Aired on February 3, 2020 on the Morning Briefing POTUS (Sirius XM).

Tim Farley of the Morning Briefing POTUS and Niskanen Center Senior Fellow Gabriel Schoenfeld discuss what happens after Iowa and New Hampshire: from who’s best positioned to beat Trump in 2020 to what (if anything) can bring unity to this polarized country.


Speaker 1: First up, there’s the hashtag John Bolton. You may think it’s trending because of John Bolton’s revelations about Trump, but John Bolton is actually trending because people thought he was the new disguise emoji. Next up is Pee-wee, and you may think it’s trending because Paul Reubens wants to film a dark Pee-wee Herman movie, but Pee-wee is actually trending because it’s Pete Buttigieg’s Secret Service code name. And finally, here’s the hashtag twins. You may think it’s trending because Brie and Nikki Bella announced they’re pregnant, but twins is actually trending because Jared Kushner is sitting next to an Oscar statue.

Speaker 2: Amy Klobuchar has been getting a lot of attention during the Iowa caucuses for bringing her family’s Tater Tot Hot Dish to events. Coincidentally, Tater Tot Hot Dish is the name of a guy Joe Biden wrestled at a public pool in 1952.

Speaker 3: This is the morning briefing on POTUS. Here’s Tim Farley in Washington.

Tim Farley: Welcome to the Morning Briefing. Here we are on this Monday. It is February the 3rd, 2020. Thank you for joining us on radio, online, on your smartphone, however it is that you choose to bring in the program. Thanks for tweeting @MorningBriefing. Following a lot of the things we’ve been getting this morning, thanks so much for that. Was noting that everybody is in Iowa these days. Morning, Joe. Joe Scarborough has got his fleece on, of course. It’s on the present.

Anyway, we’re just going to see how people vote, and that’s what’s going to happen today, and we’re going to follow it very closely. I’m pleased that we actually have a chance. In studio with us on POTUS, Gabe Schoenfeld, Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center. He’s an opinion columnist at USA Today. He’s the author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media and the Rule of Law. Had worked on the Romney campaign in 2012. He’s tweeting @GabeSchoenfeld. Thanks for coming in.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Very happy to be here, Tim.

Tim Farley: What is it like? I’m not sure how much you were in Iowa in 2012, but give us a sense of what it’s like on the campaign trail when these early contests are happening.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, it’s kind of a crazy thing, because these two States, Iowa and then New Hampshire, are among the least representative of states where Democrats are going to be contesting. And so all out effort to get a majority, to acquire delegates, but the real contest comes later, in South Carolina, in the South, where the candidates are, large numbers of delegates are up for grabs, and much more Representative States.

Tim Farley: You know, it’s sort of like you go back to 2016 and think about Donald Trump was the wildcard, if you will, for the Republicans. And there was the sort of mainstream Republicans, the establishment Republicans, were very concerned about him. And eventually, of course, became the nominee and then the President. And I wonder if you hear some of the same thing with Democrats this time around when it talks like Bernie Sanders.

Gabe Schoenfeld: It is a kind of mirror of the 2016 situation where you have one, maybe two, more radical candidates and the rest of the field divided so that it’s possible that a radical candidate like Bernie Sanders will emerge on top. But of course, he’s very popular among the youth vote, but he has less support among African Americans, and when you turn to the South, I think he’s going to have a harder time against Joe Biden.

Tim Farley: He lasted a lot longer than people thought with Hillary, though.

Gabe Schoenfeld: It’s true, and he has a ceiling and he has a base. Let’s see if he can exceed the ceiling. It’s around 25%.

Tim Farley: Something different, it seems to me too, between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump is that Donald Trump was about the force of the personality. It was something that was about not being a part of the mainstream that made it so attractive. There is that with Bernie Sanders, but at least he does carry some of the Democratic Party ideals. And it does seem that’s a little bit more of a departure for Donald Trump on the Republican side than for Senator Sanders.

Gabe Schoenfeld: I agree with that. He’s much more of an ideological figure. Donald Trump doesn’t have any particular set of beliefs, or a few core beliefs. So that might help Sanders, but also it might hurt him, because some of his ideas are very expensive, and socialism has never been a word that has resonated that much in American politics.

Tim Farley: Talk a little bit about the impeachment vote, because we saw there were two Senators who voted in favor of allowing witnesses, Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah … Mitt Romney, you worked for on the 2012 campaign … and the rest of the Republicans decided not to. Lisa Murkowski was one. We’ve heard yesterday, Senator Lamar Alexander was out there saying what exactly he believed, that the President’s actions were inappropriate but did not rise to the level of impeachment. How do you square this with the Republican Party, and what should we as Americans make of all of this?

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, it looks like Donald Trump got his way and there were no witnesses who could testify to the wrongdoing that he was engaged in over a period of months. Mitch McConnell presumably strong-armed enough members of his caucus to ensure that there would be no witnesses, and now we’re marching toward an acquittal. Whatever happens, Donald Trump will go down in history as a president who was impeached. He wasn’t removed, but he was impeached, and that’s a pretty big stain on his record.

Tim Farley: Gabe, I also think about … I heard a comment. I think it was Jon Meacham, the historian, who said the other day that now Donald Trump is clearly … it’s an imperial presidency. He’s a monarch. And I’m like, “Well, not exactly, because the House of Representatives is still run by the Democrats. You can’t get your own way if one of the Houses of Congress is run by one of the other part of your opposition party.”

Gabe Schoenfeld: I’m not sure I agree, because really the House’s oversight abilities have been eviscerated by the President’s refusal to agree to-

Tim Farley: But have they tested that in court, really?

Gabe Schoenfeld: It’s going to come to a test very soon.

Tim Farley: You think so?

Gabe Schoenfeld: … but the House traditionally hasn’t had to go to court to enforce it’s subpoenas for normal oversight and the [crosstalk 00:05:38]-

Tim Farley: Maybe it’s time they have to do that though, because this is one of the things that I got the sense of, as this was playing out, was that the Democrats said, “Look, we don’t want to delay this anymore, because if we wait, then it’s going to be next summer before we get to this, because we’ll actually have to have core challenges to the opposition on the subpoenas. So let’s not bother to do that. Including one for John Bolton.” Then it gets to the Senate, it’s like, “Well, we need to subpoena,” and the Republicans say, “Well, you didn’t do that then, so …” But if it comes to that, won’t there be some kind of a test at some point where the Supreme Court will have to say yes?

Gabe Schoenfeld: It might come very soon with the Don McGahn litigation. But what does impeachment mean if impeachment process can no longer haul before Congress witnesses or obtain documents, and has to go to court, a process that does take months, possibly even longer, when you have an election looming? Does it mean you can no longer impeach a president who does wrongdoing in an election year? That seems to be really a departure from what the founders had in mind.

Tim Farley: Well, it’s like a Supreme Court nominee. If there were the chance for the President to have one this year, I can only imagine the Democrats would be up in arms. And I think a lot of Republicans would have a difficult time making the case that what you said so strongly just a few years ago about the death of Antonin Scalia is something that doesn’t apply today.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, that’s true, but we’ll see how that plays out. I’m not sure.

Tim Farley: Give us your thoughts, Gabe Schoenfeld, the Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center. The State of the Union address. What would you like to hear from the President?

Gabe Schoenfeld: What I would like to hear would be Donald Trump trying to bring the country together after this very divisive moment. What I expect to hear is the opposite, because I think Donald Trump is constitutionally incapable … constitutionally, talking about his person now, not the document … of that kind of healing rhetoric. He’s a divider. He’s a very divisive personality, and I’m not expecting anything but crowing about his achievements and crowing about his impending exoneration by the Senate.

Tim Farley: So what could he say that would be … And can he even do that? Can he unite the nation? Is it even possible?

Gabe Schoenfeld: I think not. I think the country is deeply polarized and I don’t think Donald Trump has it within himself to find the healing rhetoric. I think it would be hard for any even normal politician to bridge the gap between the two sides of America. The culture war is red hot.

Tim Farley: Is there a healer in Congress right now? I mean, can you see anyone out there? I mean, I know you worked for Mitt Romney and some people look at him, but I wonder on the Democratic side, is there one that comes out to you?

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg, both I think trying to-

Tim Farley: On the presidential side.

Gabe Schoenfeld: … on the President’s side, trying to be healers. Mitt Romney’s looking to, I think, find some sort of centrist position. And so, yes, there’s a potential for it after this. I think people are really fatigued by the Donald Trump wars and are looking for a period of calm and a period of coming together. But on the issues, the division is just so radical.

Tim Farley: What’s going to unite us? I mean, is it going to take … heaven forbid … but is it going to take something like a war? Is it going to take a major crisis to be able to bring this country together?

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, remember, after 9/11 the country did come together. For not, unfortunately, a very long time, and it wasn’t long before we were again at loggerheads. Then went to war in Iraq and the country was hopelessly divided since then. I don’t see an easy way out from the polarization that’s-

Tim Farley: Well, and of course we’ve been divided. The 2000 election had to go to the Supreme Court.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Right. That did not help in any way at all.

Tim Farley: Yeah. But eventually, because of that terrible, terrible 9/11 incident, then we did see the country together. I mean, members of the House, the Congress were standing on the Capital steps singing God Bless America. Those kind of moments you can’t recreate, and you don’t want to have to recreate something like that. I guess I think about all the work that has to be done when it comes to a trillion dollar deficit, when it comes to the kinds of problems that we face as a country.

Tim Farley: Healthcare still hasn’t been resolved. I mean, Democrats either want to go the route of replacing Obamacare with Medicare for all, which is in and of itself sort of a misnomer because Medicare is only for people over 65. But Republicans say, “We’re going to make it better.” President Trump says, “We’ve got a great plan. They couldn’t come up with one last time.” It seems America’s looking for D.C. to do something, and I don’t get a sense that there’s a direction that either party knows which way they want to go.

Gabe Schoenfeld: I think that’s fair, and it’s a sad situation. We’re not going to come together even with a major crisis. I think we’re going to be stuck in this very divided mode.

Tim Farley: So what happens, then?

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, there’s some major problems outstanding that do have to be solved, like the deficit, the enormous debt that we’re accumulating. Eventually, that’s going to cause a crisis and Congress will have to step in and find solutions, and that will have to be done in a bipartisan way to bring the American people along.

Tim Farley: I’m wondering if you’re looking at some of the … because I wonder, if President Trump cannot be a uniting figure, can Nancy Pelosi? Is she a polarizing figure, too?

Gabe Schoenfeld: Well, I think that the Republicans have done everything in their power to make her appear as polarizing as possible.

Tim Farley: That kind of goes with the territory of being speaker, doesn’t it?

Gabe Schoenfeld: It does. You can’t [crosstalk 00:10:35]-

Tim Farley: I mean, not too many Democrats loved Newt Gingrich.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Yeah, that [crosstalk 00:10:40]-

Tim Farley: And Republicans, I know that they say that Ronald Reagan got along great with Tip O’Neill and there was a relationship there. It wasn’t a friendship. It was a relationship. But I don’t think there were too many Republicans who loved Tip O’Neill either.

Gabe Schoenfeld: In the current moment, I don’t see a Speaker of the House like Nancy Pelosi bringing the country together, but I think she played a pretty admirable role in the impeachment process keeping on track and going for the essential issues.

Tim Farley: Because she had to fight with her own caucus.

Gabe Schoenfeld: She did, and she brought it along very nicely, and she waited to the right moment to bring the impeachment charges. Of course, [inaudible 00:11:12] going result in a conviction and removal from the Senate, but I think they did lay out the issues of the wrongdoing that President Trump engaged in.

Tim Farley: If you were a betting man, who would you say the Democrats are going to lean toward?

Gabe Schoenfeld: My bet and my wishes are hard to disentangle. I’m hoping it will be Joe Biden, because I think he’s best situated to defeat Donald Trump. And that’s my main criteria for choosing a Democrat. I’ve been a Republican up until the day that Donald Trump got the nomination. Then I quit the party, and I’m planning to vote for whatever Democrat gets nominated, except for Bernie Sanders.

Tim Farley: Except for Bernie Sanders.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Yeah.

Tim Farley: You think Michael Bloomberg could beat President Trump?

Gabe Schoenfeld: I think he could beat him, but I don’t think he’s going to get the nomination. I think he’s a very long shot. His strategy of spending money is not enough to get the nomination.

Tim Farley: Well, I knew for sure it was going to be Hillary and Rudy Giuliani in 2008, so obviously I’m not going to predict anything anymore.

Gabe Schoenfeld: Excellent prediction.

Tim Farley: Yes, great. Gabe, thanks so much for coming in.

Gabe Schoenfeld: It’s been a pleasure.

Tim Farley: Gabe Schoenfeld with us. Again, Senior Fellow at the Niskanen Center, opinion columnist USA Today, author of Necessary Secrets: National Security, the Media, and the Rule of Law. Tweeting @gabeschoenfeld.