NRPLUS Call with Kim Strassel and Rich Lowry

(NRO Illustration: Elijah Smith)

On November 23, NR editor in chief Rich Lowry spoke with Wall Street Journal columnist and author Kim Strassel to members of the NRPLUS group on a private conference call. On the call, Kim and Rich discussed impeachment; Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Russia-collusion story; and Kim’s new book, Resistance (At All Costs).

Rich began by asking about Kim’s book, which came out on October 15. Kim described it as a chronicle of the responses to Donald Trump’s presidency by those who wish he hadn’t been elected. While anyone would argue Trump is norm-breaking in many ways, Kim argued, the real damage to American institutions is being done by the other side, who have decided from the moment of his election that he is a danger and must be removed from office. Rich followed that up by asking Kim what’s wrong with the statement made by many in news punditry that Trump has “violated the constitution,” which is both the subject of her book and a common argument about Trump made by that group. 

Kim said she needs some proof that he’s violated the constitution. She pointed out that his departments and agencies have been very rule-bound, as opposed to President Barack Obama, who used executive orders and executive fiats to expand the role of the executive beyond the limits the constitution sets. Mike Pence and Don McGahn had big roles in the transition team, which helped Trump to focus his first year on reeling these agencies back within their constitutional boundaries.

But, Kim argued, Trump hasn’t violated the Constitution. Calling the press “the enemy of the people” is over the top, but it isn’t a Constitution-breaker. She sees this as part of a constant misuse of terms in today’s American political commentary: He’s “a dictator” and “a budding autocrat” – how can Trump be a dictator if he’s cutting powers out of the government and appointing constitution-minded judges? All in all, Trump is a very easy person to dislike. Kim argued that the immense fury from the left after the 2016 election has fueled the maximalism we’re seeing now. They were banking on Hillary Clinton’s election to cement Obama’s legacy and secure control of the Supreme Court, she said. When they lost, and lost to Trump, of all people, it turned into a rage they saw as justified, allowing them to cross boundaries with their criticism of him.

Rich next asked Kim about the first moment that she thought the Russia-collusion narrative “didn’t smell right.” She answered with finding out that the Steele dossier had been paid for by the Clinton campaign and the FBI had nonetheless used it to begin an investigation into Trump’s campaign. Any of us, she said, could go back to when the dossier first became public and remember that it seemed a bit surreal at the time. As the press corps kept justifying and legitimizing it, however, it became something you had to accept despite its eccentricities.

Rich and Kim continued with their discussion of the Russia investigation and its origins for a few minutes, then moved into member questions. Members submitted questions before the call via an email to plus@nationalreview.com and the call registration page and during the call using the Facebook group and Zoom’s Q&A feature. With almost 100, Rich wanted to ask Kim as many of them that she had time for.

First up was a series of questions about Attorney General William Barr’s investigation into the origins of the Russia-collusion narrative. A member asked if Kim expected anyone to be charged as a result of the investigation, and Kim said that she does, for leaking confidential information. If you read any of Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report, Kim said, leaking is a major concern to him. There have been way too many leaks of confidential information, and Horowitz has said that he wants to get to the bottom of it. Kim said that she is constantly pointing out to law-and-order conservatives that America’s democracy sets a distinction between breaking a rule and breaking a criminal statute. We shouldn’t be happy about sending people to jail for breaking rules, and we need to be careful about overzealous prosecution.

Rich also asked a member question about what Kim’s relationship has been like with the mainstream media. She explained it in the abstract: She has tried to evaluate Trump’s presidency through the same lens she evaluated prior presidencies, which requires her to laud Trump when he does good things and call him out when he doesn’t. Nonetheless, she said, there is a persistent attempt by others to say of people who compliment Trump even once “you are like him” or even “you are him,” which completely eliminates the purpose of the job she’s trying to do.

Rich and Kim took many more questions, and ended with a conversation about Kim’s writing process. A recording of the call is posted above. Thank you to those of you who joined us on the call, and we look forward to seeing you for next month’s.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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