Monday, Feb. 22, 2016 | 2:06 p.m.
Five nights a week, 2 million people tune in to Fox News firebrand Sean Hannity for his conservative take on the American political landscape. He has ardent fans and detractors and attracts more viewers in his 10 p.m. time slot than CNN and MSNBC combined.
Celebrating 20 years with the network, Sean flew into Las Vegas late Sunday night from weekend on-air duties from the South Carolina GOP caucus, which hotel mogul Donald Trump won. Today, he scores a coup getting frontrunner “The Donald” to sit for an hour grilling on tonight’s “Hannity.”
Donald and Sean will sit for Fox cameras at Caesars Palace this afternoon, then Donald holds a rally on the eve of the Nevada caucuses at South Point Arena. More than 12,000 people are expected when “Power of Relentless” author and capitalist evangelist Wayne Allyn Root, former Libertarian Party VP nominee, MCs the first 30 minutes of the rally.
It’s a jam-packed day for my friend Sean, who got up early this morning to talk exclusively with me. On today’s schedule, he also broadcasts his radio show, which goes to more than 500 stations with nearly 14 million people daily.
Here is our Q+A:
Talk a minute about how crazy this year’s political coverage is for you: the current political state coming into Nevada from South Carolina and how you juggle 17 candidates down to the five left standing by crisscrossing the country to get them for exclusive interviews.
It’s not as simple as people might think. You just have to work and hustle, which I like to do. Between being on the air four hours a day, you just need a lot of opportunities to give a lot of access to all the candidates to my show.
I made a decision early on to think about my audience first, to best serve my audience by giving these candidates as much time asking them every question based on what the new news is since I interviewed them last and let the audience make the decision about them. Not me. I just ask the questions that I think the viewers would ask. So far it’s worked out really, really well.
In all of your years of political journalism, give me an umbrella view of how this year’s presidential race compares with previous years. Has it ever been this nasty before, has it ever been this entertainment-driven before?
I try to tell people, especially when you’re headed to South Carolina, there’s nothing you can do. I warned my audience the week before South Carolina, I said the gloves are going to be off; they always come off in South Carolina. The gloves are going to be off before Super Tuesday. So that’s pretty standard fare.
What’s different I think this year is, you know I call it “the year of uncertainty” because if you look at either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, No. 1 and 2 in the polls, for example, and Donald Trump has won New Hampshire and South Carolina and Ted Cruz has won Iowa, they’re probably the two guys that the so-called establishment hate the most.
So that makes it a very, very unique year and a very different battle that’s going on. A lot of this is rooted I think by broken promises from the Republicans. Polling data has shown that Republicans feel betrayed by Washington Republicans.
Republicans are happy with their Republican governors. They were happy with Bobby Jindal, Rick Perry, Scott Walker and Rick Scott in Florida, but they’re not happy with how Washington has worked. The things that keep coming up again and again is that the debt deficit is exploding. That they made a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare, and conservatives really expected them to use the power of the purse, their constitutional authority; they didn’t do it.
So 2014 was “well give us the Senate, and we’ll stop executive amnesty, and we’ll be able to do things we weren’t able to do when we only had the house.” They got the Senate, then they funded executive amnesty. So I think that in many ways, the candidacies are being fueled by Washington establishment hikes. So that makes it an extraordinarily unique year. We may see a lot more of these in the future, or this just might be an anomaly we talk about for many, many years to come.
If Donald goes all the way, will he be derailed at the last minute? Do you think that the establishment will ensure that the outsider campaigns of Donald or Ted will be derailed?
I don’t know if they have the power to do that. I just don’t see it. If Donald Trump wins enough delegates, he will be the nominee. I do think it’s beginning to dawn on them now ever so slowly and slightly that he’s doing really well. As I was watching the coverage Saturday night as people said, “Hey, well Jeb Bush is out, if we take all Jeb Bush’s numbers and give them to Marco Rubio, he’s still a little short,” so maybe if John Kasich and Ben Carson and Jeb Bush get out, then I think Marco will have enough to beat Ted Cruz and Donald Trump.”
The only problem is that’s not how it works. Political commentator John McLaughlin did a really, really good job and even wrote during the show that I did Saturday night and said, “Now that Jeb Bush is out, if you look at the delegate count, it would break down that 30 percent of the second choice of the Jeb Bush supporters goes to Rubio, 25 percent goes to Cruz, and 20 goes to Donald Trump, and the rest to Ben Carson, he got 7 percent.”
He said actually delegate-wise, it would break out 2 percent to Rubio, 2 percent to Cruz, 2 percent for Trump and 1 percent for Carson in terms of percentage points of a vote. So a lot of people can do all the funky little math that they want, but it just doesn’t fit into that paradigm or that model that they’re building.
I’m British, you’re partly Irish.
I went to Ancestory.com, and I’m actually 100 percent Irish — 100 percent American because I was born here.
Now Donald is raising the specter of Marco Rubio not being a naturalized citizen.
Personally, I think both are eligible to run. At the time when the Ted Cruz question came up, I went back and looked at all the law precedents I could find, talked to every constitutional attorney I know, and there was pretty wide consensus that they’re both eligible to run.
I asked that to set up my next question. Has politics in America this year become too much of a reality-TV show?
I don’t think so. We can go back. Politics is a rough-and-tumble sport. It wasn’t exactly all peace and harmony as we were even forming the nation or our constitutional convention in 1787. I mean there was a time in history where we had prominent political figures literally knocking each other out. It’s the nature of power, Robin. I think there’s a lot at stake. I also believe having spent a lot of time with all of these guys that they really believe that their vision is the best for the country.
They’ve invested so many months and weeks on the phone raising money, doing interviews, doing speech after speech after speech after speech, you could call it a blood sport as it’s been called in the past. When you’re in the middle of a close race, every candidate is going for the jugular. It’s just the way it works. It doesn’t bother me as much as it seems to bother other people. If I had 100 people randomly picked off the street and asked them, “Do you like negative advertising”? Probably 99 if not 100 would say no, but negative advertising works, bottom line, and that’s why it’s used.
So if at some time it doesn’t work, I would assume it would stop. Like I can predict to you right now how the Democratic playbook is going to be against the Republican nominee: Republicans are racist, they’re involved with war on women, and they’re homophobic, and they want to throw your grandmother over a cliff, and they want women and children and old people to starve, and they only care about the rich.
It’s the same narrative every election. I’ve been in radio almost 30 years, so I’ve been through a lot of these cycles, and I’m now in my 20th year on Fox News Channel, so in many ways it’s not my first rodeo. That’s why I have a unique perspective knowing that all of these things keep happening again and again.
This year is very different, though. This reminds me the closest in my political lifetime to what we’re experiencing now with the rise of the Tea Party in 2010. Atlanta in April of 2010, 20,000 people showed up; it was crazy. I think there is anger, frustration, I think a lot of it is rooted in what I told you earlier — broken promises by the establishment and a real sense of betrayal.
By the way, this is not unique to the Republican side. I mean Hillary (Clinton) should have been running away with this primary election, and she barely squeaked out of winning Iowa. It took six coins for her to win in Iowa; otherwise, she would have lost in terms of the delegate count to Bernie Sanders. She got clobbered in New Hampshire. She did make a recovery here in Nevada.
Unions play a very big part — 70 percent of the voting population in Clark County; it’s old-style politics. On the other front, something that’s emerging is real anger among Democrats because they have all of these super delegates, and while the people of New Hampshire go out to the polls in the cold weather, all of these super delegates are being appointed to Hillary by the establishment. There’s a real corrupt political machine in play that has been helping her.
Do you think going forward four years, eight years, politics will clean up its act, or do you think it will get progressively worse?
I don’t find this a bad thing. I think our framers and our founders love the idea of a citizen-rigged government. I don’t think they anticipated the rides of a politically elite class where people spend their entire careers in government. It’s not my impression reading our framers and our founders. I think you will see a lot more of it, and I actually think it will probably be a good thing. You’ve got to give credit to Donald Trump. He has more courage to break the ceiling of political corrective than any person that I’ve ever seen in politics.
I keep using the analysis that he defies conventional political gravity, and he does so almost on a weekly basis in terms of certain things that he may say or do that are so unconventional that usually the predictions of the polls are going to go down, and the polls go up. I think it just shows the level of hunger that people have of wanting a) a solution, b) a fresh face and c) somebody who tells it like it is.
I honestly can see this happening again. In many ways, I thought that the candidacy of Barrack Obama was a mirage. I thought here is a guy who has very limited experience, his associates prior to him getting into the Illinois state senate were very, very radical people. I thought that showed it represented a level of radicalism, and the people were willing to put that aside because he created such enthusiasm on the campaign trail.
I think in the seven-plus years now that he’s the president, he has proven to be every bit of that radical who’s almost incapable of breaking his leftist state of conditioning. He’s never had a Sister Souljah moment, he’s never shown the capacity to really work with other people with different opinions and come to consensus. He always keeps his foot on the gas and keeps fighting for what he wants, which is to move the country in a left-lane area, to radically transform America as he calls it.
We paid the price for it, didn’t we? We now have 95 million Americans out of the labor force, 50 million in poverty, 46 million on food stamps. He’s accumulated more debt than any other president before him combined. That’s scary. And the Iran deal with $150 billion is beyond anybody’s comprehension.
So today you get one hour face-to-face with The Donald. How long have you prepared for this, or is it all natural and off the cuff?
I prepare for every interview. You never stop reading. When all of the candidates announced that I got many if not all the first interviews with them, I had a little help. I’m not going to say I do all the research on my own. At Fox, we have something called the Brain Room. So I got packs on every one of the candidates, it’s usually 300 or 400 pages of material. It’s their past, history, background, it’s past statements, it’s past controversy, it’s basically a very, very comprehensive background on every one of the candidates.
Usually I try to freshen every interview up because I’m interviewing them on radio and on TV. The main focus of today’s interview is I really want to get to the bottom of how Donald Trump is going to specifically accomplish the things that he promises on the campaign trail because I think that’s what people want to hear the most.
I think it’s been reported so far only in general terms without specificity?
He has in interviews with me. It’s interesting how they haven’t been picked up. I’m really doing my show for my audience, and I’m not doing my show to impress other people who are in my business. I’ve gotten some specific answers that others haven’t paid attention to. I suspect this interview will be paid more attention to because of where he is in the race.
He is now the front-runner. Do you accord him any difference being the front-runner at this stage?
Absolutely not. I really believe in my heart that I have treated every candidate with the respect they deserve for the position that they’re running for. I have a great respect for the presidency, and I also have a great respect for the audience, and I also believe that it’s very hard to answer a complicated question about how do you get to a balanced budget without giving them the time to actually give a thoughtful answer, so I really go out of my way to allow them the time to answer the question.
What do you think Donald’s personality appeal is to the election at this stage having begun to run the table?
Straight shooting, hard hitting, iconoclastic, telling it like it is, being bold in proposals. How many other candidates would suggest, “If we have to go bail out your country, you’re going to pay us to do it.” Or, “If we have to build a wall because the people of your country aren’t respecting our borders, we’re going to make you pay for the wall.”
Any candidate could say we’re going to build a wall, but, you know what, they never got it done. Washington politicians have been promising this. Robin, you can go back to (Ronald) Reagan’s immigration bill in 1986, and they just never got it done. Here’s a guy who’s saying I’m going to get this done — this is a priority.
Do you like Donald?
I genuinely like Donald. I genuinely like every candidate who’s in this race on the Republican side.
Would you have said that this would have been the perfect Cabinet if all 17 had signed on in an agreement to run the country?
Well, you can only have one leader.
One leader but a VP and 15 members of the Cabinet.
Say Donald Trump won the nomination just for a second, and he came out and announced very prominent people who would be in his Cabinet, I think it would be a stroke of genius and also outside the box and unprecedented. By the way, that would not surprise me not even in the least.
A couple of personal questions to wrap this up: How do you manage to juggle family at the same time as what has to be an absolute overload of work because of doing radio and TV every day and crisscrossing the country for the political events?
Not every period of my work life is this busy. I’m lucky that I have a wonderful family who’s very understanding. They know this is my passion, this is what I do for a living. They know I’m going to go through these busy periods for maybe a month or two or three at a time. They also know that the other periods that I’m a regular dad who’s at every tennis tournament every weekend and that I really have adjusted my schedule over the years to make sure that I can be there with them.
One of the things that I always try and do is be there every weekend. I’ve also been able to create a studio that’s very close to my house. There are nights that I can tape the show, there are nights that I can do the show live. Thank God technology has allowed me the freedom of being able to do things much closer to home so I’m not having to travel like I used to.
Just to point out, the show tonight is “Hannity” at 10 p.m. ET, 7 p.m. PT on Fox News, but you’re recording Donald this afternoon at Caesars Palace at 3 p.m.
I just want to end on a humorous note and make it personal. In my research, I discovered that you have some eHarmony-type skills and started a matchmaking website. That made me chuckle. I just wondered in context of what you do as a TV journalist being the bridge between famous people and the public, your viewers, whether you use those matchmaking skills to bring the two together.
I haven’t done it in the capacity of famous people, but if I give a speech, and when I would do book signings or if I have an event like, for example, I’ll be going back to Conservative Political Action Conference this year, and I’ll see a lot of people.
A lot of young people go to CPAC, and if I see a group of kids together, I’ll mess around, “So you dating this girl? You dating that guy?” They’ll both be scared and say no, and I’ll say, “Well, why don’t you ask her out to dinner tonight, and I’ll give you $200, but it has to be a date, and you have to hold her hand and you have to be a gentlemen.”
I can’t tell you how many times it’s worked out. I’ve been in front of Jeb Bush and Woody Johnson, the owner of the New York Jets, in Iowa before the caucuses, and I don’t think I saw two people laugh harder in their life. As a matter of fact, one time I was doing an event with Ted Cruz, and we were doing a photo line together and I got three couples who came down the line, and I got the guy right in front of Sen. Cruz to ask the girl to marry her.
I don’t know what happened. I have a dating area on my website Hannity.com. We had it up for years, and I think dozens of people ended up getting married through that site. To this day, I still enjoy playing matchmaker with my staff at Fox!
Two questions in one to end. You can be serious, you can be humorous. Do you have the best job in the world? Would you give it up to be president yourself?
I don’t think that’s going to be an issue. I have the best job in the world, Robin. Even the best two jobs in the world, we’ll put it that way. I love being in the middle of this. I also know the reality of how hard and how brutal and how grueling and how tough it is to get to the toughest job in America. I have no illusions about that being an easy process. I absolutely have zero thoughts of ever running for political office.
Are you looking forward to one hour with Donald tonight? Would you call it confrontational?
It’s going to be fun. We did a half hour with Ted Cruz in front of an audience on Friday and a half hour with Marco on Friday, and we have an hour scheduled with Ted later this week, and we offered an hour to Marco Rubio, as well, so we’re trying to be fair to everybody.
Is it going to be confrontational, or is it going to be investigative? How would you describe your hour with Donald tonight?
I think that I want to know where he stands on the issues, so I’m going to ask him how do you get to a balanced budget? Explain how you get that wall built, explain your alternative for health care. You know, I don’t think it’s my job to be confrontational. I’m not the one debating Donald. I want to get information out of him. I want the audience to get something out of Donald.
What I have found in these interviews is letting them talk, I feel that the audience gets a lot more out of it. This isn’t about me. For all the years that I’ve watched you do great work, I have learned so much about the people who you interviewed because you actually get information out of them. If I had to say stylistically, it’s a lot like the way you’ve done things over your career.
Well, thank you.
Every question that you’ve asked me here today you’ve given me a chance to answer. Well, I’m going to give those guys a chance to answer like you do.
Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Transport yourself to the opulent and excessive Roman Empire at Caesars Palace. But the ever-changing Caesars Palace is far from ancient. The hotel and casino is constantly raising the bar for what visitors can expect in a Vegas resort experience.
Caesars Palace features 3,348 rooms and suites in five towers, including the new luxury boutique Nobu Hotel and Restaurant, which opened Feb. 4, 2013, in the totally remodeled Centurian Tower. Caesars features 129,000 square feet of gaming space, including the Strip’s largest poker room and a 250-seat sports book. Other amenities include about two dozen restaurants, a four-level shopping mall, four pools, a spa, Pure and Poetry nightclubs and Pussycat Dolls.
Dining options include restaurants from world-renown chefs Guy Savoy, Wolfgang Puck, Bobby Flay, Gordon Ramsay and, on Feb. 4, 2013, Nobu Matsuhisa.
You never know what characters you’ll run into at Caesars with regular performers like Jerry Seinfeld, Bette Midler, Elton John and maybe even the emperor himself.