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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Robert Costa And The Media Strategy Of GOP Candidates

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The Audio:


The transcript:

HH: Now we’re rejoined by Robert Costa. So Robert, what’s the, what do you make of this news that Christie gets demoted and George Pataki gets booted?

RC: It’s a dynamic change in the entire race. And it comes at a difficult time for Governor Christie. He’s having a good week. There’s video of him talking about addiction up in New Hampshire, has gotten millions of views. He’s seen as someone with a bit of energy in the establishment lane, but the polls decide everything.

HH: Well, he’s also, I saw a poll yesterday he’s leading in New Hampshire, but that’s not the way the networks do the debates. They use national polls, even though it’s not a national primary. He seems to be reacting the right way, though, because there may be a silver lining here. You get a lot more time in the first debate than you do in the second debate. And Chris Christie’s the one guy who might actually add to the audience who is likely to be demoted, right?

RC: I couldn’t agree more, Hugh. I mean, I think back to Carly Fiorina’s experience in that undercard debate. It helped her, catapult her forward into the next debate. I think Christie already has the establishment cred. He has the media profile. And this actually will give him more of a stage, even though it’s a lesser stage.

HH: And so let’s start gaming this out. If he’s going to be on the undercard, and he’s playing for New Hampshire, maybe he’s playing for some Iowa votes as well. He just goes straight into the camera for most of that time. And if you’re the panelists, aren’t you naturally going to be drawn to Christie as the guy who’s leading in New Hampshire and is the most significant person on the stage?

RC: Certainly, and I think Christie, he will be able to speak directly to New Hampshire voters. I’m not so sure how much he’s really playing in Iowa. I know he’s close with Branstad, and it’s crowded there, but that’s a Carson-Cruz-Trump land for now, with Huckabee and others and Jindal rising. There’s not a lot of oxygen for Christie to breathe in Iowa, but in New Hampshire and the rest of the state, I think Christie, he’s on a revival path right now. It’s not exactly a comeback, but everyone’s starting to realize that the political talent that was there in 2013 when he won big in New Jersey and was considered the establishment frontrunner, that political talent remains. It’s just a question of how does he find some kind of a way ahead.

HH: Yeah, and I don’t think I’m working overtime here to say silver lining. I do believe that you put Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal and Rick Santorum and Chris Christie together, people watch that. And God bless George Pataki, but getting him off the stage adds a lot of energy. Simply, that’s addition by subtraction, and I like the guy. It’s just that he’s an energy eater, and he doesn’t have a prayer.

RC: Pataki has just never caught on. I’ve seen him up in New Hampshire. He and I were at a diner in Manchester, the Red Arrow, and you just thought, people in the diner didn’t know he was a presidential candidate. He was a former New York governor. He served numerous terms there. He was a big player at one time on the national stage. But respectfully as a reporter, it seems like that time has passed in terms of the voters.

HH: So now let’s talk a little bit about the Donald Trump story. He started the show with me, and the audio and the transcript are posted over at, and he’s promoting his SNL appearance, right? So I call up and I say hey, do you want to come on and talk about SNL, and I get put through, because he wants to. He wants people to watch that. I bet you they will have an enormous audience, Robert. What do you think?

RC: Oh, it’s going to be one of the likely highest rated SNL’s we’ve seen in a while. And everything Trump touches, it’s ratings gold for the networks, as the debates have proven. And on places like the Washington Post and New York Times and Politico, I mean, when Trump is involved, it’s, it creates a lot of hits, a lot of interest. It’s also a risk, though, for Donald Trump. I mean, this is an hour of television. He’s going to be judged in the national spotlight in an intense way as a performer, not just as a politician. And I know he’s a natural. He’s a reality star. But it’s still a different kind of stage, and it takes him away from the campaign, in a sense.

HH: Robert Costa, I want to make a point here. I believe that Donald Trump has more television training than many of the SNL staff members. He’s actually spent more time with a green light on…

RC: You’re right.

HH: …and a camera boom around than some of the rookies on the SNL troupe. It has to be the case. He did it for 11 years.

RC: Right, I mean, he’s a high-wire act, Hugh, so in some ways, this could go bad. But if he aces it, if Trump comes out funny, down to Earth in a sense, and being self-deprecating, we could see Trump catapult ahead, rush ahead of Carson and others, at least in the national polls. It could be a moment. That’s the way Donald Trump has campaigned all year. I’ve covered him since the beginning. He’s someone who wants to seize the moment, even if it’s political risk. So far, his cards and his hand has been pretty good. And we’ll see if that luck continues.

HH: Now he told me that I’d be laughing out loud during the skit following the cold open, that I’d love the cold open, but that the skit afterwards, he said I’m not a laugh guy, you’re not a laugh guy, either, but I think you’ll be laughing, Hugh. And so he’s obviously been through the material. He’s rehearsing.

RC: He’s rehearsing, and Hugh, as a reporter this year, I’ve never seen anything like this. I mean, Trump calling you up, Trump doing SNL, he’s going on Morning Joe to talk about his radio ad. I mean, where is the rest of the Republican field? When are they going to catch up and realize Trump’s media game has changed this race. Even when he has a bad day or a bad line, he seems to recapture the headlines and the attention in his own way in the next 24 hours. I mean, there’s no one else really competing with him at that level in that sphere.

HH: Well, let me make an addendum to our point. I call up, I have Donald Trump’s executive assistant’s number. So I can call up the EA and say hey, is he there, and she puts me through. And I said do you want to do some radio? And he said sure, and so he does some radio. You know how many layers you have to go through, you know, to get any other candidate, even candidates who have got 1% like in the poll, like to surround themselves with coms staff to advise them. And that’s not the way of the world now.

RC: Look, I know this is inside baseball stuff, Hugh, but I think that this is a really important point, because it’s so difficult to get other candidates on the phone. And you’re always speaking to their advisor, their coms staff, their strategist. Trump, regardless of what you think of his politics, just looking at him objectively, he gives you access. He talks to everybody. And if you report things straight, he’ll get on the phone with you. And so I always find it’s a campaign that’s fascinating, because a lot of the other candidates just aren’t doing the same thing. And you could argue that they’ve not had the same kind of coverage in terms of the exposure they’ve gotten, just because they’re not out there.

HH: You could argue that they’d be doing a lot better. Now I will note, the person who’s changed accessibility the most in the last six months is the guy we began talking about, Chris Christie. He is now probably the second-easiest person to book among the people you want to book, because George Pataki’s really easy to book, but I don’t want to book George. God bless you, Governor. But you know, if you call out to Christie two days in advance, you’ll get him, and he’ll come on and talk about anything. There are no preconditions, nothing about, you know, it’s got to be this window. And he’s available. And Robert, I think that’s why he’s rising, is that they don’t realize it’s ubiquity. It’s you’ve got to be ubiquitous.

RC: Note the case and point here. Look at Fiorina. She had such momentum coming out of her debut on the main stage. She soared in the polls. And then, she kind of disappeared in the press. She did some interviews here and there. I know she’s going to be on the View tomorrow. But in terms of her ubiquity, in terms of really driving the conversation about herself, she did fade away after that big debut on the stage. And that matters, because in a campaign that’s dominated by Trump, if you don’t have the grassroots fervor and magic of Carson, you have to find a way to stay in the conversation. And Christie’s coming with that New York piece…

HH: Amen. Robert Costa of the Washington Post, follow him on Twitter, @CostaReports.

End of interview.


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