Mark Steyn on the election and the exit of Don Rumsfeld.
HH: Two days after the debacle, I’m joined now by Mark Steyn, columnist to the world. You can read all of his work at www.steynonline.com. You can order his wonderful, best-selling book, America Alone, from that website as well. Mark, welcome back.
MS: Hey, good to be with you, Hugh. And you referred to the debacle. Was that when I was filling in for you?
HH: No, no, no. Actually, that was a high point of my last week.
MS: All right.
HH: No, Tuesday night was actually the disaster.
MS: Oh, okay, okay. Just so long as we’re straight.
HH: Yes. I’ll have you back whenever you wish to come.
MS: All right.
HH: Mark Steyn, what happened?
MS: Well, I think essentially, a large part of the American people checked out of the Bush view on the War On Terror. And from the Republican point of view, and a lot of Republicans in my state, in New Hampshire, for example, voted, either stayed home, or voted for the Democrat. I think a lot of those Republicans, once you factored the war out, and they didn’t like how the war was going, decided there was a lot about the Republican Party they didn’t like. They didn’t like the big spending, they didn’t like the illegal immigration. And there simply wasn’t enough reason to put a great big X by the guy’s name, or to pull the lever. And I think that’s, I think that is a real problem, because I don’t think a lot of those seats are going to be turning red again in 2008.
HH: Well, I will talk later today with John McIntyre about that, and I’m also going to be talking with Tony Snow after the break about how we conduct business. But looking back, when you say they checked out of the Bush view of the war, does that mean that they don’t believe we have an enemy? Or that they don’t believe he knows how to fight it?
MS: Well, I think there’s two views there, that they’re not really interested. This was a point I tried to make to the President, actually, when I was in the Oval Office a few days ago. I said to him, you know, that the people are with you when you’re toppling the Taliban, you’re toppling Saddam. But when it’s just a thankless, joyless, three year policing operation, then they do get weary. You know, Niall Ferguson, the British historian, he always says America is a superpower with attention deficit disorder. And I think there is a lot of truth to that, and so if you’re conducting a long war, you’ve got to find a way to conduct it, that takes account of that fact?
HH: Now Mark Steyn, you also met with Secretary Rumsfeld on your trip to Washington, D.C, and he gave no impression at that time of being on the door, did he?
MS: No. He enjoyed, he clearly enjoyed the job. He was clearly frustrated by essentially elements of the bureaucracy, and Congress. And I think the question is, you know, who would have made a better defense secretary, when you were going into Afghanistan in the Fall of 2001? Remember, that was a quagmire, too, supposedly. You know, a graveyard of empire, mighty Pushtoon warrior, the Russians had never beaten these guys, and all the rest of it.
HH: The Afghan Winter, yes. The Afghan Winter.
MS: Yeah, the brutal Afghan Winter, which was completely fictitious. And Don Rumsfeld, I think, fought a very innovative war. Now he then got bogged down by the bureaucracy, and by Congress. And I think the question you have to ask is, regardless of who you think should be defense secretary, a lot of it is just this continual drag by the bureaucracy, and by Congress that makes it impossible to accomplish sensible goals. One can argue about the goals, but regardless of the goals, it’s very difficult to get a lot done in this situation.
HH: I think he may be the longest serving defense secretary in the history of the department, which goes back a long way when it was called the department of war. Will he be considered a great one, Mark Steyn?
MS: I think he’ll be regarded as a transformative defense secretary. And I may say that I think this was a disgusting thing to do to him, by the way, to in a sense, validate the view of al Qaeda, that this was a repudiation of Bush and the war, by tossing Rumsfeld overboard within a few hours of the final results. So I think that was shameful, and it makes the President look small, and it’s unworthy of him, I think.
HH: What was the think you quoted on your blog from Harold McMillan?
MS: It was the line…when Harold McMillan had a cabinet reshuffle in Britain forty years ago, he got into a bit of difficulty, and he sacrificed several senior cabinet ministers. And Jeremy Thorpe stood up in the House of Commons, liberal party spokesman, stood up in the House of Commons, and said greater love hath no man than to lay down his friends for his life.
MS: The President gave the implication of laying down his friend, Don Rumsfeld, for his own political life, and I just think that’s unworthy of him.
HH: Speaking of unworthy, the House Republicans are rushing back to D.C. next week to elect the leadership. Now that strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed to rush to elect leadership after getting a drubbing. What do you think?
MS: I agree with you. They give the impression, a lot of the time, that they’re just hacks who are sort of disconnected from the wider political market. That’s why the Republicans did so badly. You know, people are furious with the Congressional Republicans.
MS: I’m not talking about Democrats. I’m talking about Republicans are furious with Republicans.
MS: And a period of reflection, in which they attempt to sit and understand just why the base is furious with them, is very important. As I said, New Hampshire’s entire House…I mean, we’ve only got two Congressional seats in the House anyway, but both of them flipped over to blue state status, and nobody expected that one of those seats, at least…I mean, we knew one was slightly wobbly a week or two before hand, but the other one was a total surprise that came out of nowhere, around ten o’clock in the evening. And I think to just say oh, well, we’ll get rid of this bunch of people, and elect that bunch of people, that’s not what’s needed in the Congressional leadership at the moment.
HH: I agree with that. And the process that they’ve adopted, you know, just get 200 members in a room, and throw up three names, and we’ll take secret ballots, does not allow for, well, the people who sent them there to have any kind of impact, or for a vetting of anyone outside of the small number of people in the room. But if it is going to be Boehner or Pence or Joe Barton, Mark Steyn, have you ever even seen Joe Barton?
MS: (laughing) No.
HH: I think I may have. I just…I wouldn’t recognize him if I bumped into him on the street. That’s not…
MS: And I mean, I think that is the point, Hugh, that really, these people need to reconnect. The story of this election is that people, for all kinds of incompatable reasons, people are disgusted with the Republican leadership. And to just sort of say oh well, we’re going to talk amongst ourselves, and we’ll present you with a de facto new leadership, is the wrong way to handle it.
HH: I agree with that. Now on the Senate side, I’m getting a lot of e-mail, both pro and con, about a column I wrote yesterday, and it was posted last night on why we lost. And it has to do with the Gang of 14, and it has to do with John McCain, and stomping on our momentum at the end, and it has to do with that Warner-Frist resolution of last December or November, when they undercut the President. Is the anger just at the House? Or does John McCain get a big portion of it?
MS: No, I think there is clear anger at the Senate, too, in the sense that Republican Senators, I think, are always less popular with the base than the Republican House are, and I think John McCain is a controversial figure. You know, John McCain, this so-called independent streak, the base doesn’t like it, because what it boils down to, his so-called independence, is telling you who can and who can’t express a political opinion in the six weeks before an election. So in a sense, the guns crowd, the abortion crowd, the whole bunch of them just don’t like him on a kind of…the fact that he’s basically silencing them, in what they regard as an unconstitutional manner. And I think this sort of stitch up deal is actually part of that, that the deal, in fact, has turned out to be a disaster for the Republicans in the Senate.
HH: Yes, it was. Now I’ll talk to Tony Snow about this after the break. Judges, they might be able to stop the Democrats from doing really stupid things, and the President will be able…I was with Reagan during the time that he was in opposition, and so I know you can work with an opposition Congress. You can get stuff done. But you can’t get judges past Patrick Leahy. And a Supreme Court meltdown will be like Bork II. Should we be looking forward to that?
MS: No, we shouldn’t. And in fact, Pat Leahy, I think, and I blush to speak ill of him, as I’m actually in Vermont at the moment.
MS: But I think we saw Pat Leahy behave in the months after September 11th, when he was chair of the Judiciary Committee, and in the Senate. The Democrats still controlled the Senate at that point, in that Fall of 2001. And he did not behave in any kind of serious responsible or bipartisan manner, all the usual stuff, in that period. And if they didn’t get that kind of attention from him in the Fall of 2001, they’re certainly not going to get it five years later.
HH: Do you expect Bush to stand and fight for conservative judges? Or to go along to get along?
MS: I’m worried. I mean, the tone of the press conference was go along to get along, and it seemed almost explicitly designed to aggravate the base even more by talking about the great possibilities of getting some kind of immigration deal, or illegal immigration deal, amnesty deal. I don’t think that is what the base wants to hear right now.
HH: How about the idea, though, that he’s playing rope-a-dope, that he knows, and I know, and you know, they’re not going to be able to keep their happy face on, the Democrats. They’re not going to be able to control their outlandish left wing loonies, and…
MS: Well, well, I think this idea that there’ll be…oh, Nancy Pelosi’s going to be such a disaster that it’ll be a Republican landslide in 2008, I think you’d be surprised. With a friendly media, and Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid biting their tongues when it suits their purpose, you’ll be seeing a lot of stories about the change of tone in Washington in the New York Times and the Washington Post suddenly appearing. This idea that they’ll fall flat on their face, and the Republicans will come sweeping back in, in 2008, that’s a false comfort. That’s almost as absurd as the other straws that were clutched at during the last couple of months.
HH: (laughing) So we have no straws at all, huh?
MS: Well, no. You’ve got to find a better straw. You need to build a better straw. When the camel’s back is broken, you need a really tough straw to pull it out of a swamp, to mangle all my Arabic metaphors.
End of interview.