It has been several years since Flash Report’s Jon Fleischman interviewed Arnold Steinberg, a long-time friend and an admirer of FR and who has written for us, especially in our earlier years. We interview him on the publication of his new book: Whiplash! From JFK to Donald Trump A Political Odyssey (Jameson Books, 640 pages, $39.95).
FR: We left off talking about race. Hillsdale College president Larry Arrn has written that you “think about ends as much as means [and] know the purposes for which [your] craft is intended.” When Larry was in California, he (and later Ward Connerly) was the chairman [of what would become the successful campaign you created] of Proposition 209. But isn’t the state and local government violating the spirit if not the letter of this constitutional amendment that supposedly prohibited racial and gender preferences in government employment, education and contracting?
AS: Yes, in the progressive/leftist obsession with divisive multiculturalism, the Democrats thrive on racial spoils. Republicans stupidly confuse benign affirmative action, which is mainly outreach and can be reasonable, with noxious preferences, which I consider immoral and, per 209, illegal here. Schools, including private schools, don’t educate, Thomas Sowell-style, about how a truly free market liberates us from racial prejudice. Read Richard Rothstein’s new book on how the government, not the private sector, enabled and encouraged racial bias, and even restrictive covenants, in housing, even here in Southern California.
FR: Thinking about race, some suggest that the Republican party’s declining fortunes in California are largely about demographics…
AS: Pete Wilson partly gets a bum rap on using Proposition 187 in 1994, but his television spot , if not too hard, aired too long. And once elected, he did not recalibrate in some way. Also Republicans have failed to recruit enough outstanding candidates who happen to be Latino. We’re not talking quotas, but marketing. The demographics were increasingly predictable, yet the party did not adjust. And Republicans did not get credit for helping Latino students with Proposition 227 in 1998 to end bilingual education. Dan Lungren, our candidate for governor, even opposed it. We for awhile replaced bilingual with English immersion, but now 227 is being subverted. I find racial classifications inherently repugnant and fought successfully against them with Proposition 209. But with the Republican party, we’re not talking window dressing but messaging and messengers.
FR: Is the party in California moribund?
AS: The incest between the universities, foundations, media, and unions, especially government unions, is even worse here than nationally, and the back-slapping by Democrats who serve not just in Sacramento, but as county supervisors, city council members, and so forth is dispositive. And the corporate prostitutes continue to fund the Democrats, just as they funded [former assembly speaker] Willie Brown a generation ago. We can hope that the Democrats in some primaries elect Bernie Sanders extremists and cause a reaction back toward Republicans. In the perfect storm, many Democratic candidates in a primary might result in the primary election of their weakest candidate for November. On the macro-picture, we may need California to hit bottom, with cities and counties cutting back on essential services to fund pensions, or even going broke, to enable a reaction. Sort of an Atlas Shrugged moment, far more ominous than what precipitated the Gray Davis recall.
FR: You wrote recently that we would have been better off without the recall of Gray Davis and the election of an “Atlas” of sorts, Arnold Schwrzenegger. Why?
AS: When I met with Schwarzenegger at his home well before his candidacy, he impressed me with his unpretentious affability. But despite his praise of Milton Friedman, Schwarzenegger, before he ran for governor, sponsored an unfunded half-billion dollar “after-school” entitlement, a ballot measure demonstrating both his expedience and imprudence. In the recall, he was elected by a crisis-conscious electorate with a mandate for structural reform, and he instead punted, encouraged by his liberal wife. She is gone from the marriage, but his hangover of profligacy with taxpayer money is with us. If Grey had continued in office, there would have been fiscal reckoning, good for California, and then a Republican governor the next scheduled election.
FR: Let’s talk more about California. How do we turn the state around?
AS: We need another Meg Whitman.
FR: Sarcasm, to be sure. Meg Whitman on paper was the perfect candidate. A high achieving woman CEO, self-funding billionaire, a successful track record not at a tobacco corporation, insurance company or polluter, but in a New Age innovative Silicon Valley tech company, highly thought of, E-Bay. I would have bet the ranch that she would have defeated a has-been Jerry Brown’s preposterous come-back. Surely younger voters could identify with a high-tech woman. But we had a candidate who could not adapt from her corporate culture to retail politics. However, we do need someone at the top of the ticket who looks good, not just on paper, but in the flesh and who deals before the campaign, with baggage, like the illegal alien housekeeper who Meg abruptly fired. With the legislative districts we have, we can only make marginal gains. We need a winner for governor or senator to help down-races.
FR: What about California? Term limits? Open primary?
AS: I was always skeptical of term limits. Now we see that it empowers the permanent legislative staff and the bureaucrats, and the lobbyists. The politicians play musical chairs for different offices and their chief of staff succeeds the elected official. Our side should have allied with “good government” types to oppose an open-primary that can make November into a one-party election. Until we can change this, per [former Republican state chairman] Ron Nehring’s proposed ballot measure, our backup, in the current situation, is trying to elect Republicans for non-partisan office and groom them for a more favorable partisan climate, or give them an independent identity where people get used to vote for them without the Republican label. We also have to re-think old alliances.
AS: I worked closely with law enforcement and I really get the tough job officers have. But the Dems buy them off with salary, perks and pensions, and we’ve strayed far from the conservative vision of an ordered society. When officers become tax collectors for New York’s leftist mayor Bill de Blassio, and eight cops there chokehold a guy selling some cigarettes, and he dies in the process, when a simple citation should have been issued, and here in California they enforce $500 citations for traffic offenses to raise revenue for local government, they are losing the respect they need and should deserve, to do their real job. Sorry to offend my friends but I don’t find much difference between the teachers unions and the police unions and the prison guard unions, they all resist change and elect politicians to control both sides of the bargaining table. Republicans have their back, but the situation is not always mutual.
FR: Larry Elder, the outspoken Talk Radio host, who you talked out of running for statewide office, says you “play to win.” Was Larry too principled to run, and are campaigns win-at-any-cost?
AS: Not too principled to run, too principled to win. And it’s the other side that wins at any cost. I was depressed after the Dems used dirty tricks against Bruce Herschensohn in the 1992 election. At that point I had known Bruce for 20 years from our work together in Washington. It didn’t help that Bruce’s campaign was underfunded, thus unable to fully implement [his campaign manager] Ken Khachigian’s strategy, and that George H.W. Bush pulled out of California. But Bruce has so much integrity and class, and we ended up with Barbara Boxer, a shrill ideologue. She finally left and we have Kamala Harris. Even Feinstein expressed hope that President Trump would, in some measure, succeed and was was booed by her fellow Democrats.
FR: Will Republicans be hurt more here if Trump pursues ending the personal tax deduction for state and local taxes, SALT, since many voters here, including Republicans, would really be hurt?
AS: I remember when SALT stood for strategic arms and limitation treaty with the Soviet Union. From a policy standpoint, we should move toward lower taxes or a flat tax, without these and other deductions (which reward high-tax states like California. With a lower tax rate, eliminating the SALT deductions won’t be as bad but will still hurt. The proper way would be a 10 year phase out, 90% of the deductions the first year, 80% the second year, and so forth, because people made plans based on these deductions. It’s shocking that Republicans would not unite behind tax reform earlier.
FR: Will people unite behind Trump, at least in a foreign policy crisis, like Korea?
AS: Credibility is important on small matters, so that credibility projects to large matters, that if, say, Kim and his gang are rushing into shelters, and we intercept their communications and foresee their imminent attack, and we then attack pre-emptively, and a couple of hours later the president addresses the nation, people should believe him! I was at the DMZ twelve years ago with a group of fourteen new generals. Two are now four star, Marine Corps commandant Bob Neller and Vince Brooks, who commands all forces in Korea. Vince is no shrinking violet. But unless there is some magical way to stage a coup against Kim and simultaneously disable their command and control, the staggering casualties may horrify Americans. I like the not entirely tongue-in-cheek modest proposal of somehow opening up the Internet and dropping tablets and I-phones, but they would probably shoot anyone who picks one up. The Internet is the enemy of totalitarianism. But it would take time to change In North Korea. We don’t have time. The reality is that Trump has been dealt a bad hand by Obama on lots of stuff. Obama obstructed a planned, then short-term plausible Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear capability. Iran’s negotiator on Iran was the same social worker, Wendy Sherman that Clinton used for Korea. The reality is that Americans are tired of no-win wars and are pointed inward, particularly toward economic growth and jobs.
FR: The much older and legendary Clif White, who had masterminded the nomination of Barry Goldwater, mentored you. In turn, Ron Robinson, president of Young America’s Foundation observed you recruited and mentored may YAFers who were key in the Reagan administration. Are we now preparing a new generation, despite or cause of Trump, and what about California?
AS: In YAF I did motivate and train many of my peers who a dozen years later populated key policy positions for Ronald Reagan. Also, in the Buckley campaign, where Ron Robinson was first active, I recruited the somewhat older Arthur Finkelstein as a volunteer and the slightly younger Tony Dolan as my assistant, and Kate Walsh as his assistant and later the Buckley Senate office receptionist. Clif then gave Arthur his break. Arthur passed away last month. Tony become President Reagan’s chief speechwriter. Kate Walsh became the great pundit Kate O’Bierne. But through YAF and the Edison Fund, now the Fund for American Studies, I was humbled by the talent I saw and in some way helped develop. Today we have so many mentoring outlets, for example, the Leadership Institute run by my old friend who I admire so much, Morton Blackwell. The Trump Administration is credentialing some young conservatives, but in California we don’t have the executive branch. But we continue to make progress in various think-tanks here – Reason, The Claremont Institute, Pacific Research Institute, and many others, as well as David Horowitz’ operation, Breitbart, and so forth But we’ve had major declines in relative Republican strength, not just in Los Angeles County, but in Orange and San Diego Counties. In California we need 501c3 vehicles to fund media ads and other ways to shift public opinion, especially in non-election years, toward being more receptive to ideas associated with the Republican party. School choice is one such example.
FR: How different is it here from when you first started?
AS: I was just out of high school. I can remember when Ronald Reagan’s campaign headquarters in his 1966 campaign for governor was around Wilshire and Vermont, that is, a couple of miles west of downtown Los Angeles. And that made sense. The campaign had seven regional directors, just for Los Angeles County. And we had Republicans representing congressional districts in that county. Now, that county board of supervisors is one independent and four liberal or leftist Democrats. And the Los Angeles City Council is among the most leftist in the nation.
FR: Your book’s last chapter refers to the “Trump-Pence era.” Pence?
AS: The reality is that if the president spoke only on teleprompter these last eight months, he would be at least ten points higher in the polls. I’ve long believed the vice president will assume a greater role on personnel, and then policy. The more the Dems try to take Trump out, the greater the focus on Mike Pence. I think he will emerge, sooner than later, with great influence. He is seen increasingly as thoughtful and deliberative. And prudence is not simply a virtue urged by [former Reagan Secretary of Education] Bill Bennett, but a characteristic of conservatism.
FR: The day before the election, you predicted Trump’s victory. Why?
AS: The national polls showing Hillary’s winning the popular vote by a couple of points were pretty accurate. But in some key states the sampling was in the rear view mirror (relying on turnout models closer to what happened in the last election than what might happen this time, or not probing adequately, for example, for the Green Party’s Jill Stein, whose stronger-than expected Michigan showing likely gave the state to Trump. The recent nonsense about Russia manipulating Facebook or whatever in those key states? Why did Hillary neglect those states? But I can tell you this – the Trump high command was making plans for after the election, and it wasn’t for a transition. Looking back, perhaps all the non-conservative Trump critics should ask what kind of president Hillary Clinton would have been, when she had the backing of the incumbent, the unions, the universities, the foundations, the media, and she outspent her mistake-prone challenger by 3-to-1, and still managed to lose, including some safe states she downplayed. If you judge a possible president by the campaign that he (or she) waged, she flunks.
FR: Last week Roger Stone, a confidante of Donald Trump for thirty five years, and who has known you for even longer, wrote that you provided some advice for the Trump people. https://stonecoldtruth.com/roger-stone-reviews-whiplash/
AS: According to Donald Trump, Jeff Sessions came into the campaign too early, Paul Manafort too much in the middle, and Steve Bannon too late, to have any effect. Since I was not in the campaign, what would that mean?