On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Philip Klein
Youtube clips from the show are available here
Donald Trump is President Elect, but many in his own party distanced themselves from him during the campaign. So what
happens within the GOP now? Lisa Owen talks to Washington Examiner managing editor and Never Trump Republican Philip
Lisa Owen: We’ve seen these images of President Obama and the President-Elect Trump side by side in the White House.
Extraordinary. What did you make of those images?
Philip Klein: I think it’s going to take a while to get used to for a lot of people after the long campaign and a lot of
the things that Donald Trump has said and his reputation. Sort of, it’s due to being on reality TV and so forth. Now
there’s no choice but to take him seriously, and there he is sitting in the very historic room of the White House where
you’re typically used to seeing the president there welcoming foreign leaders and talking about what they discussed in
their summit. And so it is startling to see Donald Trump there, and it’s going to take some adjustment, I think, for
Given the polling and the much, I suppose, division within the Republican movement, were you surprised that he managed
to pull this off?
I think it was, I mean, a surprise to a lot of people, including myself. The polling seemed to indicate that Hillary
Clinton had a comfortable enough lead in a critical number of states to win, and he pulled it off.
What do you think got him over the line? Who delivered this to him?
I think it was a combination of two things. Trump did better than Mitt Romney among whites without a college degree,
many of whom voted for Obama in 2012. And also Clinton didn’t do as well as Obama in turning out and getting the support
of young people and minority groups.
You said at one stage that you wouldn’t vote for him. Did you vote for him?
I did not.
Can you tell us who you did vote for?
I ended up writing in ‘none of the above’.
Did you throw your vote away?
I don’t think I did. I, in the end, voted my conscience, and I decided not to vote for either of them.
Did you ever imagine that that would happen in your lifetime — where you go to cast your vote and there is no choice
that you want?
I mean, it’s sort of if you follow… I don’t believe in putting too much faith in politicians, so I guess it’s not
startling that it would ever be that situation.
Now, you’ve called Trump in the past a megalomaniac who doesn’t understand constitutional limits on executive power. So
how worried are you about what happens from this point onwards?
As I’ve written a number of times, I have a number of concerns about how he’s going to perform once in the White House.
I stand by everything I wrote. I had, sort of, written after his election a post about a lot of the fears I still have
about what he could be about—
So what are they? What are you most worried about with him?
Well, basically, throughout the campaign, he’s demonstrated a lack of, sort of, interest or understanding of issues as
well as the proper limits on presidential power, and he’s been very thin-skinned, and so I’m kind of worried about what
having that concentrated power in the presidency is going to do. And so that’s why I think it’s up to Congress to
reassert its constitutional authority.
When you say he’s thin-skinned, are you worried that he’s going to have a tantrum over something that someone says and
do something that has serious implications?
I mean, it could be. We saw that a lot during the campaign, so the question is — was that a role that he was playing
during the campaign, and is he going to put it in check during the presidency? I’m sceptical, but we’re kind of in
What do you think? Do you think he was playing a role during the campaign?
I mean, I think that he was probably playing a lot of different roles but that as president we’re probably going to get
a lot of different Trumps. During the campaign he went through different phases. There were phases where he tried to
appear more presidential and be more sober-minded and show more compassion and humility. There were other stages where
he was very nasty and brash or unserious, and there were some times when he seemed very hawkish on foreign policy and
talking about bombing ISIS and so forth. There were other times where he talked about how America shouldn’t be as
involved in foreign wars and in military interventions. He spoke about opposing the Iraq War and the intervention in
Libya. So he said, sort of, a lot of different things that aren’t actually coherent; they contradict one another. And I
imagine that as president, we’re probably going to get a bit of that too — that there’s going to be a wide range of how
he’s going to perform.
How much do you think he’s actually going to follow through on, because he’s talking about, you know, banning Muslims,
building a wall. Already, we’ve noticed that some of those key policy planks or ideas, if you like, have come down from
his website. He seems to be dialling it back. People are now even talking about a metaphorical wall. So how much do you
think he will follow through on those things that potentially delivered the presidency to him?
I think that banning Muslims is unlikely to happen, I mean, for no other reason that it’s completely impractical to
implement. Anyone could say, ‘Well, I’m not—’ I mean, how are you going to have a test, really? If somebody says, ‘I’m
not a Muslim,’ how are you going to test whether or not they’re Muslim? So in terms of practicality, it’s impossible to
implement. I can’t really see him doing that. I think that he’ll have a harder time not following it through on the
promise to build a wall, because it was such an integral part of his candidacy that he said at almost every stop.
And to you that’s a real wall, not a metaphorical wall that people are now discussing?
I think that if he doesn’t build a physical wall… And now if you look at the border of the United States, there are
parts of it that are separated by waters where you’re not actually— There would only be a certain portion of the border
where you could actually be able to build a physical wall. I think it’s going to be hard for him if he doesn’t— if he
doesn’t build some sort of wall somewhere, even if it might not be—
So in your mind it will happen?
I mean, I don’t know. I’ve kind of… I’ve sort of refrained from making any more predictions about Trump and what’s going
to happen after the result that we saw on Tuesday.
I can understand why. You mentioned the Republicans have Congress. Many of them denounced Trump during the campaign.
Will they temper him, do you think? Rein him in?
I don’t have faith that Republicans will try to temper him or rein him in. Generally speaking, most politicians tend to
go along with whoever is in power in their party. So during the Bush administration, for instance, Democrats were very
big on arguing that… against executive power, and they said the Bush exerted too much executive power and needed to be
reined in. When Obama came into office, Democrats defended his use of executive power, and Republicans were the ones
talking about the abuse of executive power. And so when Trump comes back in, I assume it’s just going to reverse again.
And so I think people are more outcome based. If Trump is doing things that they like, then they don’t care about the
means at which he goes about it.
People observing this might find that really strange, because you had the likes of Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan just
backing away big time during the campaign. Do you think they’re all just going to fall into line?
I think probably they’ll fall into line, yeah. I mean, it would have to take something rather dramatic for them to start
opposing. I mean, a lot of it too depends on how Trump’s approval rating is and how he’s perceived among Republican
constituencies. If he’s seen as completely betraying Republicans and going in a completely different direction and
there’s wide opposition, you might see Republicans start to back away from him, because they’re going to be facing
re-election and worried about 2018 when all of Congress and a third of the Senate is up for re-election again. And so I
think that if you followed during the campaign, what you saw was there was a pretty clear line that if Trump was up in
the polls, Republicans were saying things that were more complimentary towards him. When he started falling in the polls
and got into trouble, like with the tape that came out on Access Hollywood talking about groping women—
So they were saving themselves?
Yeah. So I think that in the beginning, there’s a bit of a honeymoon period. People are going to give him a chance and
be fairly deferential to Trump. If he ends up tanking in the polls and losing the faith and disillusioning a lot of his
supporters, like, let’s say, for instance, he doesn’t build a wall and a lot of people come to see him as a fraud, then
you might see Republicans want to resist him a bit more. During the Bush administration, you didn’t really see
Republicans start to push back until the second half of the second term.
We’re running out of time, but I do quickly want to touch on the polls, because they were so wrong. Many of them in the
days before were saying 70% chance or more of Hillary Clinton being president. I’m wondering what happened there. Did
people say one thing and then do another?
There might’ve been some of that. I think it was a combination of a number of factors. Basically what polls try to do is
they try to say… There’s two aspects of it. One is they ask who you’re going to vote for, and another aspect is they
have to choose how likely somebody is to vote. You don’t know who’s going to show up on Election Day. You have to
basically, as a pollster, guess, and they guessed wrong. There were a lot of people that showed up that weren’t expected
to show up, and a lot of people that were expected to show up did not show up. And Hillary Clinton particularly, because
of the decrease in her ability to win over minority voters and losing a number of white areas that went for Obama, that
was a difference, and the polls did not detect it.
Thank you so much for joining us this morning. Much appreciated.
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