by Rush Limbaugh in the Limbaugh Letter, March 2016
"Glad to speak with this insightful conservative analyst whose work I have frequently cited -- he's a CNN commentator, American Spectator editor and columnist, media guest with a deep resume, including as a former aide to President Reagan and Jack Kemp. His book, What America Needs: The Case for Trump, was recently released by Regnery."
RUSH: How're you doing, Jeff?
LORD: Rush, my friend, how are you?
RUSH: I'm great. Let me first start with this: So you are a Trump supporter.
RUSH: How did this happen? Because you're a Reaganite; you were in the political office of the Reagan Administration. Since then, you have been one of the most doctrinaire -- I say that positively -- conservative sources in media. A lot of people think Trump is not a conservative, at least first, second, or third in his order of priorities. Yet there you are. When did the transformation or the association happen, and what brought it on?
LORD: I had been writing some articles about Trump because, frankly, I admired him in his business career. It was really nothing more than that. He saw some of these pieces and called me out of the blue, which I must say, surprised me. We started chatting over time. The American Spectator, unbeknownst to me, selected him for their T. Boone Pickens entrepreneurial award. They wanted me to introduce him at the dinner. Interestingly, the two celebrities at the dinner were Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
Trump had his office call and ask if I would fly down with him to Washington. I'm in suburban Harrisburg, PA and it's just two hours down the road to Washington, a trip I'd made thousands of times. I thought, "Gee, why would I do that?" [Laughs] A family members said to me, "Are you crazy?" So I got up at the crack of dawn, drove to Washington, hopped the train to New York, went to Trump Tower, was ushered up to his office. We chatted, then while he got ready I got a little tour. As I always like to say, his apartment is just like my house, the marble floors, the frescos on the ceiling, the gold faucets, and the fabulous views of Manhattan. Then we were off. We flew on one of his planes, one of the smaller ones, to Washington. We had a chance to talk.
RUSH: What year was this?
LORD: 2013. Three years ago. I introduced him. He gave his talk, was very kind to Senator Cruz, who was equally kind to him. The next day he called again, and we have been phone pals ever since. I've interviewed him for The American Spectator. I've talked to him and listened. On CNN as the New Hampshire returns were pretty definite, Anderson Cooper said, "Just about everybody in the commentating field said Donald Trump didn't stand a chance," and then he turned to me and said, "except for you." [Laughs] "what was it that you saw?"
It was a combination of things. One, I listened to him. I don't need to tell you how somebody's public life is just so bizarrely different from the real person. I found him to be a very thoughtful, very charming, very serious, and very smart guy. I compare him frequently to Ronald Reagan, with the understanding that no two human souls are alike and he's not Ronald Reagan. They've attracted the same kind of enemies.
Having been an essential member, if you will, of the establishment, he has sort of seen the light on it. He has nothing but distain for all this kind of stuff. I thought he was right on the money with some of these issues. For instance, on negotiating. I'm a Reaganite free trader, but it certainly has crossed my mind more than once that we have people who are not terribly good negotiators because they come from political backgrounds.
RUSH: Jeffery, we've got people all through government who don't know what they're doing. He's right about that. I think Trump's "deal-making" aspect of his campaign is unique, and it's attractive to a lot of people. It's a totally different way of looking at the role of the United States in the world, and I think a lot of people have glommed onto it in a positive way.
But I need to ask you about the conservativism aspect. Have people asked you, "How can you support Trump, Jeff? You are the epitome of conservatism, and Trump's obviously not an ideological guy, so how can you do this?"
LORD: Right. As you correctly pointed out regarding his debate answer about "conserving" things, he is not ideological in that sense. He's not Ronald Reagan. I have to say, I love Ted Cruz. I know Cruz, I think he's terrific. I've written a couple of columns suggesting a Trump-Cruz ticket. To be perfectly candid, my political instinct tells me that Donald Trump is Reagan-like in his ability to put together the old Reagan coalition, something which I now believe totally, having seen the results of the exit polls from New Hampshire and seeing how well he did with evangelicals in Iowa.
In 1976, Gerald Ford defeated Reagan for the GOP nomination insisting that Reagan was too extreme, too conservative, to ever be elected President. Ford won the nomination and went on to lose to Jimmy Carter. A month later, in December 1976, Reagan sat down with The New York Times, which reported: "Ronald Reagan made it clear today that he intends to play a major role in rebuilding the Republican Party by courting conservatives who call themselves Democrats and independents." As history shows, Reagan did exactly that. I think Trump is in the process of doing the same thing.
RUSH: I think he can pick off some Bernie Sanders supporters.
RUSH: If you look at the exit poll data on why people like Bernie and why they like Trump, there's a lot of overlap. Put it this way: I wouldn't be surprised if he could put New York or Wisconsin in play.
LORD: That is exactly right, Rush. I can give you a little anecdote. After I'd gotten to know him, he was being asked to consider running for governor of New York. He invited me to a meeting in early 2014. In a big conference room in Trump Tower were all these Republican leaders from around New York State, legislators and various state committee members, the kind of people you would need if you were going to run for governor. They were begging him to run. They thought he could win. He said, "I'm willing to do it if you get the other candidate, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, out of the race. Because I would beat him, but we would spend so much time knocking one another around in a primary that it would waste time that we need to win in November against Andrew Cuomo."
Well, lo and behold, they were for this. Who was not for this was the New York Republican Party establishment, beginning with Ed Cox, the New York State Republican Chairman. They wanted to go with Astorino and have it out. So Trump said, "I won't do it." Of course, Astorino, the establishment guy, got the nomination. It was just handed to him. He ran, and he was trashed by Andrew Cuomo. We never got anywhere.
My point is that I already saw this in play in New York. There were New Yorkers, active Republican New Yorkers, saying there was no question he could carry New York State and be elected governor of New York. If that's true, he certainly could carry New York as a Presidential candidate.
I remember vividly people here in the Pennsylvania Republican Party establishment insisting in 1976 that we had to nominate Ford because Reagan could never carry Pennsylvania. Ford got nominated, defeated Reagan -- and of course lost Pennsylvania in the fall, and lost the election. Reagan four years later gets nominated, he not only wins in a landslide but he wins Pennsylvania, he wins New York, he wins Massachusetts for goodness' sake. I see exactly that kind of possibility with Donald Trump.
RUSH: What do you say to people who say, and I'm sure you hear the criticism, "He's not a conservative. He doesn't get it." People say, "This guy doesn't even understand the Constitution. He wants to be as authoritarian as Obama. He wants to do different things than Obama, but he still thinks he's going to rule with an iron fist." How do you answer?
LORD: I think that's totally wrong. And you've touched on exactly the reason why. When he goes on about deal-making and how he would make deals with Congress, he also says this is the way the system is supposed to work. Now that's a businessman's interpretation, not a Congressional scholar. But he is absolutely correct -- that is the way the Constitution works and exactly why it was written as it is. After the debacle of King George III, the Founding Fathers wanted power divided to make it quite difficult to do things, to ensure that there would be negotiations between the Congress and the President. Trump says the way it's supposed to work is wheeling and dealing inside Congress, between the President and Congress, internally with the Congress, and that's how you come to different deals. He is correct both Constitutionally as well as politically.
There is nothing wrong, as I keep answering my conservative friends, with deal-making. Reagan made deals all the time. The question is, what direction are you taking the country when you make the deals? What kind of deal is it? We've had people, alas, in the Republican leadership in Congress who are terrible at this.
I talk often about Margaret Thatcher and her explanation of what she used to call "the socialist ratchet". She applied this to the British political system, but it certainly applies to ours as well. She meant that a Labour government would take the government, the country, left. They'd eventually run out of political steam, a Conservative government would get elected, and they'd just manage whatever the last Labour government had done, tinker at the edges. Then they'd run out of steam and they'd be replaced by the Labour government, and it would start all over again. Always ratcheting left.
RUSH: The opposition never advances anything -- they just temporarily slow the left down.
LORD: Yes. They never move the country right; the country just keeps inching left, and they help manage the left's gains. It's what has been going on in America with the Republican Party. For instance, that's what you get when you see George W. Bush -- and I love him, he's a terrific person -- do "No child left behind", or "compassionate conservatism". The people we have in the leadership in the Republican Party are wedded to this.
You have talked about this 10,000 times. They think if they oppose this stuff, they're not going to be liked, or they'll be defeated, or some horror is going to befall them. Let alone do they have the chops to stand up and say, "We need to go totally in the other direction." This is why they hate Ted Cruz, because Cruz is in the Senate saying, "Stop." He's Margaret Thatcheresque, Reaganesque, saying "Stop."
RUSH: They have only themselves to blame for Trump. I think this is strictly due to the Republican Party ceding their responsibility to stop the Democrats. The Republicans were given seven, eight, maybe ten years by their voters to do the right thing. This is not an impatient, irrational act on the part of people supporting Trump.
LORD: That's right. I keep saying to them, "Look, there was a time when you had the White House, you had the House, you had the Senate, and you didn't do any of this stuff. Why would we think you're going to do anything differently?" This leads into what Ted Cruz talks about, correctly, "the Washington cartel". It's why I'm glad I'm living outside the Beltway.
I just wrote a column reminding people how Jeb Bush got all this money. The New York Times ["Jeb Bush Returns to the Washington Fundraising Well"] in March 2015 reports that he swoops into Washington and goes to all these lobbyists, some of whom are friends of mine. The requirement is they give him $5,000 a pop, and then they all have to go out and raise $50,000 for him. Which they did. So he spends $36 million in New Hampshire and comes in fourth.
People understand the game. They understand what has gone wrong in that city. It's not healthy. Trump, who was part of this, who would hire all these lobbyists, gets it. I really do think his personal financial security is an asset because he can look these people in the eye and tell them to take a running leap.
RUSH: Trump not needing any of the establishment apparatus, not needing anybody else's money, not being beholden to anybody, is the epitome of liberty and freedom within our political system -- which nobody else has. But look at Trump's coalition. Isn't it exactly what the Republican establishment claims they need in order to beat Democrats? Yet here comes a guy who's done it, and they want to destroy him. If Trump keeps winning, at what point do they get onboard?
LORD: As late as possible. They will try every trick in the trade. They would prefer Rubio, Kasich, Bush, any of those people to Donald or Ted. But if it comes down to those two, they will I think swing to Donald, ironically. But he, being Donald, will know who came to whom.
RUSH: Do you have any doubts about Trump? Do you have doubts that he's sincere in this, doubts that he's in it to win and to serve, doubts that he has been honest with people up to now? I'm asking about you, as a supporter. Do you have any concerns at all? LORD: No. I have no doubt whatsoever that he's sincere. None. I wouldn't spend two seconds doing this if I thought otherwise. I felt from the get-go that he was serious about doing this. All kinds of people told me I was crazy. I said, "I've talked to him at length and I think you're misjudging him." So, here we are.
RUSH: Does he have a cadre of close advisors, and does he listen to them? For example, after the question in the earlier debate to "define conservatism", does he have somebody to take him aside and say, "That's not the way to answer it next time"? And will he listen? When it comes to Supreme Court nominations, is there somebody who can say, "You don't want a New York liberal friend up there, Donald. Here's what you want and why"? Will he listen?
LORD: Yes. I think he will listen. Even before Justice Scalia, sadly, passed away, Trump was on record saying his two favorite Supreme Court Justices were Scalia and Clarence Thomas. During the South Carolina debate Trump said, "We could have a Diane Sykes or a Bill Pryor, we have some fantastic people." Both of the Bush-appointed judges are well-known conservatives. Sykes was on a judicial panel that said Chicago's ban on firing ranges was unconstitutional. Pryor, a former Alabama Attorney General, drew opposition from Senate Democrats during his confirmation to the 11th Circuit for having said Roe v. Wade was "the worst abomination in Constitutional law in history." For Trump to even know who these judges are means he was listening to advice from someone very familiar with the conservatives in the federal judiciary. So I have no doubt Trump can take advice and counsel.
I've gotten to know [Trump campaign manager] Corey Lewandowski a little bit and thank God for him. He's from New Hampshire; he really knew what he was doing. And I do think Trump is willing to talk and consult with people. Absolutely. I keep saying to people that he built this entire Trump Organization, the formal name of his business, from scratch. I understand he had the million dollars from his father. I get all that. But $1 million is not $10 billion, and it's not the enormous enterprise he's built. He told me himself his father told him, "Don't go into Manhattan" in terms of real estate. "It's a really tough world there. Don't go." He wanted to take on the challenge. He said he got a small apartment in Manhattan and had cards printed up, "The Trump Organization," and set about Manhattan trying to make deals. The only person in the organization was him.
Over time, he built this enormous organization, and of course he listens. That first time I met him and we flew down to Washington, he was met by some of his folks there and we piled into this SUV and were driven off. The folks that met him were all involved with one of his projects, a golf course and some other things in Virginia. Well, he's playing 20 questions with them, executive-style questions. "What about this? What about that? Do we need to get this? Do we need to get that?" It was a little snapshot, but it was very instructive about the way he works.
RUSH: Well, I've always been suspicious of people who have endless advisors and counselors. If I'm running for President, I don't need anybody to tell me what I think. I imagine he's that way, too. I would need strategists to help me get what I want. I may not know how to get a Supreme Court Justice nominated, although I think I do. But I wouldn't need advice on my core, I wouldn't need advice on my principles. More likely the question for him is, does he take advice? He's successful at what he does and he's already confident, but in areas where he may not know, is he capable of accepting the advice without having his ego damaged?
LORD: Yes, I think he's very strong in that sense.
RUSH: Why do you think -- and this is truly, in my lifetime, unique -- that the usual rules of politics, the dos and don'ts, the things you say about people, the way you characterize people, why do they not apply to him? Why can he say that people coming from Mexico are a bunch of rapists and muggers and so forth, and we're going to kick them out, and people applaud? When somebody in his audience shouts that Ted Cruz is a p-ssy and he repeats it and makes a joke out of it, why does this not hurt him and his base of supporters? Whereas with many other candidates, it would give people pause; it would make them think, "I don't know if this guy's character is the kind of thing I want to get behind and support."
LORD: I think it's due to a confluence of a couple of things. No. 1 is something that has nothing to do with him, which we were talking about: the Republican leadership and their failures. There's this enormous frustration that has nothing to do with him. Into this situation comes Donald Trump, and I think one of the things he has in common with Ronald Reagan and also with Arnold Schwarzeneger -- not in the ideological sense, but in the cultural sense -- is a personality that has been a large or memorable part of American culture for decades. Ronald Reagan and his movies and television shows, Arnold and his movies, and Donald Trump as Donald Trump in all his various incarnations -- gives that person an entree with the public that regular politicians simply don't have.
Secondarily, I think there's also a cultural thing in force here. With all this political correctness, people have just had it. They don't want any more. And Donald Trump is not only a known cultural figure but he's completely irreverent about this in a way that just delights people, because they think he's pricking the balloon. Political correctness was once thought to be amusing, or irritating. It has now become, in essence, totalitarianism 2.0. The Fort Hood shootings could have been prevented. The U.S. Army knew that Major Nidal Hasan had "self-radicalized". But after he killed 13 people and wounded many others -- all in the name of radical Islam -- only then does it come out that the Army was very aware of his activities and did nothing to stop him because it was political incorrect. The same with San Bernardino. The neighbors knew there was something going on but were too scared to report it because of political correctness. The President himself, along with Hillary Clinton, refuses to use the term "radical Islam" in describing our enemy, all because of political correctness. This has long since ceased to be amusing. It is lethal. People have had enough and they see Trump as the antidote to political correctness.
RUSH: I think there's another secret to Trump, and I recognize this. I'm not trying to put myself in his league or his shoes. But when I first started my show, I'd go out every weekend for two years, 48 weekends a year, doing two-hour stage shows called "The Rush to Excellence Tour", just to shore up relationships with these radio stations that were carrying my show. It was to go out to establish an audience relationship. That is what helped me build the bond that I have with my audience. The media has tried to take me out I don't know how many times over the 27 years I've been doing this, but they haven't been able to because they didn't make me. I made me, and my audience, I'm the only one that can break me. As I ruefully say, I've tried! But they still stay with me.
I think Trump has the same kind of connection. I think Trump connects. Do you know what the secret is? People will never understand this. He has humility. In every one of those appearances of his, Jeff, it may be five minutes or ten minutes, but he gets serious and tells them what an honor it is that they are there. And he tells them how serious he is about it, and he makes a connection. Whatever else is happening in those two hours, whatever irreverence, whatever jokes, those people trust him. He has connected with them. And he's able to be as humble as anybody you've ever met.
And whether they notice it when it's happening or not, people feel it. They feel he's genuine. They don't see the Trump that critics talk about, this bodacious, grotesque, irreverent vulgarian, they don't see that. They see a guy they trust and like and would like to go to a ballpark with.
LORD: That is a great point, Rush. Because when discussing you with people who ask me about you, I have made a version of that point. To the people who don't listen to you, who pick up stuff from the headlines or whatever, I say, "If you'd listen to him, you'd get it. And the fact that you don't get it says to me you don't listen." I say, "The Rush that his audience believes they know is not the Rush you are describing to me." I think you've got that exactly right with Donald.
RUSH: That's what I don't think the political establishment understands. Many of them still think he's not serious, still think he's going to quit, still think there's something else he's going to pull off at some point and then quit. They're living in utter denial.
Before we wrap up here, I want to imagine for the sake of argument he's the nominee, we're past the conventions, and it's national debate time. One of the things that has concerned me is, even in the primary debates, he's got two or three or four issues that he can zone in on: immigration, American greatness, the trade deals, the vets. But the intricacies of policy so far he hasn't had to deal with, because there have been too many people on the stage. I don't know that his supporters will demand it, but is he educated, informed on policy? He talks about the Iranian deal. Is he able to talk about Middle Eastern policy, Iran versus Israel, Hezbollah, Hamas, just to pick some random examples? Does he know, or are these the kind of things he's going to have to learn?
LORD: He'll learn to some extent. I get this question a lot, and I do compare him to Reagan in this sense. Reagan, too, suffered from that specific criticism, that he didn't have the policy detail.
RUSH: But he was informed. He was a governor. He had a resume, a demonstrable awareness.
LORD: Right. You need to get up to speed on things, no question about it. And however he organizes himself, as he organized the Trump Organization, he needs to do it with this. Successful Presidential campaigns mimic the Presidency itself. Pretty soon the person who's at the center has health advisors, immigration advisors, foreign policy advisors, Iranian adivsors, etc. Steve Miller, who worked for Senator Sessions on immigration, is now part of the Trump staff advising him on immigration. So bit by bit, these things will come into play. I take your point and I agree with it to a certain extent. He does have to be able to have some fluency if he stands on the stage with Hillary or whoever.
RUSH: People want whoever is going to be their President to know more than they do. And if a question of foreign policy comes up -- not a gotcha question like "Who is the third-in-command in Burundi?" -- but something about overall strategy regarding, say, Russia, Turkey, and Syria, at some point, "Don't worry, I'm going to make America great again" won't be enough.
LORD: I agree. This is something he'll have to focus on as he moves along. My sense is this is happening to some degree behind the scenes. I was really heartened to see the hiring of the Sessions guy because that's exactly what you need.
RUSH: Well he's a smart guy.
LORD: As he gives more speeches and fleshes out more detail, then when he is questioned, he can discuss it.
RUSH: Politics is like any other business. There are things people are expected to know or excel at. He's mastered real estate, he's mastered golf course construction and club membership and so forth. My question is more, is he focusing on this? I would not want to think he's simply relying on the power of his personality and the hold he has on his supporters to get him through.
LORD: I don't think so. We are at this moment in a particularly chaotic season, where you're being flung around the country or flung around the state from one event after another, and you have to go with what you've got and what people are feeding you. But as you begin to gather speed and force, and start winning to the point where your opposition starts to fade, eventually you have more time where you can sit down with people to discuss Policy A, B, C, or D. That will come. I think he's smart enough to understand that.
RUSH: This has been great.
LORD: Rush, I appreciate this. You didn't have to do it.
RUSH: No, no! Tell everybody I said, "Hi". I admire your work. I always have, and I'm very appreciative of your support for me.
LORD: Thank you, sir. It will be there continuously until [laughter] we both fall off Planet Earth.