Charles Krauthammer and Nia-Malika Henderson sit down with the Hustler before Chancellor’s Lecture

Charles Krauthammer and Nia-Malika Henderson sit down with the Hustler before Chancellors Lecture

Nathan Kiker

The Hustler sat down with Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist Charles Krauthammer and CNN Senior Political Reporter Nia-Malika Henderson before they joined Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos and Pulitzer Prize-winning visiting professor Jon Meacham for the third installment of the Chancellor’s Lecture Series Nov. 15. where they discussed America’s future. Krauthammer and Henderson discussed their views and expectations of a Trump presidency and outlined their predictions for the future of the country.

Vanderbilt Hustler: What’s your biggest surprise from Donald Trump’s victory last week?

Charles Krauthammer: That Donald Trump won.

Nia-Malika Henderson: Everything. It is stunning that he won. We went in thinking that Hillary Clinton was in the lead. I think Donald Trump himself was stunned that he won the White House. Hillary Clinton certainly was, and everyone on our panel was that night.

CK: Around 8 o’clock we were still sure. They were calling Hillary for Florida, and if she won Florida, then she won. Then she wasn’t winning Florida. Then by 9 o’clock, Chris Wallace looked up and said, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but there is a possibility that Donald Trump will be the president.

NH: I was sitting next to David Axelrod and across from Paul Begala, and you could see them getting nervous with the Florida loss, then her not looking that strong in Virginia. I think that was when it was like, yeah this is bad for Hillary Clinton.

VH: Why was Donald Trump able to defy the odds?

CK: He tapped into the anxieties and enthusiasms of the white working class as no one since Reagan. There were two other things. She was one of the worst candidates ever. Wikileaks had one of the internal memos from one of her top advisors asking, “Can someone explain to us what this campaign is about and why she is running?” There was no message. The last thing was a rejection from Obama, which is overload.

NH: I think that’s right. It was a repudiation of Obama and Obamaism. She certainly tried to embrace Obamaism. Also, if Donald Trump was about economic populism and cultural populism, she tried to do the other arguments and counter his populist cultural arguments. I think it made a lot of people uncomfortable and got on people’s nerves and seemed too self-righteous and politically correct and I think it alienated a lot of people she thought she had, which were college-educated voters, college-educated white women particularly, a lot of those folks who had voted for Obama. He made people feel good about issues like race. Hillary Clinton made people feel bad about race. Sometimes she made black people feel bad about race, and I think certainly she made a lot of white people mad about race.

VH: Is there a way that the country can move forward on issues of race?

NH: I don’t know. I think it sort of takes time. People thought Obama would usher in this post-racial era. Some people think he inflamed it, didn’t try hard enough, or tried too hard. I think it’s complicated and takes time. Donald Trump certainly doesn’t help with the hiring of Steve Bannon. We will see how long he stays.

People thought Obama would usher in this post-racial era. Some people think he inflamed it, didn’t try hard enough, or tried too hard.

CK: We’ve been at it for at least 150 years, and there is no magic. With Obama, people sort of talked themselves into a magic belief that he would make a fundamental change. It was never in the charge. Part of it came out of his 2004 convention speech, which was the most inspirational speech since Martin Luther King. But there is no magic, and it’s a very long process. This could turn out to be a setback in the sense that there’s a reaction. There’s a legitimization in some sense in this attack on political correctness, which, generally speaking, we all agree with, like safe spaces and all that nonsense. But, there really is a sense that we now enforce norms of decent speech. Look at Harry Truman’s private speeches where he referred to minorities in ways we wouldn’t now. These are ups and downs.

VH: What do you think President Obama’s legacy will be and will any policies stay under a Trump administration?

NH: I don’t think we know. I don’t think we know what will happen with Obamacare. Will someone like Susan Collins actually vote to repeal it if there is a chance? It’s one thing to symbolically vote to do it, and it’s another to actually take Medicaid away. I don’t think we know, but we do find Obama trying to play psychological warfare with Trump. In the speeches he has given and his press conference yesterday, he has tried to appeal to Trump’s ego and sense that he is a great man. From great man to great man he is trying to sway him to keep parts of his legacy. I don’t know if it will work. I think President Obama’s legacy looked very different when Hillary Clinton looked poised to win, and now I think we can accurately read the election of Donald Trump as a rebuke of him. We will have to see what remains.

I think Obama’s legacy is rubble. I think there is nothing left of it.

CK: I think Obama’s legacy is rubble. I think there is nothing left of it. He is very personally popular, and I think he deserves it, but it was proven in the election that that popularity wasn’t transited and can’t be conveyed. I think he just overreached. He came in with a mandate to reassure a country in the midst of an economic crisis, and he read it as a mandate to utterly transform America. In 2008, he said, “Ronald Reagan was historically influential in a way that Bill Clinton is not.” So Reagan is the one that made conservatism the ideological norm for 30 years. Obama saw himself as a man beginning a new era of liberalism where liberalism would be the ideological norm. He overreached with Obamacare. You should never do something of that scope without buy-in from the other side. FDR had Republicans for Social Security, LBJ had them on Medicare, Medicaid and Civil Rights, but Obama did it with no votes on the other side. Obama seized the worst moment for Republicans, the end of two terms, an unpopular war, a bad candidate, financial collapse; you can’t match those conditions. The entire communist party could have won that election, though, some people say they did. They thought they could seize that moment of crisis and do something that liberals have wanted to do for 100 years and the country wasn’t ready.

VH: What role do you think the media played in the election of Donald Trump?

CK: They gave him his oxygen. He dominated coverage of the primary and got something like 70 or 80 percent of the coverage.

NH: In dollar figures, it was like 2 billion in free publicity.

CK: For him, his motto is all publicity is good publicity. He came in with name recognition of 100 percent; he’s been a TV star for years, and the other 16 people were mostly unknown in popular culture. So he thrived on the media. The media pumped up Trump as a ridiculous and impossible candidate for ratings.  

VH: What should we expect from a Trump presidency?

NH: We are never supposed to say this, but we have no idea.

CK: On air, we would never say it, but we don’t know. Who knows? Will he govern? Does he want to govern? Or, does he want to play golf and have Mike Pence run the government?

NH: What we do know about the job of being president is that it is fairly boring. It’s sedentary. You are in the White House, in meetings, reading, listening to people and making decisions. Trump doesn’t seem to have the temperament to do that.

CK: Especially the reading.

NH: So that is a little troublesome. They are trying to figure out a way that he can do rallies during his presidency, which is not what you do as president. But it is what he wants to do.

CK: Well, it’s what Hugo Chavez did.

VH: Do you think he will govern as a conservative?

CK: It is hard to tell how much will he has. Does he care about some of the policies? I suspect that there will be huge areas that he is not interested in and the people around him are conservatives, so I don’t expect anything but conservatism, but there are different varieties of conservatism. Is he interested in detailed, legislative reforms that will come out of a Paul Ryan house? Or does he want to do more speeches and set the tone? I also think the first six months will be dedicated to the demolition of everything Obama has done.

VH: What could be the implications of a Trump presidency for foreign policy?

His rhetoric on policy is baffling. Sometimes he sounds like Bernie Sanders. At other times he sounds like John McCain.

NH: His rhetoric on policy is baffling. Sometimes he sounds like Bernie Sanders. At other times he sounds like John McCain. You have to wonder if the John McCain, Lindsey Graham wing of the party will take over, or people like John Bolton and Rudy Giuliani could take over.

CK: Let’s say he puts in Giuliani. Giuliani is the type of guy you’d think would be pro-NATO. I mean, how could anyone be anti-NATO? Trump paints NATO like a country club when they aren’t paying their dues, and they may have to be docked. Well, its not. It is a defense alliance, and Trump sees it as nothing but a liability. We wouldn’t be supporting it for 70 years if it wasn’t an integral part of our own security. I don’t think that he will pull out of NATO. But he could send signals that if there is any trouble in a place like Latvia that he will be out playing golf.

NH: I guess with the question of Vladimir Putin too. Apparently they had a nice conversation, and there’s a budding romance there, and they’re going to reset relations.

VH: Will the United States take a more limited role in world affairs? And what would the world without United States leadership look like?

CK: Very dark. And very dangerous. We don’t police the world because we like it. Americans are the most anti-imperial power in the history of empire. The British never talked about exit strategies. They go to India, then they stay for 150 years. We land marines in some god-forsaken place, and the first question is when are we getting out? We’ve been policing the world for safety, commerce and to maintain an open world, and that is in our interest. It is the world that we want to live in. I don’t think it’s an option. We have tried experiments of semi-isolation, and they always end up in tears. We may have to go through it again. Obama was a mini experiment. His retreat from the middle-east has caused a lot of trouble.