The Daily Beast’s Jonathan Alter joined me today:
HH: Joined by Daily Beast columnist, author extraordinaire, Jonathan Alter. It’s lefty day here on the Hugh Hewitt Show. I’ve had Austan Goolsbee on, E.J. Dionne was just one. Now comes Jonathan, because we always like to make it on snow days especially back east, the liberals are joined by all the conservatives who stay home from work. The left usually stays home from work, but the conservatives stay home, too. Are you snowed in, Jonathan?
JA: No, no, we’re, we dug out. We got, you know, a foot and a half, or whatever, but I spent yesterday digging out in Montclair, New Jersey. By the way, it’s center-left day, Hugh.
HH: Center-left day, okay. I’m checking in with, I’m getting everyone’s predictions, and I just had E.J.’s. So I want to know both Democrat and Republican who wins Iowa, Jonathan Alter?
JA: I think Trump’s going to win Iowa.
HH: You do?
HH: I’m betting Cruz, but E.J.’s with you.
JA: I think that Cruz is fading. The Branstad thing is really a problem. Terry Branstad is a very popular Republican governor of Iowa, and he not only said no to Cruz, he did it in a very definitive way, and on an issue which Republicans are hypocrites about. You know, they claim to be against corporate welfare, but they sure do love their ethanol in Iowa. And so Cruz, taking a principled position against ethanol, is very out of step with Iowa voters.
HH: Okay, now this is the big Trump headline of the weekend. He said it as a joke, but nevertheless, let me play it for you, Trump number one:
DT: The people, my people are so smart. And you know what else they say about my people, the polls? They say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay?
HH: Trump number two after the ejection of a Sikh protester.
DT: No, he wasn’t wearing one of those hats, was he? Was he wearing of those things? And he never will. And he never will. And he never will, and that’s okay, but you know, we’ve got to do something, folks, because it’s not working.
HH: So Jonathan, I’d start every show with him. He’s the best interview in America, but does it matter what he says ever?
JA: No. Not only is he gaffe-proof, but gaffes have proved to be his fuel, his ethanol in this campaign. So you know, when he says that thing about his supporters, they love that, that he could shoot somebody and they’d still be for him. And actually, the internals on the polling show that he’s right about that, that his people are very loyal. And so far, he hasn’t really hemorrhaged support in any place that I can think of.
HH: Okay, over to the other side, last week, not Sunday, but a week ago Sunday, I was on Meet The Press with Stephanie Cutter, and she said about Iowa Democrats that they never pushed back when people kind of hinted that Barack Obama was a socialist, because Iowa Democrats are kind of socialist. So is your party about to go full Sweden, as I just said to E.J. Dionne? Are you guys going full, you know…
JA: Well, you know, I think 43% of Iowa Democrats identify themselves as socialists, or as Democratic socialists. So the strange thing about the state of Iowa is that the Republicans are way to the right and the Democrats are way to the left. So when you say is your party about to go full Sweden, no, but Iowa might go part Sweden. And the real question is whether Hillary’s firewall in South Carolina and the rest of the South will hold. As long as she’s doing well with African-American voters, she’s still on track, even if she gets her nose bloodied in Iowa and New Hampshire.
HH: Now Jonathan, I had on Robert Gates last week, and I’m sure you will agree with me, a great American.
HH: He said that the server was of great concern to him, and that the probability was high that the Russians had compromised that server. I think this is an indictment that’s going to happen. You might not agree with me, but I think it is weighing her down. What do you think?
JA: Well, I think it’s, you know, what Donald Rumsfeld would call a known unknown. I mean, it is something that could potentially hurt her, but I think it’s very hazardous to predict that. Now the way the statute reads, it’s the sender of the emails, not the receiver of the emails who bears the legal burden on the classification. So legally speaking, as long as she didn’t send any classified information, she is not legally exposed.
HH: That’s under one of them. Under 1924, though, it’s the storage of classified information in a non-secure setting, and I believe that’s her vulnerability, is 1924, not the sending and receiving, the sending one.
JA: Well, you know, the thing is, they will have to, then, I mean, if you’re a prosecutor, and you’re really talking about bringing an indictment, you then have to, or you’ll get, you know, killed on this, you have to go back and look at the storage patterns of Colin Powell and others who used private servers when they were Secretary of State. And if you found that Colin Power was extremely scrupulous and did not ever store any classified information of any kind on his private server, then maybe you could go ahead and move against Hillary Clinton. But more likely, you’re going to find that her carelessness was in line with that of not just Colin Powell, but many other people.
HH: The only two I know for sure are Gates and Vice President Cheney, who both told me they did not touch electronics because of the SCIF rules. They didn’t have any electronics, and that was good for them. But here’s the $24 million dollar question. If she is indicted, nothing matters unless she’s indicted, or if Comey quits because they refuse to indict, if she is indicted, can she continue a campaign?
JA: I think it’s, I think it’s pretty tough, pretty tough. You know, I think she would want to, but despite the, you know, the outrage that you hear on the left, and whenever she’s under assault, she becomes more popular, I think that would be pretty tricky. But I also think an indictment is highly unlikely.
HH: But I agree with you. If she is indicted, I don’t think she can continue. So just play it out with me. You’re one of my tunnels into the left, center-left, as you put it. They don’t run Bernie Sanders. I mean, we’ll win 50 states.
JA: Well, that’s not what the polls say right now if you nominate Trump.
HH: Well, honestly, but…
JA: And nominating Trump, even though we live in an aspirational nation where more people identify with Donald Trump’s urge to grow rich than with Bernie Sanders’ sandals, notwithstanding that, the Obama coalition, I think, would hold together for Trump, and you’d get a lot of other people who thought that Trump was temperamentally unsuited to be president. Look, a lot of people already think our current president is a socialist. So this guy is…
HH: But there’s that Larry David, there’s that cranky old man thing. Larry David did it on Saturday Night Live again.
JA: People love it. Now I’m not trying to suggest to you that he would be as strong a candidate as Hillary Clinton in the general election. But I also think it’s wrong to assume that he can’t win. You know, if you look at the polling right now, and this is a point that a number of people have made, Bernie Sanders is much, not a little, a lot more popular than Donald Trump.
HH: That’s because everyone remembers their Woodstock documentary, and it’s like a siren call. It’s not because, they don’t know anything about him.
JA: It’s not just in head to head matchups, but just in terms of, you know, the depth and intensity of his support in the primaries.
HH: It’s, oh, the field of Bern is real. I get it. He’d get 30%, and they’d be excited. But it’s the Woodstock generation, and eventually, Jonathan, and I’ll give you the last word…
JA: It’s not. It’s young people who don’t vote in midterm elections who would turn out. Now I’m not, believe me, I am not making an argument. Let’s be very clear. I’m not making an argument that he’s a better candidate than Hillary Clinton. But I also don’t think he’s, it’s impossible for him to be elected if Trump is nominated. He’d beat Cruz, too.
HH: I think cabin fever…
JA: He would crush Ted Cruz.
HH: Cabin fever has hit people in New Jersey. They’re talking about the electability of Bernie Sanders. Jonathan Alter, always a pleasure, my friend.
End of interview.