Jake Tapper joined me today top discuss the art and science of interviewing presidential candidates:
HH: I begin with Jake Tapper, host of the Lead on whose show I was earlier on. Jake, I’m a little astonished that Donald took as much umbrage as he did at the conversation we had. It actually didn’t go too badly for him in my view.
JT: I thought some of his answers were fine and look, whether he misheard or isn’t completely conversant in the Al-Quds Force, I think that saying there millions of national issues and I need to get on top of all of them – people are relatively sympathetic, I think, when it comes to newcomers to politics not knowing certain things like it certainly has happened with Dr. Carson and certainly has happened with others who might know a whole lot about business or medicine or whatever, but are new to politics. But, Mr. Trump has gotten very, very far pushing back when he’s like he’s not being treated the way he wants to be treated.
HH: Yes, I’ve been telling everyone today, I got my “Trump tattoo” and there are lots of people with “Trump tattoos.” George Will has one, he’ll be on later. I don’t think you got one, Jake, and so, who knows, after the next debate. Here’s what Donald Trump said on Morning Joe this morning about me. I want to be fair to the Donald to make sure his point-of-view gets out, here’s what he had to say.
DT: When you say Quds versus Kurds, I thought he said Kurds, this third-rate radio announcer that I did the show with. It was like “Gotcha, gotcha, gotcha.” Every question was, “Do I know this one, or that one, and that one, and that one.” He worked hard on that, but I thought he said Kurds. While we’re on it, I do think the Kurds are not being utilized properly and not being treated properly by us.
HH: Alright, third-rate, second-rate, first-rate. I actually didn’t try and quiz him on names. I just want the record to be straight, Jake. I didn’t ask him–
JT: No, you didn’t. You lifted a bunch of names and you didn’t ask him about them, and he seemed to suggest that they would all be replaced by the time he took office, assuming he wins the nomination and the presidency. Not a bad prediction when it comes to some of the terrorist groups of the leaders who you’ve mentioned. Who knows what’s going to happen with that of the al-Nusra front and al-Baghdadi has shown remarkable staying power – the head of ISIS. When it comes to Nasrallah who’s been there since ‘87, ‘88 and–
HH: Yeah, twenty years.
JT: Yeah, that’s probably not the case, but this is, as they say, “This ain’t beanbag.” It’s politics and people like you and I ask tough questions and sometimes they push back. It’s happened to me a number of times this campaign season already. Not with Mr. Trump, although he did call one of my questions stupid in the last time I interviewed him.
JT: But, it happens, and you move on.
HH: John Kasich is famously prickly with me, and I love the governor, and he’s my home-state governor, but here’s what Marco Rubio had to say about the exchange today which is why perhaps Donald Trump – being a very smart TV man – got ahead of it this morning because Marco Rubio didn’t let the day go by without jumping on.
Reporter: That’s not a “gotcha question” in your mind?
MR: No, I don’t. National security is the most important obligation of the federal government, and if you’re going to be a presidential candidate, you need to take it seriously, and I think that’s important.
R: Is Donald Trump not taking this seriously enough, and should that answer be disqualifying?
MR: I think if you don’t the answer to those questions, then you’re not going to be able to serve as commander-in-chief. Now as I’ve said before, people can learn about these issues if they take the time to do it. The middle of the campaign is probably not the ideal time to get caught up. This should be part of the reason why you’re running is because you understand the threats that the world is facing, you have a deep understanding, and you have an understanding of what to do about them. And if someone doesn’t, I think it’s very concerning.
HH: Now to pivot away, Jake Tapper, from Donald Trump to Marco Rubio, he said it should be part of the reason that you’re running. And I want to separate that from Donald Trump. I think Donald Trump is running to make America great again and make it safe, but Marco Rubio clearly has this as his animating force, and a little of that has come as well from Ted Cruz and Scott Walker. And do you think the younger people are trying to grab that?
JT: I have not heard what Cruz and Walker have said. I think that foreign policy is the reason behind the candidacies of Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. And so this is – politically speaking – this would be malpractice for Marco Rubio who, I think you and I, I know I speak for myself, I am surprised he is not doing better because I think a lot of campaign experts – Democrats and Republicans – thought that he would a be a very serious contender at the beginning of his campaign. He is not yet – and it’s early- he has not yet caught fire. He has not yet attracted a real following among Republican primary and caucus voters. So it would be malpractice for him not to jump on this because this is his area, he does know this, he’s on the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and he knows a lot about this stuff.
HH: And the reason I mention Walker and Cruz – Cruz is bringing Donald Trump to the big anti-Iran deal rally which was the real, original impetus for my interview yesterday and with Ted Cruz earlier this week. And Scott Walker gave the Citadel speech in which he explicitly talked about Sunni Islamist extremism and Shia Islamist extremism. So those four are making it their issue, and that’s why I singled him out. Let me ask you about this, when–
JT: Can I just say one thing? Ted Cruz is just a brilliant guy – and he might be the smartest guy running for president – whether or not you think he’s attractive or like his positions, so it doesn’t surprise me he would talk about these isssues. But Scott Walker, one of the slams against them is that he is not very well-versed in foreign policy, so I think that speech was more of a question of him trying to batten down the hatches on an issue where he’s perceived to have a weakness.
HH: Agreed. Now there’s going to be three CNN-Salem debates, and there are going to be eight more debates. We saw Carly Fiorina shoot up in polls so much so that CNN amended its rules rightly to take in account of the dirth of polls to reflect her rise, so she may be on the stage. We don’t know, but do you expect that kind of fluidity after every debate because it’s actually has been really significant post-the first debate.
JT: Well, we’ve seen this kind of fluidity with Republican elections starting in 2008. The Republican primary process has been very fluid. I’m sure that you may recall, John McCain was down and out. He was like hitchhiking across the country with one aide at one point in 2007 and ultimately got the nomination. In 2012, there was the “flavor of the month” – it happened all the time with Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain and Rick Perry. And this time it is less of a “flavor of the month” because Donald Trump has just stayed atop of the polls. But yes, I think to the credit of Republican voters, there’s a lot of shopping around, and I think that’s great.
HH: I also have to give a hat-tip to Reince Priebus because he brought order out of chaos, and he has now put sign-posts up all the way along. We know September 16th is a signpost for this campaign. I don’t know how many people would tune in. It depends on whether the school year is impacting people and what’s happening in the news the day before. But these events have become sign-posts in the way that the Iowa straw poll once was, and they did away with that. These are now real events. Do you think it’s a good innovation? I do, and do you think it’s going to stick around that the campaigns that the parties are organizing at this way.
JT: Yeah, and I also think it’s reflective of the fact that you have because of Super PACs, this ability of campaigns to go on long after candidates might have had all the air go out of their tires. One of the reasons why Jeb Bush is still considered such a strong candidate is not because he’s tied for third place in single-digits nationally, or he’s tied for sixth place in Iowa, or he’s losing ground in New Hampshire. It’s because A, a lot of people in the Washington establishment find him a very credible candidate and B, he’s got a ton of cash. And so that element of Super PAC money of a hundred million dollars for Jeb and tens of millions for others enables individuals to go from sign-post to sign-post even if they are not yet catching fire. I like this election season, I’ll be honest, Hugh. It is very fun as a political reporter, as a politial anchor, to have no idea what’s going to happen next.
HH: (Laughs) You’re telling me.
JT: You have all these characters. It’s a great race.
HH: I can honestly say, even though I took a hammer this morning, thirty interviews with would-be presidents in one month is a lot of fun. That’s a lot more fun than any other month I think I’ve done in twenty-five years of broadcast journalism.
JT: Hugh, the thing is, I know it feels like you took a hammer this morning. I’ve been there and it’s not fun when it’s your day in the barrel, but you didn’t really.
HH: (Laughs) I think that’s true. It is my day in the barrel and I’m looking forward to getting out of the barrel and getting back to interviewing candidates and being with you at the Simi Valley debate a week from Wednesday. Jake Tapper, thank you.