Victor Davis Hanson is the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History at Hillsdale College where he teaches a course on history and classical culture every fall. He is also the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Hanson spoke at Hillsdale Sept. 17 in review of the Sept. 16 GOP primary debate.
When you survey the field of Republican presidential candidates does anyone in particular stand out in your mind?
That changes each week, doesn’t it? We haven’t had a primary yet, so we don’t know. But right now I think the more viable people like [Marco] Rubio and probably Carly Fiorina. Donald Trump has energized the field… I don’t think he’s a sustainable candidate. The people that everybody thought were going to be the most durable were Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, and so far that hasn’t been true.
Donald Trump has been leading in most of the recent polls. Do you think his candidacy is a summer fling with the voters? Do you not see him as being a long-term contender?
It’s like a martini. It tastes really good and relaxes you, and then if you keep drinking it’ll kill you. He’s good for the Republican Party now, but they have to find a way to channel his energy and not alienate his base. Or he has to change and get a detailed agenda. So far it’s “tremendous,” “wonderful,” “I’ll make your head spin,” but no specifics.
What specifics do you foresee dominating the conversation during the primary and general elections?
I think it should be two. It should be the debt; we’re going to approach $20 trillion in debt. And should the interest rates be anything other than zero percent, as they are now, it could take a third of the budget just to service the debt that we’ve run up the last seven years. And then the collapse of American foreign policy in the Middle East and the dangers from the Iran deal to ISIS to the entire region with the immigration to Europe.
Do you think a candidate like Bernie Sanders could plausibly unseat Hillary Clinton from the Democratic nomination?
No, not at all. He’s like Howard Dean. He hasn’t had his scream yet, but he will fade. He’s posing as an outsider, fresh, populist. And everybody knows he’s an insider, tired, socialist. He’s going to captivate the campuses, but he won’t appeal to enough [people]. I think it’ll probably be Hillary Clinton, unless she’s indicted, which I gave that probably about a 30 percent chance depending on how Valerie Jarrett feels on any given day in the White House. And if Joe Biden were to jump in, I think he’d give Hillary a serious run for her money.
What concerns do you think a 2016 presidential has that the candidates in 2012 may have not? How has the country changed since then?
We’re $8 trillion greater in debt. We’ve had zero interest rates for seven years, and that’s transferred trillions of dollars out of the pockets of the passbook-holding middle class into the stock market. If we had this conversation in 2012, Iraq hadn’t blown up. We didn’t have Mogadishu in the Mediterranean and Libya quite yet. ISIS, as the president said, was a JV organization. Putin had not really flexed his muscles in eastern Ukraine, and we didn’t have the Iran deal. Things have gotten very dangerous. And we have a year left of this administration. Legislatively they’re stonewalled, so he’s doing things with executive orders that I don’t think we’ve seen — even in the Nixon and Johnson administrations.
You just taught a course at Hillsdale College on “Historical Leadership: Ancient and Modern.” What leadership qualities do you look for in a presidential candidate?
I think the most important is courage. Audacity. [Georges Jacques] Danton said, “Audacity, audacity, always more audacity.” The ability to take a position that’s not popular and win people over to your side. That requires that you have to be knowledge. You have to be informed… strength, not worrying about the media or what critics say. You have to be able to articulate well, speak well. I hate to say it, but you have to be presentable to the public and vigorous, healthy. Would you believe it, but Elizabeth Warren is only a year and a half younger than Hillary Clinton. They don’t seem that way. Elizabeth Warren seems 20 years younger. Maybe she sounds 30 years older as a neo-socialist, but those are important traits, and I think Hillary doesn’t have those right now. She looks tired, worn, unhealthy. Marco Rubio is a good example of youthful vigor.