The Hoover Institution’s Lanhee Chen joined me this morning and we discussed the chaos that is surrounding Team Trump and whether it might lead the GOP to a mutiny against its presumptive nominee:
HH: I am joined by Lanhee Chen, the David and Diane Steffy Research Fellow at the Hoover Institution, the 2012 policy director of Team Romney, a 2016 Marco Rubio advisor. Lanhee, welcome back, good to talk to you, great appearance on Meet The Press on Sunday. I appreciate you being out there defending conservative ideals so well.
LC: Hey, Hugh, thanks, I appreciate it. It was a fun show. I know it’s old hat for you, but it was a great, great time for me.
HH: It’s a lot of fun. Let me begin by what I think is the biggest story of the day, and then we’ll come around to politics. And I cannot believe it’s still not leading the news. I don’t know that news directors quite understand the significance of this. A car bomb in Istanbul today killed 11, wounded dozens, blew up a police van, seven policemen dead, four others dead, you know, scores of people are stunned and wounded and bleeding right in the heart of the tourist district. And if that happened in Paris or London, we’d be leading the news with it, Lanhee, and it’s over an hour old. Why not the focus? How important is that story?
LC: It’s amazing. You know, when I saw your tweet a little earlier, I went to some of the major news sites to look, and it’s not anywhere. And it’s remarkable, really, how much we are focused on what’s happening here, and in Western countries, rather than, we don’t know what happened, obviously, who was responsible, but when some of these things happen around the world, you’ve got to realize it’s still a dangerous place out there. And you know, we have to look at the world today versus the world from, you know, let’s just say, five, six, seven years ago and ask what’s changed. And one of the things I think that has changed is the fact that some of this, maybe we’ve become acculturated to some of this that goes on, and it’s really scary. But it’s a dangerous world out there.
HH: And if Turkey, you know, it depends upon tourism. If you hit Istanbul, you’re hitting a NATO ally, and the country becomes more destabilized, and the Erdogan government, already repressive, ratchets up its repression of the Kurds, which threatens Kurdistan. It’s sort of like the snowball is already halfway down the mountain as…it’s enormous, given Paris and Brussels and San Bernardino. But I think you’re right. I think our media is acculturated or climatized, whatever you call it.
LC: Yeah, and you know, it’s unfortunate, because the loss of life is tragic, and you know, it’s hard not to see all of this as part of a greater, you know, one piece in the greater puzzle. And we need to figure out as the United States how do we continue to advance our interests around the world going forward. And I’m really concerned with some of the rhetoric I hear during this presidential campaign about America pulling back, because part of what happens when America pulls back is you get things like this. And we just can’t stand for a foreign policy to do that.
HH: All right, Lanhee, I want to talk now about the campaign. You were the 2012 senior policy advisor to Mitt Romney. In June of 2012, was the campaign attacking federal judges or mired in controversy or you know, making people like Lindsey Graham call on people who have endorsed Donald Trump to rescind their endorsement, or were you consolidating? What was the situation four years ago?
LC: No, we were consolidating support, we were getting people excited about a Romney presidency. We were preparing to govern as well. We were doing things that were laying the groundwork to be successful if Mitt Romney won the presidency. And you know, as a campaign, one of the things that happens when you go from being a primary election campaign to a general election campaign is you begin to build infrastructure that allows you to be successful. And you know, I don’t see any of that happening now. And it’s really unfortunate, because Republicans have an opportunity to defeat Hillary Clinton, because she is, I believe, a uniquely bad candidate, Hugh. The more I see her, the less compelling I find her. And Republicans are blowing an opportunity here by, we’re wasting time on silly season.
HH: Now it is possible a mutiny could occur. It would be difficult. They’d have to persuade the Rules Committee to unbound the delegates, and it would require the Speaker and the Leader, backed by candidates such as Marco Rubio, who you worked for and others to come together and say we’re just going to put aside the rules, we’re not nominating Donald Trump. What’s the possibility of that, Lanhee Chen?
LC: Well, you know, the convention Rules Committee is, you know, is quite powerful in and of itself, because it’s not just the convention Rules Committee that writes the rules for the convention, but as well as for the party for the next four years. A lot of it’s going to depend on the composition of the Rules Committee itself and the delegates that actually sit on it. But they have the opportunity to determine the rules for the convention, and they can do what they want. At the end of the day, you know, there’s a broader point here, Hugh, which is what does the Republican Party want to do for the long run? Does it want to be a governing party for the long run? And if it wants to be a conservative governing party going forward, we’ve got to take a good, hard look at what we’re doing in this election, and figuring out are we advancing our interests in that regard, because right now, it doesn’t look like we are.
HH: There’s a story in the New York Times today about a superPAC running a never Trump ad. They’re running one after another. This one is a husband and wife tell their story side by side of learning through an ultrasound that their daughter, Grace, would be born with spina bifida. Images of young Grace flicker by as a newborn in the hospital sleeping near a cross, smiling and offering a hug from her wheelchair. While her parents tell of her loving personality, “she brings out the goodness in each person.” 20 seconds in, the mother shifts to Donald Trump, saying when I saw Donald Trump mock a disabled person, I was just shocked. That’s the first of many, Lanhee. And today, Paul Ryan is trying to roll out an anti-poverty program. It’s detailed, it’s specific, and it’s absolutely uninteresting to everyone in the news. So we have a combination of an avalanche of bad news abroad, terrible news, actually, in Turkey, political machetes coming out for Donald Trump, some of them self-inflicted, and the inability to get any oxygen for ideas. What’s the party to do?
LC: Well, you know, you’re right. Paul Ryan is going to lay out this agenda beginning today and over the next, you know, I assume over the next six weeks here leading up to the convention in Cleveland. There’s a whole host of ideas that Paul Ryan’s going to be putting out there, and you’re right. They’re very good ideas, and they’re the kind of ideas the Republican Party should be talking about. You know, and one had hoped that this election would be a contrast of ideas. What it looks like it’s going to be, though, is an effort to contrast personalities. And you know, aside from the fact that that’s not the kind of election that our democracy needs, nor is it the kind of election that the conservative movement needs, I think the broader problem is I’m not sure at the end of the day, in fact, I’m quite sure, it’s a contest that we can win. And I, you know, I’m worried, because we have a great opportunity here to turn back the Obama agenda. We have a great opportunity to put in place conservative policies here for the next eight years, and we’re just not, we’re taking our eye off the ball. And it’s going to be very difficult. The ad you mentioned is just the first of many that there will be running against Donald Trump.
HH: Yeah, and it’s a great opportunity to stem the tide of jihadism, a great opportunity to contain Iran. And what Ryan is rolling out today, institute work requirements for welfare recipients, consolidate 18 federal food assistance programs, streamline federal funding for at-risk youths and 45 separate early childhood programs, roll back federal education, federal requirements that regulate technical education programs, and for colleges, which cost $27 billion annually, make it easier for businesses to team and offer joint 401K plans, I mean, there’s a lot there. None of it’s getting oxygen. So Lanhee, hard question, have you heard of any conversations about mutiny?
LC: Well, I haven’t to date, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, because there is a lot of angst out there. And there are a lot of people asking the question, which is you know, first of all, can the Republican Party sustain with Donald Trump saying and doing the things he’s doing all the way to the November election? And then more broadly, you know, people really do wonder what kind of judgment and temperament Donald Trump has given what he said. And you know, look, it’s, as I said earlier, we’ve got to play the long game here. And even if we look at this election and think gosh, you know, is this the best thing to do for the party right now, I’d argue that’s not the right question to be asking.
HH: It isn’t, and it also gets harder. I don’t expect this is going to get easier, because at this point, mercenaries only are going to join Team Trump. It’s going to, people will come out. I haven’t seen one of his surrogates defend his comments. And so it’s going to be mercenaries, and what happened with David French today, told Morning Joe and Mika his family was threatened by a representative of the Trump campaign. So Lanhee, at which point does it break? I mean, theoretically, if he used the N word, you know, you would assume that people would just flee for the exits. But if someone breaks, does it stampede?
LC: Yeah, I mean, I think we’re very close. I think that the comments that Trump has made regarding Judge Curiel, the comments that he’s made about the judiciary more broadly, and then you know, the way in which now, apparently, calling for his surrogates to you know, run through the flames, double down on these ridiculous remarks, you know, I think this is the first time when I have felt in my gut, Hugh, that this is different. And I know we’ve said it before where there was comments about John McCain, the disabled or whatever. But this, there is something that feels un-American about what Trump has said regarding Judge Curiel. And to me, at least, it feels like the contagion for him is spreading in a way that may not be sustainable for him.
HH: That’s where, I wonder whether a mutiny is in the offing. Lanhee, we’ll watch it together from the sidelines. Don’t go anywhere, America.
End of interview.