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Hugh Hewitt Book Club

Washington Post’s Dan Balz On 2016

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The audio:

06-29hhs-balz

The transcript:

HH: That is Prime Minister David Cameron issuing a challenge to the discredited Jeremy Corbyn on the Labour Party to just go, echoing Cromwell to the Long Parliament. Dan Balz knows all about the Long Parliament, I’m sure, a student of British history, Dan Balz with the Washington Post. Dan, isn’t that quite a remarkable moment? That just happened.

DB: Oh, did it? I mean, it is remarkable, but everything that’s going on there right now is pretty remarkable. I mean, I’m back in the U.S. I just flew back yesterday. But I mean, what they are going through is a political meltdown literally in both parties. It’s a leaderless country at this point, and the head of the opposition party has been discredited by his Parliamentary peers, and yet he enjoys probably considerable support from the rank and file who are members of the party. It’s a mess, Hugh.

HH: I had John Fisher Burns on, who I know you must know from your storied career as well, Dan Balz, and he said there is something that beats in the heart of every British schoolboy about the Sceptered Isle and the Shimmering Sea, which made him happy with the EU vote. Nevertheless, it is a period of great uncertainty. And before we turn to the presidential election here, I find it, I believe it’s going to be the case that Americans are going to be the case that Americans are going to pay a great deal more attention to the prime minister race in Great Britain than they normally do, because of the connection with terror. So whether it’s Boris Johnson, Theresa May or Liam Fox, these are names not known to Americans, but the three frontrunners in Great Britain, I think, will become part of our standard coverage. What do you think?

DB: Well, I think so and I hope so, because I think it’s an important, it’s actually an important moment for them. And the choice that they have to make is hugely significant. I mean, there is no roadmap for what they are, what they have voted to do. And there is a great deal of difference within those who want to leave the EU about what the terms of that separation ought to be. And the choice of the next prime minister is important for that reason. But it’s also important because of the role that Great Britain has played historically, and particularly in recent history, as a strong ally of the United States in the war against terrorism. And whether they will have the capability to both deal with their inner problems and resolve the fights that are going on now as a result of this vote, and continue to be a strong power in the world on a lot of these other questions, I think is questionable. I think it’s an open matter.

HH: Now Dan Balz, like me, you are no stranger to international airports. Just this summer, I’ve been in and out of Venice and in and out of Barcelona. You’ve just come back from London Heathrow. I’ve been in and out of Istanbul a few times over my life. I’m sure you have as well. Did you look over your shoulder differently as you went through the terminal at Heathrow this time than you have perhaps in the past?

DB: I think yes, and we were in the Amsterdam terminal six weeks ago, and you know, you can’t help, particularly when you’re in Europe, not think about that as you go through an airport. And frankly, I thought about it when I landed here at Washington-Dulles late yesterday afternoon. I mean, it’s now, it’s, you know, you walk defensively in ways you never had to think about before. And to see that attack in Istanbul last night, I mean, this was another horrifying reminder of how, you know, how susceptible all of us are at this point to, you know, to these random and terrible acts of terrorism.

HH: Dan Balz, I ran into you once on the train at the endless, the endless walk at Dulles. And you and I both know Dulles is completely vulnerable. Reagan National is completely vulnerable. You can’t extend a perimeter if you want to have travel, right? You can’t stop this. And so I’m curious, I just talked with your colleague, Philip Rucker, who said national security is the great unrealized opportunity for Donald Trump. Your colleague, Lois Romano, tweeted out the new Quinnipiac Poll that shows 42-40, Clinton-Trump, and that Clinton is behind Trump on ISIS by double digits, even though she’s ahead in the ABC-Washington Post poll by double digits. I believe terror is going to define this race if this keeps up. What do you think?

DB: I think it will partly define the race, Hugh. I don’t think it will totally define the race unless we have a string of terrorist attacks. But I think that there are other aspects, particularly this question of shared prosperity and who’s able to do that. But there’s no question that the Trump message resonates at the time when there is, when there’s, when there are security concerns on the part of a lot of people. I mean, he issues a strong nationalist, you know, protect the United States message. And that clearly has resonance, and it will continue to be a significant factor in the race, but I don’t think that terrorism alone will define the outcome of the race.

HH: Okay, we’ll have to check back in November. You are much more practiced at this than I am in terms of looking back at a race. I think events in September and October will decide, and if there is terror in September and October, it will shift towards Trump. But if he does what I, I had an interview with him last week. I don’t know if you saw that, Dan, you were out of the country, where I made ten recommendations to him, one of which was to let the Post back into his campaign. Did you happen to see that interview?

DB: I caught part of the transcript of it, and I appreciated your lobbying on our behalf. I’m not sure it’s done any good, yet.

HH: Well, that really was important. And not yet, but we’ll keep working on him, because you know, it’s good for the 1st Amendment to be everywhere honored by candidates.

DB: Yes.

HH: I also pushed, you know, Cotton and Christie, and last night on Twitter, I was pushing Mattis as Secretary of Defense only to learn, I want to know if you knew this, did you know that general officers can’t become Secretary of Defense for seven years after they’re a general officer?

DB: I, you know, now that you mention it, I do remember that there is, there are prohibitions about that, I mean, that stepping into a civilian role, as you leave the military, is difficult. I didn’t realize there was a seven year prohibition.

HH: Yeah, I thought George Marshall, that’s where I got the idea, but okay, so Mattis can’t be as Secretary of Defense. And McRaven can’t be Secretary of Defense, But James Jones came into the Obama White House as National Security Advisor. Should, do you believe Donald Trump would be helped if he began to surround himself on a daily basis and roll out his national security team, if not by completeness, at least some names in some jobs?

DB: Well, I don’t know that it’s important, Hugh, I think I disagree with you on this point. I don’t know that it’s crucial that he in essence named his administration. I think it would be, I think it would be helpful if he had, if we had a clearer idea of the people that he is currently listening to, people who are, in a sense, on a daily basis, or you know, every other day basis, helping to shape his view of what’s going on in the world, providing him with that background and that information. We just don’t know that, at this point, and I think that’s unsettling for people, or it ought to be. I mean, you do need to know what the team is that’s likely to be there. Staffing up an administration, as you know, is a huge job and it takes a lot of time, and even building a cabinet takes a long time. And it’s hard to do that in the middle of a campaign when you’re now preparing for a convention and you’ve got to run an election campaign and get ready for debates. But by now, in every past campaign, we have known who are the, you know, four, five, six key people on economics, four, five, six key people on national security. And we don’t really know that about Donald Trump.

HH: No, we don’t, and I go back to, I don’t care who’s going to run the EPA. I mean, I do, it will matter a great deal who runs EPA. He gave us a list of 11 names for the Court. That was very helpful. If we just had a couple of names with regards to SecDef and National Security, and maybe Secretary of the Navy, and that would be very reassuring to a lot of the NeverTrumpers. It might bring them over. Let me turn now to the question of vice president, Dan Balz. Hillary Clinton campaigned with Elizabeth Warren, and I told Chris Matthews on Hardball that’s like, you know, Jeremy Corbyn calling Rousseff of Brazil to join her on the ticket. I’m all for that if she wants to bring on Elizabeth Warren. But I think she’s better served by Tim Kaine or actually, micro-targeting with Tim Ryan, Northeastern Ohio, where she could actually put Ohio away with Congressman Ryan. He’s got some issues in the past, but everybody drinks in public in Ohio. So I don’t know that that’s a big deal. What do you think of Hillary’s vice presidential…

DB: You just slurred your entire state.

HH: Well, everybody drinks in public in Ohio. That’s like going to the Browns game. I know. But what do you think of her vice presidential calculation at this point?

DB: Well, I would assume, given what we know about her, she’s cautious and careful. And if she feels that she’s in a good place in the election, she will go for a governing choice and a governor choice primarily. And that would be Tim Kaine. He would be safe, he has a lot of experience, he’s well-credentialed. And so you would have to say that he is at the top, you know, among the top two or three on that list, obviously. I was struck even by long distance at the look and feel of that rally with Elizabeth Warren. And there are moments that I think campaigns don’t necessarily plan for that take on a larger significance or a larger momentum. And I think the question coming out of that rally in Cincinnati on Monday is whether that has changed people’s perceptions inside the campaign of what a ticket like that would do in terms of the energy and the electricity that she’s going to need to get every Democrat possible, or every Clinton voter possible out to the polls. I think it’s, I think it’s a more difficult calculation today than it was before that rally.

HH: Oh, please, God.

DB: I’m not saying that she’s going to pick…

HH: Please, God. That’s all I want, Dan. I want, please, God, Elizabeth Warren, a Clinton-Warren ticket makes this doable for Donald Trump, along with, what about on his calculation? I’m pushing Cotton or Christie because of the national security stuff. Cotton has killed terrorists, Christie has prosecuted them. What do you think?

DB: Well, I think Cotton is very attractive and very smart, and very inexperienced on the national stage. And I think that’s a question, that’s a hurdle that he would have to get over, particularly when you have Donald Trump, who’s got absolutely no experience in government. Christie would be a comfortable choice for Trump, but you know, two guys from the Northeast, whose personalities are similar, you know, that’s a reinforcing message and not a broadening message. So, but I have no idea what he’s thinking, truthfully, about where he wants to go or who’s really available to him to do it.

HH: Last question, Dan Balz, I’ll be in Cleveland, I hope you are as well and we can break bread there during that time. I am perplexed by Republicans not going to Cleveland. I think that is a huge missed opportunity regardless of their policy differences with Donald Trump. A general election becomes a choice, a binary choice, and you have to choose which side to be on. They can’t sit it out. I really don’t think you can sit it out. What do you think of these choices by some people like Elise Stefanik to skip the convention?

DB: Well, you know, we’ve seen this sometimes in the past. I think every Republican is having to make a very difficult choice, because there are aspects of Donald Trump that are repulsive to them. Things he has said, they genuinely disagree with, and not just in a kind of, you know, well, I don’t like what he said. They are deeply offended by that, and they think that is, you know, his ideological convictions bear very little resemblance to what they believe that a conservative party ought to have. And so, you know, I think all of them are going to have to make the decision on that basis, and I think that as a result of that, there will be a lot of people who don’t show up. Now the question is…

HH: Dan Balz, we’re out of time. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate that. We’ll talk again in Cleveland if not before.

End of interview.

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