Jonah Goldberg of National Review talks with Steve Inskeep about the week in politics.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Now, while visiting Paris today, President Trump sent a stream of tweets promoting the Senate health care bill. He also has faced questions in Paris about Russia. That was guaranteed by a revelation of emails showing his son, Don Jr., took a meeting in 2016 with a Russian lawyer. And the president had to answer questions about that.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I have a son who’s a great young man. He’s a fine person. He took a meeting with a lawyer from Russia. It lasted for a very short period and nothing came of the meeting. And I think it’s a meeting that most people in politics probably would’ve taken.
INSKEEP: So what have we learned from days of discussion about this? Here to help us make sense of it all is Jonah Goldberg of National Review.
Jonah, thanks for coming by.
JONAH GOLDBERG: It’s great to be here.
INSKEEP: Most people in politics would have taken that meeting, says the president. You think that’s true?
GOLDBERG: I certainly think some people in politics would take that meeting.
INSKEEP: We know of one.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, we know – we certainly know of one.
INSKEEP: Three, to be precise.
GOLDBERG: And look, this is – look, there’s no dewonking (ph) to be done here…
GOLDBERG: …This is simply a tale of human nature, villainy, ignorance and sloth, right? What Don Jr. did – I think the best defense that they’ve got is the stupidity defense, just didn’t know, oh, you don’t do this sort of thing. That takes a big hit when your campaign manager, who’s been in politics for 30 years…
INSKEEP: Paul Manafort.
GOLDBERG: …Who has been forwarded this email shows up at this meeting, too.
INSKEEP: Some people pointed out the New York Post called Don Jr. an idiot. The word was in the headline. And initially, it seemed like they were really going after Trump. But other people pointed out maybe that’s actually a way to defend Donald Trump, to call his son an idiot.
GOLDBERG: Yeah, no, I think that’s the fallback position for a lot of people. It’s not the fallback position, as you sort of alluded to, for a lot of my friends on the right who want to play this game of what’s sort of called whataboutism. They point to Hillary Clinton who had some questionable dealings with the Ukraine and then her campaign or they want to point out about how Ted Kennedy had done these things with the Soviet Union.
And it seems to me that the correct response to that is, yeah, those were wrong, too, and – rather than say, well, everybody does it. And no, you don’t actually say it’s fine to take this meeting. And the problem with the defense from Don Jr. and company is, as my friend, the blogger iowahawk, put it, if you got an invitation to attend an orgy and then you show up and all it is is a book club and they’re not doing anything interesting, you don’t get to go home to your wife and say you did nothing wrong, right?
INSKEEP: This is a family program, Jonah.
GOLDBERG: I understand…
GOLDBERG: …But the point is that Don Jr. was told explicitly – it just says it in the email – that this is an agent of the Russian government who is trying to undermine – incriminate Hillary Clinton. And he took the meeting. He said I love it. And so that – what this does psychologically and for the argument in the country right now is it completely ruins the benefit-of-the-doubt argument for the Trump campaign that they didn’t want to collude.
INSKEEP: Something else that President Trump says is just basically that this is politics. This is the way that it works. And you mentioned human nature and the darkness of human nature. He seems to be right there with you. Let’s listen to that.
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TRUMP: It’s called opposition research or even research into your opponent. I’ve had many people – I have only been in politics for two years, but I’ve had many people call up, oh, gee, we have information on this factor or this person or, frankly, Hillary.
INSKEEP: OK, just factually speaking, there are some actual opposition researchers who’ve said I wouldn’t do this. So I’m not sure that it’s correct factually that this is totally normal to take information from – or an offer of information from Russia. But there’s this deeper attitude that the president has, I want to ask you about, Jonah, that seems to be the context for many of the things that he does that people would criticize. Essentially, the attitude is it’s all bogus, it’s all corrupt, nothing really matters, so it doesn’t matter what I do or what I say. Is that an accurate representation of the president of the United States?
GOLDBERG: There’s – look, I think the way to understand the way Donald Trump responds a lot of these things is he’s just simply a nearest-weapon-to-hand guy. If there’s an argument that helps him he uses it. If there’s an argument that doesn’t help him he doesn’t use it. Trying to impose a intellectual or logical consistency to his positions is like, you know, looking for a quarter in the corner of a round room…
GOLDBERG: …Which is going to take you a long time, right? But I do want to say since I’m here – you know, not only am I on National Review, I’m a conservative guy – that I think a lot of the Democratic reaction is a problem, too. There’s a lot of loose talk about treason. And I think what Donald Trump Jr. did is bad. I think it’s politically really problematic. I think it’s going to give all sorts of encouragement to the special prosecutor. But it’s not treason. Treason’s actually a crime punishable by death. And the idea that we just throw it – that people are just throwing it around, I think, is really irresponsible.
INSKEEP: We had a legal expert on the program making that very same point, although the expert thinks this could be betraying the country, but that’s different, legally speaking…
GOLDBERG: Right. It’s very wrong.
INSKEEP: …Than treason. But let me ask about your fellow conservatives, Republicans in Congress. How many more times can they look at a news story like this and say actually, nothing to see here or I’d rather not talk about that?
GOLDBERG: Apparently a lot…
GOLDBERG: …I mean, because I think you asked me a similar question six months ago.
INSKEEP: Let me ask you again in a month.
GOLDBERG: I think that there is a – part of it is that there is an enormous – and I am – which I am completely sympathetic to – desire to get a lot of appointments done, to get a lot of policy things done. And when you talk to people on Capitol Hill – I’ve had these conversations with a lot of people on Capitol Hill – they all say, look, we’re just focusing on what we can do on our piece of it, and we want to get there. And if we keep getting distracted the way the administration does we’ll never get there.
INSKEEP: I also talked with Trump voters. And some say I’m disturbed, I’m confused by this Russia stuff. But others that I was talking to just the other day just say it’s all fake, they don’t care, they’re not interested. Is there maybe no political price for Republicans to pay here?
GOLDBERG: Well, that sort of gets to, I think, part of the point of your earlier question about the fog that Donald Trump has created about all of this, right? In some ways it is similar to the Benghazi thing. Everyone’s just tuning stuff out. Everyone’s baked into their positions.
INSKEEP: OK, Jonah, thanks very much. Always a pleasure when you come back.
GOLDBERG: Great to be here. Thank you.
INSKEEP: Jonah Goldberg, senior editor at National Review and a columnist for the LA Times.
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