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New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg on potential cracks in the Republican Party.

Thursday, May 31, 2007
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HH: As you know, over the last couple of years, we’ve had a great relationship with the New Yorker. I somehow survived a profile by Nick Lemann. And then, Lawrence Wright’s been my guest a number of times. I’m pleased to welcome from the latest of the New Yorker writers to visit us, Jeffrey Goldberg. He’s the author of this week’s Letter From Washington. Jeffrey, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

JG: Thanks for having me.

HH: How long have you been writing for the New Yorker?

JG: About seven years.

HH: All right. Now the Letter From Washington…

JG: Seven years, and you’ve never had me on.

HH: I know. Well, I’ve only been here for six. So I’m just catching up (laughing).

JG: (laughing)

HH: I had to wait to see if Lemann like leveled me. And since we got along fine…

JG: That was a fair and balance portrayal.

HH: I loved it, and I think he liked my Weekly Standard piece that followed afterward. So we got away with sabers at three yards.

JG: Right.

HH: Party Unfaithful this week, very bracing, and I want to take people inside of it. You talked to Rove, you talked to Gingrich, you talked to Delay, you talked to a lot of Republicans, and the sub-title, the Republican Implosion…

JG: Yeah.

HH: Walk us through how long you took to write this, and how much time you spent with each of these people.

JG: I don’t know, I didn’t take that long to write it, a few days. I spent a couple of hours with Delay, an hour or so with Gingrich, very fun hour in the White House with Karl Rove, saw a bunch of people on the Hill, you know, long enough to have at least a decent conversation, talked to Grover, you know, Grover Norquist…

HH: Right.

JG: A bunch of other people…

HH: And so when you say Republican implosion, do they all, except for Rove, fall on the side that oh, woe is me, gloom and doom ahead? Or is it evenly split about the prospects for 2008, both presidential and party wide?

JG: I wouldn’t say it’s evenly split on the prospects for 2008. I think it becomes when 2012 comes up, I think the prospects, people think, are a lot better. I think that the worst of it is from Gingrich, who may or may not be self-serving in what he told me, but he thinks that 2008 is very, very hard, unless, he suggested, he’s in the race. Delay suggested to me that the thinks 2008 might be a bit tough, but 2012 is doable. I think the Jimmy…Gingrich is now, I guess, got some coverage out of this for telling me that he thinks that the Bush administration has become Carterized, basically…

HH: Right.

JG: …that they can’t do anything right. They’re in that phase where nothing goes right. But I think the Carter analogy is interesting also in looking at where the Republican party is right now. You remember in 1975, people were talking about the end of the Republican party. And Jimmy Carter sweeps in to office. Four years later, Ronald Reagan’s riding into town on his white horse. So people who were writing, you know, the obituaries are probably wrong. That said, it’s a tough moment, obviously.

HH: I’m going to take this out of…I intended to get to this later, but since Carter came up, I was struck by Gingrich’s assertion of the Carterization, when in fact, the most profound difference between Bush in ’08 and Carter in ’80, is that Bush takes very seriously the threat that Carter did not understand, the Islamist threat, that what brought Carter down was his inability to deal with Tehran, and what Bush is counting on his legacy being is a cold-eyed, if somewhat unpopular stubbornness concerning it.

JG: Well, I don’t think Gingrich was talking about their understanding of the world. I think he was talking about more of a kind of a feeling that politically, they can’t seem to get it right. And I think it was, I don’t Gingrich is quibbling with George W. Bush’s understanding of the threat. I think he’s talking about the political, what’s the word I’m looking for, political smoothness, you know, the political professionalism that would take to convince people that they’re right. Gingrich doesn’t think that Bush is wrong in his understanding of Iraq. He thinks that the administration is incompetent in pursuing the policy and explaining it.

HH: And Rove’s narrative is hey, it was the sixth year of an eight-year presidency, we got hung with Delay, we got Abramoff running around here.

JG: Yeah.

HH: We had lousy candidates in Virginia and Montana, we had a terrible candidate in Ohio, Rick Santorum, his people left and moved to Florida. It just had…Jim Talent got hit by the whole multiple sclerosis…

JG: Rove is arguing right, that it could have gone the other way.

HH: A series of unfortunate and close contests, and Gingrich is arguing what, that it was a repudiation?

JG: Gingrich is arguing more that it’s a repudiation, and Delay is arguing, Rove is arguing that certain races turned against them. Look, they’re probably both a little bit right. Democrats are probably wrong to take it as the stunning repudiation they think it is. Republicans are wrong to think that oh, you know, if we just had a better candidate in X district, it all would have worked out okay. I mean, the fact is that Iraq was an albatross. Rove wants to, wants to have you think that it’s not the executive branch’s fault what happened in 2006, it’s Congress’ fault. I think especially given the way the Foley story unfolded at the last minute, I think Rove is probably onto something there. I think since then, people’s feelings about Iraq, and if you look at the polls, at least, people’s feelings about Iraq have hardened a little bit, but I don’t think Rove is wrong to say that the Republicans in Congress bear a lot of the responsibility.

HH: I’m talking with the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Goldberg, his Letter From Washington this week about the Republican crack-up. Some people are calling it the implosion. That’s what Jeffrey called it. Going back to Gingrich for a second, one of the things that stuck me as very odd, and I want you to expand on what he was saying here, is that his analysis of the 2004 election was that it was not ideological, that they didn’t go against Kerry on ideological grounds, that they attacked his war record. While certainly the Swift Boat Veterans did, I remember quite often George Bush saying he’s on the far left side of the left bank of the mainstream. I think it was a referendum on Iraq more than anything else. Does Gingrich not recall the election in detail?

JG: Well, you’re going to have to call Gingrich and ask him that. I think Gingrich is partially right. I think he’s making an argument that helps his own personal cause. Look, I think there’s an interesting point that he’s making, though, which is maybe the Swift Boat controversy overshadowed the fact that Bush…and I recall some of these speeches as well. Bush was talking about Kerry’s ideas as being to the left of Ted Kennedy, as Gingrich put it. And you know, I don’t know, I don’t know if Bush would have done better against Kerry. I mean, Kerry was coming on a little bit stronger toward the end. And I think that Republicans who argue about Kerry’s record in the Senate have it right. He is a very liberal…I mean, it goes back to the whole question about Republican viability. Republicans are always helped by the fact, or usually helped by the fact that the Democrats nominated an inappropriate candidate for national office, and here as you know, where we’ve had the experience of a Massachusetts liberal being trounced once, and here they nominate a Massachusetts liberal again…

HH: Right, and…

JG: That’s the point. I think Gingrich is right to say that they didn’t probably hit him as hard on his beliefs as they did on the war record.

HH: They did, though, run this campaign. Let me see if you agree with this. The campaign was all about the war. That was a referendum on Iraq, and global test John Kerry on the one side, and George Bush, axis of evil on the other side. And everybody turned out…

JG: Right.

HH: …and there were more Bushies than there were Kerry people. I thought it was one of the more decisive and ideological elections since 1980.

JG: Oh, you might be right. I mean, I’m not a paid spokesman for Gingrich, God knows. So…or anyone else, I hope. But I would suggest that you get him on the phone. He talks a lot, you know, you might be able to get it out of him.

– – – –

HH: Jeffrey, a couple of quick bio details. Are you another one of these, you know, Harvard Crimson alum that have shown up in Manhattan?

JG: (laughing)

HH: Have I got your number?

JG: No (laughing).

HH: Oh, okay. Where are you from originally?

JG: I got rejected from Harvard.

HH: Oh, you did? Okay, well…

JG: Yeah.

HH: Where’d you go and write your newspaper then?

JG: I went to the University of Pennsylvania.

HH: Oh, so you went to Penn, and you wrote on the student newspaper there?

JG: Yeah, I was the editor of the paper there.

HH: You’re still an Ivy League newspaper guy.

JG: Yeah, but it’s a safety school.

HH: It’s a safety school (laughing). Oh, I’m sure the Quakers are going to love to hear that one.

JG: Well, you know, the truth is hard. What are you going to do?

HH: Not when it comes…

JG: It’s not anymore, by the way. I think it’s very, very hard to get in there now.

HH: Yes, it is, and especially if you want to go to the NCAA as an Ivy League School.

JG: Yeah.

HH: Okay, and so how long have you been, seven years with the New Yorker, what did you do after Penn?

JG: I joined the Israeli Army.

HH: Did you really?

JG: Yeah, I wrote a book about it, not that I’m touting it, but God forbid.

HH: What year was that?

JG: What year? I was in the Israeli Army during the first Palestinian uprising.

HH: Oh, my goodness. And so when did you come back to the States?

JG: 1993, ’94, something like that.

HH: And where did you go then?

JG: I went to work for a strange, little, wonderful newspaper called the Forward, which was edited by an old Wall Street Journal guy called Seth Lipsky.

HH: Oh, sure, I know the Forward and Seth Lipsky.

JG: Yeah, yeah.

HH: And from there to the New Yorker? Anything in between?

JG: There was a newspaper called the, it’s a daily newspaper out of New York by the name of the New York Times.

HH: Oh, you were at the Times?

JG: Well, I worked at the Times’ Magazine.

HH: Oh, did you give away any national security secrets during those periods?

JG: Not during that period, no.

HH: Okay, just checking. And have you ever in your life voted for a Republican for president?

JG: Wait, am I supposed to say, am I supposed to answer that question.

HH: Yes, most people do.

JG: Yeah, sure.

HH: You did? Which one?

JG: Huh?

HH: Which one?

JG: I’m not telling you that.

HH: Aw, come on.

JG: No, no.

HH: Go back far enough in time.

JG: I’m bipartisan. I’m a guy in conflict with myself.

HH: Okay, you are, obviously.

JG: Yeah, no.

HH: What do you make of Israeli politics right now?

JG: (laughing) I think George Bush is lucky that he’s not a president in Israel.

HH: Well, I know, but do you think that it’s going to be Barak in the next iteration of prime minister, or that we’re going to have Bibi back?

JG: I would tend to think Bibi, because Barak is seen as a more flawed leader than Bibi. I mean, a lot of people’s dream would be Bibi as prime minister, Barak as defense minister, which would at least, whatever you think of these guys, at least give Israeli politics some experience.

HH: So were you an infantry man, a tanker?

JG: I was a military policeman.

HH: Okay, and do you now look upon the Iraq War as a smart move, the invasion at the time it occurred, or as a disaster?

JG: Oh, you’re, you know, you don’t know my number. I was for it.

HH: You were for it? No, I don’t know your number. That’s why…if you’ve been in the IDF, I’m going to give you a chance to turn me wrong, and you were. Are you still for it? Did we do the right thing in 2003?

JG: Well, what does that mean? You know, I just had this conversation with somebody ten minutes ago. I don’t even know what the question means, are you for…I was for it when it mattered.

HH: And now?

JG: Well now, I wish we would, you know, I mean…

HH: I’m still glad we went in.

JG: I wish we would win. That would be a great thing.

HH: That would be good, but do you think history will exonerate Bush’s decision to invade?

JG: I don’t know yet. That’s the big question. It’s the Churchill question, or it’s the Truman question.

HH: It’s the Truman question.

JG: It’s the Truman question, and to just liven things up at ordinarily dull Washington dinner parties, I often say that you know, in twenty years, George W. Bush might be looked upon very fondly as a…you know, it’s interesting…

HH: I often say he’s our Truman, and it’s not going to take twenty years.

JG: Well, I don’t know.

HH: It’s going to take five.

JG: I don’t know. He could be Johnson. I mean, let’s face it. You know, let’s deal with reality.

HH: Nah, there aren’t 50,000 kids dying.

JG: I think there’s a chance fifty years from now that people will say that Iraq war, as flawed in execution as it was, was the thing that dislodged the Middle East from its stasis. I also think that things could just get worse and worse. I don’t know. But I think that there’s one interesting thing, and look, I cover Washington now, so you notice this…what is seen as stubbornness in a current president is often seen as steadfastness in ex-presidents. And I think that once the heat dies down, and the bile seeps away a little bit, people might have a slightly more balanced look at the way the Bush administration behaved. This is not to say that…

HH: And I’m talking to Jeffrey Goldfarb of the New Yorker?

JG: Berg. Goldberg.

HH: Goldberg. I’m talking to Jeffrey Goldberg of the New Yorker? This is you? A New Yorker writer is saying this?

JG: Hey, you know, what? We can’t have a democracy at the New Yorker?

HH: Well, I read Remnick, and I think to myself my gosh, they can’t possibly have a centrist there. You’re a centrist.

JG: No, I’m not a centrist. I’m a Leninist.

HH: I’ll be right back.

JG: No, you know, I’m conflicted about this. Look, I got into this for a very specific reason that people don’t understand. I spent a lot of time in Iraq before the war in Kurdistan, and I wrote a lot about the way Saddam treated the Kurds, and so…

HH: I’m coming right back.

– – – –

HH: You know, Jeffrey, the fever swamp is now going to rise up against you for A) showing up, and B) saying moderately okay things about George Bush. They came after Mark Halperin after a program here.

JG: Oh, I don’t care. Please.

HH: Do you read them?

JG: What, the blogs?

HH: Yeah.

JG: I try not to.

HH: Why?

JG: Well, I don’t know. I mean, some of them are interesting. I mean, and I mean that in a non-ideological way. I read Andrew Sullivan, I read James Taranto, I read Kevin Drum in the Washington Monthly, I read Instapundit, you know…

HH: Powerline?

JG: Powerline I look at, Little Green Footballs I look at, some of these things.

HH: Hughhewitt.com, I am trusting?

JG: And Hughhewitt, well, that’s my home page.

HH: That’s a given, okay.

JG: The…and the truth is, most of these things are well informed, and well put together, well written. I prefer, look, I work at the New Yorker, where we edit and edit and edit. I like carefully reasoned, well written stories. I’m not touting my own, God forbid, but…

HH: Hey, there’s a mistake in your story.

JG: Well, I’m sure there’s a mistake in my story. It’s 5,000 words. What mistake?

HH: I know, but what happened…when they fact checked that Nick Lemann piece on me, it went on forever. It was like the force march…

JG: It’s like a visit to the proctologist.

HH: It was, but here, you write about the Terry Schiavo law as saying they mandated that the feeding tube be…

JG: Yeah.

HH: …and it didn’t. It mandated that the courts consider it under a de novo standard.

JG: Correction noted.

HH: All right, just thought I’d throw that in there.

JG: Thank you very much.

HH: Got the New Yorker. Now I want to go back to Gingrich.

JG: Okay.

HH: He’s on a diet.

JG: (laughing)

HH: He’s on a diet, huh?

JG: I don’t know if he’s on a diet. He looks pretty good.

HH: He was eating oatmeal?

JG: The guy doesn’t age.

HH: He doesn’t?

JG: It’s very interesting, because I knew him a little bit ten years ago or more when I was writing for the New York Times Magazine. He doesn’t really age. It’s pretty…

HH: He’s got the white hair. It’s like Al Hunt. How old is Al Hunt?

JG: Looking at the white hair, if you have it at 40, or whatever he had it, I guess you just have it.

HH: Yeah, I’ve got it.

JG: And it’s a lot. It’s a very, very good head of hair.

HH: Yeah, I’ve had it since I was 40. It doesn’t work for me. But would he be a plausible candidate? This is what I wanted to come to, Jeffrey Goldberg. He sits down with the New Yorker reporter, he rips everybody in the Republican party, and he drives away from the scene of the car crash humming. I mean, that is not a presidential campaign.

JG: It’s an unusual presidential campaign. I think, I mean, look, one of the reasons reporters like him is that he’s interesting and speaks his mind, and has, is this fountain of ideas, and as the joke goes, some are good and some are bad. I don’t understand how you get from the point he’s at right now to a plausible candidate for president. I think he’s hoping that it’s the power of his ideas, and the power of his insurrection, if you will, catapults him to the top, and keep in mind something about Gingrich. It’s very interesting, and it’s very unlike even some of the main Republican, Democratic candidates. It’s every time he opens his mouth, people pay attention.

HH: Yup.

JG: Look at this article.

HH: Yup.

JG: Because people know that this is an outsized brain.

HH: And it’s unfiltered.

JG: And some of the things that come out are crazy, but…

HH: It’s unfiltered, too.

JG: He’s got a lot of free publicity coming his way if he does say stuff like that.

HH: It’s…Newt unplugged is always worth an interview. We always like to have him on. Well, let me turn to Delay, because he’s the third…it’s very interesting what you did here. You had Rove, Gingrich and Delay, and they represent the three legs of the stool of the modern Republican party, the technocratic, the intellectual and the operative. And Delay is actually the guy who made it work, and when the Democrats took him out, we lost the majority in the House.

JG: Well, that’s Delay’s viewpoint, yeah.

HH: It’s my viewpoint, too, because I mean, the trains ran on time, they delivered, and they didn’t make mistakes. And as soon as he was gone, my gosh, it was the keystone cops.

JG: Right. The issue is was it self-inflicted. He believes that the Democrats had it out for him, and did whatever they could…

HH: Oh, yeah, it was smart.

JG: …including provoking this district attorney in Texas. You know, and this is Gingrich’s criticism, and I’m not, again, you’ve already pushed me to stray more than I should, but I think that what happened in 2006 was unavoidable, given the number of ethics scandals that occurred. And look, these happened on his watch, and there’s not much you can do about that to change that fact. Look, Gingrich is bad, as we all know, at keeping power. He was good at gaining power. But he was bad at managing power. Delay was good at managing power, but he managed power by overlooking the certain indiscretions on the part of people in his caucus that came back to bite him.

HH: And giving up on the contract with America when it came to spending, you bet. But let me go back to Jeffrey Goldberg here, because I’m fascinated. IDF veteran…

JG: Kurdistan, let’s go back to Kurdistan.

HH: I do, because do you think, you’ve obviously fought on behalf of Israel against…I don’t know if you’d call it the Islamist threat at that time, but certainly against extremism.

JG: Well, Hamas was there, that’s true.

HH: Yeah, so do the Democrats get that threat, in your opinion? And did the people you talked to bring it up sua sponte? Because it’s the great dividing line in American politics. It doesn’t seem to me that it’s in this article at all.

JG: Well, I think you’re…look, the article’s about politics, but I think that you’ve got the Democrats a little bit wrong. I think people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama do get it.

HH: Any evidence of that?

JG: Do I have evidence of that?

HH: Yeah.

JG: Yeah, what they say to me. I mean, they’re not in…Hillary, certainly in her support for the military on the Armed Services Committee is…look, you’re putting me in this position where I’m defending politicians, and that’s the last thing I want to do. But I think there’s a portion of the party on the left, you know, you may call it what we used to refer to as the Howard Dean base or something…

HH: Yeah.

JG: …that downplays the threat, and they downplay it for a couple of reasons. One, if George Bush believes in the threat, therefore it must not exist…

HH: Exactly.

JG: And two, you know, they have a very, they have way of looking at the world that says that anything that happens in the world that’s wrong, that’s bad, must be our fault. It’s this kind of…

HH: Bush’s fault, Cheney’s fault, Halliburton’s fault.

JG: But let’s be fair to the majority of the people in the Democratic Party. I think that you don’t have a single mainstream candidate on the Democratic side right now who doesn’t speak…

HH: Do any of them rebuke the fever swamp? Do any of them say Michael Moore, we don’t like Cuba?

JG: I don’t know.

HH: The answer is…

JG: I assume so.

HH: No.

JG: I mean, being pro-Cuba is not exactly a path to success in the Democratic primary, is it?

HH: Have you seen…write me, send me an e-mail when you see any of them say, as Fred Thompson did…Can I keep you one more quick segment? I’ve got to ask you about immigration.

JG: Yeah, sure.

– – – –

HH: Jeffrey Goldberg, the big issue in American politics is immigration, and whether or not George Bush will be able to persuade his party to go along. We’re going to spend the rest of my program today talking about this, and yet, it’s not mentioned, you interviewed Rove and Delay and Gingrich, it is cleaving the Republican party in the way that the corn laws cleaved Peale’s party, or Irish Union cleaved Gladstone, and it didn’t come up.

JG: You’re right. It’s…I should have folded it in. I ran out of room. It is interesting, and by the way, I think this goes back to the point Gingrich is making about the…I guess what we’ve taken to calling the…me and you have taken to calling the Carterization of the administration. It doesn’t seem like he’s going to be able to persuade people of what he thinks is right, and this comes back to the notion which is a non-ideological notion that they just can’t get things right. They don’t have any juice anymore. Post-Katrina, they lost their juice. I don’t know, maybe it’ll work out. Maybe he’ll wind up getting much of what he wants, but…

HH: Well, you know, they mis-stepped with Harriet Miers, they come back with Alito, they win. And now they’ve mis-stepped with the immigration bill, but did it bubble up in the Gingrich-Delay conversation? Were they talking to you about it, and it just didn’t make it in the article?

JG: No, they weren’t really talking about it. We were talking, really, we were talking about…and you know, it should have. It came up actually with Jeff Flake…

HH: Sure.

JG: …who you must have had on your show.

HH: No, I have not, but I know him.

JG: No, I mean it’s interesting, because I did see Tancredo for something related to this, and it’s funny, I did an interview with Tancredo, and then I went downstairs to see Jeff Flake in the same building. I guess they’re in the same building. And it’s interesting, because Flake takes this position that the Republicans are just looking uncharitable when they talk in such hostile terms about Mexican immigration, and it’s interesting, because I don’t know, you know more about this than I do, but it seems that if you’re a party that’s, this is an argument that I’ve heard, that if you’re a party that’s looking for some support long term, beyond 2008, enfranchised Hispanics might make up a big chunk of that, their entrepreneurial class, it might make up a big chunk of that, but the Republican party right now seems to be going out of its way to alienate them.

HH: Actually, I think it’s an interesting conversation.

JG: I mean, you and I probably have different views on this.

HH: No, I want…I’m for the regularization of the Spanish speakers. I just don’t want the people from the Middle East brought in without background checks. I don’t think we should…

JG: No, that’s a reasonable…or people with TB.

HH: Yeah, TB, background checks, people with hand grenades, folks who’ve perhaps been eluding the law in Saudi Arabia…

JG: Well, the fact that the guy with TB can get back into the country…

HH: I know, it’s a bad thing, but you can’t blame that on us. Jeffrey Goldberg, great to make your acquaintance. For a Penn guy, you’re articulate, and we like that, and we’ll have you back at another time. There’s a Cornell guy in the office right now, that’s why we’re joking. Thank you, from the New Yorker, Party Unfaithful.

End of interview.

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