Meet the Press host Chuck Todd joined me this morning to discuss Donald Trump’s very tough week:
HH: I’m joined now by Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press, political director of NBC News. And Chuck, I will see you on set on Sunday. I’m beginning to feel like the Republican insurance adjustor who’s called to the scene of every Republican disaster and has to assess the damage. It’s, Karl Rove said the worst two weeks for a major party nominee that he can remember. Do you agree?
CT: I do. I mean, two weeks, two days, six days, you sit here and you’re just, I don’t know if you saw the list we compiled yesterday, but it was, it was stunning in the 36 hour period after he sort of kept fueling this fight with the Khans, it was just everything was all over, like any one thing could have been disastrous – how he handled receiving a Purple Heart to the sitting president of the United States calling him unfit for office, to you know, a guy like Michael Hayden, who I know you respect a lot, who just can’t bring himself to call him a fit commander-in-chief. I mean, there were just so many things that are falling apart here, to the party just wondering what to do, I can’t tell you the number of conversations I had with people that would shock you, Hugh, and I’ll be you that you had them, too, who are thinking well, maybe we can convince him to withdraw. And you’re sitting there going what? It’s August.
HH: Yeah, I think abdication. I’ve been joking about abdication this morning…
HH: …that if they agreed to make Donald, Jr. or Ivanka the nominee, maybe he would abdicate. And I don’t think that’s going to happen. You neglected Meg Whitman not endorsing him.
CT: I know. Well, that’s the thing. You can’t keep up with it all.
HH: So on the other hand, I’ve talked this week with your colleague on the Sunday shows, John Dickerson…
HH: Eliana Johnson and Charles C.W. Cooke of National Review, Glenn Thrush of Politico, David Drucker of Washington Examiner. They all say he can still win. Reagan was in a deeper hole in 1980. Do you agree with that, Chuck Todd, he could still win?
CT: No. I don’t know how he can win right now. I mean, I just, you can say he can always fix it, he could always do this. Here’s the thing. Generic Republican should be ahead right now. Generic Republican would be ahead 8-10 points right now, I actually believe. I truly believe that. So generically, that’s why, you know, when you do these, when you do these forecasts, right, and you ask anybody oh, you say yes, anybody can defeat Hillary Clinton. Anybody can win this. Well, maybe not anybody. Maybe Donald Trump is the one who cannot.
HH: Permanently damaged? Permanently brand damaged?
CT: And I think, I cannot, here’s the problem I get to when I try to figure out, and I put a path up on Meet the Press on Sunday of how Trump gets to 270 without Florida and without Virginia and without North Carolina, and it’s a path that would seem plausible – wins Michigan, wins Wisconsin, wins New Hampshire, wins Iowa, basically you know, runs the table in the norther tier of the country. Except there’s no evidence that he is doing well in Michigan or Wisconsin. I heard about, you’ve seen some of these swing state polls today. And by the way, next week is going to be worse, and I think here’s the thing. How does he handle this? I can tell you that’s the conversation I had. I had one of the most interesting conversations I had yesterday is this fear they had of how will Trump handle the state polls that’ll come out next week? This week, it’s the national polls that show the bounce. Next week, we’ll have a whole bunch of state polls that basically echo the bounce, but it’ll be like a, it’ll feel like a machine gun fire at him, right? Florida 10, Virginia 11, you know, it’ll just come. How does he handle that moment?
HH: Does he, in other words, how will he handle the prospect of being George McGovern?
CT: Yes. Yes, and then like, and that could create a new, a new meltdown. And that’s like an extra fear of what, geez, what could next week look like? You know, and what happens if an Olympian attacks him during the Olympics? You know, does he respond to them the way he responded to the Khan family? And then it ends up, you know, there are all sorts of all of a sudden land mines that I’ve been talking with people, that they just see in the next ten days, that think oh, my God, if we think this week was bad, you know, what if he reacts wrong to the polls? What if he acts wrong to a criticism from an Olympian? What if he acts, you know, there are, all of a sudden, they see problems around every corner. And that’s what happens when you have a candidate…
HH: Well, you are the first person to say out loud what many people have told me off the record, which is he cannot win. Now earlier today, just last hour, I finished an emotional interview with Dorothy Woods, the widow of Ty Woods, and who I’ve known for a number of years. But she has been very, very quiet. She hasn’t said much. I want to play for you a couple of her comments. This switches subjects, but you’ve been covering the Khan story very closely, and the Purple Heart story. Let me play for you, this is Dorothy Woods on the Khans.
DW: I believe that Major Khan was an American first that day, and that’s very important.
HH: Dorothy Woods…
DW: My issue…
HH: Okay, go ahead.
DW: So my issue here is I believe that the Khans are only public because they are Muslim. And to me, that sends the wrong message that they are more important than the rest of us. No loss is more or less important than the other.
HH: So Chuck Todd, is the media overplaying the Khan story? Or is it Donald Trump’s fault that they have received this much attention vis-à-vis other Gold Star families?
CT: You know, I hate getting into media critique. It always, I always believe that, I do now believe that the media over-covers everything, okay, and I know this is a weird thing to say, and it’ll sound like a copout to some people. But I do feel like every story now, I always this. One of my frustrations in covering in all stories we cover is once the media chooses to cover a story, once one network does and then every other network decides ooh, that network was smart, we should cover it, too, we go from the correct level of coverage to saturation. There was a point where you thought, when Tuesday came, you’re like okay, why are we still, you know, you do get to a point where it felt like geez, are we doing, why is this story keeps getting dragged out? But Trump did nothing to help slow it down.
HH: That’s it. Now I also…
CT: And I think ultimately, that’s the thing. You have to understand all stories are over-covered and get saturated in coverage once you hit a certain point right now in our media environment. So it is incumbent on the people that are involved in the story if they don’t want it, that they have to help stop it.
HH: That they have to put it down. The one thing I did not like, I do do media criticism, is I thought the Purple Heart story was badly covered. This is what Dorothy Woods had to say about that.
DW: Well, I was disturbed that he was criticized for accepting the Purple Heart. Some have said that he should not have accepted it. As someone who has actually served, I understand what it means to give your award to someone. This is what men and women in military do. This is, they feel very strongly about this. It’s an honor to give your award to another. And for Mr. Trump, quite frankly, to not have accepted it would have been an insult. Now personally, when Ty died, men left their tridents on his coffin. They have, and still do leave, their awards at his grave. You know, in fact, someone left a Silver Star at his gravesite. And for them, it’s an honor, and more importantly, it’s for them to recognize him and his sacrifice. It’s more an honor, it’s more important for them to honor him than to have that honor for themselves. So that’s how I feel about it.
HH: So Chuck, was it, I just didn’t think it was fair. He got the Purple Heart. He may have been inelegant in accepting it, but that should have been covered as an honor, not as a pratfall.
CT: Yeah, I think it was more covered through the prism of Trump. And look, I thought that was wonderfully put, and it’s very true. I mean, you know, I know how my family has dealt with some of their medals. And it is, it means a lot to them to give them to other people
CT: So I think the criticism was about how, you know, the problem is Trump, Trump doesn’t know how to, Trump lacks a humility gene.
HH: That’s exactly, yes.
CT: You know, ultimately, and you know, and if you think about it…
CT: The humility gene is probably what has gotten him into more trouble than any, the lack of one, than any other issue, because it’s actually at the root of most of the problems, right? He can’t just bring himself to say you know, to just say you know, I’m not going to criticize a Gold Star family. He can’t, it is, he couldn’t, and even on the Purple Heart, you know, it is sort of one of those, like the last thing you say is you know, I’ve always wanted one of these. I’m glad I didn’t have to wait in line.
HH: Yeah, you say thank you.
CT: You know, you say thank you.
HH: I’m humbled.
CT: I mean, because yes, it’s just…
HH: I’m honored. We have one minute, Chuck Todd.
HH: I still believe events are in the saddle. I still believe the election could turn.
HH: But in your reporting, is there serious conversation about Trump stepping aside?
CT: Well, is there serious conversation? Not with Trump, and not with the campaign. Is, what I am saying is I am stunned at what I call the, like, hope springs eternal strategy among some Republicans. Well, maybe we can convince him to get out. What that tells me is they know that it’s unrealistic to say okay, we can have the big meeting and convince him to change, convince him to tone it down, convince him, you know, he’s not going to do that. So I think that’s what that, I think that’s where all that chatter comes from. Well, maybe we can convince him to quit. Well, you know what? I’ve heard that for a year.
HH: Not gonna happen.
CT: How about you, Hugh?
HH: Yeah, I will see you on Sunday. Who’s the featured guest, Chuck?
CT: Thank you, buddy.
HH: Have you booked it, yet?
CT: Well, it’s a big one. Looks like it’s a good one, but I can’t say it, yet.
HH: All right, see you on Sunday. If it’s Sunday, it’s Meet the Press, and I’ll be there.
End of interview.