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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Mark Leibovich Talks About This Town From This Town

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HH: What better person to begin my Beltway broadcast with than Mark Leibovich, who is the national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine. He is also author of This Town, one of the year’s most notable books. I still think it’s a bestseller, Mark Leibovich. Is it still on the New York Times bestselling list?

ML: At this moment, it’s not, but it had a great run, like ten, eleven weeks, something like that.

HH: When does paperback edition come out?

ML: I think unofficially, because I don’t think I’m supposed to say anything, but I can say it here first, April/May.

HH: Okay, so you’ll have time…are you going to write a new intro?

ML: Yeah, got to write a new intro.

HH: You cannot, of course, include anything about radio talk show hosts in your new intro…

ML: No, they’re beyond reproach. I mean, they can’t see me, but reproach is here, radio talk show hosts are here.

HH: Very good. Now a year ago, you were six months away from publishing it. Now, you’re six months after you’ve published it. How is your life different today than it was a year ago?

ML: It is considerably better now, and here’s why. I was a nervous wreck coming into this. Look, I was scared. I mean, not scared, I was nervous. I mean, I’ve never done this before. I knew I was going to tick some people off. I knew that I was going to become, for lack of a better term, I mean, like the guy that people kind of hated for a while in the Beltway. And I welcomed that, and I did it voluntarily. But it was scary. And I knew it was going to be scrutinized. I was fact-checking the heck out of it. I was having a lot of very combative conversations with people when I was telling them what was going to be in there. And I expected the worst. And the worst hasn’t really happened. I mean, I think people seemed to, like a lot of people seem to think that the book was about somebody else, right? I mean, I had a lot of former…

HH: Oh, how interesting.

ML: Yeah, like..

HH: Oh, you got ‘em good, Mark.

ML: Oh, you go ‘em good, I hope you write a sequel. I’m like Senator, who do you think I’m talking about here?

HH: And so is it still, people still coming up to you and saying I want to talk to you about This Town…

ML: Oh, yeah.

HH: …and say this part and this part, this part, this part?

ML: Oh, totally. No, no, absolutely. There’s been a lot of interest, I mean, in Hollywood. There’s been a lot of interest in what I’m going to do next. And it’s been great, I mean, because I’m used to being sort of anonymous, and I like being anonymous. That’s one of the advantages of being a reporter, but I thought that this would strike a nerve. I didn’t realize it would strike a nerve as big as it did, and it’s been popular with conservatives, it’s been popular pretty much across the spectrum. I mean, a lot of people…

HH: It was very fair.

ML: I try, I mean, fair or not, I mean, I think there’s a pretty common view that Washington is just a stinking swamp. I mean, I had great sympathy for anyone who wants to shake this place up. And I mean, this sounds contradictory to what we were talking about off air, which is it’s a very livable city.

HH: A lovely place to live, yeah.

ML: I choose to live here, lovely place to live. I’ve raised my kids here. But I mean, the fact of the matter is the political class that I write about does not incorporate a lot of the people who make this city great. It doesn’t incorporate the anonymous people, the people who work hard, who make, you know, who serve in the military, who lost their lives at the Navy Yard shootings last month. I mean, that’s not who this book was about. This book is about the people who have a disproportionate amount of clout, influence, exposure, and that’s who I wanted to call out. So it’s worked out.

HH: Is Tammy Haddad still talking to you?

ML: I haven’t heard from Tammy.

HH: You haven’t?

ML: No, I haven’t heard from Tammy.

HH: Does she have a Christmas party coming up to which you’ve not been invited this year?

ML: You know what? I wouldn’t know, because I haven’t been invited. No, I think Tammy has been avoiding me, which is fine. You know, if I don’t get invited to her parties…

HH: How about the Aspen Institute? Did they come through, yet?

ML: They haven’t come through, yet. No.

HH: You know, there’s this World Affairs Council, and my son is sitting here with us, and he has put on this World Affairs Council beagle on me to come to Boulder. So that’s like the low class Aspen Institute. Maybe you could come out…

ML: You know what?

HH: They don’t even pay you to go.

ML: That’s cool, man. No, I’m Aspen is not, I think, in my immediate plans. I think I went a little hard on Walter.

HH: Now talk to me about the promotion of the book. First of all, how many people who interviewed about it have actually read it?

ML: Great question. I’m going to say 20% have read it. Maybe, well, actually, that’s not true. If you count, like, if they put you in a room with 30 affiliates from all over the country…

HH: Right.

ML: …and you do one after another, I’m going to guess that almost none of them read the book.

HH: Right, they don’t count.

ML: They don’t count. But I mean, the serious interviewers, about 20-30%. And the quality of interview is obviously a lot better when you’re with people who read it.

HH: As I told you when we sat down, I’m in town to talk to Brian Lamb for Book TV about my new book, and he is, I think, along with Charlie Rose, the best in the country at this. You were interviewed by both of them. You agree?

ML: I do. I mean, they were terrific. I mean, Brian, I think he’s an American hero. I think what’s great about him, and what’s great about C-SPAN, is it’s just unplugged. It’s an unplugged conversation. He prepares, he takes a lot of notes, but it’s quirky. It’s like you’ll be sitting there answering questions, and he’ll say how much does the New York Times cost, or like where did you go to college, I mean, complete non sequiturs. And things pop into his head, and he talks. And I just love Brian.

HH: What are they going to do after him? You see, he’s been around a long time. And I don’t know how old he is. I’ll look it up tonight. My guess is that he’s 66, 67, something like that. He’s like Brit Hume, that era.

ML: Yeah.

HH: And then Brit Hume, they got Brett Baier to follow him, and it’s pretty good, and Brett Baier has become Brit Hume. But I don’t know what you about that. Peter is very good over there. I don’t know if you’ve talked to him.

ML: Yeah, no, there’s some good people over there. I mean, I think the C-SPAN medium and the brand has certainly sustained itself. I mean, there’s only one Brian Lamb. I don’t know how you replace him.

HH: Okay, so who ticked you off when they interviewed you?

ML: Let me think about that. That’s a great question. You know, I was more ticked off by some of the people, the reviewers, you’re always going to be ticked off at a few reviewers, because they write stupid reviews. But…

HH: Hobby horse people who want to get their own point of view…

ML: You know, they want to…

HH: …not really about your book, not what they want to do…

ML: They want to write, yeah, this is a critique, the book they wanted to write. Who ticked me off? I would say, I mean, there were a few people who just thought that look, they, they were mad at me for not being hard enough on people, they were mad at me for being too easy on people. I’m trying to think of who, I mean, Charlie Rose, I respect him greatly, had a very good interview with him, I thought. He went pretty consistently on the ‘but it’s always been this way’, ‘but it’s always been this way.’ It’s like this in New York. It’s like this in Hollywood. And I agree with him, but I also make the point that Washington is paid for my other people’s money. Washington is supposedly this city devoted to public service. And I mean, I think Charlie pushed that a little harder than I would have liked, but that’s okay. It’s his show.

HH: Okay, now the year has also included the unveiling and utter train wreck of Obamacare.

ML: Yeah.

HH: None in our profession, either punditry or reporting, have quite gone back and looked at how wrong people were about this law, yet. But at least on my side, we were all predicting its doom, perhaps for ideological reasons. On the journalist side, nobody was. And I don’t know that anyone’s owned up to how badly covered it was, yet, have they?

ML: It’s interesting. I mean, one of the big points in my books, and obviously, my book came out before the Obamacare fiasco.

HH: Before it crashed, yeah.

ML: It’s just the danger of group think, and the danger of people having the same assumptions and the same sensibilities. And quite frankly, a lot of the D.C. media are made up of, I mean, you don’t really, we’re not supposed to talk about this, but Democrats, right?

HH: Right.

ML: But put Democrats aside, I mean, these are the same people who believe that America was not ready to elect a black president. These are the same people who believed that there absolutely are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, right? I mean, you sort of, this is how a conventional wisdom builds. And I think there was a lot of unquestioning about this, and people just, they covered the health care debate as an ideological debate, as frankly a personal thing, as a Tea Party phenomena, as a racist phenomenon. I mean, there was any number of things thrown out there, and I don’t know of many hard looks at what the technology was and what the apparatus was before, I mean, there have been several since, but I didn’t, I mean, there was not a lot of, I think, rigorous…

HH: All right, I’ve got to tell you, do you know who Daniel Weintraub is? He was a Sacramento Bee reporter, probably the best reporter in California, and he started a thing to cover California health care. Right now, everyone in California says Covered California is working. It’s not. It’s got absolutely no model for its adverse selection ratio. It’s got lots of scientific issues with it. But they’re putting out great press releases. And the West Coast journalists, this is not your story…

ML: Right.

HH: But West Coast journalists have utterly failed to cover it. And I guess Maryland, I mean, D.C.’s is an utter failure, right?

ML: You know, I haven’t been following the nitty gritty of it. I mean, I’ve heard, I mean, D.C’s, let’s see, what have I heard about D.C? I mean, I’ve heard…

HH: I don’t think anyone’s enrolled.

ML: Yeah.

HH: I actually think that’s one of those that has completely failed like Delaware. Delaware’s got fewer people than in this studio have enrolled in it.

ML: Well, part of it is, I mean, D.C. is so incredibly affluent, right? I mean, it’s the most affluent city in the country. And these are not people who are signing up for it.

HH: Here’s my premise. Everyone who is covering Obamacare has their coverage through their big media employers, like you do, like I do. So they’re not really invested in the individual market.

ML: Or the government. I mean, they’re government employees.

HH: Or the government, yeah, which is a great thing. So at the end of this, are you more or less cynical about D.C? After a year of This Town being out and having written it, just the same, or more or less?

ML: About the same. I mean, I really do think that I just have no faith in D.C. to have a fresh look at any phenomena, I mean, to look sort of critically, even before the fact of how something is going to come off. And no, I mean, nothing surprised me. I mean, the most heartening thing about this whole experience has been the reaction outside of D.C., which we can talk about after the break. But I mean, it’s been a very reaffirming in some ways look at America and the conversation in America.

HH: And how much, and we’ve got 30 seconds to the break, how much are you out on the road talking about This Town?

ML: A lot. I mean, not lately. I’ve been, it’s been more phone lately, and it sort of, you know, it died down after about October.

HH: Do college campuses want you?

ML: Yeah, they do.

HH: You see, that’s useful to find out.

— – – – –

HH: That’s Motorhead, Lemmy Kilmister, subject of a Q & A that my guest, Mark Leibovich, did for the New York Times Magazine. Mark is the national correspondent for the New York Times Magazine, author of This Town, and I’m in this town. I’m in Washington, D.C. today broadcasting from the Heritage Foundation, the Robert H. Bruce radio studio, Heritage Action For America, Mark, how did you end up interviewing Motorhead? And isn’t that a little bit outside of your wheelhouse?

ML: Yes, it is. I’ve never even, well, I’ve heard of Motorhead, but I couldn’t name a song. I’ve never heard of Lemmy. I shouldn’t admit that, but it’s all true. Look, I’m a team player. If they have a hole and they need me to fill it, the boss said hey, can you interview this guy? I said sure.

HH: Okay, and the other one you did that I wanted to talk to you about since then is you did a long piece on Miguel Cabrera. I have, the late Frank Pastore was a friend of mine and a talk radio host.

ML: The pitcher?

HH: And he was a Reds pitcher for many years.

ML: He died?

HH: Yeah, he died in a motorcycle accident about a year ago. He was hit in November of last year and died in December.

ML: I remember Frank.

HH: And Frank was a great friend, was my guest host for years, and he wanted to take me into a sports locker room once, wanted to take me into the Indians locker room.

ML: Yeah.

HH: I wouldn’t go with him, because I don’t know how to talk to athletes.

ML: Yeah.

HH: I think athletes are a completely different…I can talk to any political person in the world.

ML: Yeah.

HH: But you did a pretty good interview of Cabrera. How hard was that compared to a political person?

ML: It was harder and not harder. Here’s where it was harder. I mean, you’re right. The sanctuary of a clubhouse is not a fun thing to walk into, especially if you’re not a sportswriter. I mean, you feel like an outsider, and you’re in their place. And it’s not like, I mean, you go up on the Hill, right? I mean, they signed up for this. I mean, they rely on you. I mean, athletes, they live in a very, very small world, and you ain’t part of it, right? And then they’re naked, and then it’s like, I mean, it’s a club and you are not part of it, and especially when you’re a non-sportswriter like me, you show up one day and start asking questions. So that was a little awkward.

HH: Frank accused me of having jockophobia, and I just said no, I’m just not comfortable. I don’t know how to talk to them.

ML: Look, I think they’re a lot, I liked talking to Miguel Cabrera. I really liked, I liked the whole team. Being around them for, like, one day was fun. But look, they have very special abilities, and the life of a baseball or football beat writer, I could never do that.

HH: And so you’re a Boston fan. We were talking before about this. So you’re a Red Sox guy and you like this whole thing that went down?

ML: Yeah, I do. I don’t want to alienate any of your listeners.

HH: It’s too late.

ML: But I do, you know, I’m fully aware that Boston has been spoiled by a lot of recent successes, and also the fans are quite obnoxious. I actually like being a Boston fan living outside of Boston, because I don’t have to deal with the idiocy of like the sports talk radio up there. And look, these are, I understand that every team has their idiots, and the Red Sox thing has gotten kind of Yankee-like.

HH: Did it hurt you that Ohio State beat Michigan by one point Saturday?

ML: You know, here’s…

HH: I wanted to bring that up, and I know you’re…

ML: You know, it’s fine. Well, first of all, Michigan isn’t going anywhere. Michigan was not going anywhere. And this is another thing. I mean, Michigan, I had the curse of when I was at Michigan, I actually knew a few of the ballplayers, I mean quite well. Well, not quite well, but I lived close enough to them and I had them in classes. These are not guys I wanted to root for that much. I mean, you know, there are some good ones and some bad ones, but no, like the season was lost. It was tough to lose it that way, but…

HH: Did you watch the Auburn-Alabama game?

ML: I did, actually.

HH: And wasn’t that, in fact, we were going to play, because you’re a journalist and therefore a cousin of the broadcaster who makes this call. This is one of the great calls ever made. It’s by the Auburn home broadcaster, and we’ve got to line it up for you. As the last play goes down, it may be the greatest play in college football history, here we go. 3-2-1. Tell me the computer is broken now? Cyber-Monday, that’s what’s happening. Are we going to blame this on Cyber-Monday? Okay, you tell me in my ear when you’re ready to go. Mark Leibovich, in terms of what you read, do you read any sports books?

ML: Yeah, I just finished one in fact, and it’s a phenomenal book, and it’s called Collision Low Crossers. It is a brand new book, it’s by a guy named Nicholas Dawidoff. It’s a year inside the tumultuous life of the NFL. He got incredible access to the New York Jets, the 2011 season. It’s a terrific book. It’s the last book I’ve read.

HH: What’s the name of the book?

ML: Collision Low Crossers. It’s a weird title. It’s like named after some formation that the Jets used.

HH: Okay, here’s the call from Saturday.

RB: 56 yarder…it’s got, no, it does not have the leg. And Chris Davis takes it in the back of the end zone. He’ll run it out to the 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 45, there goes Davis! Oh, my God. Davis is going to run it all the way back. Auburn’s going to win the football game! Auburn’s going to win the football game! He ran the missed field goal back. He ran it back 109 yards. They’re not going to keep them off the field tonight. Holy cow! Oh, my God! Auburn wins. Auburn has won the Iron Bowl! Auburn has won the Iron Bowl in the most unbelievable fashion you will ever see. I cannot believe it. 34-28. And we thought a miracle at Jordan-Hare was amazing. Oh, my Lord in Heaven.

HH: Mark Leibovich, is there anything close to that authentic in Washington, D.C?

ML: Oh, absolutely not. No, no, no. You actually, no, no, you’ve got to get to Auburn and Alabama for that. But because of the internet, we can experience that, right?

HH: We can experience that.

ML: I want to hear the Alabama call, though. That was like…

HH: Oh.

ML: Because there is this maxim that the loser’s locker room, the loser’s story is more compelling than the winner’s story, but that’s pretty compelling. You can’t listen to that and not smile.

HH: I hadn’t thought of that. I wonder if anyone, of course, no one would go off. That guy must have walked off in a daze. So the difference between talking to Miguel Cabrera and talking to, you’ve got the Alabama call?

ML: I think we’ve got to listen to it.

HH: All right, let’s listen.

Cody Mandel spots it, kick, on the way, it’s got legs, it is failing, it is short. It is grabbed about eight yards deep in the end zone, brought back to the near side, run down the near sideline. There’s nobody there for Alabama. Auburn’s going to win. Auburn’s going to win the Iron Bowl on a runback of a missed…

HH: And then he can go quiet. That’s like on Election Night this past November, I had to stay on the air until 9:00 my time, Midnight, and the game was over from 6:45.

ML: Right.

HH: And that was the longest two and a half hours of my broadcast life. And so where were you on Election Night?

ML: I was actually in Chicago. I had to cover the, actually, I was feeding. I was looking for whatever the newspaper wanted. I just, I wasn’t, I had very little responsibility.

HH: And so did you have any investment in that story? Did you have an angle? Did you…

ML: I mean, to be truthful, I probably shouldn’t say this over the air. I was looking for book stuff. I needed to end the book. I had my last chapter sort of went through the inauguration, so I needed an, or I was looking for an Election Night scene. I don’t really think I used anything from it, though.

HH: Before we run out of time on this segment, are you going to write a book about Terry McAuliffe as governor?

ML: God, no. No, I don’t think so. I don’t think anyone will read it.

HH: Oh, I think…

ML: I mean, unless, I mean, look, he’s a good character.

HH: That’s what I mean.

ML: Yeah.

HH: He’s completely not qualified to be the governor of Virginia, right?

ML: I can’t say one way or the other. I think the voters of Virginia make their own determination. How’s that for a duck? No, look, Terry McAuliffe has his own chapter in This Town, and then he gets elected governor. I mean, the fallout from this book has been like the premise keeps affirming itself.

HH: It is. That, well, when we come back, how long do I have you for? ‘til 6:45?

ML: Whatever. I love being with you.

HH: See, that, Mark Leibovich, you can play the Terry McAuliffe thing whenever we come back.

— – – –

HH: That’s why we’re playing you House Of Cards music, which I’m sure Mark Leibovich, my guest, loved every minute of House of Cards. Did you even watch it?

ML: Yeah, I did.

HH: And?

ML: And first of all, this reminds me, that’s a really good score. It’s a good song.

HH: Isn’t it excellent? Yeah.

ML: Oh, it’s great. Every time at the beginning, no, I watched a couple of them, and then we did a thing where the Times, we did this thing called Times Talks where on the web, we’ll do interviews with, like, newsmakers, and they asked me to go up to Baltimore, the set of House of Cards, and interview Robin Wright, Kevin Spacey and Beau Willimon, who wrote the whole thing. So I did like an hour interview with them. I was asking the questions, and I did like this binge. I watched the whole thing twice. And I liked it a lot. I mean, I thought it was thoroughly entertaining. I mean, there’s all this like Washington, like, turn up your nose at this, like oh, they would never get an education bill passed in one episode, blah, blah, blah. I mean, dude, it’s fiction.

HH: Yeah.

ML: What part of fiction do you not understand?

HH: It’s storytelling.

ML: It’s storytelling. It’s compelling. I think it’s interesting.

HH: Now the, I’m going to quote from This Town, Mark Leibovich’s very significant bestselling book of 2013. “When you spend time in Washington, you have to make sure if you’re going to be honest about it, that it’s not going to bleed into your own sensibility as a journalist or as a public figure or whatever, because it’s so easy to fall into that trap.” You said that to me in July. With that in mind, how would you describe Hillary Clinton’s achievements as Secretary of State?

ML: Geez. Look, I think, I don’t cover the State Department. Look, you have that look on your face like you expect me to duck this question.

HH: No, I expect you not to be able to say anything, because she didn’t do anything.

ML: I actually didn’t, I don’t, here’s the deal. I have not written any stories on Hillary Clinton since 2008. How about, what’s like the graceful way to duck a question?

HH: Not even duck, just as if we’re playing Jeopardy!.

ML: Yeah, I honestly don’t know.

HH: Nobody can come up with anything, Mark.

ML: Yeah, let’s see. What did she do? I mean, she traveled a lot. That’s the thing. They’re always like, well, she logged eight zillion miles. It’s like, since when did that become like diplomacy by odometer?

HH: Maggie Haberman at Politico is still mad at me, I’m told, because I asked her that question on air, not intending it to be a trap question, but discovering after the fact it was a trap question. Another trap question is to ask young journalists if they know who Alger Hiss is. Most of them don’t know and they admit it. Now I want to play with you the Republican game. And I’m going to give you the Republican potential nominee, and I want your immediate reaction as a New York Times Magazine national correspondent. Chris Christie?

ML: Chris Christie? Very compelling, seems to be the frontrunner, which usually means that he doesn’t have a shot, meaning look, when the liberal media, when the media, when the conservative media, when they anoint someone, when the Morning Joe culture which you know, Chris Christie is beloved in the Morning Joe culture. He’s on there all the time.

HH: Do you watch Morning Joe?

ML: Sometimes.

HH: Okay.

ML: Not a lot. I’m on there sometimes. I haven’t been on in a long, long time. But yeah, I mean, it’s in the bloodstream. I just, I’m usually getting my kids ready for school.

HH: They like him, because he’s a good story. He’s a terrific story.

ML: He’s a good story. Yeah, he’s also, you know, he’s kind of like the moderate Republican that a lot of people in the media wished were more of a mainstream Republican than maybe he is, because you know, New Jersey is frankly, at this moment, not the rest of the country, right?

HH: And then why do you think he’s a moderate Republican? He was pro-traditional marriage. He’s pro-gun rights. I know he’s signed maybe this or that, but it’s…

ML: I think he is seen as moderate by a lot of the country. I think he’s seen as moderate by a lot of the people in New Jersey. I think probably a lot of it is him working with Obama after Sandy.

HH: Sandy.

ML: Maybe it’s a misconception, I don’t know.

HH: Okay, Marco Rubio?

ML: Rubio’s sort of, I mean, I don’t know what his play is now.

HH: Have you sat down with him?

ML: I have. I saw a whole football game with him last year.

HH: Oh, you told me that.

ML: I did a whole thing, yeah.

HH: You went to the Dolphins game with him.

ML: We went to the Dolphins game. We went to a Dolphins game. The guy knows his football, I’ll say that. But the provision, or the ground rule for that was that we could not talk about any politics. So then I remember asking him, it was before the election, no, it was after the election, I remember just sneaking questions in between plays. And I’m saying so, are you going to run for president? He’d be like not today. So I’d be like now are you saying not today, I can’t ask you that today? Or you’re not running for president today? So look, he’s a smart guy. I mean, it sounds like Ted Cruz seems to have taken up a lot of his oxygen.

HH: He’s authentically a football fan, though.

ML: He is authentically a football fan. I was very impressed with that. I mean, he looks at like videos online, he goes onto websites for like long snappers.

HH: Yeah.

ML: It’s like weird stuff.

HH: Okay, so that’s how he…Ted Cruz, you mentioned.

ML: Yeah, I’ve never met Ted Cruz.

HH: He’s a very interesting guy. He’s very smart.

ML: People say he’s really smart, yeah.

HH: A) you don’t argue eight Supreme Court arguments by accident, nine, actually. Bobby Jindal?

ML: Yeah, I mean again, he, I think, will have a, probably have a larger bar to cover. I mean, I think people, there’s a default that like Christie, Cruz, maybe Scott Walker at this point, are maybe like the first tier. I mean, I think Jindal might have a hard time being heard if you sort of look at this collection of governors, again, Christie, Walker, maybe someone like John Kasich if he runs would be, I don’t know.

HH: Accorded respect and sensibility and seriousness. Would Rick Perry?

ML: Yeah, I think so.

HH: And so…

ML: I think so. I mean, he’ll, he has to get past that, you know, that thing. But he’ll get past it.

HH: When we come back, I want to know what that thing is.

ML: All right.

HH: …when we talk about that thing.

ML: Yeah.

HH: …because I think I mean the 90 seconds in which he had his memorable lapse.

ML: Sure.

HH: If I had a producer, we’d play that when we come back.

— – – –

HH: Mark, there are a lot homeless people in Washington, D.C. I passed by many of them today. Do you give them money?

ML: Some, yeah. A lot of it depends, frankly, on my mood, on their approach, on how much money I have in my wallet. I mean, I think I probably tend to do more of that this time of year. I mean, I guess…

HH: It’s also cold. I tend to be more generous when it’s cold out.

ML: Yeah.

HH: And they’re…but I ran into a lot of them. I also noticed that today was the first day of the food truck regulations, and all the food trucks were lined up in an orderly fashion.

ML: Oh, is that right?

HH: And there were no food trucks when I lived here. Do you eat at them?

ML: You know, today I did. I usually don’t, but today I did. It was 2:00, I hadn’t eaten, and actually, there’s usually a line outside this Vietnamese Pho place, and it was called Wanted Pho, there was no line, and it was 2:00, I went.

HH: Right.

ML: But I probably go once every three weeks.

HH: Back to my lightning round. Kurt Bardella was a figure, Darrell Issa’s press secretary in This Town, who did not fare well as a result of This Town.

ML: Oh, he’s fared so well.

HH: Tell us what happened to Kurt Bardella.

ML: Kurt is like the perfect, like platonic ideal of you will always eat lunch in this town again. Kurt Bardella lost his job with Darrell Issa because of me, because he was sharing emails with me. I was writing about him for the book. He got his old job back. He’s working for Darrell Issa. About a week after my book comes out and Kurt’s a whole chapter, and he was all nervous, he came out, I guess, he thought looking really good. I don’t know how good he came off looking. He quit Darrell Issa’s office about a month ago. He’s in business doing his own crisis communications, strategic communications shop. He just signed up two staffers for that Republican congressman who like was doing coke, or smoking crack, no, doing coke. What’s his name?

HH: From Florida?

ML: Florida, yeah.

HH: Radel.

ML: Radel. Yeah, Radel. He just signed two of his staffers. He’s got like the Breitbart account. He seems to be making a ton of money. It’s been a month. He keeps calling me and you know…

HH: Schmoozing you?

ML: Sure, yeah.

HH: Of course. He has to. Now back to my, Scott Walker is a very attractive candidate. He did not go to college. Would that matter in This Town?

ML: Maybe in some circles. I don’t think so, though. I mean, look, I think this is a new era. I think like not going to college and making something of yourself and getting elected governor of Wisconsin should, you would think, transcend not having a college degree. I’m sure there are some people who would disqualify him for that, but the guy seems to know what he’s talking about.

HH: Rand Paul ran into a plagiarism problem. Is that disqualifying in this town? Or does everyone plagiarize in this town?

ML: Hell, no. I mean, I actually was shocked that that didn’t get more traction than it did. I mean…

HH: But you’re a writer. You’re much more offended by it than most ordinary people.

ML: But Joe Biden did, I mean, basically plagiarized a speech in 1988…

HH: James Hohmann walking in saying hello.

ML: Hi, James.

HH: Joe Biden plagiarized, you’re right, and he was done for 20 years.

ML: He was done for 20 years. Well, he was done, he certainly is, political, I mean, his presidential campaign imploded a couple of days after. I mean, part of it maybe is they had video, and maybe he was, maybe there’s less video. But no, look, I mean, there’s a much more ideological media now.

HH: Okay, Rick Santorum is running again. Will he ever be taken seriously in this town? You wrote about him a little bit in This Town.

ML: I don’t think he’ll win, but I think he’ll be taken seriously. I mean, Rick Santorum’s a smart guy. He’s a serious candidate. He almost, I guess he did win Iowa last time.

HH: He did win Iowa.

ML: And he stuck around for a while. Sure, I mean, I don’t know, I mean, I think he benefitted from a fairly weak field last time. I think if it’s a better field, he wouldn’t do as well.

HH: We were talking about Rick Perry. I don’t know if my production staff in California, here is what Rick Perry did three years ago, play it.

RP: And I will tell you it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone – Commerce, Education and the, uh, what’s the third one there? Let’s see.

Ron Paul: You need five.

RP: Oh five, okay. So Commerce, Education and, uh, the, uh, um, uh,

Mitt Romney: EPA?

RP: EPA, there you go. No, you can’t.

Michele Bachmann: Let’s talk deficit reduction.

Moderator: Seriously? Is EPA the one you were talking about?

RP: No, sir. No, sir. We were talking about the agencies of government, EPA needs to be rebuilt. There’s no doubt about that.

Moderator: But you can’t name the third one?

RP: The third agency of government I would do away with Education, the uh, Commerce, and let’s see, I can’t, the third one I can’t, sorry.

HH: So that will be replayed, Mark Leibovich, many, many times. I shared a stage with Governor Perry two months ago. He was superb. He made a lot of fun of himself. He wears these kinds of glasses now. He’s gone with the Marine Corps direct issue glasses. He was terrific and self-referential and very, very funny. Can you recover from that here, though?

ML: First of all, for as enjoyable as it is to listen to that Auburn play by play guy, that’s as painful to listen to. I mean, look, I said it at the time. I mean, there but for the grace of God. I mean, I have these senior moments all the time, and he’s older than me, too. I mean, having said that, that’s a tough one to come back from. And look, in this media environment, and it’s actually not just this media environment, you become defined by moments. And for better or for worse, or for fair or not, that was a moment for him. I mean, if Ed Muskie long before there was all this television and stuff could be defined by…

HH: Crying.

ML: …the crying on the steps of the…

HH: So the last name I saved for last, because he was most defined by the race that you covered, Paul Ryan.

ML: Yeah.

HH: What’s your opinion of him? What’s this town’s opinion of him now?

ML: You know, Paul Ryan seems like he, I don’t know if he’s disappeared for a while. I mean, he’s obviously been right in the nitty gritty. But he seems to have some interest in running for president. I like spending time with Paul Ryan. I think he, you know, he clearly is going to have to, he will be stigmatized if he runs as like a Washington creature, because like everyone, he wants to try to come off like a populist, I’m not from Washington kind of guy.

HH: Would you go hunting with him?

ML: Sure.

HH: Wouldn’t that be a good story?

ML: Yeah, absolutely.

HH: Is he authentically who he says he is, because I think he is.

ML: I have no idea, but I would say, I would go hunting with him. I don’t think I would be able to add much value. I mean, he does like the bow and arrow thing like they do in the Hunger Games.

HH: I know, but I’m thinking about all these guys we’ve been talking about. Jindal is authentically a wonk. Chris Christie is authentically New Jersey. John Kasich, by the way, is authentically one of the nicest guys on the planet. Have you ever spent time covering him?

ML: I’ve meet him. I’ve never covered him.

HH: He’s just, he’s such an Ohio guy, such a normal down the road…so the Republicans have got all these wonderful people. Some of them have got weak spots. And then they’ve got Hillary on the other side. But this is a Democratic town and a liberal media, right?

ML: No, I’m not, well, first of all, this is definitely a Democratic town. I mean, I will speak not for the entire media. I will speak for myself. I will say that these are all authentically politicians. Yes, they all have brands, they all have shticks. Chris Christie might be New Jersey, Paul Ryan might be Mr. bow and arrow outside the Beltway guy. They’re all politicians. They all have great things to recommend them and not so great things. How’s that for a duck, Hugh?

HH: That is a duck.

— – – —

HH: Mark Leibovich, thanks for spending an hour with me. The book, This Town, is linked at I want to finish by talking about the media. We have all these sharp, young reporters out there. One of them is sitting right here, James Hohmann. But we’ve got Robert Costa. We’ve got Guy Benson, Mary Katharine Ham, Katie Pavlich, Johnathan Strong, Chris Cillizza, Ezra Klein, Greg Sargent, Michael Shear, your colleague, Lachlan Markay who’s coming by a little bit later. All of these people are under 30 years old. None of them have ever worked outside of the Beltway. You began at the San Jose Mercury News, right?

ML: Yeah.

HH: Okay, is that bad for this town that all of the rising superstars have never worked anywhere else and have always only covered politics?

ML: Well, first of all, okay, Mike Shear also started at the San Jose Mercury News. He’s been in Virginia. I mean, a lot of these people have been not, a lot of these people do have some experience outside of town, so I will say that. I think it’s important to assert yourself, to establish yourself outside of D.C. if you can help it. Look, I run into a lot of young journalists who say look, I’ve been at the Concord Monitor for two years, I’m 25 years old. I see like all these reporters for Politico and BuzzFeed and Huffington Post and they have these Twitter followings of 20,000, and I want some of that. It looks really exciting. And I’m like look, you’re in a real community. You’re actually writing stories that affect the lives of the readers. You’re not writing for each other. So I think it’s good to have experience elsewhere. I think you should come to Washington later if possible. If not, just be aware of who you are.

HH: But if you’re a young journalism student, what I’m getting at, if you’re getting out of Columbia School of Journalism, you should immediately come here, because you will be too late if you arrive at 30. Aren’t…this is just a statement of fact, and I’m just asking you to contradict me. Has anyone made it in this town as a journalist who arrived after 30

ML: Sure. I mean, I came here when I was 34.

HH: No, not your age, but I mean, now, someone coming in now.

ML: Oh, you know, Maggie Haberman got to Politico when she was, I assume in her, I don’t know how old Maggie is, but she’s probably in her 30s or something.

HH: I would have guessed younger.

ML: Yeah.

HH: Okay, you’re in real trouble now, pal.

ML: No, no, she was at the Daily News. I mean, she had a very distinguished journalism career. So I mean, you know, it happens.

HH: But will all of these youngsters, and I say that with James sitting right here, will they accelerate every tendency that you talk about in This Town to the self-glorification, yeah, one minute left, to all of the trends that you talk about, are they being accelerated by these kind of journalists?

ML: I think we’re all accelerating it. I think technology is accelerating it. I think money is accelerating it. I think just the realities of technology and today’s landscape are accelerating it. I wouldn’t pin it on a single age group at all.

HH: Oh…

ML: But I would exempt anyone over 55. How’s that?

HH: That’s good. I’m 57.

ML: That was good.

HH: I’m appreciative of that. Mark Leibovich, thank you. The book is This Town. It’s available at It’s still in bookstores everywhere. It doesn’t come out in paperback, and we’re not allowed to know until April, and the new introduction to it will have nothing to do with talk radio, so we have been pledged. Have you started to write it at all, the new introduction?

ML: No, I haven’t, but I’ve got to get moving on that.

HH: When’s that due?

ML: Oh, I think probably like last week or something.

HH: Yeah, I think yeah, if they’re going to put it in, in April.

ML: Yeah.

HH: Thank you.

End of interview.


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