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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Talking Clinton v. Trump With Bret Stephens

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Yesterday I wrote in the Washington Post that because there is no Speaker Ryan-Leader McConnell led effort to replace Donald Trump as the GOP nominee, it isn’t going to happen and that voters have to support him regardless of their disagreements with his styles or policies. 

Today Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal, wrote eloquently on why ISIS is the central legacy of President Obama’s eight years.

This morning we discussed the choice ahead of every voter: Clinton v. Trump:




HH: I bring you Bret Stephens, the deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal. He is the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist. His piece today should not be missed, President Cnut. In Orlando, it begins in the spring of 2013. Barack Obama delivered the defining speech of his presidency on the subject of terrorism. Its premise was wrong, as was its thesis, as were its predictions and recommendations. We are now paying the price for this cascade of folly. The last paragraph, Bret, if you will indulge me, I want to read it to people. “It would require more humility than Mr. Obama is capable of mustering to admit that what has happened in Orlando is a consequence of his decisions of allowing Iraq and Syria to descend into chaos, and pretending that we could call off the war on terrorism, because fighting it didn’t fit a political narrative, of failing to defeat ISIS swiftly and utterly, of refusing to recognize the religious roots of terror, of treating the massacre in San Bernardino as an opportunity to lecture Americans about Islamophobia, and Orland as another argument for gun control. This is the President’s record. His successor will have to do better to avoid future Orlando’s. Will she? Bret Stephens, welcome. First question, short version of this, President Obama’s legacy is ISIS?

BS: It’s going to be one of his central legacies along with the terrible economic growth we’ve had during his record. This was a president who gave the centerpiece of his administration at the National Defense University effectively saying that it was time to declare victory in the war against terrorism, and go home, to quote George Akin, you know, about Vietnam all those years ago. And the result was America let its guard down. We withdrew prematurely from the Middle East. We created the power vacuums in which groups like ISIS thrive. And then we were amazed to discover that what happens in the Middle East doesn’t stay in the Middle East, that what happens in Mosul or Raqqa can affect what goes on in Brussels, Paris, San Bernardino and now, tragically, in Orlando.

HH: Now Bret Stephens, I come, I agree 100% with this. I think this is a damning column that ought to circulate from hand to hand, and internet site to internet site, and ought to be memorized by Republican candidates across the United States, because it is, in fact, absolutely correct, except for the last line. Hillary Clinton was intimate…

BS: Well, you know…

HH: Hillary Clinton was intimate…

BS: One point about that. You know, the last line, will she, right?

HH: Right.

BS: A lot of readers took that to mean an endorsement. It was just a prediction. I don’t see Donald Trump getting himself elected, certainly not the way he’s going, certainly not with his failure in the wake of capturing the Republican nomination to behave like a presidential nominee.

HH: I wrote at great length yesterday what he has to do. But if it’s a binary choice, is there any reason to believe that Hillary Clinton, after Egypt, Libya, Syria, her failure to negotiate the status of forces agreement, her Russian reset, the fact that the Russian have every one of her emails for five years, if you believe Mike Morell, is there any reason to believe she would be different than President Obama?

BS: No, I think she’s going to be a continuation of President Obama. People seem to be under the impression that I’m crazy about Hillary. I think Hillary is dreadful. One of the strongest arguments for opposing Donald Trump in the nomination process is he was just about the only Republican who was going to lose to Hillary, maybe Ted Cruz, but he was certainly the only Republican who would lose to Hillary, simply because I think he comes across to an increasing percentage of Americans, and I’ve been saying this for a long time, as not just uninformed, but someone unhinged. And that’s, that’s, people look for a certain degree of sobriety in their presidents. It’s too big of a job. There are too many nuclear weapons at the president’s disposal to have a guy whose actions are so difficult to predict as Donald’s.

HH: He is 12 points behind by the Reuters/Ipsos poll, and he does have to make changes, and I have laid them out. But let me put the question to you, Bret, as I’ll put it to everyone. If there is no mutiny, and there isn’t going to be a mutiny, because Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan aren’t leading one, and do you agree with me, absent McConnell and Ryan, there is not going to be a mutiny?

BS: Well, yeah, I think it would take Ryan. I don’t know if McConnell has the standing in the party. But you know, just quickly, Hugh, you know, politically, first of all, this should not be a time to politicize this event the way it has been. But there, you have the President blaming Christians, Republicans and everyone except…

HH: Yup.

BS: …radical Islamists for this attack. But this should have been a strong week for Donald Trump just to showcase the weakness of this administration and its first Secretary of State when it comes to fighting terrorists. Instead, he’s falling farther behind. So in a week that should have gone his way, he’s just committing such political malpractice, that it’s hard to see how he turns it around.

HH: I agree with that, and I am going to dedicate myself to trying to get him to turn it around. But Bret, if the choice is Clinton versus Trump, who is Bret Stephens going to vote for?

BS: Probably none of the above. I will never vote for Donald Trump. I have a very, very hard time voting for Mrs. Clinton. I have been, I have been writing about Hillary Clinton, I just actually looked this up, since 1998 when she was busy standing by when Suha Arafat was launching anti-Semitic tirades against Israel and the Jews. And Hillary Clinton’s record in office is dreadful. Her ideas are dreadful. They will make us less safe. So, but there is no way I’m going to vote for a guy who is just totally uninformed, un-presidential as Donald Trump is.

HH: So he brings along, let me make an argument to you, and I look forward to reading when you think and write through this, because I think you’re so influential that it will matter. He brings 3,000 people with him, a vice president, a secretary of Defense, a secretary of State, a head of the national intelligence community, a CIA director, etc., etc., He can keep Joe Dunford in, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who is widely regarded as the best in a long time, etc., etc. And so we elect 3,000 people, not just one. And it seems to me that as a civilian, this is Hugh Hewitt talking, not Bret, I owe the people who are on the front end of the spear, the people on the front line, the best commander-in-chief of the two. I owe them my informed judgment as to who will do the best by America. I can’t sit it out, because they can’t sit it out. They’re taking bullets and incoming. So how do you respond to that argument about having to make the choice? And if you’re obliged to make the choice upon pondering that, who would the choice be?

BS: Well, you’re asking me the same question twice. My answer is the same. The only person who counts in the administration is the president of the United States, Hugh. That’s the only person who counts. When George W. Bush decided to save the American position in Iraq by going against the advice of all of his wise men, of Jim Baker and the whole Iraq Study Group, and 90% of his administration, that was George W. Bush’s decision. So we have to bear in mind that this isn’t an administration we’re electing. It’s a person that we are electing. Who knows better than you what it means to have a commander-in-chief who lived his entire life, who lived throughout the entire Cold War, and doesn’t know what the nuclear triad is? It’s absolutely astonishing. And so it’s terrific to have Joe Dunford and you know, perhaps John Bolton and other people in positions of trust. But you have to have a president who bothered over the last 70 years to gain a cursory understanding of how the world works. And on so many issues, Hugh, on so many issues, I know not all of the issue, but on so many issues, this guy is just the antithesis of what I’d want a Republican president to be on foreign policy. When it comes to trade, when it comes to standing up to countries like North Korea, when it comes to standing up to guys like Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump is not a conservative. If you put…

HH: Bret, you don’t have to, I agree with you on all of that. I know the critique. Nevertheless, what about my argument that civilians owe people who are fighting the war the best of the two candidates for commander-in-chief. We don’t have the option to be conscientious objectors in the one part of the war that is part of our job, which is to pick a commander-in-chief.

BS: Listen, I think that for the United States, Hillary Clinton, as awful as I find her, is a survivable event. I’m not so sure about Donald Trump.

HH: Wow.

BS: And let me tell you why. Let me add one more point to that, Hugh. The United States survives so long as at least one of its major parties is politically and intellectually healthy. I don’t think the Republican Party, or I should say the Republican Party as the vehicle for modern American conservative ideas, survives with Donald Trump. I think a Donald Trump presidency sets up an Elizabeth Warren ascendancy. And it not Elizabeth Warren, someone of her ilk. And I think that’s dreadful. I think a Donald Trump presidency raises a new kind of version of conservatism which more closely resembles a kind of Father Coughlin, America first populism and nativism and isolationism, than the confident, modern, cosmopolitan, thoughtful, engaged conservatism of Ronald Reagan and Paul Ryan.

HH: I believe in that latter version of conservatism, but I also believe we’re in a war that you so completely and fully detail that we are losing for the reasons that you cite in your column, and that we can’t afford a woman who has been totally compromised by the Russians. Bret, last question, less than a minute. Do you believe, as I do, the Russians have everything that was on her server for five years?

BS: I think you have to assume that they do. And this is, I mean, it’s such a ghastly choice that it seems we face in November. The Russians hack into everything. They’re very sophisticated when it comes to this. The idea that they wouldn’t have known is not an idea you can rely on. If the Chinese can take everyone’s Social Security numbers, at least everyone who works for the government, they could have hacked into Hillary’s server.

HH: And that’s why she’s compromised. And I think, think about it, Bret. We’ll talk again. I think you have to vote for Donald Trump. I think every American does because of that. Stay tuned.

End of interview.


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