Face The Nation’s John Dickerson On Rules, Rules, Rules And Ghosts Of Conventions Past
John Dickerson, host of CBS News “Face The Nation” joined me on today’s show to talk conventions and the rules that govern them as well as the state of the race and Hillary’s “age gap”:
HH: Joined now by John Dickerson, host of CBS’ Face The Nation. You can follow him on Twitter, @JDickerson. John, it’s good to talk to you after a few weeks. I hope your spring is off to a good start.
JD: Thank you, Hugh. It’s great to hear your voice. Yeah, it’s doing okay. Happy to be here.
HH: Well, I just had Karl Rove on, and he revealed to the audience that he served on the 1972 GOP convention rules committee as chairman of the college Republicans. So it kind of made sense to ask him a few things. We’re deep into the weeds here, John Dickerson, and we’re both political junkies. But I don’t think we’ve ever really cared what rules committees have done at conventions, have we?
JD: Well, I mean, not, I was not, you know, covering politics in 1976. We would have loved that race, you know, Rule 16C, to try to force Ford to pick a vice presidential pick, because when Reagan picked Schweiker, he lost all those conservatives who said how could you do it. And so they tried to force Ford to do the same thing, and of course, they lost. But it got so exciting in ’76 that the Mississippi delegation had a rump meeting in the CBS News trailer to discuss whether to reverse their vote. They voted with Ford on 16C, and then when Ford’s campaign manager said he was going to write off the cotton South in the general election, they said wait a minute. We don’t want you to do that, so we’re going to reverse our vote. It didn’t work out, but the only place available to them was the CBS News trailer. So yeah, it was pretty fun back then.
HH: Well, I have waited my whole life for a convention in Cleveland, as a Northeastern Ohio native. And now it’s turning into the convention of all conventions, but it’s going to be surrounded by a mob. I’m curious, John, you help run all the news coverage at CBS. What are you planning for?
JD: Well, I think it’s a really good question. I mean, you know, in ’64 at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, outside of San Francisco, there was a march of 40,000 civil rights protesters. I think we could certainly see that kind of activity outside the convention hall. And then, you know, when Donald Trump said there would be riots if he was denied the nomination, and he goes to Cleveland with a plurality and not a majority, I don’t, I mean, you know, a lot of people thought that was a bad word to use, and criticized him for it. But I don’t think that he was too far off in terms of the people who support him are very passionate. I was just responding to an email from somebody who was disagreeing with my reading of the general election polls, but the general election polls are what they are. And they don’t look great for Donald Trump. But I guess my point in saying that is his supporters are quite passionate, and if they feel like he’s been railroaded out of his rightful place in the nomination, there’s going to be, I think, a very strong reaction. And covering that is going to be, it’s going to be fast-moving and hard to predict.
HH: There are also 2,473 living, breathing human beings who have Twitter accounts, SnapChat, Instagram and Facebooks. Does CBS plan on trying to follow these 2,473, not to mention the alternates, because I asked earlier today, you know, if you didn’t like Trump and you were a double agent delegate, all you have to do is not show up on the day of the vote, and you’re not getting to 1,237. Are you guys going deep into the delegate people?
JD: You know, it’s a good, it’s a really good question. I, you know, at that Ford-Reagan convention, none of the surrogates for the two candidates were getting interviewed by the news networks, because the networks were off interviewing all of the uncommitted delegates who were totally up for grabs, and were being, you know, given fancy attention by both parties. I think there will be a lot of that. Yeah, there will be, I don’t, you know, it’s hard, the resources, it’s hard to have a full court press. So I think what you would likely see is that some attention to the individual delegates, but then a lot of rumors and talk about, you know, the various, because of the way the rules works for the various different states for the delegates within them, I think you might get a few states that become sort of hot conversation. If we’re basically, because if it’s all about the second ballot, then people are not pledged to their first pick. And then the question is who has the power to bring in bunches of votes? And you know, we don’t have power brokers the way we did even in the 70s. So who has that power? And we’ll all figure out who that is, and then there will be a rush to go find that person.
HH: I’m telling you, I don’t know if anyone can develop quickly enough an app that would actually, like Tweetdeck, follow the 2,473 people’s social media impressions. But whoever did that could sell space on that and make a fortune between now and then. I mean, if CBS or CNN or NBC had an analytics division that could throw together the app and let the delegates input it, it would be the most interesting thing to watch in real time. John, how are you, what are you doing this weekend? With so much, A) we’ve got a Brussels terror attack that’s being run evidently by the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is absolutely incompetent. And so there’s a terror story that is an uber story above all stories, and it’s not getting any time at all, because Donald Trump sat down with Chris Matthews. What are you doing on Face The Nation this weekend?
JD: Well, you know, we spent our, pretty much our entire show last week on the Brussels attack. We talked to Secretary of State John Kerry, we had Mike Morell in.
HH: Oh, that made a lot of news, actually. Morell made a lot of news, yeah.
JD: Yeah, and we talked to Farah Pandith about, who is at the State Department in charge of outreach to Muslim communities. We spent the whole show on it. So this week, we’re returning a little more to politics in advance of Wisconsin, and we will have a couple of the presidential candidates. We’re still working out who it’s going to be, but at least one or two of them, familiar names to you. And so I think at the moment, I’m not sure what the mix is going to be in terms of Brussels versus politics. I think we went so heavy on Brussels last week, I think we may, you know, kind of do politics a little more this week. We also have some new poll numbers. So you know, we’re still kind of putting it together.
HH: Well then, talk to me a little bit about former Secretary of State Clinton. She got pasted on Saturday, I mean, just knocked down, dragged around by Bernie people. And Bernie Sanders can’t buy a hamburger, right? He cannot get anyone to pay any attention to the fact that he beat the prohibitive frontrunner three times. She won’t debate him, and she called in last night to CNN, jumped down Donald Trump’s throat, good tactical response by her team. They had her very nimble for a change. And she painted the Republicans with a broad brush, which I objected to, but it was good political maneuvering. Nevertheless, that race doesn’t seem to me to be getting, what 25% of the Republican race attention?
JD: Yeah, I think that’s probably even generous. We talked to Bernie Sanders a lot on our broadcast. Hillary Clinton is not as available as he is for conversation. You know, I think, I mean, I think the basic view is, and you know this math, too, which is basically he has to perform, get about 56% of the remaining delegates, and a lot of the states coming up are closed primaries, which benefits her a little bit better. His wins over the weekend were stunning, big wins, but they were, they were not typical of the kinds of states that are going to be in the bulk of the contests moving forward, and so looking at that, you would have to say it’s going to be hard for him to make up the regular delegate deficit he’s got, just based on past performance. And then you know, given her super delegate advantage, you know, it’s just hard for him to make up the difference. But you know, that’s just one of the reasons why I think people don’t see it as close a race as on the Republican side. I think also, obviously, on the Republican side, all of our reporting continues to be about people trying to stop Donald Trump, the worries and fears in different parts of the party. As much difficulty as the Democratic Party is having with its own internal problems, it still doesn’t match what’s happening on the Republican side.
HH: That’s true, and I try and remain neutral and Switzerland, and I keep saying just, this is not an endorsement, it’s a prediction. I think Ted Cruz is going to be the nominee as a result of that. But when I heard him speak today, he made a very interesting point about how he leads Hillary not only in a lot of the head to head polls, but decisively among young people, something that has been reflected in the Sanders wins. She’s got an age gap, you know, like Donald Trump’s got a women gap and an age gap. She’s got an age gap. Do you think they’re aware of that, for whatever reason? Even with young women, I’m talking 30 and under, she just does not connect.
JD: She doesn’t. I think just, the Real Clear Politics still has Clinton over Cruz by about three points, but everybody says that, you know, everybody cites their own polls.
HH: Right, right.
JD: But just, but your point is right. Now the question is where do those voters go and what do they feel once we get into a general election context? And if Donald Trump is the nominee, what are younger voters who are, who like Bernie Sanders, you know, if you’re a Sanders voter, you are, you’re passionate about things. You don’t care about the conventional wisdom. You’re engaged. And I think that kind of voter would have their ears open to an argument from Hillary Clinton that would say Donald Trump is a threat to the things that you care about. And you may not agree with me on everything, but imagine a world in which Donald Trump is picking the Supreme Court nominees. Supreme Court nominees are not as powerful an argument in the Democratic Party, I don’t think, as in the Republican Party.
HH: I agree.
JD: But for a group, for a group of voters who have already engaged in the process, and to have preferred Bernie Sanders, I think they’d be willing to listen to her.
HH: John Dickerson, we’ll be watching Sunday on Face The Nation. Always a pleasure, John, have a great weekend. Don’t go anywhere, America.
End of interview.