The McLaughlin Group

Issues: New Hampshire Primary / U.S.-Russia Relations / Syrian Civil War / Zika Virus

John McLaughlin, Host
Pat Buchanan, Author & Columnist
Eleanor Clift, The Daily Beast
Tom Rogan, National Review/Opportunity Lives
Ryan Grim, The Huffington Post

Taped: Friday, February 5, 2016
Broadcast: Weekend of February 5-7, 2016

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ANNOUNCER: From Washington, THE MCLAUGHLIN GROUP, the American original. For over three decades, the sharpest minds, best sources, hardest talk.

JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, HOST: Issue One: Next Stop, New Hampshire.



MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton took the first victories of the 2016 presidential election, winning the respective Republican and Democratic caucuses in Iowa this week.

But February is a cruel master to presidential candidates. So, foregoing sleep, the campaigns jetted off to New Hampshire, to mobilize supporters for Tuesday’s primary. But while analysts say Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the likely victors come Tuesday, others also have much at stake, notably, Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.

If Bernie Sanders defeats Mrs. Clinton by a significant margin, her campaign will lose the big mo, political momentum. And if Jeb Bush fails to score a respectable result, he will face calls to suspend his campaign and endorse Senator Marco Rubio.

HILLARY CLINTON (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: If you’ve got something to say, say it, directly.

If I’m so fortunate to be the nominee, first person I will call to talk to about where we go and how we get it done will be Senator Sanders.



MCLAUGHLIN: Who has the most to gain and the most to lose from New Hampshire? Pat Buchanan?

PAT BUCHANAN, AUTHOR & COLUMNIST: I would say Marco Rubio has the most to gain, John. He came out of Iowa, running third. But he got far more of a bump than Cruz did by winning it, and he is, as of now, he is moving closer and closer to Trump, maybe 10 points behind.

So, if he won New Hampshire -- I don’t think he’s going to, but if he did, it would suddenly become the all-around favorite of the establishment and Washington. And he would be on his way to -- into the finals for the Republican nomination.

Trump I think has the most to lose, if he loses New Hampshire. But my guess is, John, Trump is going to win New Hampshire and then it’s going to move on down to South Carolina, and for a while, we’re going to have a three-way race.

What’s going to happen, I think, maybe Bush will go to South Carolina because of all his money, but I think we’re going to have a lot of governors who are -- who don’t survive New Hampshire. A lot of folks are going to be leaving when --


BUCHANAN: -- next we meet.


I think Trump and Cruz have the most to lose because they’re the now the frontrunners, and Cruz has to show that his Iowa win was not just a one-off, that he has some backing. Problem with Cruz is that a lot of people don’t like him and that’s beginning to I think weigh his candidacy down.

And I think Rubio clearly has the most to gain, because he does seem like the most likely Republican nominee to actually gain some support from the general public. He’s a very attractive guy. He’s also a very untested, inexperienced guy.

And I thought Chris Christie’s comments, calling him "the boy in the bubble", because all his events are very scripted, trying to make him look presidential. Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race, took three minutes and couldn’t come up with a single accomplishment that Rubio had had in the U.S. Senate, and his campaign then released a list of his accomplishments, which were very weak, and have been picked apart.

So, he’s going to get his turn in the barrel. I think he could win New Hampshire actually.

On the Democratic side, I think Hillary and Bernie are kind of -- they’re tied. I think it’s an energetic debate. I think their appearance together the other night is keeping a lot of interest in the race.

I think Hillary Clinton is still the likely nominee. She’s got to keep her cool and not attack Sanders too much because she really needs his supporters in November.


TOM ROGAN, NATIONAL REVIEW/OPPORTUNITY LIVES: Yes, look, I think Marco Rubio clearly had that shocker in Iowa and it’s built up his momentum. I think more importantly, you see that consolidation from people like -- supporters for Jeb Bush, Kasich, Christie, moving towards Rubio.

And I suspect that Pat is right, that if in New Hampshire, Marco Rubio does well. and I think he’s expected to do well, I think there’s an outside chance he could even pull up a win there because of that big mo, momentum.

I think you’re going to see Jeb, Christie, Kasich -- you know, Kasich is kind of irrelevant -- but that drop off and that vote moving to Rubio.

And I would say one disagreement with Pat, though -- as much as Pat would say it’s the Washington candidate -- if you put those votes together, if the Christie, Bush bloc, Kasich, alongside Rubio, you very quickly get a sizable figure for Marco Rubio that I think puts him at the front of the race.

MCLAUGHLIN: Will the revelations about the Cruz campaign’s Iowa blunt his momentum in New Hampshire? Is Trump justified in saying that Cruz stole the Iowa election?

I ask you, Ryan Grim.

RYAN GRIM, THE HUFFINGTON POST: No, he’s not justified in saying that.

But what’s so remarkable about Donald Trump is his ability with just a few tweets to just create the next 12 hours of what the campaign cycle is going to be all about. The second that I saw him do a little Twitter storm, attacking Ted Cruz for stealing the election, you knew that that was going to be the thing that the cable networks are going to focus on, that the candidates are going to start getting asked about on the ground.

And so, it does throw Ted Cruz’s game off. And his entire strategy this whole time has been to kind of wait out everybody else, and be one of the last two standing. So, he’d be the anti-establishment guy running up against a Marco Rubio, or whoever the establishment decides to put up. So, he has a ton to lose here, if Donald Trump sticks around and it becomes a Donald Trump versus whoever they put up there.

MCLAUGHLIN: Is it make or break time for Jeb Bush?

GRIM: Yes, he’s broken. So, that -- you know, he was broken several months ago. He has $100 million to carry him forward, but he’s broken.

CLIFT: Yes, the one --

BUCHANAN: John, let me talk about the -- there’s something very major going on in this country, that look, we were talking -- I mean, Trump got 5,000 people at Milford, New Hampshire. These mammoth crowds he’s got are incredible. And Cruz is part of this sort of revolution taking place against the capital (INAUDIBLE) and Bernie is a revolution against the Democratic establishment.

If both of these campaigns, or these campaigns fail, and you wind up with a Rubio versus Hillary, you got a whole heft of America, wholly, which had all its enthusiasm up, wholly alienated. I don’t know how you govern --

CLIFT: You can speak for the Republican side, but the Democratic side does not have to end up that way. First of all, they’re not angry at the Democratic establishment. They’re angry at the political system as a whole, as -- more as a whole.

BUCHANAN: They’re angry at Hillary’s contributors.

CLIFT: And I think in the end, if Sanders doesn’t get the nomination -- and I don’t expect that he will -- he’s going to be out there telling his people to go with Hillary, and whoever the Republican nominee is going to get those people engineered – energized, and engineered.



BUCHANAN: Yes, I don’t see any --


CLIFT: They’re not going to want a Republican government.

BUCHANAN: I don’t know how -- I don’t see any great enthusiasts that Cruz has got a lot. I agree.


BUCHANAN: And Trump has -- I mean, it’s just enormous, these crowds. But the other Republicans are just, excuse me, nobody -- have little crowds watching those debates, if it weren’t for those guys.

CLIFT: Well --

MCLAUGHLIN: Exit question: who will New Hampshire’s primaries? Name the first place winner on each side, please?

BUCHANAN: Well, I missed Iowa on both. So, I’m going to go with Trump in New Hampshire, and Bernie with a good margin.

CLIFT: Sanders in New Hampshire, though Hillary is going to close that margin somewhat. And Trump -- but I would not be surprised if Rubio won.

ROGAN: I’m just, to roll the dice out there, and hopefully on "The Daily Show", like our estimable colleague, Clarence. I’m going to say Rubio and Sanders.

MCLAUGHLIN: What’s this about "The Daily Show"?

ROGAN: Clarence is featured because he got the correct predictions.

MCLAUGHLIN: Oh, I see. Good.

GRIM: I think Rubio does surge for a shocking win and I think Hillary will actually surge, too.

BUCHANAN: You think she’s going to win?

GRIM: I think she might take him out in New Hampshire.

BUCHANAN: That’s bye-bye Bernie, if that happens.

MCLAUGHLIN: The answer is very simple, it’s Trump and Sanders.

BUCHANAN: That’s what I told you, John. You picked up right on it, very good.

MCLAUGHLIN: I picked it up right. Well, there it was in front of me, laying there, coughing up blood.

Issue Two: Message in a Tank.


GENERAL JENS STOLTENBERG: It would be a timely and significant contribution to NATO’s deterrence and collective defense. This proposal is a vivid demonstration of the strength of our transatlantic bond.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): President Obama took charge of the Oval Office seven years ago. He promised a positive reset in relations with Russia. But with the radioactive poisoning of a British spy in London, the downing of passenger jets over Europe, and the aggressive advances of Russian forces from Ukraine to Syria, President Putin of Russia has rebuked Mr. Obama.

So, this week, Commander-in-Chief Obama announced a quadrupling of U.S. military spending in Europe, $2.9 billion. This new money will be spent deploying U.S. military forces into NATO member states, including Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.


MCLAUGHLIN: Is this a prudent or a provocative move by President Obama? Patrick Buchanan?

BUCHANAN: John, the question is, who started Cold War II? And I think we did. Soviets, they gave up all of Eastern Europe, the whole thing came apart. They want to be friends and allies of the United States. So, we move NATO right into the Baltic republics, three of which these Baltic republics were part of the Soviet Union. Putin is reacting to that. He’s got a tremendous military – or, significant military buildup, and now, we’re reacting to that.

John, my view is, I mean, I am not against frankly a next president trying a real reset that respects Russian national interests, they respect ours. And we get away from this face-off for heaven’s sakes. Any kind of war between the United States and Russia over Estonia would be the end of Estonia, and a disaster that every great president of the Cold War avoided.

CLIFT: Well, first of all, the expansion of NATO under Bill Clinton, and was approved of by his successors, including Republican President George W. Bush. So, this is not a policy that Barack Obama --


CLIFT: Yes, it’s not --

BUCHANAN: I didn’t say it was Obama.

CLIFT: No, no, but when Obama took office, he dealt very well with Putin’s predecessor, Mr. Medvedev, and we had a few good years. And then, Putin came in there, flexing his muscles.

So, you think Obama should just sit back and say, OK, that’s fine with us. He’s getting a lot of requests from the Europeans. The Baltic nations are really nervous about all of the little needling by Putin, who’s trying to compensate for --


BUCHANAN: And the Germans are going to be sending a lot of troops in there, too.

CLIFT: I don’t think we want German beefing up their military.

BUCHANAN: So, we do it ourselves?

CLIFT: Yes, we have strategic interests there.

BUCHANAN: In Estonia?


CLIFT: In that whole area, Estonia is a NATO -- is a member of NATO.

BUCHANAN: When did we have strategic interest in Estonia? I used to write captive nations resolutions pleading for, let these little countries go, one of these days. I never believe it would happen --

ROGAN: All right. Let me get in here.


ROGAN: So, here’s a way to -- Pat is absolutely right that the European Union has done far too little. I say, pull out the bases from Germany, put them into Poland. It would be more affordable, but it would also send a signal that the United States backs up allies who are willing to carry some of the weight of international security. The German spend far too little on defense.

At the same turn, now, I would fundamentally disagree with Pat. I think the nature of the United States in terms of self-determination. Putin is pushing now because he senses he can push. He didn’t push it with George W. Bush because he senses he couldn’t.

But because of the United States’ dealings with Russia, and I would specifically point there to what happened in a deal with Assad with chemical weapons, which was a fake deal and everybody knows it was a fake deal, the credibility deficit is such that Putin keeps pushing the line.

How do you balance against having a war with the Russians? You challenge them on the financial front, but you also their front companies run by Russian intelligence in Europe, with covert action. Yes.

BUCHANAN: You’re talking economic sanctions? If Russia misbehaves, I agree 100 percent. But the idea that you’re going to find -- as for Assad, look, Russia is in there backing the legitimate government -- recognized government of Syria. We’re supporting the rebels, our enemies are ISIS, we got our allies are helping in some cases.


CLIFT: You’re conflating. You can still work with Putin in that area.

BUCHANAN: Sure. We work with him.

CLIFT: Yes, a little display of force in Europe where our European allies are demanding it, begging it? It’s a good idea.

MCLAUGHLIN: Let’s nail it down a little bit. What moves is President Obama taking to bolster Europe against Russia? You’re with me on that?

GRIM: He’s doing what Putin wants, because Putin is weak at home, and that’s why he’s pushing abroad at the moment. Whenever a strong guy is looking weak, then he needs to find some enemies that he can push around to try to rally his country behind him.

So, you know, putting all of these military resources up against him just allows him to prop himself up and say, look, see, here comes the United States.

BUCHANAN: The Russian people love him standing up to the United States --

ROGAN: Right. But don’t let him do it.

BUCHANAN: -- because they think we double-crossed them at the end of the Cold War.

CLIFT: Well, somewhere out there, Mitt Romney is doing a high five, because the Pentagon just put Russia as the top military threat to the U.S.

BUCHANAN: Are they going to attack the U.S. now?

CLIFT: So, Romney predict -- Romney predicted that in one of the debates.

BUCHANAN: Why are they a threat to the United States?

ROGAN: Because of they’re undercutting the balance of power politics in Europe, because they’re undercutting the democratic values, because they support the slaughter of innocent people, because they break our credibility with our allies.

BUCHANAN: You think democratic values, what do you think our Egyptian allies are doing right now?

ROGAN: And I agree -- OK, I agree with that. So, you can have -- there’s not a binary thing. You would go one or the other. You can have --


CLIFT: All we’re talking about is bolstering --

BUCHANAN: The key thing to avoid --


BUCHANAN: The three powers, three powers, the greatest vital interest is the United States and China and Russia avoid some kind of mess, like the Germans and the Brits got into twice in the last century, and finish themselves off.

ROGAN: Do you not think it’s more likely though if we give him that sense of opportunity, that that conflict comes?

BUCHANAN: He would build up -- he would be delighted with what we’re doing because he can match it three times over from his own base.

CLIFT: I don’t know about that.

MCLAUGHLIN: Question: What moves is President Obama taking in Asia to counter China?

BUCHANAN: He’s moving his boats around the South China Sea. Again, fooling around with these tiny islets that are claimed by, Paracel sand Spratlys, claimed by six countries, it’s not our quarrel.

CLIFT: He’s also working with China on climate change, big issues. Not, you know, this is not one policy fits every area.

You know, Pat, you’re generally an isolationist, I think, and --

BUCHANAN: No, I just don’t want to get into another war, after we ended the Cold War.

CLIFT: Neither do I, and I don’t think Obama is doing any -- he’s -- this is under the label of deterrence.

ROGAN: Seventy-five percent of that, a huge amount of international trade flows through those waters.


BUCHANAN: If the Chinese interfere with our trade, I agree with you. Use the Navy. But if they don’t, forget the islands.

ROGAN: But if those islands become fort, it gets to the point where they’re fortresses? It becomes much more difficult to interfere.


BUCHANAN: The Vietnamese are making a fortress out of some of them. The Philippines are. Taiwan just set one at the Taiping. They got one of the islands they claimed. Stay out of these quarrels.

MCLAUGHLIN: Issue Three: Kurds, Turks and Geneva.


MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Representatives of warring factions met in Geneva this week, hoping to end a Syrian civil war that has raged for nearly five years and taken 230,000 lives. But their hopes were in vain. With no progress, the talks were postponed to late February.

Here are the challenges: First, Turkey has launched a bloody crackdown on Kurdish activists, terrorists, and civilians. Second, Russia continues to support Syrian leader Bashar al Assad and his campaign against Syrian Sunnis, which encourages Sunnis to fight his regime. Third, Turkey and Sunni Arab nations like Saudi Arabia, continues to support Sunni rebel group. Fourth, ISIS is using this political chaos to retain its power across northern and eastern Syria.

Analysts fear that if peace continues to remain elusive, innocents across Syria, Turkey, and various refugee camps will endlessly suffer.


MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who are the Kurds? I ask you, Ryan Grim.

GRIM: The Kurds are people in northern Iran, you got northern Iraq, you’ve got parts of Syria and parts of Turkey. You know, they’re one ethnicity, but they are a lot of kind of political coalitions going on here, the Iraqi Kurds and the Syrian Kurds are not necessarily always on the same page. But when they’re up against an enemy like ISIS, they’re going to unite.

The big problem that we have over there right now is that you have two conflicts going on, at the same time, you get these 20th century conflicts, these old grievances that we can’t move past, combined now with the new 20 century ISIS grievance. So, you’ve got Turkey and the Kurds battling each other, like it’s still the 1980s or 1990s. You’ve got Russia and the United States squaring off in Syria.

And you’ve got Russia now propping up the government so effectively that the government is now pulling out of peace talks, because they see victory on the horizon. They think, why are we going to sit down and talk to these, quote/unquote, "moderate rebels", if we can just wipe them out in the next several months?

BUCHANAN: They could defeat the moderate rebels up in Aleppo. Just this week, the Syrians are making a real move. But the problem is, as you mentioned, the Turks see the Kurds, especially in southeastern Turkey, as the enemy. They hate the Kurds who are in Syria and the gains they’re making. But those Kurds are our allies in fighting ISIS.

As for the Saudis, they want to bring down Assad. Now, Assad is a dictator and a malevolent one, but at the same time, he and his army and Hezbollah and Iran and the Russians are the bulwarks against ISIS taking over Damascus.

And so, it’s a very complex situation, John, and everybody’s got their own enemies, and I think we ought to say, we want to defeat ISIS first.

CLIFT: Yes. Well, we’re saying that, but the president is keeping a kind of, his distance from -- he doesn’t want to get any more involved in the chaos that’s over there.

GRIM: It’s not even clear who Turkey hates more, ISIS or the Kurds.

ROGAN: Or Assad.


GRIM: They seem fine with Assad, and they seem fine with ISIS, up to a degree.

ROGAN: I would say the opportunity to the United States, though. I think we could have more influence with Erdogan, because the Turkish have before formed these essential compromises with different Kurdish groups.


ROGAN: Including, you know, the more hard line groups, PKK. But --

BUCHANAN: The Turks have told the Kurds, if you cut off the final supply lines into Syria, we’re coming in after you.

ROGAN: But if you could align the Turks to essentially -- this is the key -- to put pressure on Assad and the Russians and Iran to have a diplomatic compromise, where the Russians can retain their bases, Latakia and Tartus. But the problem at the moment is they’re pushing north, right onto Aleppo and slaughtering people.

CLIFT: Well --

ROGAN: They’re not just defending Damascus.

BUCHANAN: They want to win the war. Imagine that.

ROGAN: But the Sunnis are going to join ISIS, right?

CLIFT: Well --

MCLAUGHLIN: Question: Who is calling the shots in Syria today?


MCLAUGHLIN: Is it Putin or President Obama?

BUCHANAN: Russia has stepped as really -- has changed the tide, because I think Assad was approaching his last legs. The Iranians have been bleeding in there. Hezbollah has been bleeding. And the Russians came in with the air power and they really did something with it. They pounded the rebels and now, they’re probably going to take back Aleppo.

CLIFT: They’ve been -- Russia has been a historic ally of Syria. So, this is not suddenly, like he’s coming into the U.S.’s backyard. So, I would say, let Russia have at it and Obama should keep on what he’s doing, which is not very much.

BUCHANAN: You sound like Trump.

CLIFT: Sounds like Bernie Sanders, too, and Hillary Clinton, I think.

ROGAN: It doesn’t sound good -- it doesn’t sound good to tens of thousands of Syrian civilians.

MCLAUGHLIN: All right.

CLIFT: Nobody wants to send U.S. troops in.

MCLAUGHLIN: A quick exit question: Has the time come for Obama to cut his losses in Syria and embrace the Assad regime?


MCLAUGHLIN: Yes or no?

BUCHANAN: I think that’s a good question, John, in this sense. Look, if the moderate rebels are defeated, we should try to get a ceasefire and get them protected and get out, and basically, everybody go after ISIS.

MCLAUGHLIN: OK, keep it --

CLIFT: Diplomatic settlement will be on the condition that Assad is removed.

ROGAN: If we can get that, that would be perfect. I worry though that that’s impossible now.

CLIFT: Eventually.

GRIM: Assad is not going anywhere. We had four or five years to make that happen. It didn’t happen.

MCLAUGHLIN: Good. I’m glad.

Issue Four: Research, Mosquitoes, and Zika.


JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we aggregate all this data in place that’s readable and accessible for scientists, researchers and physicians, then the consensus is, we can, in fact, speed up research advances and improve access to cures.

MCLAUGHLIN (voice-over): Vice President Joe Biden is pushing scientists to share their research more openly. Some scientists say sharing research enables more effective cancer treatment. But others fear this sharing lowers the proprietary value of a scientist’s work and so reduces research incentives.

Yet, improved medical research is urgent. Consider that the WHO, World Health Organization, has declared the Zika virus outbreak a global emergency. Zika has infected over 1 million people in the Americas, mostly in Brazil, and is transmitted by the specific Aedes genus of mosquitoes.

Note that Zika can be sexually spread and has been linked to microcephaly, or underdeveloped brains in babies.


MCLAUGHLIN: Should scientists listen to Joe Biden and share more research? PJ?

BUCHANAN: John, there’s a real conflict here. Many pharmaceutical companies and other scientists, they spend their whole lives and they develop something and it’s a drug and it’s a miracle drug and it can cure a tremendous amount. And so, they want to be rewarded and the reward is also an incentive to do more. At the same time, people want to use these drugs immediately and more broadly, in a humanitarian sense.

So, there’s a real conflict of legitimate interest here, and I do think it’s one where the government should move in, and if they have to, reward the scientists for what they’ve done. At the same time, you make the medicine more widely used.


CLIFT: Actually, I think there are two issues here. Somebody has to be incentivized to try to really quickly get a vaccine for Zika. It is a horrible affliction to bring babies into the world with small heads and brain damage. And I think it should make some countries question some of their abortion policies, because if you don’t know that they’re carrying this child and you discovered you are, I think abortion is a very reasonable procedure.

But what Joe Biden is doing, he got interested in cancer because his 46-year-old son was dying of cancer, and he talked to -- he had access to and talked to leading physicians and scientists around the country, and he realized they’re doing different things here and if they talk to each other, we could get along much quicker, perhaps, to finding cures to various kinds of cancer and he’s -- it’s all -- it’s the moon shot to cancer.

So, I think -- that’s a different issue from sort of mobilizing to get a vaccine.

BUCHANAN: But it’s the same thing as giving away the information you got, which is --

CLIFT: Yes, you ought to be able to get scientists to talk to each other, just the way we get the FBI and the national security --


BUCHANAN: The same way Salk got the polio vaccine?

CLIFT: Excuse me.

BUCHANAN: There’s a conflict. I mean, people are working independently to be great people.

CLIFT: It’s not a conflict. The goal is to find cures to diseases that are tragedy for many people and if scientists --

MCLAUGHLIN: Question --

CLIFT: -- ought to be able to share their information towards that goal.

MCLAUGHLIN: The question was, how serious is the Zika outbreak? The answer is, it’s a serious enough health threat that, if it isn’t contained before the Summer Olympics, where?

CLIFT: Brazil, right.

MCLAUGHLIN: Brazil, August the 6th, in Brazil. It may spread to every country on the globe. As a precautionary measure, the Olympics may have to be cancelled, if Brazil’s efforts at mosquito eradication fail.

You find that enlightening?

GRIM: I think it has to be left to the global health professionals.

But I think there are ways to incentivize behavior among scientists that are removed from profit. Profit is not the only way and not the only reason that people act in this world. The government has a huge role to play here and if they step in and if global government step in and offer rewards for these -- the types of breakthroughs on rare diseases, where there isn’t an obvious profit motive.

MCLAUGHLIN: Prediction, Pat?

BUCHANAN: When next we meet, Chris Christie will be gone from the race and he will not go quietly.


CLIFT: If Hillary Clinton doesn’t release the transcripts of her paid speeches, the issue will dog her, just like her emails.


ROGAN: When next we meet, Jeb Bush will be gone.


GRIM: Marco Rubio wins the GOP nomination, gets crushed in the general, and buys a $10 million boat.


MCLAUGHLIN: China’s economy is in for a hard landing. At Davos, George Soros said it is, quote, "almost inevitable", unquote, in Switzerland. And he’s right on the money.