Fred Barnes On The GOP Leadership Battle
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The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes joined me today to talk about the race to succeed Eric Cantor.
HH: It’s Hugh Hewitt, fan of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who own the number one draft pick in all of basketball, as opposed to the Washington Wizards, who got eliminated in Round One, and therefore condemned to mediocrity, whereas the Cavaliers’ master plan is unfolded. Fred Barnes, would you agree with my assessment on that?
FB: (laughing) Let me stop laughing first. You know, I love to read these stories about how they’re going to get Lebron James to come back to Cleveland, or at least Akron.
HH: You are, I’m telling you right now…
FB: He’s not going to want to.
HH: You are as unprepared for Cavaliers domination as Eric Cantor was for last night. You’re going to be totally surprised, Fred Barnes.
FB: Yeah, we’ll see. We’ll see.
HH: Okay, now listen, Al Hunt said today on Morning Joe that this was the biggest political upset in his life. Do you agree?
FB: No, because it doesn’t have, it doesn’t really have legs. I mean, you know where it’s going to have the most impact, despite what Laura Ingraham and others claim that it’s, you know, this is the newest wave that is sweeping the country, anti-immigration reform and so on, which I think is nonsense, it’s sort of, the biggest impact is on the leadership of Republicans in the House in particular. We already know that Eric Cantor is resigning as of July 31st, and we know people are already running, including Kevin McCarthy of California, and Pete Sessions of Texas, running to be majority leader.
HH: Has Pete Sessions declared for majority leader?
FB: I’m sorry?
HH: Has Pete declared for majority leader?
FB: I don’t know whether he’s declared, but I’ve certainly talked to members of the House Republicans caucus who are getting phone calls, and they’ve heard from him.
HH: Interesting. I thought he was going to go for Whip, so I’m surprised by that. Interesting.
FB: Well, he may find that, no, no, what you do is you find if there’s not any support for you to be majority leader, well, then you drop down a rung and you go for Whip. And what might convince him to do that is, and this is what all the buzz is at in Washington at the moment, and that is that Jeb Hensarling, who now, also from Texas, will run for majority leader. Hensarling’s the chairman of the Financial Services Committee, and is a formidable guy. A race between Kevin McCarthy of California, who is now the Whip, and Jeb Hensarling, will be quite a race. They’re both very strong figures.
HH: All right, now here are my questions. I’ve been asking these questions of all my guests, so it’s just comparing and contrasting. If you were a member of the Congress, and you wanted to vote for the more conservative leader, would you vote for Hensarling or McCarthy?
FB: Well, you vote for Hensarling. He is more conservative. He’s a very smart guy. But that’s not the only thing you think of when you vote for leader.
HH: I know. I’m going to run down the category. If you were going to vote for the more able and enthusiastic communicator, would you go for Hensarling or McCarthy?
FB: Well, there you go for McCarthy, but then there’s a third question I hope you’re going to ask. If you were going to vote for the most politically adept person who you want as a leader, who would it be? Well, that’s a closer call, and I’d say McCarthy. Now I have a slight bias in favor of McCarthy, because my son works for him. But I think this’ll be a great race if it comes down to that, Hensarling v. McCarthy, because they’re both very talented guys. And whoever wins will, I think, be able to do a job as majority leader very well. And then you still get to the question of what John Boehner’s going to do. There is something that John Boehner wants to avoid, and that is to run for Speaker again and not get the 218 votes. In other words, all the Democrats would vote against him, and a few Republicans would. I think about 9 did last year, you know, voted for somebody else. And if he finds that that’s going to be a larger group, if Republicans, say, don’t gain any seats in the House in the election in November, then John Boehner may not run for Speaker again. So there’s a lot going on, but this is the real impact, this is where Brat beating Eric Cantor is having the most impact.
HH: Oh, and it’s hugely important…
HH: …because I remind people of the Shadegg-Boehner race in 2006. We would be in a fundamentally different position of John Shadegg had won that election, and I don’t know how we would be different, but they’re very different men stylistically and policy-wise.
HH: And so this will impact the future of the country dramatically, even though it’s tall grass stuff, and it’s inside baseball.
HH: It’s hugely important. So now would the country, and the GOP, be better off if the Speaker were to announce that he’s passing the gavel on next year, because that would in effect make next week’s election the Speakership election, although the freshmen would arrive, and they have a role to play, and some people would retire. But whoever is the majority leader, if Boehner announced his retirement, would have a huge leg up, right?
FB: Yeah, yeah, I think so, and he may do that. I was told by one Republican who talked to John Boehner that Boehner said look, you know, we may win as many as 14 seats, in other words, increase from the number they have to what, it would be something like 245 seats or more in the House. If that happens, he says, I’ll be assured of being reelected Speaker. And in that case, it sounded like he would want to stay on as Speaker.
HH: Oh, dear. You know, that actually could deter people from voting.
HH: I mean, I think he’s so disliked by the base, Fred Barnes, that he’s a drag on us in November.
FB: Yeah, well, that may be so, but I don’t really think so. But although I do think he has screwed up the immigration issue. And…but…
HH: I know he’s a prodigious fundraiser and a nice guy, but the pink tie, cigarette smoking, golfing martini thing is just so 1960s.
FB: Well, it is. No question about that. I don’t smoke or drink, but I kind of like him, but you’re right. His time may be up.
HH: Oh, I like him a lot It’s just I want to win. I want to win big, and I want to change the country. Now I want to go back to something about McCarthy.
FB: Here’s the problem with Boehner. Boehner is in a job where communication is important. And he’s a terrible communicator.
FB: I think he’s a good tactician, but you’ve got to be a better communicator.
HH: Now here’s my personal prejudice in this thing. You mentioned enthusiastic, willing communicator. Kevin McCarthy may have the skill set. You know how many times he’s been on this show in three years?
FB: I don’t.
HH: Yeah. And we invite him, we’ve invited him a hundred times. Do you know how many times, and Jeb shows up quarterly. Hensarling shows up whenever we ask him.
HH: And that’s because, and Cantor, you know how many times he’s been on in four years?
FB: I don’t know.
HH: John Boehner – zero. They can’t be bothered, and they don’t do any talk radio except little shows in their own district, because it substitutes for having to go on and deal…and Levin and Ingraham beat Cantor.
HH: I mean, that’s the real story. Those two people, mostly Mark, beat him.
FB: I agree, and they were helped by the horrible ads that Cantor had, that actually increased the name recognition of David Brat who won.
HH: Yeah, interesting.
FB: And Hugh, all you’re saying is all politics is local. These guys won’t show up on my show, so the heck with them.
HH: That’s right, and if they’re unwilling to talk to the national talkers, they’re not willing to talk to the national base.
FB: Well, they do it on, yeah, well look, I agree. I think it’s a mistake not to do talk radio if you’re a Republican. If you’re a Democrat, it doesn’t make any difference. That’s not a way they communicate with the base.
HH: I agree. You know how I prove my case?
FB: But for Republicans, it is very, very important…
HH: And here’s, the proof is in this.
FB: And you may not like Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham and think they’re over the top, but their shows are important.
HH: Anybody who wants to sell something…
FB: And yours is even more important.
HH: Thank you. Anyone who wants to sell something in America goes on talk radio.
HH: Hillary even will do some talk radio. But you know, anyone who writes a book, anybody who wants to sell any kind of a foundation or an idea, they go on. It’s just when they become too important to be bothered. I think the Beltway culture captured him, and Kevin is a natural retail politician.
HH: But he doesn’t do it anymore. I don’t understand. Well, okay, last question, Fred, this bothers me the most. The polling was horrible.
HH: The polling was horrible in Romney-Paul Ryan as well. Are there any Republican pollsters who can do this?
FB: Now that’s a good question, because the ones I know the best were the ones who had Romney winning, or at least close, or at least in roughly a tie. And I mean, can you imagine a poll that showed last weekend, that showed Cantor winning 62% to 28%?
HH: Well, this is the inbreeding problem of D.C.
FB: Yeah. Look…
HH: Everybody hires the same people and they all suck.
FB: There’s a bigger problem here, and it’s a problem with the entire Republican consultant class. In so many cases, they’re just locked into jobs, they hire the same people, they don’t look around, and the truth is if you examine a lot of state races, you’ll see there a lot of great, young consultants, actually some of them not so young, who are doing better ads, who are doing better work, who are better strategists, and yet the Washington crowd shuts them out.
HH: Well, I think Reince Priebus has opened the door a little bit, but the NRCC doesn’t, and that leads me back to Pete Sessions raised a lot of people a lot of money over the last four years. Is he the quiet sleeper force, because he, I mean, he really worked this hard to raise money for people.
FB: Yeah, who, Pete Sessions?
HH: Yeah, as…
FB: Well, I think McCarthy has probably done more of that, and raised more money than Pete Sessions has, but I don’t have the numbers. But that, look, that certainly makes Pete Sessions a competitor.
HH: Last question…
FB: But not if Hensarling gets in, and besides, one thing’s sure. The Texas delegation, which is the biggest Republican delegation in the House, will want to be behind one candidate.
HH: Oh, they should have…
FB: And if Hensarling runs, it’ll be Hensarling, and then you’re right. Pete Sessions may drop down a notch and run for Whip.
HH: They couldn’t have a Texas majority leader and a Texas Whip, though. Maybe they could.
FB: Yeah, they could. Of course, they could.
HH: Quick question, who would Mitch McConnell most want to work with?
FB: I think he likes John Boehner, and I think he could work, he’d probably like Kevin McCarthy better, who’s more his type.
HH: Fred Barnes, always a pleasure from the Weekly Standard.
End of interview.