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Ryan Lizza On “The Inevitability Trap” Facing Hillary

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The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza opens today’s program, discussing his new piece “The Inevitability Trap.” 




HH: I begin today with Ryan Lizza. Ryan is the chief Washington correspondent for The New Yorker, the cover of which is this rampaging elephant. I love the cover. But Ryan’s article is actually about Hillary Clinton and her inevitability problem. Ryan Lizza, welcome to the Hugh Hewitt Show.

RL: Hey, thanks for having me. I thought you’d like that cover.

HH: I love that cover. In fact, I think I’m going to frame that cover. But I loved your article as well, because if Hillary Clinton has an inevitability problem, the Republicans have got a shot at winning the White House.

RL: I think so. Now you know, I’m sure the people in the Hillary camp would say well, we’d rather have the inevitability problem than not have it, right? But yeah, I’d say look, it’s really hard. Republicans have a shot to win this in 2016. It’s hard to win a third term in politics. We all know that, and you know, you look at all these forecasting models that look at the fundamentals, and they always, you know, they give a few points off for the party that’s been, if you’ve been in power for two terms. Historically, it’s hard to pull a three-peat off, right?

HH: Now your piece, Ryan Lizza, begins by talking about Hillary being next to Jeanne Shaheen, one of the few Democratic victories on November the 4th. But Hillary’s record of delivering the goods was not very good in 2014. She was in Kentucky and [Bill was in] Arkansas on the last weekend campaigning for Alison Lundergan Grimes, and Mark Pryor, respectively. The former lost by 15 points, the latter by 18 points. And that’s Hillary second home state.

RL: Well look, let’s be forthright about this. No Democratic surrogate was good at helping any other Democrat anywhere in the country, right? I mean, you can’t really point to anyone who was out on the stump and made a difference for Democrats. So you know, Martin O’Malley, one of the people I focus on, he’s campaigned all over the country, and he didn’t win any races, either. But you know, the one that I happened to go to, the one event that I happened to go to in New Hampshire is where you know, the two statewide Democrats did win, right? So Maggie Hassan, the governor, she got reelected, and Jeanne Shaheen, the Senator, beat Scott Brown, one of the few bright spots in the whole country. So I think you know, if you’re Clinton, you probably take a little bit of solace from that, because obviously, New Hampshire’s always been good to the Clintons. And the two female candidates won there that she stumped for. But you’re right. There was no magic in the Clinton’s surrogacy this campaign.

HH: More than no magic. Going to Arkansas, and Mark Pryor’s a storied named down there.

RL: Yup.

HH: He’s a legacy candidate, Tom Cotton, a freshman Republican Congressman, and yes, a war hero and a Harvard Law, Harvard undergraduate. But Hillary manages to, what she’d go? Did she drive Pryor down? 18 points is the worst loss.

RL: You know, you probably disagree with me on this, but Hugh, I basically see the Senate races, I think the gubernatorial elections are much, much, different story on the gubernatorial side. But the Senate races, I basically see as a hardening of the red and blue divide, with the obviously important exceptions of Iowa and Colorado, and you know, arguably North Carolina. Basically at the federal level, we are turning into two countries, right? And the Senate is looking a lot more like the presidential divide. And it’ll bounce back depending on who’s up every two years. It’ll bounce back and forth, excuse me.

HH: Does Hillary have a glass jaw?

RL: You know, I don’t think she does. I mean, she’s been in politics for a quarter century. And you know, everything’s been thrown at her. She’s still surviving. She’s the overwhelming frontrunner for the Democrats. I don’t know. I mean, what’s the evidence that she has a glass jaw?

HH: That she cannot help these candidates when she is supposedly the prohibitive frontrunner, and she goes into Arkansas. This is, to me, the most telling race about Hillary’s lack of appeal.

RL: Yeah.

HH: She lived there for 15 years.

RL: Yeah, and I think you know, it’s an open question of whether she’s actually on the ballot in a general election, could she and her husband actually win Arkansas. And you know, I think that’s an open question. I haven’t looked at any polling about her down there. But you know, but Hugh, you’ve been around long enough to know that no surrogate can pull a weak candidate in a bad period for his party over the finish line, right?

HH: Well, I agree with that, but an 18 poll loss isn’t pulling them over the fishing line.

RL: Maybe he would have lost by 25 without her.

HH: It’s impossible. It’s actually impossible to lose worse than Mark Pryor did. I think Hillary was an anvil, that they threw Mark Pryor an anvil in the form of Hillary, and that…

RL: You know, I’m not convinced. I think surrogates are overrated. People don’t vote on whether someone comes down and says, you know, and campaigns for someone.

HH: Okay, let me put it this way then. Is Hillary Clinton too old? And I mean not just chronologically, but in terms of D.C. sell-by date? She’s been there.

RL: I think that is the number one most important question, and that is her biggest vulnerability. You know, as Howard Dean told me in this piece, and Howard Dean, this is a person who is already saying if she runs, he will support her. He made the point that we rarely go back a generation in presidential politics, which I thought was very interesting. And he pointed…

HH: Thought he was quick to say but I’m not talking about you, Hillary.

RL: He was very quick to clarify that you know, he still thinks she can pull it off, because he thinks that the Republicans will nominate someone too far to the right. But I think it’s a good point. You know, that being around in politics, a public official at 25 years in an age where everyone is very excited about something that’s new and shiny is something that she’s going to have to overcome.

HH: She doesn’t strike me as particularly supple.

RL: Yeah.

HH: We’re going to get to the competitors here.

RL: Yeah.

HH: When it comes to new media, she doesn’t get it, in fact.

RL: No, I don’t think so. And you know, I don’t know this for sure, but the sort of conventional wisdom is that none of that matters in the Democratic primary, that there’s no Barack Obama on the horizon, and sure, she will have some kind of testing by someone, but basically could run the same campaign she ran last time, and she’ll win it.

HH: We’ll talk about those would-be’s after the break, Ryan Lizza, but let me begin by asking you what is she going to run on? She had a horrific four years at State.

RL: I don’t think we know. I don’t think we know. I think on foreign policy, I think you’ll probably have some, look, she doesn’t know what she’s going to run on, because she doesn’t know who she’s running against, both in the primary and in the general election. And let’s be honest. Candidates don’t like to figure out their exact campaign agenda until they know what the contrast is going to be with the other side. And so she has some idea that the challenge in the primaries is going to come from the left as it always does if you’re the establishment candidate, and she has some idea what the general election Republican might look like. But there’s no incentive for her to lay out anything until she sort of has a clear sense of the battlefield.

HH: So her campaign until then will be as boring as her memoir from State?

RL: (laughing) You know, I don’t know if I agree with you about the memoir. I thought there were some moments in there that I found interesting. But I think so. I think it’s going to be very, very vapid, and not a lot of detail until she absolutely has to fill it in. And she’s not going to listen to us in the press who pressure her into filling in those details before she’s ready.

HH: She’s been around forever, and still new stuff pops up. The Washington Free Beacon found her Alinsky letters.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And they found her files down at the University of Arkansas. And I thought there wouldn’t be…

RL: Yeah, I wasn’t really impressed with the Alinsky letters are far as, like, you know, proving that she was at the heart of some crazy, left-wing conspiracy, to be honest. But it was a very interesting reportorial find.

HH: Yeah, but it’s just that something can show up this late in the game. I mean, maybe we’ll find…

RL: Well, fair enough, and it’s a bad, it’s a statement about the press, frankly, that it’s been sitting around and nobody found it before now.

HH: The Whitewater files may show up again. Who knows what we’ll find with her? But is she, is in fact the fact that we won’t find anything make her boring?

RL: I think it’s part of it. I think you know, the communications consultants, the political consultants always say it’s, the views of someone who’s been around a long time are set in stone, right? So there’s not a whole lot of new information that I can tell you, Hugh, about Hillary Clinton that’s going to get you to change her mind about her, and there’s not a whole lot of new information that you can tell about her to get some unpersuaded voted to change his or her mind. And that’s sort of her burden, but it’s also, it might be what, you know, an advantage, depending on who she’s running against.

HH: Well, some people buy day old bread to save money, Ryan Lizza.

RL: But if she’s running against someone who’s got, from a reporter’s perspective, an interesting history and a lot to uncover and learn about, that can be an advantage going against someone who’s been around so long that nobody cares about anything in her history.

HH: Absolutely true. What about Benghazi? Will it matter at all?

RL: I thought we were going to get through 15 minutes without Benghazi?

HH: Never, and that’s one of her problems, right?

RL: You know, my view of Benghazi is, and I don’t know what this says about the press, but it’s one of those issues that is almost completely now seen through a partisan filter. And the right will view it one way forever, and the left will view it one way for another, and there are almost no facts that can come up, the new facts that’ll change people’s minds about it. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal, Hugh, to be honest. I think in a Democratic primary, nobody will care about it, and in a general election, people will care more about what is she going to do about troop levels in the world, how’s she going to handle Iran, how’s she going to handle North Korea.

HH: When we come back from break, I’m going to talk about the three people profiled along with Hillary in Ryan Lizza’s brand new cover, not cover story, New Yorker story. And one of them will bring up Benghazi. We’ll let you know which one of it is after the break. Stay tuned.

— – – – –

HH: And in that piece are profiled the three candidates who are thinking about running in the Democratic primaries for president in 2016, 2015 and 2016, one of whom will almost certainly bring up Benghazi, Ryan Lizza. Which one do you think I’m talking about?

RL: Webb will bring it up.

HH: Webb will bring it up. James Webb, and the reason, do you know that he wrote Rules Of Engagement, the screenplay, for that movie?

RL: That’s right. No, you know, I did know that, and I’d actually forgotten that until you just brought it up. I wrote a much more extensive profile about him for GQ in 2007, and I read all of his books back then.

HH: Well, Webb served with my brother-in-law in Vietnam, and I’ve known him, I don’t know him well, but I’ve met him.

RL: Is that right?

HH: And I’ve had him on the show a number of times. He’ll be a tough candidate. And he will bring up Benghazi not because of scandal, but because I think Hillary cracked that night and she went home and wasn’t in command and control of the situation.

RL: Look, I think the case for Webb, you know, here’s the big, missing component for all these guys, is what demographic group in the Democratic primaries can they pull away from Hillary Clinton, can they steal. We all know what group Barack Obama stole in 2008. He did what no, you know, he did what no sort of, for years, the challenge to the establishment candidate always won over the college-educated whites in the Democratic primaries. But there was never enough to win the whole thing, right – Gary Hart, Jerry Brown…

HH: All the way back to Eugene McCarthy.

RL: All the way back to McCarthy, right?

HH: Yup.

RL: And that group has grown on the Democratic side, but nobody until Obama could pull in another group. And obviously, Obama pulled in African-Americans. And so that’s the demographic box that frankly any of these, you know, white, male candidates have in running against her. So you know, and I think that’s the problem that O’Malley has. Webb arguably, maybe he can cut into her appeal among white working-class voters, because remember in 2008, people forget this, Obama was sort of the candidate of the, you know, what the strategists sometimes called the wine track, right? And Hillary was the candidate of the beer track. She did better with white working-class Democrats. If Webb can steal that in addition to the more college-educated liberals, that would be an interesting coalition.

HH: There’s also, Ryan, a growing concern, and this surfaced in the 2014 cycle, about international chaos. Whether it’s Ebola, the impersonal killer, or ISIS, the very driven killer, having someone who can speak directly to national security.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And I thought your comments from Webb about the three kinds of national security candidates out there are very revealing. He intends to be in category three, behind door number three, and there might be national security Democrats and some Republicans, if the isolationist wing of the party spring up who would love a James Webb.

RL: Yeah, and I don’t know if you got it from the quotes, but in my conversation with him, he is really close to Rand Paul on foreign policy right now. He’s dead set against any kind of humanitarian intervention. He would not have bombed Benghazi, or excuse me, not bomb Benghazi, but he would not have bombed Libya’s, Qaddafi’s forces that were outside of Benghazi. He, you know, he didn’t believe in any of the humanitarian interventions of the Clinton 90s. And you know, he believed in Congress having a stronger role when we go to war. He’s definitely not an isolationist, but he’s much more of a non-interventionist than a lot of Democratic elites saw.

HH: But he’ll be for a very big stick.

RL: Exactly.

HH: And Hillary Clinton, do you think she has any credibility on Defense issues in terms of, you know, a 350 ship Navy, or a steroided up Marine Corps or anything that would normally go with a national security Democrat that Webb would have?

RL: I don’t know. I mean, the armed forces, when you look at the opinion polls, they’re mixed, ideologically are much more mixed than people usually assume. and I think they’re, you know, I think Hillary would have quite a bit of support, if you’re just talking about…

HH: Democratic primary voters.

RL: Well, not, even in a general election.

HH: Oh.

RL: Remember in 2008 how well Obama did with military voters.

HH: Again, that’s disputed, but it’s also the national…

RL: Well, it was certainly not 90/10, right?

HH: No, it wasn’t 90/10, but the national security voters are a very small slice of the electorate. But in a Democratic primary, it could have an enormous resonance if Webb is running both for the NRA vote and for the DOD vote.

RL: I think, what happens if Hillary Clinton runs against Rand Paul? What happens to national security voters in that race?

HH: I think they split decidedly. That’s what Howard Dean told you. He’s counting on that, actually, for the Democrats.

RL: Yes.

HH: Let me turn to the other two you profiled, and then after the break, we’ll talk about the two that you didn’t. Bernie Sanders…

RL: I only put, look, my rule was I was only profiling people who are openly talking about running.

HH: And there are two who are kind of openly talking about that you gave them a pass.

RL: Not open enough.

HH: Whom we’ll talk about after the break. Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, first, Bernie Sanders. Now this is a joke. This is like Ben & Jerry Ice Cream meets the presidential campaign.

RL: Oh, I can’t believe you’re not a Bernie Sanders fan.

HH: Oh, no, I love the guy, but it’s just a joke. It’s like Peter King running for president, right?

RL: Well, of course, but you know what? I think it’s, I’m honestly a little, I think this is a little bit of a media bias going on with covering the Democratic side. Anyone who goes on TV and says they might run for president on the Republican side gets all this coverage, you know, Ben Carson, King. And on the Democratic side, these guys are like screaming from the sidelines they want to run for president, and nobody’s covering it.

HH: That’s because Bernie Sanders is a self-described socialist.

RL: Yeah, but so what? Ron Paul was never going to win. Ron Paul ran as a third party candidate on the Libertarian ticket, which was pretty radical, and still was covered…

HH: you don’t really know the answer? Come on, you know that answer. The reason that Ron Paul was covered and Bernie Sanders isn’t is that Ron Paul coverage hurt the Republicans, and the MSM wants to do that.

RL: Well Hugh, well, I’m surprised that, I’m actually surprised that conservatives are not making more of a media bias case on this, saying hey, why isn’t the MSM covering Bernie, Webb and O’Malley, who are willing to go after Hillary. Everyone’s just saying it’s over, it’s a coronation, Hillary won.

HH: Well, because generally, we’re realists, and the MSM have agendas. We’re fair and balanced…

RL: Well look, I state very clearly in the piece that you know, Sanders will be like Ron Paul of the Democrats. He’s not going to win, but he will raise issues that will speak to certain Democratic voters, and that the frontrunner, Hillary Clinton, will have to address, especially if he’s in the debates, as he surely will be.

HH: Now the most interesting bit of the piece is, I think, about Martin O’Malley, about whom very few people know much. I only know that his anointed successor got crashed in Maryland.

RL: Yeah, big problem for him.

HH: Martin O’Malley apparently is running a very successful campaign for vice president already.

RL: You know, that is a good point. Is he jumping, do you jump in the race against Hillary to try and become her running mate? And you know, the Democratic strategists have argued this both ways to me. Some say that is the worst way to become her running mate, because the Clintons, as soon as you start attacking her and running against her, and give her any bit of a hard time in a primary, you have been put on the naughty list, and you’re not going to be her running mate. Other people say well, if you run a clean race and you acquit yourself well, then maybe you can heighten your profile, and since the Democratic bench is so weak right now, maybe that is the route to the…

HH: Are you saying, my producer wonders, that she’s not a team of rivals type?

RL: That’s the reputation. And you know, that’s the conventional wisdom. But you could run a race where you’re not necessarily attacking her, you’re just being positive, putting out your own issues, and maybe not whack the Clinton hornet nest.

HH: You know, I’ve just finished reading Chuck Todd’s The Stranger…

RL: Yeah.

HH: …in which Joe Biden is the co-star of the book. There’s not much Biden in your piece, 30 seconds to the break.

RL: Yeah, you know, the piece is really about insurgents running against the establishment, and I don’t think Biden could pull that off, do you?

HH: Oh, he’s got a nice smile, and he’ll say anything, right?

RL: You know, look, if you’re Biden and you have 100% name recognition, and you’re only getting 10% in these national polls, that’s got to be a little bit discouraging.

HH: But if she has the glass jaw and goes down with one punch, who does the party turn to?

RL: I think that’s the other case for running, right, just to be there in case she, for whatever reason, she goes down?

— – — –

HH: Two people not there who should have at least cameos are the ancient of days, Jerry Brown, and the new Elizabeth Warren lefty insurgent type. What about those two, Ryan?

RL: I think Warren is still a question mark. And I sort of dealt with her simply by saying she’s insisting she’s not running, so she’s not talking about running. And I actually wanted to talk to the candidates who are thinking about running. But the piece is really about in general insurgents, and what you have to do, and the sort of rules for insurgents. And so if you read the piece, you know, it’s sort of a strategy guide to an insurgent run against Hillary, and it would apply to Elizabeth Warren, right? You’ve got two big ways to run against Hillary. One is new/old, right? You’ve got to be the new, tag her as the old. And the other is an ideological challenge, you know, challenging her from the left. And Elizabeth Warren would be able to do both of those.

HH: You mentioned the wine track and the beer track. Talk about the two wine tracks. Elizabeth Warren is Cambridge, and Jerry Brown is Napa Valley wine. I mean, Jerry could run as Yoda as presidential candidate.

RL: Yeah, well, look, and Brown, you know, Brown, I guess I don’t buy your analysis that he’s still even thinking about this.

HH: Jerry doesn’t think about anything until five minutes before he does it. Of course, he’s…

RL: You can’t be the new against Hillary Clinton when you’re almost 80 years old.

HH: But you can if, remember his 1976 Playboy interview? You probably don’t. You’ve probably never read it.

RL: I don’t remember it. I wasn’t reading Playboy back then.

HH: Yeah, you should go back and read that. You weren’t alive back then.

RL: Yeah, I was. I was two.

HH: He was remarkably in touch with culture, and he still is. He just won this overwhelming…

RL: Yes.

HH: He’s the only Democrat to win anything.

RL: Look, you know, Hugh, this will not, Hugh, I went to UC Berkeley for college, and he was the mayor of Oakland when I went to Berkeley.

HH: There you go.

RL: And so I followed his, that was back when he was much more of a, that was sort of when he was moving away from his most hippie days, and sort of becoming more of a technocratic government guy. But I do not buy that he’s going to jump into this race.

HH: Okay, so let’s just limit it to, if Elizabeth Warren gets in on the left, and James Webb runs as a national security, traditional Scoop Jackson Democrat on the right…

RL: Yup.

HH: Hillary’s in a vise.

RL: I think so. I think she’s going to have to decide where does she come out on these questions that liberal Democrats care about more than ever, inequality, right, too big to fail? What is she going to say about the banks? What is she going to say about Clinton era deregulation? What is she going to say about Clinton era policies that don’t look so good to liberals in hindsight, like the Defense of Marriage Act?

HH: Ryan, what is she going to say qualifies her to be president? Is it because Bill is her husband?

RL: Experience.

HH: Experience at what, leaving State Department on the night of Benghazi? Experience…

RL: She’s going to have to deal with Benghazi for people like you. There’s no doubt about it. But she’s also going to say hey, I’ve been around, I’ve seen two White Houses now, I’ve been, traveled the world as Secretary of State, and there will be a lot of people who say you know what? We can’t afford someone new. Even people who think Obama was a failure will say yeah, maybe the reason was he was too new. Maybe we should try someone who’s…

HH: Ryan, that’s an argument for making the White House chef the president. They’ve been there longer than anyone. It matters what you do. And I’m serious here. What has she done?

RL: She’s been first lady. She was a partner in what is regarded historically as a very successful presidency, in the Clinton administration. And as Secretary of State, you may disagree with this, Hugh, but she does have something she can brag about. Some of the policy in Asia, I think, doesn’t look so…

HH: Give me a country. Give me a country.

RL: Well, look, and this is one I mention in the piece, and you can, although Obama’s going to be there this month, but the opening to Burma has been more of a success than a failure.

HH: You just played Hillary…Duane said Yahtzee. I was going to say Hillary Bingo. Burma always comes up. They have a genocide underway in Burma, Ryan Lizza.

RL: Look, there was a genocide…turning Burma into an ally rather than a country completely isolated in China’s orbit is better for America. Am I right or wrong about that?

HH: It’s our genocide partner. You’re wrong. It’s a friendly genocider. You know, that is…

RL: Whether it’s genocidal has nothing to do with whether we are more allied with it than China is, right, Hugh?

HH: Well, no, it does, because her own husband said Rwanda was the biggest mistake of his career.

RL: Let me ask you this. How can you, what’s a better way to have influence over a country that’s genocidal? If it’s completely isolated and there’s sanctions against it and you have no influence, and it’s in China’s orbit who doesn’t care about genocide? Or if it actually listen, you actually have a relationship…

HH: It’s a great question for her on the debate stage, because I think she’ll stand there and go babba dabba dabba, what about the girls?

RL: Yeah, if Rand Paul’s the nominee, what’s he going to say about that?

HH: Oh, well, if Rand Paul’s the nominee, whoever they nominate is going to have a more robust foreign policy interventionist, right?

RL: Yeah, and look, let me make the other case. I’m not saying that Burma, you know, Hillary Clinton running on a Burma policy is what gets her elected, but having eight years in the Clinton administration, which is what will be regarded historically, even in 2016, and perhaps more so after the, depending on where Obama ends up, I think it will be more of a plus than a negative in a general election.

HH: Ryan, so we’re really voting for Bill Clinton, aren’t we?

RL: Do you agree with me there?

HH: No, I don’t. I think we’re really voting for Bill Clinton.

RL: Hugh, wait, so of the three, the last three administrations, you don’t think the Clinton administration is looking pretty good right now?

HH: Absolutely not. Oh, absolutely not, back to the 90s. But very quickly from you, we’re really voting for Bill Clinton, right?

RL: I think she’s going to have to deal with that. I think she’s going to have, she can’t do what Gore did, right? She can’t pretend to run away from Bill Clinton. And she’s got to run on Clinton’s record for the most part.

HH: She’s got to attach herself at the side of Bill if she wants to win. Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker, great piece in the new issue.

End of interview.


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