Saturday, September 22, 2018

'Cotto/Gottfried' Transcript: What's up with the midterms? Kurt Schlichter on Trump, Russia, Republicans, and more.

Editor's note: The transcript of this episode was provided by Jeremiah B Leonard, to whom the SFRB is grateful for his service.

The midterms are approaching at rapid speed. Just how well, or poorly, the GOP will fare is anyone's guess. On this week's episode of 'Cotto/Gottfried,' Kurt Schlichter, a retired U.S. Army colonel who has become one of our time's most outspoken conservative voices, shares his take on issues pertinent to the upcoming elections -- from fears of Russian interference to polling data and much more. SEE more interviews HERE: http://www.sanfranciscoreviewofbooks....

COTTORussia. Does it pose a national security threat for the midterms? And just what can we expect from these midterms moreover, specifically insofar as the Republican Party is concerned? Kurt Schlichter is a retired Army infantry colonel, a lawyer in Los Angeles and a very high-profile columnist for Townhall Magazine, as well as a conservative Twitter-personality. He joins us to share his views on these topics. I’m your cohost Joseph Ford Cotto, editor in chief of the San Francisco Review of Books. My cohost is Paul Gottfried head of our editorial board, and this is Cotto/Gottfried.


COTTO: There’s a lot being said about Russia and the influence it might have over this year’s midterm elections. Obviously, this has to do with alleged national-security concerns. Just how serious these concerns are though, and how much they might be a conspiracy theory is up for debate. Kurt, what are your opinions on this matter generally?

SCHLICHTER: Well look, my feeling is—and look, I’m an old cold warrior. I mean literally a cold warrior. I was in The Cold War. I was an officer in West Germany when the wall fell—[I was] in the United States Army. So, I’ve got no particular love of our Russian friends, but I think in a lot of ways the whole Russian thing is very, very much overblown.

COTTO: How do you think it’s overblown?

SCHLICHTER: I think the significance of a bunch of creepy basement-dwellers in Vladivostok buying “Hilary has an alien lovechild” messages on Facebook is an easy and misguided way to address what was a shocking surprise in November 2016. Hillary Clinton was not supposed to lose—but she did—and there are reasons she lost which have nothing to do with Russians, but sometimes people want to look for an easy answer that prevents them from having to look at the harder truths. And I think that’s what happens here to some extent.

GOTTFRIED: I entirely agree with Kurt, but it seems to me that this story does have legs, and it has been used to weaken the Trump administration—to rally the other side—however weak, one might say, the narrative about Russian collusion has been either—Trump’s having colluded—I suppose that’s one narrative, and its related narrative is that Russian intervention resulted in throwing the election to Trump, thereby preventing the people from having their will and electing Hillary. But I think these narratives are very important in understanding the predicament in which the present administration and the Republican Party remains stuck, and which could in fact have some kind of impact on the November election.

I just want to see what Kurt thinks of my long comment.

SCHLICHTER: Look, I don’t think it’s nothing. But I guess maybe I’m jaded, because I’ve always assumed that the Russians, even back when they were Soviets, were bad people attempting to use disinformation and leverage cultural divides and chasms within The West, including the United States, to its own advantage. So, when it comes out that there are Russians attempting to sow discord—the fact is it seems like they sow discord on each side—they’re helping [Jill] Stein here, and they’re doing a Hillary rally there, then they’re helping Trump—it’s no surprise to me.

I think the reaction to it though is really one of evasion. To me—and maybe it’s my military mind, even though I’m retired—I want to try and find the hardest enemy—the hardest problem to face. And the Russian problem is the easiest, because I think at the end of the day, a bunch of Russian antics buying some ads and spreading a little discord probably wasn’t what lost Hillary Wisconsin. And it’s easier to talk about Russians than to say, “why are we as the Democrat party not speaking to people who used to be the bricks in our blue wall? Why are these people not voting for us?” The argument to me seems to be, “well, these dummies fell for this Russian propaganda—those dummies were supposed to vote for us!” I’m not sure that’s a great argument!

GOTTFRIED: By the way, I’m not looking at the validity of the arguments being raised because, like you, I think it’s all nonsense. What I am doing is looking at a possible impact that these narratives have had until now in worsening the position of the current administration, and the possible impact they may have on the November election. There is a very large percentage of the American people who believe that Russian collusion was responsible in some way for the defeat of Hillary, and “the Russians are rigging the election” and so forth. I know that these are people who are committed to the Democratic Party and usually are socially the left wing of the Democratic Party, but the narrative can have an electoral impact.

SCHLICHTER: I think it will have a positive one for conservatives. And I say that as a conservative. I’m [reminded] of Napoleon’s—probably apocryphal—injunction not to interfere when your enemy’s making a mistake. Because when people are blaming Russians—and I think there’s a significant number of people who really think the Russians had something important and substantial to do with results of the election—when you’re going and blaming Russians, you are not fixing the problem, and that means conservatives are going to be able to take advantage of it.

We are now—as conservatives—speaking to people who for years had tuned us out. We’re speaking to the guy in the John Deere hat with the hunting rifle in Michigan, in Ohio, in West Virginia. These are people who are not what we used to think of as Republicans. And the Democrat party has told them, “we don’t care about you.” And now with this Russian thing—that’s an excuse not to look back deep into themselves and say, “wait a minute! Why are we not talking to these folks?” Because frankly, a lot of these folks are not ideological conservatives the way I was—coming up reading National Review and before it went completely insane, The Weekly Standard.

GOTTFRIED: Another question that I have is, is this Russian narrative something that is very useful for John McCain republicans—for never-Trump Republicans, who are absolutely obsessed with the Russian danger, partly because they are—one might say—militant interventionists and partly because they hate Donald Trump. But I think the Russian narrative also has some impact on the Republican Party, which is something which I think is very dangerous. It’s not just these wayward Democrats who will not confront their own lousy campaigning and their loss of the working class—white working class, particularly. It seems to me that some of these Republicans are also buying into the Russian narrative.

SCHLICHTER: I think there are fairly few of them, and I think they tend to be clustered in the establishment so other voices are amplified all out of proportion to who they are. I don’t think that if you took a thousand Republican voters at random you would find more than a handful—and when I mean handful I’m talking like five fingers—of people who think a really important issue is Russians. You’re just not going to find them, but you will find a lot in the Senate. You will find a lot for a number of reasons. A lot of them are very attuned to what the Russians are doing, where many other people aren’t. A lot of them are very attuned to what the establishment media says. If you’re being asked by CNN all the time about Russians, you’re eventually going to think, “oh gosh, Russians must be important!”

And a lot of those guys are cold warriors—Lindsey Graham was a colonel—John McCain before he fought Vietnamese he was trained—like I was—to kill Russians. I still know how to defeat a motor rifle regiment in the attack. So, they’re inclined to do that, and they’re rewarded when they do that. If Ben Sasse is going to get the microphone stuck in his face … he’s going to get on the news if he says, “well, more in sorrow than anger. I have to say I think Donald Trump is once again disappointing me because he’s not taking the Russian threat seriously.” He’s not going to get on TV by saying, “this is stupid! You guys are—this is just dumb! But please keep it up. I’d like to win!”

GOTTFRIED: By the way, I love your columns. You’re one of my favorite columnists! And I like the way you go after the never-Trump Republicans and Hillary Clinton—I can’t even think of the term you use ...

SCHLICTER: Enablers!

GOTTFRIED: Yeah, something “pants” or “something von pants” [It’s “Hillary von Pantsuit”]. But, I think your columns are great!

SCHLICHTER: I think my columns—look, you guys are a review of books. I am a street-fighting trial-lawyer whose job is to go in front of twelve people who couldn’t figure out a way off of jury duty and convince them to do what I want them to do. And I also have kind of an interesting background—I’m a suburban kid from San Mateo—that’s who I am. [I] grew up at the same time not far from Greg Gutfeld—and yet I was also a standup comic, I was an officer, I was a trial lawyer. So, I come at it at a different place that a lot of these—and I am physically here in Los Angeles—I’m coming at a different place than a lot of the establishment voices, and I think a part of that’s Andrew Breitbart who saw that there’s this whole country out there of people who can get in the fight, and it doesn’t have to just be people in Washington DC who are frankly, as we’ve mentioned, rewarded for going along with the kind of establishment consensus.

I don’t care about getting a job at The Liberty Forum for Eagles and Liberty. It just doesn’t—I don’t care. But it’s really important to these guys. I remember when I was an intern in DC, I literally heard someone in the bar trying to pick up a girl, going like, “I am an assistant undersecretary of agriculture.” You try that here you’re going to get laughed at. You try it in San Francisco, they’re going to think you’re insane. You try it in Washington DC and she’s probably going to bring a friend and you’re going to end up in the hot tub.

COTTO: What do you think the endgame of these Russian allegations—insofar as elections and national security are concerned— what do you think the endgame will be politically?

SCHLICHTER: When you say “endgame,” do you mean a plan? I don’t think there’s a plan. I think it was a meme that got out of control. How does it end? It ends with a whimper not a bang. Because there is no bang there. Mueller and his Democrats—because that’s who they are—are going to come out with a report that soft pedals the Russian thing, and talks all about, “obstruction” and, you know, other stuff—but there’s not going to be any phone calls to Vladimir, Boris, and Natasha stuff. It’s just such a marginal concept that it really—it’s just going to die away because it’s got no heat. It only has heat as it’s useful. Last week on social media there were a number of prominent folks who are big on the Russian thing pooh-poohing the idea that anyone had ever talked about collusion, or that that was ever a significant argument.

There’s no evidence for it, it’s just going to kind of die out. But unfortunately for them I don’t think they’re going to replace it with the kind of hard personal inventory that we need, and that Donald Trump has forced on the Republican party for its part—because we on the Republican side are going through the same kind of—trying to fit a round peg into a square hole that is these new coalitions because the coalitions for both parties have changed and you see people go—you see the never-Trump guys going, “I can’t handle this, I’m going to vote for Hillary”—do you see a lot of Democrats going, “ well, the Democrats have left me, I’m going to try the Republicans.” And I think the Republicans have done—in my book, Militant Normals [Militant Normals: How Regular Americans Are Rebelling Against the Elite to Reclaim Our Democracy] which comes out October 2nd talks about it, I think you see the Republican Party going through a process where we realize—hey look, a lot of the ideology we had wasn’t responsive to who our base is.

When you talk about free trade, that’s great. I’m a free trader, but there are consequences to people who vote for us. When your Carrier air-conditioning plant in Evanston, Illinois goes away and you’re a fifty-eight year-old Republican and a guy who looks like Mitt Romney shows up in a limousine [and] says, “hey we’re moving the plant to Oaxaca, maybe you guys ought to go out and learn coding,” and you’re supposed to pay for your kids’ college, and your mortgage as a fifty-eight year-old novice coder?! We needed to have answers for those people, and a lot of times our answers were, “shut up you should read Milton Friedman” or “you’re concerned about illegal immigration? You’re just a racist knuckle-dragger who doesn’t understand how great it is to have a whole under class of serfs here toiling without complaint for the donors to the Chamber of Commerce.

GOTTFRIED: This is a prediction as much as an analysis that I’d like to ask you about. It seems that according to the most recent poll that I’ve seen, the Democrats have about a thirteen-point lead over the Republicans going into the November election. Do you take that lead seriously? Or do you think that there’s some way that the Republicans can redeem themselves, and their hold? Well certainly they’ll hold on to the Senate—I mean, I’d be surprised if they lost that. But, that they also may have a possibility of holding on to the House of Representatives.

SCHLICHTER: I don’t think the difference is thirteen points—I’ve seen significantly lower. I think now that we’re kind of in election season—Labor Day is kind of the traditional point where it really start revving up—I think we’re really going to see more Republicans engaging, and there are a lot of people who are going to have to make a choice. It’s the same choice I made in ‘12 or ‘16, which is—you’ve got Donald Trump who is not your typical conservative, and who frankly freaks a lot of people out by his behavior, or you have the Nancy Pelosi democrats who intend to undo all the good things that are happening. I mean unemployment is low—a few years—a year or so or two years ago, you never—I drive through Los Angeles, I would not have seen a help-wanted sign. I see “now-hiring” all over the place. I am a business owner, I know how hard it is to get talented [employees]. It is HARD. And I’m having to raise wages to get people to work for me. This hasn’t happened in a long time, and I’ve been in business for twenty years—now I’m in a weird business, I’m a lawyer—but it’s a great time if you’re selling your labor. And I think a lot of people are going to have to make a tough choice—which I don’t think is that tough—I think they’re going to say “Donald Trump is not a guy I would like my kids to imitate, however he is a guy I would like running the government as chief executive because he’s doing things I want him to do.

GOTTFRIED: What about the possibility the college-educated white-women will turn against the Republican party in droves and vote for the Democrats? This seems to have happened in some places like Virginia, Alabama, Georgia, and this may be part of a trend, a demographic trend in which—an intellectual trend—in which this particular group will be lost to the Republican Party not for economic reasons but for cultural and social ones. I think this is dangerous.

SCHLICHTER: I think some of the traditional divides are going to sharpen. I think single women will still, will tend to be more Democrat than they were before—and they were pretty [Democratic] before. I think some married women may go Democrat. I think more males will go Republican. I don’t think it is going to be a massive earthquake. Remember, it is just [as] important for suburban moms for the economy to be good [as for] suburban men. And a lot of suburban men—I mean, Trump has a lot of appeal to people that some people don’t want to recognize. I’m sitting here laughing at the idea—the notion that—the fact that Donald Trump got together with a bunch of Playboy bunnies is somehow going to freak out men in general. A lot of us are going, “he’s not living my life but man, that’s pretty—this guy’s a player!” And the way he seems to beat his opponents—and he does beat them. I think a lot of men are going to respond to that. So, I think the Democrats need to be much more worried about losing whole demographics than the Republicans.

And if you look at some of the polling—and I don’t know how good it is—but a lot of minorities are giving Donald Trump a chance. And I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that he is not a traditional Republican—he doesn’t look like Mitt Romney. He doesn’t look like the guy who closed down their factory, or the guy who sentenced their brother to prison. He looks like a guy—he is comparable to a celebrity—I mean, he is a celebrity—and he’s just not—and he doesn’t take a lot of crap. You can dislike him all you want, but nobody thinks Donald Trump’s a pushover. No one honest.

GOTTFRIED: But, his base of support never seems to rise above forty-five or forty-six percent which means that a majority of people don’t like him. You and I, I think we probably have the same political views. So, I’m not at all unfriendly to, or unreceptive to the views that you’re expressing, but it seems that a majority of people are in fact turned off by him, even if thirty-five percent of blacks [who] were polled are saying he’s alright—and I think it’s the negative majority which may hurt him and may hurt his party. I hope not, but I think it is a possibility.

SCHLICHTER: You may be right. I think there are a lot of people who don’t like Donald Trump who voted for him. I was a Ted Cruz guy. I came around to Trump because he was the Republican nominee and I—fair is fair, he won it. And he said things that I wanted him to do. I never quite believe he would do it—he starts doing them. But I think there are a lot of people out there who have problems with his personal style—personal lifestyle—and who will hold their nose and vote for him. I also note that forty-five percent seems to be pretty standard if not actually okay when it comes to presidents at this point in their time. Barack Obama was not a sixty-percent popular guy. As I recall he was hovering around the same area.

GOTTFRIED: And he lost badly in congressional races I remember.

SCHLICHTER: He did. He did! And the Republicans certainly can. I think you’re right that they will hold the Senate. I think we have a decent chance of holding the house. I was vaguely encouraged by the recent primaries. I think we’ve got some stronger candidates than we might otherwise have. I think one of the problems is a lot of congressmen have quit. It’s just not as much fun to be in a drained swamp. A lot of them are flabby, and they’re having to fight for the first time in a long time—and it’s always against some young, lean, mean Democrat—just like flabby Democrats had to fight against young, lean, mean Republicans. And, it takes a while—if you’ve been elected eight times and barely had to fight for it, and now suddenly you’re in a real fight, and you’ve spent most of your time in Washington DC, and you kind of don’t know your own way around your own district anymore—you think I’d be like—you’re going to have problems. It bites Democrats in off years, and I think this year it’s going to bite some Republicans. I think there are some Republicans who got lazy and didn’t do what they needed to do.

COTTO: Interjecting about polls—there was—just came out a generic congressional ballot that showed both parties even from McLaughlin and Associates. So, take that for what it’s worth …

SCHLICHTER: I think that’s a Republican pollster, and I kind of …

COTTO: It is.


COTTO: Take it for what it’s worth.

GOTTFRIED: Not much.

SCHLICHTER: I would love that to be true. We hold the house if that’s true. Don’t fight the enemy you want, fight the enemy you fear. It’s like when we were in The Gulf War, we didn’t fight a ragtag bunch of poorly-lead guys in equipment—old Russian equipment that was falling apart—we fought the Republican Guard who were highly-trained, highly-motivated, and their stuff was shiny new and [they were] ready to fight, and that’s why we went through them like a hot knife through butter in a hundred hours.

COTTO: Another thing about polls—in the Florida gubernatorial primary which just happened here, they were wildly off—they very badly miscalculated how much Donald Trump‘s endorsed candidate would win by, and I voted for his intraparty opponent—but then they also very badly misjudged who would win the Democratic primary—I mean, that was completely off. So, the polls, I think, are less and less accurate as time goes on just because people aren’t answering the phones as they once did, and doing Internet polling is a real crapshoot. I mean, that’s really—you can hardly take it seriously.

SCHLICHTER: Well I think, you know, every time you see a weird number come up, and on the occasions I hit it it’s always, “hey, this is Joe from Opinion Research. Would you ... click.” I just won’t do it. The poor guy’s in the boiler room trying to get some answers. Sorry, but I’ve got stuff to do. And frankly I don’t particularly like pollsters. And I think a lot of people feel that way.

COTTO: Polls, I think, are something that are increasingly a vestige of the past, but are still taken seriously just because it’s almost like a religious tradition at this point.

SCHLICHTER: Exactly. There may be shy Trump voters there. I mean, if you’re living in San Francisco, are you going to tell a stranger on the phone “yes I love Donald Trump?” I mean really! I grew up right next to San Francisco—of course not! If you do, if you like Donald Trump, you keep it to yourself, and you don’t start a problem with everybody. You don’t need that hassle in your life. But you vote how you vote, because it’s still a secret ballot—for now.

COTTO: It’s amazing how much the midterms have been affected by this Russian stuff—the alleged national security angle. I agreed with what you said Kurt that it will go out with a whimper, but I think they’re trying as we speak to milk for all it’s worth.

SCHLICHTER: I don’t know how much it’s worth. Who’s the guy whose opinion has changed in the last year about Russian collusion? What is the name of the guy who said, “yes, I thought X before, but now I think Y!” I just don’t think there is one, because I think people were set in their ways. I don’t think—A, I don’t think there are any new facts—but B, I’m not sure people were subject to—will respond to facts. I watched this Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort thing—guys who are fairly close to Trump and they’re convicted of crimes, and in another day and age I may have been shocked, and now I’m like, “meh, I don’t care.” I don’t care!

COTTO: People have definitely become desensitized to scandal—no question.

GOTTFRIED: But in some ways the …

SCHLICHTER: Yeah! You’ve got a—between the lies, and the exaggerations, I just refuse to allow myself to be manipulated by anything. And I think a lot of people feel like that. And it makes it—I know I’m operating in a different way than I did twenty years ago. But the rules changed twenty years ago. We had the whole Clinton scandal thing, and it came out the way it came out, and that created a new and different standard. And now people are trying to re-invoke the old standard, and some of us are going, “well, you don’t get to do that. You don’t get to pick a new standard all—you don’t need to go back to the old standard when it’s convenient, and not do it. I’m not going to be a sucker.”

GOTTFRIED: I think also the Russian narrative is being overshadowed by the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort narrative, and these are the stories that the left is now running with. Because …
SCHLICHTER: They have faded.

GOTTFRIED: yeah, I think they’re going to pay too.

SCHLICHTER: Well look I mean, last week these two guys got convicted, or pled, and you haven’t heard their name in two or three days.

COTTO: It’s transitory, it really is. And It goes back to being desensitized to scandal.

SCHLICHTER: And I think it’s because so much of it was not sandal. And the stuff that is scandal—the weaponization of the law-enforcement intelligence-community against a political party, well our establishment has told us that doesn’t matter. Now, I kind of think it matters, but if we’re going to play the not-mattering game, the stuff you’re concerned about doesn’t matter either.

GOTTFRIED: Obviously opinions have not been dramatically changed as a result of the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort trials, because it seems that Trump has the same support that he had a few weeks ago, which seems to be a kind of unmovable base of support, but one which it seems to be difficult to expand. But, I don’t think he was hurt by this in any significant way.

SCHLICHTER: No, I think they overplayed their hand. And over the last 20 years—and I’m talking about the whole establishment—and they created—they got—by not using—by trying to selectively use their weapons systems, they managed to essentially spike their own guns. And look at the Me Too stuff—Me Too has died. And why has it died? Because it was taking out too many liberal icons. That’s why it died. It started hurting them. What’s that tell us? It tells us, oh you’re not serious about it. So, since you’re not serious, don’t expect me to be. Standards exist.

COTTO: Last question Kurt, and it builds on something you were talking about. You’d mentioned that you don’t think this Russian national-security midterm thing is changing any minds—and I agree with that. I think the purpose of it is just to gin up the Democratic base and to keep it engaged and aggravated and agitated. So, do you think that this strategy will pay off come November. And of course Paul, you can add your two cents afterwards.

SCHLICHTER: I think it will help them gin up their people, but their people are pretty damn ginned already. I mean, they are crawling over broken glass to vote just the way a lot of us were when we had a chance to send a message to Obama. They are engaged. They are serious. They are funded. They are ready. They intend to fight. And the Republicans better take them seriously. We are fighting a—worst-case scenario, fight an enemy that’s way too strong, or much stronger than it really is. Fight the strongest enemy possible. Don’t underestimate them. And I think you’re right, I think this is one of a number of things that’s going to drive voters out there. Now, I’m hoping it drives up—what it does is really drive up the numbers in already-high democrat areas. You know, get to eighty-percent voting in Berkeley as opposed to seventy percent. But I think liberals are going to go out there and vote for Democrats. I hope conservatives understand that the change that Donald Trump’s bringing is a result of having a Republican Congress.

GOTTFRIED: There’s nothing I can really add since I fully agree with everything that Kurt has just said. I also agree with the comment that Joseph made before, that the building up with exaggeration of these scandals are really an instrument by which the Democratic party is hoping to sustain and increase the enthusiasm of their base and to turn them violently, passionately against the Republican party. And unless the Republicans do a good job in bringing out their base on election day, the results could be conceivably disastrous. I hope they’re not.

SCHLICHTER: I think you’re right.

COTTO: It’s worth mentioning that here in Florida once again the Republicans actually surpassed the Democrats in primary turn out. So that for the GOP that was an unexpectedly good sign. It was more similar to what happened in 2014 than what most were expecting. So, I think the Republican base—the Trump base now—is very much engaged in some areas—the key word there in some areas—in others, I think it will be very problematic.

SCHLICHTER: It’s going to be a tough, tough fight. And I think Trump recognizes it. Look, I saw him speak at CPAC, and he got up there, and he was already talking about the midterms, and you could see—this is competition. He loves to compete. He loves to win. He is focused on this. All this other stuff—don’t be fooled. He was talking about these elections six months ago. And he understood their value and importance. He is going in.

GOTTFRIED: I just wanted to add that in Florida yesterday the mayor of Tallahassee did the Republican party a great service. One could hope that people with similar views and similar political record are the Democratic opponents elsewhere whom the Republicans have to face.
COTTO: I wish them tremendous luck.

SCHLICHTER: Good luck!


COTTO: That was a great discussion, thank you for joining us Kurt. And thank you for tuning in everyone. See you next week.

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