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The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel On Likeability and 2016, And Whether Huma Goes Or Stays From Team Hillary

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The Washington Post’s newest addition to their all-star line-up of political reporters, Dave Weigel, joined me to start the third hour today:




HH: I’m beginning this last hour of today’s show with Dave Weigel, now of the Washington Post. Dave Weigel, welcome. It’s the first time I’ve talked to you since you became a Washington Postie.

DW: It is. Now people have to take me seriously, I guess. Before, I was just ranting in the darkness.

HH: Well, I’ve always taken, yeah, but you did not change your Twitter feed. It remains @DaveWeigel

DW: No, there is no Twitter. There should be a Twitter censor, but there is not.

HH: There’s no Twitter censor. Well, congratulations. Does it change your life in any way, or are you still doing what you were doing beforehand, which is traveling around the world at breakneck speed covering politics?

DW: Well, it’s whatever speed the airlines come up with, so not quite breakneck. And yeah, I’m going to be in Cleveland, which I don’t think you have strong opinions about Ohio or Cleveland.

HH: Not at all. I…

DW: Okay, but I’m going to be there. So if anyone has any advice about what I should do there for the debate, and then Atlanta for Red State.

HH: You know, I did get the Donald yesterday to commit to considering buying the Cleveland Indians, which I think is a fine campaign strategy.

DW: That would be huge, yeah.

HH: It was big. And he also owes me three million dollars after yesterday’s interview. I don’t know if you caught that, but I would encourage you to, if you see him, ask him if he’s going to pay me up for that. Dave Weigel, I asked your colleague, Karen Tumulty this. I’ll ask you. On a likability scale, where Frankenstein is one and Tom Hanks in Big is a 10, where is Joe Biden and where is Hillary Clinton on that scale?

DW: So are you asking this of journalists? Or you’re asking it with, as I mean, by which I mean people who see them up close? Or are you asking it of the voters?

HH: I’m just asking where does Dave Weigel put them down in terms of I’d like to spend time with this person likability-wise?

DW: Yesh.

HH: Everybody wants to spend time with Tom Hanks in Big, right? Nobody wants to spend time with Frankenstein.

DW: I see what you mean. Well, I’m from Delaware originally, and I have this bias. I’ve declared a few times I really personally like Biden, and I’ve stuck up for him at a couple of the fights where he’s said something impolitic but interesting and gotten ganged up on. So he’s much more relatable and likeable than most politicians. A lot of politicians, when you get to know them, I think are good for conversations, and I think good for a gab. He’s unusually good at this. Hillary, who I’ve never covered that closely, reportedly, once she lets her guard down, is very affable and likable and is good to her friends. But that is not broadcast for the universe the way it is for Biden. And I mean, I can confirm it with Biden, and I can’t with her.

HH: So where would you put Biden, 1-10, and where would you put Hillary, 1-10? Again, it’s the Tom Hanks in Big scale.

DW: I mean, he’s a 10. She is lower than that. Let’s just say personally, probably…

HH: How much?

DW: From what I’ve heard, an 8. As far as what is broadcast for everyone else to see, lower, like a 5-6.

HH: That high?

DW: I would, I mean, let’s keep in mind there are Democrats who love her. And I always reject the framework of 2016 as a clash of dynasties where Jeb is one Lego block and she’s another Lego block, because there are Hillary superfans, and I’ve met them. They’re people who just think the world of her, have been treated very well by her, so higher than that. I mean, there are a lot of Democrats in this country who really like her, and they’re going to vote for her in the primary.

HH: You know, there are also John Fogerty superfans. I know that, because I went to a John Fogerty concert last week, and there were four somewhat dated ladies standing in front of him the whole time. It was mildly embarrassing like that Al Pacino movie recently. And so I’m sure there are Hillary superfans, but generally, her likability numbers are in the tanks, and her trustworthiness is worse.

DW: Yes, and it depends a little bit on what poll you look at. I feel, I think you’ve talked before about the observation, was it Evan Thomas or was it, some editor of Newsweek, maybe Jon Meacham that carries, that the media was worth a couple of points for Democrats. I think Kerry was the example he used. And I feel it’s, you can’t compare 2008 and 2016 in terms of the way these candidates are looked at by the media. I feel like there was a lot of warmth, and I think hope in the coverage of Obama, someone who was fresh and new and had a story, and if he won would be part of a front page in the museum sort of story. And with Hillary, it’s of somebody who has been known and combative with the press, known by and combative with the press for decades now. And you see that. I mean, and I think if Media Matters and Eric Boehlert haven’t already done a one to one comparison to how the Times covers Hillary and how they covered Obama, I think they’d find a lot in the assumptions they make and the allowances they give.

HH: Two things after that. The first is you’ve just uttered one of the un-utterables, which is Evan Thomas and Jon Meacham are actually the same person.

DW: I just couldn’t remember which.

HH: Well, no one can, and I’ve had Evan in the studio as recently as two weeks ago, but everyone gets them confused. They are the same person, don’t you think?

DW: I don’t watch enough TV to know. I mean, they both have these, so Meacham is the one who writes stories about the 19th Century, the history of the 19th Century, and Thomas is the one who writes about the 20th.

HH: That’s it.

DW: Okay.

HH: But generally, they all go to the Aspen Institute together, and they’re both wonderful gentlemen.

DW: Yeah.

HH: And they’re fine radio guests, but honestly, you couldn’t pick them out of a lineup unless you’d had them in front of you. The second thing, you bring up Hillary likability. This is serious. Yesterday, Donald Trump, sua sponte on this program, went after Huma Abedin. Now I have reprinted in my new book, The Queen, the Andrew McCarthy takedown of Huma and her parents and her ties to the old MSA days and all that stuff. Does Huma become an issue? I mean I didn’t bring it up. Donald brought it up. But I was a little bit stunned that this early in the campaign, we’re going after aides.

DW: Well, she’s been a target for a very long time, for a number of reasons. I think if you even step away from the Michele Bachmann-Frank Gaffney attack that her family has Muslim Brotherhood ties, which is something John McCain’s always have written out of politics, here’s the fact. I mean, she’s married to Anthony Weiner, she calls in favors for his campaign, she has a career because she’s been so close to Clinton. And something I asked Democratic friends from time to time, what is actually so great about the job she’s doing, is it that important to have somebody in the inner circle who’s tight with Anthony Weiner? They swear she’s a genius, and I think just as somebody again who mostly covers more Republicans than covers Clinton, it’s, it seems to be a story of the Clintons keeping people, loyalists around them who they can trust, but who might not be the best person for that job. And that’s, again, there are contrasts we saw with Obama, who seemed to get a superteam going of people as loyal when they need to be, and could junk when he needed to be. He didn’t, I think it’s hard to think of somebody in the Obama circle who is, they’ve made as many allowances, I mean, literal allowances for Abedin, right, when it came to the State Department and the work she was allowed to do on the side, hard to think of anyone that the Obama circle gave that to.

HH: Now there are three in the Obama inner circle.

DW: Okay.

HH: David Axelrod, Rahm Emmanuel, Valerie Jarrett.

DW: But maybe allowances where they said you can work for us and then you can do this charity work or political work on the side, right?

HH: No, no.

DW: I can’t think of anyone like that.

HH: They have their own rules, though. They live in their own world of special access and privilege.

DW: Yeah.

HH: And Huma’s actually one of many, but she is the most public. Is there anyone on the Republican side who is a counterpart to a Huma Abedin on all the controversies, and I know the Gaffney-Andrew McCarthy line of attack is ruled ineligible by many people, but it’s not going to stay in eligible through the general election, do you think?

DW: You’re right. I don’t think so. And you see how this works before. I mean, it’s something that is unacceptable when it’s a slow-burning story on some, when just being forwarded to the Senate is not when it’s in the tumult of a campaign. I don’t know if that’s the best attack against Clinton, but it’s probably going to be part of the conversation. And I can’t think of someone in the Republican camps like this. I mean, generally, their top staff are people who they saw prove themselves at other levels, or have proven, I mean, I think Donald Trump’s circle are people who are loyal to him and say yes to everything and fight with the media. You know, Cohen, for example, I think, has been pugnacious when he doesn’t even need to be in ways that it’s not clear it actually helped Trump. So Trump maybe has people who are this loyal, but no one who was then brought into the government and expected to be a government servant and also loyal to the Clinton brand.

HH: Would you, Dave Weigel, summarize what is the Gaffney-McCarthy argument about Huma?

DW: Well, I might get a detail of it wrong, because I haven’t thought about it for a while, but it’s that her father, I believe, it’s I think related to her family’s own politics and how they got to this country, and whether we should question her own loyalty because of her family’s political ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. But I just haven’t investigated it in a long time.

HH: Yeah, I don’t think it was a question of her loyalty. I think it was a question of her activism on behalf of the Muslim Students Association as a young woman at Georgetown.

DW: Yeah, Muslim Students, okay, that was it. There were a couple of alphabet soup groups. So the Muslim Students Association connected in some way to the Muslim Brotherhood, yes. It was a little bit convoluted, and I frankly didn’t cover it that much beyond, when it became a controversy, it immediately became Republican versus Republican, so I think I covered it from that perspective.

HH: And now it’s come back that she’s at the center of the email and perk scandal. Honestly, there’s a trail of tears here. Does she cut Huma loose pretty soon?

DW: That would be seen as, I think a move kind of comparable to her cutting Patty Solis-Doyle loose, right, somebody who has been there for everything important, but might not be the best for the job. But it seems different. I mean, a lot of Republicans who knew Clinton in the Senate have a respect for Abedin, and are willing to forgive her, but elite Republicans, D.C. Republicans, not anyone else. I don’t know. I think it, it’s just that classic problem. Do you batten down the hatches, or do you kick somebody out? I mean, if you kick somebody out, people are going to notice since there’s a body floating there in the water, and follow the story in different ways. So I think they’re going to keep the loyalists around. I’ll also just, building on the work of my colleagues here, have read more about Abedin’s loyalty to Clinton and her relationship to the family than anyone comparable in any campaign. So it’s hard to imagine. It would be a milestone for them if they did so, and it would take something dramatic to cause that.

HH: Dave Weigel, great to have you back. Come early and often throughout 2015 and 2016. Enjoy Cleveland. You’ll want to head over to Pickwick & Frolic on the way to the arena. That’s my give to you for joining me today, Dave.

End of interview.


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