National Review editor-in-chief Rich Lowry joined me this morning to continue yesterday’s conversation with Jonah Goldberg and to assess Donald Trump’s trip to Mexico and his speech in Phoenix:
HH: I am joined now by the editor-in-chief of National Review, Rich Lowy, whose Twitter feed I was following closely throughout Donald Trump’s very good, perhaps best day of his campaign since Indiana’s primary which clinched the nomination. And Rich, who is a NeverTrumper, nevertheless was very candid throughout the day in acknowledging that Donald Trump had a very good day yesterday, Rich Lowry, and I think he surprised many, many people. Did he help himself in consolidating the 25% of the Republican vote which is not yet his?
RL: Well, the problem he has with that vote, and a lot of the rest of the vote is not necessarily issues, it’s demeanor and presidential attributes. And the meeting in Mexico was just an absolute coup in that regard. Now the speech, as an immigration hawk, I loved it on substance. I think substantively, it’s the soundest speech we’ve ever heard from a presidential nominee. But I think the tone was problematic. It was a mistake to do it in a rally setting. If you really wanted to create a different impression of himself, he should have done it in front of a think tank-like audience, and really honed it down to, you know, the ten points. So a lot of people looked at that speech, and they’re just going to go oh, well, that’s the same Donald Trump we’ve heard for a year.
HH: Now Rich, I am not an immigration hawk. I’m an immigration sparrow. I want the fence, and then I want everyone to stay. But I listened to that speech and said if I could add one paragraph to it, it’s the same speech I would give on immigration, though my tone would be different. And I think that’s effective. I think it was a speech that everyone could hear in it what they wanted to hear. But more importantly, going back to the first part, the Hillary campaign is based on he’s too dangerous to be president.
HH: Did he put a hole in that yesterday?
RL: Yeah. Yeah, I mean, it’s just priceless publicity to stand there in an international setting in a country that you’ve been quite critical of, and have an entirely respectful exchange with the president of Mexico. And I would think the impeachment proceedings against the president of Mexico are probably starting today, because it was just a priceless publicity coup.
RL: And then any softening that you thought maybe you got, you know, Trump was talking about the hemisphere down there, doing the good things for the hemisphere, were entirely gone by, you know, 8PM Central or 7PM Central, right at the top of Trump’s speech, when it’s like look, it’s going to be a beautiful, impenetrable, great wall.
HH: Before he said that, let me play for you his very opening remarks, cut number 7 in Phoenix last night, or no, it’s cut number 13:
DT: Having returned from a very important and special meeting with the president of Mexico, a man I like and respect very much, and a man who truly loves his country, Mexico, and by the way, just like I am a man who loves my country, the United States, we agree on the importance of ending the illegal flow of drugs, cash, guns and people across our border, and to put the cartels out of business. We also discussed the great contributions of Mexican-American citizens to our two countries. My love for the people of Mexico and the leadership and friendship that we have between Mexico and the United States, it was a thoughtful and substantive conservation, and it will go on for a while. And in the end, we’re all going to win, both countries. We’re all going to win.
HH: So Rich Lowry, that started the speech. I noted that a lot of people forgot that by the end of the speech, because it was so heavy on, going after criminal gangs, and it was very tough in many respects. But at the end of the day, didn’t Trump give a mainstream Republican speech last night?
RL: No, and that was the beauty of it, substantively. And again, Hugh, if you’re on board the substance of that speech, you’re not a sparrow anymore. Welcome to being a hawk. And people are really mistaking, and making a mistake by saying oh, it’s Obama’s policy just because he says he’s going to emphasize criminals first. Obama has gutted interior enforcement in this country. The idea that he’s a deporter-in-chief is based on an accounting gimmick and a new way of counting when they turn people around right at the border. That was never accounted as deportations. Now, they are. Trump is saying he’s going to bring back interior enforcement with a vengeance. This is the 100 proof Mark Krikorian immigration restrictionist agenda. You know, maybe Ted Cruz would have favored it, because he was pushed by Trump. But no one else would.
HH: Oh, I just couldn’t disagree…Mark Krikorian, I thought, was clutching at his heart yesterday, because he did not agree to a deportation force to go out and seek out illegals.
RL: No, right, well, no restrictionist has ever favored a deportation force. That was ridiculous and unsustainable. And you know, it did a disservice to all of us by making a parody of our position. This is the restrictionist agenda. And it will mean deporting a lot of people. It considers deportation entirely legitimate tool of immigration enforcement, as it should. So you know, everyone knows once you’re in the country as an illegal immigrant, you’re basically not going. The former head of ICE said that. You’re not going anywhere, and not just because of the executive orders, which are a big part of that, but just because Obama stopped doing it in general, even if he’s announced it officially. And Trump says no, we’re going to enforce the laws, reduce the population of illegal immigrants, and then we’ll talk about the remaining illegal population down the road. That’s an absolutely correct position, and if the entire Republican Party, including immigration sparrows are going to rally around that position, I think it’s great.
HH: Well, it’s interesting. It’s a Rorschach test. I listened to every word he said yesterday, because I was driving on the I-5 down to San Diego, where you know, one of the centers of the debate about immigration, thinking to myself he is making everybody happy, and that Mexican coup was a coup. Let me turn, Rich, while we have a chance, to a conversation I had yesterday with one of your colleagues at National Review, Jonah Goldberg. Have you had a chance to read that or see that?
RL: I read Jonah’s column, and I knew you took objection to it, but I didn’t follow it closely, because I was traveling yesterday.
HH: Well, we had a great conversation yesterday about what the alt right is. And if it becomes defined as Jonah wants it to be defined, I will be the happiest guy in the world. If alt right becomes to this decade what John Birch became to the 60s, I’ll be a happy guy. I don’t think we’re there, yet, yesterday, but we talked about it. And it seems to me at the end of that, after thinking about it all day long, that the real issue on the table is what is Breitbart.com? Now I knew Andrew very well. Andrew was a friend of mine. I worked closely with him. I interviewed him on the day that he died. He was very kind to me in his last major speech at the Conservative Political Action Committee, saying I’m the guy he admired the most. So I knew Andrew, and I knew the old Breitbart.com. What do you think is Breitbart.com today?
RL: I think they’re populist nationlists in the Trump style. And they overlap to some extent with the alt right. But they’re not the alt right. They’re not running articles all the time about white racial supremacy and the inferiority of blacks and all that sort of thing. Now they play much more footsie with it than I think a respectable website should, but they’re not alt right. And Donald Trump isn’t alt right. I mean, this is a guy who is out there trying to appeal to the black vote now, very shrewdly, sometimes ham-handedly, but he’s not an alt right candidate. But you know, Bannon did say that thing about Breitbart, that it’s an alt right platform, and Hillary used that as a wedge to try to pile all the vile alt right racism and anti-Semitism onto the Trump campaign.
HH: So do you think, as I do, that we ought to take efforts to define alt right as supremacist and anti-Semitic and to label people as unacceptable anywhere near conservatism or in the Republican Party, and to use that is shorthand without fear, as I have had, of labeling too many people via that?
RL: Yes, because there’s a perfectly fine label for yourself if you’re not a conventional conservative, and you’re drawn to Donald Trump, and that’s a populist/nationalist. If you’re defining yourself as alt right, you’re defining yourself with a movement that’s led by the likes of Jared Taylor, who’s a hideous racist.
HH: Okay, and so then that brings us, and that’s where Jonah and I ended, and we ran out of time, to the term cuckservative. I’ve always automatically blocked on my Twitter feed anyone who used that term for a variety of reasons. I consider it sort of a merging of the vulgar and the vile, the racist and the simply repugnant. What do you think of that term? And do people who use it necessarily have to be alt right?
RL: I have not thought about it that much. I don’t block anyone on Twitter, ever. Maybe I’m not technologically proficient enough to do it, but I ignore anyone who uses that term. And it reminds me a little bit of, you know, you’d get chicken hawk during the Iraq War.
HH: Right. Correct.
RL: So it’s just a vulgar term of abuse.
HH: It is a vulgar term of abuse, but I think it’s merging with the alt right in the supremacist term, and that way, I’m just trying to get terms defined so that the language is clarified for the benefit of everyone in the movement that we know what we’re talking about when we say alt right, when we talk about…you know, RINO is a term that’s thrown around by Tea Partiers, and I don’t care about RINO. But I…
RL: Yeah, and I imagine cuckservative, there are many people who use it knowing the racial connotation, and then there are others who use it kind of as the new RINO.
RL: And the people who use it as the new RINO should educate themselves and come up with a different vulgar insult.
HH: Agreed. Okay, now I want to close with the state of the race. The Marquette Law School poll, the standard of excellence in Wisconsin, has Hillary ahead by only three points. She has fallen two points in one week in the Real Clear Politics average of polls. And I throw out the USC/LA Times poll, because nobody knows what they’re doing over there that has Trump ahead. Is this a race, Rich Lowry?
RL: It’s a race. It’s always been a race. I was never in the it’s over camp, because usually, convention bounces come down. Now her convention bounce was exaggerated and extended by the, by Trump’s idiotic attack on the Khans, and just the horrible two or three weeks he had after the convention. But his semi-normalization of his campaign and these Judicial Watch emails and the continuing discussion of the emails have kind of Comeyed Hillary again. And the combination of those two have brought the race tighter. You know, he’s still a step or two behind, but we’ll have to see how far Hillary falls now. And then obviously, the debates become a huge, huge moment in this campaign.
HH: I was an it’s over person until a week ago. But there have been so many bad stories for Hillary, and some good moments for Donald Trump, that if they stay on these trajectories, they will cross over at some point. That comes to the debates. Who do you think ought to moderate those, Rich Lowry?
RL: I have not thought in detail about that, but it’s something that definitely should be litigated, and Trump is fully within his rights to litigate it.
HH: I personally believe Lester Holt, Chuck Todd, John Dickerson, Jake Tapper, Dana Bash, these are new faces. I don’t think any of them have ever done a presidential debate. I’m over, God bless Jim Lehrer and Gwen Ifill, but I’m over that. Do you agree with me?
RL: I think that’s a very good lineup.
HH: A very good lineup. Rich Lowry, always a pleasure from National Review. Thank you, Rich.
End of interview.