Senator Josh Hawley (R, Mo.) on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 3, 2019 (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

A discussion of Hawley’s bill, Trump’s rally, and much more.

This is the transcript from Episode 152 of The Editors.

Rich: The Trump reelect launch, and his endless George Stephanopoulos interview. Wait a minute. Sarah, did you hear that? Do you hear, he coughed. He coughed right in my introduction. Sarah, can we do that from the top, please? Let’s do that from the top. No, I don’t like coughing, no. If you need to cough, exit the podcast studio. Sarah, we’re ready? Three, two, one. The Trump reelection launch, and his endless George Stephanopoulos interview. The ghost of Herman Talmadge. What good is Section 230 anyway? And what exactly is a concentration camp? We’ll discuss all this and more on this week’s edition of The Editors.

I’m Rich Lowry, and I’m joined as always, or most of the time, by the right honorable Charles C. W. Cooke, the notorious MBD, Michael Brendan Dougherty, and Alexandra “Xan” DeSanctis. You’re listening a National Review podcast. If you’re listening to this podcast at, we’re delighted to have you, but it would be easier for you and better for us if you made us part of your feed at Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, or iTunes. And if you like what you hear here, please consider giving us a glowing five-star review on iTunes. If you don’t like what you hear here, please forget I said anything.

So MBD, we had the big reelect launch in an arena in Orlando, which was about a 50-minute rehearsal of the greatest hits of 2016. I am not sure really anything changed except for some of the villains, because the investigations unspooled in the ensuing two or three years. And then the last ten minutes or so, you had a real case for his reelection made from prompter. What did you think about it?

Michael: It was interesting. I thought the last ten minutes was some of the strongest stuff, and it was some of his best prompter reading in his career. But the feeling of it being a little stale, at least, for me, was there. I sort of judged these events in 2015 and 2016 by the kind of . . . it was a performance, it was a kind of a happening. It had to have this kind of crackle to it. And this felt a little bit too much like a reprise of the greatest hits to generate the kind of participatory excitement that I think was part of his election in the first place.

So I’m a little worried about that. However, the pattern with Trump rallies in his previous campaign was that he just kept trying new material, almost like a standup comic and gradually found what resonated, and what improved, and what bits people liked participating in. And I think as it becomes clear which candidates are at the top of the Democratic party, I expect these to improve a bit.

Rich: So what did you think, Xan? Did you think it is too much of the same old, or is this the same old just works for him?

Alexandra: Well, I wasn’t sure quite what to make of it until I read this Time magazine interview that just came out this morning with Trump in which he said, “I don’t need to court swing voters because my base is strong the way it is.” And so, he clearly thinks he’s just going to roll right through 2020 talking about Hillary Clinton until there’s somebody at the top of the Democratic ticket. And whether that’s Joe Biden, it seemed like probably they’re thinking it will be Biden because that’s who Don Jr. attacked and his remarks at the rally. But I think Trump is just kind of figuring his base is going to keep eating up whatever he has to say the same way they always have. He doesn’t really have to talk about what he’s done or didn’t do. He’s going to talk about immigration as if he’s done a lot more than he actually has, and fingers crossed, people continue to like it.

Rich: What’d you make of it, Charlie?

Charlie: Well, Donald Trump is an anti-candidate as much as he’s a candidate. People find this creepy because they think that it makes him in some way hateful. But politics is geared this way at the moment. You tend to motivate people to vote more by scaring them into what their opponents might do than by telling them what you’re going to do. The myth is that what people really want is to be inspired, but they don’t. What they really want to do is be scared, and Trump’s pretty good at that.

I’m not sure he was at his best the other night because he focused too much on a candidate who’s not going to run again. And he was reliving the greatest hits. So that will be a temptation for him. It was probably a great surprise to him that he won, and it was probably the greatest night of his life, but he’s not gonna lack opportunities to play the anti-candidate. He’s going to be running against a candidate from a party that has moved dramatically to the left, that has adopted in some quarters a preference for late-term, if not post-birth, abortion that thinks that running camps to detain illegal immigrants temporarily is akin to replaying the Holocaust, that is so obsessed with identity politics as to switch a lot of people off, that’s talking about 70 percent tax rates and wealth taxes, and openly boasting about socialism, canceling debts, and so on and so forth, some talking about reparations.

So the style of it worked for him before and may work for him again. If he can build a coalition of people who don’t especially like him but just don’t want the other person, then he may do well, and what he did the other night may do well, but he will have to adapt from Hillary Clinton because she’s not going to be that person this time around.

Rich: So, Michael, I wrote a column about this today where I think Trump, the way he conducts himself, the constant controversies, the high-wire threats he’s always making, and he doesn’t necessarily follow through on all of them, kind of obscure what’s basically been kind of an incrementalist center-right government, some risks — pulling out of the Iran deal when it’s not clear what they’re hoping to get from it is a risk. The trade war with China is a risk, although I think he has off-ramps if he wants a fake deal. But then you look at it, and it’s basically kind of expansionary fiscal policy all about preserving the recovery and then no new major foreign wars. So peace and prosperity.

Michael: Yeah, it is. So there are a couple of aspects to the pitch. One is the strongest thing he can point to is the continued recovery, the growing labor participation rate, I think, is actually the biggest selling point on that. I thought some of his lines, like he was just barely starting to gesture toward a kind of politics I would like to see from a populist Republican, which is reaching out to African-American voters and saying, “Hey, African-American unemployment is really low. We’re making strides. We’re protecting you from Chinese competition, competition from illegal labor pools coming over the border.”

But on the other side, I wonder when I watch these rallies the second time around, if there are not voters who projected onto Trump in the first election and kind of believed his promise of “I’ll change when I’m in office, you won’t believe how presidential I can be.” And he kind of joked about being boring and getting the job done. And I think that there probably is a real subset of normally Republican voters who wanted him to make good on that promise and are disappointed that the administration has felt chaotic and out of control at times.

Charlie: That’s why it’s smart for him to play the anti-politics card and say, “Whatever I am, whatever my flaws, yes, the economy is good, yes, there are no foreign wars, but the other people will destroy you,” which is something he said literally.

Michael: Yeah, and that is the thing is like how many . . . My theory of Republican electoral success is partly that the party has gotten away with a more astringent fiscal policy in the past, more austerity, more costs are slowing the growth of government. Partly because people elected for the cultural reasons that they want to check on . . . they don’t want a united government between media and the presidency and Congress on cultural issues. And so, Republicans are like a political check on the cultural power of the left.

And we are seeing, because I think Democrats think they have such a good shot at beating him, we’re seeing just a lot of expressiveness about how America is going to be changed in the future, and I think it’s going to freak out larger and larger subsets of voters. So yeah, the Democrats are going to be crucial in making Trump’s reelection case for him.

Rich:  So, Xan, let’s look back to the Stephanopoulos interview, which dominated for about four or five days. It was breaking just when we recorded last week. And, for me, it’s a little bit reminiscent of the Katie Couric interview with Sarah Palin, and we’re like, “When is this going to end?” It’s just so there’s all these clips. Okay. Stephanopoulos, and now he’s with them in the Oval Office. Now he’s sitting in the garden with him. Now he’s in the car with him.

And of course, the biggest news to come out of this was Trump defending kind of in a muddled way the way he usually does, defending the idea of getting assistance from a foreign government and not necessarily calling the FBI, although he said, in the course of his back and forth initially with Stephanopoulos about this, “Oh, I would do both. I’d accept it and then I’d call the FBI.” And then he said on Fox and Friends the next day, “Well, I would call the FBI, but I’d have to look at the information first, make sure it was bad. And if this was bad, I’d hand it over to the FBI.” What did you make of…

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