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The Great School Mask Debate; Is it a Mistake for the U.S. to Leave Afghanistan?; The Big Political Ramifications of New Census Data; Specter Jabs Phillies Star Harper. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired August 14, 2021 - 09:00   ET




MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: Here come the teachers, here come the books. Will the masks get dirty looks? I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. That's the question, but the answer depends on which newspaper you read and which experts you believe. This week, I opened "The New York Times" to see a piece published by Duke University researchers who studied data collected from over 1 million North Carolina students and staff members between March and June of this year.

They say that when kids are too young to be vaccinated, masking is the most effective strategy for preventing transmission in schools. Their data shows, quote, "More than 7,000 children and adults acquired the coronavirus and attended school while infectious. Because of close contact with those cases, more than 40,000 people required quarantine. Through contact tracing and testing, however, we found only 363 additional children and adults acquired the coronavirus.

We believe this low rate of transmission occurred because of the mask- on-mask school environment: Both the infected person and the close contact wore masks."

In other words, there's a less than 1 percent chance of passing COVID onto a peer or adult in school if universal masking is in place. This is sound research from reputable health experts, but then again, so is this. On the same day, another article was published prominently on the homepage of "The Wall Street Journal" with this headline, "The Case Against Masks for Children: It's abusive to force kids who struggle with them to sacrifice for the sake of unvaccinated adults."

Like "The Times" article, this too authored by reputable individuals, a Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor and a Tufts Children's Hospital chief. They wrote, "Do masks reduce COVID transmission in children? Believe it or not, we could find only a single retrospective study on the question, and its results were inconclusive.

Conversely, they argue that widespread masking causes negative psychological impacts and can result in severe acne, increased levels of carbon dioxide in the blood, even altered facial development as a result of chronic mouth breathing. So "The New York Times" publishes a strong case for school masking and "The Wall Street Journal" publishes a strong case against it. How can both be true?

Joining me now is the co-author of the research published in "The New York Times" Dr. Danny Benjamin, distinguished professor of pediatrics at Duke University and co-chair of the ABC Science Collaborative. I'm also joined by one of the authors of "The Wall Street Journal" article on the case against masks, Dr. Cody Meissner, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Tufts Children's Hospital and distinguished professor. He's also a member of the committee that advises the FDA on vaccine decisions.

Doctors, thank you for being here. Let us start with the easy stuff. Dr. Benjamin, anyone eligible for the vaccine should be vaccinated, right?


SMERCONISH: Dr. Meissner, anyone eligible for the vaccine should be vaccinated, right?

CODY MEISSNER, CHIEF, DIVISION OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASE, TUFTS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Michael, yes, and let me say thank you very much for the opportunity to participate this morning. It's wonderful to be on the show. It's also a pleasure to be on the show with Dr. Benjamin, who's a well-established authority in pediatric infectious disease.

SMERCONISH: OK then. I'll begin with you, Dr. Meissner, why don't you agree with him if you hold him in high regard?

MEISSNER: Well, I think the -- what you will find as we go through our discussion right now is that there's not a great deal of difference between Dr. Benjamin's position and my position. I think that we don't know if masks make a difference in transmission and particularly in a school room setting. I think adults who are foolish enough not to be vaccinated, they should wear a mask, but for children in school, we always have to think about the disadvantages of any sort of intervention and what are the advantages?

And, for example, the paper that Dr. Benjamin published, which was wonderful, it's the sort of study that we need, but I think he will acknowledge there was no control group and Dr. Fauci has made very clear these days that we cannot make decisions based on uncontrolled clinical trials. He compared his data with data from a school in Israel that did not mask and we don't know anything.


I don't know what grades those children were in in the Israel school, I don't know what sort of ventilation they had and how that compared with the schools in North Carolina. So there's really no control group at this -- at this time. So I don't think ...

SMERCONISH: Well, let me ask him -- let me -- OK. Let me -- let me ask him to explain. Dr. Benjamin, thank you for being here as well. Go ahead and make the case for masks on kids in schools. BENJAMIN: Sure. So in addition to the low rate in North Carolina, there's seven other publications that show a similar low rate. From North Carolina published in July in "Pediatrics," from North Carolina published in January in "Pediatrics," from Wisconsin published in the "MMWR" in January of 2021, from Utah published in "MMWR" in 2021, from California published in "Pediatric Research, from Georgia in February 2021 in the "MMWR" and from Missouri in 2021.

Now, these publications have in common a 1 percent or less transmission rate and they use contact tracing, whole genome sequencing and testing, a mix of those methods, to show that. I acknowledge that we don't have a control group within the study. However, we reached out to hundreds of districts that were not masking and asked them to participate in the study and they declined and the primary reason for that is prior to August, districts that were not masking had no desire to show how much COVID they were transmitting in their schools and in their communities.

Now since August, to the credit of 25 different districts that have recently gone from voluntary masking to mask mandates, five districts of those across the country actually had to shut down and go to virtual learning as a result of hundreds of COVID infections in school. Since the beginning of August, school districts that are not masking are starting to have the integrity to report their COVID infections publicly and we're seeing a tremendous amount of within school transmission.

By the way, we've contacted the Israeli researchers and, as outlined in their publication in August 2020, those were grades 7 through 12 with PCR testing over the Jewish holiday weekend and not much change to ventilation similar to what we did in North Carolina.

SMERCONISH: This is a lot for parents to process. Dr. Meissner, let me ask you this. You write that children have been known to transmit COVID, but far less often than adults do, but help me understand something. The study that you cite about the lack of transmission in North Carolina schools, the study that was linked to your piece in "The Journal," was the study written about by Dr. Benjamin and specifically says the schools had universal masking during this time. So, you know, to me as a layperson, I ask isn't that an example of masks doing their job?

MEISSNER: And first I'd like to respond to what Dr. Benjamin said. He cited a number of different studies. We certainly need those studies and they need to be done, but they need to be done properly. There is no control trial that shows that masking reduces the risk of transmission in a school room setting. Now, this needs to be studied and I think many people have strongly encouraged the NIH to do an appropriately-controlled study.

Dr. Benjamin states that there are higher rates at different times, but those are different parts of the country, there are different variants that are circulating in those areas and the physical setup in the school is likely to be quite variable. So the important point that we were trying to make in our op-ed editorial is before we recommend that 56 million children and adolescents in the United States between fifth grade and through 17 years of age wear masks, let's find out what the consequences of such widespread ...


MEISSNER: ... use of masks is. It's harmful in many situations ...

SMERCONISH: Dr. Benjamin, you get -- you get the final word. It's such a complicated subject and I'm doing my best to give people all the information, but we're limited on time. Dr. Benjamin, respond to that with your final 30 seconds.

BENJAMIN: Yes. Today, if Dr. Meissner goes into the hospital at Tufts, he will be required to wear a mask even though there's no randomized trials that, in the healthcare setting, masking prevents transmission, but like every major medical institution in the country, Tufts and Duke require masking for all visitors, patients, physicians and staff.

And so the protections that Dr. Meissner and I enjoy in our place of work is equally necessary for adults and children where they are in school.


SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you both for being here.

MEISSNER: But that's a ...

SMERCONISH: To be continued. I wish we had more time. What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I'll read some responses throughout the course of the program. From the world of Twitter, "I wish masks weren't a necessity, but they are and the people agitating about them the most are the same people who are making them necessary -- unvaccinated adults."

Chris, it's a total visceral reaction from me, but the people that I see where I am, on a day-to-day basis, all masked up, I can't help but thinking they're the ones who are already vaccinated. If you missed it, they agreed on one thing -- everybody eligible should be vaccinated.

Up ahead, we're four weeks away from the 20th anniversary of 9/11 and as our troops withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban already taking over huge swaths of the country, which leads me to this week's survey question. Go to and cast a ballot right now. Should President Biden now reverse withdrawal from Afghanistan?




SMERCONISH: Four weeks from today will mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11, masterminded by Al-Qaeda from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, and that was the original date set by President Biden for America to finally extricate our military from the conflict there. Then the withdrawal got moved up to August 31st and yet even before we reach that date, the Taliban has been taking over territory at a rapid fire pace, leading to the inevitable question -- is it a mistake for the U.S. to leave?

As of this morning, the Taliban had captured 18 of the 34 provincial capitals. That is more than half, with a senior administration official telling CNN that the capital of Kabul could fall soon, which leads me to this week's survey question at Should President Biden now reverse withdrawal from Afghanistan?

In a new piece for titled "Biden deserves blame for the debacle in Afghanistan," CNN national security analyst Peter Bergen likens the situation to America's drawdown in Iraq a decade ago. Peter joins me now. He's the author, by the way, of a terrific new book. It's called "The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden." Peter, do you take issue with the decision to leave or the way in which the decision is being executed?

PETER BERGEN, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Well, particularly the latter, but also just generally the former. You know, we're still in South Korea more than three quarters of a century after the end of hostilities with 25,000 troops and the argument that we're hearing -- we're hearing a variety of rationales from the administration, including, well, you know, we have other fish to fry around the world.

We only had 2,500 troops there. I mean, it's a relatively small number when we have 1.3 million active duty members of the U.S. military and 2 million if you throw in the reserve.

So I think it was an unforced error there wasn't a huge constituency baying for this to happen. Americans are pretty much split. When I look at the most recent Gallup poll, Michael, half think the war was a mistake and half don't think it was a mistake. Democrats tend to be more skeptical than Republicans, but the fact is is that, you know, this is an unforced error that is blowing up on Biden's watch.

SMERCONISH: So let me be a contrarian. The rapid pace, I argue, of the Taliban taking over Afghanistan is confirmation of the inevitability this is going to happen in five years, 50 years, 100 years. Why not let it happen sooner before another American dies?

BERGEN: Well, by the way, there hasn't been an American casualty in Afghanistan I think now for a year and a half. So I mean, you know, I think this argument, Michael, with great respect, is a bit like if I have a four-year-old boy and say, hey, I'm going to throw him in the swimming pool without a life jacket even though I know he can't swim and sure enough I have to explain to my wife, I'm sorry, our son is dead because he drowned.

The fact is is that this 2,500 troop presence was relatively small, but psychologically important because when we, the United States, left 7,000 NATO troops also left, 16,000 contractors also left and essentially everything that was supporting the rather incompetent Afghan army has gone.

But I think the -- we're hearing the argument from the White House, Michael, the contrarian argument that you made, which is somehow this proves the brilliance of Biden's decision, the fact that the Afghan army is collapsing so quickly. To me, that seems like a very odd defense of a kind of not very smart policy choice.

SMERCONISH: Well, you could -- but, Peter, you could also look at it this way. You could say he knows this is the end result and he at least has the courage to let it play out on his watch rather than kicking the can down the road. I guess I would say to you if not now, then when? How long should the U.S. commitment be to staying in Afghanistan?

BERGEN: Well, I think we should just say we have a long-term commitment. The numbers of troops, by the way, the Afghans don't care if it's 2,000, 3,000 or one guy outside the, you know, U.S. Embassy. They just want to hear that we're staying, not leaving and this has created a huge collapse, you know, of confidence amongst Afghans, the army, the government and, you know, it's very possible Biden will have to go back in.

After all, it was then Vice President Biden that made a version of this mistake in Iraq when we pulled out completely and he negotiated that three years later, we went back in because ISIS was conducting ethnic cleansing against the Yazidis, was murdering American journalists and, you know, it's not impossible that we'll see something similar from the Taliban. They've engaged in ethnic cleansing in the past, they've certainly killed a lot of Americans and I don't think they've changed substantially in the years that they fell from power.

SMERCONISH: So what do you think happens next? I mean, it's almost like watching election returns come in in the United States on a Tuesday night where the map is getting colored. We just see more and more territory being taken control of by the Taliban. Do you think the president is going to reverse course? I've got just 30 seconds.


BERGEN: Michael, I don't know. I mean, I think this was very much his decision against the advice of the Pentagon and probably, I think, you know, others in his cabinet kind of acquiesce, but may have had their doubts and he can reverse his decision. I mean, he's commander-in- chief. My guess is he may well have to. I mean, when you're sending 8,000 troops in essentially to the region in order to -- you know, you're already conceding that you are reversing a form of the decision that you've already made.

SMERCONISH: Yes. Maybe he's already doing it. Maybe he's already doing it. Congratulations on the book. It's terrific.

BERGEN: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish social media, Twitter, Facebook pages, et cetera, et cetera. Twitter, "No, after 20 years and $1 trillion, if the trained and armed Afghan security forces don't have the will to fight for their own freedom, then why should the U.S.?" PastaJoe, I'm inclined to agree with you. I mean, to go back to Peter's analogy, tough to -- tough to refute because nobody wants to see somebody drowning in a pool, but it's like we've had the lifeguard there and we also gave them the apparatus that they would need to float and it just isn't happening.

I want to remind you to go to my website at and answer this week's survey question. What should happen now? Should President Biden now reverse withdrawal from Afghanistan? All the polling data that I've seen is like a month, at least, old on what should we do, so it's going to be very interesting to see what you say on that question.

Still to come, you need to show proof of vaccination in more and more locations, your workplace, restaurants, concert halls. What about those who are unvaccinated and have had COVID? How should they be treated?

Plus, the demographics in this country are evolving. We're less white, more diverse, less rural, more metropolitan. Donald Trump built a political apparatus on the idea that America's traditional face was changing. So what will the political impact of the 2020 census be? New information.




SMERCONISH: For the first time in U.S. history, the number of white people, now in decline. That was one of many nuggets contained in new census data released on Thursday and now comes the fallout when state legislatures redraw maps of congressional districts and state legislative districts, trying to maximize benefit to their parties and they'll have more leeway thanks to two key Supreme Court decisions since the last census which gives states more freedom in redistricting.

Joining me now to discuss is William Frey, a demographer who's senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is "Diversity Explosion: How New Racial Demographics are Remaking America." Dr. Frey, when will whites attain the status of majority minority in this country?

DR. WILLIAM FREY, DEMOGRAPHER/SR. FELLOW, BROOKINGS INST. METROPOLITAN POLICY PROGRAM: Well, that's an interesting question. I mean, if you go to the Census Bureau's projections, they will tell you, by using the current categories and sort of, you know, mechanically pushing it all together year by year, that it might be in 2045, but my feeling is that by the time we get there, these racial categories will be very different.

We already see a lot of blending in the United States. So, you know, yes, by then, we'll at least be a minority white the way we count it now, but I think we'll be much more multiracial, multicultural and because of interracial marriages and just people changing their identity over time as we become a more multicultural country. So, yes, that's the talking point and that's the very statistical point, but I think, you know, the lived life of this country with immigration and so forth will make that probably different. I wouldn't bet a lot of money on that if I were you.

SMERCONISH: Are you saying -- are you saying that you think racial categories in the not-too-distant future will lose their importance?

FREY: You know, it depends on what you talk about the not-too-distant future. It is very important for civil rights legislation, for being able to hold people accountable for discrimination and disparities in this country to be able to identify various very important historical groups.

But I think as younger people become more multiracial, as we have more blending and, most importantly, if we put more federal spending and government spending into the lives of these young people, which is the most diverse part of our population, that then maybe there won't be a need to have these very sharp racial differences that we talk about right now.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Frey, you do this for a living. You crunch these demographic numbers day in and day out. I don't want to lead you. What most surprised you with the data drop that we got this week?

FREY: Well, you know, I mean two things that I sort of was expecting anyway and I wasn't surprised and that is a small decline in the white population as people identify themselves and a decline in the population under age 18, not a big one, but a decline.

But the other thing that sort of hit me in the face when the Census had their release on Thursday is the big increase in people who identify as multi-racial. In other words, they can say they're white and black or white and Asian, white and some other race. Now, that's something that's bigger than, I think, most people expected.

The Census Bureau, to be a little bit sort of in the weeds about this, asked that question more precisely and more specifically this time, so maybe people answered it that way this time that might have not answered it last time, but still it tells us who we are and how people are identifying themselves. That kind of surprised me.


SMERCONISH: In a nutshell, what's the chief political ramification that Dr. William Frey sees?

FREY: Well, we're a country that's becoming more racially diverse from our younger age structure upwards. So people who are in their 20s and early 30s -- voters are going to be voting much more differently than people who are here in their 50s and 60s and that age group is going to be moving upward.

In addition, we're going to be moving outward from the kind of traditional melting pot states into other parts of the country and even in the fast growing places that used to be Republican places like Arizona and Georgia and even Texas. Those states are growing mostly because they're attracting Latinos and blacks, Asians, and other people of color. Those are groups that vote Democratic so those Republican states should be ready to deal with a different kind of electorate.

SMERCONISH: Well done. Thank you, Dr. Frey, really appreciate your expertise.

FREY: Sure, good to be with you.

SMERCONISH: Checking in on your tweets and Facebook comments. Catherine, what do we have? Twitter.

America is becoming less white and that scares the health out of some people. Well, I've made reference earlier to changing demographics in the country. The overall change not just from a racial perspective as being something on which Donald Trump was successful in capitalizing in 2016 and frankly in his turnout in 2020.

I want to remind you to answer this week's survey question at my Web site. Should President Biden now reverse withdrawal from Afghanistan, given the gains that are being made hour by hour by the Taliban?

Still to come, as restaurants, businesses and employers look to slow the spread of the Delta variant, vaccine passports are becoming more and more common. But would anybody accept an antibody test passport instead? I'll speak to a professor who says people who are naturally immune to COVID aren't getting a fair shake.

Plus, my friend and law colleague Shanin Specter has long been a vocal advocate for COVID vaccine mandates. Find out what happened after he took his cause to his third row seats at Citizens Bank Park this week.









SMERCONISH: The fast spreading Delta variant has hastened the onset of vaccine mandates. Think of the many employers, restaurants, schools, concerts now demanding proof of vaccination. But how should we be treating people who have natural immunity after surviving COVID? The CDC still urges those who've had COVID-19 to get vaccinated. And this week, they released a brand-new study showing that vaccines do a better job at protecting you from reinfection than natural immunity on its own. The research says that who got COVID in 2020 and didn't get a vaccine were more than twice as likely to be reinfected in May or June of 2021. And that's compared with people who also had COVID but were later fully vaccinated.

The authors note that scientists are still unraveling how long and how robust natural immunity to COVID really is. But what if you can provide proof of natural immunity?

Todd Zywicki is a George Mason University law professor and he says multiple antibody tests show that he's still good to go after contracting the virus in the spring of 2020. And because of this he sees the vaccine is unnecessary so he's suing his employer over its vaccine mandate. Professor Zywicki joins me now.

So, Professor, let's make clear you're not anti-vax, right? You're not the traditional vax hesitant. You're view is more nuance. Explain.

TODD ZYWICKI, LAW PROFESSOR, GEORGE MASON UNIVERSITY: Yes, let me -- yes, let me make clear, Michael. If a vaccine had been around in March 2020 when I got COVID I would have gotten vaccinated. COVID is no fun. I'm not joking about I don't want to get COVID again and I don't want to risk anybody around me getting COVID.

Well, my argument here is that what the evidence clearly show is that natural immunity is -- as protective, provides the least as much protection against infection as the most effective vaccines and clearly provides more protection than less effective vaccines such as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which is that natural immunity is estimated to have about a 90 percent to 95 percent protection level which is similar to the top vaccine. Johnson & Johnson, for example, is only 66 percent.

And so the second thing is is that if you've had -- recovered from COVID and you get vaccinated, you don't have the same risk and some side effects than everybody else. You actually have an increased risk of side effects because of the risk of hyper inflammation.

So what I'm saying to the university is I -- you may have -- we're not challenging their right to be worried immunity and protecting the community. What I am saying is though you do not have -- you have to have a good reason discriminate between two different forms of immunity both of which provide protection.

SMERCONISH: On the same day that you published thoughts along the lines of what you just said here on CNN, you did it in "The Wall Street Journal." On the same day, Dr. Walensky, the head of the CDC, specifically said that someone in your position should get vaccinated?

ZYWICKI: Yes. And here's the deal, Michael, which is -- we are so far beyond one size fits all medicine when it comes to this issue. I have an immunologist.


My immunologist is a PhD -- MD/PhD in immunology. He is familiar with my health history. He is familiar with what all this is and what the literature says.

He and I have certainly not ruled out the possibility that sometime in the future it might be useful for me to get some degree of vaccination. And maybe the one shot is appropriate. Maybe the two shots is appropriate.

But the reality here is that I have immunity. My antibody tests are 900 times baseline protection for antibodies.

And here's the funny thing, Michael, which is I've talked to a lot of people who have been vaccinated in the past week. I have not met a single person who knows what their -- who's been vaccinated, who knows what their actual current level of immune protection is. I do.

SMERCONISH: Right but you can make the same -- but, Professor, you can make the -- you can make the same argument about people who have had COVID. I wouldn't want someone who had COVID at the outset to walk around robustly and say, well, I've had it. I'm sure I'm immune.

One last thing, Dr. Leana Wen --

ZYWICKI: Oh, of course. That's absolutely correct. That is --


SMERCONISH: -- is a CNN -- is a CNN medical expert for whom I have a lot of respect. So I shared with her your essay. Here's what she told me. Put it up on the screen.

She said, "It is true that those with prior infection from COVID-19 have some immune protection, however, studies have shown that this protection is not as durable, strong, or consistent as immunity from vaccination.

A recent CDC study found that those recovered but remained unvaccinated are twice as likely to be reinfected" -- that's the point that I just made. "The presence of antibodies is not a reliable indicator of immune response." There's more to it but quickly respond to that.

ZYWICKI: Well, first, the way we determine whether vaccines work is by testing people's antibodies. If you have zero antibody response they give you a booster shot.

Second, again and again and again that CDC study -- they intentionally misrepresent the findings. So it does not say twice as likely to be infected. It says two-fold likelihood.

If you look at the map what it says is if you do get vaccinated -- and this is a very, very flawed study. But if you do look at it, even under the flaws of the study, you have 0.02 risk of infection if you're vaccinated, and about a 0.5 -- 0.05 risk if you're not. Yes, that's two-fold, 0.05 is twice as much more or less than 0.02. But we're talking very, very small margins.

They couldn't determine whether or not one shot would be enough or two shots because they only had 246 people, 52,000-person study from the Cleveland Clinic found no benefit. The 12,000-person study from Oxford actually found that those who were vaccinated were more likely to develop symptomatic infection. This is a decision for me and my doctor -- given that I have immunity it's a decision for me and my doctors to what to do next.


SMERCONISH: OK, I get it. Yours -- and yours -- yours might be a unique -- yours might be a unique circumstance. We're not talking here about a blanket approach to everybody who has had COVID. My goal in this conversation is simply to advance discussion of, what about those with some level of natural immunity? Because we don't seem to discuss them all that often with all of the data about how many who have been vaccinated and how many who haven't.

Professor, thanks for being here. I've got to run. I appreciate your time.

ZYWICKI: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: Checking in on your tweets and Facebook comments. From the world of Twitter. What do we have?

I'm not a medical expert so I won't speak to that. I will say that suing an employer is usually a career ender. Have that on your resume going forward? Just leave and work for an employer who you're aligned with.

I guess you could say that, Matt, except what if in the hypothetical you've got an employer who's discriminating against you, you wouldn't say, "Well, suck it up." Would you, right? You'd want to change those rules.

All right. Here's a story that I want to share. When fans yell at pro sports players it's usually futile, right? But this week my friend, law colleague, guest on this program as a matter of fact, Shanin Specter decided to take advantage of his third row season tickets at Citizens Bank Park here in Philly to advocate for his pet cause.

Shanin is required vaccines at the law firm and wrote a piece for my Web site called "It's Time to Change the Delta on the Delta" in which he urged employers to make the vaccine mandatory. But here in Philly "The Philadelphia Inquirer" has reported that while many Major League Baseball teams have hit the target of 85 percent for vaccination as many as half of the Phillies remain unvaccinated. Several have had to miss games due to quarantine. And the local news site "BillyPenn" raised the question of whether star slugger Bryce Harper is among those who isn't vaxxed. We don't know if he is or he isn't.

But here's what Shanin did when Harper came to the play on Thursday during a rare low in the crowd noise.





SPECTER: Get the vaccine, Harper!



SMERCONISH: "Get the vaccine, Harper." Harper had to have heard him, right? What did he think of that message? Well, here's what happened on the next pitch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Out toward left center field. Does it have the height? It does. It's gone, a home run for Bryce Harper.


SMERCONISH: I don't know if Shanin has now forced Harper to get the jab. But maybe at least he discovered a new way to get the first place Phillies to continue to win.

Still to come, two media figures, "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance and conservative talk radio host Larry Elder, now contenders for big statewide offices, each now being held accountable for their past words. When is it acceptable for a candidate to change his mind?



SMERCONISH: J.D. Vance and Larry Elder, they have more in common than just the fact that each are running for office. They have been responsible for many words, raising the question, "Are political candidates beholden to everything they have said in the past, even if they have changed their position?"

Vance is pursuing the GOP nomination for the Ohio Senate seat being vacated by Rob Portman. Elder is the possible beneficiary of the recall vote on California Governor Gavin Newsom. So there's a huge public record of words they have spoken on various issues from which both are now being held accountable.

Let's start with Vance, the author of the bestselling memoir "Hillbilly Elegy." Vance helped explain to liberals in a cogent way Trump's appeal to those who felt left behind. In interviews he called Trump cultural heroin and a demagogue leading the white working class to a very dark place. Yet Vance seems to have undergone what "The New York Times" calls a whiplash-inducing conversion to Trumpism. In the past week along he has tweeted Trumpian scorched earth stances. For example, when somebody made the point, a point that I've made too, about how the unvaccinated who get sick are running up huge medical bills for the rest of us, this was Vance's reply. He said, well, "Liberals have higher rates of mental illness. When are we going to stop subsidizing their political positions?"

He has also said that the real big lie is that January 6 was an insurrection. I had J.D. Vance on CNN and my SiriusXM radio program several times both before and after Trump was elected seemed pretty reasonable.

Trip Gabriel writing in "The New York Times" made this astute observation -- quote -- "Although Mr. Vance's U-turn might strike some as too convenient in an era when voters quickly sniff out inauthenticity, it is also true that his political arc resembles that of many Republicans who voted grudgingly for Mr. Trump in 2016, but after four years cemented their support." Vance has said that he voted third party in 2016.

Then there's conservative talk radio host Larry Elder whose front- runner status in a crowded field has earned him scrutiny of what "The Los Angeles Times" has called -- quote -- "convention-defying" rhetoric in his 30 years on the air. "The L.A. Times" said he has on occasion fueled skepticism of climate change, depicting global warming as a crock and a myth. He has said the medical establishment and professional victims exaggerate the dangers of secondhand tobacco smoke.

He was a guest of mine right here last week and when I introduced him as a conservative talk radio host and Trump-supporting Republican, Larry Elder took umbrage.


LARRY ELDER, RUNNING FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA/CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: I have not voted for a Democrat since 1976. And that was Jimmy Carter and I regret that. I voted for Bob Dole. I voted for Mitt Romney. I voted for George W. Bush. I voted for George Herbert Walker Bush. Whoever the standard bearer is in 2024 I'm going to vote for him or her as well.

So, I'm a Republican and I've consistently voted Republican. So, to call me a Trump-supporting radio host is a little unfair is my opinion, that's all.


SMERCONISH: And maybe he's right. Maybe I should have said Larry Elder has supported all Republicans since Jimmy Carter.

Look, I'm not beyond political transformation myself. From 1980 through 2008 I voted exclusively for Republicans running for president, then became an independent after voting for Barack Obama. I'm not critical of these men for changing their positions, if they are changing their positions, because I think change is natural and shows personal growth. The question is whether it's change or opportunism indicative of inauthenticity, and on that the voters will soon decide.

Still to come, more of your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result, cannot wait to see this. The survey question right now at, should President Biden now reverse, withdraw from Afghanistan?



SMERCONISH: So there it is. There's the result of this week's survey question. Note the fact that more than 18,000 voted, because these are not scientific, they're very visceral. But holy smokes, a very decisive result.

Despite the fact that we're all looking at our television monitors and we're seeing that map showing the Taliban sweeping across Afghanistan, overwhelmingly you just saw 18,000 plus number -- what was the number, Catherine, 77 percent said no? No is the answer.

Put it back up. The host is not so smart. Show it to me one more time. Come on, get that slide back up. I was talking and not paying attention.

Should President Biden now reverse? No. In spite of what's taking place, no, stay the course, come home.

Here's some social media that came in during the course of the program. What do we have?

Afghanistan -- you missed your rebuttal on Afghanistan. Bergen said, yes, please help me, David. Bergen said it's like throwing a 4-year- old in the pool and expecting them to swim. OK, we've been there for 21 years. One would hope a 21-year-old could swim.

Well, I was headed in that direction. I was saying, you know, we provided the lifeguard, we provided the flotation device. That kid is never going to swim. To which Peter would say, OK, are you going to let him drown? I don't know. Like how long are we going to guard the pool?

One more real quick. Just 10 seconds what do we have? Smerconish, latest bumper sticker, mask it or casket.


I don't know. I think I still like only the Lord saves more than Parent. See you next week.