In this fireside conversation, Victor Davis Hanson sits down with Peter Robinson to chat about his motivation to write a book making a rational case for those voters who chose Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton.
PETER ROBINSON: Welcome to Uncommon Knowledge. I’m Peter Robinson. A fellow at the Hoover Institution Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and military historian who has published more than two dozen books, including A War Like No Other, his acclaimed account of the Peloponnesian wars.
Dr. Hanson’s most recent work, The Case for Trump. Victor, welcome.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Thank you.
PETER ROBINSON: You write, right here, of Donald Trump that he is… and I am quoting you Victor, “vulgar, uncouth and divisive”. You also write that you voted for him. Casting that ballot, how much regret, how much cognitive dissonance, how hard was that for you?
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Well, I have no regret. It was very easy, because the alternative was Hillary Clinton. And I did take him at his word that his promises would be largely kept or attempted to be kept. And then when I used those words in the larger context, I think I was comparing them to what…
PETER ROBINSON: To what?
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: To JFK’s frolicking in the pool, to LBJ’s exhibitionism, to Bill Clinton… I don’t mind to mention Bill Clinton. But I think we have historical amnesia about what presidents are. I would have liked him to be a sterling morale, exemplar like Jerry Ford and Jimmy Carter but I am not sure there’s any equation there between that type of character and dynamic leadership… can all be wrong with Reagan after all, a sterling character and an effective leader.
PETER ROBINSON: All right. How Trump won? So The Case for Trump, you spend… there’re really a couple of cases in this book. One of them is the case for Trump.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Yeah.
PETER ROBINSON: But the other is the case for the Americans who voted for Trump.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Yes.
PETER ROBINSON: All right. I’m quoting you here… The Case for Trump: “Voters in 2016… 63 million of them… preferred on an authentic bad boy to a disingenuous good girl.” Explain that.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Well, Trump was what he was and he had no pretensions that he wasn’t. So when he went to Fresno — he went to Tulare, California, he went to Maine, he went to Alabama. He had on the same jacket, the same weird tie, the hair, the everything.
When Hillary did it, it was you all down in Alabama and then she had a Harvard accent. When Obama campaigned he had an inner city patois. As I mentioned John Kerry put on duck gear when he went duck-hunting. Mike Dukakis put on the helmet, remember.
PETER ROBINSON: Yes, yes.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: But he didn’t –
PETER ROBINSON: …always the businessman from Queens…
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Queens accent wherever he was. And the other thing about him was he had a strange way that nobody detected except that people were informed of conveying empathy. So he said our…
PETER ROBINSON: “Our country”.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: “Our vets”, “our workers”, “our farmers”. I can’t imagine Mitt Romney or John McCain who were supposed to be far more empathetic… and he went to… remember he went to West Virginia. I love big beautiful coal. Contrast that when Hillary Clinton said I’m going to put you out of work and shut down the industry. Obama had said the same thing.
So there was a way that he connected with the deplorables – the clingers, irredeemables, what John McCain called the crazies in a way that we didn’t really expect that he would given his background.
PETER ROBINSON: And then so there’s the personal authenticity but you also draw out his agenda. Again I’m quoting The Case for Trump: They — the 63 million people who voted for him — also preferred his agenda which represented “antithesis to the Democratic Party of Barack Obama which was increasingly candid in voicing socialist Broma.”
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: There are moments when I think that all politics comes down to that old Henny Youngman gag, how’s your wife. That’s answer compared to what.
PETER ROBINSON: Yeah. So Trump comes across as authentic somehow where other this guy from Queens, this billionaire from Queens, seems to be what he is… there’s an authenticity that appeals to people in the middle of the country and at the same time the alternative is getting just unacceptable. Right that’s the argument?
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: That’s the argument, and what we’re seeing now with permissible infanticide or reparations or Greendale or wealth tax or 70% income tax or Medicare for everybody or cancellation of everything, let’s cancel electoral college, let’s cancel ICE, let’s cancel all student debt, all of that stuff is a logical trajectory from the Obama administration. He was the one that took the party.
Remember when he was elected he had the most partisan record in the US Senate. So that’s the antithesis for Trump. It was with Hillary, it’s even going to be more so in 2020. And then he did something that nobody quite has analyzed… his agenda wasn’t some crazy outright. It was an 80% traditional Republican.
PETER ROBINSON: Yes, yes.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Deregulation, lower taxes, repeal Obamacare, good judges, strict constructions. What was new… he looked at that electoral college and he tweaked four or five issues that the other 16 may have been for but they didn’t do it. And that was… you can’t have a sovereign nation with an open border. You can’t have immigration unless it’s legal, measured, meritocratic and diverse. Now that was a winning issue for those states.
Then he said if you’re going to go overseas, translate tactical success into strategic advantage, didn’t help you if you bomb Libya or Qaddafi out of power, or you’re bombing people in Afghanistan if it’s not resolved in our interest. And then he said China’s not fated to take over the world, they’re not the Superman, they have a smaller economy, they’ve got all sorts of problems. They are only strong because they’re asymmetrical in their trade and we’ll fix it.
And finally he said you don’t need a magic wand to restore the interior. It’s not… remember Obama said these jobs are never coming back.
PETER ROBINSON: Right.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: He said they’re not only going to come back, they’re going to come back right away and in large part that was true. So that was a new message but he wasn’t the Antichrist Republican. He was a traditional Republican that took some issues, incorporated them within Republicanism and then looked at Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina and said you didn’t come out for John McCain or Mitt Romney because there was something missing in this menu. And I’m going to be the person who puts it back in.
And then finally one time…
PETER ROBINSON: Sure, sure, sure.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: It was a messenger too, because he was basically saying I’m crude and crass getting back to your quote at the beginning of our conversation. But he said I’m not playing by the Marquess of Queensberry rules. I’m ad libbing here.
But if Candy Crowley in the second debate tries to hide…
PETER ROBINSON: The second debate with Mitt Romney…
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Yes…. when she said no, no Governor Romney. Barack Obama’s correct here. He would have grabbed a mic like Reagan did. And he’s not going to say as John McCain did, I rule, I just don’t want to mention Reverend Wright. So Trump was saying I’m going to fight, I’m going to fight, there’s going to be a war room. I’m going to go after the left as they go after us. And nobody had seen that since Lee Atwater in 1988, with the tank commercial, the Willie Horton commercial…