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Mark Steyn’s Debate Reaction

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The transcript:

HH: I’m joined to continue that conversation, as I am on Thursdays when I am lucky, by Columnist To the World, Mark Steyn. Mark Steyn, the first thing I want to ask you, since you wrote Steyn V. the Stick, global warming came up last night. What did you make of Marco Rubio’s response on that, and the general exchange on global warming?

MS: I thought it was a big disappointing that Ted Cruz didn’t get to speak on that, because Ted Cruz is far less fainthearted and apologetic about that than Marco Rubio and Co. were to my taste. In a sense, they accepted too many of, I thought, of Jake Tapper’s premises there. They all denied they were deniers, in effect, whereas Ted Cruz said oh, I’ll answer this, I’m a skeptic. And Jake Tapper cut him off and said we’ll be going to another subject. And I thought that was a bit of a shame, because I think that actually that’s a subject on which Ted Cruz would have dealt with a bit more effectively than Marco Rubio there.

HH: Now Steyn V. the Stick, do you talk about the idea that the left is actually after the economy and nothing else, because I think that’s what the general point was being made. And I think it was Rubio and Christie made that argument, right?

MS: Yes, and I think that’s the case, and they’re in fact more and more open about this. There’s this thing that so-called activists have just launched this week called The Leap Manifesto, which is basically saying that in order to save the planet, we have to abandon capitalism. We have to abandon a free market economy. And in that sense, it’s the biggest, most sentiment…it’s dangerous, because it’s the most sentimental pretext for big government that’s ever been devised. There’s nothing that you can’t claim is covered by the environment. The environment is a term, is essentially a meaningless term for everything that’s all around us. And I think in that sense, it is dangerous, and I would have liked a little bit of a more coherent pushback on that subject, particularly after all the time spent on, you know, he said something rude about your face, what do you think of your face type stuff. It was actually a shame that poor, old Ted Cruz never got to give his answer on that.

HH: Now I have been spending all day on Twitter, but not able to talk about this, because I’ve been on an airplane telling people no, I’m not upset with how many questions I got. I understand what Jake’s problem was, which is you have 11 people. He’s the quarterback. We’re wide receivers. We split out. We get a couple of questions. I have a ranking in my head, Mark Steyn, as to who won that, and who came, who got the gold, who got the silver, who got the bronze. I’d like to hear what you think.

MS: Well, I don’t have any problem with your questions, Hugh. I had a problem with your answer when Donald Trump said hey, am I the greatest interview in the world.

HH: Oh, I’m sorry, Mark (laughing).

MS: And you said oh, yeah, no question about it. What am I, Hillary Clinton’s gefiltefish? I mean, give me a break here.

HH: (laughing)

MS: But that aside, I think, you know, the question here, Hugh, I think, at the time of the last debate, which was only a few weeks ago, people assumed that Donald Trump’s appearance was some kind of freak show, and that at a certain point, it was going to settle down and become a normal Republican primary. And I think it’s clearly now that actually, that is not going to happen. And if you look at it in terms of what it was an hour before the debate began, the two frontrunners were Trump and Carson. And the beneficiary of the debate, at least from the professional pundit class’ point of view, has been Carly Fiorina. And in a sense, all these Senators and Governors have to face the fact that it’s, between now and Iowa and New Hampshire, it’s not going to be a normal Republican primary, and that takes us into fascinatingly uncharted territory, I think.

HH: I give the gold to Carly as well. How about someone who came in second place on the podium?

MS: Well, you know, I think people are fighting for different things. I think Chris Christie had a good night, and he had a bullish night, and he was very, in terms of, I mean, you know, Marco Rubio’s stilted water joke, Scott Walker I thought had a disastrous night. And then if you had people who say that line that always annoys me, I was proud to lead the fight to whatever, and I think in terms of that, Chris Christie was the most real of the political class on that stage. But whether people actually are willing to consider him as a president, I don’t know. But he did have, he had a good night, certainly when compared to fellows like Scott Walker or Rand Paul, who was sort of in danger of dropping off the edge, I thought.

HH: Well, I do think Rand Paul is in danger of dropping off the edge. We’ll see what the polls say. But I don’t agree with you on Walker, only because I think it plays so well in Iowa and small town America to be Midwestern reserved. I just think there’s a different audience that you and I live with that listens and views it differently, and that slow and steady does win some races. But I gave the silver to Rubio. And I just thought his pushback on me on the Syria, do you share responsibility for this, this disaster, this Hell on Earth that is erupting, was commander-in-chief-like. And I look at this, and I really was thinking throughout most of the time who was the commander-in-chief here? Who could send people into war and encourage the people at the, I think I said at the end of the spear. It should be the tip of the spear. Who could encourage them to do that? And I was impressed with Marco on that regard.

MS: Yeah, no, I think he had a good night. Oddly enough, I think he improved as the debate went on, which certainly wasn’t true of all candidates. But then, you know, it’s a funny thing to me. Right at the end, Dr. Carson got a softball, essentially, to him about autism. And it was supposed to be a question that made Donald Trump look like a complete chump and a buffoon who is anti-science and anti-medicine. And instead, Carson didn’t really take the ball and thwack it across the stadium wall. And Trump’s response, where he talked about the timeline with which we pump the babies full of vaccines turned out to be rather thoughtful. And Dr. Paul and Dr. Carson wound up agreeing with him. And it was a reminder even on not a strong Trump night, that he has this strange way of kind of defying the conventions and the laws even on something as relatively abstruse as vaccination and autism.

HH: True, that did play to him.

MS: Yeah, yeah.

HH: He actually did, he walked away unscathed.

MS: He gave a more thoughtful answer on that than on Syria, actually, or any, you know, on substantive foreign policy issues. He sounded, he had a position and he argued his position, and the position was full of specifics.

HH: The Hertz rental bus test, I get in, I drop my rental car off at LAX, get on the Hertz bus. Sitting across from me is Kenny Bayer, right? All right, I’ll give you his name. He’s a friend of Dennis Prager’s. I don’t know him. He says you did a good job last night. I’ve been recognized by more people today, because 23 million people watched this thing, than I have in my entire life, and it will be over tomorrow. They’ll forget. There’s a lot of white hair out there. Nevertheless, Kenny says good job last night. I do not contribute to presidential candidates. I contributed last night to Carly Fiorina and Marco Rubio. It was an interesting, you know, then he proceeded to tell me why, because people are looking for inspiration. And you know what’s interesting, Mark? The audience grew over three hours. It could have gone on another hour. I think people might have fallen over. Chairs would have been nice. But there is a hunger for people to talk about serious stuff.

MS: Yeah, I think because people recognize that the managed system, the narrow bounds between which presidential nominating contests have been fought in recent seasons has not been to the benefit of the country. And I think the country actually does want something, because it’s not going to have many, whether this is the last chance or whatever, Bobby Jindal was talking about that in the kiddie table debate, whether it is the last chance or not. There’s not going to be many more. And I think that’s absolutely right. I think she had a good night. The question I have is whether it’s the sort of thing, that basically, everything people said about the last debate turned out to be wrong. People said Marco Rubio had won, and he declined from, I think it was 6% to 3% in New Hampshire. People thought Trump had insulted women, and he was over. It turned out he increased his lead by 15 points or whatever it was. People thought Kasich had very artfully poised his answer between his faith and his personal compassion for same sex couples and all that. And that turned out to be irrelevant, too. And so I think we should be very wary of whether the consensus that Carly Fiorina won actually gives her anything more than two or three points in Iowa or New Hampshire. But this field will narrow, if only because you can’t have 13 members of the political class all bouncing along in single figures all the way through to Iowa and New Hampshire. Some of them, for some of them, this was their last stand, whether they knew it or not.

HH: You know, the toothpaste is going to get squeezed out of the tube, and you’ve got to roll it up eventually. And some people will be squeezed out. Mark Steyn, always a pleasure, for all of Mark’s offerings, including, you can of course get an autographed copy of Steyn V. the Stick, which you ought to do. It’s about free speech over there at

End of interview.


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