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Foreign Policy Analysis
The Trump Administration’s First 100 Days

The Trump Administration’s First 100 Days


So thank you all for coming,
I’m Michael Ettlinger, I direct the Carsey
School of Public Policy here at the University
of New Hampshire. We’re here to talk about
President Trump’s first 100 days. It’s actually day 82, but you
know, with this president, what are the odds that
anything interesting will happen in the next 18 days? We thought we were in
totally safe grounds. We do think that, it was
actually scheduling issues, and we figured, there’s enough
to talk about to fill an hour. So just to be clear,
this is a discussion, we’re going to have,
it’s not a debate. It’s not a protest. Those are two very worthy
activities in our country, but that’s not what
we’re doing today. And it’s really–
this discussion is not so much about the
pros and cons about President Trump’s policies, but about how
this presidency has uniquely provoked such a strong
response and, either related or unrelated,
historically low approval ratings at this point
in a presidency. And really, has there ever
been a stronger reaction, other than the reaction
to Abraham Lincoln, to a new president? Which, of course, had states
seceding and Fort Sumter being fired on by
the Confederates 39 days into his presidency. And it’s actually– today
is, co-incidentally, the 156th anniversary
of the firing of the Confederacy on Fort
Sumter in South Carolina. But fortunately, we have not
seen that level of response. But we have seen a lot of anger
and a very strong response negatively. Although, I think it is
important to note that among those who voted
for President Trump, there is still very strong
support in the polls for him. So when you see these
low approval ratings, you’re seeing low approval
of Democrats and people who didn’t vote,
for the most part. There’s been some shaving
off of his supporters, but pretty modest. So that’s just, by
way of introduction. To have a conversation
about this, we’ve invited Tom
Rath to be here, and we’re very grateful
for him being here. I’ll just give you a little
sense of his background. So Tom is founder of
the Concord-based firm of Rath, Young, and Pignatelli. He is the former
Attorney General of the state of New Hampshire,
and has been actively involved in government relations,
representing companies such as Fidelity, Anthem,
Northeast Utilities, and many others in New
Hampshire, in New England, and nationally. He was appointed by
President George H. W. Bush to be a director of the
services National Legal Services Corporation, which got zeroed
out in the Trump budget recommendation. He served as the chair
for the election campaigns for senators Warren
Rudman and Judd Gregg. He actively assisted in
the confirmation process of Justice David Souter. He has served as a
senior national adviser to the presidential campaigns
of Howard Baker, Bob Dole, Lamar Alexander, Mitt Romney,
and George W. Bush. So, I guess that’s three
nominations and one president, pretty good. He has been a delegate to the
Republican National Convention on nine occasions, and he
was the Republican Party national committeeman from
New Hampshire for two– I guess, four year stints. He’s widely respected as a
political analyst at both the state and national level;
appears regularly on national, regional, and state
television news programs– and I think they were on
New Hampshire Public Radio yesterday or today– and he serves on numerous
educational and trade association boards. I’d add, he Tweets
@polguru P-O-L-G-U-R-U. So obviously, a very
distinguished career. Reading in-between the lines,
I’d guess you’re a Republican? And– [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, some? I pick up those subtle signals. I wanted to say just
a couple of words about me, since these days,
I think people should be– we should be transparent about
who we are and our background. So, I am the director
of the Carsey School of Public Policy for
the last two years, two and a half years. I’m the founding director. Before that, though, I worked
in Washington for many years, where I worked at
progressive think tanks. Mainly on economic
tax and budget issues. And I will just say
that the places I worked and the people I worked
with are largely working now to oppose President
Trump’s policies, and I’m not unsympathetic
to what they’re doing. So I just want that to
be out on the table. So with that, I guess– oh, my Twitter address
is m-ettlinger, but I’m much less
interesting than– And never talk
about the Red Sox. One last just
preliminary thing, we’re going to talk for a
little bit, and then we’ll be opening
it up to questions. The form of us being
open up to questions is, I believe you have
index cards and pens? Yeah, those are not for
a miniature golf game we’re going to play later,
the little pencils, they’re free to write questions on. And you can feel free to
hand them in at any time, and then we’ll work them into
the conversation in 20 minutes or so, or a half hour. The people who will
collect them are– want to raise their hands? We’ll just go up and down
the aisles a few times. Yeah, Sue, Amy, Laurel– to gather them. So that’s how we’ll
be doing that. All right, so now for
the preliminaries, to get into the conversation. Let me just start off by asking
Tom the question, so why? Why– just to be
clear, why has there been such a strong
reaction to this president? Whether his approval
ratings are not good, is it what he’s actually
done as president? Is it just the times we live in? Would any president
be facing this? Is it him particularly? It’s probably all of
the above, but let me try to put it in a
little different context. As Americans, we only get
one chance every four years for all of us to vote on the
same thing at the same time. And that’s at the presidential,
the quadrennial presidential election. And that usually settles
things for a while, or at least gives
us a direction. Leaving personalities aside for
a moment, and not permanently, because you can’t in
this circumstance. I don’t think this
election settled very much. And I think the people who were
upset before the election are still upset. I think the people who felt very
strongly, on either side, still feel very strong on either side. And, it’s where who I am,
but I believe in the end, the middle, the center,
must come together to make the extremes behave. And the center has
not come together. This election divided
more than it united. And I will give
you, another time, a much longer dissertation
about– if you want to know the evils
of Citizens United, this election is a really
good example of it, because there are causes and
voices and stirrings of the pot that can go on now forever,
independent of election result. And it can be a vessel for
raising money and keeping people employed. So that’s part of it. The other side of
it is that this is the most unique personality,
in my time, we’ve ever seen. And no one, including the
people who voted for him, are comfortable with him. And nothing that has happened
really, in the 82 days– it just seems like four
years– but in the 82 days, has done anything to
settle that upset. We always look for moments
of grace and genuineness, and that, a lot of time, will
cut across policy differences. Whether it’s in an inaugural
address or occasionally, unfortunately, in the wake
of a national tragedy. We haven’t found
that moment yet. And he himself– part of him
is a reflection of who we are. We demand fast reactions
back and forth. Twitter makes it– no one
can complete a sentence. And when you allow
that to happen– I mean, most of the
folks I’ve worked for, including me, would
have a hard time even explaining to you
what Twitter is. But an awful lot of
people are on it, and he’s on it all the time. And his unfiltered-ness,
to the American public, is something we’re
just not used to. And he has done
nothing in the time– and maybe there
are two instances I can think of where maybe you
could say it broke through. But we expect certain
things of a president, and he has not yet done those. It’s not necessarily
policy-related, although you could make
an argument about policy. It is more on how he has
approached and occupied the office. And that’s a value that I think
transcends partisan politics. You could have people
who you disagreed with become president, and
when they were president, they were the president. I’ve never see a situation
where more people think somehow, something is going to happen,
and next week the army is going to come down
from the north and chase everybody out of Westeros. It’s not going to happen. And I think one of the things
we’re having a hard time coming to grips with is, he’s going
to be president for four years. And we just better
get used to that. And he’s got to get
used to being president. And it has not been
easy to get there. That’s a long answer, I’m sorry. Yeah, well, you
mentioned that those– I forget the phrase–
moments of grace, or moments where there’s
a unifying feeling. I guess, the moment
people thought had happened that I can
think of– you mentioned, too– the one comes to my mind
is the address to Congress. Which, in some ways was– just had all the standard
check box elements in an address to Congress. But coming from him,
it was showing concern for parts of the population
which he had frankly shown disdain at prior to that. And so that was that moment. And then he– that
didn’t last very long. No, and the other one
I was referring to was, I thought his comments– especially the second
set of comments– after the chemical attack
in Syria, were genuine. And he spoke to a
shared conviction about, there are certain
things that countries do that are wrong,
and using chemical gas to kill your citizens and
children and babies were wrong. And I thought that was
a moment that Americans could say, all right, that’s
a value that I buy into. And somehow, maybe
was more noticeable, because it was less expected. It’s a little sad that that’s
our common denominator– No, but [INTERPOSING VOICES]
those are the two– –gassing children, but– Yeah, those are the two,
but those are the two I was referring– Yeah, no, I hear you. I think we can all agree. Can we talk about– one of the things that I think,
from the world I came from, and that was provocative,
were his appointments, right? I mean, he had a– so, I’ve been involved
with a transition process. And you know, something
about the vetting, and I’m sure you’ve been
engaged in these things. And they vet these
people very carefully, and you tally up all the
baggage that various people are carrying. They didn’t pay taxes on this
or that, or they said this. And you certainly see
presidents choose, sometimes, to appoint people to positions
who have some baggage, just because they think
they’re important to their administration
and they’re willing to deal with it. But it’s something,
generally, to be avoided, because you want it to
be about your agenda, not about the baggage. And you are trying to
bring the country together, so appointing
people who provoke– but he has, I mean, we
could go through the list. But I’m just wondering
if there are any– what you think about the
appointments and the role that’s played and whether
you have any thoughts on any individual ones. Well it’s been
extraordinarily slow. And that is more, I think,
more borders on malpractice than on prudence. I think it is– I remember once when somebody
asked a candidate for president to name the presidents of
several small countries, and they weren’t
able to do that. And I was working with my
friend Lamar Alexander, and then they asked
Lamar that question and he said, you know,
it’s not important that the President
of the United States know the names of
all those people. But the president
of the United States should know somebody who knows
the name of all those people. And so it’s not important that
he understands or can tell you who is an expert
in labor or EPA, but there should be
people around him who present to him choices. And if you see him play it out. And this is, in some
ways, that transparency is this administration
in terms of his tweeting, and the amount of leaking
going on and all the rest, is remarkable. And I’m not saying we’re
going to operate government behind a cloud,
but you need to be able to make some tough choices. And the way these names
have been trotted out, and then knocked down, then
trotted out, and knocked down, hurts. It hurts on the level– some people say, you know what? I’m just not gonna do that. Not gonna put
myself through that. And the other thing is, if you
don’t get people at the top, you can’t feel below them. And the handful of people he’s
gotten through to confirmation have then not been
able to people the rest of the agencies. A very important thing
for us, New Hampshire, is not who the
secretary of HHS is, but who’s the regional
secretary of HHS? Who’s going to sit in Boston
and make a decision about how those funds get passed out? That’s a very important
kind of thing. And you can extrapolate
that all across the country. Well, there’s a lot
of states, and we’re one of them, that don’t
have a Republican senator. And typically, if you have
a Republican president, the Republican
senator in the region has a lot to say with that. Where they don’t have
Republican senators, they are supposed to go
to Republican governors. And we’re a state that doesn’t
have Republican senator, but has a Republican governor. But there’s been no running
of those names at that level. Somebody said to me today, who’s
going to be the US attorney? And this is the same
kind of situation. So until you get– it’s
not just enough to people the cabinet table, it’s
filling in the blanks. And it’s been hard to do. And I think one of the reasons
it’s been hard to fill the top, is because I don’t
think they feel they have the ability
to put around them the kind of people they want. Now having said
that, there are a lot of appointments we don’t
know anything about yet. We just don’t know how
they’re going to perform. I know some people are very
negative on Jeff Sessions. I think it’s too early to tell. I will tell you, I was
an attorney general with Jeff Sessions. I didn’t know him well,
but I can tell you, at least among his
colleagues at the time, he was well-respected. And so we’ll see, we will
see what he does, we’ll see– But we need to know who’s going
to run a Civil Rights division? Who’s going to run
Affirmative Action for him? We don’t know any
of those names yet. I have some hope, that in
the area of foreign policy, and we saw this in the
last couple of weeks. General McMaster is going to
be a strong and smart person, and he seems to have forced
some other people to his side. I have some– I think General Mattis is
going to be a very strong head of the Department of Defense. And we’ll see how that does. And I have a fair amount
of hope for Rex Tillerson. And I think we will
get a good judge on him from the couple
days he’s in Russia. He sat down with Putin today. And Tillerson is a
tough business person. And I’ve been telling people
this, you can ignore this, but if you want to know
a little bit about– Google Tillerson
slash jury duty. And you’ll read a
very interesting story about his character
and who he is. And we’ll see. I mean, and then it’s
a question of whether– you can have the
best people there, but then somebody’s
gotta listen to them. And when Howard Baker was Chief
of Staff the second Reagan administration, we
got talking about it. And I didn’t know Reagan well. We all knew the phenomena was– I said, what’s it like to
work with him like that? Baker said a really
interesting thing. He said Ronald Reagan has a
central core of conviction. And he said if the issue
falls within that central core of conviction, he knows
everything about it. He knows its subtlety, he knows
its history, he understands it. If it falls outside
of that, he has a total sense of belief in
his ability to make decisions. So he tries to get very good
people to bring him choices, and he’s not afraid
to make the choices. And if you look at
some of the people that were around Reagan, like
Jim Baker and others, you could see that matrix. And I don’t think that it’s– the job of the president is
just way too big for any person. So you’ve got to know
the sort of breadth, and you gotta bring
people together, and you gotta make decisions. We just haven’t seen
that here, and his reach seems to be rather limited. And I’m not sure his grasp
isn’t exceeded by his reach, no matter how limited it is. He just doesn’t seem to have
a policy interest as much as he does a dynamic,
in terms of telling people who’s in charge. Just sticking on the
appoints for a minute– By the way, I should
have said, I think– I know people here will
probably disagree with me. Neil Gorsuch could have been
appointed to the United States Supreme Court by any one of the
more reputable, as you would put it, Republican presidents. He’s a very solid appointment. I’ll come back to
him in a second. I mean, he has appointed
cabinet, and higher level, and White House people. And I guess the thing that
strikes me is, you pick someone like Bannon– who, I mean, just to put
it calmly, has baggage. I mean, he was the publisher
of Breitbart, which publishes some very offensive things. I mean, Jeff Sessions– I don’t know what’s
in his heart, but he was rejected
for a judgeship on the basis of concerns
about his views on race. You have Pruitt, who has opposed
the EPA his whole career. Rick Perry wanted to
abolish the Department– I mean, any one of
these you could– OK, well Trump has– you want them. But they were appointments–
there were other people who could have been selected
for these roles, and these are appointments
that, whether they turn out to be good or bad, are
definitely ones that would be offensive to people. So, do you have any sense of– do you think he
just doesn’t care? I’m just saying that in
other administrations, even if you like someone,
you might not appoint them, just because you don’t
want to send a signal. Especially when he
brings in the baggage he brings himself on race
and on gender issues. It’s hard when we
choose somebody who has no track record. And so we’re
watching this unfold when we’re used to
people who are very settled political personas. Even somebody like Barack
Obama, who really only had two years in
the Senate, but had been a political
figure for a period– they’ve got some lineage
that we can trace. He doesn’t, and I don’t
know that he has– and usually, in
that lineage, you can discern, at some
point, a respect for the process and
respect for the office. And they bring that with him. And he hasn’t done that. I suspect that a lot of the
people who he’s appointed, he never met till he was
considering them to be part of the appointment process. And that’s hard. For some people, giving
up their private lives to get into a situation
where there’s uncertainty as to how much latitude
you’re going to have and what kind of direction
you’re going to get, it’s a hard one to do. So your pool gets smaller. I think there’s a
very good possibility that what his cabinet
looks like a year from now is very different than
what it looks like today. And I think there
will be churning, and there will be changes. And the personable
staff, he said, is a more interesting question. And the press seems to
be fascinated by it. And Bannon is the one that seems
to attract a lot of attention. How many people here know how
Steve Bannon made his money? From what? [INTERPOSING VOICES] For what? Seinfeld. Seinfeld. He was working
for a company that was raising capital for a
company called Castle Rock Entertainment. And one of the things– they
only owned like five shows– and one of them was this new
show called Jerry Seinfeld. And they said to him, we don’t
have the money to pay your fee, we take 5%. And he did, and Seinfeld
has now earned something like $3 billion in rerun
fees, so he’s made 30 million. So there was a show about
nothing, and you could almost, you could fill in the blanks. But he’s a very hard charger,
and there is an edge to him that is not easily blunted. Reince Priebus, who I do
know and consider a friend, I think he’s in a
different position. And I think there
are some people who are trying to imagine that he
will probably get criticized a lot more than he deserves. And he’s got a very hard job
managing that White House staff. The staff has to realize
that they are there to serve the president,
and they’re not there to get book deals when they
leave and lecture fees. And there are some who seem
to not understand that. And it’s where you see it– I mean, if you watch a
couple of the meetings, the entire staff
is always there. And that [INAUDIBLE] what they–
either they’re all involved, or they want to make sure
that somebody else isn’t there instead of them. So I don’t think the
White House is settled. And I think a president
needs clarity, a president, at
the end of the day, must decide what the
staff is going to do and how they’re going to
work and how they’re going to be comfortable with it. And I think this is
a White House that’s very, very much in
flux, and appears like it will stay in flux. And some of that starts
from the beginning, because if he doesn’t have
strong core of conviction, if you wanna use that
term, it’s harder for them to know where the stakes
are in the ground, and so there is that. And I think, also– everything is hot. There are no small issues yet. I mean, things that
would normally be trivial are elevated beyond any measure. And there is nothing that
he doesn’t respond to. And I think that’s one of
the things you’ll learn, is there’s a time
when you turn it off and you don’t have to
hear it, and apparently that time doesn’t
happen very much. I mean, he is the president. He’s going to be the
president for four years, and he has skills. And we have to see where
those skills manifest itself. But again, I’ll go back
to my central thesis, is this country is still very
much at odds with itself. And the election was not
about coming together, it was staying separate. And all of us have to realize
that very few people, maybe in a room like this,
will have voted for Trump or will have even voted
happily for Hillary. But you got to realize
how irrelevant we were to this process this time. There was a core of people that
are out there that are really angry, and they cannot
articulate why they’re angry, and they just feel
things aren’t right. Now, a lot of those
voters, for many years, were democratic voters. And they’re union
workers or coal miners, they’re folks that have
been in organized labor. And they’re the ones
that deserted it and changed this dynamic. They know more– they
can articulate more what they’re against. It’s harder to say
what they’re for. And if we’re electing people
on the basis of what they’re against, we don’t give
them much of an agenda as to what they’re for. You saw him say, well, the
first thing we’re going to do is throw out Obamacare, which
is a great thing to say. And I went to lots of Republican
events the last two years. And you say that, nobody cares. And nobody then says,
well what happens? I mean, what happens? How is he doing it? What happens? And nobody ever pushed
them to answer that. So when they came time, where
they looked as though they had the majority
to do something, nobody could agree on
what that something was. And I’m hoping that, having
been through a couple of these, if there are going
to be changes, there made with more
reflection and more attempt to bring people together. As opposed to, say, we’ve
got the votes and you don’t. And we may start to see
that, but if there’s a second bite at that apple,
it’s not going to be as big. And maybe it says, well
the core part of it is OK, but we’ve got to work around
how to make it work better. Taxes is another one that
we’ve got to figure out. What has surprised me is
the set of priorities. The one priority I thought was
a gimme putt was infrastructure. I thought we’d be putting roads
and buildings and all the rest, which is something that America
ought to do periodically. And you talk about
people who said, I built the Holland Tunnel, or
I built the Golden State Bridge. And we have infrastructure
that’s crumbling, and that impacts our ability
to compete worldwide. Why don’t you start there? And some of it
comes back, Michael, to what you said, because they
don’t have people in place who can lay that out. And so, that’s less
exciting to talk about on Morning Joe than what
Steve Bannon said last night. But I think that’s where
you have to get to. I just– you were touching
on foreign policy. I happened to have talked
to a number of former State Department people over
the last few weeks. And I’ll just recount
count two conversations. They were with two people who’d
been in high State Department– political appointees,
high positions in the State Department. One under Bush, W. Bush,
and one under Obama. And what was
interesting was the one who’d been a Bush appointee
can’t sleep at night. I mean, he’s like, they
say all these things, they contradict each other. Our allies aren’t going
to know what to think, our enemies aren’t going
to know what to think. Who knows what’s going to happen
when our foreign policy is so unpredictable? And this could be terrible. Some of these
things, we’re going to back ourselves
into a corner where we have to do something– get
involved in a war, something that we really shouldn’t be in. So that was the Bush appointee. Interestingly, the
Obama appointee was more sanguine about it. He was more– that,
well Tillerson and the generals that have been
appointed to these positions, that Trump is very
deferential to the generals. And that, and these are,
his word was they’re “boring” people. In the sense that
they’re conventional, their views on American foreign
policy are conventional. And that’ll be sort of
a normal foreign policy. It was interesting to me that
these two very senior people, who had been in
the situation room, had extremely
different perspectives. Well, one of the things that’s
guided our foreign policy for 30 years plus is, in
effect, a single-state Europe. And that’s coming apart. That’s been the core of our
way we looked at the world. And Europe, with
Brexit, is coming apart. And some of the
European countries are facing exactly the
same kind of fissures that we’re facing,
in terms of how their populations are dividing. So it’s hard. And we were nominatively
the leader of that cadre. And as that– if it doesn’t
crumble, it disassembles, it’s harder to
bring forward that. And I think, of all the things
that a president can do– must do– the most
critical one is to speak clearly
and consistently as to what the United
States of America stands for in the world. Now I am old enough and– I don’t know, not
foolish enough– but I believe that we
are a very special place. And we have operated
by very special rules. Now, that doesn’t mean we can go
into Germany or France or even Syria and tell them
how they should live. But we should say there are
certain places where there are certain core principles
of who we are and how we treat each other
and how we look at the world, and we believe in those things. And there is a consistency, I
think, in our foreign policy, Republican and Democrat, going
back a large number of years. And the divide,
probably, in one way is the Bush foreign
policy types, where types. And Obama was the
new president coming in who only had two
years in the Senate, so there’s a little
difference here. But there’s a core– there’s a constancy
to how we do it. This has created great
uncertainty in that, and we don’t know where it
is and where we’re going. And I think, if I had to be
critical, the domestic stuff– not things about race and
how we treat each other– but the argument about what’s
the best kind of health care to have, and what’s the
right level of taxation? How do we stimulate jobs? Those we can handle. What we cannot do is speak with
multi-voices around the world. And I think if– I’m, believe me, the last person
they’re going to listen to. But if there was
something I would like, it would be to get
clarity on that. And the president–
approach that, I thought– address to the joint
session of Congress. We need to say there
are principles, and this is where I stand and
I will not go beyond that. And there are parts of this
world that are testing those. And we need to say, no! I think the Putin regime
is a legitimate one. And I think, whether they played
here in the election or not, they clearly are doing
things around the world. The Assad regime
is beyond corrupt, and he’s propping him up
for their own reasons. Somebody needs to have a voice
that is moral and consistent and speak forcefully on that. Ronald Reagan could do that. George H. W. Bush could do that. I think Barack Obama could do
it, because he represented– just by walking on the stage– what is possible in America. I think there’s an enormous
significance to that. And those are big shoes to fill. But it seems to me, if
you want to be president, you’ve got to be
prepared to do that. And you need to be able
to embrace that gravitas. And I think– if I have to
be critical of these days, it’s we haven’t
sent that message. Now, you said it’s 82
days, and that’s right. It is 82 days, so there is time. But you need to empower– if Tillerson’s
your guy, then you need to empower him and
the people around him. We don’t need that– there’s a great picture
that ran the other day, and it was stunning
in its similarity. I think everybody
in the room probably can remember the picture that
was taken in the White House Situation Room when
they killed Obama– when they killed bin Laden. And Obama and Hillary
Clinton are sitting there, and the picture’s down
and they’re watching. A week ago, when they
went and bombed Syria, there was a picture
taken in Florida of the same people in
the same kind of room making this decision
and watching the launch. I think there’s a
moment when it hits you, as to what it is you’re doing. And I’m waiting to see
whether they learned that. When you sit in that room
and realize the decision that you made had that kind
of impact on the world, the world’s waiting to
see how that plays out. I think it changes you. And I’m hoping that there’s a
maturity that comes through, not just to the president,
but to those around him. And say, there is
a purpose here, and it’s more than,
really, who controls the gossip the next day. We cover this all the time
like it’s a baseball game. And we cover– it’s
as important as what’s happening in the third
inning, and who’s sitting where on the bench. And we missed the
bigger [INAUDIBLE]. And so I think we have–
and part of this is, people like me, we
walk around, we tweet, and we have these things
in our pocket that tells us instantaneously what– there’s no time for
reflection here. We never had this
access to data. We had three people;
you had Howard K. Smith, you had Walter Cronkite,
and you had Tom Brokaw. And everybody watched one–
or Chet Huntley, they would– watch one of three newscasts. And they talked broadly. And now, we can watch
news all day long, and if we want to hear
nothing but liberal viewpoints we can watch one. And when we want– you’re
nothing but conservative, we can watch another. And the ability to
bring people together has been damaged by this. And he– President Trump– is a product of that. And that’s how he
thinks about the world. And I think the great
presidents we’ve had, including the recent
ones, have learned there’s a time when you
must get beyond that. So where I– and
usually, you have a lot of latitude the first 100
days, to move things forward. But he– and he, by the way,
he got a Republican Congress, got a Republican Senate,
Republican House, Republican Senate. But this capital that should
build up wasn’t there. Now he got elected in
a very different way, and he didn’t have the
kind of electoral blessing. But that should have tempered,
then, what you should do. But you still should
have had a moment when you could move something forward
and communicate that bigger vision. So, of course, his response
to not having the capital was just to assert he did. But I mean, it was– as opposed to your point
that he could have used that, acknowledged it and tried
to bring people together. Instead, he just
sort of denied it. So, one thing you mentioned is
that everything’s hot, right? And they could have gone with
infrastructure, which is safer. No one’s against it. Maybe people are against
spending all the money on it, but no one’s against bridges. But that was kind
of a choice, right? He’s picked– immigration
is a hot issue, you’re gonna have
different views on it. Refugees, which has historically
been pretty bipartisan– he’s sort of focused on
Muslims, just hot stuff. And climate change, and
his budget, which is– his budget recommendation
has bigger cuts on the domestic side than even
the budgets that the House Republicans were
passing under Obama. Which were thought
of as message bills. So I’m just– I don’t know. It seems like there was almost
a choice to do the hot things. It’s like he was going for
ratings points or something. Well, I think you’re right. I mean, it’s what’s going
to dominate, and he wants– I think we have a tendency to
confuse movement with progress. And if you get a
lot of movement, it doesn’t mean you’re
getting progress. And the cooler heads say,
what can we accomplish now? And we do things now, let’s
set things up down the road. We haven’t had that. And you’re right,
I think going– when you win, especially when
you win a close election, which I think what you
want to try to do is find things that
bring people together so you can create
a governing center, and you go out from that. They would not do that. That was not a choice they made. So that brings the other
question about the time. So the one thing
that, just in terms of a concrete
democratic response, that I thought was best
evidenced by the times, was in fact the
Gorsuch not giving them the votes to overcome a
filibuster for Gorsuch. I mean, I talked to people
on the Democratic side in DC. And there were enough
Democratic senators to overcome the filibuster,
who wanted actually to do it, because they saw Gorsuch
the way you described him. As kind of a conventional
Republican pick, not the one to go– they were very
bitter about Garland, which colored their thinking. But more importantly, the base
was very bitter about Garland and made it very, very difficult
for some Democratic senators, who would have
supported him, to do so. And you can see, the response
that the three Democrats who announced it– they just
are getting hammered. So I just wanted
come back, quickly, and then I want to
get to questions. But, I mean, how much is it– I mean, it’s all
interrelated in the sense that the candidate is
a product of the times and he, to my mind, drove a
wedge in the divisions that were already there. How much of it– if John Kasich had
been elected president, do you think that the
response to– leaving aside approval ratings, but more
just the visceral response from Democratic and
Democratic-leaning people, would have been that visceral? Would they have
given John Kasich the votes to confirm
Gorsuch without getting rid of the filibuster? Well first, if John Kasich
had been elected president, I would be council-general
to Bermuda, and I wouldn’t be here. So– Well, thank God he didn’t win! Yeah, so that didn’t happen. I don’t know. I am so troubled about
where our politics are, and that the use of
the Supreme Court– there’s a really interesting
piece in The New York Times– I don’t know if anybody read
it– about David Souter, and how that confirmation
changed the course of the Supreme Court. I’m not sure I agree with
that, having been through it, but I understand
what they’re saying. Supreme Court
nominations have become opportunities for fundraising. And that becomes a way to say,
we’re right and they’re wrong, and it’s very hard to
appoint somebody today who– I mean, the very questions
that they vote yes or no on, would you overturn Roe? And the answer to that
is, and his answer was, I give great
respect to precedent. I don’t think he should
answer that question. That denies the essence
of what a judge does. Who knows what case is
going to present itself that hits fissures in
the Roe decision, that causes a second look? But you shouldn’t
commit in advance that you’re going to
do something on it. And Republicans are guilty of
that, and Democrats are guilty. They have taken the Court
and made it into politics. And I think that’s a mistake. And I think Gorsuch– I, frankly not infrequently,
am a minority in my own party. I think Garland should
have gotten a hearing. And I thought that was it. And some of me
said, politically, if Hillary is going to
be elected president, the Republicans would have been
very well-chosen to confirm Garland, because
you’re probably going to get a more liberal vote. I have been through the
nominating process in a simpler world. In a different world, in
which senior people sat down and talked to each other. And it wasn’t run by
the outside forces. I think Merrick Garland
is a very fine individual, and I think Gorsuch is– they’re both Americans,
they’re patriots, and they’re going
to do their best. I think judges who
are unpredictable are the best judges. I want to see them
act like judges. But our system doesn’t
want that any more. You put a person up
and you say, a-ha! That’s who that person is. And you don’t read a
decision they’ve written, you don’t understand how
they’ve gone through the process of being a judge. But it fits into
this broader matrix of right versus left,
various interest groups at war with each other. So I don’t know that our
politics permit that, Michael. I think we’re into a
55-45 confirmation process for the foreseeable future. Unless one party gets 60 votes,
then they’ll go back to it. Yeah, so that’s interesting. I actually– one thing I just
do want to interject here, though, is I actually think that
many of the senators themselves are interested in the deeper
discussion and understanding what kind of judges
they would be. I think it was a closer
thing than people are aware of, that the
Democrats might have delivered the votes needed. Whether it’s done
now, I don’t know. But, I mean, I have friends who
have worked on that committee. And there were Democrats
who really wanted to, and if things hadn’t been so
riled up because of Trump slash Garland, I think it would
have been a different result. But at this point, the genie
may be out of the bottle– [INTERPOSING VOICES] David got confirmed,
he got 90-9. And one of the nine people
who voted against him was Ted Kennedy. Because he was– somehow,
he came out of Bush, and all the rest– even Ted
Kennedy and Warren Rudman were very close friends. And he said, this
is a good person. But Ted Kennedy did
it to make a point. If we have those kind
of votes on that, we’re never going to
get to the middle. So this relates to that. There’s a question– basically,
is there a center today, and can it come
together, in Congress or in America at large? I believe there is. I believe we need
to articulate it. I will tell you that, to
this day as I walk around, there are people who come
up to me, talk to me. I’m amazed that John
Kasich isn’t president, because everybody
said, I voted for him. I didn’t. A lot of Democrats
who said that to me– there must be a center. And the center must hold– the issue is the
center, by his nature, doesn’t organize as
well as the polls do. And there are people who
can put this in perspective. What we need is a– look, without re-litigating
the last campaign, there were 17 Republicans. And it was very hard and
very frustrating to get heard when one of them
was a television star. And the center wasn’t
around one person, the center was around
four or five people. All of whom, I think,
were legitimate folks. I don’t know how we get there. But I believe in
the Senate, there are Republicans and Democrats
who talk to each other. And we’ve been
fortunate, I think– whether it was Judd
Gregg and Kelly Ayotte, or Jeanne Shaheen, and back
before her, Tom McIntyre. We’ve had people who could
talk to the other side. And I think there is still
that group in the Senate. I mean, there are Republicans
like Rob Portman in Ohio and Manchin from West
Virginia, and others who sit down and can make
some sense of how this works. There’s not enough of them. And, again, that’s because
we nominate by the polls. We don’t nominate in the middle. But there is a center, and
sooner or later the center must assert itself. The center must come together,
and the center must hold. And until we get
that, we’re going to have this kind of
fractured politics. But what I’m afraid
of is it’s going to take some kind of national
tragedy or national security emergency that forces
the center forward. And I hope we don’t
get to that point, because I don’t want
those things to happen. Yeah, and I would
say that, I actually think there are more senators
than most people think who are there. I think that’s right. And I mean, I remember
Paul Wellstone, who is as liberal as a liberal can be. And I was at something
where he was asked, what surprised you most
about being a center? And he said, what he’s most
surprised about was how much he liked the Republican senators. That he could sit
down and talk to them, and that they weren’t– because everyone was publicly
posturing in positions. The Republicans were
taking positions that were complete anathema to him. But once they could
talk, they could talk. And I think it’s
been harder, Michael, to have those conversations
now, because they’re watched, and because the
fundraising never stops. And because you’re always– who’s going to get
the five minute shot from the Russell Building
on CNN the next morning. It’s really hard to have those– I saw that right at the
end of the Gorsuch stuff, trying to avoid
the nuclear thing. McCain brought 10 of
them into his office, and they were of all stripes. And I thought, well
that’s what you need, but you need to have
that on a regular basis. Instead of– I mean, Schumer
became very partisan, so did McConnell, and
they respond in kind. We need to have something–
we need an issue, or something where we can demonstrate
that there is a center to American politics. And that not only that
there is, but it’s safe for a candidate
or an office holder to get to the center, as opposed
to speaking only to the polls. And just as an aside, this is
a little slightly tangential, but sums on my
mind a little bit. Which is that, one of the
things that’s interesting to me is how people in Washington
have defined bipartisanship. And it really struck me
in Obama’s last State of the Union. And he was lamenting that he
hadn’t been able to work better with Republicans. But it was all defined as
working with Republicans in Congress, as opposed
to bipartisanship being reaching out to– from a democratic
perspective, speaking to Republicans in the–
citizens in the country. Which is different than speaking
to Republican congressmen and senator who are
more restrictive, because of their
internal politics and get primaried and all that. But if you could speak
over them to Republicans, I’m not sure if Republicans
could speak over the Democratic– to their interest and
what they care about. It seems like that might
affect the underlying politics. But they think a
bipartisanship is just talking to people in Washington
who are of the opposite party. I think there’s a difference
between bipartisanship and nonpartisanship, and
I’m not for nonpartisanship. I think we have parties, we
have parties for a reason. And having two parties
as opposed to six ought to help us get to
the middle more often. What we’re having is the parties
are splintering internally, and both parties are. And this is not something
that the Republicans hold a unique patent on. It’s, how do you
find that position? And I would rather
see the gang of six or the gang of 12 that
stand in the middle and attract people to
them, than saying, well, you’re going to do what
the caucus tells you to do. And so there’s another question
here referencing Chuck Todd, saying that the primary process
is what drives everybody apart, because they get controlled by
the extremes of their party. He’s not wrong about that. You look at our
Republican primaries in this state, which
has traditionally been a pretty moderate state. It’s getting harder and harder
for a centrist Republican to get through it. And the best way a centrist
Republican can get through it is, there’s two or three
people who are far right, and then you can win with maybe
30%, as opposed to get the 40%. But Chuck’s right on that. You primary to the base,
you primary to the wings, and you try to win the general
election in the middle. This general election did
not get one in the middle. And that’s one of the reasons– and you’ve been kind in terms of
not dwelling on the personality involved. But that personality issue
is exacerbated, because there is no center to go to. And we don’t know,
about this president, where his philosophic core is. Most other times, when a
president does something that people disagree
with, they say, well, that’s because he believes,
or she believes this. We don’t know what he
believes in the end, and we don’t know what
the default position is. We could always usually say,
here’s the default position. We have a hard time knowing
that, because every time we think we know it, it changes. And I’m not trying to
be cute, it just does. And certainly, you need to know
what that default position is. I’m sorry to go off on that– No, that’s– we have a lot of
people who don’t like Trump in the audience. So, do you think
there’s a red line for– the question is,
is there a red line for Republicans with Trump? I mean, are there things– because by and large,
Republicans in Congress have been– there’s people who want
a thorough investigation of Russia. Which is sort of distinct,
and a national security thing. And people care about that. But I think, other
than that, they’ve pretty much been
very careful not to oppose Trump on anything. Even things that are not
things that Republicans would necessarily always embrace. And, just, are there
things that you think that he’d lose a
significant number of, let’s say, congressional Republicans– Watch the approval rating. I don’t read as much
the approval rating now, but if in six months he’s
in 20 to 24, 25 to 30 range. Six months from now, six months
closer to 2018, and watch it. I mean, I think there will
come a point in which, because he doesn’t have– the thing that the
president doesn’t have, is– that other Republican
presidents had, other Democratic
presidents had– is loyal loyalists in the party. And there are not a lot of folks
in this party who are going to throw life preservers out. And let’s see what happens. People ask me a lot, is it a
potential of a challenge to him in 2020 in the party? And I say, right now
I don’t believe it. But it’s also a long way, and if
that approval rating goes down, and they then don’t
recognize that it’s down and do something
to turn it around– which is a change in behavior
or a new approach on the issues or fins something that
people can coalesce around– that may do it. But right now, it’s right
where his base was anyway. It was around 35% anyways, and
he got elected with that, so. Right, OK. This one’s sort of
the same question. Do you have any– a lot’s been made about– there are a bunch of things
that people have made a lot of, which are so different than
what we’re talking about. About his business
interests, him having family in the
White House serving him, and all of those things. This question is specifically
about having the daughter and son-in-law as top advisers. And do you have any
thoughts about that, or– it’s unique having business
interests so tied up with the president in this way. Well, I remember a
president who had his brother as Attorney
General, and that worked out OK. So let’s not be
too critical, here. I actually think that,
from what I see– and I don’t know
anything you don’t– but the son-in-law
and the daughter seem to be moderating
influences right now, and I’m not disappointed
that they’re there. I think the business
stuff is all part of the price of the stock. I mean, everybody knew
about these businesses. I think it feeds it. Somebody who I’m
very close to, who has never been
involved with politics, now talks non-stop about
Russia and the businesses. And I say, Chris, will
you pass the peas? But it’s a way to– it speaks to this
person we don’t know. And we don’t know him, and we
don’t know anything about him, beyond the sort of
bellicose posturing. And so it’s easy to believe
that these things are there. But I will tell
everybody in this room, I don’t know if
anybody in this room ever went to a Trump rally– my guess is very few, and
I doubt anybody in here owns one of those horrible hats. But you go to those– go to those rallies,
and see the intensity of people who bought into this. Until the middle
understands that intensity, we’re going to weep
and gnash teeth, but it’s not going
to change things. So, it’s great to– it’s deus ex machina. We want– he won because
the Russians did it. And we read a lot– I read all those
books, they’re great! Those are really exciting books. But they’re not
based in reality. If they did, do I believe
something happened? Obviously, something happened. Whether it polluted
the streams– but is it enough to change it? I don’t know. I really don’t. I’m less troubled by the
family, because there is no question she’s his
daughter, and he’s her husband. So that’s all
given, we know that. I’m less troubled
by the business, I think we talk about the wrong
things about the business. And this is where we
worry about the president. Every time the
businesses went bad, he had an eraser at the
end of the pencil, which was called bankruptcy. You don’t get that option. You walk away, and
you start over. You don’t have that
option any more. That’s where I want to see– It sort of relates to when
I had that conversation with the former Democratic
State Department official who was more
sanguine about foreign policy. I’m moving around papers
with my hand, that’s what Trump does, actually. He does that all the time. Yeah, it’s affecting me. I made the point
that he may have all of this respect
for the generals now and be listening
to them, but what happens when it goes wrong? Because something will go
wrong in foreign policy, and at that point, maybe he
doesn’t declare bankruptcy, but maybe he starts
thinking he knows better than the generals
and that sort of– [INTERPOSING VOICES] You know he won’t accept
responsibility for it. He’ll say, I got bad advice. And at some point– do
you, I remember that– what Truman had on
the White House desk, about where the buck stops. And sooner or later,
that’s going to happen. So I’m going to do
one more question, then we’ll kind of wrap
up and talk a little bit about where we think
things are going from here. This question’s basically
about the federal– there’s a big,
professional bureaucracy in all these agencies
that knows a lot. And this question is about,
how long can they resist? But I’d flip it
around and, do you think that there might be an
acculturation of these cabinet secretaries and
of the president? Beginning to realize these
people aren’t swamp-dwelling bureaucrats just trying to
drain the American people of their tax dollars, but
actually people who are professionals and care about
their country and are trying– I believe that can
happen in the agencies, and I believe several of the
appointments to these agencies may be more open to
that than people think. I mean, one of the things
you realize after a while, it’s like the old line
about– the kids’ thing, he knows it all. And 10 years later,
he’s surprised how much his father had learned. It’s a little bit like that. They get in there, they’ve
got all the answers, they know all the [INAUDIBLE]. And then that somebody sits
down, well let me tell you. If you do that, this is
what’s going to happen in Lakota and New Hampshire. And they don’t know that. And if they’re the– most federal bureaucrats
are not there just to have a place to go each
day and collect a check, they care about their issue. The environmental people
care about the environment. The people in commerce care
about what’s good trade. I mean, they really
care about it. So without overstating it,
I think they’re patriots. And I think that we’ll work back
into– because sooner or later, these people, especially the– frankly, the ones either in– the military types or
the business types. Who had to build
businesses by relying on what other people
are telling them, they should eventually
get to that point. That’s going to be interesting. If they’re so
doctrinaire, they’re going to end up talking to
nobody but about four people. And that’s– Pruitt starts believing in
climate change, we’ll know. And again, I mean, that’s– let’s see what happens. OK, so, what do you
think all this means? I mean, it would have been
great to get into the divisions within the Republican Party. And just– because the
Affordable Care Act, it wasn’t– I mean, a lot of that was,
there’s the Freedom Caucus, the libertarian wing, there’s
the political pragmatist wing, there’s the centrist wing,
there’s the deficit hawk wings of the party. All of the issues that
you have mentioned, that are coming
down the road, are going to be contested turf
within the Republican Party. I mean, do you see a way– what’s the path to governance
that you can envision? Is it a path of the
Republicans figuring out things amongst themselves? Or do you get to the point
where the pragmatists in the Republican Party
are working with Democrats to get votes? Do you think they’d
ever cross that line? The Senate, they may have to,
assuming they don’t get it. It’s hard to say. I mean, we just had a
situation in the state where 40 Republicans blocked
the governor’s budget. Now, we’ll see what
happens when it comes back. But you’ve got a
little of that there. Sooner or later, there’s
no place else to go. And I think that reality
may strike faster. I was watching–
obviously, everybody was– Kansas last night, to
see how close that was. 7 points is closer than
it should have been, but you’ve got a governor who
nobody likes there, so I mean– It wasn’t just Trump. But if things move in ’18, if
we begin to see a 50 vote margin in the House go to 10,
that’s going to really– say there’s a need
to do something. The problem with that is, if
that happens, if the Dems– I don’t think the Dems
can pick up seats. But if they hold where
they are in the Senate, that’s a very bad
cycle for them. But if they hold roughly the
same, then the other side, Democrats say, gee, we’re
really close to winning. So that it lessens our
ability to really get to go in the middle. So I do think some kind of
national emergency, crises, will dictate moving together. I mean, for all its
warts, horrible things, 9/11 allowed Bush to talk to
all of us as to the some of us. And he was a different president
after that, in many ways. I don’t want that to
happen, but our politics is horribly broken. And as long as it’s– and
part of it’s because of money. And part of it’s because
I don’t think we all pay enough of attention to it. And they’ve learned
how to manipulate us. And it’s going to take people
to really take it back and say, I’m not going to
respond to that. And that’s a big thing. I do not believe Trump himself
has a political operation beyond Trump. I don’t think they
put one in at the RNC. I don’t think they’re going to
go in and dictate to governors. They’re Those are all
going to be local races. Now, the more those local races
stay local, the less they’re going to say, you
got me elected. And you may see some
independents come out of that. Yeah, I mean, one thing is– I don’t want to say that Trump
could be the national crisis. But in some sense, if this
presidency continues to be, or proves to be
dysfunctional in ways that there are early
signs that it might be, it might result in people across
a broad spectrum recognizing that they need to take this
a little more seriously. I mean, I’d just be
interested in your reaction– Yeah, I think there
is a understanding that voting and choosing is
more than making a statement. And this time, it was
enough for a lot of voters, frankly, to put a middle
finger up to the country. And that’s what they did. That’s not governing. And sooner or later,
we’re going to say, hey, we’re supposed to govern. And I think people will make
those choices differently. And there might be,
also, more of a effort by the elites of both
party– and the establishment of both parties, to address
the things that cause the public to feel that way. And I could grow hair. Anything can happen. So, any closing thoughts on– one thing we talked
about earlier was– offstage– was,
what does this mean for the presidency
going forward, and the process going forward? Well, the presidency evolves. It’s changing, this
is a very different– I’ve been reading a lot
lately about the Eisenhower presidency. To me, he was the
last great president. But you’d think
about the things– there’s a great book out, of
all people, by Bret Baier. Who writes about
what Eisenhower did, the three days before
Kennedy became president, to put Russia in
a box, so Kennedy didn’t have to deal with it. We wouldn’t see that today. And that’s too bad. Yeah, I’m hopeful that
we get to a better place. The money is tough, but in
the end, we’re a good country. And we’re going to get
to the right thing. And it’s going to take a
very unique candidacy– and I’m not being partisan here. We did not give– neither
party gave the American people a choice. It was the most unsatisfactory
choice they’ve had. And think about
if the choice had been between Joe
Biden and John Kasich, and it would have been
a very different– and we’d be having a very
different conversation today. All right, thank you very much. Thank you. I really appreciate
you doing this. Thank you, sir. Oh, that was great, thank you.

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