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Who's To Blame For Ukrainian Jet Crash?; Peter Navarro Discusses U.S. Economy And Job Market; Is Michael Bloomberg's Late Entrance Into Presidential Democratic Race A Good Strategy?; Bloomberg's 2020 Game Theory; Harry And Meghan Shocks Public With Announcement To Redefine Their Roles; How Did Soleimani Killing Affect Swing Voters' Views Of Trump? Aired 9-10a ET

Aired January 11, 2020 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg is being hammered for seemingly blaming President Trump for the downing of Ukraine international flight 752 that killed all 176 on board. Iran just admitted that it mistakenly shot down the plane on Wednesday January 8 just hours after Iran fired more than a dozen missiles at U.S. forces in Iraq, five days after U.S. drones took out general Qasem Soleimani.

The missiles fired into Iraq were sent in the middle of the night at about 2:00 a.m. local time. The plane was shot down two minutes after takeoff from Tehran at 6:12 a.m.. Buttigieg tweeted this, "Innocent civilians are now dead because they were caught in the middle of an unnecessary and unwanted military tit for tat. My thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all 176 souls lost aboard this flight."

Well, here's the headline that generated from the "New York Post," "Buttigieg scorched for saying U.S. 'tit for tat' with Iran doomed Ukrainian airliner." There was a number of -- there were a number of conservatives who were then quoted in their responses, like Ted Cruz who tweeted, "Uh, Pete, they weren't 'caught in the middle.' They were shut down by Iran. Military incompetence by the leading state sponsor of terrorism. Just because Dems hate Trump doesn't justify false equivalence with Iran."

Natalie Johnson, a deputy press secretary for the House GOP conference, said this in a tweet, "Innocent civilians are now dead because of Iran. Full stop." Then there was conservative columnist David French who tweeted, "Nope. Nope. Nope."

Here's what I'm wondering. What if we apply a litigation, a causation analysis to this controversy and the president's order to kill General Soleimani? In personal injury actions, jurors are given instructions by judges that provide the causation framework. In my home state of Pennsylvania for example, the standard jury instruction begins this way, quote, "Negligent conduct is a factual cause of harm if the conduct played an actual, real role in harming the plaintiff. The connection between the conduct in harm cannot be imaginary or insignificant." There may be more than one factual cause of harm."

Here's what that means. When the law talks about causation, it considers the possibility that multiple events can contribute to a single injury. That does not mean that everyone is at equal fall. The traditional tort question is this -- did the event substantially contribute to the injury? Substantial factor doesn't mean majority factor and multiple factors can contribute to a bad result, even if they are not equally responsible. It's what the law calls proximate cause.

One more thing, and don't let your eyes glaze over. A superseding intervening factor that is so extraordinary as to be unforeseeable can break the causal chain. Well, in this case, the U.S. killed Soleimani on January 3rd. On January 8, Iran retaliated by sending missiles into Iraq and on January 8, Iran mistakenly shot the Ukraine airliner out of the sky, presumably thinking it was a hostile military force, not a passenger aircraft.

So was the killing of Soleimani a substantial factor causing the Iranians to shoot down the Ukraine airliner five days later or was the Iranian downing of the aircraft so unforeseeable that it was a superseding intervening cause of the accident? It's a jury question and in this case, the jury sits in the court of public opinion. So I want to know what you think. Go to my website at and answer this question. Do you agree with Pete Buttigieg's tweet that innocent civilians are dead because they were caught in a, quote, "tit for tat?"

Joining me now is Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law. Her most recent book is "Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State." Professor, what do you think on the causation question?

KAREN GREENBERG, DIRECTOR, CENTER ON NATIONAL SECURITY, FORDHAM LAW: You know, I think it's very complicated, but I'm glad you put it out there. So in terms of your proximate cause, I'd say if you had this before a jury and you were arguing the case, it would be very hard to argue the direct proximate cause.

But in terms of influential cause and the context here and both the specific context of what was happening in Iran that week and the larger cause of tensions between Iran and how -- and the United States and the way they've ramped up, particularly after the killing of General Soleimani, I would say you would have a case, but I think it would be incredibly complicated to argue this because of all the political pressures that would be on either side in the courtroom.


SMERCONISH: It would be nearly impossible to find a fair and impartial jury is what I think you're saying. Hey, Tulsi Gabbard, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, herself a Democratic presidential candidate, was on "Fox" yesterday with Bill Hemmer addressing this subject. Here's a short snippet.


BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR, FOX NEWS: The inference here is that Iran is responsible for this and not the tit for tat.


HEMMER: Last comment.

GABBARD: No, no. This is -- this is the consequence of this escalation of war that we need -- that further points to why we need to de- escalate these tensions now.


SMERCONISH: If I played the full cut, you'd see that she uses the word consequence or consequences multiple times. Sounds like she agrees with Mayor Pete.

GREENBERG: I think part of it lies in the article. It is a consequence, it is not necessarily the consequence and it's a complication of events that are happening and of tensions and of passions and, you know, there have been other downed planes that have been, by mistake, in conflict zones, for example in Ukraine, and we know what happened there which is that there were a number of attempts to bring suits. It's very hard to bring these suits, but you're right, a lot of it would depend on the jury.

This is -- there's no question that this is a consequence of what's happening in the region and of the tensions that have escalated and of -- who knows? When they say it was a mistake, you know, part of that mistake may actually have been a kind of panic that can happen even in forces that are trained to operate in military situations and in combat situations. The consequences of creating a situation where people and countries expect to be attacked can lead to mistakes like this and we're not out of this situation yet. So I think it's a good question that you raise.

SMERCONISH: The president was interviewed by Laura Ingraham. I'm going to show you a snippet of what was aired on "Fox" last night. Am I right, before I show this to you, that the issue is really one of anticipatory self defense, that under international law, the issue here is whether we were exercising anticipatory self -- in fact, let me show you the clip now and then you can respond to what the president said last night. Roll it.


LAURA INGRAHAM, HOST, FOX NEWS: Don't the American people have a right to know what specifically was targeted without revealing methods and sources?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't think so, but we will tell you that probably it was going to be the embassy in Baghdad. But ...

INGRAHAM: Say they have (ph) large-scale attacks planned for other embassies and if those were planned, why can't we reveal that to the American people? Wouldn't that help your case?

TRUMP: Well, I can reveal that I believe it would have been four embassies. (END VIDEO CLIP)

SMERCONISH: I believe that it would have been four embassies. Final question, Professor, does that meet the threshold for utilization of anticipatory self defense?

GREENBERG: No, because what you need is the evidence behind it. What exactly led to that conclusion? We don't need a belief. We need knowledge, we need conclusions, we need thought-based reasoning and once we have that, we can know what exactly was about to happen and the real word is imminence. Was this something that was planned at some point, mentioned or was this actually something that was planned with specifics in a time frame that was recognizable within the context of what we mean actually by imminence?

SMERCONISH: Thank you for your perspective. I appreciate you being here.

GREENBERG: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will read some responses throughout the course of the program. This comes, I think, from Facebook. Vince says, "What do you mean 'seems to blame' the president for the downing of the airliner in Iran?

That's exactly what he did. There's no more civility in politics. Mayor Pete's comments are disgraceful. Vince, I was hedging only because he did not mention him by name. I think that's the implication of the tweet, "Innocent civilians are now dead because of this military tit for tat."

I want to know not only what Vince thinks, but what all of you think. Go to my website at this hour and answer this question. Do you agree with Mayor Pete's tweet that innocent civilians are dead because they were caught in a tit for tat?

Up ahead, the latest stock market jobs and unemployment numbers are all good news for President Trump's 2020 campaign. Can it be sustained? I'll ask the president's adviser, Peter Navarro.

Plus, by swamping the airwaves with an unprecedented amount of spending, Michael Bloomberg is testing a new way of running for president, skipping the fundraising, the glad-handing, even the debates, why it just might work.

Plus, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex shocked the world with their attempt to redefine their roles as Royals. I'll ask Princess Diana's former chief of staff if he thinks Diana's son Harry is doing the right thing.



(COMMERCIAL BREAK) SMERCONISH: The new year has seen a slew of international and domestic uncertainty with increased tensions in the Middle East and an impending impeachment trial set to make its way to the Senate, but it appears that this chaotic feel in Washington is having little negative impact on the economy.

A strong jobs report was released on Friday morning showing the U.S. economy added 145,000 jobs in December, the unemployment rate remained at the historic low of 3.5 percent. Economists do say that wages are not growing as fast as they should be. In December, wages rose by only 0.1 percent.

With me now is senior policy adviser to President Trump, Peter Navarro. Peter, congrats on the job numbers, but I do want to ask this question. You would -- you would think that there would be more competition for employees that would be driving up wages. That doesn't seem to be taking place. Why not?


PETER NAVARRO, SENIOR POLICY ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Wages are going up. Wages are doing great. In fact, what we love about the wage structure is that the wages for workers are going up faster than managers. The workers for high school graduates are going up faster than college graduates and what President Trump has done is turned the Republican Party into the party of the working class.

So blue-collar workers are doing great. Looking ahead to 2020, Michael, we're hitting on all cylinders. If you look at the GDP growth equation, consumption investment, government spending and net exports, all of them are going to be strong in 2020. We're going to get to closer to 3 percent than 2 percent and I predict that the stock market, the Dow will be over 32,000 and I have some street cred on that because the day after the election, I predicted Dow 25,000.

So all good here in Trump land. The difference, Michael, is the culture of the Trump administration is that every single day, we think about creating jobs for America, particularly for people who work with their hands and we do it at the macro level with things like tax cuts, deregulation and fair trade. We do it at the micro level by helping shipyards and combat vehicle production facilities and everywhere across this great land.

SMERCONISH: OK. Question. Not to be a Debbie Downer, I'm thrilled about the job numbers, thrilled about the market --

NAVARRO: Sure. And the wage numbers.

SMERCONISH: But I want to -- and yes --

NAVARRO: Median household income is at a record right now and that's kitchen table good news.

SMERCONISH: How about this? How about what the folks at The Peterson Foundation say? You know that they remain alarmed about the nature of the federal debt and deficit. NAVARRO: Yes.

SMERCONISH: Those numbers continue to escalate. What about that? I was born, Peter, of an age when the Republican Party --


SMERCONISH: -- was the party of fiscal prudence.

NAVARRO: Sure. Well, elections do have consequences, Michael, and we had to negotiate with a Democratic House on this last budget go-around and we spent more than we otherwise would have, but I'll tell you this.

The National Defense Authorization Act and the appropriations bill that was passed two weeks ago is really the sleeper in terms of keeping the economy really robust in 2020 because it puts a beautiful fiscal policy floor underneath this economy and I think until the bond market starts worrying about the deficit, everything will be just fine.

SMERCONISH: But it sounds like you're laying it off on the Ds, even though it's that tax cut, right? That ended up costing more than it was bringing in.

NAVARRO: No, I think -- here's the thing. Again, the culture of the Trump administration, if we want to balance the budget, the best way to do that is to grow at 3 percent or 3.5 percent instead of two percent. That generates trillions of dollars of extra tax revenue. So that's what our focus is and, you know, we had, in 2019, if the Federal Reserve hadn't raised rates too far too fast and lowered them too slowly, we probably would have had another point of growth.

But look, for your viewers here, it's going to be a great 2020 here in this this economy. Wages are going to continue to rise and the stock market's going to continue to rise and this is all about President Trump doing that, again, both at the macro level and at the micro level one job at a time.

SMERCONISH: Before you leave me, make some news. What's going to happen this week vis-a-vis China?

NAVARRO: Oh, that's great. We're going to sign, in the building behind me, a historic phase one trade deal with China and there is a window of opportunity, Michael, to pass USMCA in the Senate before Nancy Pelosi does her -- does her thing and you would have two of the biggest trade deals in history signed within days of one another, great news for farmers, ranchers and manufacturers and workers. And so it's going to be a wild, great week for trade in Washington here.

SMERCONISH: It's remarkable to me, as a -- as a political animal, just how much of the political -- I'll use the word chaos doesn't seem to impact the numbers, the economy, what transpires on Wall Street.

NAVARRO: Well, the smart money sees through the noise. I mean, listen to the signal, ignore noise. The signal of the Trump administration is a focus like a laser beam on creating a strong economy, a strong manufacturing base, defending American workers against unfair trade and President Trump has performed beautifully on this. His jobs plan speech, seven promises, June of 2016, he fulfilled every single one of those and we're seeing that in the job numbers. So that's our focus. That's what I do every day.

[09:20:00] I'm just trying to help this president create jobs, particularly for the working-class people of America. And the Philly Shipyard right near you, that's like one of my -- one of my projects for 2020.

SMERCONISH: Yes. I know that.

NAVARRO: We've been able to really get that thing moving and I'd love to come back on the show and talk about how we did that, but that's the kind of thing President Trump is doing and all this other stuff going on, you know, listen to the signal and ignore the noise.

SMERCONISH: Peter, thank you for being here. Appreciate it.

NAVARRO: Hey, one last thing, just if -- maybe a little news. Buttigieg piety without wisdom is not doing this country any good.

SMERCONISH: I'm going to take that as your vote on the survey question of the day at

NAVARRO: Yes, please. Yes.

SMERCONISH: Piety without wisdom.

NAVARRO: Yes. Give me 10, please (ph).

SMERCONISH: Thank you. Social media reaction. What do we have, Catherine? I think this comes from Facebook. "Most Americans do not own stock. Doesn't effect majority of Americans." Veronica, I think -- I think in the mid-50s of percent, Americans do own stock, but regardless, I'll say this.

You heard his point when I asked about the lack of wage growth. His response is to say that wages are growing -- wages are growing faster among high school educated working class than they are among those who are financially more prosperous.

So I guess if -- my point is if your implication is that doesn't affect working men and women, his answer to that would be working men and women are actually doing better in wage growth than are those at the top of the economic spectrum.

Up ahead, many criticized Michael Bloomberg for entering the 2020 race late, skipping the first crucial primary states in all the debates, but is this a fatal flaw for his candidacy or a brilliant game theory on how to win?

And this week, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle shocked the world and the royal family by announcing they want to redefine their roles. Were they out of line? I'll ask the man who served as chief of staff to Harry's mother, Princess Diana, and whose book about Meghan warned her about doing anything seen as destabilizing.




SMERCONISH: The conventional view is that Mike Bloomberg's late entry into the 2020 race will hamper his ability to win the Democratic nomination because after all, he's not competing in the first four states. I see something different, that maybe he's made a wise political calculation and that the dominoes are falling as he needs them to. I said on my Sirius XM radio program this week that if you could put Bloomberg in a time machine and let him start the race sooner, I don't think he'd take that deal.

To be sure, his approach has met with skepticism, as "The New York Times" recently put it, quote, "There's a way that people generally run for president and there is whatever Mr. Bloomberg is doing. Looking past Iowa and New Hampshire to focus on the delegate-rich contests that come in the months that follow, Mr. Bloomberg is betting that his zag-while-they-zig electoral strategy and functionally bottomless resources can make him the standard-bearer of a Democratic Party whose 2020 primary has been defined in part by progressive disdain for the billionaire class."

"The Times" piece implicitly criticized Bloomberg using those deep pockets to buy a lot of ads while skipping a lot of the grunt work of running, the debates, the large-scale rallies, the posing for selfies with hundreds of voters, but maybe it's not his indifference or an unwillingness to engage in retail politics that kept him out of the early contests, but game theory.

A bit of history. Like Donald Trump before him, Mike Bloomberg long flirted with running for president before actually becoming a candidate and like Donald Trump, he's never had a doctrinaire devotion to a particular political party. Remember, before running against Hillary in 2016, Donald Trump had been a contributor of hers. Bloomberg had been a Democrat before switching to run for New York City mayor in 2001 as a Republican.

In 2007, he announced that he was no longer affiliated with either party, a move that many thought was a prelude to an Independent run for president and that suspicion lasted nearly a decade. Then in March of 2016, he ended speculation that he would run as an Independent by writing this editorial, "The Risk I Will Not Take, an Independent Candidacy Could Split the Electoral College and Allow Congress to Elect an Extremist."

Yet he also attacked candidate Donald Trump at the time saying, "He has run the most divisive and demagogic presidential campaign I can remember, preying on people's prejudices and fears." And then he delivered a fiery anti-Trump speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention.

In 2018, he switched his affiliation back to Democrat and donated millions to mid-term candidates, launching speculation that he would run as a Democrat. Still many wondered yet again if he'd run as an Independent. So he squashed those rumors once and for all. Mike Bloomberg has always been about the numbers.

In fact, his current slogan is, "In God we trust, everybody else bring data," and that was his view of the presidential race as an Independent one year ago when he released a statement saying this, "The data was very clear and very consistent. Given the strong pull of partisanship and the realities of the Electoral College system, there is no way an Independent can win. That is truer today than ever before. In 2020, the great likelihood is that an Independent would just split the anti-Trump vote and end up reelecting the president. That's a risk I refused to run in 2016 and we can't afford to run it now."

So did that mean that he would run as a Democrat? No, because in March he announced he was definitely not running in 2020. And by now, everybody else was getting into the race and the debates were about to begin.

But then on November 7th, "The New York Times" broke the news that Bloomberg -- quote -- "Has been privately weighing a bid for the White House for weeks and has not yet made a final decision on whether to run."

The story said -- quote -- "Mr. Bloomberg, 77, initially bowed out of the 2020 race because of Mr. Biden's apparent strength, but he has since grown skeptical that Mr. Biden is on track to win the Democratic nomination and he does not see the two leading liberals in the race, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, as strong candidates for the general election."

The very next day he filed paper for the Alabama primary just before its deadline which is the earliest in the nation. He finally announced his candidacy on November 24th.

Some say that his bid is all about the money. That he's buying his way in. I say if he didn't have credibility, that alone wouldn't work.

It's not just the money. He's a qualified guy with a record of accomplishment behind him. Yes, he risks alienating the voters in the early contests that he has skipped. But his response to those Democrats is to say that he's opening his wallet in nationwide advertising including in their states to take down Donald Trump.

Consider that Bloomberg just committed to run an ad during the Super Bowl at a cost of $10 million. The only other candidate to make that kind of buy? Donald Trump.

So, here is Bloomberg's play. We're less than a month from Iowa with no clear front-runner, then comes New Hampshire, equally competitive, followed by Nevada and South Carolina, where Joe Biden, due to his standing among people of color is in lead.

Of course, there could be a momentum shift in the race depending upon who wins Iowa and New Hampshire. But it's entirely possible that the first four states could yield three different winners and that the picture will be muddled.

On March 3rd, when we have Super Tuesday, a day on which 14 states will vote, including California and Texas, at the end of which roughly 40 percent of Democratic delegates will have been selected. And that's the day that Mike Bloomberg enters the fray.

He's currently spending at a rate that by Super Tuesday could equal the $400 million that President Barack Obama's campaign spent on advertising over the course of the entire general election in 2012.

Could it work? Well, a Hill/Harris expo released last week showed him tied for third place with Senator Elizabeth Warren. And on Friday, Real Clear Politics reported that in its betting odds, Mike Bloomberg has not passed Pete Buttigieg for fourth place and that if the upward trend continues he'll soon be moving into third place ahead of Warren.

My bottom line is this. I am not predicting that Mike Bloomberg wins the Democratic nomination. But I do believe he is about to have a significant impact on this race.

I want to remind to you to answer the survey question this week at

"Do you agree with Pete Buttigieg's tweet that innocent civilians are dead because they were caught in a tit for tat?"

And still to come, what do swing voters in Pennsylvania think of the killing of Iran general Qasem Soleimani? And, what does it mean for Trump's reelection chances?

Plus, will the Duke and Duchess of Sussex be able to survive the fallout of their attempt to achieve some independence from the royal family? My next guest has unique insight having served as Princess Diana's private secretary and chief of staff. I'm going to ask Patrick Jephson, has racism driven the couple to Canada?



SMERCONISH: It was the Instagram announcement that caught the world by surprise as well as Britain's royal family. Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the duke and duchess of Sussex, announced they were stepping back as senior members of the royal family. And yet it turns out that they've been secretly developing their own Web site Royal Sussex for about 10 months.

After the news broke Meghan flew back to Canada where their son Archie had been with his nanny while Harry remains in Britain said to be discussing the couple's future role with his family. Reportedly, his father, Prince Charles wants to cut off their funding, even to charge them rent for their U.K. home.

My next guest who was Princess Diana's private secretary and chief of staff wrote these prescient words in his 2018 book about Meghan -- quote -- "The one really key skill Meghan absolutely must perfect is how to avoid being seen as any kind of a destabilizing danger to the established royal order.

Patrick Jephson joins me now. His book, by the way, "The Meghan Factor: A Royal Expert's Insight on America's New Princess-and How She Could Change the Windsor Dynasty Forever." He also wrote this piece for "The Daily Mail," "The HRH Egos Have Landed."

Patrick, what role is race playing in all of this?

PATRICK JEPHSON, PRINCESS DIANA'S PRIVATE SECRETARY AND CHIEF OF STAFF, AUTHOR, "THE MEGHAN FACTOR": Well, that's a very interesting question, Michael. It's a serious one, I've been thinking about it quite hard. Interestingly, I covered Harry and Meghan's wedding for CNN on the Christiane Amanpour show.

And this was one of the subjects we discussed at the time. I think there's no doubt the evidence of the day, and subsequently is that the British royal family opens Meghan -- welcomes Meghan with open arms. For them, the addition of somebody with mixed race ancestry is actually a win-win. Britain is a multicultural, multiracial society and it's high time the royal family had a multiracial member in it.


Interestingly it's a dynasty, so now there is African-American DNA in the thousand-year old British royal dynasty. So I don't think there's racism there in the same way the British people by and large are very tolerant, don't see much sign of racism there. The British media, well, it has been accused of racism, but actually that might be confused with its tendency to criticize, to be snide, sometimes to be cruel. But actual racism is a crime and that would have to be prosecuted.

So my guess is that what we're talking about here is the kind of online racism that you get anywhere. And it can be very unpleasant and very hurtful but my guess is you will find that in any country, even in the United States.

SMERCONISH: Is the royal family like prison, or can one leave?

JEPHSON: It's not like prison. And indeed, anybody who didn't want to be there shouldn't be there. It's a family, after all. It's a very human organization with all of the strengths and weaknesses that entails. My guess is that nobody wants to keep Harry and Meghan in the royal family against their will.

But like so much else in the royal business, it's not what you do, it's how you do it that really counts. And by almost any angle the way that Harry and Meghan have gone about this transition, as they call it to a different kind of royalty seems to have got everybody else worked up, and understandably so.

SMERCONISH: How big of a crisis is it, Patrick? JEPHSON: It's a big crisis. Michael, I see that on the CNN Web site today, you filed this under entertainment. It's not entertainment. Harry and Meghan are not celebrities. They're not politicians. Nobody voted for them. They're part of a very delicate, very ancient, you might say antique constitutional phenomenon which is the British monarchy.

After all, it's the British monarchy that patriotic Brits sing about in their national anthem. They don't sing God bless Britain. They sing "God Save The Queen." This is a constitutional issue and all British people and subjects in British -- in royal realms around the world all feel they have skin in the game. And a lot of them, too, through their taxes are subsidizing.

SMERCONISH: It's interesting that you mentioned the CNN Web site. When I did my read-in at 4:30 a.m. today, the number one story then at the "Washington Post" wasn't Iran, wasn't the 2020 election, wasn't the impeachment trial next week, it was this.

A final quick answer, if you can. How does it end?

JEPHSON: Huh, well, nobody knows right now. The queen wants matters settled very quickly. Sources close to Harry have said not so fast. This will be worth watching for quite a few days yet.

SMERCONISH: Well, I hope you'll come back and continue to discuss it with us. Thank you, Patrick Jephson, I really appreciate it. Your book was very prescient.

We'll check in on your tweets and Facebook comments. Catherine (ph), what do we have?

From Twitter. Smerconish, we fought a bloody war to get rid of the monarch. Why should we care?

You know, Larry, first of all don't be a Debbie Downer. I'm into this. And as I just said to Mr. Jephson, when I read-in this morning -- think about it. An impeachment process next week, on the verge of war with Iran, we're in the midst of an election less than a month to go from the Iowa caucus, and I am telling you, at least at 4:30 this morning, the number one story at the "Washington Post" was all about this.

Still to come, how did America's killing of an Iranian general sit with a group of key swing voters in Pennsylvania?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Respect his decision, he's our president. He knows more than we know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to know that that we're not going to sit here and just have you kill our people for no apparent reason.




SMERCONISH: What do key swing voters in battleground states thinking about the killing of Iranian general Qasem Soleimani? This week a "USA Today" Ipsos poll found that nationally, Americans think the killing has made the United States less safe by a wide margin, 55 percent to 24 percent. And yet -- and yet in the same poll they said that a plurality of Americans, 42 percent supported the move to kill General Soleimani.

Where do the swing voters stand? Throughout the campaign, we've been checking with Rich Thau of Engagious. He's been conducting very specific focus groups of people who flipped from Obama to Trump or Romney to Clinton. This week took him to my backyard in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.

Back with me now is Rich Thau, president and co-founder of Engagious. Hey, Rich, let me set the stage and just tell the national audience about Luzerne County. The president won Luzerne County by more than 20 points.

Ben Bradlee Jr. wrote a great book called "The Forgotten" and said, this was the county that elected Donald Trump president. With that background what did you find among swing voters pertaining to Iran?

RICH THAU, MODERATOR, SWING VOTER PROJECT: What we found, Michael, was that they're overall generally very supportive of him, but there are three caveats, one is they're concerned about a short term engagement that escalates and becomes a longer, more in-depth problem for them. The other problem, the second one is that they don't want to have a commitment that goes on indefinitely.


They would want something that is short term because if we're -- the problem they are war weary and they don't want us to be in that situation indefinitely. And then the third thing that we heard was that one respondent said that he was concerned that this might have been a stunt on the part of President Trump to deflect attention away from impeachment. But he was the only one in the session who said that.

SMERCONISH: I'm fascinated by the folks who voted for Barack Obama in one cycle and went for Donald Trump in the next. And I know that your practice is to say to them, hey, if I could give you either one of them in the 2020 election which would you choose? Did you ask that question and with what result if you did?

THAU: We asked that question. Again, we do it every month. We had nine out of 11 say that if it were Obama against Trump they would take President Trump.

SMERCONISH: OK. Pretty impressive for President Trump that 9-11 are hanging with him, although I guess someone could say the margin was so thin, 70,000 votes in 3 states, that Trump needs to win them all. What's your thought on that?

THAU: Well, he does need to win an awful lot of them. We don't know exactly how many he needs to win and, of course, there's the question of voters who didn't vote in 2016 voting in 2020 and what the turnout rate is going to be. So, it's a totally open question.

But that said, it's an indication of how much people support the president or his Democratic challenger based upon where the swing voters go. And if the swing voters are going in one direction, I'm not totally sure that the -- a surge of voters on the other side can overwhelm with where the tighter swing voters might be going. We just don't know yet. We will be able to know right after the election.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Good point. And Brad Parscale I'm sure for the Trump campaign would say, well, we have got 8 to 10 million who didn't come out, who would have been for Donald Trump. Because it was Luzerne County I'm thinking Scranton, I need to ask you this, did you sound out these folks on their affinity for the so-called native son Joe Biden?

THAU: I sure did and it was eye opening. There was not a lot of warm and fuzzy toward Joe Biden in this part of Pennsylvania


THAU: And I was frankly pretty surprised. Yes. We had people say, well, you know, he only lived here when he was young. He lived here for X number of years. He moved to Delaware and from their perspective it wasn't all that compelling a case for them to vote for Joe Biden because he was Scranton Joe, the working guy from this part of P.A.

SMERCONISH: Bottom line you've now been in Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Iowa, what is the one big takeaway that you have found from swing voters in those states?

THAU: The big takeaway is this, swing voters feel about President Trump the way the royal family feels about Prince Harry. And that is they love him, they support him but if he go -- if he goes totally off the rails, they'll leave him there.


SMERCONISH: They'll leave him in Canada --

THAU: That's my takeaway.

SMERCONISH: If he -- if he goes totally off the rails. Thank you, Rich. I appreciate it.

THAU: Totally off -- not partially, totally. Yes. Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Totally, I get it. Has to go totally off the reservation. Otherwise they're hanging with him.

THAU: That's right.

SMERCONISH: It's the last debate before the first vote and it's only on CNN. The top Democrats head to Iowa for a live CNN presidential debate in partnership with the Des Moines Register. It's Tuesday. This Tuesday, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. The final result. Did you vote yet at Here's the survey question. "Do you agree with Pete Buttigieg's tweet that innocent civilians are dead because they were caught in a tit for tat?"



SMERCONISH: Hey, time to see how to see how you responded to the survey question this hour at

"Do you agree with Pete Buttigieg's tweet that innocent civilians are dead because they were caught in a tit for tat?"

Survey says -- whoa! Eighty-six -- I'm always stunned. If you watch every week, you know I'm always stunned with the result. Eighty-six percent say, yes.

I'm more taken with the number, which is like 17,000 and change, who took the time to vote. I'll leave the question up. I'm stunned by the lopsided nature of that.

Here's some of the reaction that came in during the course of the program. What do we have, Catherine (ph)?

Totally absurd. Iran shot down a plane taking off from their own airport. The idea that U.S. has responsibility in the mindset is to always blame America first. Ridiculous.

Edward, first of all, I'm not blaming America for this. But I heard the debate play itself out. And I as a trial attorney, I thought, if we were to litigate this, what would the causation standard look like? Was it a substantial factor in causing the shooting down of that airplane for us to have taken out General Soleimani?

What comes next? What else do we have?

Of course Mayor Pete is correct. If Trump had not started off this chain of events, the plane would not have been shot down. Was Trump's internal -- intention murder? No. Was the outcome caused by poor judgment? Yes.

But, Alison, I can argue with contrarian which is to say that if General Soleimani weren't a terrorist with blood on his hands for so many Americans then we would not have needed to kill him, right? And then that plane would not have been shot out of the sky by the Iranians.

Go vote for on the survey question. I will leave it up. And join me for "My American Life in Columns" tour. I'm soon to be in Pittsburgh, Manchester, St. Louis and Raleigh.

Thanks for watching. See you next week.