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Four Years Ago: Trump's Escalator Entrance Into The Race; Sanders: Critics Love Corporate Socialism That Enriches Wealthy; Hickenlooper: Sanders Wrong To Embrace Democratic Socialism; Hickenlooper On Sanders' Support Of Democratic Socialism; Moderate Versus Progressive Rift Continues Among 2020 Dems; Is Netflix Miniseries About "Central Park Five" Case Accurate?; Presidential Candidates Are Picking A Winning Theme Song; Kellyanne Conway Violated The Hatch Act. Aired 9-10a ET
Aired June 15, 2019 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Well, it was four years ago tomorrow. Be honest. How many of you thought that Donald Trump had any chance of being elected president when he descended the escalator at Trump Tower?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is beyond anybody's expectations. There's been no crowd like this and I can tell you some of the candidates, they went in, they didn't know the air conditioner didn't work. They sweated like dogs. They didn't know the room was too big because they didn't have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS? I don't think it's going to happen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Hey, I admit it. Just by announcing that day, he proved me wrong. I never thought he'd throw his hat in the ring and when he did, I remained convinced that he would milk it for publicity and then get out down the road. Wrong again. At least I had plenty of company. Sixteen months prior , McKay Coppins writing for "BuzzFeed" had chronicled what he called, "36 Hours On The Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump." Coppins had recently accompanied Trump for a speech at a Politics & Eggs event in New Hampshire and then he observed this.
"Trump can no longer escape the fact that his political 'career'," quote-unquote, "a long con that the blustery billionaire had perpetrated on the country for 25 years by repeatedly pretending to consider various runs for office only to bail out after generating hundreds of headlines finally appears to be on the brink of collapse. The reason? Nobody seems to believe him anymore."
Trump came off as somewhat of a tragic figure in the "BuzzFeed" piece and true to form, Trump then hammered the author, Coppins, via Twitter for the coverage and banned him from further covering the campaign.
Well, Coppins then appeared on my Sirius XM radio program and we howled like school kids over the idea that this time would be any different. After all, he'd been threatening to since the late '80s, but in 2016, it was different. That day in June, he said he was running and he ran against a stage of seemingly more qualified primary opponents and eventually a candidate deemed the most qualified ever to seek the office. Well, he beat her too.
And there's a lesson in that for all of us now as we approach 2020, namely that despite all the pundits and the polls and the prognostications, we have no idea what's about to unfold. The only thing for sure is uncertainty.
Jeff Greenfield has a great essay at "Politico," "Why You're Wrong About the Democratic Primary," and he writes this, "What the history of modern presidential nominating contests suggests about this moment is that the seemingly daily polling, the she's surging, he's failing stories have all the staying power of sand castles at high tide."
Yes, Joe Biden has a commanding lead against 22 Democratic opponents and in hypothetical match-ups against President Trump, he wins big, but Jeff Greenfield reminds that Edmund Muskie looked invincible in 1971. Gary Hart won New Hampshire in 1984 and seemed poised to deny Vice President Walter Mondale a smooth shot at the nomination. At the end of 2003, Howard Dean was the guy who seemed destined to win the following year's Democratic contests while John Kerry was sputtering and in 2007, do you remember this?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW YORK CITY: Thank you very, very much and thank you for the --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Rudy Giuliani seemed a lock for the GOP nomination. That, of course, was the same cycle where Hillary Clinton seemed destined for the Democratic nomination despite facing a challenge from a junior senator from Illinois with a very hard to pronounce name. But nothing in the modern era compares to 2016, reminding us that the only thing we know for sure is that we really don't know what's to come.
Joining me now, he's here to atone. McKay Coppins, now a staff writer for "The Atlantic." Hey, McKay, he was pissed. I mean, put those -- put those e-mails back up on the screen where he refers to you as a combination of dumb and garbage, sleazebag, third-rate, yadda, yadda, yadda and then, I think because you came on my radio show and we had such fun at his expense, then I joined the list. Put up on the screen what he said about me at the time. He said that CNN was wasting time and money -- by the way, Mr. President, not enough money -- on me.
So where did we go wrong, McKay?
MCKAY COPPINS, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: Yes. You know, it's funny looking at those tweets now. It turns out that that would become a regular professional hazard for those of us who cover politics. At the time, that kind of Twitter tantrum was emblematic of my general impression of Trump, which was that the idea of this man becoming president or even just running for president was so far-fetched and outlandish that it could be easily dismissed.
[09:05:10] And what I came to realize once he entered the race and clinched the primary, I kind of went back and revisited my notes from my time with him and spent a lot of time talking to people who knew him and what I realized was that I was one of a long line of kind of sneering insiders who, throughout his entire life, have made him feel like his face is pressed up against the glass and he's not being led into the party.
And that sounds weird because he's always been rich and he's always been famous and powerful, but the reality is he's also always had this kind of class outer-borough anxiety. I guy who feels like he's not getting the credit he deserves, he's not getting the respect he deserves.
When I was with him at Mar-a-Lago, he was almost thirsting for my validation. He wanted me to take him seriously as a political figure and I wasn't giving it to him and that drove him crazy and, of course, it also -- not just me, but all of us, I think, drove him to kind of prove us wrong in the end.
SMERCONISH: OK. So here's a question. In retrospect, do you think, that at the Politics & Eggs event in New Hampshire in 2014, you misread this? He was committed or is it that you sneering insiders -- I'll take your words -- caused him to say, hey, screw them. I am going to do this?
COPPINS: So I've done a lot of reporting around this to try to -- as part of my repentance process here and what I've determined is that he definitely had people around him, people on his payroll who were urging him to run for president back in 2014 when I first saw him going through the motions, but my impression from talking to all those people is that he was not planning to pull the trigger at that point. He was not serious.
He was doing what he had done for 25 years prior, which was using a political flirtation to generate publicity. But in 2014 and 2015, my story was one of many, many stories written in the political press, many segments on this network and many others kind of dismissing him as a political figure.
And what I'm told by one former Trump aide who helped him launch his presidential campaign is that when he was kind of on the fence in those final weeks in the run-up to his announcement, one of the things that they would say to him to try to make him kind of pull the trigger and do this was, you know, just think of all the haters you'll prove wrong, think of all the people who say you would never run.
SMERCONISH: So a last issue, if I may. I want to blend together your thinking and Jeff Greenfield's, that piece from "Politico."
SMERCONISH: The lesson, the takeaway here is the unpredictable nature of what is now beginning to unfold and I'll give you a great example. "ABC" has confirmed today that polling data that "The Times" first reported where Trump loses to Biden 55-39 in P.A., in Wisconsin, 51 to 41, that he's -- that he's -- Biden is up 7 in Florida, that Trump leads only by 2 in Texas. Anybody who buys into the notion that we know how this is going to unfold would be proven wrong by looking at any of the recent cycles, those that have played themselves out in the modern era. You'd agree with that.
COPPINS: Yes. Absolutely. And, you know, the biggest lesson I took away from 2016 and from my experience with Trump is that my value as a journalist, as a writer, as an observer of American politics is not in prognostication. The value I can add to the national conversation is not in guessing who's going to win or what's going to happen based on polls a year out from the Iowa caucuses. That's just not -- that's not valuable, it's not worthwhile and it's almost never effective. It never works.
And what I hope, if nothing else, I hope that political journalists covering this upcoming cycle, the cycle we're now in, take that lesson that you never know what's going to happen and you should never be too certain in your -- in your predictions and focus on ...
SMERCONISH: It's a good reminder.
COPPINS: ... covering what's happening now.
SMERCONISH: It's why I wanted you here. It's a really good reminder. Thank you, McKay. Appreciate it.
COPPINS: Thanks, Michael.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some throughout the course of the program. This came in, I think, from Facebook. What do we have? "I knew instantly he'd win and win big because he said so many things that people said privately." Well, you know, John Kern, in retrospect, right? He wasn't alone. People will parse the comments that he made. That was the first time I think we heard that Mexico was sending us its rapists and it was followed by the sit-down with Frank Luntz and the words about John McCain and so on and so on.
[09:10:03] And each time, you thought, oh, well that's going to be the end, right? No. He must have been giving voice to sentiments that were out there and not in the public domain.
Up ahead, after trying to remain mutually supportive, the Democratic gloves came off this week on the issue of Socialism. Bernie Sanders tweeted a video of FDR in response to an attack from my next guest, Governor John Hickenlooper. So I want to know what you think. Go to my website right now at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Should Democrats avoid or embrace the Socialist label?
Plus, the so-called Central Park Five were famously convicted of a brutal attack on a female jogger in 1989. A new "Netflix" miniseries makes the case that they were wrongly convicted. Is it really that simple? One of the arresting officers is here to tell his story.
And President Trump likes to end his rallies with the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." So which songs have his Democratic rivals been choosing? In Iowa last week, Tulsi Gabbard chose "Ain't No Mountain High Enough." Will it be a hit for her?
SMERCONISH: The moderate versus progressive rift continues to divide the Democratic Party. The face of the progressive side, Senator Bernie Sanders, made his case for Democratic Socialism during a speech on Wednesday. He also took a swipe at those who attack the concept.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BERNIE SANDERS, (D) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I and other progressives will face massive attacks from those who attempt to use the word Socialism as a slur. They may hate Democratic Socialism because it benefits working people, but they absolutely love corporate Socialism that enriches Trump and other billionaires.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Hey, by the way, I noticed he's now saying billionaires, not millionaires. Wonder why? My next guest is one of those who says Socialism is not the answer. Joining me now is presidential candidate, the former governor of the great state of Colorado, John Hickenlooper, who gave a rebuttal to Sanders' speech on Thursday.
Governor, the draw suggests now you'll be on the stage, the draw yesterday about the upcoming debate, with Senator Sanders, with former Vice President Biden, with Mayor Pete as well. Will you be pushing this issue, whether the Ds should be running under the banner of Socialism?
JOHN HICKENLOOPER (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, I'm sure it's going to come up obviously and I feel strongly that Democrats have to draw a clear line and say we are not Socialists. I mean, the Republicans are already doing it. They're already saying, you know, every Democrat's a Socialist and clearly we're not. And if you look at the midterms, a lot of those in the swing districts, those pragmatic Democrats that won, distance themselves, made a clear line, said that we're not Socialists, we support pragmatic solutions to the nation's problems.
SMERCONISH: Do you worry that yours is a good message for a general election, but not for someone who is seeking to win primaries and Democratic caucuses?
HICKENLOOPER: No. I think it's a good message for all the time. I mean, I think massive expansions of government as a kind of fix all solution to the challenges facing the country, whether you're talking about trying to get to universal health care or address climate change, they're not what American people want and I don't think they're what Democratic primary voters are going to want. In Colorado, we were able to bring business and non-profits together, we worked Democrats and Republicans and, you know, we became almost -- we got to almost universal health care coverage, became the number one economy in the country and we've -- you know, we passed tough new gun laws.
SMERCONISH: Senator Sanders tweeted in response to you. He incorporated a clip from FDR. Let's roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Warn you and let me warn the nation against the smooth evasion that says, "Of course we believe these things. We believe in social security. We believe in" ...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: I guess the point is that John Hickenlooper, in the era of the New Deal, would have said the same thing about Social Security. is that true?
HICKENLOOPER: well, with all due respect to Senator Sanders, I think he's talked about, you know, apples to oranges. I mean the bottom line is Social Security, the worker paid a little, the employer paid a little. It wasn't a massive expansion of government. When he talks about universal health care coverage and Medicare For All, he's expecting 160 million to 180 million Americans to give up the private insurance that many of them want to keep. I mean, so there's no relationship.
And I -- you know, the one thing nice about looking at FDR, he was a governor. He actually got stuff done. I keep -- you know, I look at all the people running right now and I feel like I'm the only person who's actually done the things that everyone else is just talking about.
SMERCONISH: Senator Sanders also is careful to distinguish between Democratic Socialism and Socialism. I feel like I'm back in a poli-sci class. How do you see the difference between the two and does it matter whether we're talking about Democratic Socialism or Socialism?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, this is an era of hot media and whether you're -- whether you're looking at cable news, wonderful shows like yours or whether you're looking at Facebook ads, the Republicans are going to use the word Socialism to try and paint us into a corner and I think every Democrat is going to be well served to say wait, we are not Socialists, right? We have pragmatic solutions. You know, here's how Colorado became the number one economy in the country, here's how we got to near universal health care coverage. Those are the kinds of things that should be discussed instead of letting the Republicans, you know, paint us into this corner of Socialism.
[09:20:05] SMERCONISH: Two weeks ago, you walked into a roomful of California Democratic activists. You were booed on this subject. By the way, you had to know that was the reaction that you would get in that crowd, right?
HICKENLOOPER: Yes. Yes. Well, so ...
SMERCONISH: OK. So I come -- I come back to the -- to the how is this a winning strategy in the short-term question.
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I think -- I think it's something that has to be said, right? If we don't clearly say we're not Socialists, we run the risk -- and I said this to the group in California. We run the risk of helping to re-elect the worst president in this country's history and, you know, once I got into that speech in California and started talking about the things that Colorado did -- we brought the environmental community and the oil and gas industry together and created the first methane regulations in the country.
They're now being rolled out as national policy in Canada -- the crowd, as I describe these achievements, they began applauding. I think that the primary voters, when you give them the choice and say here's someone who's actually done what everyone else is talking about, who's got a record of progressive achievement where people said these things couldn't be done, I think the primary Democratic voters are going to say that's who's going to beat Trump. That's how we win in Ohio and Michigan and North Carolina and Pennsylvania.
SMERCONISH: On a far more lighthearted subject and final question, if I'm not mistaken, last week in Iowa your song selection when you came out -- by the way, maybe picked by a millennial. I don't know. You went with One Republic, "Good Life." Did you pick that song? What's the message you're seeking to convey?
HICKENLOOPER: Well, I picked that song because one Republican -- and Ryan Tedder, who wrote that song, they're a -- they were a Colorado band, they wrote that as they were coming back to Colorado and Ryan Tedder, you know, he co-wrote and co-produced "Halo" for Beyonce. I mean, he's one of the top songwriters. He's got a new TV show. I think it's called "Song Land." I mean, Ryan Tedder is the voice of the future in many ways and I wanted our campaign to have that same optimism and that same future thrust that One Republic has.
SMERCONISH: I thought you were a Dead guy. I thought you'd picked something by, you know, Bob Weir and the boys.
HICKENLOOPER: I do love the Dead and I actually played with Bob Weir about five months ago. I played banjo as he played guitar and we did "Friend of The Devil." So I love -- I mean, I love Old Crow Medicine Show. I love Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, the Lumineers. I mean, most of those, the Lumineers and Nathaniel Rateliff, they're Colorado bands. So I have to celebrate them. It helps that they're so good.
SMERCONISH: Thank you, Governor. Appreciate it.
HICKENLOOPER: You bet. Thank you.
SMERCONISH: I will be teasing more of the songs, by the way, that candidates are selecting. I'm fascinated by it. I am fascinated by it, but let's see what you're saying via Smerconish Twitter and Facebook page. Via Facebook, this came in, "Socialism is a term Republicans are using to create fear. Why perpetrate it, Michael Smerconish?" I'm perpetrating it? Bernie Sanders gave a speech in defense of Democratic Socialism this week. He's crossed swords with Governor Hickenlooper as to whether it's a winning strategy to brand the candidates as such and I'm introducing it? Take it up with Bernie Sanders.
Remember, answer the survey question at Smerconish.com. I know how that person is going to vote. Should Democrats avoid or embrace the Socialist label?
Up ahead, The Exonerated 5, that's how Oprah Winfrey says we should now refer to the teenagers arrested for a 1989 attack on Central Park jogger, but is the hit "Netflix" miniseries about those events telling the truth? Find out from one of the New York police officers who was in Central Park that night in 1989 and made some of the critical arrests.
SMERCONISH: One of the most talked about television shows right now is the "Netflix" four-part series "When They See Us." It tells the story of the so called "Central Park Five," the five New York City youths ages 14 to 16 who were convicted of rape after an April 19, 1989 attack in Central Park. Their convictions were all vacated after a serial rapist named Matias Reyes confessed in 2002 to the rape of the Central Park jogger and said he acted alone.
The five are all black or Hispanic. The 29 year old victim was white. The crime was a national sensation, further dramatized when Donald Trump, then a well-known real estate developer in New York, paid for a full-page ad in multiple newspapers including "The New York Times" advocating the return of the death penalty.
In 2014, the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio settled a lawsuit brought by the five for $41 million, but the city admitted no wrongdoing on the part of the investigators. In the sympathetic "Netflix" telling directed by Ava Duvernay, each of the five is shown confessing only after being coerced by overzealous cops and prosecutors. Singled out for particular scorn is Linda Fairstein, then a supervisor of the prosecution team. Fairstein wrote in "The Wall Street Journal" this week that the "Netflix" series is, quote, "so full of distortions and falsehoods as to be an outright fabrication.
Last week, Fairstein, who has a second career as a best-selling author of crime fiction, resigned her position as a board member at Vassar College, her alma mater. And this week Elizabeth Lederer, the trial prosecutor of the five, resigned from a teaching role at the Columbia Law School amid protests from the Black Law Students Association.
In an interview that aired Wednesday night with both the five and the actors who play them in TV -- in the TV series, Oprah implored everybody to now refer to them as The Exonerated Five, not the Central Park Five, but is it that simple?
Joining me now is Eric Reynolds, a former New York City police officer who, on the night of the attack, arrested two of the five. Eric, thanks for being here. You watched the "Netflix" series and you thought what?
ERIC REYNOLDS, FORMER NYPD OFFICER/ MADE ARRESTS IN CENTRAL PARK FIVE CASE: Well, thank you for having me, Michael. I watched the "Netflix" series and I was shocked, OK?
[09:30:00]I actually laughed out loud when I saw Felicity Huffman playing Linda Fairstein implore the police to go out and round up allblack men in Harlem I thought that was absolutely preposterous. It never happened.
Linda Fairstein was never even in the precinct that day when the investigation was started, first of all. Second of all, the district attorney does not give orders to the police department. They do not direct our investigation. Our investigation was well under way once Linda Fairstein arrived at the Central Park precinct.
SMERCONISH: Someone who knows only of this case what they watched in that four-part series would come away thinking that the admissions, the videotaped admissions were all coerced. That this was all the result of cops who were acting in a nefarious way to railroad those five individuals.
As one of the police officers who made critical arrests in this case, you would respond how?
REYNOLDS: That's ridiculous. All you need to do is look at the videos. Watch the videos.
Look at each one of the defendants. See if they're being coerced. See if they're sleep deprived.
You'll see their parents are in every single video. You'll see in every single video their rights are being read to them. It's a blatant lie. It's unfortunate.
This is the first time that police misconduct has been recorded on videotape and the people who alleged to have been, you know, their rights violated by the police didn't want it seen. They fought for the longest time to keep those videos under wraps. I would implore everybody, look at the videos. Watch them from beginning to end, and then make a judgment.
SMERCONISH: I know -- I know from doing a lengthy interview with you on my radio program that you were in the park that night. That you participated in apprehending a number of the guys who it was their word, correct me if I'm wrong, were wilding.
SMERCONISH: But you initially didn't associate them with the violent attack on the jogger. What was the moment that caused you to say, I think there is a connection?
REYNOLDS: Well, it wasn't that I think that there's a connection, we knew there was a connection. We had arrested five. Two of which were part of the Central Park Five. Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson.
We were going to release them -- we were releasing them to their parents. We did not believe that they had anything to do with the attack on the jogger, OK? But we were interviewing them, before we released them so that, in just in the event that they saw what happened, we might be able to get that information.
I released two of them. We got to Kevin Richardson. Kevin Richardson had a scratch on his face. When we asked him how he got the scratch, he first lied and said that my partner did it. When confronted with the fact that we were going to ask my partner. He then admitted that the female jogger scratched his face. That's the first we realized that they were involved on the attack on Patricia (ph) Meili. That's when --
SMERCONISH: Had you had any conversation with him up -- had you had any conversation with him up until that moment where there was any reference to the jogger?
REYNOLDS: No. No -- well, there was --
SMERCONISH: Go ahead, finish.
REYNOLDS: There was one reference by Raymond Santana. My partner had asked them, you know, why were you out in the park -- why would you be out in the park beating people up? You should be with your girlfriends. Raymond Santana looked to Steven Lopez and laughingly said, well, I already got mine. I didn't realize what it meant at the time because the jogger had not been found at that point.
SMERCONISH: Why would Matias Reyes have confessed to doing it and doing it alone if that were not the case?
REYNOLDS: Because Matias Reyes was in a segregated part of the prison. He was with rapists and child molesters. He had gotten kicked out because of his, you know, because he had committed several violations in there. Now he was out in general population and vulnerable to attack.
And Korey Wise knew this. He had people threatening Reyes and telling him that he had better say that he did it by himself. And it really didn't matter at that point because the statutes of limitations were up.
He had no -- there was no legal jeopardy for him to say that he had done it. In fact, what happened was, as a psychopath, and I got this from his psychologist, this worked in his favor. He was able to get attention as a result of coming forward to say that he did it by himself.
He was looked at as a hero almost in a perverse way.
SMERCONISH: Well, why was his -- why, Eric, was only his DNA found in the jogger?
REYNOLDS: His DNA only was found in the jogger because -- well, first of all, if you look at the videos, every one of the kids said the same thing. They were not able to perform sexually on the jogger, and they pretended to have sex with them because they did not want to look like a punk in front of the rest.
And if you think about it, you have a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds in the middle of Central Park in the middle of the night, beating the life out of this woman that they don't know. And under those circumstances would they be able to perform sexually? No.
Who could perform sexually? The guy who raped his mother. The guy who was a serial rapist. The guy who raped, tortured and killed a pregnant woman in front of her two children. That's the guy who is able to have sex and to complete the act in the middle of Central Park in front of everybody.
SMERCONISH: Let me return to a final question. The subject of whether those admissions captured on videotape were coerced. You weren't in those rooms, correct? So how could you know?
REYNOLDS: How can I know they weren't coerced?
REYNOLDS: Well, first of all, you can hear everything that's going on, OK? It's not as though the rooms are soundproof, number one. Number two, if you look at the pictures, if you watch the Netflix series, you'll see how each kid is getting slapped around. They're getting beaten up.
At one point, the cop hits a kid in the face with a helmet several times. Now, every news organization in the nation was at the precincts when they were being brought out. If you look at those pictures, not one of them has a scratch on them. None of them.
You can see all five of them there --
SMERCONISH: Well, I'm showing them the mug shots -- I'm showing the five mug shots right now to make the point that I think you're offering.
SMERCONISH: Eric Reynolds, thank you for being here. It's a complicated case and certainly not as clear as the television adaptation. That's what I would say.
REYNOLDS: You're correct. You're 100 percent correct.
SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and your Facebook comments. What do we have, Katherine (ph)?
From Twitter. Smerconish when it comes to white cops and black suspects from the era of the Central Park Five. I don't trust anything from the cops. It hasn't changed much either.
Madelyn, I have an observation for you. Did you see my guest? He was a black kid from the Bronx and a police officer. So I think the way in which this has been presented along racial lines is not accurate.
Still to come in Iowa last week, presidential hopeful Tim Ryan hit the stage to modern song "Old Town Road" by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. Was that hip or pandering? How candidates are trying to find just the right tune.
SMERCONISH: When you're a presidential candidate there's something potentially as important as your stand on any issue. And that is, what song do you want played when you hit the stage? Nineteen of the 23 contenders showed up at the Democratic hall of fame event in Iowa last weekend and had to face that dilemma.
What do you play before you're allotted a five-minute chance to woo those crucial early voters? I always thought it fascinating that President Trump chooses to end his rallies with the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want." What message does he want people to get from that? You'd expect a politician to be aspirational and yet he's telling them, hey, you're not going to always get what you want.
Well, here's what some of the Democratic candidates chose as they walked on stage. See what you think.
Steve Bullock who hails from the small town of Helena went with "Small Town" by John Mellencamp. By the way, I think he earns that. I think that's a pretty good fit.
John Delaney, Johnny cash "I've been Anywhere." Well, at least he didn't go with "A Boy Named Sue" right? He used it because he visited every county in Iowa already. And spent more time there than any other candidate. I don't know if it works long term but I think it works short term in Iowa.
This is the best match of all. Can you guess, Jay Inslee? He goes with ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky." How good it feels when the sun comes out? Of course, climate change his issue. So it works.
Beto, Beto O'Rourke, The Clash "Clampdown." Maybe because he was a punk rocker back in the day, right?
(LAUGHTER) SMERCONISH: Bernie Sanders goes with a classic, John Lennon.
SMERCONISH: "Power To The People."
I don't know about this one, I mean, I get it, but I don't know. Elizabeth Warren. Dolly Parton "Nine to Five." All I can think of is Dabney Coleman, it was a great movie. Maybe a little too hokie (ph). I'm not sure.
I couldn't get to everybody and a couple skipped the event including the front-runner which got me wondering which song will Joe Biden use for his campaign. Because in the opening rally in Pittsburgh he went with the boss, Springsteen's "We Take Care of Our Own."
And I know that as far as I know, Springsteen has no objection to the veep using the song the way that he did Reagan and some other cabinets. But in Philly three weeks later he switched to Elton John's "Philadelphia Freedom." Maybe just because of being in the city of brotherly love, I don't know.
But if he has to pick one which should it be? Probably Springsteen as much as I love the Elton John song.
And, of course, there's a song I'd be using in Iowa. I already do in my "American Life In Columns" book tour. I go with Stealers Wheel "Stuck In The Middle With You." And, by the way, I'm not changing my tune.
I want to remind you to answer the survey question at Smerconish.com.
Should Democrats avoid or embrace the socialist label?
Still to come, a new OSC report on presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway should be fired for violating the Hatch Act. One example was from right here on this program. But she remains employed.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: If you're trying to silence me with the Hatch Act, it's not going to work. Let me know when the jail sentence starts.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: This program became part of the news cycle this week. The appearance that presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway made here with me on April 27th was one cited as a violation of the Hatch Act, the U.S. counsel -- U.S. Office of Special Counsel recommendation is that she be removed from federal service. The report says that she's been a -- quote -- unquote -- "repeat offender." It says that she was using her official position to influence the 2018 mid-term elections and 2020 presidential election for both media appearances and social media.
And here's our show on pages 10 and 11 of the report it mentions that discussing the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Conway then -- quote -- "pivoted to recently announced presidential candidate Joe Biden."
That's an important distinction. She pivoted. The president told "FOX & Friends" on Friday that he would not fire her.
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DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (on the phone): It looks to me like they are trying to take away her right of free speech and that's just not fair. She's got to have a right of responding to questions.
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SMERCONISH: Yes, but in terms of her appearance here that defense doesn't hold up. I didn't ask her any questions about Biden. In fact I was reminded beforehand from the White House that while Conway was happy to discuss policies due to Hatch Act she cannot talk about specific candidates and I was fine with that provision. But here's how the interview unfolded.
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SMERCONISH: No fine person would stand alongside torch bearers who were chanting Jews will not replace us.
CONWAY: Well, there's no question that those people are the ones the president is condemning. But you want to revisit this the way that Joe Biden wants to revisit respectfully because he doesn't want to be held to account for his record or lack thereof.
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SMERCONISH: The point is I didn't go there, she did. And she went on to disparage Biden a second time despite my being cautioned by the White House. She didn't play by those rules. So it really isn't about free speech.
I am guessing that she knew that the Hatch Act is really a toothless tiger unless enforced by the executive branch, that would be her boss, and so she will remain in her position. By the way, making this one decision, by the president, that did not draw rebuke via Twitter from her husband.
Still to come your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. One last chance to vote on today's survey question.
Should Democrats avoid or embrace the socialist label?
Go to Smerconish.com.
SMERCONISH: The survey question at Smerconish.com, "Should Democrats avoid or embrace the socialist label?" Survey says 6,779 votes cast, avoid 73 percent. John Hickenlooper will be happy to hear that.
Here's what you thought during the course of the program.
I am told a ton of reaction to the Central Park Five Netflix.
Smerconish, you have no idea what you're talking regarding the exonerated five. If you think race played no role you really need to take a look at your male white privilege.
Leah, I didn't say that race played no role. What I said in response to the person who sent in a previous tweet who wanted to assign blame to all the white cops is that I just introduced you to a black cop who made two of the arrests, two of the five.
Listen, gang, and I'm told that I am being hammered in social media for even conducting that interview which is fine. But I want to say this. I watch Netflix with great interest.
That series left me wanting to know more. And so in my quest for information, I've watched those videotaped confessions. I've also -- you should do this, Google something called the Armstrong report. Google something called the Galligan opinion and read as much as can you.
Don't just draw conclusions based on a televised version in four parts of what Ava DuVernay said occurred in that very complicated case. I don't have it figured out but I'm eager to learn more.
Please join me for my "American Life in Columns" tour. I'll be in Denver a week from tomorrow. And remember you can catch up with us anytime on CNNgo and On Demand.
I'll see you next week.