Hewitt and His "Gotcha' Questions

Radio talk show host and moderator of the next GOP/CNN debate, Hugh Hewitt, is the latest Republican pundit—and he is a pundit, not a “journalist”—to try to trip up his party’s frontrunner, Donald Trump.

While on Hewitt’s program on Thursday, September 3, the host—who Trump now characterizes as a “third rate radio announcer”—made the following remarks to his guest:

“I’m looking for the next commander in chief to know who Hassan Nasrallah is, and Zawahiri, and al-Julani, and al-Baghdadi.  Do you know the players without a scorecard yet, Donald Trump?”

As anyone who has read my expose of Trump’s history of supporting Democratic politicians and their causes knows well, I am not a Trump-phile.  But neither do I suffer from the Trump-phobia that has obviously seized his detractors, particularly his neoconservative Republican nemeses among politicians and the media punditry class alike.

Perhaps this explains why I can differentiate the reality of what transpired here from the spin that Hewitt and his defenders from The New York Times to Hewitt’s employer, Salem Communications, are laboring feverishly to put on this episode.

To be blunt: Trump is right and Hewitt is wrong: The latter did indeed blast the former with “gotcha’ questions.”

First, we must be truthful: Hewitt is as “establishmentarian,” as conventional, a Republican as John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Mitt Romney, the Bushes, etc.

Hewitt has been an enthusiastic, indeed, an ecstatic, cheerleader for George W. Bush’s wars to rid the world of “Islamists” by “democratizing” the Middle East—regardless of the incalculable costs in treasure and blood that such military-led crusades continue to exact for tens and tens of thousands of human beings, both here and abroad.

The “war on Terror”—the war on an abstraction—can only be a war without end.  War is the crisis par excellence, and since a war on an abstraction promises to be a war in perpetuity, this “war” is a dream come true for proponents of Gargantuan Government everywhere.

The Iraq war proved to be a disaster of catastrophic proportions. Yet Hewitt has failed to express any regret, not just for having supported it, but for supporting it as zealously as he has.

So, it stands to reason that Hewitt, being the John McCain of media talking heads, aches just as badly for Trump’s downfall as McCain himself.

Second, to those who (incredulously) object that this first point is just speculation on my part, let’s rewind just a couple of months to what Hewitt himself was saying before Trump, astonishingly, began providing him with remarkably generous supplies of access.

While on Meet the Press, Hewitt was direct. When asked whether he thought that Trump had “the temperament” to be president, Hewitt replied: “No, no he doesn’t.”

Though he initially blamed both the moderators of the Fox/GOP debate and the candidates for having neglected discussion of important issues, Hewitt immediately proceeded to single out Trump for having “stepped on a lot of important stories.”

When on Sean Hannity’s television show, Sean asked Hewitt: “Hugh, as I know, you’ve been a bit of a critic of Donald Trump.” Without hesitation, Hewitt conceded the point: “Yeah.” He then immediately followed up by saying that of all the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates, both of the present and of yesteryear, Trump is “the only one about whom it is likely a Broadway musical will be made.”

Trump, Hewitt declared, “is vastly entertaining.”

However, his tremendous support among Republican voters, Hewitt assured Hannity and his viewers, “won’t last.”

On another appearance of Meet the Press, Hewitt made the same “prediction” to Chuck Todd. When the host asked him if he wasn’t just “wishing” Trump’s vast support “away,” Hewitt, unsurprisingly, insisted that he was not.

Of course, anyone who’s in the least familiar with the media generally, and media coverage of politics specifically, knows all too well that when partisans in the media feign objectivity by either “describing” or “predicting” events, they are doing their best to determine the outcomes that they desire.

Hewitt, in other words, was as uninterested in expediting Trump’s implosion by way of his remarks as Charles Krauthammer was when he told audiences moments after the first Republican debate that Trump’s performance that evening spelled his imminent demise.

Hewitt is no different from any other neoconservative Republican in wanting Trump around just long enough to boost the ratings of their television and radio programs.  His question was indeed a “gotcha” question.

Third, though Hewitt is adamant that he wasn’t trying to trap Trump, it certainly says something that figures as politically, professionally, and ideologically disparate as Rand Paul and CNN’s Senior Political Analyst, David Gergen, certainly believed he was.

Even more telling, Rand Paul has by now established that he is nothing if not an erstwhile critic of Trump.  Yet while speaking with Sirius XM, Paul asserted: “I also do think that running through a list of every different Arabic name and asking somebody to respond to them is maybe a little bit of a game of ‘gotcha.’”

Candidates should certainly know the difference between Hamas and Hezbolla, Shiites and Sunnis, etc.  But as for throwing out names of specific Arabic terrorist figures—not heads of state, mind you, but more obscure names of ever changing terrorist organizations—Paul concluded that “some interviewers like to play this game.”

David Gergen told Anderson Cooper: “…I must say, traditionally…that when reporters have asked candidates, you know, who’s the head of this African government or that African government, what’s the difference between Tajikistan and Pakistan…those are regarded as ‘gotcha’ questions.” This is “an old trick,” Gergen said, “and those are ‘gotcha’ questions.”

Gergen added that Hewitt’s “roll call…of terrorist leaders in the Middle East” is not “the standard.” Most “foreign policy experts” probably “don’t know all those names.”

Trump’s inability to speak to Hewitt’s “roll call” of Middle Eastern terrorists did not, and will not, diminish the Republican frontrunner in the least.

However, like Megyn Kelly, another GOP hired gun who attempted to undermine Trump with a tabloid-esque question at the debate at which she was supposed to be a moderator but wound up shooting herself in the foot, Hewitt does threaten to diminish himself by way of such transparently dirty tactics.

Trump is a rock star now, it’s a presidential election cycle, and because she was determined to get personal with him, Megyn Kelly, Fox’s “It Kid,” is now out in the cold, indefinitely denied passage on the Trump train.

Hewitt may very well find himself there as well.