National Review’s Jim Geraghty joined me today to discuss the race to succeed Eric Cantor:
HH: Joined now by Jim Geraghty of National Review, where he blogs at the Corner. He is also the author of the book, The Weed Agency which was not sent to me pre-publication, and therefore, we’re not going to talk about how wonderful it is, and how everyone’s laughing about it and says it’s a great book, and it’s an amazing buy, and it will make your summer reading list, because The Weed Agency was, everybody else in America got The Weed Agency, but Jim Geraghty treated the Hugh Hewitt Show staff and host the way that Eric Cantor treated his voters.
JG: (laughing) You know, Hugh, I really don’t think that’s fair. I was going to bring a copy and hand-deliver it to you the next time I guest hosted.
HH: Oh, that’s, you’re…
JG: And that was like, when was that? When was that, the last time I guest hosted?
HH: That was a couple of years ago. It was before you began The Weed Agency. But you know what Frank Luntz says. If you say the name of a book seven times in the course of an interview, you’ve sold copies. So we’ll say The Weed Agency, The Weed Agency, The Weed Agency a lot. There, I hit my numbers.
JG: Is it an incantation?
HH: It is.
JG: We’re now hypnotizing listeners…
HH: The Weed Agency.
JG: You’ll buy The Weed Agency.
HH: All right, I am going to put everything aside and focus on what is the most important week in the future of the Republican Party for the next two years, because they’re going to pick their leader, that leader is going to become the Speaker, and that’s going to profoundly impact America’s future. I mean, this is huge. So I want to ask you just a couple of questions, not what you would do, but what you analytically think. If you were a member of Congress and you wanted the more conservative member, would you vote for Hensarling or McCarthy?
JG: Hensarling, although I’ve got to tell you, I, it’s not that I completely disagree with your assessment, Hugh, but I think is this deep, deep inside baseball, and most, I mean, for the next week or two, it’s going to get covered like crazy, like Game of Thrones, and then there’ll be all this behind the scenes maneuvering. And to most voters, it’s going to be some Republican guy replacing another Republican guy.
HH: That’s true.
JG: Unless, you know, I don’t think any of these guys has an incredibly dynamic media profile that will all of a sudden turn people’s heads and all that stuff. I think unfortunately, a lot of the perception of House Republicans is kind of baked in the cake of the circumstances of being the opposition party, and not necessarily the personality quirks of a Cantor or a Boehner, or any of that stuff.
HH: That’s true, but as a matter of…
JG: Now it may make me a remarkable cynic right here.
HH: Well, you would be cynical, but just as a matter of fact, whoever is in that job will have a profound impact. They will negotiate with the President. They will be the guy who cuts the deal, and so, along with John Boehner. And so this matters enormously to tone and everything else. So second question, if you wanted the more able communicator, both in terms of ability and then in terms of willingness to engage, would you pick Hensarling or McCarthy?
JG: I think it’s a close call. I think I’d probably be like McCarthy in leadership has already not been a terribly high-profile or dynamic voice. So I’d go with Hensarling just to see how he does in the position.
HH: If you wanted a better policy wonk, Hensarling or McCarthy?
JG: I’ll go with Hensarling, but again, I don’t see this as being eons apart between these two guys.
HH: And on the question of national security/Defense and generally being a hawk, who is more of that, Hensarling or McCarthy?
JG: I’m going to actually say I don’t think I know enough about the distinctions between the two of them on those particular issues to give you a really good answer, Hugh.
HH: All right, based on what…
JG: I’m violating the pundit code here when you don’t know something. But I’m going to say that actually, I don’t know.
HH: The pundit code is frequently wrong, never in doubt, but you have done that. But now let me ask you the toughest one of all. Objectively, just flat-out not what Jim Geraghty would hope for or not hope for, but just objectively, would the Republican Party both in the House and across the country be better off if John Boehner announced right now he wasn’t running again for Speaker, and that in fact, this election next week is pretty much a dry run for who will be the next Speaker?
JG: Yeah, actually, I think I agree with that, Hugh. And one of the reasons is that for the past year, there have been rumors about whether or not Boehner wants to come back. Clearly, I think, you know, when you see him blowing off steam and kind of making snarky remarks about what some members of his caucus, undoubtedly, he’s got a very difficult job, but I think the job is weighing on him, and maybe he kind of feels like he’s, you know, herding cats all day long. If he doesn’t intend to run for Speaker, my attitude would be, you know, let everybody know as soon as possible, and you know, let people throw their hats into the ring, because then it would make this, then all the hype and the coverage of this would make consequences, because you’re right, this is undoubtedly the person who’s going to be the voice of the opposition, and possibly Mitch McConnell, depending on how the Senate plays out in November, for the remainder of Obama’s presidency. Now the thing is I have this feeling that Boehner does want to step away, but I think that you know, for whatever reason, he doesn’t want to announce it now, because the moment he does, he becomes a lame duck and nobody wants to listen to him anymore.
HH: Now I have posted over at Hughhewitt.com an open invitation to any House member seeking to be majority leader or Whip. I’ll give them an hour for, in essence, an interview with the public so that the public can tell their House members what they think. Do you think any of them will accept that?
JG: I think based on their media profiles so far, and your astute assessment of how little talk radio Eric Cantor did, I think a lot of them won’t take it up. I think they’d be fools if they didn’t take it up, because I think, I was going to say, look, people knew who, the general public kind of knew who Boehner was. They kind of knew who Cantor was. And after that, it was just a blur of white guys in suits. And I think if you’re going to be majority leader, if you’re going to be House Speaker, you’re not just a committee chairman. You’re not just somebody who’s going on the Sunday shows once in a while. You are the face and the voice of the opposition, and a good portion of this audition should be how do you do this, how do you look when you’re up against Debbie Wasserman-Schultz on the Sunday shows, or if you’re on the cable networks or something like that. You have to be a leader of the party, not just a leader of the caucus.
HH: You have to have…
JG: And you know, not, right now, none of these guys are blowing the doors off me in terms of their ability to fire up a crowd and be the kind of guy who could blow the roof off the stadium at the convention in Cleveland in 2016.
HH: Amen on the convention in Cleveland. You have to have energy, in other words.
HH: And you’ve got to be able to display that energy and be, enjoy your job, love your job, love leading, being Jack Kemp, in essence.
JG: Yeah, a lot of these guys, and I think particularly in the class of 2010, they went in there with it. And kind of year by year, the process, it just kind of grinds you down to the point where you know, you get on a Sunday show, and you’re talking, well, Approps through the Ag Committee, and again, you start speaking in jargon, and you begin talking about process, and you don’t talk about values, and you don’t talk about ideas. And you just kind of become just kind of assimilated into the collective. You just kind of lose your identity and distinctiveness as a leader.
HH: Would you make an open invitation as well, Geraghty, to interview them for the Morning Jolt, each of them that was going to put their head in?
JG: Probably. I think the single most important thing is so what makes you different? What makes you unique, since everybody else is, you know, going to be saying look, they’re all reasonably good Republicans.
HH: Have you read The Weed Agency? Don’t go anywhere. I’ve got to go to a break. You should also ask them have you read The Weed Agency.
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HH: …with Jim Geraghty of National Review, the man who did not send me his brand new book, The Weed Agency, in time to read it before it actually published, like he did basically, I think, the fellow who was running the public access channel in Santa Barbara got a copy of The Weed Agency, and Hugh and Duane did not get a copy of The Weed Agency. But I don’t really remember these sorts of slights. That’s why I’ve only brought up a few times that Eric Cantor hasn’t done the show in two years.
JG: Well, you know, I think your ire is better directed at Cantor, although for the next book, Hugh, I promise, I will actually implant something in my brain so that you get updates as I think of it. It will come across the stream on your computer, and you’ll be able grab…
HH: It’s an app. Do an app.
JG: Yes, it’s an app.
HH: Okay, so I want to go back to, because I think it would be wonderful if the guys who want this job would talk to the people who are their surrogates for communicating. And so I would sit down with you, I would sit down with Costa, with Kristol and Barnes, I would sit down with David Drucker, with Philip Klein, with Guy Benson. I would be interviewing for the job by interviewing with the people who carry the message.
JG: Yeah, without the infrastructure, treat it as if it’s a presidential campaign, not so much because the person who’s going to be in that job has to have the duties of the president, but that basically, for at least two years, you’re going to be going toe to toe with the President. And the President obviously has his megaphone and has his, the bully pulpit and all of that. And you know, for whatever you think of John Boehner, whatever you think of Eric Cantor, neither one of these guys are exactly Allen West when it comes to firing up a crowd. And you know, I think that’s one of the reasons that drives a good portion of the irritation of the grassroots. We can argue whether it’s valid or not. I think you can overstate the value of communication and all of that stuff in the role of being House Speaker or House Majority Leader, but God, it’s part of the job. Really, I mean, like we’ve kind of had weak tea in this category for quite a while, no pun intended.
HH: We have not, and we’ve been whipped upside and down the other. Last question, did you like Eric Cantor? I don’t, I have only met him once. I mean, I just don’t have any personal feeling, no animus towards him, but did people like him?
JG: Yeah, I interviewed him, I think, twice, which is not, which is, he seems strangely, not unfriendly, but certainly not, you would have thought I was from the Washington Post or Politico, or some other venue that was out to kneecap him. And you know, I’m very rarely out to, you know, clobber somebody like that.
HH: Then that tells me a lot, though.
JG: I don’t know if he’s been burned in the past or what it is, but yeah, there’s not a lot of…
HH: It tells me a lot. It tells me that he doesn’t know conservative media, because you’re like the nicest guy out there. You don’t kneecap anybody, except me when it comes to sending The Weed Agency around.
JG: Yeah, I save it for people who deserve it, Hugh.
HH: All right. Geraghty the Indispensible…
JG: So yeah, this is a guy who when he found himself in this tougher primary fight than some expected, he didn’t have a huge, you know, deep reservoir of admiration, really, oh, come on, we can trust Eric Cantor, he’s our guy. There was none of that. And I think your assessment last night that he spent a lot of time being warm and fuzzy with the donor class, and not necessarily with the activist class, well, sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with you.
HH: Jim Geraghty, it’s always a pleasure, even if you do slight us all the time. We love talking to Jim Geraghty of National Review. Read his blog over at Campaign Spot at the National Review Online.com.
End of interview.