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The Biggest Threat To Trump; Trump's Biggest Foe: Conservative Media?; Limbaugh: "You Tell Rush That If There's No Money In This, It's Getting Vetoed"; Did Conservative Media Drive Trump Border Wall Backflip; Are Trump's Troop Withdrawals Wrong?; Ron Paul On U.S. Troop Withdrawals; How To Fix Dem Debate Overcrowding; Trump Touts Economy As Stocks Plummet; Smerconish's Greatest Hits 2018. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired December 22, 2018 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST, SMERCONISH: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. We welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world. After outcry from conservative media, the border wall standoff shuts down the government, but we're still here and here's what I want to know, which threat is the most perilous to the President as he heads into Christmas break: the markets, the military, Mueller or the media? My answer might surprise you.

And when the President announced withdrawal from Syria, there was a vehement reaction from the right and many on both sides questioned his timing and motive, but is he actually correct? I'll ask former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul.

And the stock market has its worst December since the Great Depression. Could there be a worse time for a new reelection ad asking everybody to thank President Trump for the economy?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump.


SMERCONISH: Meanwhile, the DNC just announced a dozen presidential debates, but there are so many Democratic contenders, you need a scorecard. I've got a better way to help sort the field. Here's a clue, think March Madness.

Plus, with no shortage of news, we've had quite a year together. A fun look back at the people and moments that we shared with our wide range of guests and topics. Remember this?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are now doing the job of the White House, just so everybody knows that.


SMERCONISH: I don't think the White House would agree with that. But first, the President finds himself in peril like at no point during his two-year old administration. The last few days have brought a series of sobering issues. So I've got a question, which of these is the biggest threat to Trump? The markets, Mueller, military or the media? Please go to this hour and weigh in. I want to know what you think.

There's a strong argument for each. The markets are on track for the worst December since the Great Depression. I remember asking James Carville, is it still the economy, stupid? And he said keep in mind that heretofore, President Trump has benefited from a strong economy. Where would his approval numbers be, which, by the way, have never passed the 50 percent threshold, if loses a strong economy? Perhaps we're about to find out.

And then there's Robert Mueller's probe. Smart money says that it will end in early 2019 and we'll see the outcome. Already, he's charged 33 people. Three senior Trump associates have pleaded guilty to various charges, Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen.

Roger Stone may soon face his time in the barrel. The House Intel Committee voted unanimously to turn over a transcript of Stone's testimony to Mueller that might be a precursor to charging him with perjury. We'll have to wait and see, but clearly Mueller and the Southern District of New York probes pose peril to the presidency.

And then there's the military and I'm referring, of course, to James Mattis resigning as Defense Secretary, the last adult in the room many say. Will others follow him out the door? Will there be unrest in the Middle East? Will some hostile power try to take advantage of Mattis' policy disagreements with the President.

Most perilous to the President? The markets, Mueller, military, they're all valid, but the correct answer, in my view, is choice number four, the media. And I'm not referring to those outlets which frequently fact-check the President. Not "The New York Times," not the "Washington Post," not "CNN", not "MSNBC." Nope.

I'm talking about the conservative media. Think Matt Drudge, Ann Coulter, "Breitbart," "Fox News" and Rush Limbaugh who, by the way, the President apparently had to reach out to this week to assure that he would stand firm on funding for the border wall.

Five years ago, I wrote a novel. It was called "Talk." It accurately predicted that we would reach a point where a Republican president had yielded control to a talking head and we're there. The current government shutdown would arguably not exist were it not for the President capitulating to these people with microphones. If not for Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, the President right now would be in Mar-a-Lago.

But if the President loses the support of the conservative media, that will lead to an erosion of support among House and Senate Republicans who live in constant fear of being primaried as a result of being at odds with these media mouthpieces. If nothing else, President Trump is a political warrior. He's proven he can sustain serious bloodletting, but his Achilles heel is the conservative media.

[09:05:05] If he loses them, then any combination of the markets, the military and Mueller can cut short his time in office.

Joining me now to discuss is Salena Zito, national political reporter for the "Washington Examiner," "New York Post" columnist and co-author of "The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics," and Frank Sesno, the director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University and author of the book "Ask More: The Power of Questions to Open Doors, Uncover Solutions, and Spark Change." Salena, where am I wrong?

SALENA ZITO, NATIONAL POLITICAL REPORTER, WASHINGTON EXAMINER: You're not necessarily wrong. I think you've laid it out very well. I think that the conservative media is an important component in terms of keeping his coalition engaged, but we also have to remember, a lot of the conservative media, early on in 2016, didn't have his back.

And he was, you know, -- you know, were skeptical of him or sort of liked him, sort of didn't like him and he still was able to turn out record number -- not just him, but the primary process had record numbers of turnouts among Republican primary voters and he still won before they all lined up with him.

So while they're very important, they're not the -- I don't -- I think, actually, the most dangerous thing for the President right now is understanding that his coalition isn't just populists, that there are conservatives in there as well and some who were very hesitant to support him. And the sort of firing of Mattis, Haley -- Nikki Haley leaving, those sort of important institutional experts leaving the administration are something that concerns more conservative part of his coalition.

SMERCONISH: Frank Sesno, I want you to see a video clip about a very interesting message that was left for one Rush Limbaugh. Roll it.


RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST, THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW: So I get this direct message. "You tell Rush that if there is no money in this, it's getting vetoed." If there's no money -- if there's no money for a wall, I'm vetoing this, plain and simple. This was the message that I just got.


SMERCONISH: Frank, I don't think we'd be in a partial government shutdown at this particular moment without those voices like Rush's on the right. Am I wrong?

FRANK SESNO, DIRECTOR, SCHOOL OF MEDIA AND PUBLIC AFFAIRS AT GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: No, I don't think you're wrong at all. These -- look, Donald Trump is a media president, a media creation. This is his background. This is how he got his microphone and his camera. He never met either of which he didn't like as a candidate. That's how he rose to prominence. He has had this kind of relationship with the conservative media, "Breitbart," Limbaugh, "Fox" for a very long time.

When and if they turn on him, it's cataclysmic. It's who he listens to. That's the -- that's the whisper in his ear. It's not a whisper a lot of times, it's a shout and it's who his base listens to and follows and if anything, as we've seen through the Trump presidency, his base has been pretty darn rock-solid. So if the foundation under the base starts to crack, that's a serious problem.

You know, you just showed Limbaugh. Ann Coulter's column was positively devastating. "Gutless president in a wall-less country," she wrote, calling him a douche-bag and -- a gigantic douche-bag and now she said -- and she said -- and I just want to read this because I think it's so important -- "Either Trump never intended to build the wall and was scamming voters all along or he has no idea how to get it done and zero interest in finding out."

So Michael, I think that, you know, it's not just criticism. It's withering criticism from the core, from the foundation on which he's built everything.

SMERCONISH: Salena, I get the argument that you make that the Trump coalition these days includes a variety of component parts, but as Americans are waking up this morning and coming to terms with the partial shutdown of the government, if they were to ask me in sound bite form what most explains this, my short answer is that the President capitulated to these media mouthpieces. That's why we're here.

ZITO: Right. Although, he did say -- I think it was like two weeks ago -- he did say, look, there's going to be a government shutdown if there's no wall and then it was sort of radio silence and then it reemerged with this sort of chorus of conservative media. Look, this is actually one of the things that both populist and conservative, traditional Republicans find very important.

[09:10:05] This is one that keeps his whole coalition together and on the same page. So it's sort of smart for him to make -- you know, you always say don't -- this isn't the hill I should die on. I don't think he has a problem being on this hill, walking up this hill because he does understand that conservatives and populists are -- have his back on this. And what's really sad, Michael, I think is we've kind of gotten used to these government shutdowns.


ZITO: And I don't think that that's a really good thing, right? Like people at home are like, oh, the government shut down ...

SMERCONISH: But they'll get it together.

ZITO: It'll eventually open back up.

SMERCONISH: Yes. I agree.

ZITO: Yes. And I've got to wrap Christmas presents.

SMERCONISH: Frankly, I feel part of that. I feel part of that.

ZITO: Yes.

SMERCONISH: I wonder if the House gets back together at noon. I hope it happens and it gets sorted out. One last thing quickly for Frank Sesno. There are a lot of moving parts here. We're talking about spin. Spin that I think has led to a partial government shutdown, but Frank, there are also facts at play that are impacting the marketplace. Will you quickly speak to that?

SESNO: Yes. You asked what's the -- what's the problem here, the military, Mueller, you know, the markets or the media? And I would say it's all of them. The media is the -- you know, the magnifying glass, but it really is, actually and ironically, facts that are starting to happen. People can see the markets and where they are. That's a fact. That's a number. That's what they're experiencing.

Mueller, this is happening through the courts. People are saying what they're saying with Cohen (ph) whatever. Those are facts. You can't dispute those.

You see the wall, you see the shutdown. Those are facts. People respond to the reality around them, the facts and as we see this now play out, it actually may be the facts that are Donald Trump's greatest enemy here.

SMERCONISH: Thank you both for being here. Merry Christmas. We appreciate you.

ZITO: Merry Christmas.

SESNO: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Don't forget, I want to know what you think. Go to my website at I love this poll question, which poses the most peril to the President? The markets, Mueller, military or media? I'll read some responses during the course of the program. Go to Smerconish Facebook page and Twitter account and we'll see what you've got.

Catherine, what do we have right now from Facebook. "And it's funny. I don't remember electing Coulter, Limbaugh, Hannity, Ingraham or anyone else on "Fox" to any office, but these are the ones who are apparently running the country."

Chuck, they are and the way they are is because they have a stranglehold over ideologues who comprise the most reliable primary voters and the members of the House and the members of the Senate, they know that. They're scared to death of being primaried. That's why they listen to those voices and for too long, you've heard me say this all year, the rest of us have ceded too much of the debate to the loudest voices in the room.

Do I have time for one more? What do we got? "Smerconish, I believe it's all of the above for the majority of America, but as for his base, I think it's the military because it's the few times his network has even been consistently critical of him on. He may actually have a few of them distance themselves from Trump." Charity, stick around because I'm about to get into that very next subject, the whole role of whether the President was actually correct in what he said relative to Syria and I've got a very interesting guest, the best guest to talk about that.

Up ahead, the Democrats have announced a dozen presidential debates over the next two years, but how will they handle the crowded stage with as many as 30 hats being thrown into the ring? I have a radical proposal.

And as just mentioned, the President caught fire from both sides this week for pulling us out of Syria and a drawdown of troops in Afghanistan probably next, but was he wrong? I will ask former presidential candidate Ron Paul.




SMERCONISH: By abruptly tweeting U.S. troops withdrawal from Syria, the President unleashed a firestorm and he's now eyeing reducing troops in Afghanistan by half. Many questioned the timing and his motivation. I heard from radio callers on Sirius XM who wondered if the move was more about knocking Mueller and Michael Cohen out of the headlines than it was a thought-out policy, especially where he caught his own military apparatus off guard.

After all, this past July, John Bolton said that we would be there as long as the Iranians were still there. Well, they haven't left, but even if that cynicism about the President's timing is correct, was the President necessarily wrong? I hope he's right that we've defeated Isis in Syria, although I have my doubts, but like the President, I'd like to see us out of Syria and Afghanistan, too.

Seventeen years removed from 9/11, it seems to me that the fundamental question is whether we make America -- America, not the world -- more or less safe every time we expand our international footprint? For far too long, our rote response has been to open a base every time there's a hot spot discovered somewhere in the world. That not only puts a target on the back of all the men and women we deploy, but it plays into the hands of al-Qaeda and Isis recruitment as they argue that we are interventionalists intent on a presence on what they regard as the Arabian Peninsula.

One other thought. Although you'll never hear him say so, President Trump surely knows that he's now recognizing what President Obama figured out. As David Sanger pointed out in "The New York Times" this week, "Trump's view that American forces cannot alter the strategic balance in the Middle East and should not be there was fundamentally shared by his immediate predecessor, Barack Obama. It was Mr. Obama who, at almost the exact same moment in his presidency, announced the removal of America's last troops in Iraq -- fulfilling a campaign promise."

Well, my hunch is that we can add the name of my next guest to those of Trump and Obama, at least in this regard. Joining me now to discuss is former presidential candidate and congressman Ron Paul. Congressman, let's agree because I think you and I have a tendency to see this issue the same way. Let's agree that the President's execution was ham-handed, right?

[09:20:00] RON PAUL, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Yes, it could have been much better and I think he has a tendency to go in a direction diplomatically. He does a poor job even though when he's doing the right thing. No, it should have been done and I think he has a firm ground.

I mean, it's not like -- I don't see it as a political event as much as he had good defense. He campaigned on it. He said it was a bad war. He wanted to get out. The timing, you know, you might argue there's a little bit there, but I think it had more to do with his discussion with Erdogan then, you know, domestic politics here at home.

But no, I think he's doing great. I think it's fantastic that he's doing it. I find what is fascinating is the bringing it together to the various groups because in a way, it used to be that progressives were more the anti-war people rather than the Republicans, but now there are some Republicans looking for the progressives and and some of them are demanding that they stay.

There's a few, though, that -- what I really like about what's going on in the discussion -- there's a few well-known progressive, liberal Democrats that can't stand Trump, but you know what they said? He's doing the right thing. I like people that stand out on principle in spite of their personal biases and I think this is good. I think that this -- and I'm so happy that he's going to maybe move it on to Afghanistan, but you know, the point...

SMERCONISH: So let me -- let me -- let me play devil's advocate with you. You referenced the call from Erdogan and you know the argument that gets made is one of we have now left the Kurds vulnerable. Respond to that.

PAUL: Well, first thing is I don't think that's true, but if it's true, you know, it's an internal problem for Turkey and there's been hints that -- you know, there's been discussions before. No, I think they have to determine it -- determine what it is, but that's not our responsibility. I mean, if you're running an empire, it's our responsibility. This is the whole point.

Should we start our debate and our plans from the assumption that we have the moral obligation to run an empire, that we are the great nation, we spread American exceptionalism and therefore, we have this moral obligation? Or should we believe in a republic and we have no business there which is designed by the Constitution and the whole thing would be different?

But unless we attack the subject of should we have an empire, unfortunately, the concept of the empire is well entrenched, bipartisan and has a lot to do with oil. It has a lot to do with the military-industrial complex and the special interests, but the empire is very convenient. And then there's people who don't have any monetary benefit and it's this patriotism, super patriotism. We are powerful, we have this obligation and we have to stay there and they like every war because we're expressing ourselves because you can't have a weak boss ...

SMERCONSIH: OK. Here's ...

PAUL: ... and that is the attitude that I think has to be challenged.

SMERCONISH: Here's another criticism. A critic would say, well, wait a minute, congressman. We, thank God, have not had a serious attack on our shores since September 11 and that's because we've been so activist overseas. Respond to that.

PAUL: Well, I think it's probably in spite of it. I think we've done some things. If the airlines had been totally in charge of their own security, we'd have never had 9/11 and, of course, if we had never been in the Middle East, we wouldn't have had a 9/11.

Bin Laden was very clear. He says the reason we attack is because you've been bombing incessantly and destroying many, many lives, thousands of children being killed in Iraq. I don't like the idea that the United States government has their military on the holy land of the Arabian Peninsula and he was convinced the American people and the American government never treated the Palestinians fairly.

So that was all previous. So it's our intervention that creates the problem and that's what they're using. We have to stay to -- no, concede. They're even starting to concede now ...


PAUL: ... which is what ISIS left (ph).

SMERCONISH: No, no. I get it. Listen, I -- it took me -- it took me years to realize that it's not because we like lap dances and lattes and jeans from the GAP that they hate us.

PAUL: That's right.

SMERCONISH: I mean, initially, I bought into that narrative. One last thing. So it was all -- a third criticism, because I, again, tend to see it the way you do, so I want to raise these arguments. A critic would say, we only had 2,000 advisors in Syria and if for no other reason than to gather intel and show allegiance with our allies, we should have left them in place. What's the quick response to that?

PAUL: There's no practical benefit from that. That means you're planning to do something. My big concern right now is that we will stay too much involved. We need to just have a clean cut and just come home, but you know, will that bring the CIA out? Will it bring our special forces out? Will there be sanctions? Will we have foreign aid with conditions? So no, we're very much interventionist. This is a teeny, teeny step away from the militant empire that we operate and it's so impractical, but it's a step in the right direction.

SMERCONISH: Congressman, thanks for coming back and have a great Christmas.

[09:25:02] PAUL: Thank you. Same to you.

SMERCONISH: Let us see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages, which I understand are blowing up. Via Twitter, "The best offense is a good homeland defense. If we get hit, we hit back hard and we go on the offense. We stop being," -- you know what my approach is 17 years on, my thought process? We used a shotgun post- September 11 when it should have been a sniper's approach to go after and kill those responsible for the events of September 11.

Dare I remind everybody that Ayman al-Zawahiri is still out there? Remember it used to be Bin Laden and Zawahiri, Bin Laden and Zawahiri. Go online. You can watch videos within the last couple of months of Zawahiri. We've still not killed him.

Please answer the survey question at my website at I think it's a real good one. Which poses the most peril to the President? Is it the markets, the Mueller probe, the military -- meaning Mattis' resignation -- or the media?

Up ahead, the Democrats announced a dozen debates for their presidential hopefuls, but how are they ever going to include dozens of contenders on one stage? Well, I've got a couple of proposals.



SMERCONISH: So this week the Democratic National Committee announced a plan to hold 12 debates, six in 2019, another six in 2020. OK, but how are they going to fit everybody on the stage?

You'll remember that when faced with a similar situation in 2016, the GOP solution was to have a kiddie's table. Early in the process there were two debates on the same night. While DNC chair Tom Perez wouldn't commit to what exactly would qualify candidates for inclusion, he mentioned factors like polling and grassroots fundraising. Perez said -- quote -- "We will likely have a large field of candidates. We expect that large field. We welcome that large field."

OK. But they're going to have as many as 30 contenders, and unless it's staged on an aircraft carrier and runs five hours long, that will be a battle of sound bites, not substance.

In Politico, Jeff Greenfield, the five-time Emmy Award winning political journalist and historian offered his own prescription. His debate idea, don't hold any. His explanation -- quote -- "No matter how the field is divided, the prospect of any meaningful exchange of ideas among even seven or eight participants is nonexistent."

Well, I totally agree with that observation but my solution differs from Greenfield's. I have two suggestions actually. Number one, if there really are 30 legitimate Democratic candidates for president, then pair them into groupings of five or six. So maybe we have six individuals on a stage at a time on different nights and we've got five different rotating groups drawn by lots. Or better yet, we emulate the NCAA and have a little March madness.

First, we'd have seeds based on polling data, something like this, for example, Joe Biden who was polling at the top by most accounts, he would be the number one seed. So that would mean he would square off against someone who's not yet breaking five percent in the polls. That could be Congressman John Delaney who I happen to think is a very credible individual, just not getting a lot of attention.

Bernie is coming in at number two so maybe he would square off against the Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend. Beto is ranked at about number three so maybe somebody further at the bottom, say, Cory Booker, would he -- his debate opponent.

And then how about this matchup, Elizabeth Warren who polls at number three or number four against Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Now wouldn't you love to see that debate on CNN one-on-one?

And this is just one of several brackets. We could all vote through social media as to the debate winner or not. But the candidates would continue to square off against new opponents. I'm not saying that the nomination would be determined by the bracket system.

I'm just saying that the debate component of the campaign would be handled this way. And yes, I know it's a little reality television- ish, but so was the way it ran in 2016, so let's embrace it and try to inject more substance into the process.

Still to come, the stock market is tanking having its worst December since the depression yet the president's reelection campaign is asking supporters to call him and thank him for the economy. What's wrong with this picture?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, President Trump.




SMERCONISH: The markets are declining rapidly. Stocks are on track for their worst December since 1931 during the great depression. Wiping out much of this year's gains. And even though the Fed has rarely raised interest rates during market turmoil, that's exactly what they did on Wednesday. Now this morning CNN is reporting that President Trump has begun polling advisers whether he has the legal authority to fire Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell. Meanwhile, in a bad case of timing, President Trump's re-election campaign released a TV ad this week urging his supporters to call a 1-800 hotline to thank him for his accomplishments, especially the booming economy.

Friday's "Wall Street Journal" lead editorial said this, "It is well known that President Trump invests fervent belief in the stock market as a performance measure. When it's rising as it often has during his presidency, he says that his policies are responsible. But what about a week like this with markets in decline including a steep two-day drop in the Dow Jones average? No logic exists that will allow Mr. Trump to take responsibility only for sunny days.

Joining me now is Robert Wilson, he's a financial adviser for "Wilson Insight." Let's begin with this, Rob, he does need to own it, right? I mean, if it were Obama's watch right now, he would be blaming Obama for it, so these numbers are his?


ROBERT WILSON, FINANCIAL ADVISER, "WILSON INSIGHT": Of course he has to own it. There is no way to disconnect the craziness that's going on in Washington with the volatility that's going on in the market, especially when we look at history. So if you think about 1973 when President Nixon fired Archibald Cox and his then attorney general decided to resign in protest, the S&P dropped 14 percent between October and the end of November.

Now, that did happen in the middle of a bear market, but even when times are good, the markets have proven that they care about politics. In the late '90s when the stock market was absolutely on fire, the S&P dropped 20 percent in the weeks leading up to Ken Starr's report on president Clinton which ultimately led to his impeachment.

So while the stock market would love to talk about things like product announcements and earnings and dividends, the things that are happening in Washington can absolutely send the markets into a tailspin.

SMERCONISH: Well, I'm interested to hear that analysis because I've heard from many others during the course of the week that this is all about a trade war with China and has very little to do with what I've been talking about all hour, the political volatility in the nation's capital. You think this volatility is playing a significant role in what's going on in the markets?

WILSON: I do think it plays a significant role but I wouldn't say that it's responsible for 100 percent of it. I think there are a bunch of tiny little cracks that at the end of the day ultimately make the dam fail. So the markets can overlook things for a while.

If you remember, the morning of Trump's election the futures were down about 800 points. People were a little bit afraid. Then they started to say, wait a minute, we've got a Republican in the White House, we've got Republican control of the House and the Senate. That means lower taxes, less regulation, we think things are going to be good for a while.

But you know what? The sugar high is starting to wear off from those tax cuts and so now you're thinking about what's going to happen in the future. The trade war is absolutely a problem, rising interest rates and the political turmoil conflating together to create this volatility.

SMERCONISH: And how about the "r" word, recession?

WILSON: Yes, look, we've been basically playing with house money for the last, you know, nine or ten years, so let's put some things in perspective. Yes, the market is down from its highs but still up 25 percent from the election and up 200 percent from when the market bottomed in 2009.

But you have to say, look, things have been good for 10 years, ultimately the business cycle has to reverse. And so we are going to expect that the recession is going to be coming down the line and unfortunately some of these policies could exacerbate that and make it come sooner than we hoped.

SMERCONISH: Final question, has a herd mentality now set in where the institutional forces are all going in one direction and no matter how many of the little guys, little men, little women in the process are out there, we can't control it?

WILSON: No question about it. Listen, when you hear a loud noise, you don't wait to see where it's coming from. If people are running for the exit, you go to run to the exit as well.

And so when people start selling, sometimes it begets more selling. None of us have any control over what's going on in the market. What you do have control over is how you react to it.

I liken it to baseball. When you used to play baseball growing up, the coach would tell you you have to be ready for the ball to be hit to you every single play. So investors fell asleep a little bit, maybe forgot how things can get bad very quickly. But if you're going to be in the market, you have to be prepared for these types of downturns and have a plan for what you're going to do the next time it happens.

SMERCONISH: We must have had the same baseball coach. Thank you so much for being here.

WILSON: I think we did, but neither one of us made it to the majors though so what happened?

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Rob. Merry Christmas.

WILSON: Thanks for having me. Same to you.

SMERCONISH: I want to remind everybody to answer the survey question at, "Which poses the most peril to the president, the markets, Mueller, military, or media?"

Still to come, as with everything in the accelerated news cycle, the year has whizzed by. From Michael Wolff to Meek Mill from vaping to Brett Kavanaugh, a look back at what happened here on this program in 2018.



SMERCONISH: Hey, thank you so much for watching. It has been a whirlwind year on this program, and we have had some great guests.

I hosted military veterans like Stanley McChrystal, veteran/politicians like John Kerry, celebrities like John Travolta and celebrity/politicians like Arnold Schwarzenegger.

I spoke with two teenagers running for governor in Kansas and to Jill Stein about the viability of third party candidates. I heard from tiger mom Amy Chua about our political tribalism, chatted with comedian D.L. Hughley about how not to get shot.

What else stands out? Probably me quizzing bestselling author of "Fire and Fury" Michael Wolff about how he talked his way into the White House.


MICHAEL WOLFF, AUTHOR, "FIRE AND FURY: INSIDE THE TRUMP WHITE HOUSE": I think that we should point out that I'm someone in the White House that's obviously given you e-mails that I sent which is perfectly fine, but you are now doing the job of the White House just so everybody knows that.


SMERCONISH: How come I never get credit from the White House if I'm doing their job? There, of course, was me being quizzed by rapper Meek Mill about my views on gun possession.



MEEK MILL, RAPPER/CRIMINAL REFORM ADVOCATE: I always dreamed to being like -- on like CNN and being able to express myself. I grew up in America in a ruthless neighborhood where we are not protected by police, we're not.

We grow up with people selling drugs in our neighborhood on our front steps. We grow up in ruthless environments. We great up around murder. You see murder seven days a week.

I think if you grew up in my neighborhood, you see seven people die a week I think you would probably carry a gun yourself. Would you?

SMERCONISH: Yes, I probably would.


SMERCONISH: Still getting e-mail for that response. James Carville stopped by to prognosticate about the midterms and made this observation about the effect of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings.


SMERCONISH: Would it have been better for the GOP if Kavanaugh had failed, because then the base would have been so livid, so PO'd they'd all come out to vote?

JAMES CARVILLE, FORMER BILL CLINTON CAMPAIGN STRATEGIST: You know, that's the money question, Michael, and I just found myself today for the Democrats, Kavanaugh is worth a lot -- is worth a lot more alive than dead.


SMERCONISH: And Roger Stone returned to plead his innocence about the Hillary Clinton WikiLeaks dump.


SMERCONISH: Do you think you're about to get in indicted?

ROGER STONE, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN ADVISER: If the decision is made on the basis of evidence and facts and truth, the answer would be no.

If this is a political vendetta, anything is possible.


SMERCONISH: I also looked at social issues from Harvard admissions alleged bias against Asian-Americans to the negative impact of iPhones and social media on the next generation's mental health.

I really appreciated being able to hold forth on a wide variety of subjects from joy Reid's claims her homophobic blog posts were the results of hacking, to Alex Jones claiming that he had the free speech right to call Sandy Hook a staged event.

I asked why Roseanne revive show of -- was one of so few on television to feature a Trump supporter and why it had gone right to number one. And why the Brett Kavanaugh's hearings featured more grand standing than actual evidentiary inquiry.

I also revealed how I arguably violated Pennsylvania law by not voting twice in midterms, and asked why it remains so hard for so many Americans to vote legally.

You know, the famous guests, they're fun, but I most enjoy talking to people who aren't well known, like the teenager whose YouTube of him vaping in high school went viral, or the auctioneer that sold a license plate for $400,000.

And there was Nathaniel, a man that I encountered on the street in June on my way into the studio who regaled me with his political views.


NATHANIEL, TRUMP SUPPORTER: I want to tell you something.


NATHANIEL: I am a faithful Trump supporter.

SMERCONISH: A faithful Trump supporter?

NATHANIEL: I am a diehard --


NATHANIEL: -- and you know how many people in my neighborhood voted for him?


NATHANIEL: Secretly.

SMERCONISH: Secretly. On the down low.


SMERCONISH: Because what's the attraction on Trump?

NATHANIEL: Backbone.


NATHANIEL: That's right. A man of his word.

SMERCONISH: A man of his word?


SMERCONISH: You know, Nathaniel surprised me. I can only wonder what surprises lie ahead for all of us in 2019. I am ready for anything.

So thank you again for watching, and thank you to the staff in New York and Atlanta and here in Philadelphia who work so hard to keep me on the air every Saturday.

Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments, and we'll give you the final result of today's survey question. "Which poses the most peril to the president? The markets, Mueller, military, or the media?"

Go to and vote.



SMERCONISH: So this will be interesting. Time to see how you responded to the survey question at

"Which of these four choices poses the most peril to the president?" Survey says with 12,693 votes, 54 -- wow. It is a majority, it's not a plurality, 54 percent say Mueller, 21 percent say markets, 19 percent, I'm in that category, say media, and 6 percent say military.

I'll leave the poll question up if you want to keep voting today. Here's some of what you thought during the course of the program. What do we have, Katherine (ph).

"Smerconish, you left out one "M" Michael. The biggest threat to Trump is his mouth."

Well, Todd, I like the fact that you picked up on my alliteration, it didn't roll off the tongue the whole survey question peril to POTUS as well as the four responses.

Hit me with another one.

"Dope idea for brackets. Let's embrace it and inject issues and talent into the process."

Oh, dope idea. Man, would my kids be bummed if I had misread that. Zarroff, I am a 56-year-old man. I thought you were saying it was a dopey idea, but actually you are embracing my idea. Thank you for that.

I want to wish everybody a very merry Christmas. And remember this holiday season, regardless of political views, we are all just a butter knife away from one another. "Saturday Night Live" had this funny take on the family holiday dinner table.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can't believe your cousin made the drive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know. It was so nice to see him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why do I have to take it off? Why?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's my dinner table and for (ph) my (ph) kids you can take if off.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Now your race is against whites. Your race is against whites.



[10:00:01] SMERCONISH: I hope that's not your holiday table. Let's all hope for more independence and bipartisanship in the New Year. I am off next week for the holiday, have a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.