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E.J. Dionne On “Why The Right Went Wrong”

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The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne joined me today to discuss the showdowns –R and D– looming in Iowa and the arrival of his new book, Why The Right Went Wrong:




HH: I begin this hour with my old radio friend, E.J. Dionne of the Washington Post. He has a brand new book out, Why The Right Went Wrong. And I am not here to talk with him about Why The Right Went Wrong, because I haven’t read Why The Right Went Wrong, yet, though I have linked Why The Right Went Wrong over at, and urge you to be ready for when E.J. and I do talk about Why The Right Went Wrong in two weeks after I have read Why The Right Went Wrong. E.J., I just fulfilled the Luntz rule, which is to mention a title of a book seven times, or people won’t remember Why The Right Went Wrong.

EJD: You are awesome to mention Why The Right Went Wrong. I appreciate that very much, and I hope some of your listeners who probably don’t agree with me on much might be surprised by some of what’s in this book. We can talk about it later. But I did talk to a lot of conservatives who are quoted in the book, and they knew that I was a liberal coming at this, but they also knew I was very interested in the history of conservatism. So I am anxious to hear from them, including their dissents from what I may have written, and what I did write.

HH: Oh, we’re going to spend an hour on this. I’ve got to take it with me on one of my California to D.C. flights and dive deep into it, because you know how I do a book interview. I hate to do them unless I’ve actually read the book. That’s a little bit of an outlier these days, but I’m very much looking forward to reading Why The Right Went Wrong. But first, I begin, I wanted to talk to you today in order to just let people know it’s out there, get them reading before you and I talk about the book, but also about a couple of, you know, it’s a week before Iowa. I’ve got to get E.J.’s predictions on the record.

EJD: So only a fool predicts this year, but I suppose that it’s foolish of me to be in the business I am in at all. I tell you, about a week and a half ago, I would have predicted without any hesitation that Ted Cruz was going to win on the Republican side, and I have really been struck, and the polling is very hard to read this year, because I think there’s a real mixture of good and not good polling out there, and it’s not always easy to distinguish one kind from the other. But it does appear to be the case that Cruz has come under a kind of pincer attack from Donald Trump on the one side, and Marco Rubio on the other side. And it seems to have taken something out of him. It also seems to have taken him a little bit off his game. He’s had to be defensive about where he was born and the whole issue of whether he’s eligible to run or not. And so at this point, it is looking like Trump could win both Iowa and New Hampshire, which would be an enormous deal, obviously. On the Democratic side, you know, Bernie has to be favored in New Hampshire. He is coming up in Iowa, and I’m going out to Iowa tomorrow if this snow here in Washington allows me to, and I’ll have a better read then. On the one hand, Bernie has a lot of energy out there from younger progressives, younger liberals, and people who just want to make a very loud statement. On the other hand, Clinton has really organized that state. Somebody on the campaign told me, and obviously this is their information, that they’ve figured out that they’ve hit sort of potential caucus goers four times. They’ve reached them four times for every one time Bernie has reached them. You know, take that for what it’s worth, but it’s a usually reliable person I talk to on the Clinton campaign. So it’s Bernie’s energy versus her organization. And the polls on the whole, with a couple of exceptions, show it very tight. So I’m ducking that one.

HH: So you’re calling, you’re calling it Trump and a toss-up?

EJD: Yeah, that’s what it looks like now.

HH: I’m calling it Cruz and Bernie.

EJD: What is your read, if I may ask?

HH: Yeah, Cruz and Bernie, and I wrote a piece for CNN Opinion today on why the Evangelicals will take Ted over the top, and quite easily, I think, in the final analysis, because they are so energizing. He is so wired. And I think Bernie Sanders is benefiting from, well, I’ll bet you that we share an opinion.

EJD: I think we do.

HH: I’ll bet you, E.J. The opinion is that Robert Gates is a great American. Do you share that opinion?

EJD: Yeah.

HH: Okay, so he was on my show last week, and talking about his brand new book, A Passion For Leadership, and he said one, Mrs. Clinton’s server had him concerned, and two, that almost certainly, the Russians had compromised it. I believe that the public knows that she’s going to be indicted. I really do. They sense it…

EJD: Oh, we do not share that opinion. So that’s not where I thought you were going with that.

HH: No, Robert Gates. We share the opinion on Robert Gates. But Robert Gates is concerned about that server, thinks the Soviets or the Russians had compromised it. I think it’s killing her, and that you folks don’t know, because on the left, you think it’s all conspiracy theory. But it’s really just national security professionals worried about her breach.

EJF: I don’t think that’s, I mean, look, if there’s something else that emerges down the road, I’m not going to say anything about knowing what’s going to happen in two or three months, because we don’t know if anything is going to emerge. But I have a feeling that it’s very possible that nothing will emerge. And in that case, you know, I think since she testified before Congress, that issue has fallen back. I think the dynamic for Bernie comes not from the server and those issues, but from ideology and from what I call in a column today the Obama paradox, which is on the one side, if you look at Democrats in Iowa, 91% of them say they have a favorable opinion of President Obama. On the other hand, a lot of them share Bernie’s impatience, wishing he had been bolder, wishing he had stuck it to the Republicans more. And I think it’s that kind of energy that’s helping Bernie. In terms of Cruz, if I can brag about one thing, I think I was certainly the first liberal, and maybe the first columnist, who talked about Cruz as the most likely, as a Republican who really had a path toward the nomination, because what’s impressed me about Cruz, and obviously my views couldn’t be more different, is the discipline he’s had in knowing exactly who was going to vote for him. And here’s a view we may share. I think in order to win, you have to know who will vote against you and accept that, because you can’t get everybody. I think the flaw in the Marco Rubio strategy, if it proves to be a flaw, is he’s trying to win every wing of the Republican Party. Ted Cruz knew he had to lock up the Evangelicals, add that to his Tea Party base, add on some libertarians and various other people on the right of the party. So I’ve been very impressed with his discipline. And the reason I’m harboring doubts about the final week is it does feel like Rubio and Trump have thrown him a little off this discipline, but we’ll see where the organized forces go. The forces, as you would argue, the forces that are working for Cruz, are the same forces that delivered Iowa to Huckabee and Santorum.

HH: Well, you were very prescient in your column, because he does know who’s going to vote for him and who will never vote for him, and he’s not going to get any senators to endorse him, right? But you’re also prescient…

EJD: Maybe Mike Lee, but I’m not even sure of that.

HH: I’m not sure about anybody, because you know, as Jon Allen of Roll Call told me, he came to town and made everyone pawns in his own game, and they deeply resent it. I thought that was very smart. Are you a Game of Thrones watcher, E.J.?

EJD: I am not, actually. My kids are, but I am not.

HH: You tell them that are the Podrick Payne of this campaign, that that’s the loyal and very lethal servant. And so I think your loyal and lethal for the Democrats, and you know what you’re doing here. But in fact, now you need to have…

EJD: No, no, but I’m not, by the way, I am not saying this Cruz stuff as a partisan ploy.

HH: No, you’re not.

EJD: I mean, I play a couple of roles. I am an opinion writer, and a clear liberal with social Democratic leanings. I don’t deny that. But I also as a political reporter for a long time, and I do try very hard, and not always successfully, but I try hard to separate my analysis from my views. And Cruz just, I’m always impressed with politicians who have a clear strategy and can stick to it. And so whatever my disagreements are with Cruz…

HH: But E.J., you’ve always been…

EJD: I see that in him.

HH: You’ve been a Kennedy Democrat for as long as I’ve read you, and as long as I’ve known you. And now, the Democrats are going what I call full Sweden. They’re just going completely out the window, you know, one payer, socialized, attack Wall Street. Are you comfortable with how far to the left the Democrats have gone? That’s not you. You’re a Jack Kennedy, or you were a Jack Kennedy Democrat.

EJD: Oh, I feel like playing completely into your hands, Hugh, in saying what’s wrong with Sweden.

HH: (laughing)

EJD: You know, I think that Sweden, you know, there was a liberal writer way back in the 50s called Marquis Childs, who talked about the Scandinavian social democracies as the middle way. They preserved a market, they preserved freedom, they were anti-communist, but they had a substantial welfare state and provided pretty well for their working class. I think that you know, from my point of view, what is Harry Truman liberalism? Let’s go even farther back. Harry Truman liberalism said we have a market economy, we’d like to provide health care for everybody. We’d like to have strong unions to give people bargaining power. That’s obviously more difficult these days for a whole lot of reasons. So I don’t think, you know, I think yes, Democrats are being more open about admiring some of the achievements of a Scandinavian social democracy. But I think these two views have always been rather close, in fact.

HH: Oh, E.J., when, I’m going to be in Des Moines on Saturday for State of the Union. I hope you’re still there. Maybe we’ll sit around and toast to the lost Kennedy wing of the party, which followed the lost Jackson wing of the party into extinction. And now we’re…

EJD: Well, there were a lot of Kennedy Democrats, I think, who always held this view. There were people inside the Kennedy administration who held this view. And one other thing, by the way, if I can mention, and just a taste of the book, which is you go back to Kennedy, one of Kennedy’s best friends was Harold MacMillan, the conservative prime minister in Britain.

HH: Yes.

EJD: And one of the things I’d like conservatives to rediscover is the Eisenhower-MacMillan-Adenauer tradition of conservatism.

HH: And we will do that.

EJD: Because I think they’re not there to teach us, you can’t, it’s obviously, you can’t, I don’t want us to go back to the 50s, but I think these were great men who had a sense of what conservatism needed to be in the modern period.

HH: And that’s why E.J. and I need an hour that will come up in two weeks on Why The Right Went Wrong: Conservatism From Goldwater To The Tea Party. It’s linked at right now. Go and get it. E.J. will be back next week.

End of interview.


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