Politics Right in DC Podcasts

Interview with Andrew Ferguson

My guest is Andrew Ferguson, a former national correspondent for “The Weekly Standard” magazine which, as you might have heard in the news, has been closed. David Brooks called Andy “the greatest political writer of my generation.”

Andy was a White House speechwriter for President George HW Bush and he’s written three books: “Fools Names, Fools Faces,” “Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America,” and my personal favorite, “Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid into College.”

In today’s show, we discuss:

  • President Trump’s speech to the nation from the Oval Office
  • Schumer and Pelosi’s response to the speech
  • Why the Democrat’s aims fall short
  • What he would recommend to President Trump concerning the Wall
  • The use of tragic events as political fodder from both Democrats and Republicans
  • Liberals and conservatives approach things differently: Left – emotions/passions, Right – reason/logic
  • Why conservatives/Republicans are much better at understanding/explaining what Liberals/Democrats believe in than vice-versa
  • Tracing the Tea Party/Trump movement back to the “Read My Lips—No New Taxes” breaking of a campaign promise
  • Sen. Simpson’s unpersuasive defense of why President Bush raised taxes
  • Why people have forgotten how Bush successfully rescued the Savings & Loan industry
  • His thoughts on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to raise taxes 70%
  • Why he thinks she is getting so much attention and is it a good thing or bad?
  • Why she a wonderful representation of a slice of the Democratic Party and why that slice will absolutely sink that Party
  • His thoughts on the New Green Deal and the future of health care reform
  • What he thinks the direction of the Supreme Court will be
  • What the Kavanaugh hearings highlighted about Democrats views about the Supreme Court
  • His predictions for the 2020 presidential elections
  • What grade would he give President Trump so far?

MORE:

WEBSITE: http://www.andrewfergusonbooks.com/

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TRANSCRIPT:

Gayle Trotter

This morning, I’m joined by my friend Andy Ferguson. Andy was a former national correspondent for The Weekly Standard. You might have heard about that in the news. After the close of The Weekly Standard, David Brooks called Andy “the greatest political writer of my generation.” Andy was also a White House speechwriter for President. George H.W. Bush. We have had a recurring theme talking about President Bush and his legacy by many people who have personal connections with George H.W. Bush. We’re going to talk with Andy a little bit about that, too. Andy is also an author. He’s written three books, Fools’ Names, Fools’ Faces, Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America, and my personal favorite, Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course on Getting His Kid Into College.

Andy, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andy Ferguson

I’m so glad to be here, Gayle.

GT

I have to start with President Trump’s speech. That is the big news of this week. Lots of people were watching it. There were various reactions to not only President Trump’s address from the Oval Office, but also Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi’s response that was given on broadcast news and cable news right after the president’s address.

What’s your take away from President Trump’s speech to the nation?

AF

I am not particularly a big fan of President Trump’s, but it’s quite clear that for whatever reason, this has become an issue that he’s placed at the very center of his presidency. For some reason, the Democrats who are quite happy to spend money on almost anything are reluctant to spend $2.5 billion to build a wall and then another $2.5 billion to hire more border guards and upgrade detention facilities and that sort of thing. I think if you have to look at one side or the other as being insincere and disingenuous, it’s going to be the Democrats on this.

It’s actually kind of bizarre to me that they have chosen to elevate this thing as a symbol of their own agenda. That their big thing is to block funding for upgrading detention facilities simply so they can deny the president his campaign promise.

GT

Why do you think they feel like that is a successful political strategy for them? Like you point out, many of them, the leading opponents of President Trump’s request for this money for border security and the wall, many of them are on record, on videotape, saying that they supported enhancing border security, that they understood walls work, that they oppose illegal immigration.

Why do you think they have done this right turn and feel like it’s politically important for them to oppose this policy, regardless of it being President Trump’s policy, but this specific policy?

AF

In their defense is that they agreed to the wall and enhanced security as part of a larger package that included leniency for existing illegal immigrants. I imagine they just say the context has changed. It’s also clearly something that appeals to the great majority of Democratic voters. One, standing up to Trump and denying him one of his central campaign promises. Two, doing something that looks more welcoming to illegal immigrants. That is appealing to, I think, 80 percent of their voting base. It’s not too hard to figure out what they’re doing. I just think that on the merits, or what they’re trying to explain to be the merits of their case, that they fall pretty short.

GT

You raise a really important point that that was one of President Trump’s campaign promises. Do you think that he should be emphasizing that he is trying to follow through on one of his campaign promises or do you think the more astute approach would be to emphasize that this is a national security concern, that it’s a rule of law concern, and that it goes above the campaign back and forth? As you know, plenty of politicians promise pie in the sky and are never able to deliver that. Do you think that it resounds better with the American people to say it’s national security and rule of law rather than just the opposite of just trying to blindly deliver what he said he would on the campaign trail?

AF

I think he’d say that he made the promise on a campaign trail for all the reasons that you cite. I think right now they’ve got a little problem. They’ve got the campaign pledge, the very the greatest concern to the people they’re trying to appeal to. Then they have the national security part. Then they have the law enforcement, particularly the drug smuggling aspect of it, too. It’s kind of like a Swiss Army knife sort of thing. What is it for? It’s got a can opener. It’s got a screwdriver. Politically, that’s generally not the kind of terrain you want to fight on when you’re justifying yourself for four or five different reasons.

If I were him, if I were advising him (which the possibility is absolutely zero), I’d tell him to stick with the rule of law and the national security stuff, because that’s the kind of thing that appeals to his voters and the voters that are within his reach, even if they’re not particularly Trump people.

GT

Senator Lindsey Graham has gotten a lot of press this fall for really sticking his neck out there and engaging, very publicly, on a lot of these debates. After President Trump’s address late last night and the response from Senator Schumer and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Lindsey Graham came out there and said something to the effect of, “Listen federal workers you’re getting get your back pay, but I’m sorry Ms. Singh is not going to get her husband back.” He was referring to the wife of the police officer who was killed in California by an illegal immigrant. He was referring to the federal workers who, historically, have gotten paid for their time, that they haven’t even worked, as a part of the political compromise because they’re seen as kind of pawns in all of this. It’s interesting because there has been a lot of denunciation of Senator Graham for bringing into this conversation Ms. Singh and saying that it is wrong to take the death of someone and try and make a political point from it. Yet we see the same sort of thing done with any of the mass shootings that have happened or any of the gun deaths that have happened. I think, it’s instructive to look at the responses of the left on these types of political issues versus the responses of the right.

I’m interested to see if you think that Senator Graham was correct in pointing out that Ms. Singh will not get her husband back or if you think this is a similar thing to the left talking about the victims of mass shootings and trying to bootstrap further gun regulations on those types of mass tragedies?

AF

There is no question that Graham is using the death of this police officer as a political tool. There is no question that a certain kind of ideological mind will look at a mass shooting and immediately jump to the idea of gun confiscation. Liberals certainly are not worried about using the deaths of these poor children at the border. As appalling and terrible as those are, as a way of shaming people who want tighter border security or shaming the zero tolerance policy about admissions or asylum granting to migrants.

It’s very hard to just step back and try and find someone articulating positions that don’t involve this kind of cynical manipulation of people’s emotions. That seems to be the field on which, not just politicians, but professional party people, professional politicos and the ideologues like to play on now. It’s one of the reasons I think most people look at D. C. and look at politics and just think, Jesus, all these people are really kind of repulsive.

What Graham did was pretty low, but what Democrats routinely do is pretty low, too, and we just have to hope that this is a phase of the way we adjudicate our disagreements in the United States and someday it will come back to being grownups.

GT

It does make me recall Professor Jonathan Haidt’s book, where he was talking about the differences between essentially a conservative mindset and a liberal mindset. I am very badly paraphrasing what I think his thesis was. Essentially saying that people on the left tend to approach things from emotional, one-person narratives, and people more on the right, or who tend to see things more from the right, tend to approach it in a more logical fashion. That popped into mind when you’re talking about the playing field that we’re on right now. The understanding that if we’re going to have these types of discussions and you brought it up. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was talking about the two children who died on the border and she was speaking about it very passionately. That is definitely going to resonate with a lot of listeners.

Is there a way for conservatives or people who have more right-leaning tendencies to be able to be engaged in these debates without having to go into really first-person narrative, heartstring-type of stories?

AF

Certainly, Republicans and conservatives have tried that quite a bit over the years. You’d mentioned my speech-writing sojourn, it only lasted a year, thank God, but it was part of the Republican playbook to find stories of individuals that could then exemplify a particular policy position or a social problem that needed to be righted. Of course, Trump does this all time. I’m sure when he does the State of the Union later this month, that he’ll have somebody sitting up in the gallery next to Mrs. Trump and they’ll showcase this person who has gone through some trauma or somehow represents this problem that needs to be solved.

I think Haidt is on pretty solid ground when he says the conservatives and liberals tend to approach these things different. It’s not for lack of trying that Republicans don’t usually connect on that personal individualized, I’d say even sentimental level. It’s just not the way Republican voters think. To me, one of Haidt’s great findings, and I think the science on it is very good, that several different kinds of experiments and tests, what you see is the people on the right tend to understand liberal positions and explain liberal positions and justify them much better than people on the left can justify conservative positions or explain them.

This has happened in experiment after experiment. It’s conservatives who are supposed to lack empathy and that sort of thing, but really, when it comes to intellectual empathy, just really trying to understand what the other side is saying, conservatives and Republicans seem to be much better at it than liberals and Democrats who tend to just assume the other side is filled with people of bad character and that’s why they take the positions they do.

GT

Do you think we see that because conservatives and people who are right-leaning grow up in schools where they’re — I don’t mean indoctrinated, like, literally indoctrinated — but they’re certainly exposed to those kind of more left-leaning ideas every day. Certainly when they go to college and definitely in a lot of work places. Do you think possibly they have a better fluency with ideas on the left because they have had to operate in that environment from the very earliest ages? Perhaps people who are left-leaning haven’t really confronted anything but caricatures of what right-held positions are.

AF

I couldn’t put it any better than you just did. I think that’s exactly true or certainly it would account for a lot of what Haidt has found. We live and swim in a culture of journalism and entertainment, and as you say, education, particularly higher education, but also primary and secondary schools that are tilted to the left, but that operate on assumptions of the left. Not necessarily the hard left, but of things are not right of center. It’s not at all surprising given that. That conservatives would have a better sort of working knowledge, as it were, of what liberals are about than the other way around.

GT

You mentioned working for our President George H.W. Bush for a year. I have two questions related to him. The first is: When he passed away recently, there was a lot of discussion about his, “Read my lips,” no new taxes promise. Do you think that if President Trump loses this fight, the shutdown fight over his signature campaign promise to build a wall, that it will be equivalent to the “Read my lips,” backpedal by President George H.W. Bush, or do you think it is a different animal?

AF

That’s a really good question and to tell you the truth, I hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Bush people, of whom I count myself one, I was a great admirer of President Bush, but I noticed in getting back in touch with a lot of people in the events surrounding the funeral, people looked back at that breaking of that, “Read my lips,” tax pledge as kind of an act of heroism. In hindsight, can’t believe how wise it was, and, yes, he sacrificed the second term for it.

I see that completely differently. There are a few people from the Bush White House that would agree with me. You can really trace the Tea Party and Trumpism back to that. It’s not an exact cause and effect, but it was a moment at which a large segment of, certainly conservative-leaning voters said, “Wow, we can’t even trust a politician to keep that explicit of a promise.”  We can’t trust these people to do anything. The alienation that was caused by that from the structure of the Republican Party by people who are inclined to be its supporters was instant.

The next year there was this crazy man out of Texas named Ross Perot, earning third-party candidacy based exactly on that kind of sense of alienation and it runs all the way through Pat Buchanan and into the Tea Party and Trump is the ultimate manifestation. It’s sort of ironic or paradoxical that the people who want to defend Bush’s breaking of that no tax pledge are also the people who most detest Trump, because I think it’s a very plausible historical argument to say that that breaking of that single promise to the electorate is what set in motion this constant alienation from the political process, and from the Republican Party in particular.

GT

I think that’s a brilliant analysis. I have never put those ideas together and I am definitely going to chew on that. I think as you were talking, I was recalling President Bush’s funeral. I don’t know if you were there or if you listened to it. Senator Simpson talked specifically about the process that they used to convince President Bush to go back on that promise. As part of the case that Senator Simpson was making, he started listing the things that had to be done or there would be a catastrophic result if President Bush did not go back on that promise, and, essentially, support the signing of the particular bill. They were so nonsignificant I don’t even remember what Senator Simpson said, but it was things like a Medicare fix and when he was saying them, I was just thinking, “Wow, this is the most unpersuasive thing. ”  Even if you thought President Bush should have raised taxes and did that, and was of good character, listing the things that were part of that bill was extremely unpersuasive in my mind.

AF

I remember having that feeling listening to him. I had the same reaction. It’s also too bad, because Bush actually did several very courageous against-the-tide kind of things when he was — and I mean against the establishment sort of positions when he was president. One of his great, great achievements, which is very seldom talked about simply because it was such a complete achievement was solving the savings and loan crisis of the late 80s and early 90s. I used to have to write about it as a reporter and editorial writer and it was extremely boring. It was so technical, but it was exactly the kind of thing that a government guy like George H.W. Bush was built for, and, by God, after three years, they had essentially put this thing to bed.

If they had not done that, consider the times, what was going on in the world with the fall of the Soviet Union was about to implode, Eastern Europe had been liberated, but it was broke. Germany was trying to reunite. If the world had been led by a weakened United States, and it would have been much weaker had we not solved that savings and loan debt crisis, things would have turned out very differently.

It’s a strange thing about government, when people actually do it very well and do things that government does and does it well. People forget about it and people don’t get any credit for it. It’s the kind of thing that Bush was made to do and it’s one of the things that, I think, made him a great man, and made his presidency much more consequential than people realize.

GT

I’m so delighted to hear that because that was going to be my next question. What was something that you specifically remembered from his presidency that you thought made a real difference? It sounds like you’re saying that it’s kind of the idea of the dog that didn’t bark.

AF

Right.

GT

Because President Bush had those skills and those talents and the interest to do something super boring and technical and invest himself in that and his advisors and his political capital into that, even though it wasn’t sexy, it was something that made a real difference, not only in America, but on the international stage as well.

AF

Yes. We were a much stronger country. We were to lead much more forthrightly than it would have been otherwise, if he hadn’t figured out a way to solve that domestic crisis at the time.

GT

I mentioned a little bit earlier about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and she also created a Twitter storm, media storm, by suggesting in an interview with Anderson Cooper that we needed to go to a 70 percent tax rate. Do you have any thoughts on that policy proposal?

AF

What was that stupid line that Obama used on poor Mitt Romney? “The 1980s called, they want your foreign policy back. ”  I feel like the 1950s called, they want their fiscal policy back. This is another one of these many thousands of ironies that take place in our political discourse, which is the first president who really understood the damaging effects and, in fact, the revenue reducing effects of high marginal tax rates was John Kennedy. Who is one of the great worshipers of John Kennedy in the United States today and American politics? It’s Nancy Pelosi. He said, quite forthrightly, “Our rates are so high that they’re actually reducing revenue to the government. ”  If we want to increase revenue to the government, we have to lower marginal tax rates. He lowered it from 90 down to 70, by the time Reagan was out of office 25 years later, the highest marginal tax rate was 28 percent, and the revenue was flowing in. In fact, it was gushing in so much that they actually balanced the budget about eight or nine years later. These sort of elementary lesson have to be the relearned, reexplained, retaught, every generation or so.

I think also there’s a certain disingenuousness to what she’s doing. Basically, she doesn’t like people who make a lot of money or who make more money than she does. For all the sort of economic talk, basically it’s punitive. You want to raise taxes on people because the more money they earn, the less they’ve actually earned it, the less they deserve it. To talk about, “Oh, we need to raise rates and all that,” it’s basically because they want to punish people who made a lot of dough.

GT

Why do you think she’s getting so much attention? Is it a good thing that she’s getting attention in the sense of what you just said of educating people, making them understand what the implications of these sorts of off-the-cuff proposals are? Or is it bad that she’s getting so much it attention, because then she’s being inflated as some sort of kind of celebrity in the political sphere?

AF

I think it depends on what your own politics are. If I were a moderate Democrat, I’d want to lock her in the bathroom and not let her out, because what she’s saying is extremely appealing to a relatively small part of the Democratic voter base. She’s articulating something that the whole world views of people really passionately believe on the Democratic left that it is absolutely impossible to enact, utterly impractical. I was actually going over the Green New Deal the other day, the actual legislation that’s been drafted, and I actually laughed out loud a couple of times, because it’s so utterly other worldly in its assumptions in how it thinks people will behave and respond to incentives and such. Really, it’s like something put together by a very earnest 11th grader for his poli-sci class or something. It cannot help Democrats who are really — and there are responsible Democrats who don’t want to cripple the economy — it must just drive them crazy to see this woman get all this attention for an agenda that would absolutely sink their party.

I love her. I think she’s fantastic. I follow her on Instagram. I like her whole affect. I think she’s just a wonderful representation of that slice of the Democratic Party and I wish we had some more charisma on the Republican side that, not like her, but at least somebody who kind of understood the show businesses of politics as perfectly as she does.

GT

You were not one of the people who are offended by her dance video I take it?

AF

No. You know what, a sincere question, do you know anybody who was offended?

GT

No.

AF

I looked at it and I thought she’s utterly charming and it’s a bunch of college kids jumping around with the school mascot. I think that there was one person on the right who was offended and whoever it was, whether he or she, had that anonymous account and put out this ridiculous Tweet, which allowed The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and USA Today, and GQ, and Vogue, everybody else to say, “The right wing can’t even stand to have a young woman have fun dancing on a rooftop with her friends. ”  I don’t know any right-winger who was offended by that. I really don’t.

GT

Doesn’t that play into President Trump’s fake news idea? It seems like it’s the gift that keeps giving. It’s something that people on the right and conservatives have always been disgusted about their treatment in the mainstream media. Yet, here’s another example, an anonymous Tweet. It wasn’t like President Trump denounced her dancing, or any major commentators.

AF

Right, right. It is handing it to them on a silver platter, whoever that, whatever the person’s name was, anonymous76 or something, whoever that person is should just keep quiet. You’re not doing anybody any favors. Oh, yes, you are. You’re doing a lot of favors to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her friends, but that’s about it.

GT

You’ve touched on the Green New Deal. What do you think the future of healthcare and healthcare freedom is going to be with this new majority ship in the House and the divided government? Do you think we’re going to see any changes or is it just going to be it be a bunch of bills passed by the House that are perhaps extreme in their proposals or ideas and we’re just can continue to have healthcare reform kind of stalled?

AF

I think it’s the latter. I think everything will just go sideways for a long time. The best argument against Obamacare, and why some of us fought so ferociously against it, was once it was in there it was going to be very, very hard to get rid of. Of course, they have undone a couple of things, which actually may make the system even more cumbersome and wasteful. Republicans have in some of the reforms they’ve done. The bulk of it is just going to sit there and kind of messing with people’s lives. That’s the great tragedy of massive government reforms like that is that you can’t undo them once they’re done. No matter how conditions change or how political opinions change. Once you’ve got a huge tank parked right there, it’s very hard to move.

GT

Right. That was what one of the Labor Secretaries said, Frances Perkins, said back after the New Deal was passed that once you get these programs in, no politician is ever going to be able to take them away. I think you’re right. A lot of people fought it at the get-go because they understood that once it was in there, despite many Republican politicians promises to get it out by root and branch, that would be an almost impossible daunting task.

AF

Yes.

GT

I want to switch a little, speaking about Obamacare to the Supreme Court. I’m sure you followed the Kavanaugh hearings closely in the fall. I’m curious what you think the direction of the court is going to be and if we’re going to see any interesting things happening in the news with the Supreme Court in 2019?

AF

I’m not a close enough court watcher. I have an amateur interest and a rooting interest in it, but I don’t know what cases are going to be heard this fall and spring. I suppose the great drama that everyone will want to latch onto, at least from a journalistic point of view, is whether the conservative block actually holds as a conservative block or whether conservatives worst fears about John Roberts are going to hold true, in which he kind of grows into an Anthony Kennedy kind of figure. That’s really about as far as I can talk about the Supreme Court.

GT

It’s interesting that you say that, because I have had many interviews on the Kavanaugh issue and Gorsuch and the Supreme Court generally. I think there’s a real misapprehension by a lot of Americans of what conservatives want on the Supreme Court. They don’t really want conservative justices. They don’t want justices who will deliver conservative policy or justices who would deliver their policy preference outcomes in any particular case. I think that’s something that really gets lost on people because conservatives want fair and independent judges. They want to leave the power to the people. Even if we lose, let’s take the transgender case, for example. That’s been a huge controversy. Under the Obama Administration, there was a “Dear Colleague” letter that went out from the Department of Education trying to rewrite the meaning of the word sex in Title IX for all public schools K-12. I think when you look at the types of judges that conservatives want on any federal court, district appellate, or Supreme Court, they don’t want the judiciary used as a naked power organ. They really want the judiciary used as the interpreter of laws and to make sure that the Constitution is followed and trusting in the rule of law, but leave the power to the people.

Do you have any thoughts on that as well?

AF

I certainly agree with you on that. I think one of the things that the Kavanaugh hearing demonstrated was, in fact in a very vivid and vicious form, was how deeply the left and Democrats have become committed to the view that the Court is simply another political body. That it’s kind of the political body of last resort. When you want to make law about abortion, and you can’t do it through the legislature, you make law by having the right Supreme Court justices.

I think it also showed the degree to which conservatives are starting to feel that way about the Court. I think you said perfectly that what the ideal conservative view is, but you start to see some conservatives, like George Will, who is one of the sort of canaries in the coal mine on this — “Let’s stop kidding ourselves. This is a policymaking body and we need to shift the balance of power so that the policy gets made our way,” and there are people who actually agree with that now and who have kind of given up the notion of judicial independence.

GT

Yet the ratchet seems to always go leftward. Take, for example, gay marriage, I don’t know what your opinion on gay marriage is, and people have differing views on that. Plenty of people have thought that it should be left with the states because it was a traditional area of law that states made the decisions on, not the Supreme Court. Obviously, the Supreme Court made a final decision on that and once that happens, that’s not going to be changed. That will never ever ever be changed. I feel like if George Will is saying that, (I’m going to have to go look that up, that’s very fascinating to me), and I’m curious what other kinds of conservative intellectuals are saying this as well, but I feel like the more traditional or limited government-type understanding of our system of democracy will be undermined if we do adopt that position of the left, because we will always lose, because inevitably it all ratchets to the left.

AF

I think that’s true simply because it is in the nature of government to expand. It’s just part of the way the organism works. As long as it’s alive, it will continue to seek new avenues of control. The Obergefell decision on gay marriage was simply an act of judicial imperialism. It was bullying. It was just reaching into every community in the United States from that temple on Capitol Hill, where the Supreme Court sits, and telling them what to think and how they now have to behave. To me, it’s appalling by anybody who believes in self-government. That one, I guess, that one is over, as you say.

GT

Right. Just take the whole gay issue out of it and just say about anything else, any other issue. Is that really how we want our system to operate? That you can get five people, five people, I don’t care if they’re platonic guardians, the smartest people you’ve ever met in your entire life, but there has certainly been a lot of criticism that the people on the Supreme Court are all very similar. They don’t have a lot of diversity of viewpoint or experience, in many ways. They all attended Ivy League schools, for example, and they’re all lawyers. Law school teaches you how to think like a lawyer instead of a psychologist or other medical professional. I’m just surprised if you can take that particular issue out of it, that there wasn’t outrage. Why can’t Massachusetts be Massachusetts? They allowed gay marriage. Let Texas be Texas, and why is there is not fundamental outrage about that? I guess it’s because of the underlying policy issue.

AF

I know Justice Breyer is a big fan of taking the conservative argument and turning it on its head and accusing the conservative justices of legislating from the bench and making law rather than interpreting it. He’s very facile at using that argument against conservatives. They’ve learned a lot. They’ve learned a lot rhetorically about this. This is especially true about the five guys and women deciding this, as you say, you don’t want any five people to have that kind of power in a self-governing nation, even if they are the smartest people. You especially don’t want them if they’re five people who went to law school. People talk about how terrible higher education is nowadays and how it’s become indoctrination in certain kinds of worldviews. The law schools are ten times worse than even the most liberal arts colleges are now.

GT

Particularly the elite law schools.

AF

The elite law schools, yes, right. Maybe if we could ban anyone who has been to law school from serving on the Supreme Court, we’d all be better off. No more lawyers on the Supreme Court.

GT

Yes. I think we would definitely see a lot more humility perhaps on some of these very broad-reaching types of decisions that come out.

I’m going to switch a little bit and I’ve got two little final topics to talk with you about. The 2020 presidential election is gearing up. We saw Elizabeth Warren stick her exploratory committee out there, and we’re seeing more interest and enthusiasm from both sides. Do you have any predictions about what is going to happen or what we should look for going into the 2020 presidential beauty show?

AF

I have one big overriding prediction, which is that all my predictions will be wrong.

GT

I love it.

AF

I have utterly lost any faith in my prognostication ability. To tell you the truth after 2016, with the exception of a handful people that I know who are professional political analysts, everybody ought to stop making predictions. Just get out of the prediction business altogether. Having said that, let me you my prediction. I actually do not think that the left-wing of party, the sort of the Ocasio-Cortez wing of the party, represented by Sanders or Warren, is going to end up being the dominant wing of the party. I think that there is too many sort of old gray beards, gray heads still who just want to win. Anyone too radical like Warren or Sanders is simply not going to be able to win the day, even against someone like Trump.

On the other hand, if they do nominate someone slightly more sober-minded, they’re almost certainly going to face the challenge from the left, which will only enhance Trump’s chances. The other thing is that I’ve learned is that the people who everyone thinks is the no brainer winner in a year before New Hampshire is almost never the winner. I covered Jeb Bush; I covered John McCain back in 2000; I covered George Allen in 2008. He was a shoe -n. I feel the same way when I look at Elizabeth Warren. She’s the big name. She’s the one that’s getting all the attention, and then when you actually watch her on the stump, and watch her campaign, she is so terrible, that she’s really someone who could only get elected in Massachusetts, I think. I assume that she’ll be gone by the end of the year. Which means for my overriding, overarching prediction that she may be the nominee. If I’m saying she’s going to be out by the end of year, who knows.

GT

We’ll check back in with you about that. I have a funny story. I was in Boston, just by chance, the morning that she revealed the results of her DNA test. I was standing in line in Starbucks in Boston and the woman in front of me was talking about, “Oh, Elizabeth Warren has proven President Trump wrong and he’s going to have to apologize to her,” and I thought, “Okay this is just Boston, they just say crazy things here.” Obviously, this woman doesn’t know what she’s talking about. I got my tea and start looking, scrolling through Twitter and realize that was the day she had released the information about her DNA.

It’s fascinating to me because I would I would have loved to have gone back and found that woman a week or two later to see if she still held the opinion that Elizabeth Warren had proven President Trump wrong about her DNA. Or if that type of news gets out there and then people who are inclined to believe what their favorite people say, still believe that, or if she would have had some revelation that it wasn’t actually Native Americans from North America. It was a very small percentage, many, many generations, and the tribe’s leaders had disavowed what she said and were offended by it. I feel like that’s kind of the interesting thing about politics, generally, that people don’t spend their day looking at political stuff, but they catch snippets of news and then that informs their opinion. Then they kind of cling to that.

I’m wondering if you have any experiences like that as well? Where there’s been some news story that has kind of gone in one direction and then it’s gone the other direction, and yet people are still kind of stuck on the first impression of the story, rather than extensive reporting that came afterwards.

AF

You see that all the time. In fact, there is a lot of interesting literature and psychological science. Psychological science is generally not very reliable, but there is a lot of interesting stuff about information flows and how people retain information and let other information go and when they start to become certain about one position and then they foreclose contrary information about it. This is sort of one of the things that makes our current media environment so awful is that stuff it is coming at you in little chunks, news alerts and things like that, that are not conducive to actual deliberation and making informed decisions. I see that all the time.

GT

I was a Trump supporter. I am still a Trump supporter. I also want to share with you that The Weekly Standard was a favorite magazine in my household. Particularly my son would every day ask me, “Is the new Weekly Standard here? Is the new Weekly Standard here?” and he would get so excited reading about it. I’m very sad to see that go, even though, as I said, I’m a Trump supporter. I am curious what grade would you give President Trump for his presidency so far, given that a lot of the things that you support he’s doing and then there’s also obviously a lot of baggage that a lot of people don’t support. I’m curious if you were the teacher and you are giving him a grade, what grade would you give him?

AF

I always liked those report cards that had, you got a one grade for participation in class and one grade for attendance, and one grade for deportment, and all those kinds of old fashioned things, rather than —

GT

Good citizenship.

AF

Yeah, good citizenship, which I don’t think the president gets a good grade in. I couldn’t give him an overall unitary grade. Just in purely political, I shouldn’t say political. In policy terms he’s done things that I approve of that, obviously, I’m sure we all, on our side, approve of, especially the deregulation and standing up to some of these ridiculous international agreements that are nothing but meaningless and trouble making. Of course I approve of his Supreme Court nominees, and now justices, both of them I think are first rate choices.

I still worry that those very successes, and things like the tax examples, for example, or deregulation are going to become so associated in the public mind, I’m not talking about among Republicans, I’m talking about the 60 percent of the country that is not Republican, are going to be so associated with his own personal shortcomings and deficiency, the name-calling and the thin skin and the refusal to let things just go. In order to behave, what I consider to be presidentially, that that failure on his part is going to become associated, in a practical way, with support for limited government, greater individual liberty, and all the things that we truly prize. If you say, for example, well, we really need to get the capital gains tax even lower, down to, I don’t know, 12 percent or something.

GT

Yes.

AF

Now, “You sound like a Trump person.” Oh, so I suppose you do. In the end, there is a very real chance that Trump will be so personally discredited that he’ll take all the ideas that he’s enforced and enacted along with him. That, to me, is the long-term danger of the presidents undeniable vulgarity. I think everyone agrees about his personal shortcomings, but I think that it’s more than simply compartmentalizing his vulgarity and his policy successes. I think one is going to bleed into the other, and it may do damage to the Republican or conservative cause far into the future.

GT

He’s definitely charismatic. This makes me think of the earlier part of this discussion, where you were saying you wished there was somebody on the right who was as charismatic as Alexandria and young. Do you see anyone who has glimmers of being that? Do you think it’s possible for a conservative to have that kind of charisma that she does? Do you see anyone who has a glimmer of being able to develop that or is it just innate?

AF

That’s a really great point. How would I put this? Charisma is a left-wing value, in a sense. Charisma is, by definition, superficial, of the moment, fleeting. It’s, what I think, conservativism represents is things that are more fixed, solid, even less colorful, if you want. Reagan, of course, is the one that everybody always points to, but Reagan’s charisma was a particular kind. For one thing, he had been movie-star handsome. He was a movie star. I remember being around him, and he would come into a room, it really was like you were looking at — I remember the movie Roger Rabbit was out at the time and I spent time with him, and it was almost like a cartoon figure had walked into a real-life setting, because there was something so animating about this guy. It’s not because he was the most famous man in the world, but your eye just went to him. I’ve never seen that. As much as I loved the old President Bush, he absolutely did not have that. Charisma, itself, is rare, but charisma in a thoroughly responsibly conservative politician is very hard to imagine, and I think Reagan just broke the mold on that.

GT

Did Sarah Palin have it?

AF

She was never to my taste, so I don’t know. I never saw her as charismatic. I just lacked that particular neuron receptor or something that she activated in other people.

GT

I am excited to have spoken with you Andy. Thank you so much for joining us today.

AF

It was a pleasure. Thank you.

GT

This is Gayle Trotter. You can like me on Facebook. You can follow me on Twitter and Instagram. You can subscribe to my YouTube channel. You can support this show on Patreon. Thank you for joining us. This is Right in DC.

About the author

Gayle Trotter

Gayle Trotter is a columnist, political analyst and attorney who regularly appears on TV, such as Fox News Channel, contributes to The Hill, The Daily Caller, Townhall and other well-known political websites, and is a frequent guest on radio shows across the country providing an insider’s view of Washington, DC. Read More