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Takin' It To The L.A. Streets; California's Homeless Crisis; Court: Electoral College Can Defy Popular Vote; Colorado "Faithless Elector" Explains His Vote; Trump's "Chosen" People: Evangelicals; Smerconish At "Real Time With Bill Maher"; Can RV Sales Predict Recessions? Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 24, 2019 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Michael Smerconish live from Los Angeles where I did indeed take it to the streets. I'm on the West Coast after being on Bill Maher's late program last night, "Real Time with Bill Maher." We'll get to that later in the hour, but first, America has a homeless crisis and California has more homeless people than any other state. It's one thing to read about the crisis, it's another to see it in person.

So I went to L.A.'s Skid Row yesterday. I thought the term was politically incorrect. But it's the actual name of the downtown L.A. district around San Pedro Street and it's become a tent city. I was absolutely stunned by the conditions that I saw.

In Los Angeles, nearly 60,000 people are homeless, up 12 percent from last year. About three-quarters of them are living completely outside without adequate sanitation, sparking fears of a public health crisis and the spread of medieval diseases. That's despite more than $619 million that L.A. officials spent last year to combat the issue.

It's not unique to Los Angeles of course. In the coast in San Francisco, the number of homeless has jumped by more than 16 percent this year and the question is why? What systemic forces got us to people sleeping on sidewalks and what can be done about it? I sought out an expert, but I also spoke to one of the residents, Christopher Lewis, who invited me into his tent. I want you to hear his story.


CHRISTOPHER LEWIS, HOMELESS MAN: I'm homeless, you know, and I need help, you know? I wish -- I wish somebody help me get off of these streets.

SMERCONISH: How did you get here?

LEWIS: Well, I wound up here because I lost my home and I had nowhere to stay.

SMERCONISH: How long have you been here? LEWIS: Two years and a half.

SMERCONISH: Living on the street?

LEWIS: Living on the streets.

SMERCONISH: Right here behind me in one of these tents?

LEWIS: Yes. Right here. I have a tent right here.

SMERCONISH: Which one's yours?

LEWIS: So this is the place I call home.

SMERCONISH: So this is the lock that you use. How secure is that?

LEWIS: It's not that secure. My kids, you know, I look at it, (ph) it's a little small thing.

SMERCONISH: So where do you sleep?

LEWIS: Well, I have a mat right here and I lay it out on the floor and I lay on the floor and this is my kitchen over here and this is my table right here, my barbeque pit and then my American flag, you know, honor that. But other than this, this is all I have.

SMERCONISH: Tell me a little bit about your background so that I can understand how you ended up in this position.

LEWIS: Well I'm seven years American Red Cross first responder.

SMERCONISH: Seven years American Red Cross first responder ...

LEWIS: Seven years American Red Cross first responder. Yes. Safety and security and then I worked nine years on Skid Row.

SMERCONISH: Worked doing what?

LEWIS: Resource for the Warren Garts (ph) Center and I worked for the human rights communities (ph) for the families.

SMERCONISH: In other words, you were here providing services to people who were homeless.

LEWIS: Yes. And then I lost my job and I winded up homeless.

SMERCONISH: You ended up here.

LEWIS: Yes. I winded up being the person that I helped.

SMERCONISH: You you eat where?

LEWIS: Right here on the curb.


LEWIS: I wait for people to feed me, you know?


LEWIS: I have no job and, you know, I collect cans and recycle.

SMERCONISH: If you have to use the bathroom ...

LEWIS: The bathroom, sometimes I piss in a bucket and we have the porta-potties on the corner, but they close at seven o'clock at night so we piss in a can after that.

SMERCONISH: And how dangerous is it?

LEWIS: It's really dangerous at night, you know?

SMERCONISH: Do people -- do people prey on folks who are here?

LEWIS: Yes. They prey on -- they prey -- they prey on the weak, you know? And so sometimes I take in the weak, need to protect them, you know, to keep the bad guys away from, you know? I try to do what I can but, you know, I need to help myself.

SMERCONISH: Are you -- don't be offended by this I hope, but are you clean and sober?

LEWIS: That's the sad thing. I winded up using drugs and, you know, I thought the drugs would help me, but it doesn't help me.

SMERCONISH: Are you -- are you still on some form of a -- of drug?

LEWIS: A little bit. Not that much. It's scary.

SMERCONISH: There's a story today in the "L.A. Times" that talks about how city council is now considering clamping down on areas where homeless people can sleep, sidewalks and streets. They're contemplating a change of the rules that would limit that. Your thoughts what on that?

LEWIS: That would be great because I mean, they tell us to take our tent down 6 o'clock in the morning to 9 o'clock at night.

[09:05:02] SMERCONISH: But where would you go?

LEWIS: I have nowhere to go. So I have to stay here or go to find a park to sit in and then wait till 9 o'clock at night and then come back here and put my tent up.

SMERCONISH: If there was one thing that you wanted people who are watching this to know about this situation -- I've read a great deal about it. I've never seen anything like it. It's hard to believe this is the United States. What would you most want people to know?

LEWIS: That we're ordinary people. You know, all we need is help, you know? Someone, you know, to open the door, give us a key, give us a chance again.

SMERCONISH: For housing?

LEWIS: Just a house, you know? Some place we can call home. That's all I need is somewhere that I can call home so I could bring my kids to be a family again.

SMERCONISH: How many kids do you have?

LEWIS: I have three kids. I have two boys and one daughter.

SMERCONISH: And how are they doing?

LEWIS: I have a daughter in St. Paul, Minnesota, I have a son that's in jail now and I have a younger son that stays in Victorville.

SMERCONISH: I wish all good things.


SMERCONISH: Hope this turns around.

LEWIS: I wish it does.

SMERCONISH: Thank you.

LEWIS: Thank you.


SMERCONISH: I brought someone else down to Skid Row to see it in person. That would be Charles Kesler, the editor of "The Claremont Review of Books," professor of government at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University.

He'd written this recent "Wall Street Journal" op-ed about the homeless situation under the headline "California's Biggest Cities Confront a Defecation Crisis," which points out that while lawmakers ban plastic straws, a far worse kind of waste covers the city streets.


SMERCONISH: Dr. Kesler, it's one thing to read about these conditions. It's quite another to come here and see for yourself. What are you thinking as you see this?

CHARLES KESLER, PROFESSOR OF GOVERNMENT, CLAREMONT MCKENNA COLLEGE: Well, it's really a community, almost a third world community, plopped down in the middle of Los Angeles. I mean, if you go five blocks that way, you're in a normal area, but this is a world unto itself essentially, Skid Row.

SMERCONISH: Why do a majority of the nation's homeless live in California?

KESLER: Well, it's not just the weather. It's also because California has very liberal city governments that have been very permissive in allowing people to do things, to live on the streets and to do things which are technically illegal, but the police are not allowed to enforce the laws against ...

SMERCONISH: In other words ...

KESLER: ... panhandling, against vagrancy, against public urination, public defecation.

SMERCONISH: You think that humane measures have backfired?

KESLER: Yes. We're spending more money than ever, $5 billion new dollars on top of what's already being spent here in Los Angeles over the next 10 years, including a new tax in Los Angeles, but the homeless problem is getting worse, not better the more money we throw at it.

SMERCONISH: What's the alternative?

KESLER: There's no silver bullet to solve the problem, but one thing is the police have to be allowed to enforce the law. The Ninth Circuit and other courts, liberal courts essentially, have prevented them from doing so.

But the truth is the city council in Los Angeles, in San Francisco and in other -- these are most the liberal cities, they're among the most liberal in America, prevent -- many homeless advocates, as they're called, actually like the problem of homelessness to be in your face because it's a reminder -- it's a rebuke to people. It's a reminder that America is an unjust society from their point of view ...

SMERCONISH: What I -- what I hear you telling me essentially is that like so many other things in our society today, this comes down to an ideological divide. If there's a conservative solution to this, I'd love to hear it.

KESLER: It is an ideological issue, but it's also an -- it's not just that anymore. Many liberals, many good-hearted liberals who support, as many good-hearted conservatives, do programs for the homeless, are tired of the ineffectiveness of it all, the huge amount of money being spent on it, but above all the fact that there are more and more homeless who are often very aggressive in their attitude to non- homeless people who happen to be living in the neighborhood or passing by.

SMERCONISH: Take a look at what's behind us. We're at the back of the Union Rescue Mission. This represents, as sad as it is, it's also the privatization of public spaces.

KESLER: Yes. It's illegal in Los Angeles to camp on the streets because the streets -- the old theory, which is still law, is that this is public property. It belongs to everyone which means you can -- you should have the right to pass by here and not have to step over homeless people or step over feces on the street or maneuver around tents, but the reality is the police are not allowed to enforce those laws.

SMERCONISH: Lead story of today's "L.A. Times," "City revisits limits to sidewalk sleeping." I know you're familiar with this story. What do you make of it?

KESLER: Well, it shows you that even liberals in Los Angeles County are getting tired of the homeless problem and they want something to be done about it.

[09:10:06] And what they're trying to do is find a middle way so that they don't enforce the laws everywhere, but they prohibit tent encampments next to schools, next to public parks and a few places like that.

SMERCONISH: OK. Final time I have to challenge you on this. When you use the word liberal, if this is a progressive problem ...


SMERCONISH: ... give me the conservative solution? I don't care which ideological label it falls under. I just want to know that we can do better than this.

KESLER: Yes. We can do better than this. Part of it has to do with -- I mean, there are -- a lot of people on the streets are mentally ill these days. There has to be some re-institutionalization of the truly mentally ill who are roaming the streets and accosting people ...

SMERCONISH: Courts won't allow that. They say if you're -- if you're not a danger to someone else or to yourself ...

KESLER: This too is a judicially-mandated situation and, you know, Trump judges, more conservative judges, more reasonable liberal judges I think may begin to roll back some of these early precedents, but you also need to make housing more affordable.


KESLER: I mean, Los Angeles and San Francisco are very -- especially San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities in the world to live. And local environmental regulations and permitting processes and so forth make it very expensive to build new houses and it is partly an economic problem, homelessness, although it is also, I think, much more than an economic problem. It's a drug problem. It's a family breakdown problem. It is -- you know, it has many causes and so resist a single solution.

SMERCONISH: I don't have the answer. I've seen enough to know that the status quo is not working.

KESLER: It is not working. That's for sure. It's getting worse.


SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of this program. From Twitter, "Smerconish, thank you for highlighting the homeless problems in downtown L.A.. As an L.A. native, this problem worsens daily. It worsens despite increased taxes to, quote- unquote, 'help the homeless.'" I don't want to be repetitive, Steve. I can only say this. First of all, two things. One, to see it is quite different than to be, in my case, 3,000 miles away and just reading about it. Nothing prepared me for that which I saw on Skid Row yesterday in Los Angeles.

And secondly, I think that Dr. Kesler's right to some extent that the best of intentions to help the folks who find themselves in this predicament may have worsened their plight. I also want to say that I recognize that housing and the escalating property values, especially in San Francisco, have eradicated what would have been low income housing heretofore and all of these factors, plus some of that which he described, have created a really untenable situation.

Now, L.A. politicians, as you heard us discuss, are considering a newly proposed restriction that could bar people from sitting or sleeping on streets and sidewalks and that's why today's survey question at my website is as follows. Should people have the right to sleep on public streets? Go to and answer that question.

Still to come, this presidential elector from Colorado had his vote cancelled when he crossed out Hillary Clinton, who won the state, and wrote in John Kasich and now a federal court ruling says he should have been allowed to vote how he pleased. What might this mean for 2020?

And with all the debate about whether the economy is headed into recession, could one of the most accurate indicators be the RV sales market? I'll explain.

Plus, I'm here fresh from doing last night's "Real Time with Bill Maher" on HBO. I'll show you some interesting moments.




SMERCONISH: Did the way that America chooses presidents just change? This week, a federal appeals court ruled that members of the electoral college who cast the actual ballots for president may legally vote for somebody other than their state's popular vote winner. The case involved this Colorado ballot on which the elector, Michael Baca, crossed out Hillary Clinton who won the state and deserved his vote and wrote in GOP Ohio Governor John Kasich.

Colorado Secretary of State then replaced Baca with another elector who then voted for Clinton and Baca's case went to court. In a split ruling, the three-judge U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit in Denver found, quote, "The text of the Constitution makes clear that states do not have the constitutional authority to interfere with presidential electors who exercise their constitutional right to vote for the president and vice president candidates of their choice."

For now, the ruling applies only to Colorado and five other states in the 10th Circuit, but it could have national implications. In 2016, president Trump won states with 306 electoral votes, Clinton 232, but the actual Electoral College vote was 304 to 227 with seven electors defecting. That's the most ever.

Joining me now, the Colorado elector who's ballot was at the center of the case, Michael Baca. He's now a high school teacher in Las Vegas. Michael, people probably interested to know how do you get -- how did you get to be an elector?

MICHAEL BACA, 2016 COLORADO ELECTOR, REMOVED FOR WRITING IN KASICH: Hey. Good morning, Mr. Smerconish. Thank you for having me today. So I became an elector just by actively participating in the political process. I went to my caucus at my house district in Colorado and then I just never said no to an opportunity.

I was approached by a group and I'd be -- (ph) to become an elector. I said yes and then during that time between March to April all the way to November 8th, 2016, I did study and review of what my job would be so that I would be prepared if I actually became an elector, if Secretary Clinton won Colorado, as she did November 8th.

SMERCONISH: Is this a dangerous precedent insofar as very few people can overturn the will of the majority?

BACA: It's not a precedent. People have been able to do this for as long as our country's existed. All you need to do is read Article 2, the 12th Amendment and if you want some intent behind the laws, read the Federalist Papers and specifically the 68th Federalist paper and you'd see that electors are not bound by state laws. This is -- we live in a Republican democracy so we are a republic.

SMERCONISH: Well, Hamilton -- actually I could put quote on the screen.

[09:20:00] I want everybody to see this. Let's talk about the history of this. This is Alexander Hamilton. "The process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of president will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications." Was that your motivation?

BACA: Absolutely. Donald Trump is a climate denialist and in this time and day, we can't have someone like that as our president.

SMERCONISH: So you know that the National Popular Vote Initiative has taken hold in a number of states. I can put on the screen those which have bought on so far, including, by the way, Colorado.

It occurs to me, and I think the secretary of state of Colorado sees it the same way, that the success you had at the 10th circuit could jeopardize the national popular vote because if Colorado says we're going to go along with the popular vote and then there's a Michael Baca who is an elector, you could overturn that desire by Colorado residents.

BACA: So had we been successful if we did this in 2000, we would have overturned the election to Al Gore. I mean electors can do this. This is not a -- this is not new just because it hasn't been used this way and that is a fear and that's why I do believe that we should have one person, one vote.

You know, many people believe that we live in a democracy closer to a direct democracy and that's not true. We live in a republic. We elect representatives that cast ballots and be our voices and so if we want to change the system, and I personally believe we do, as well as equal citizens, the lawyers who are representing me, believe that we should have one person, one vote and that's really the only way to avoid issues like this because if you had someone a lot more experienced than I was, they could have done a lot -- they could have been probably more successful.

SMERCONISH: So the Supreme Court of the United States I'm sure will now be asked to take up this measure. What do you anticipate knowing the composition of the court?

BACA: I absolutely hope that the Supreme Court does take up this case and I believe that my lawyers have argued this case with that knowledge that the Supreme Court is in a 5-4 split and against my world view (ph) and so we have an originalist interpretation of the Constitution. I just read the text of Article 2, I read the text of the 12th amendment and the Federalist 68 and from there, me as the regular layman was able to learn something that it took the state -- a response from the 10th Circuit for the state to understand.

SMERCONISH: I think at a minimum it's going to cause a lot of interest in the process by which someone gets to do that which you did which is to become an elector for their particular state. That will now be almost as significant as being a delegate to a national party nominating convention. You get the final word.

BACA: Well, I just -- again, I just want to say thank you for having me on here. Just want to remind the American people that we do not elect the president via popular vote. Had we did, Al Gore would have become the president, Secretary Clinton would have become the president.

We have an electoral college system. If you want that system to change, you need to go out to the streets, you need to knock on doors, you need to activate, need to get out and vote and the young people, we're here, we're protesting. Civil disobedience is a lost art and I just appreciate you -- I appreciate you for having me on here today.

SMERCONISH: Thank you, Michael. We'll watch the case.

BACA: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: I'm sure the Supreme Court is going to want to have something to say before 2020. Still to come, why do some people think recreational vehicles hold the key to prognosticating our economic future?

And when President Trump looked to the heavens and referred to himself as the chosen one, who was his intended audience? I have an idea.




SMERCONISH: The president set off a firestorm this week when he described himself as the chosen one, but who was his intended audience? Here's the moment when he was talking about fixing the trade imbalance with China and note how he looks to the sky.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Somebody had to do it. I am the chosen one. Somebody had to do it. So I'm taking on China. I'm taking on China on trade and you know what? We're winning.


SMERCONISH: Keep in mind this followed his recent demand that Israel not admit representatives Tlaib and Omar and his calling anyone who votes Democratic disloyal to Israel. Then he tweeted a quote from a conservative radio host and conspiracy theorist, Wayne Allyn Root, who said this on his "Newsmax" show.


WAYNE ALLYN ROOT, CONSERVATIVE TALK SHOW HOST: This is the greatest present for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world. Not just America. Trump's the best president for Israel in the history of the world and the Jewish people love him like he's the king of Israel. They love him like he's the second coming of God.


SMERCONISH: Trump's tweets made "king of Israel" the trending topic of the day on Twitter and then came to chosen one line. So what's this all about? Perhaps it's not about cultivating support among Jews who were under 2 percent of the U.S. population and according to Gallup only 26 percent of American Jews approved of Trump in 2018, perhaps it's all about solidifying his base among evangelical Christians.

Joining me now to discuss is Peter Wehner. He's a lifelong Christian evangelical, a never-Trumper conservative who wrote, quote, "The Deepening Crisis in Evangelical Christianity," for "The Atlantic" where he's a contributing editor. He also wrote the book, "The Death of Politics: How to Heal Our Frayed Republic After Trump" So Peter, is this about politics or prophecy?

PETER WEHNER, EVANGELICAL NEVER-TRUMPER: Well, I think it's about several things. I think above all it's about Donald Trump's narcissistic personality disorder and his need to compare himself to Jesus and, you know, claiming to be the chosen one. Beyond that, I think that this is about politics and more specifically I agree with you. It's politics aimed at his Evangelical base. That is for him his electoral firewall. The president decided a long time ago that the only way he's going to win this election is with a base turnout election. There's no way that he can appeal to the middle. So he's got to hit these notes, the cultural notes, culture war notes that are going to appeal to a lot of white Evangelicals and that I think is what he was doing in this case.

SMERCONISH: In other words, all of these recent comments that he's made pertaining to Israel and Jews are really about Evangelical Christians.

WEHNER: I would say so. Look, I don't think that he's under any delusion that he's going to be able to win a large percentage of the Jewish vote which, as you pointed out, is a fraction of the American electorate. When he's thinking politically, he's thinking about his base and we see that all the time whether it's gun owners, whether it's the appeals of white nationalism, whether it's this kind of appeal to Israel.

I should say, by the way, I'm a very strong supporter of Israel, and I think that Democrats that he had in mind particularly Representative Omar and Tlaib have said some really atrocious things related to Israel, but Donald Trump being Donald Trump, he took what could have been a real critique, and a genuine criticism, and turned it into a reckless charge, which is that if you vote Democratic, that you're therefore anti-Semitic.

So that's always what he is trying to do. He is trying to inflame the public. He's trying to inflame the body politic. And to create this acrimony and this anger because for him anger is the fuel that will drive his people to the polls and he does have some understanding that for a lot of the evangelical Christians, Israel, for a complicated set of reasons, history, prophecy, eschatology, the end times, and also the belief that Israel is a beacon in a region of oppression, Israel has a special place for a lot of Christians and I think that's what he is trying to appeal to here.

SMERCONISH: The recent polling data, I think we can put it on the screen shows his standing among evangelical Christians remaining quite high in comparison. Seventy-three percent of white evangelicals as compared to 41 percent. Something that occurs to me, Peter, is that should there be a Supreme Court vacancy and let me say up clear that I -- I hope there is not a Supreme Court vacancy based on death or incapacitation, I don't want this to be in poor taste --

WEHNER: All right.

SMERCONISH: -- that would be of critical importance to evangelicals and I can't help but wonder whether the president will disregard all that was said by Republicans in the Merrick Garland instance with President Obama and make an appointment at any time they have the opportunity.

WEHNER: I can guarantee you that he is going to disregard the position of the Republicans as it related to Judge Garland. This is going to be hypocrisy on that score. And if there is a Supreme Court appointment, and I agree with you, I really hope there is not, for the reasons that you described, but if there is, it will become a huge issue, understandably huge issue, because the court has so much influence in American life. And that's exactly the kind of thing that Donald Trump would want, because that is the sort of issue that would turn out voters.

Mitch McConnell understood that, with the situation with President Obama and Garland, in 2016, he would not allow that appointment to go forward, because he knew that that would be fuel to energize the Republican base. Because if they felt like they could hold him off, and if Trump won, they would get a court appointment, that would be a huge deal, because the Supreme Court is for a lot of Republicans voters almost pretty much in comparison among issue, first among equals among the issues.

So McConnell made the correct political calculation. I don't think he acted honorably in that situation but I think he made the correct political calculation, and I can guarantee, as I said, that if there is a Supreme Court opening, that Trump and McConnell are going to push for it before the 2020 election, for political reasons, as well as wanting to get another person on the court.

SMERCONISH: Peter Wehner, thanks so much, as always, for your contribution.

WEHNER: You bet. Thanks for having me on.

SMERCONISH: Let's check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. What do we have, Catherine (ph)?

From Twitter, Smerconish, Trump is the chosen one. He is elected.

Yes, I think -- looking to the sky, the moment that I saw, do we have that video? I mean keep in mind, he is talking about trade with China, and inexplicably looks to the sky as he says I am the chosen one. And I guess what Peter's work on my brain, here it is, look up, there, I am the chosen one.

TRUMP: Somebody had to do it.

SMERCONISH: And I said to myself immediately, this like all of the other recent comments that he has made pertaining to Israel and Jews in particular have nothing to do with that constituency, it has everything to do with solidifying the evangelical base and some notions of a prophecy.

I want to know you what think on the survey question of the day at It has to do with homelessness. The situation here in Los Angeles where the city is now revisiting whether there should be limits placed on people's ability to sleep on public streets, hence the question. So please go vote at

Up ahead, I was on Bill Maher's "Real Time" panel last night. We talked about a lot of things. The question of #MeToo jail came up.

I want you to see something else. It is a bit nerve-wracking backstage when you're getting ready to go on because the audience is worked into a lather, I think that's Bill's lead writer, the music thumps, Maher comes out on stage and -- well, in my case, I'm standing there saying, what did I get myself into? I will tell you about that in a moment.



SMERCONISH: I did "Real Time" with Bill Maher last night on HBO. I think it was my fifth appearance and it's why I'm in Los Angeles this morning instead of Philadelphia. For me the most interesting exchange of the night was about the #MeToo movement and how it has impacted the writer Mark Halperin and former senator Al Franken, one of my co- panelists was former senator Heidi Heitkamp.


BILL MAHER, HOST, "REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER": It's kind of a good week to talk about this #MeToo redemption issue because Mark Halperin, remember him? He -- look, I always say it's a case by case, and we don't know. He denied the worst of it which was accusations that he used to rub his hard-on against women at the office. He admitted to like inappropriately asking them out, denied the worst but of course he's going to.

And then there's Al Franken who I have defended many times. I said, I don't think he did that shit (ph). OK? So it depends

We need like a court, like a redemption court, because like Mike Halperin he has been gone two years. He did lose everything at the time but now he has got a book out. So, he interviewed a lot of Democratic strategists and now they are all having to back pedal saying, people are saying why are you in his book, Mark Halperin, and I'm asking, what -- who decides, what is the -- does he never get to come back?

SMERCONISH: I will own this because --

MAHER: Yes, you've had him on.

SMERCONISH: He re-emerged on my program. My calculus, as one who is privileged to have this platform, and am I going to extend the invitation to him, was this.


Has he owned it? And has he been punished? You know that he wrote "Game Change" and "Double Down."


SMERCONISH: He lost the deal for what he would have written about the last one.

MAHER: Yes. SMERCONISH: Lost the HBO movie that would have been adapted by it, lost all of his gigs, sat out for 500 days and I thought had been punished enough. And if not, then I asked the question, are we advocating the professional death sentence for someone like them --

MAHER: Right.

SMERCONISH: -- because I'm not comfortable with that.

MAHER: Right. And you said you regretted --



MAHER: Helping push Al out.

HEITKAMP: Right. So if it turned into groupthink, which is what you're talking about.

MAHER: Right.

HEITKAMP: All of a sudden there is a huge litmus test out there, and you're either peer or you're not peer and you can't do any critical thinking, any kind of nuance discussion, and I knew at the time that I did it, and I'm not proud to say this, that it was wrong.

I mean, my parents taught me doing that kind of groupthink was wrong but we did it because we were in the panic of the moment and I told Al that, and Al said, well, will you tell that to anyone who asked you? I said absolutely, I will own it and I will own it even if I were in the Senate because at some point we as the accuser, we as the judgers, have to make a decision on when is enough is enough.


SMERCONISH: Halperin has been my guest I should point out on SiriusXM radio, not here on CNN, and the social media reaction to my hosting him has been vicious at times. We can put up a montage of some of what I get constantly.

In contrast, I should say to the radio callers who are free to dial in and offer a reaction and are almost universally appreciative of hearing his insight on the 2020 race.

Still to come, the last three recessions were all preceded by a drop in RV sales. What does this bellwether category tell us about the U.S. economy, is it more accurate than the economists?



SMERCONISH: So are we or aren't we heading into a recession? What's one good indicator? What if I told you the sale of RVs, the last three recessions were all preceded by multi-year drops in the number of recreational vehicles shipped to dealers. And according to the latest statistics, after a 4.1 percent drop last year, those shipments have fallen about 20 percent so far in 2019.

So why does this happen? And how reliable might this be as an indicator? Joining me now is Michael Hicks from Ball State University, where he's an economics professor.

Professor, I'm so glad you're here. I have a hard time wrapping my head around the yield curve. This one, I think I can understand. How accurate?

MICHAEL HICKS, ECONOMICS PROFESSOR, BALL STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, it's good to be with you. Yes, we've seen over the past three business cycles, the 90-91 recession, 2001, and then in 2007 to 2000 are three periods where we had good data on RV sales and in each of those periods we saw two-year declines in RV sales. Much like what we're experiencing right now.

There has been a couple of one-year dips that really accompanied tax law changes, made it a little bit more difficult to buy them but other than that they have been an accurate predictor of business cycles since the early '80s.

SMERCONISH: The RVIA, the professional organization, by the way, I know those folks, good people, they say there is a 2.5 percent increase for 2020, so might this be changing?

HICKS: It could be, but the sort of path of the recessions differ. If we're facing a sort of manufacturing-led recession, which is if we are now, that is probably what is happening today, through trade and more difficulties in the supply chain, you might see that RVs hit first.

If it's a financial recession, like we saw, starting in 2007, we didn't see a decline in sales until then into 2008, so there is some timing questions here. But through 2020, early 2020, sales are way down. They're off, as you indicated, almost one in five units down.

They're going to produce about 400,000 this year. Down from over 500,000 in 2017. It is really hard to see a big recovery in 2020. Even if they're up from a really bad year in 2019.

SMERCONISH: Is it a function of demand? Or tariffs? Both? Neither?

HICKS: Well, I think it's both. So the tariffs play a significant role in affecting the cost of the supply chain. So assembling a manufactured recreational vehicle is a very labor intensive activity, at the final stages, but it's being assembled from parts sourced all over the world, assembled and refined, and with value added throughout the supply chain, in the U.S., and those dealers are certainly signaling big profit decline, they're asking the big -- the big RV dealer store, LCI, and Patrick Industries, for better prices on their products just to stay viable.

And what that really does at the dealer is it makes it more difficult for trade-ins to be valued as highly. It makes it more difficult for the dealer to really haggle with a good price, and I think that causes an actual decline in demand, just because of price. But then also consumers are feeling pinched, the tariffs are biting, if you believe some of the numbers as much as a thousand dollars a month, out of a household's pocket, so those are certainly affecting the economy, in ways that we've seen in the past.

A big bit of uncertainty, and higher costs, are certainly the sorts of things that are going to move people away from buying an RV, which is a big purchase in any household.

SMERCONISH: Final question. Is there anything else in your life that you look at to keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on with the economy? I ask this question of my radio audience. I for example keep an eye on restaurant parking lots. Restaurants at different economic levels. And try and compare fine dining with Cracker Barrel.

I'm just curious, is there anything other than the RV industry that you look at and say that's a good bellwether?

HICKS: Yes, that's good, although I would say Cracker Barrel is fine dining in my world.


HICKS: I think, I look at both up cycle, when you see -- obviously I'm an economist, so we're looking at large macroeconomic models.


That's what I do for a living. But sort of to influence or to enrich in that data, we look at things like the RV. I also look at what's happening in help wanted ads or in the service in a restaurant.

If you start seeing more adults moving into fast food, if you see the service sort of change that sort of indicates an crease in supply of workers, that maybe there's hiring slowdown that actually hit the data. We were talking here in studio in Indianapolis things like the sales for restaurants that are by an interstate because that would be an indicator of maybe people traveling less, and then other things, do you see shorter trains?

If you live in the Midwest, if you live in the south, you see a lot of trains. If you see trains parked for long periods of time, it's probably due to less demand. So, there's plenty of small signals going on in addition to the things that are more complex to understand like the yield curve.

SMERCONISH: I think I just swallowed thinking of chicken fried steak, so thank you for that, Professor. Appreciate your being here.

Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments, and did you vote yet at

"Should people have the right to sleep on public streets?"

That's a debate here in Los Angeles. Go vote right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SMERCONISH: So how'd you vote? Survey question at today, "Should people have the right to sleep on public streets?"

Survey says 62 percent of 6,343 say no, 33 percent say yes.


Tough issue. I mean, it really does represent the privatization of public streets if the situation is allowed to continue, but of course you don't want to be callous and you want to do something for folks who are in that unfortunate position.

Here's more of the social media reaction. What do we have?

"Smerconish, why not the obvious question why don't you get public services like housing, food stamps, welfare? We spend millions on these services. Where are they?"

I think they're also taking advantage of those services and are still homeless. The housing is so damn (ph) expensive, particularly in this state.

What else came in?

"Smerconish, living in those conditions to see someone still cherishing his flag is both moving and ironic. Bless his heart."

Dave, I thought the same thing. Here is a guy who literally invites me into his tent, and he is sleeping on a hard sidewalk, rolls out a mat. Hard sidewalk, did you hear what he said to me. Like this is my kitchen area, and there's my grill, and what does he prominently have in that tent? An American flag.

One more quickly. "HBO, did they let you keep the coffee mug?"

You know what, Orlando, I did "Real Time with Bill Maher" last night, and all I got was a lousy t-shirt. Always an interesting experience by the way, and good conversation.

Hey, make sure you join me for my next "American Life in Columns" tour story. I'll be further north in Sunnyvale, California on September 30. The October 1 show is sold out.

Thanks for watching. See you next week.