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The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza Defends CNBC’s Debate Moderators And Discusses Bench Depth In Both Parties

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The transcript:

HH: And the loyalty award goes to Ryan Lizza of the New Yorker. Having been a media figure who’s been in the target range before for incoming, I appreciated that Ryan stood up for the CNBC panel last night when no one else in America was doing it, Ryan Lizza. I hope they sent you flowers today.

RL: Are you attacking them, too? How much incoming did you get when you did the CNN debate?

HH: You know, not much, actually. I mostly was criticized for being quiet, for being too quiet. But I do think…

RL: That you didn’t have enough questions.

HH: Yeah, but I did. I felt perfectly fine about it. But I think the answer is I made my questions very, very short.

RL: Yeah.

HH: I mean, that is where, that’s where people get into trouble when they speechify. It’s like Foghorn Leghorn, Ryan. Do you think they learned anything from that?

RL: Well, I think the biggest problem was that it was billed as a debate about the economy, and that’s not really what dominated the questioning. I think a second problem was the, just production of the debate was poor. It seemed like there was a lot of confusion, there wasn’t a lot of, the integration, that the moderators didn’t seem well-integrated like they knew what each other was doing. When the one moderator asked a question to Trump, it didn’t seem like she had the backup to back up what she was saying, and it turns out she was more right than Trump was, but she didn’t have the competence to realize that. So look, I didn’t, I had one tweet early in the debate about it. I didn’t do some full-throated defense that this was the greatest debate ever.

HH: No, but it was nice. I just thought it was kind. It’s always nice to walk into the fire when someone’s getting killed. But I will say this. CNN…

RL: I’m always skeptical when, you know, when there’s whining about, oh, the questions were too tough, or they were gotcha questions, or they’re oppo questions. Well, that’s a lot of time what questioning candidates is, is taking the best argument from the other side and putting it in front of them and seeing, you know, seeing how they handle it. For instance, the Rubio exchange, I don’t think it was unfair that he’s going to have to answer that question 20 more times in this campaign about, you know, some of the stuff that went on in Florida. And it was a good, you know, in terms of political strategy, I think it was a good answer to say oh, you’re just throwing oppo research at me. But you know, sometimes, oppo research is just facts, right?

HH: But you’ve already articulated the problem. It was an economics debate, and Marco Rubio’s personal finances have got like zero to do with it. But I’ll tell you what…

RL: Well, but you could argue, no, but you could argue, look, how you dealt with your finances tells you something about how you’re going to deal with the economy. Remember, in his book, he admitted that he was a bookkeeper.

HH: Oh, I read it. But Ryan, they never brought up the TPP, for God’s sake. The TPP was unmentioned.

RL: Right, so he got that…100% agree with you there. I 100%, absolutely…that’s a totally fair criticism.

HH: Well, let’s go to some substance. You and I are both, we do a lot of work with CNN. You’re a consultant, I’m not. CNN worked my butt off to be ready, and just in terms of performance, their sound engineers were off last night. And Jake Tapper, I think you have to have a quarterback.

RL: Yeah.

HH: And people were mad that Jake got to run the whole thing, and I told them no. You’ve got 11 people on the stage. You need a quarterback. They had five quarterbacks. That’s why it was a complete fiasco, that and the content.

RL: Yeah.

HH: But here is the moment that defined the debate, cut number two, Ted Cruz:

TC: This is not a cage match. And you look at the questions – Donald Trump, are you a comic book villain, Ben Carson, can you do math, John Kasich, will you insult two people over here, Marco Rubio, why don’t you resign, Jeb Bush, why have your numbers fallen. How about talking about the substantive issues people care about?

HH: Now stop right there. Ryan Lizza, what’s beautiful about this, forget the substance…

RL: Yeah.

HH: He’s a Supreme Court litigator, he’s won nine Supreme Court cases. He managed to recall without notes all of the various attacks, compressed them, repurposed them, and play it out beautifully. That’s why he’s won nine cases before the Supreme Court.

RL: I mean, it was amazing, right? He had that all in his head laid out. He probably sat there for two or three minutes getting the order right, and he nailed it as if he had memorized it. Now of course, we all know Ted Cruz grew up having to memorize the Constitution, right?

HH: Yeah.

RL: That was one of the things his dad did for him. And you’re right. He is a skilled courtroom dramatist, right? And you know, that’s why I think a lot of people today are saying he was one of the winners last night.

HH: Here’s the second key takeaway, cut number four, Chris Christie.

JH: You said something that many in your party do not believe, which is that climate change is undeniable, that human activity contributes to it, and you said, “The question is what do we do to deal with it?” So what do we do?

CC: Well, first off, what we don’t do is do what Hillary Clinton and John Kerry and Barack Obama want us to do, which is their solution for everything – put more taxes on it, give more money to Washington, D.C., and then they’re fix it. Well, there’s no evidence that they can fix anything in Washington, D.C.

JH: What should we do?

CC: What we should do is to be investing in all types of energy, John, all types of energy. Now I’ve laid out…

JH: In government?

CC: No, John, John, do you want me to answer or do you want to answer, because I’ve got to tell you the truth. Even in New Jersey, what you’re doing is called rude.

HH: It was so wonderful.

RL: Well, now poor John. John is a very good journalist, a very smart journalist. You know, I don’t see him as a partisan, and I thought that was a little unfair. He interrupted him one time to get a little bit more specificity, and look, sometimes, you have to interrupt to get these guys on the record, because otherwise, it’s just talking points.

HH: Ryan, Ryan, Ryan, the rudeness wasn’t about that question.

RL: I was on Team Harwood there.

HH: It was about the debate. No, no, you should not be. It was not about that question. It was about the debate. When he said…

RL: No, he was saying you’re interrupting me right now.

HH: …what you’re doing here…

RL: He wasn’t talking about the larger debate.

HH: No, no, it was, why do you think, why do you think the audience applauded that way? Because they were, I’ve never seen moderators booed.

RL: Oh, well, because…

HH: They hated the moderators, Ryan. They hated them.

RL: I agree with you there. That was, the crowd was definitely not on the media’s side. It almost never is at a debate. But that one specific instance, Christie was complaining because he asked, because he interrupted him one time in the course of a question.

HH: Oh, I will ask Chris Christie the next time what was on his mind, but I’m thinking he played to the larger pent-up, everyone was aware. Christie is a prosecutor.

RL: You are right.

HH: Cruz is a prosecutor. The guys who won last night are all guys who have courtroom experience. I think that was fascinating to me, because it became…

RL: That’s a good point.

HH: It became a different moment last night. We’ve got a minute and then we’ll come back after this. Going in, tell me about Jeb Bush. Where are we today, and we’ll come back after break and finish. I don’t think it’s as dire as some people think, but what you do think?

RL: I agree with you there. I mean, people are saying he’s finished, he can’t go on. You don’t, you know, as long as he’s got money in the bank, he goes on as long as he can, right? Campaigns end when they run out of money, and all indications are that that superPAC still has a good deal of money. And at the very least, he has, you know, some part of that cash on hand that was reported at the end of the quarter. So he pulls out of this race when the finances are over, and I don’t see the case for pulling out before then.

HH: I’ll be right back with Ryan Lizza, a journalist’s best friend. When I get in trouble at the Venetian, I want Ryan Lizza on my side.

— – – – –

HH: Ryan Lizza, it was a big day today, and I think maybe more for you than for me. I’m 59. How old are you, Ryan?

RL: Oh, Jesus, I’m 41.

HH: All right, today, Paul Ryan became the Speaker of the House.

RL: Yes.

HH: Here’s what he said, cut number five:

PR: My friends, you have done me a great honor. The people of this country, they’ve done all of us a great honor. Now, let’s prove ourselves worthy of it. Let’s seize the moment. Let’s rise to the occasion. And when we are done, let us say that we left the people, all the people, more united, happy and free. Thank you.

HH: And Ryan, what I think is big about this is he’s not my generation. You’re not my generation. And Rubio’s not my generation and Ted Cruz isn’t my generation. It’s like your generation is stepping up at this point. Do you see that? Do you feel that?

RL: I do. It’s really kind of scary when you’ve been covering, I’ve been covering politics for almost 20 years now. And it’s kind of, it amazes me when I see Rubio and Ryan and Cruz are just a couple of years older than me, and I think wow, can someone my age actually be president or Speaker of the House? And you know, I guess it’s true. I thought the other thing that he said that was very interesting is he said outright the House is broken.

HH: Yup.

RL: And that was, you know, that was quite an admission, and I think, you know, I think there’s broad consensus that the House is broken. I don’t think there’s consensus on why it’s broken. But you know, he promised a lot of the process reforms and parliamentary procedure reforms that a lot of the critics on the right in the House have been angling for, for a long time. And it will be very interesting to see if he can actually institute them.

HH: So here’s my question. Transitions are never easy. We have less than a minute At least the Republicans have begun theirs. Have the Democrats got anyone lined up to take over? I mean, Nancy Pelosi is like 30 years older than me.

RL: Well, the Democrats have a problem, no, I mean, if you look at the House and the presidential campaign, they don’t have a deep bench right now, right? And partly, it’s because of the 2010 and 2014 elections, where they really got wiped out. I mean, one of the reasons they had a deep bench back when Obama was coming up is because of the 2006 and 2008 elections, right? They did really well, and it’s a bit of a see-saw. They have much older policy makers, you’re absolutely right, and they need an election where they replenish the ranks.

HH: And that is not in the offing, I don’t think. We will see more. Ryan Lizza, always a pleasure to talk to the New Yorker’s fine political analyst, D.C. bureau chief. Thank you, Ryan.

End of interview.


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