Great weekend to be joining Chuck Todd and the panel on Meet the Press. My opinions on the debate may gel or evolve on reading a full day of commentary en route from west coast to east, but I scored both debates as one, and expect Carly Fiorina to be the happiest candidate in the land this weekend, followed closely by Marco Rubio. Chris Christie, John Kasich and Scott Walker secured their places on all the podiums and in every serious discussion about the eventual nominee stretching into the future, and Jeb Bush –though without a misstep– is still looking for the key of combative necessary for 2016.
And Donald Trump? Like the Monster Truck that got rolled over but drove off under its own weight popping wheelies, or the WWE villain who always gets invited back, it is hard to say that winning and losing even apply to DT. The upside of having DT around is ratings. The downside is the first 15 minutes of the second debate and the prospect of a third party which would hand Hillary the White House, pure and simple. As I argued with DT on Monday, a clear declaration that he is in it to run as and only as a Republican would help him.
Judos to Chris Christie for winning the Ohio-class submarine competition. Only he and Dr. Carson ever brought up the actual state of the military in uniform. Of course I am hurrying to put post-it notes on every copy of The Queen that pointed out Carly Fiorina’s many and sharp talents. Just saying, if you haven’t bought and read it yet, it becomes more relevant by the day. Best hit on Hillary came from Scott Walker last night referencing the certain fact that the Russians and Chinese and probably Iranians have her emails but the U.S. Congress doesn’t, and expect much more of that next month at the Reagan Library.
Chuck joined me on Friday’s program.
HH: Now, I’m joined by Meet the Press host, Chuck Todd, whom I will be joining on Sunday morning on the set of Meet the Press. Chuck, welcome, thanks for talking to us on the day after an extraordinarily busy long day yesterday.
CT: Long day, long week, absolutely. Absolutely, but it’s, you know, it might have almost lived up to expectations. Who knew?
HH: Yeah, it was sort of a car crash/circus, a whole bunch of things, but let’s walk through it. First of all, I didn’t play a clip of Carly, and I kept saying on Twitter, and I had her on last night after both debates, she’s the overall winner of the day, because she got the most press and the most bounce, don’t you think?
CT: Maybe. I certainly think is was the only way anybody, you know, I always thought that in the second tier debate, the only way anybody was going to make anything of it is if one person dominated. So and that’s what happened, and she did. But you know, let’s see if she can translate that, you know, she’s not been able to raise money. She has gotten a lot of media attention, and it hasn’t translated in the polls. Let’s see if this does, because she’s certainly getting the bump, the extra attention she needs to see if that can happen.
HH: Now the second debate had, I thought, three tiers in it. The first tier, and I just played them – Rubio, Walker both had memorable lines, Kasich was introduced to the country, and Chris Christie reminded everyone of why he’s Chris Christie. Am I leaving anyone out that you thought did particularly well?
CT: You know, it’s funny you put Walker in that batch. I don’t think he did poorly. I just think there were too many times he disappeared and allowed himself to be just sort of to be missing in action a few times. And he, I think, was too scripted, a little bit. But and I thought Cruz had similar problems where they were, he was good. He was fine when he spoke, but he was sort of, but I’m with you there on Rubio and Kasich. And look, I think Christie did, you know, certainly had a couple of moments, you’re right, he reminded people of why Chris Christie is Chris Christie. But if John Kasich has a good day, that’s not a good day for Chris Christie.
HH: Or Jeb Bush. That’s the other thing…
CT: That’s right.
HH: …is that Kasich and Walker are in the same space as accomplished governors and happy, normal guys, aggressively normal. I included Walker, because my theory of debates is that if you haven’t got a line, you don’t win, or if people knew you before and you didn’t perform up to expectations, you lose. Walker and Rubio had lines that people remember, Kasich and Christie reminded people of who they are, and now we talk about Governor Bush, who when he sits in my studio, I’m sure you’ve experienced this, Chuck Todd, is one of the most competent men I’ve ever met. But the combativeness is not there.
CT: Well, you’re right, and that’s been an issue. That’s where it’s like, he’s, you feel like he’s more like his father. He’s more like his father than George W. Bush ever was like his father, right?
HH: Oh, very true.
CT: There is a gauge that sometimes that’s missing. It’s funny you say competent. There was, and I’ve been looking for the right word to describe what I felt like Jeb was like, particularly the first hour of the debate. I thought it was a guy who was just like being forced into the situation, like he was not happy that he was having to do it this way, not happy that he was having to stand next to Trump. And whether that contributed to this idea that he was uncomfortable, look, he got better, and he had an important moment that he had to have, which was he had to stick, we knew the question was going to come on hitting Trump, and he stuck by his criticism. And luckily for him, I think, Trump decided to back off. Trump could have laid into him and then we would have really seen how Jeb would have handled that. But Trump decided not to lay into him. He sort of accepted Jeb’s criticism as legitimate, that tone, and then they explained why he doesn’t use the softer tone. But he accepted the criticism as legitimate. That was an important moment for Jeb, because had it turned into, I don’t know he would have handled a true sort of, if he had done what Christie and Rand did.
HH: Let me ask you, then, about the Donald. I wrote this morning at Hughhewitt.com that it was like the monster truck that got crashed around but rolled over and drove off to the screams of its fans, or a WWE villain who’s always invited back. I mean, he’s on, I can’t grade him, because he’s not on the curve, Chuck Todd.
CT: Yeah, so, because you’re right, because he’s defied political gravity before. And when you think he’s going to, how a normal politician would feel under siege if they made gaffes or did an over-the-top attack, you know, look, he’s testing the limits. Already this morning, you know, he retreated. He’s so intent on going after Megyn Kelly, he retreated a tweet out there today that refers to her as a bimbo. So he is doing what he did with McCain, right, doubling down and going after her. And you know, I don’t know if that’s going to, that’s good politics for him. Look, he did not have a plan to expand his support.
HH: Yeah, I had him on Monday.
CT: What’s that?
HH: I had him on Monday, and I told him if he did not raise his hand on that question, that you lose support immediately, because Republicans are Republicans, and they don’t…
CT: That’s right. I think so, too. I think he, and look, I understand why Trump’s upset at the moderators, right, because you could argue that making that the very first question set the tone for the debate.
CT: And that can certainly set the tone for Trump, and that’s his complaint. But it was a legitimate question. It’s not like it was an illegitimate question. You know, like I said, I get why he’s upset. But he, and here’s what I don’t understand. If he respects everybody on stage, which he said numerous times, if he was respectful of Jeb Bush, then why can’t he pledge to stay a Republican?
HH: Now everyone in the second debate panel has either been a guest or I know. And I don’t know Bill and Martha, but here, I hate to criticize people who ask questions. I’m going to get hammered next month when I do this, so I expect that…
CT: Look, we’re all, look, that’s right, and I get it.
CT: But you know what? They criticize us. We can, we’re big boys.
HH: Okay, hey, I do not understand how with 30 days left to do the Iran deal and Chuck Schumer declaring against it, and it means the path to Iran getting a nuclear weapon, and Israel saying, the prime minister, it’s going to go to war, that that doesn’t dominate a debate that is about, with guys in the participants. Were you surprised by that, Chuck Todd?
CT: Hugh, look, listen, my philosophy on debate questions, and look, there are interview questions. You and I both know this. There are questions you ask in interviews that aren’t good debate questions, and there are good debate questions that are not good interview questions, right?
CT: But they’re designed to create a debate. I also believe that you should start with news on a debate, right? And Iran was in the news. You had the President making a very controversial speech, all right, pure and simple. He decided to make it a red/blue issue, and we can talk about why he decided to do that. Maybe there’s a political strategy to it. And I’d buy that, but I’m curious today does he believe Chuck Schumer is in line with the Ayatollah? I think it’s going to be an interesting, my point is I think you’re right. I would have made that the lead of the debate, Iran.
HH: That’s exactly, that’s why, and here’s the President’s comment.
CT: You lead with news. That’s the point. You lead with news and substance. I think the process questions are legitimate, but I’m a believer in keeping that later in the debate, second half of the debate.
HH: Amen. Here’s the comment that Chuck Todd is referring to from the President.
BO: It’s those hardliners chanting death to America who have been most opposed to the deal. They’re making common cause with the Republican caucus.
HH: You know, Chuck, when I remember Hillary Clinton blasting Republicans on patriotism during the war, that’s the most actually reprehensible thing I’ve ever heard a president say about his opposition, to say that you are in line with the people who chant death to America. It sends a shudder, and it didn’t show up except maybe for three seconds.
CT: Yeah, I just, look, it was a, like I said, it was the most consequential statement by the person who holds the office that all these guys want to hold. How do you not make it a central part? I agree. Look, I think we’re in agreement. And Lindsey Graham this morning was on Morning Joe, and that was his first complaint, was the lack of a, he goes I want to know how, because the next question is okay, you don’t like this deal, how do you get a better deal? And I think we all want to know, right? I want to know how is Walker going to get a better deal? How’s Trump? Let’s spend time to find out. It’s too important of an issue not to.
HH: I had Ben Carson on last night after the debates, and his comment, in his quiet neurosurgeon, nothing bothers me, because I’ve actually been operating on very tiny brains before manner, pointed out that nothing was unexpected. They didn’t go outside anyone’s comfort zone. I thought that was kind of interesting. But I believe in the news. Let’s talk a little bit about the ebullient governor of Ohio. Now I’m a Buckeye, and I knew him, and he’s a friend, and I knew he was going to be good.
HH: But I think he surprised a lot of people, and if anyone bumps up more than anybody else in the polls, don’t you think it’s going to be Kasich? Maybe Rubio.
CT: Yeah, I believe he was, you know, I know people have said, I said the biggest winner is Kasich, and why do you say that? I said well, look, Rubio may have performed better, but Kasich did himself the most good of anybody up there. And now he starts at a lower, he starts obviously in a lower place, so he had the most room to grow. But I completely agree, right? He needed to introduce himself, and he did. And now he’s going to get first tier looks. You know, now he’s going to get, you know, instead of being relegated to does he belong on the stage or not, is he going to make it, you know, that sort of thing. Now, he’s got his big boy pants on, as Jeb Bush, I guess, likes to say. So, and that’s a big moment, and very important for Kasich. Now, you know, he’s going to get his chance.
HH: And some big donors are going to look not just at Scott Walker, who won the Koch primary, but John Kasich.
CT: That’s right.
HH: Chuck Todd, I’ll see you Sunday. Marco Rubio joining us in studio your day, and I’ll be on the panel with David Brooks, I guess, and it’s just a great day to be on Meet the Press. See you on Sunday, Chuck.
End of interview.