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Debating Professor Tom Nichols, A #NeverTrumper

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Professor Tom Nichols joined me today to discuss his #NeverTrump beliefs:




HH: Joined now by Professor Tom Nichols. He teaches at the Naval War College, author of five books, The Death Of Expertise one of them. You can follow him on Twitter, @RadioFreeTom. Professor Nichols, welcome, it’s good of you to join me, thank you for being here.

TN: Good morning, Hugh, thanks for having me.

HH: Now would you give people your background? You’re very esteemed. You’ve got a lot of credibility. I want people, but you haven’t been on before, so I want people to understand. You’ve been teaching a long time. You are, you’re a national security expert. But what’s your background?

TN: Well, my, first thing I should say is that I’m here on my own time representing my own views, and not of any agency of the government. My background is both academic and practical. I taught for a lot of years at Dartmouth and Georgetown before I came to the Naval War College. My background specialization primarily was the Soviet Union and Russia. I’ve done a lot of work on nuclear weapons and national security. I was a GOP staff for the late Senator John Heinz on the hill during the first Gulf War, and now have settled here in a small town in Rhode Island where I teach military officers.

HH: And you are a #NeverTrumper?

TN: I am a #NeverTrumper, yes.

HH: And we’ve had exchanges on Twitter, and I always like to back away from Twitter and actually talk to people, because I get along with everybody, and I figured I’d get along with Professor Nichols. So let’s talk about you being a NeverTrumper. I reserve that typically for people who not only use the hashtag, but have traditionally voted Republican. Have you traditionally voted Republican?

TN: I have never voted for a Democrat in a presidential election ever.

HH: Did you vote for Mitt Romney?

TN: And I’ve split, of course, and I’ve split my ticket a lower levels in state and local elections, because of course in New England, even the Democrats are, the Republicans are Democrats. But at the national level, no, I have always voted Republican. And I was a Republican for 33 years. I quite very briefly because of the 2012 primaries, and I came back specifically because of Donald Trump, because I felt it was wrong to walk away from the party when things were in such extremis at this point.

HH: And so just so everyone understands, you voted for Mitt Romney, John McCain and twice for George W. Bush?

TN: And twice for Ronald Reagan, and Bush’s father.

HH: Okay, so I wanted to communicate to people this is a real deal conservative who’s a NeverTrumper. He is not a false flag Democrat. Some of them are out there.

TN: (laughing)

HH: And you know, I do worry about that. People get on Twitter and they do all sorts…this is, I’ve known about Professor Nichols for a long time. He’s one of the significant challenges to the Trump forces, as is Max Boot and Tom Nichols and Bill Kristol are agin him. I’ll give you the floor first. Why are you a NeverTrumper?

TN: Well, at the very basic, let’s leave aside politics for a moment, because I think there are a lot of things, there’s a huge amount of space to disagree about politics and policies. The problem is that I think Donald Trump is a fundamentally unstable person. I don’t think he has policies. I think there’s something genuinely wrong with him. I don’t, I cannot trust, personally, again, speaking for myself, I cannot entrust the Oval Office to somebody that I think has some serious emotional problems, and who does, simply has no interest in policy, does not take the time to learn, and is not just untutored or unschooled in important affairs of state, but he is willfully ignorant. He revels in being ignorant about matters of state. And over the course of the primary, I don’t see that that’s gotten any better. Now to add to that, I also think that Donald trump has done things that I, in my heart of hearts, I find to be not just things I disagree with, but that are anti-American. I mean, I thought Trump’s campaign would be over when he went after John McCain, which I found shocking. I mean, you can disagree with John McCain, but what Trump did was horrifying, inviting a hostile foreign power to interfere in our election, going after a Gold Star family. One thing after another that would have been an easy disqualification for anybody else, has just been tolerated and tolerated and tolerated. And I just can’t envision, I kind of go with P.J. O’Rourke’s comment that you know, Hillary is awful, but she’s within the normal parameters of awful. Trump is off the charts, and so I have to say that.

HH: And when we come back, we’ll come back from break, and I’m going to try to persuade you to abandon that. I’ve interviewed him 14 times and been on a debate stage. I do not believe in those interviews or on that stage he evidenced any kind of imbalance. I was the guy who asked about the nuclear triad.

TN: Oh, I saw it.

HH: I was the guy who asked about Quds/Kurds. So I know about the learning curve he’s got on foreign affairs. I will stipulate to that, but I will still try after the break to persuade you why you ought to vote for Donald Trump.

— – – — –

HH: Professor, would you agree with me, I believe that Jerry Brown is more conservative than Hillary Clinton. Do you agree with me on that?

TN: No.

HH: Okay.

TN: Although I don’t know what Jerry Brown’s foreign policy is, unless it’s relations with Utah or something. But…

HH: No, but as, he’s governed to the right of his party in California. He’s reined in a legislature that is left-leaning. Nevertheless, he has appointed Goodwin Liu, Mariano Florentino Cuellar, and Leondra Kruger to the California Supreme Court, all three of them law professors, all three of them hard left academics, though Justice Kruger also served in the Department of Justice. And I bring that up, because I believe it is a dead certainty that Hillary Clinton will appoint a majority-changing justice to the Supreme Court. Do you agree with me about that?

TN: I think she’ll appoint a liberal justice. I’m not sure about majority-changing, because Hugh, you and I are old enough to have lived through the Warren Court becoming the Rehnquist Court and becoming the Roberts Court. I’m less concerned about that than other people. But yes, she’ll appoint a liberal, she’s a Democrat, she’ll appoint a liberal Supreme Court justice. It will tip the balance of the Court at least for some time to come. Absolutely.

HH: And so let’s walk through the consequences of that. I’ll begin with Michigan v. EPA, which was last year’s Court ruling that reined in the EPA imposing massive costs on, without oversight. The Rapanos decision of 2006, I mean, there’s a long list of them where the administrative agencies would essentially be ungoverned under a 5-4 liberal majority. Does that concern you, Professor Nichols?

TN: Not, it does not concern me as much as putting somebody who is emotionally unstable and fundamentally, in his bones, anti-American, in the White House. I cannot, I will risk the Supreme Court…

HH: Okay, but I’m speaking on…

TN: I will risk the Supreme Court with Hillary if it means stopping somebody who is practically one step away from being a Manchurian candidate at this point. And I have real concerns about that.

HH: Okay, not risking the Supreme Court. I heard you in the first segment. But I want to walk through the consequences of losing the Supreme Court. The first is control of the agencies. The second, Gonzales v. Carhart is a 2003 5-4 decision that upheld the partial birth abortion ban. Hillary’s appointee would [overturn] the partial birth abortion ban if it reached the Court again. Does that bother you?

TN: Hugh, you want to walk me through hypothetical Supreme Court decisions when in fact conservatives have already been burned with the Obamacare decision. You know, again, we’re both old enough to remember David Souter. I’m simply not going to try to litigate, especially not with a Constitutional law expert, every single possible Supreme Court case that’s coming down the pike, because I have a larger agenda here, which is that I cannot put an emotionally unstable guy who’s in the pocket of the Kremlin into the Oval Office. And if that means that…

HH: And but I hear you, but I just want to, I want you to think on, I think it’s bigger than most NeverTrumpers consider. One of them, and I’ll run through it, U.S. v. Texas, unilateralism on immigration. That did not get through, because the 5th Circuit overturned President Obama’s executive orders, and that was upheld by a 4-4 Court. The 2nd Amendment, District of Columbia v.  Heller in 2008, and McDonald v. City of Chicago in 2010, the 1st Amendment, Citizens United in 2010. All four of those cases would go the other way. Immigration would be essentially be governed by the president, 2nd Amendment rights would go out the door, and 1st Amendment rights, speech rights, would go out the door. Does that not weigh in your balance?

TN: But Hugh, it does not do any good to save, putatively, to save the Supreme Court if the country fundamentally loses its soul by putting Donald Trump in. And also, I’m going to take issue with your fundamental premise that somehow, Donald Trump is a conservative, that he would appoint the right kinds of judges. My argument, and I made this argument in an article in the Federalist back in February, is that Trump will actually destroy the conservative movement by doing the kinds of unpredictable, crazy things that he’s doing, and force what’s left of a GOP Congress to have to justify it, accept it, live with it and smile and pretend they liked it. I would rather have a healthy, vigorous GOP Senate majority fighting a liberal president in Hillary Clinton than to have the GOP become Donald Trump’s footstool for his own personal whims, which may or may not be conservative. You’ve really taken seriously that a 70 year old man has become a conservative in the twilight years of his life. I don’t believe a word of that.

HH: No, I’ve taken seriously, and you know, just to be blunt, I’ve taken seriously his list of 11 justices, and I believe that if he nominated someone outside of those 11 justices, the Senate ought to, as they did with Merrick Garland, refuse a hearing, because he made a commitment. He ought to live up to it. But now, let’s get to the center of it. And this isn’t meant as an attack or anything. I just, I’m curious, are you a man of faith?

TN: Yes, I am.

HH: All right, so Hobby Lobby protects religious freedom in the United States by the narrowest of threats. I already talked about the abortion cases. It will be reversed under a Hillary Clinton Court. Hobby Lobby will be gone. 1st Amendment protections for the free exercise of religion will be constrained, if not completely overturned under the Breyer test, as he has elucidated at length. And Justice Breyer’s been in my studio for two hours talking about his theory of the Constitution. Doesn’t religious liberty, if the 2nd Amendment doesn’t get you, the regulatory state, immigration, abortion, doesn’t religious liberty get you?

TN: Saving religious liberty in the Hobby Lobby case, it does not outweigh handing the country to a would-be authoritarian in Donald Trump. You cannot preserve one liberty by trading off all of the other liberties, Hugh. That’s the problem.

HH: In the Prince decision in 1990, last time I’ll do this to you, I’ll mention three more – Printz 1997, Lopez, the Gun Free School Zone act of 1995 being overturned, Morrison, United States V. Morrison, 2000 case, overturning the Violence Against Women act. All three of those cases saved federalism. They were 5-4 cases. So the very structure of the Constitution, not just the 1st Amendment and the 2nd Amendment and the 10th Amendment, but federalism and religious liberty, they all get swept away, Tom, if the Court goes. And that’s forever. That’s not for four years. And I have great, great confidence in Article I, Article II and Article III balancing each other out, even if Donald Trump is as bad as you say, and I don’t think he is. But I know what will happen under Hillary Clinton. Aren’t you, are you averting your eyes from the certainty of what will happen to the Supreme Court?

TN: No, I’m deeply concerned about it, and I know that at least some of those things will happen. I’m not as certain as you are that the Court will go exactly in every case. I mean, you’re arguing for a run of those cases. I’m not certain that will happen. But the fact of the matter is I’m still more concerned about the overall corrosion and damage to the American Constitutional system by the very existence of Donald Trump in the White House. And since you’ve brought up Constitutional Law, let me move you now over to an area that would be my expertise. Are you comfortable with Donald Trump controlling nuclear weapons, because I am not.

HH: I am comfortable with the Constitutional structure we have around command and control, and I believe that everyone…I’ll tell you about a meeting that President Bush had with six radio talk show hosts on the last Wednesday of his presidency. He invited us in, and he said go easy on the new guy. Once they start getting the briefings, their view of the world changes. Donald Trump begins to receive the briefings this week, I believe, or next week. And I believe everyone who enters into the office changes their view, and that the Constitutional structures protect us against erratic behavior. I don’t go for the finger on the button worry at all.

TN: No, and of course, there is no such thing as the finger on the button. But I would disagree with you. I think that’s true. What President Bush said is true, and I wrote a book about nuclear weapons where I talked about this. It’s true that every president who gets his briefings changes if they are a normal human being. I don’t believe that Donald Trump is a normal human being. He’s already promised that he would order the U.S. Military to commit war crimes. And when he was challenged, he said they’ll do it, believe me. They’ll do it. And then he had to walk it back. This is not a stable person, and you, just as you think I’m brushing away the damage that will be done to the Court, I think you are, I think like a lot of people who have come to accept the necessity of Donald Trump, you sort of waive away his behavior like it’s kind of the adolescent hijinks of a poorly-behaved 12 year old. And I think that that’s really dangerous. Just like you…

HH: Well, you see, with me, though, Tom…

TN: …I take Donald Trump seriously.

HH: I am the guy who asked him Quds/Kurds. I’m the guy who asked him Hezbollah/Hamas. I’m the guy that asked him nuclear triad, to release his taxes. I get it more than anyone. But I also understand that the Supreme Court is the headwaters of American Constitutionalism, the rule of law. And so I just weigh the risks about which you speak, which I believe you overstate, but nevertheless, I understand you to be sincere and real, but that you’re undervaluing what will happen. The last thing that will happen, since you’re a Republican, a five member Supreme Court will certainly strike down the political question doctrine on redistricting rules. They will allow all sorts of cases to strike down redistricting plans, allowing those in Massachusetts to remain in place, striking those in Texas which hurt them. And the Republican Party, conservatism will be wiped out under a Hillary Court. It will be gone. And so what you’re concerned about…

TN: Well, then, we both agree that no matter what happens, conservatism will be wiped out, because I believe that Donald Trump is going to annihilate conservatism by turning it into his personal vehicle for fame, and his erratic behavior. He will hollow out the ideological core. There will be nothing left to win, Hugh, once Trump wins.

HH: Well, I don’t, there’s Michael Pence, there’s Paul Ryan, there’s Mitch McConnell. Do you think they’re going to get rolled by Donald Trump even if he’s as bad as you think?

TN: Yes. Is there any evidence that anybody in the Congress is going to stand up to Donald Trump and control his behavior, especially after the events of this week? I don’t see any evidence for that.

HH: Oh, yes, there is. There’s been lots of evidence of that. And repeated statements by Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell on the Khan family, on the Judge Curiel, that was a defining moment for me, when he backed away from, when I said the plane was headed to the mountain, when everybody in the party stood up and said this far and no farther, and mutiny began, he backed away. The party is not, Mitch McConnell said on this show he cannot change the Republican Party. You have far less confidence than I do, Tom, in the party and in the Constitution. You are justifiably worried about national security issues, because he doesn’t have any depth of knowledge there and he hasn’t named his advisors, yet. But I have a great deal of confidence in our leadership and the Constitution. And I know what Hillary will do. I want to give you the last word.

TN: Well, I find it remarkable. I find a couple of things remarkable that first, that you think that he’s backed away from any further conflict with Khan, because to me, he seems to be escalating it to the point where his own campaign seems to have given up on controlling him. But I think when it comes to this question of the country coming apart, and the party restraining him, Donald Trump ran against the party. He still refers to Republicans as them. This whole movement was based in anger at how ostensibly feckless the Republican Party was. I don’t think you can have it both ways and say but don’t worry, that same feckless party that Trump ran against will now be the Constitutional bulwark that will constrain this strange and erratic and unpredictable man.

HH: I don’t say don’t worry, I just say I have confidence in Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. Professor Nichols, thank you for coming on. That’s the way this ought to be debated, and I appreciate you doing so.

TN: Thank you very much for having me, Hugh. I appreciate it as well.

HH: That’s the way to argue between #NeverTrumpers and Trumpers. And you know, you’ve got to make your choice. I continually go back to the Supreme Court.

End of interview.


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