The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty opened today’s show:
HH: Karen Tumulty joins me. She is of course with the Washington Post, and she’s been following these numbers as close as anyone. Karen, how are you, welcome back to the program.
KT: Thanks. It’s great to be here.
HH: Any surprises in the Fox Poll, and do you think those ten are going to be the ten we see at the big table on Thursday?
KT: Well, one question is that Fox has indicated that if there’s some kind of statistical tie in here, we may have eleven instead of ten. So this is probably the general ten, yes.
HH: And that would leave Carly Fiorina and Rick Perry as the most disappointed people who may have had an expectation, correct?
KT: Yes, but they’ll be getting a lot of time to bond at the kids table debate that is beforehand.
HH: You know, I’ve already booked Carly to be my first guest at the radio special that comes on right after. I don’t think she’s expecting to make it given the overall polls, but I think Rick Perry actually will be deeply disappointed if he doesn’t get up there.
KT: And he’s certainly been, you know, out there criticizing Trump and kind of getting himself into the narrative.
HH: Yesterday, Donald was on with me for a long time, fifteen minutes. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read or hear that, yet, Karen.
KT: I’m sorry, I have not. I was in transit.
HH: Well, he was pretty remarkable in that he’s becoming very comfortable as a candidate, and appeared to rule out the third party thing. Do you agree with me that if he does effectively rule that out, that makes him more acceptable to more Republicans?
KT: You know, I think it does, but it also makes it more likely that you’re going to see the other candidates, and the party, go after him, because one of the reasons they have been handling him in some ways as though he were made of nitroglycerin is that they are afraid. You know, the only thing that scares them more than having him in the primary is having him leave the primary and go off on his own.
HH: And that’s what I talked to him about, and he said they have been treating him very well in the last couple of weeks. And folks who are interested can go over to Hughhewitt.com and read it from last night. And I think they have every incentive to continue to do that, but also to press him on the substantive issues that define Republicanism as I did yesterday. And this is where I want to go on the Planned Parenthood videos, Karen. I asked him if he had seen them, and he had. And I asked Carly Fiorina if she had seen them, and she had. And they both said the Republicans should shut down the government if necessary to defund Planned Parenthood. Do you expect that position to be general among the 17 announced candidates on the Republican side?
KT: I would not be surprised if we see a lot of strong statements on this issue. But the thing is that a debate in this format with ten or eleven people on the stage, you are not going to get very far, quite frankly, into the substance. This is not like a presidential debate in the fall where you have two candidates standing there and you can sit there and push them into the, you know, past the second or third level of nuance on their positions. So yeah, I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure on everybody, because this, these videos have been so explosive and have resonated so much within the conservative base to make some pretty dramatic statements.
HH: I’m predicting, I’m going out on a limb here, this will be known as the Iran-Planned Parenthood debate, or the Planned Parenthood-Iran debate, that these candidates will all have to get established that they’d like the government to shut down rather than fund Planned Parenthood, and that the Iran deal must be rejected. In fact, I will be shocked if any of them take a position other than that. Won’t you be?
KT: And then again, we may also have the, you know, the hand-raising questions, where they just sort of put a question to all of them and say you know, would you do this, raise your hand.
HH: You know, Karen, I get to ask questions at the debate at the Reagan Library, and then later in Vegas. And at one of those, I’m going to have a hand raise question will you agree never to raise your hand at a hand-raising question, because I hate those. Don’t you hate those as a journalist?
KT: I know, and then they make that, they think that makes the photo op, and that makes the moment, because let’s face it. That’s the other thing about a debate in this format with so many candidates. They are, it’s all about gaffes and zingers, and they all want to be at the center of whatever moment there is that comes out of this debate and resonates.
HH: Then stay with me on the Planned Parenthood videos for a moment. And by the way, have you seen all four of them, or just some of them?
KT: I have seen most of them.
HH: All right, I have only watched two of them. They’re actually so horrific, I can’t, I know what’s in them. I’m pro-life, I can’t watch them anymore. But I think the government, my personal view is they ought to shut the government down until Planned Parenthood is defunded. And I believe every Republican will agree with that position. And if they don’t, they don’t have a prayer, and that means we’re going to be in for an extended shutdown, because the Democrats won’t yield on this, will they, Karen?
KT: No, they won’t. And the other thing, it’s one of the great truths of the abortion debate, that as long as the argument, it’s who defines the question. And the more it’s about individual rights, the more the abortion rights advocate side wins. But the more you kind of, you look at the procedure itself, the more the other side wins. And that is why in the 1990s, the anti-abortion side seized on the partial birth abortion debate, and why they got so far.
HH: And I believe pro-lifers are going to push, push, push to shut the government down, and that that is not ground on which Democrats want to fight. I actually think the Republicans could win this. And Trump said on the show yesterday they would have won the last government shutdown, I actually think they did win that shutdown, because they won the August, they won the November, ’14 elections, so no matter what happened in November, ’13, the game ended up with the right score when it comes to winning and losing states. If any Republican says other than shut down the government, Karen, do they lose the opportunity to win in Iowa and New Hampshire?
KT: You know, I, we just don’t know what is, what’s going to matter in January and February, and going into March. It could be that this issue continues. It could be that it goes into the fall. But it also could be one of those things that you know, so many things happen between now and then that it feels like a distant memory by the time people actually start voting. And I’m, I just can’t see the future.
HH: Absent a mass casualty attack in the United States, I don’t see this going away, especially in Western Iowa where these primaries, where the caucuses are won, right? That’s heavily Evangelical territory. I have not spent any time there. Have you spent time in Western Iowa?
KT: I have spent time in Western Iowa, and it is, you’re right. Iowa is a number of different states. But you know, especially in the northwestern corner, it’s very, very conservative territory. But you know, then you have New Hampshire, which is, you know, has a pretty strong libertarian streak, and you know, again, a lot of political independence there. And those independents are going to be probably voting in the Republican primary.
HH: Well, that brings me to the second thing about which you wrote with Dan Balz and Paul Kane yesterday, two days ago, which is Joe Biden. Now I always thought that all the Democrats in New Hampshire would come, and the independents would come vote on the Republican side, and everyone would reregister in other states, because there was no race. But I think the Veep is in. What’s your instinct?
KT: I’m skeptical that he’s in. I think that a lot of people are coming to him and asking him to consider this, but I don’t get the sense that he has done anything concrete to start getting a campaign together. Now he has a family vacation that his family is going to have this month. They are probably going to have some real heart to heart conversations. And who knows what comes out of that? But the guidance I was getting was that you know, the people I talked to, at least, were pretty skeptical that when it comes right down to it, that he would take on this very steep uphill challenge that would be trying to knock Hillary Clinton out of position.
HH: Oh, Karen, now I have been, since I was in high school, Joe Biden has been on the cover of Time Magazine. And now people are asking him to run. Isn’t it in his genes? How could he actually go through an even numbered year without running for something?
KT: Well, he’s done it twice before, and you know, 1988 and 2008, and he didn’t get very far. And he’s got to think about a couple of things. Yes, it’s true. He’s been thinking about being president since 1972. But when it comes right down to it, and he weighs it against a couple of things, including, you know, what he wants his legacy as vice president to be, what he wants to do with this goodwill and this enhanced stature that he has at this moment, and second of all, he’s got some real personal issues here. He is now, you know, he’s now the head of a grieving family. And what are they going to need from him?
HH: True, but let me ask you this to close out. If on a likability scale Frankenstein is one and Tom Hanks in Big is 10, place Hillary and Joe Biden on that scale for me, Karen Tumulty.
KT: I think that Hillary Clinton at this point, and again, barring any surprises, is more electable, because she can still…
HH: Not electable, likable.
KT: Oh, likable. I think that she has a very strong reservoir of support, particularly among women. She can make the claim to be a historic choice. Basically, it does seem that Joe Biden has a better ability to relate to people, but Hillary Clinton has sort of greater claims on the party’s loyalties.
HH: Who’s closer to Tom Hanks – Biden or Hillary?
KT: He’s definitely closer to Tom Hanks.
HH: Biden is?
HH: I thought so. I thought so, too. Karen Tumulty of the Washington Post, always a pleasure.
End of interview.