Politico’s Alex Isenstadt joined me this debate day AM to talk “the rigged media” Donald Trump routinely refers too:
HH: Joined by one of the sharper knives in the political reporter drawer, Alex Isenstadt of Politico. Alex, good morning to you. How are you?
AI: Hey, thanks for having me.
HH: The latest news for my side, which is good, are Quinnipiac polls out of Nevada and Pennsylvania respectively showing Joe Heck in Nevada and Pat Toomey in Pennsylvania with four point leads. Not bad, pretty good. What’s your general assessment of the battle for the Senate?
AI: Well, what’s really interesting is that it’s not totally clear at this point that the damage that’s being done to Donald Trump is necessarily transferring down ballot in the House and Senate races. There’s been a lot of internal polling being done. Republican strategists are looking at a lot of numbers to figure out if that damage is being transferred. And they’re not seeing a lot of evidence that it is. And so that’s really good news for Republicans at this point.
HH: Now Alex, I want to turn over to the rigged talk. I explained on MSNBC yesterday, in fact, let me play for you the quick quip of Thomas Roberts and I talking about what does it mean to say rigged. Can you play that, Adam?
TR: And now, MSNBC political analyst and host of the Hugh Hewitt Show on the Salem Radio Network, Hugh Hewitt. Also with us, radio host and MSNBC contributor Charlie Sykes. Gentlemen, I hope you were both able to hear that. And I want to start with you, Hugh, because we look at the new political Morning Consult poll that found that 41% of registered voters agreed with Trump that the election could be stolen from the GOP nominee due to voter fraud. And we heard Donald Trump really using this course of refrain on the campaign trail. Is that a proven strategy to work?
HH: Well, there are two kinds of rigged charges being made, Thomas. Rigged part A is voter fraud. We know that exists. The question is how widespread, and is it rather ever significant? We’ve had events in Colorado and Virginia this cycle, and there have been events in Wisconsin, Charlie knows about in the past. It’s rarely significant in the outcome of an Electoral College state. It might have been significant, Democrats believe in Florida in 2000. So it’s very, that’s rigged part A. What I heard A.J. telling Jacob is rigged part B, is what does the media cover and what don’t they cover? And I would quickly say this very day, there are five stories. Whether it’s the Project Veritas video of Democratic dirty tricks, the General Cartwright-Hillary Clinton double standard, the Cheryl Mills-Haiti connection, the USA Today lobbyist using their connections with the Clinton Foundation to advance it, or anything even as basic as inquiries into whether or not the Podesta emails have been effectively vetted for all the details. Most of the Trump supporters believe that 100% saturation coverage on Access Hollywood, and 0% on Project Veritas or all these other stories is in fact rigging the election not in a voter fraud way, but in an influence way.
HH: So Alex Isenstadt, do you accept my bifurcation of the rigged argument into rigged voting fraud, rigged media bias?
AI: Yeah, look, I mean, that is what Donald Trump is talking about, is playing to a group of voters who do believe that the system is sort of set against Donald Trump in certain ways, including the way, in their view, the media is covering this race. But look, I mean, here’s the thing. To some extent, the media is covering these things. The media is covering the Clinton email scandal. It’s just that Donald Trump has been sort of perceived now by the American electorate as, by a wide swathe of the American electorate, as unacceptable, particularly in light of the Access Hollywood tape. And it’s very hard, it’s very hard, even if there were, per se, more coverage of the Clinton emails, it would be very hard for Trump to sort of have, to make real inroads in this race.
HH: Alex, I asked your colleague, Glenn Thrush, yesterday, and I haven’t read Politico yet this morning, has Politico covered the Project Veritas videos by James O’Keefe?
AI: You know, honestly, I am actually not entirely sure of that question at this point.
HH: All right, let me read to you a Twitter feed from just minutes ago. Matt Lewis, very estimable Matt Lewis, questions [on Twitte], “Why should liberals want to stoke violence at a Trump rally? Theory, to help Trump win the primary.” Liz Mair, estimable Liz Mair, [responds] “Matt Lewis, 100% correct. At the time, I posted it could even have been pro-Trump forces ginning it up to push him ahead.” She continues, “Remember, Trump was not in a great position in Illinois, and was likely to lose Missouri heading into them. Then Chicago happened.” And I responded to both Liz and Matt Lewis, and to Richard Grenell’s point “This is why near-blackout of Project Veritas Action videos is so disturbing. They show the Democratic manipulations of the cycle. We are where we are, but now how we got there is important.” And I do believe that there is an effective blackout, Alex. I haven’t seen these things, I know O’Keefe is odious to the left in Manhattan-Beltway media elite. I know because of Project ACORN and all of his colorful and often controversial history, and sometimes downright, you know, he got charged with criminal wrongdoing, I believe he was cleared, but I’m not sure. O’Keefe is a controversial guy, but these are pretty damning tapes. Have you watched them, yet?
AI: Well, yeah, you know, I have, but the problem is, is that you know, there have been some, at least some believe there have been some issues with O’Keefe’s reporting in the past with the edited tapes, does he manipulate them in some way? And so there have been some issues, perhaps the primary source, but look, I mean, the problem is, is like, is look at what Donald Trump has been accused of by numerous women now. Look at the…
HH: But that’s shifting. Alex, you’re shifting back. You’re doing exactly what my team hates, which is I’m talking about Project Veritas, you want to shift it back to Trump. I talked about Trump all the first hour.
AI: I know.
HH: But I want to talk about Project Veritas, and explain to people why it hasn’t been covered, because if in fact the Democrats wanted Trump, and it appears from the Wikileaks, the Russian-backed Wikileak hack, it’s a Russian intelligence operation, it appears that Podesta and his team wanted Trump. And there is now hard evidence from a controversial source that they acted on that to elect Trump. Isn’t that the rigging that Trump talks about?
AI: Look, there’s no question that Democrats wanted to run against Donald Trump in the general election. There’s absolutely no question about it. But look, I mean, to some extent, I think that the Project Veritas things are being covered. I saw it on CNN, which I know you appear on sometimes.
HH: Now I’m on NBC exclusively, but you wouldn’t know that. Go ahead.
AI: I’m sorry about that. But look, I mean, you know, this is, there has been some coverage. And you know, we’ve been covering at Politico, we’ve been covering the Wikileaks emails tranche extremely extensively.
HH: Oh, I agree. I agree on that. I agree on that. But if, in fact, Democrats set out to nominate Trump, and the Project Veritas videos attempt to show that, and Podesta has emails demonstrating their intent to do that, that would seem to me to be at least as significant as Access Hollywood two weeks after Access Hollywood, though not perhaps as significant as new charges, the People Magazine charges. I’m just trying to be fair here. And I don’t think the media is trying to be fair, Alex. I really think they’re playing into the Trump narrative here.
AI: Look, there’s no question that Donald Trump, this is a central part of Donald Trump’s argument. The question, though, is that is the notion that the media is somehow aligned against Donald Trump, is that an effective argument for him at the end of this race? And I don’t know that it reaches enough new voters. I don’t know that enough votes really believe that somehow that the media establishment is aligned against him. I don’t know if that’s an effective enough argument.
HH: I don’t think it is. I think it matters a great deal for democracy going future that the media commit itself to finding scumbags who are attempting to manipulate elections, to nominate the weakest opponent. Do you know that this is what Claire McCaskill did when she got Todd Akin nominated two years ago, right? Everybody knows that. She got Todd Akin nominated two years ago.
AI: Absolutely, and you know, there’s, this is, there is long histories of politicians trying to meddle in the opposing side’s primary in order to run against the weakest possible opponent. I’m not sure if you remember the 2002 California governor’s race with Gray Davis and how he won reelection that year as well. It’s how the game’s been played a bit in the past. And look, I mean, this is something that Democrats, these charges now, it’s something that Democrats are going to have to deal with. Perhaps it comes up in the debate tonight with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.
HH: I hope Trump does. If you’ll do me a favor, go over and find John Harris and say I think they really have to cover these, along with all the caveats about O’Keefe that they want to put in. But that is what is fueling this rigged standard, because you have a huge story, and it’s blacked out over 90%, whereas Access Hollywood, if it’s been played once, it’s been played, how many times you think the Access Hollywood tape’s been played on major network and cable, Alex? Just a guess since it dropped two weeks ago?
AI: Hard to say. It’s hard to say.
HH: More than 500 times?
AI: Yes, I would assume so (laughing).
HH: Yeah. More than 1,000 times?
AI: Who knows?
HH: I think so. I think it’s been played more than 1,000 times. Project Veritas not yet heard by people. That is, to me, a problem with democracy. It’s not going to affect this election. It’s not a winner. But it’s a problem with democracy. Alex Isenstadt of Politico, thank you for joining me.
End of interview.