review from the Republican National Committee debate, so more time for Hugh at the debate, on which I was going to share the stage with Rich Lowry. He’s been booted because they took a stand that made a cost. So it’s consequential for them. So it’s interesting.

LA: Yeah.

HH: It was not without cost that they did that. It’s a noble thing, even if you disagree with the premise that Trump is disqualified. George Will on this program on Monday said he would favor a third party of conservatives if Trump was the nominee, because he lacks the right sense of principle. And how do we know? He’s said many bad things in the past, but he’s also repudiated those bad things. Reagan said bad things, became a Republican. People said that was a much longer period of time, he stood with Goldwater in ’64. Well, so how do we know about Trump?

LA: Yeah, I don’t profess to know. You know, whatever I think about him personally, you have to remember the people who are supporting him are simply necessary to an electoral victory for anybody but the Democrats. And so to write him off, and you know, there’s some, not from the people at National Review, but there’s some people who write off his supporters, too.

HH: Right, oh, and electoral suicide.

LA: And I really regret that very much, right…

HH: Okay, quick…

LA: …because poor people, you know, look what they’ve been put through.

HH: Quick question before we run out of time. Churchill crossed the line twice. National Review and George Will are intimating they would cross the line if Donald Trump was…I will not. I’m a Disraeli. By party if you rise, by party you must oblige. And so that’s a paraphrase, but he was a party man, and he always said that, and I’m a party man. And it’s Lincoln’s party, so I’m comfortable there. But why did Churchill feel obliged to cross the line, and that means to leave a party and cross over to the other side of the house?

LA: Well, the first time he did it, on the issue of free trade, but that was, but that’s deeper. It was a political issue for him. He thought that tariffs would lead to the ultimate election of the socialists. And he never had any truck with them except during the Second World War. And the second time, he did it because his Liberal Party made a pact to govern in common with the Labour Socialist Party, and he left it on that day. And Churchill always wanted politics to live around the center. But what he meant by the center was property rights, limited government, protection of civil liberties, and a social insurance scheme into which people would pay that would protect them in disaster. And so he always tried to support that in domestic politics. And he liked to say it’s hard to rat, but I have managed also to re-rat. (laughing)

HH: Yes (laughing), making a beautiful point that has lived, echoed through the ages.

LA: (laughing)

HH: (laughing) And he was hated for it, right? Is that not a little Cruzian?

LA: Yeah, well, Churchill was, like Lincoln was capable of very powerful, extreme sounding statesman. The socialists couldn’t get their ultimate aim without the use of a gestapo, he said in 1945. And people like that, but when you read what Churchill writes, that’s an example of Trump-like rhetoric, actually, because he said that thing, and then if you read the qualifiers that follow immediately, although that is not their intent.

HH: Right, that is Trump-like rhetoric, but I was referring to Cruz-like, he incited Cruz-like hatred. There are people that hate Ted Cruz. Not me, I love the guy.

LA: Yeah.

HH: He’s been on the show, he practically lived in the studio when he was running for Senate. But why do people like Churchill and Cruz, and others, and Trump, evoke such, it’s just politics, right?

LA: Yeah, well, they’re firm, right? Now I know Ted Cruz very well, right? And I like him. And I have not seen the arrogant guy that people talk about.

HH: Neither have I.

LA: I find him intelligent and quick and…

HH: Funny.

LA: …witty, and also very ready to have a good conversation and not just talk all the way through it. You know, so, but I think it goes along with firmness, right? And see, Trump is a pure outsider, and there’s some of this stuff that he’s not one of us. And I don’t like that, either.

HH: Dr. Larry Arnn of Hillsdale College, always a pleasure. Put another log on the fire, and dive deep into those documents. We’ll talk again next week on the next Hillsdale Dialogue. Stay tuned, America.

End of interview.


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