HH: We’re playing this to honor the worst debate in television history, the Howard the Duck/Heaven’s Gate of CNBC debates that was last night, absolutely rock bottom, nationally-televised debate ever. We’ll find out whether my first guest, Mark Steyn, Columnist To the World, agrees with me. You can read everything Mark writes at www.steynonline.com. Hello, Mark, what did you make of last night?
MS: Well, you are right. Those moderators were pathetic. And as Ted Cruz pointed out, it would have been interesting to see them put those kind of sneering questions to Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. But they never do. They never do. And this was even worse, normally, people expect that. But the big mainstream liberal media guys, if you think of when George Stephanopoulos asked his question about contraceptives last time around in 2012, they at least phrase it in the sort of veneer of neutrality and objectivity and all the rest of it. These guys were openly sneering. And I don’t know why. Nobody had ever, I’d never heard of, I don’t know, I’ve never heard of anyone on CNBC except Larry Kudlow. And these, CNBC needed Donald Trump and Ben Carson a lot more than Donald Trump and Ben Carson needed to be on their rinky-dink little network being asked whether they were a comic book villain, and should homophobes be allowed to shop at Costco. So you’re right. I think this was actually, even by the pathetic standards of these presidential debates, no disrespect, this was a stinker, an absolutely stinker.
HH: Let me go to the Cruz moment that you referred to, cut number two:
TC: This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions – Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain, Ben Carson, can you do math, John Kasich, will you insult two people over here, Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign, Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen. How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?
HH: Now Mark Steyn, on two levels, and we’ll talk about the substance, but there is art in that response. There is a man who’s litigated successfully nine times before the Supreme Court, who managed without taking notes to retain every personal attack, reframe them, repackage them, repurpose them into a counterattack on the panel expertly. It was actually art.
MS: Yeah, and that’s the Ted Cruz I like, Hugh, that the criticism of Ted Cruz this election cycle has been he, that he’s been too canned and too rehearsed, and he uses his talking points. And when he does that, he can come over as a bit unctuous and oleaginous. But when you just let him rip impromptu like this, as you say, what gave it force was that he remembered with absolute specificity all the stupid questions that these boneheads had wasted America’s time with. And that’s the Ted Cruz that is absolutely great, and he transformed that debate, because then what happened is that Marco Rubio went and did his line, and Chris Christie did his line about how even in New Jersey what you’re doing would be considered rude. And the only one, the only, the ones who survived the debate, and well, and then Donald Trump in his windup said that as an example of his great negotiating skills, he’d managed to talk CNBC down to two hours so they could all get the hell out of there. And every single candidate on that panel smiled and cheered at that line. And so the ones who won, I think, picked up on the Cruz dynamic, and the ones who lost were the ones who didn’t participate in that. And I would say Jeb Bush and Kasich and Rand Paul, because once Ted Cruz did that, everyone wanted to get a piece of that action.
HH: Let me come back to Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio in a moment. Let me play you the Christie, for the audience who was not listening, this the Christie interjection, cut number four, John Harwood is interrupting him, and this is, his response is actually more than just being interrupted on this occasion, cut number four:
JH: You said something that many in your party do not believe, which is that climate change is undeniable, that human activity contributes to it, and you said, “The question is what do we do to deal with it?” So what do we do?
CC: Well, first off, what we don’t do is do what Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and Barack Obama want us to do, which is their solution for everything – put more taxes on it, give more money to Washington, D.C., and then they’re fix it. Well, there’s no evidence that they can fix anything in Washington, D.C.
JH: What should we do?
CC: What we should do is to be investing in all types of energy, John, all types of energy. Now I’ve laid out…
JH: In government?
CC: No, John, John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer, because I’ve got to tell you the truth. Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.
HH: So Mark Steyn, when he says what you’re doing in New Jersey is called, it’s not just that interruption. It was the culmination of two hours of attack journalism.
MS: Yes, and that even when it wasn’t attack journalism, was deeply stupid. To me, the most instructive moment of the night, Christie had a good night. I mean, I don’t know whether that will enable him to win the nomination or anything, but he had a good night. And he was particularly good when he shoved that stupid fantasy football question down the throats of those guys. I mean, for a start, when you come out sneering, you can’t then do the cute questions, because nobody likes you. You know, you’ve come out as an unfair, biased, petty, sneering moderator. So I’m not going to play cute, little games about fantasy football as if I was a guy sitting at a bar sharing a beer with you, because I just want to break the glass over your head and ram it up into your face. And they’re quite right, Christie was quite right to hurl that question back at him. And again, by comparison with Jeb Bush playing along with the stupid question, it illustrated the strengths of those candidates who could think on their feet, and the weakness of those who can’t think on their feet.
HH: Now I have sympathy for people who sit on that side of the panel, having done it. It takes a lot of work and a lot of preparation. But I hold out as a record of achievement that no one was talking about me after the debate. That ought to be the objective of a moderator, is that you are forgotten. Perhaps your question are remembered, and the exchanges they prompt, but moderators ought never to be the topic. They fail if they’re the topic after the debate.
MS: Well, people say that, but at the same time, you know, a lot of these guys think that the audience is interested in them. In other words, the audience isn’t interested in Donald Trump. The audience is interested in seeing how Donald Trump interacts with this guy, Harwood, or whoever he is. And the fact of the matter is that that isn’t true.
HH: It’s not true.
MS: And it’s particularly not true for Republicans. I mean, in fairness to CNN, they did have you in that debate. But the fact of the matter here is that this was a debate constructed entirely on stupid, pointless, time-wasting, on Democrat terms that waste the opportunity to introduce these candidates to the country. And shame on the RNC, by the way, that’s threatened to, that threatens to take delegates away from candidates who do unscheduled debates, and then schedules these debates with organizations that do not serve the interests of their voters.
HH: Although I suggest to you, Mark, it may have been a rope-a-dope strategy that Reince and Sean Spicer came up to permanently brand the MSM as the enemy. Let me close by talking about the one major journalistic fail yesterday. Marco Rubio out and out called Hillary Clinton a liar, and took on the narrative of last week, and I agree with him. She did not have a great week. She had a terrible week, and it ended worse at the VA when she said that scandal was not as widespread as people had thought. And he called her a liar. Do you know, no one followed up on that? You have a presidential candidate calling the contender a liar on national security matters.
HH: And they never said boo about it.
MS: No, no, and that would actually, that would actually have been, and again, I think the one thing about Rubio is he is extremely nimble in getting in those line, and getting in the points he wants to make. And he, I think in that sense, he had a great night. But as you say, everybody has just pretended as if he did not say, apart from Charlie Rose getting on his high horse about it with Rubio this morning, people just want that to go away as if it never happened.
HH: But she wrote Chelsea, she wrote the Egyptian foreign minister, she wrote the Libyan prime minister that it was not the video, it was the al Qaeda attack.
HH: And she is exposed, you know, we’ve got a minute left, Mark Steyn. Mike Pompeo on this program yesterday said the damage was below the waterline, I’m paraphrasing, but it was done, no matter what she says about her 11 hours of testimony. Do you agree?
MS: Yeah, if you just put that timeline up, that at 10:30, she tells America that it’s the video, and whatever it is, 40 minutes later, she’s emailing Chelsea that it’s some kind of al Qaeda group, and then a couple of hours after that, she’s on the phone to the Egyptian prime minister telling him it’s nothing to do with the video, it’s the point I made last week. She lied to the American people.
HH: And people will not forget that, and I’m glad Marco Rubio pointed it out last night. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure to begin a Thursday with you, www.steynonline.com, America, for everything Mark writes and thinks. Don’t go anywhere.
End of interview.