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Mark Steyn and Hugh on whether the GOP can put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

HH: Of course, we being as we do every Thursday when we are lucky with Columnist to the World, Mark Steyn. Hello, Mark, and Happy Thursday to you.

MS: Yeah, Happy Thursday to you, Hugh. My goodness, I’m the warm-up act for a big all-star lineup today.

HH: It’s a good show. Norman Podhoretz is loaded to get people to take Iran seriously. Do you think there’s a…

MS: He’s terrific. I hope you ask him to sing the fifth and sixth choruses of Makin’ Whoopie, because I’ve been with him in the piano bar late at night, and he can do the whole song. He’s an amazing singer. I thought of him as just this great guy who knew all the words to Makin’ Whoopie. And it astonished me to discover afterwards that he apparently also writes commentary and stuff like that.

HH: Well, I did not know that he could sing. Unfortunately, it’s a pre-recorded interview. I taped it about an hour ago, so we’ll have to get him the next time.

MS: Yeah, make sure you get that.

HH: The first question I asked him is should we bomb Iran. What do you think he answered? What do you think you would answer, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, he thinks, he has thought for some time that it’s come to that. Other people who are not regarded as dovish by any means, such as John Bolton, think there are other means of applying pressure. The problem is we’re not applying that pressure. If we were making a serious effort to destabilize Iran in other ways, in other words, by meaningful support for the forces that are sick and tired of the Islamic revolution there, or by giving them, for example, they have their own Sunni minority. They could easily have a Sunni Triangle of their own in Iran. If we had a CIA that actually did anything, as opposed to sitting around Langley reading e-mail all day, we would be able to do that. But because we haven’t done that, the bombing option is becoming the only one that will be left, if not for this president, then for somebody.

HH: Mark Steyn, speaking of Sunnis and Shias, I want to play for you Chris Matthews last night on Jay Leno’s show. Here is Mr. MSNBC:

CM: Republicans are like the Iraqis. Have you noticed? They’ve got their Shia wing, the fanatics. They’ve got Huckabee…and this is where I get into trouble. This is just where I get into trouble. Huckabee and Thompson are the Shiites, and the Sunni, the more moderate guys are McCain and who else have they got over there? And Rudy Giuliani. And then they’ve got Romney the Kurd.

JL: Right, right.

CM: I mean, they’re all over the place. Who’s going to unite them?

JL: And Senator Larry Craig is the guy with the sheep.

HH: What do you think, Mark Steyn?

MS: Oh, you need a better writer if you’re going to do Islamic analogies, I think.

HH: (laughing)

MS: The fact is, I mean, I don’t understand how you could have been Chris Matthews, sitting there night after night, and not picked up on the fact that in his thing, what is it, the Shia are Mike Huckabee, they’re the extremists, and the Sunni are the moderates. Now you see, that’s the exact opposite of what it’s been in Iraq.

HH: In Iraq, you’re right.

MS: Yeah, yeah.

HH: You’re right.

MS: And you know, and Mitt Romney being…I don’t even understand. It doesn’t work as an analogy. You can apply those kind of analogies. I used to do that up in Canada for a while, where I said that for the last forty years, Canada had been like Iraq, where you know, the unrepresentative minority had been running the country, and holding all the levers of power. I meant the French Canadians. But you know, you can make those analogies work. But he managed to get it all completely wrong. Astonishing.

HH: Bollixed up. Let’s turn to the Republican side. Are we going to be able to put Humpty Dumpty, the party back together again after the fighting is all over?

MS: I think it’s looking difficult. You know, what is interesting to me, you get criticized and hammered a lot for supporting Mitt Romney. I’m not a…I liked Mitt more or less until I introduced him at dinner one night, and he gave a disappointing speech. And I’ve kind of been off him a little bit since. But what’s become clear is that there are certain figures who are acceptable to broad parts of the party, and I think Mitt Romney would be a lot of people’s second choice. A lot of people’s first choices are totally unacceptable to other people in the party. And that’s particularly Huckabee, who is looking less and less of a threat, I think, and McCain. And then other people would have brought problems all on their own, like Giuliani, who’ve fought this disastrous, you know, he sort of waited until late in the third act to get in the game, and he’s surprised that the plot has already been set in motion, and that nobody’s interested in a late-entering character.

HH: Do you think, though, I actually believe that if it’s McCain, people will rally to him, holding our noses. If it’s Huckabee, he’ll get 95% of the party behind him, and he’ll move to the center. Ditto Romney. Ditto everyone.

MS: Well, well, I think the problem is, you know, we always think, and talk about these things as if there’s a vast pool of so-called independent voters, you know, these people they have in the focus groups, in the TV studios after the debate. The fact is, in a 50/50 nation, it’s likely to be a turnout election. And there’s no doubt that if you have a candidate certain people have problems with, then it is going to be difficult to drive that turnout, particularly the vanity side of McCain. You were talking today at your website about the business with ANWR…

HH: Yup.

MS: …quoting Bill Kristol, who quite rightly points out, you know, that ANWR is a hypothetical thing. Nobody’s going to be drilling in ANWR with a Democratic Congress. And yet, he seems to like bringing these things up just to kind of kick the base in the teeth, not even for any real reason.

HH: Yeah, Bill’s word was gratuitous, and it was gratuitous. It’s unnecessary.

MS: Yes, and I think a lot…if you look at a lot of McCain’s issues, they’re pretty peripheral to what’s really at stake here. But his tone makes them central, because he stops, he keeps talking about them, and he makes these sort of personal decisions of his a kind of matter of grand political honor. And I think, I do think, though, that there is something at play here, that evidently there is a large chunk of the Republican base that whatever it feels about particular issues, is attracted to McCain’s biography. And that does tell us something about the nature of politics, that if you in a sense, if you’ve got a compelling enough personal story, it can override the fact that you’re out of your tree on a big bunch of key issues.

HH: You know, I got an e-mail yesterday from a McCain backer, saying Hugh, he’s like Churchill. Churchill used to stick his finger in the conservative eyes over and over and over again. He left the party not once but twice, and he came back. And so please get over it, that’s just McCain. Your reaction, Mark Steyn?

MS: Well, I don’t think that is, I don’t think that is anything like Churchill on the issues. Churchill was not an issue ideologue in the way that McCain is. It’s impossible to think of anything that Churchill going along with things like campaign finance reform or that kind of thing. He had a mainstream Tory temperament. So temperamentally, he was not like McCain at all. He was strong on an existential issue for Britain. But he didn’t sort of take a firm stand on ludicrous peripheral things that just happened to sort of tickle his fancy in the way that McCain does.

HH: Now what about, my pal Medved argues, Huckabee, you may disagree with him on A, B, and C, but he’s got this tremendous ability to connect, especially with younger voters, you know, the whole bass guitar thing. And you know, there is something to be said for that, Mark Steyn.

MS: Yes, I think that’s true, and I think he’s also quite naturally quick-witted. I think if it came to it, and it was Huckabee-Obama, I think Huckabee would get the best of it in all those debates, just because he’s capable of thinking on his feet. My problem, of course, I do think actually, again, you’ve been posting some interesting numbers on this. The idea that he’s the social conservative’s candidate, or even the Evangelical’s candidate, I don’t think is true. I mean, I think one of the big stories to come out in the last couple of weeks is that essentially, Iowa was a flash in the pan. If you can afford to move to Iowa, and identify your constituency, and nurse them, and go to chicken dinners with them six nights a week until the Caucus, you can deliver yourself a victory. But there’s been absolutely no bounce in New Hampshire or Michigan or anywhere, even among Evangelicals and social conservatives.

HH: Last question. I don’t think Rudy’s done. I think that the Florida strategy, because they’ve been banking all these absentees all these many weeks, is still alive. Just play with me for a second. Assume that he pulls that out. Does that revive his campaign?

MS: Obviously.

HH: Okay.

MS: I think if you were to have a situation…let’s assume that one of the previous winners manages to win South Carolina.

HH: No Fred, you mean?

MS: You know, then I think the people, the press, which have got kind of excited about the fact that there’s a new winner in every state, will be bored at the idea of narrowing the field, and would love to have Rudy come in and win Florida. So if he does, I think that would be a huge bounce for him, and he would look like a genius. And all those of us who said no, no, no, if you don’t get into the early states, you’re not part of the story, he would essentially have overturned decades of conventional wisdom on how to win the nomination.

HH: Mark Steyn, we will look for that result, and see whether or not we will have plenty to talk about for the next four months., America.

End of interview.

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