James Hohmann of the Washington Post was the third journalist I discussed Donald Trump’s press conference Wednesday with on this morning’s show:
HH: From the Daily 202 at the Washington Post, I’m joined by James Hohmann, who debuted his podcast with me and others in Cleveland. Are you doing another 202 podcast from Philadelphia, James Hohmann?
JH: We did, and it was with Jerry Brown. It was quite fun.
HH: Oh, that’s terrific. Was his wonderful wife and my law school classmate and seatmate, Ann Gust, with him?
JH: That’s right. She was not.
HH: Oh, it’s too bad. I could have planted a torts question. I had to bail her out all the time in torts. Hohmann, let me ask you about this Donald Trump. I’ve been talking to everyone about it. Chuck Todd and I talked about it. Todd thinks he conflated the DNC and the Hillary emails purposefully. I think he did the right thing and called attention to the emails. Chris Cillizza, Cillizza agrees with me. And so I’ve got Chuck Todd thinking that Trump misplayed it, and Chris Cillizza thinking he made the right point. What do you think about what Trump did?
JH: I think it’s somewhere in between, Hugh. I honestly do. I think you know, the elites, and a lot of the chattering class and the foreign policy establishment are freaking out. But I do think, one, it steps on Hillary’s coronation, two, in the minds of a lot of people, it does make the DNC email leak and the Hillary private server of the same issue. On the other hand, I can see why it’s very possible Trump did overplay his hand. You know, he had a winning issue. The DNC leaks are incredibly damaging. The Hillary email server continues to be damaging. Hillary is not viewed as trustworthy. And now, the whole conversation is about you know, Trump seeming to be friendly with Putin. Obviously, I think some of that’s being overstated and overplayed. The Clinton campaign will use it endlessly. So I don’t think it’s a complete clear cut win, but you’re absolutely right. I do think Trump is being more strategic than he’s given credit for from the mainstream media. But at the same time, I think he might not be thinking through, you know, all the moves on the chessboard.
HH: What I would like him to do is to come out and say let’s talk about three things. One, I’ve got nothing to do with Putin, I do not welcome his help, I will be tough on him, I am not a Putin fan or friend. Number two, the DNC hack is a meddling in our election, and I denounce that. The Russians should stay out of our elections. But those emails, if I had sent them, I’d be dead. You would all be dead. And number three, let’s not forget they’ve got Hillary’s 33,000 emails. I want them to publish them in order to make obvious to the world the amount of national security damage she did. End of speech.
JH: Right, yeah, no, that would be the politically, he could have said those three things, Hugh, yesterday. He could have made that exact point during the press conference, and I think that would have been a winning thing that would have helped kind of overshadow the effort to define Hillary as you know, some trustworthy person at the Democratic convention. But that’s not how he did it. You know, I think one of the things that was notable is clearly, the campaign had drafted before Trump’s press conference that statement from Mike Pence, which was carefully worded and essentially made the three points you just made, said we need the FBI to look into this, Russia shouldn’t be meddling in our process. But the statement came out like 10 minutes after Trump’s press conference, and it was widely interpreted wrongly by a lot of cable TV types as Pence, you know, disavowing Trump, which isn’t what he’s doing. It was more that Trump wasn’t on board with what the messaging his campaign was trying to put forward.
HH: Yeah, I get that, but what I really, I don’t like, and Nick Kristof is a good guy. He’s been on the show a lot. He said that, in his column today, that Trump invited Russia to hack, in effect, invited Russia to hack. He did nothing of the sort. That’s just wrong. And I don’t understand why the media plays it. You can denounce getting, playing cozy with Putin by press conference. You know, that’s perfectly acceptable. I don’t think that’s what he’s doing. He’s just being Donald Trump, and I think he’ll be very tough on Putin. I hope he will be very tough on Putin. But I am amazed at how in the tank a lot of the media is for Hillary.
JH: Let me, I hear you, Hugh. I could be, to be fair to the media, you know, of the three points, the one you made about needing to be tough on Putin, is incredibly important. And frankly, Donald Trump hasn’t said it. One of the things that I actually thought was far more alarming than the thing about the Putin releasing the emails was a journalist asked him what would you do, you know, would you lift sanctions on Russia, because of Ukraine and their invasion of Ukraine, and he said I will look into it. You know, I think really, that’s Trump not understanding the issue, and not having thought about it. But the idea, you know, last week saying he might not follow through on our commitments under Article 5, and then yesterday saying he might lift sanctions on Russia for invading Ukraine? That invites aggression. Putin is watching this play out. To me, that’s far more serious and worrisome than the joke.
HH: Yes, yes, yes. And I do not understand why we can’t talk seriously about Russia and Putin. That would evoke, provoke a very good conversation, because Hillary has to then talk about the Russia reset button. So neither of them are in a good position to have that conversation. Last question, I don’t think Hillary’s going to debate him. Do you?
JH: I’m coming around. I thought you were crazy when you told me that three weeks ago. I think, you know, now I might not bet you money like I would have three weeks ago. On the other hand, this race is going to continue to be close, and I think if the race is close, if Hillary doesn’t debate him, it’ll look like she’s trying to hide, and it’ll make her look shady. And I think the Clinton people are probably smarter than to try and do that. But stranger things have happened.
HH: Dead heat next week in the polls?
HH: I agree. James Hohmann of the Washington Post, thank you.
End of interview.