tv Tavis Smiley PBS January 20, 2017 6:00am-6:31am PST
good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight, a conversation with john heilemann, co-author of the best-selling political "game change" and "double down," "game change 2012." heilemann is co-managing editor of bloomberg politics and behind the documentary "trumped." coming up, a conversation about what the first 100 days will look like and more. we're glad you've joined us. john heilemann coming up right now. ♪
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ please welcome best-selling author john heilemann back to the program for a conversation on trump and the first 100 days, trump and the media, trump and his holdings, trump and his cabinet, trump and, well, you get it. john heilemann, good to have you back on the program. >> good to be here, brother. nice to see you. >> are you all right, man? >> i'm good. as good as can be expected. >> unpack that for me, as good as can be expected. >> well, we're heading into a
period of great uncertainty and potential danger. i say that not in a partisan way. i just mean there's a sense of we don't know what's about to happen. >> right. >> and we know on the basis just of the campaign we just witnessed and the president-elect's behavior while president-elect, not yet president, that we are going to see stuff we've never seen before. and that just always is unnerving, because you know, i've been covering national politics for 25 years, but when you say hey, we're looking at a new president and stuff is guaranteed to happen that we've never seen before, that makes people edgy, i think. >> uncertainty i take and i'm not disagreeing with you on danger, but since i'm a host, i've got to just challenge you on that. >> yeah. >> uncertainty i get. why danger, though? >> i think, look, the reality is that we have a very sturdy constitutional republic that has served us well for 240 years. there are a lot of institutional guardrails around any president, democrat, republican, whoever, like him or hate him. there were a few places where presidents exercise pretty much
unchecked authority, including the ability in many cases to wage war and some things to do with intelligence. and i think that one of the things that all people of goodwill must have some questions about is trump's temperament. you know, we've seen the man in states of sleeplessness, in the middle of the night getting in fights with people who have annoyed him, some of whom are much less powerful than him, acting in a way that seems like not fully controlled or fully disciplined. and when you take the intersection of a temperament that demonstrates those, some of those potential areas of concern with areas where presidents can do whatever they want, again, that can be a little dangerous. it may prove to be that mr. trump, president trump when we get him, president-elect trump as of this hour, it may be that he restrains himself and finds a kind of balance and discipline that sometimes had been lacking in the past and that we have nothing to worry
about. i hope so. >> so, i don't buy this argument that he restrains himself. what i am somewhat hopeful about is that the people around him who are wiser, are experienced the game at a high level for years -- not all of them, but certainly some of them -- that they may be able to pull his coattails, so what about that notion? >> obviously, many people who are looking for comfort in this era think that there's a chance that that will be the case. the issue is that he has appointed some people to his cabinet, and there are some people around him that he's putting in his white house who have a lot of experience, are people that have been around the game for a long time. there's also no question that the white house staff at the senior levels will be more inexperienced than any white house staff in our lifetime. so, will those people exercise, impose some discipline on him? maybe, possibly, hopefully. will he -- will politics, will the normal restraints that politics impose -- he wants to be popular, he wants to be
loved, he wants to be a great president. i have no doubt that donald trump in his mind wants all those things. >> i agree with you. >> and so, those things may bring him to some place of sobriety that's different than it was during the campaign. but i'll just say that he was surrounded by, you know, by his family, who other people look to to be his restraint on him. he's surrounded by those people during the campaign. and the truth was, one of the things we've learned so far about trump is that trump does what he wants, mostly. he ultimately is his own main counsel. and so, to what extent he will be held back or guided by anyone who he's put around him again is one of the many things we do not know the answer to as of now. >> now, the flip side of that coin is that where my hope gets a little tricky, where my hope is on a tight rope is when i think about the point you've just made, which is that the people around him are the same people who have been around him, his family -- and not just his family, but his chief of staff -- >> yep. >> bannon, white house counsel. i mean, these are the same people. so, if they couldn't husband him during the campaign, i'm not so
sure they can husband him as the president. >> right. you have got to be -- we have got to be able to hold a number of ideas in our heads simultaneously. and again, if you think about the 45 days when the campaign was decided, from the evening of the first debate through election night, that evening of the first debate, trump was closer to hillary clinton in the polls than he ever was, and people said the first debate is going to matter a lot. he then had a bad first debate. and for 45 days, no one thought he could win until election night. and in those 45 days, you had the alicia machado controversy, the "access hollywood" tape, comey, wikileaks, all these huge october surprises, right? trump's behavior in that period -- you have to give him credit -- whatever he did in that period of time -- we all watched it -- it ended up winning. he won the election, right? narrowly, and the electorate college, not the popular vote, bus but he won. at the same time, if you look at that behavior, including some of these 3:00 a.m., middle of the night tweets attacking public
citizens, some of his behavior on the debate stage, on the huskings, right? some of that behavior is behavior that i think you look at and say if that kind of behavior at the most pressure-filled and consequential period, if he behaves like that as president of the united states, i think that will worry large numbers of people, because it's not behavior that most people -- democrat and republican alike -- see as commensurate with the importance, the dignity, the gravitas of the office. >> i wonder whether or not the republicans on the hill are going to be any -- or they're going to help him pump his brakes, so to speak, on certain things. i don't want to make the assumption he's just going to be, you know, a blank check for him. >> look, again, there are kind of -- there are a bunch of different things to think about in this area, one of which is, there are areas as he enters the presidency, he enters in a unique -- in a number of ways uniquely, right?
he's at war with the intelligence agencies. a lot of republicans are worried about -- and i think your question's the right question, because frankly, democrats are going to oppose trump on almost everything. >> sure. >> and they don't have that much power to stop him. republicans are -- >> john mccain, lindsey graham -- >> and others. and others, libertarians who don't like that he wants to spend too much. there are a lot of different factions of the republican party, many of whom disagree with trump on various things. so when it comes to the intelligence community, he's at war with them right now. the russia question is still a huge question, his relationship with russia, where he has people in the republican party who are concerned about all of that. there are areas in foreign policy, there are areas in domestic policy, there are areas on terms of spending and fiscal policy where trump's views and the policies that he says he believes in are not the conventional views of the post war republican party. so there are a variety of areas where it seems to me that institutionally republicans may be a restraint to him, or they
ideologically will be in a different place than him. do a lot of republicans want to spend $1 trillion on infrastructure? there are democrats who think that would be a good idea, but there are a lot of republicans who didn't have an appetite for barack obama's $800 billion stimulus out of the great recession. will they want to spend $1 trillion now on infrastructure just because donald trump and steve bannon want to spend that money? it will be fascinating to watch trump, who i think is not ideological broadly speaking. he is transactional. he is opportunistic. it will be interesting to watch him try to navigate mostly his own party, over which he has staged what can only be described as a hostile takeover. he's not a republican in most important ways. so that area where republicans may serve as a curb on his ambitions in various areas is going to be i think where a lot of the action is over the next 100 days and maybe over the next four years. >> i think you're right about the fact he's not an ideologue, president obama sees him as not being an ideologue.
but i see it as he's an empty vessel, but that scares me as well, because what gets poured into that vessel. >> the thing about trump is he's not an empty vessel, it's just that in the vessel is not stuff that normally mixes together and we're used to seeing the recipe of whatever comes out of the vessel. you know what i'm saying? it's not that he's a blank slate. he's not chelsea gardner where there's some machiavellian figure, rasputin that's controlling trump, unless you believe vladimir putin is the one. but there's no one in his campaign life like that. you dens get the sense he's under someone else's control. >> he's not a puppet. >> that's the right word. but he is a guy who was a registered democrat most of his life, who contributed money to democrats way more than republicans most of his life, while at the same time obviously being far right of center on certain things and having also this kind of authoritarian impulse, instinct, predisposition. you add it all up, it doesn't
make for a picture of a politician that fits into a neat box that is the kind that we're used to talking about. here's a republican, here's a democrat, here's a conservative, here's a liberal. trump is something else. but it's not -- the problem is it's not so much empty vesselhood. it's more the potential for incoherence than it is that he's just a blank slate. >> yeah. let me ask you a question, which i admit up front i find to be somewhat silly, but i'm asking only because this silly question is being bandied about all around social media. and i was at a dinner party the other night with some very smart people and this is a very serious conversation -- >> i can't imagine you go to dinner with anyone nib but smart people. >> you don't know my friends. sorry, friends! but this conversation was like a real conversation the other night. so, i don't know if it's just recklessly being hopeful or naive or whether or not there's something here. you tell me. but this story line about the fact that trump in a matter of time is going to find himself doing, engaged in some
impeachable offenses. there are people who are hopeful and believe, in fact, that because there's so much going on with this guy that we don't know about -- we never saw his taxes, his sons we are told are running his business, we know he's not above using any platform he has to advance his business interests, et cetera, et cetera -- that it's just a matter of time before he does something that is impeachable, to which i ask, who's going to impeach him? the republicans in the house? i mean, so, anyway, just talk -- you've heard this story line before. >> yes. >> what do you make of this? >> well, i think to begin with, one of the things that's true is that because trump has not addressed in any adequate way -- and i say this, again, in a non-partisan way -- you've got republican and democratic ethics specialists from the bush white house, the george w. bush white house, the obama white house, all saying that he's not addressed in any meaningful, substantive or let alone comprehensive way the conflicts of interest that his business and his holdings create for him as president of the united states. and in particular, the question of whether he has violated the emoluments clause of the constitution, which says the president can't enrich himself in any way from the office, right?
so, he is going to be, i believe, subject to litigation from the moment he puts his hand on the bible and takes the oath of office. so, potential scandal, litigation, challenges to the constitutionality of his presidency will be starting on day one. >> tomorrow. >> tomorrow. so, and that could be a huge problem for him. and again, you want to go back to where republicans have concerns about trump -- they have concerns with him about russia, they have concerns with him about the intelligence community, they have concerns on this front. they're worried about it on capitol hill. republicans as much as democrats would like trump to have done something more significant about these ethics questions. so, will he do things that could be violative of the constitution? many people think that as of tomorrow, he will be. will there be challenges in courts over that? yes, there will. is there potential for scandal? yes, there is. i think all of those things are perfectly reasonable things to be focused on, whether you are an opponent of trump or just an
observer of the democratic political scene. your question, though, is the correct question. and we are now, as you can see just from the cabinet process, the way in which cabinet officials have been vetted and challenged, right? we are in a very different world than the last time a president was impeached or tried to be impeached, very different from the late 1990s when it was bill clinton, very different from richard nixon, really different from the early 1970s. and the main way in which the world is different is that our politics are so much more radically partisan and so much more polarized. and so, in an environment where republicans who for a year and a half said they would never support trump, they thought he was a grave constitutional threat, they thought he wasn't temperamentally suited to the office, they have piled in line behind trump after he won. they did it because in the end they've got the red jersey on and they're going to be republicans, and that gets to the question of will trump commit impeachable offenses? he may. will he get impeached? i think the likelihood is extraordinarily small. i don't -- i have a big imagination, so i can imagine him doing things that would be
so bad that they could lead to his impeachment. but in the normal spectrum of things considered impeachable or scandal-worthy offenses, i think republicans bay and large will rally around him. and if you had a democratic house and senate, it would be a different world. but in this world, i think that for a long time republicans will wear that jersey and try to ride it out with trump, no matter what he does. >> so when i made the heilemann argument at this dinner party the other night, this was the pushback -- tavis, what you're not looking at is that republicans don't like trump. mr. heilemann is right. they've lined up behind him because it's in their best interests at the moment, but what if this guy does something impeachable and they can get rid of him and pence moves up, who they actually like? pence is a true republican, dyed in the wool republican. so, to that you say? >> to that i say -- >> put down the fight? >> i do a little bit say these are many of the same people who were telling me about how he could be stopped at the electoral college, too. but the other thing i say is
that the republican party, all those things are true, but they had many opportunities to try to stop trump in an effective way while he was running for president, while he got closer to the nomination, once he had the nomination. the republican party has -- the fact that he's not that popular among republicans -- they had the never trump movement. they tried to stop trump. you know what, they never stopped him. it's possible that you could look up on a day -- again, if you do crazy schnarr joe planning -- you look up a day where trump's popularity a year in is so bad -- again, i am not predicting this, i'm saying if you want a scenario under which your friends' thesis could occur, it would be a day when trump's popularity was so bad a year into office that he had an approval rating of 12% or 14% and republicans in the house and senate were looking at a catastrophe in the midterm elections and they thought, the only way for us to save ourselves is -- >> is to cut him off. >> -- to cut him loose. and that was true in the.
campaign. and the only times to have a chance of stopping him was when the members of the house and senate were concerned about their political futures. when they started to think their polling was holding up and they could get re-elected without having to get rid of trump and the messiness that would entail, like at the republican convention, they were immediately like, we can live with trump. you know, as long as he doesn't drag us down too much. because the problem is that trump still is the most -- whatever else you want to say about it he won for a reason. he won because he had an overwhelming support of 40 to 45% of the republican electorate, which is the biggest voting bloc there is, and a lot of people are still scared of those voters. even if they don't like trump, they're scared of those voters, getting on the wrong side of trump's voters. >> two years ago, hillary clinton and jeb bush were going to be the odds-on favorites, that this was going to be a real fit aat the between bush and clinton again. >> because in a time when people are looking for fundamental change, nothing says that than a
race between clinton and bush. >> so, i'm pretty clear what the political epp that tat the is go read for jeb bush. i'm not sure about hillary clinton and here's why, because i can see it going one of two ways -- that she lost a race she should not have lost, or that she lost, but she really won, electoral college, popular vote. how is history going to read her? >> well, i think history's going to -- look, there will be people who will be loyal to hillary clinton forever and will feel -- will make some of these arguments that in the latter camp you just suggested. i think in the end, you know, if you want -- there are a lot of nice things that you can say about her on the ledger, you know, all the years that she devoted to public service, all of the things that she did to try to improve the cause of women and girls across the world, et cetera, et cetera. we could make a laundry list of noble things she did, no doubt about it. the political epitaph is that two times she ran for president where she was the overwhelming
favorite, in 2008 and in 2016, she lost to barack obama in 2008 in an epic, historic, super close race, and then she nearly lost to bernie sanders, who was a septuagenarian, self-described socialist, senator from vermont who, again, nearly beat her, right? she's not a good politician. and i think even her friends really dispute that. she's not good at politics. she was -- i think many people think a very good and very successful secretary of state. she was beloved, a senator who even many republicans enjoyed working with and co-sponsoring legislative with. in the practice of governance, she is extraordinarily competent, she knows policy as well as anyone, she is pragma c pragmatic, cuts deals, all that stuff. in the political realm, she struggled. in her two most high-profile runs for office. and she came -- as i said, she came very close, but in 2008, she was the odds-on favorite. she had all the money. he was a freshman senator and an
african-american whose name was barack hussein obama, and she lost. then again, she nearly got beat by bernie sanders and then she lost to this guy, donald trump, who by any normal set of metrics, by any normal conventional reasoning was unelectable, right? i mean, they believed he was unelectable. he was someone who had said and done things and continued saying and doing things in the homestretch of the campaign that would have been totally suicidal/disqualifying for any other candidate. yet, she wasn't able to beat him. and i think that a lot of democrats, you know, looking at the demographics of this country, which were all in her favor -- the blue wall, which was a real thing. she had enormous advantages in terms of the electoral map, the demography, and she still was not able to get it done in 2016. and i think it's -- you know, look, there are a lot of factors that will -- there's no simple answer when people say why did she lose, and she was right that comey was a problem. she's right that the russians were a problem. it's also the case that she didn't visit wisconsin during
the general election -- >> she was a problem. >> and her campaign. her campaign made some assumptions, particularly about michigan and wisconsin, one of which she lost to bernie sanders in the primary, which should have set off warning bells, michigan's going to be a problem for us, we should spend time there. it's one thing to lose a state you didn't campaign in because you lost by 20 points, it's a red state. those states, if her campaign had been competent, should have seen the problem brewing earlier. she should have been up there campaigning. so, there was malpractice committed on the part of her campaign. she was not a strong candidate. and she entered -- again, this is not her fault, bus in a great sense, in a campaign where the most popular candidates were the antiestablishment candidates, donald trump and bernie sanders, she carried 25 years of baggage into that campaign, lugged it in, and i think elizabeth warren would have beaten donald trump, i think joe biden would have beaten donald trump, i think bernie sanders would have beaten donald trump. in some ways, her particular history, the particular baggage she carried and the particular
weaknesses she had made her in some ways the worst candidate that the democrats could have nominated. as it turns out, noble and wonderful as she is on many other levels, her particular set of liabilities were just horrible in this particular year in this populous moment. >> he is the co-star of a documentary called "trumped" that's coming to showtime in just a matter of days, as a matter of fact, so check your showtime listings. john, always good to have you. >> tavis, you're great. >> we'll see you again this year. a lot to talk. >> oh, my god! i'm going to have to set up a teepee and sleep out here. >> you are welcome any time. >> okay, great. >> that's our show for tonight. now, a music video premiered for my friend john mellencamp. it's called "easy target." pay attention to the song, listen to the lyrics, watch the video. it speaks volumes, particularly right about now. we'll leave you with that. that's our show for tonight. goodnight from los angeles. and as always, keep the faith.
♪ 6 ♪ here's an easy target with just one quiet pop ♪ ♪ shot to hell anyway, no reason to stop ♪ ♪ in the streets in the gutter, the cotton fields in this land ♪ ♪ here's an easy target with a trigger in your hand ♪ ♪ so black lives matter, who we trying to kill ♪ ♪ here's an easy target, don't matter, never did ♪ ♪ crosses burnin' such a long time ago ♪ ♪ going to jails and we still don't let go ♪
♪ living here in sucker town, baby me and you ♪ ♪ behind the bars keep each other apart ♪ ♪ easy targets, our country's broken heart ♪ ♪ our country's broken heart ♪ -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with senator cory booker about how democrats plan to push back and fight donald trump's agenda. that's next time. see you then.