Exclusive - Michael Steele Extended Interview

July 19, 2016 - Michael Steele 07/19/2016 Views: 56,725

Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele reflects on Donald Trump's path to becoming the GOP presidential nominee and weighs in on Hillary Clinton as a Democratic candidate. (14:41)

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My guest tonightis the former chairman

of the Republican NationalCommittee.

Please welcome Michael Steele,everybody!

-♪ -(cheering and applause)

-Welcome to the show.-Hey, man,

it's great...it's cool to be here.

-What a time to be alive.-Oh, yeah.

Yeah? For-for those... for thosewho don't know, real quick,

-y-you had the jobReince Priebus now has. -Yes.

You were in chargeof the convention, basically.

If you were runningthis convention,

how would you grade it? On daytwo, what are you looking at,

what are you... Are you sayingthis-this is good-good for you?

Is this good? Yeah, yeah?

Um, it-it started out,uh, pretty good.

-Um... -Is thatwith the revolt, you mean, or...

-Well, no, no, no. They... No,no. -Oh. No, I didn't know.

-I genuinely didn't know. -No,even... No, it started out well.

-They put the gavelin the right place, -Okay.

-which was good.-Okay.

-Uh, and then there was voting.-Yes.

Uh, took place after that. Andthat's when all hell happened.

-Mm-hmm. -Uh, look,the-the fact of the matter is

this tension has been growingfor a while.

We knewcoming into this convention

that there were a significantnumber of delegates

who would be-- uh,how shall we say-- exercised

about, uh, the p-prospects

of Donald Trump gettingthe nomination, number one.

Number two, the processof giving him the nomination.

-Yeah. -So there was a lotof that going on right then,

at that... at that moment.And it was fun to watch,

-'cause I'm a former chairman.-(laughter)

-Emphasis being on "former."-Yeah.

-Let's-let's get a discussiongoing, Mr. Steele, -Sure.

-if you don't mind.-Sure.

I feel like America doesn't haveas many conversations

-as they should have, besidespoint -I agree with that.

-the fingers, everyone is wrong.-Mm-hmm.

-Let's candidly speakbetween the two of us. -Sure.

-You are a Republican.-I am.

Okay.Are you a black Republican?

-I am.-Okay. Just checking.

You may be very tanned.You never know.

Yeah, you never know.

But I'm black first.

How... do you justify

voting for Donald Trump?

Well, I think every-everyonewill come to their own decision

on that front.And to be honest with that,

uh, I saidfrom the very beginning,

going back to the primary,that, uh,

when asked about who I supportedin the primary--

and I didn't support anyonein the primary-- my view was

I was waiting for someoneto run for president.

Because I was expectingand hoping the party would have

a different conversation thanthe one we currently are having

-with the country.-Yes.

Um, number two, um,

this process ends tonight,all right?

The first part of thisends tonight.

He has secured the nomination.

Um, his speech on Thursdaywill tell the tale

on whether or notDonald Trump is ready

to be presidentof the United States.

And everything he doesbetween now and November

will be dictatedby how he begins this moment.

So that's when the clockstarts running for me.

I have not made up my mindwhere I am.

I'm not afraidto support Donald Trump.

I'm not afraid to saythat I support my nominee,

because this is the reason:

I want to be able to bein a position inside the party--

-and outside the party---Yes.

to help him bethe best presidential candidate

to compete for the voteagainst Hillary Clinton,

to engage this audience andaudiences around the country.

Now, I knowthat sounds good on paper,

but the reality is we have seen

-something very different.-Well, here's my thing,

it's interestingthat you bring that up,

'cause this is the one narrative

that I see popping upover and over again.

You ask a Republicanwhy they support Donald Trump.

The Republican replies,"I don't support Hillary."

Now, Mitt Romney came outand said,

"I cannot be a Republicanand support Donald Trump."

-Right. -There are Republicanswho have said that.

-Absolutely, yeah. -They go,"This man is not a Republican."

-Right. He's not.-"He has hijacked my party."

I mean, he's not.

-Oh, he's not?-No, no. He's not.

I mean, he's not someone...

And I think he switched to theparty three, four years ago.

I mean, he's not been someonewho has been in the party

and has come through the processand has self-identified

with a lot of the philosophical

and ideological positionsthe party has taken.

-There are a host of issues,you know. -Yes.

Uh, so, in that regard,he's not.

The same as we see on the leftwith Bernie Sanders.

Bernie Sanders is, you know,a social democrat,

you know, a socialist democrat,

which is not in the mainstreamof the Democratic party.

So you have,in both of these candidates,

um, a generation of energyaround something,

about something that's outside

of the traditionalparty structures,

which told mefor quite some time,

I think the country's ready tomove in a different direction.

-And this-this...-But is that direction

blatant racism and xenophobia?

-What is that direction?-Look, it's-it's...

-(applause)-I genuinely...

Are you saying... are yousaying... -No, no, I...

Are you saying Bernie Sandersis a blatant racist?

-Are you just...?-No, no, no, I'm...

-I'm talking of both of them,but I'm just saying... -No, no.

I'm... but I'm saying, honestly,on Donald Trump's side...

And I... That's what I've...

I love this man.I know you.

I know you as a Republican.

I-I go... I watch you on TV.

-We've had conversations.-Yeah.

And that's the thing a lotof people don't understand.

There are conversationsto be had.

But we haven't met, though,

since Donald Trumpstarting winning,

-as he says, "bigly."-Right. Right.

-(laughter) -Right?And when you see Donald Trump...

I mean, Paul Ryan came outand said...

When you see Donald Trumpsaying things that are racist,

when you see him saying thingsthat are xenophobic,

-I don't understand...-It's annoying as hell.

-It's annoying as hell,because... -Annoying?!

Yeah, well, it's... well,it's more than that, obviously.

But I'm just saying, it'sannoying from the standpoint

that I know the man,I've worked with the man,

and the manthat I know is not the guy

that I see runningfor president, and part...

And you see,you're the first person

-who said that, though.-And that's the frustration,

I think,that a lot of folks have

that know himand have been around him

and have worked with him.

No one knows the storiesand the real-life examples

of Donald Trump supportingmen and women of color

long be... long afterthey've worked in his employ,

long after they've beena part of his world.

-Yes. -So this ideathat he's a racist-- I can say,

from my experience with him,that's not been the case.

The fact that he uses and speaks

in terms of dog whistlesand things like that is...

When I talk to him, I say,"Stop it. Don't do that.

"Because what you're doing isyou're creating a narrative

"about yourself and the partymore broadly that just doesn't

-reflect who we are." -Now, areyou saying to him...?

Are you saying, "Don't do that,"

or are you saying,"Don't be that."?

-'Cause isn't that moreimportant? -Both. Both.

No, both. Don't do that, anddon't give off the impression

that that's who you are,because a lot of us know

that's not who you are.

To play... (mumbles)

I think it's angel's advocatein this case-- you have...

-(laughter)-You are saying this.

You're not the first person.You've said this.

Ben Carson said this to me,Reince Priebus said this to me.

There are people...Many people have gone,

-"I walked into a roomwith Donald Trump..." -Yeah.

"...and then I walked out going,'That is not the same guy.'"

However, there are peoplewho have worked...

The guy who wrote The Art of the Deal with him. -Sure.

There are people who have workedwith him at his golf courses,

whether it's in Scotland,whether it's at The Mar-a-Lago.

There are people who have gone,"I know this man."

And have a different experience.

-"I have a different experiencewith him." -Yeah.

-And now, that's humans, that'speople. -All right, exactly.

-Right? That is people.-Right.

-We can agree on something.-We agree on that, yeah.

People will say different thingsabout me that know me.

-Don't... We... That's...-Right, and Lord knows

what they sayabout me, so I get it.

-(laughter)-I totally understand that.

But I do notice thisin the conversation.

And that is, it seemsevery day, increasing,

there is not room for nuancein our conversations,

-especially in America.-Ah.

-There's not room for nuance.-Ah, yes. Yes.

You are either a bad person,you're a good person.

-You're either racistor you're not. -Correct.

-You're either pro-cop, oryou're pro-black. -Absolutely.

There is no nuance in...

There's no English wordfor nuance.

-I think that's part of theproblem, right? -That's, well...

-(laughter)-But here,

you put your finger, I think,

on an essentiallyimportant point,

and that is, our politics--just taking an example

of our politics.

We won't even talk aboutculturally, economically,

and otherwise.

Just in our politics,look at what we've done,

look at how we talkabout each other,

look at how we dialogue.

Just go back 25, 30 years,

where you still haveRepublicans and Democrats,

conservatives and liberals,

and yet the countrybalanced its budget.

The country, uh, you know,expanded Medicare and Medicaid.

The country did big things,

because the political systemunderstood the nuance.

And it... and it treatedthe nuance in a way...

with respect,but as part of the process.

-Yes.-Now we've taken it out.

We've got extreme corners,you know?

I don't like you and your ideasbecause you're black,

or you're a cop,or you're a conservative,

or you're a progressive.

I remember when I met witha candidate when I was chairman.

I was going, uh,around the country

and I was visiting candidatesand talk...

I asked this one candidate,"So, why are you running

for the Senate?" And he waslike, "I want to go and I want

to do these things," he wentthrough his little checklist.

Great. How you gonna do that?

Because at that time,

Harry Reid is the majorityleader of the Senate.

-Yeah. -So how are yougonna get that done?

"Oh, well, I'm not going to theSenate to work with Democrats."

Then what the hellare you going to the Senate for?

Because that's how you'regonna get something done.

-(applause, cheering)-That's the mindset...

-I agree. -That's the mindsetthat's taken over the party.

Needless to say, we didn't fundthat candidate in that cycle.

Because that'snot what I believed...

public service andresponsibility was about.

The end of the day, whenyou take the oath of office,

you stop being a Republican,you stop being a conservative,

-you stop being a liberaland a Democrat. -Yes.

You're about serviceto the public.

-(applause)-Now, let's, um...

let's go back to yourcandidates, the campaign,

where it's headed,what this all means.

The question a lot of peopleseem to be asking is,

does Donald Trumpactually want to be president?

-Yeah. Yeah. -People knowthat he wants to win

-the presidency...-The presidency. Right.

-Well, that's half the fun,right? -But does he actually...

does he actually wantto be president?

Because whatI'm hearing from you

is what I'm hearingfrom everyone.

In a room he's different,but on TV, it's "TV Donald."

-Yeah.-He... the cameras hypnotize him

and he puts on an actand he becomes...

So once he winsthe "reality show,"

-Right.-what happens then?

Well, hopefully, he governs.

Uh, but let'sjust put it in context,

'cause I think that'sanother good question.

I would submit that inthe beginning of this process,

uh, the expectationthat Donald Trump had

when he... the dayhe walked down that escalator...

one percent.

He was at one percentin the national polls.

One percent. His expectationwas that this ride,

okay, we'll do it,we'll have some fun,

we'll see what we can do,you know, we'll frame a message

-and see what happens.-Yeah.

Six weeks later,when he's at 15%,

or 20%, that beganto change in his mind

that this becamea real possibility

that something can happen here.

And I don't believefor quite some time...

There was also oneof those "pinch me" moments

-that, really,this is gonna happen. -Yes.

But what... what was interestingin the connection,

and sort ofwatching it from afar,

was how people identifiedwith him.

Sort of the realness,the brashness,

the ugliness,the nastiness of his comments

was really a reflection of us in many respects.

-Which is true.-All right?

So as much as people wantto jump all in his ish,

the reality of it is,he reflects us in so many ways,

just as Bernie Sandersreflects us in so many ways.

Not just ourhopes and expectations

about how we like to live ourlives and take care of people,

but also in terms ofwhere our politics--

how we look at the economy, howwe deal with these big problems.

So, the guy who's sitting on hiscouch looking at Donald Trump,

when Donald Trump says--in answer to the question

"what about sanctuary cities?"--

he's like, "Oh, we're nothaving any of that."

The guy sitting on his couchgo, "Finally, someone

is thinking what I'm thinkingand feeling what I'm feeling."

Because that's what they thinkand feel about sanctuary cities.

And whatever the issue is,he's found a way

to tap into that vein,for good, bad,

-or whatever. -Should we notexpect the people in power

and our leadersto be able to exist

beyond feelingwhat we are feeling

-Yes. - ...and acting likewe are acting?

Isn't that why we're electingyou to lead

-on behalf of the people?-Right. You would think that.

But that... (chuckles)You would think...

But ask yourselves what have ourelected officials done for us?

-What have they done?-That's part of the problem.

They don't even... I mean,I'm glad he feels something.

-Because the rest of them feelnothing. -Yeah, that's true.

That is true.Before I let you go--

and this is...I'm not trying to trap you,

-I'm not trying to trick you.-Okay.

I'm just trying to geta conversation started here.

-All right.-So, we're going on one side...

Let's say I-I give youa concession, let's say

we say okay, fine-- there is aDonald Trump people don't know.

There is a Donald Trump whois good, there's a Donald Trump

who has helped minorities,whether it be in New York

-or wherever it is.-Right.

Uh, let's say there isgood in Donald Trump

that is hard to seewhen you look at him.

Let... But let's saythere is good.

I ask you this, I ask you this:on the flip side, with Hillary,

Republicans come outand say the devil,

the liar, the worst,the murderer, lock her up,

no right to be president.

And everyone discountsevery single year

and every single achievementand everything

that she has worked towards--apart from whether or not

you believe she should have the presidency,

do you believethat she's qualified?

-And I'm not trying to trickyou. -Absolutely. No, I won't

even... No, it's not tr...it's not a trick question.

Absolutely, she is. Absolutely,she's qualified. And...

(cheering, applause)

and I'll tell you...I'll take it one step further,

because, you know, it...the fact of the matter is--

and I-and I remember atthe beginning of this campaign,

18, 24 months ago--I-I gave a speech

that was talking to a groupof Republicans and I said,

"If we go into this cycle"--

and this, again,18, 24 months ago--

"thinking that we're gonnaprosecute Hillary Clinton

"on the facts of 1992 and 1996,

you will have your headhanded to you."

Because in that time

she has grown beyond first lady.

She's secretary of state,regardless of what you think

about her service, it's anaccomplishment that she's made.

She's learned in that capacityand has done the job.

She's been a United Statessenator in which, in fact,

she worked across the aislewith Republicans.

So you need to be awareof the opponent

standing in front of you.

It is not the first lady whoentered the office in 1993.

It is a very different person.And so you've got to be prepared

to prosecute that case,because on the principles

and the ideas and the policy,I think we can make a case.

We will try to make a case.We should try to make the case.

-Because, yes... -But if we'regonna go down this, you know,

Whitewater, white raft,whatever road...

it's not...you're gonna lose credibility

with the American people.And I only cite one example:

there are a lot of things aboutBenghazi that are troubling

and disturbing and concerning,but because of the way

we came out of the gatein that conversation

it became a political discussionas opposed about a process

of how, what, why... went wrong.

And you lost that argumentbefore you even got to make it,

and that's the mistake I hope wedon't make from the Democrat...

end of the Democratic conventionnext week to November.

Thank you so much, my friend.

-Thank you.-(applause)

I really appreciate it.

Michael Steele, my friend.We'll be right back.

-Thank you.-♪ -(cheering, applause)