PBS Hosts Testy Talk Between Isaacson and NR’s Lowry: ‘I Get to Be the Interviewer Here’

Tuesday’s edition of Amanpour & Co. featured an unusually testy interview, conducted by journalist Walter Isaacson, with Rich Lowry, the editor of the venerable conservative magazine National Review. It’s rare that conservatives appear on Amanpour, which airs on CNN and tax-funded PBS, and the resulting clash between liberal and conservative journalist threw off a few polite sparks.

Host Christiane Amanpour was slightly inaccurate in her segment intro, revealing a conservative-media blind spot, calling the “conservative editorial magazine” National Review,The National Review.” (She also added “The” to the magazine’s title in the show’s introduction.)

Lowry’s National Review opposed Trump’s 2024 candidacy, but that wasn’t enough to please Isaacson, who accused DeSantis of turning from “pretty much a traditional conservative” to embracing “more of the culture of resentment.”

Isaacson then defended Walt Disney in its ongoing feud with Florida’s governor, which began when the company vowed to fight what liberals called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in schools:

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After Lowry admitted qualms, but sided with Gov. DeSantis because Disney was being divisive, Isaacson told him to hold up.

Much like his National Review predecessor William F. Buckley, Lowry turned the tables on his interviewer:

Isaacson is hostile to Republicans. After the January 6 Capitol Hill riots, he wondered if America was becoming like Nazi Germany. In December 2020, he asked on Amanpour, “Why is it that so many members of the GOP have become quisling enablers of the undermining of democracy?”

This testy attack on Gov. DeSantis was brought to you in part by Mutual of America.

Amanpour & Co.


AMANPOUR: And now, turning to U.S. presidential politics. The Republican race in the United States is well underway. The candidates are stepping up. Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, is expected to join later this week, after South Carolina’s senator, Tim Scott, threw his hat in the ring yesterday.

SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Running for president of the United States of America.

AMANPOUR: But in so far, the GOP primary field is still dominated by the former president, Donald Trump. So, what will it take for Republican candidates to beat him to the 2024 nomination? Editor-in-chief of the conservative editorial magazine, the “National Review,” Rich Lowry, joins Walter Isaacson with some answers.

WALTER ISAACSON, CNN HOST: Thank you, Christiane. And, Rich Lowry, welcome to the show.


ISAACSON: It’s a busy week for the Republican primary. You got possibilities of a few people getting in. But let me start by sort of telling our viewers where you’re coming from. You’re very much been a traditional conservative who is a protegee of William F. Buckley for more than 25 years, editor-in-chief of the great “National Review.” And if I remember correctly, you were very resistant to a Trump candidacy back in 2016. Tell me what you felt then, whether you’ve come around? What do you feel now?

LOWRY: So, yes, we ran a famous cover against Trump because the Iowa caucuses. In 2016, a bunch of folks on the right, making the case against Trump, and we ran a very tough editorial posing his nomination. I think if you look back at it, there’s some things we were wrong about. We didn’t really believe a lot of his assurances that he’s be conservative on certain important conservative policy and priorities, and he was, from the most part, when he was president, but our concerns about his character and about the effect he would have on the conservative coalition have proved doubt. So, we are — again, when he got it this time, we ran an editorial just with one word title, no, and we were open to most of the alternatives, but oppose Donald Trump.

ISAACSON: You seem to be favorable to Ron DeSantis in some of your columns in “Politico,” “New York Post,” and other places. When he ran originally in 2018, he was pretty much a traditional conservative. He has now embraced — and correct me if you think I’m wrong — more of the cultural culture of resentment, not just sort of the optimistic conservatives, some of Ronald Reagan. What do you make of that? Is that a good strategy? And is it something that you are comfortable with?

LOWRY: Well, a couple aspects of that. Is it a good strategy? Yes. If he’s going to beat Donald Trump, he’s going to have to run at Trump from the

right. He’s got to always have to keep in mind, which he’ll never forget, I think, that some observers sometimes forget, the people he needs voted for Trump twice, they like Trump, they feel defensive of Trump, they hate and distrust Trump’s enemies, those are the voters that he needs to win over.

Now, in the substance, a lot of it, I think, has been terrific down in Florida. And where I draw the line is government should have an influence over government institutions by definition. So, government should determine how we run our public schools, their public schools, including public colleges and the universities within limits. You know, you need to honor free speech and some other principles. The edge case, of course, that has gotten a lot of tension is Disney, which is not a government entity, of course, it’s a private company, but it is the beneficiary of, really, a massive government favor in the form of the special district, and that’s what DeSantis threatened and retaliation to things that Disney had said, and now is embroiled in a legal dispute that will go on for years.

ISAACSON: But it seems that he’s targeting them simply for their political views and political speech. Doesn’t that make you uncomfortable as a conservative?

LOWRY: It does. That’s a really bad aspect of it. Again, it’s a special government favor that if Disney had said 50 years ago, whenever this district was set up, you know, by the way, in several decades, we’ll become a woke company or sympathetic to sort of progressive ideologies and oppose legislation to stop children from being taught inappropriate sexual material at a very young age, K through 3, they never would’ve gotten the special district. So, I think that’s what makes it a little different. And I think it’s a very bad thing for a country that corporations are so eager to weigh in on culture, cultural war type issues. It would better if they didn’t.

ISAACSON: Why is that?

LOWRY: I just think it adds to the divisiveness and it’s not the role of —

ISAACSON: But shouldn’t private companies, ever since General Motors, 100 years ago, feel that they have a part of society and part of the discourse?

LOWRY: Yes. I mean, it’s — they have the right to do it. I’m just saying it’s a bad thing, it adds to divisions in our society. It adds to the sense that everyone has to take sides on everything.

ISAACSON: Well, wait, wait. Let me push back on your bet on this thing. It seems like Ron DeSantis is doing more to add to the divisions than Disney did. I mean, he’s the one who has taken this into a pretty strong cultural warrior thing.

LOWRY: I don’t know. So, who’s the aggressor if children are being taught about gender ideology in second grade?

ISAACSON: Disney has not a right, you don’t think, to have its opinion on these subjects when its employees live there?

LOWRY: No. That’s not what I asked. So, if we’re into who’s on offense and who’s on defense, if you have woke school administrators or teachers who think it’s appropriate to teach very young children, that aren’t their kids, you know, are being sent to school just to get an education, consensus education, if they are being taught any version of, you know, how you can change your gender, supposedly, and all that at a very young age, is that — who’s being the aggressor? They are being taught that who is the aggressor and who’s on defense.

ISAACSON: Well, the governor has done many things that involve these cultural issues, including teaching of gender and sexuality in schools, but also, equity, inclusion, pushing back on that. I just read that even the NAACP issued a travel warning. Do you think, since you said you’re worried about people stoking up cultural divisions, that some of this should be tamped down a little bit?

LOWRY: Well, with all respect, you didn’t answer my question. If a small child is being taught in a public-school sort of cutting-edge gender ideology type material, is that OK? Like, everyone should be fine with it or is it OK for the government just to say, don’t teach that? And is it really so offensive and a terrible if the government says, don’t teach K through three kids gender ideology? Let’s teach them math, let’s teach them English and how to read. Why is that so radioactive and toxic in your mind?

ISAACSON: I think the voters have the perfect right to vote on those things. It’s — I’m not arguing one side or the other. I get to be the interviewer here. I was just wondering why Disney doesn’t have the right to say its own opinion.

LOWRY: It does have its right, but does it also inherently have a right to a huge special favor from government?

ISAACSON: All right. In terms of the Republican primary, it’s not just a question of ideology, but sometimes, it seems of temperament. The question of those who are a little bit stronger in the cultural issues, a little bit more about the resentments that people understandably feel in this country. On the other side, we have somebody like Tim Scott coming in, who is, I think, almost as conservative as anybody else, but is running with a different temperament. What is your take on that?

LOWRY: Well, I think Trump, one reason why they like him is the combativeness, right? The willingness to fight and that sometimes, you know, it ends up being a permission slip for all sorts of things you wouldn’t want him to say or do, and it’s a big question whether people are into — more into Trumpism, the substance, you know, which is very — being very tough on the border and immigration policies, being tough on China and trade, being — having a tendency towards noninterventionism, or are they into the persona and the affect and the style?

And, you know, what DeSantis is trying to do is a version of Trumpism without the — with all those — without the personal characteristics. Tim Scott is just a totally different phenomenon. More of a throwback to a Sonny (ph) sort of Reagan type conservatism. Although, you know, people can have an overly rosy view about Reagan who’s, you know, very tough and excoriating about the other side as well, even though he did it with a smile. I think Scott has — you know, has great promise. We will see. You know, it looks like it’s a two-man race, but very often, this early in a primary, you end up being surprised in what looks like is going to be the early dynamic does not pan out at the end. So, there — it may be that Scott finds some running room here.

ISAACSON: What do you think that DeSantis needs to do in order to catch up to Trump? He seems quite behind now in the most recent polls and not really taking off.

LOWRY: Yes. So, he’s had a bad — and certainly, in terms of national polling, bad several months. Trump has had a great several months. The inflection point clearly was the Alvin Bragg indictment, this politicized indictment that wouldn’t have been lodged against anyone who wasn’t named Donald Trump.

And there’s a rally around the flag effect among those Republican voters, that’s when Trump sort of routinely getting above 50. There have been a couple polls last week, week and a half, where Trump has been above 60 and DeSantis has been in the teens. So, I think DeSantis’ team is glad to finally be in this thing, to actually be — have him be formally a candidate and traveling the country and making a case for himself. But he’s an uphill climb. I mean, he’s taking on the 800-pound gorilla who looks like in January. Well, maybe the 800-pound gorilla will shed some pounds, and maybe he’s only 450 or 400, 500-pound gorilla, but now, it looks like maybe, you know, 1,000-pound gorilla. Though people have gotten used to the idea of DeSantis running. But this is an audacious project. Taking on this guy no one else has beaten, everyone else has been humiliated by, and thinking you can find a way to take him down.

ISAACSON: So, what way would there be to take him down if you’re a DeSantis supporter?

LOWRY: Well, first of all, tactically, clearly, it’s all about Iowa where Trump has been softer, or at least, not as strong in the polling we’ve seen, and there may be some souring among evangelicals, certainly evangelical leaders about Trump. So, DeSantis is going to have to focus heavily on Iowa.

He needs to find issues where he can attack Trump from the right, on his pandemic response, for instance, abortion policies and other potential flare-up. But he’s not going to win, you know, with the just sort of making a never Trump case against Donald Trump, that’s a very small slice of the Republican electorate. He needs to win these voters who are very conservative, sympathize with Trump, make the case, you know what, he didn’t do a lot of things he said he was going to do, he very well could lose yet another national election with bad consequences, and I’m more conservative than he is on X, Y, and Z.

ISAACSON: You said that maybe that DeSantis could take on Trump from the right when it came to abortion politics. Tell me how you think abortion plays out, both in the Republican primaries and then the general?

LOWRY: Yes. So, in the primaries, you know, pro-lifers have a very strong position, again, especially in Iowa, and the heartbeat bill that DeSantis signed is going to be a benefit to him. The question is, in a general, can that be used against him? And I think it’s an open question how many of these candidates, including Trump and DeSantis, are going to actually endorse federal abortion restrictions and where do they come down there on the spectrum? How many weeks? It wouldn’t surprise me if DeSantis comes out for a 15-week federal ban and maybe Trump gets pushed into doing the same thing. It’s — you know, that’s going to be a major issue in the campaign, obviously. Polling for a 15-week abortion bans tend to be fairly strong, but, you know, you would end up restricting at least some abortions, not a lot, but at least some in places like New York and California that are very strongly pro-choice. So, that’s going to be — would be a major flash point. I think, you know, you saw Republican governors in 2022, Brian Kemp in Georgia, Kim Reynolds in Iowa, there’s — the governor of Ohio as well, signing six-week bans and winning handily. It just — it depends on the place, it depends on the quality of the candidate, but he’s going to have to be prepared to defend himself on this stuff obviously. And that’s the last thing Republicans can’t duck and cover on this issue.

ISAACSON: Let me read something I saw on one of your columns. You said, Republicans at the national level right now are scared. You can hear it in their silence on the issue of abortion after the judge in Texas struck down the FDA approval of what is sometimes known as the abortion pill. Tell me how that’s going to play, do you think, and why were you saying that Republicans are scared of this issue?

LOWRY: Yes. One, they clearly had not thought through what the post-Roe environment would be, what their consensus position would be, to the extent it was possible to come up with one. And some of them would just prefer this to go away. It’s not going to go away, you know? The Democrats won’t let it go away. Among other things, they want, what, maybe for ballot measures, if I’m not mistaken, in 2022 in various states over abortion policy, and Democrats won them all. And they’re putting them on in a bunch of other states, including most significantly in the near term here, Ohio. So, they’re not going to let Republicans just, you know, mumble and look at their shoes and evade this issue.

Plus, it’s a hugely consequential moral and social issue. So, you shouldn’t be trying to evade it. So, I think sort of strategic shrewdness and some courage are called for, and Republicans should say that they are pro-life and they want a country that was willing to welcome every child and they will fight for that. But in the interim, you’re going to have to take some intermediate steps. You have to have the three exceptions that everyone talks about. And depending on the state, you know, how restrictive you’re able to be, it depends on the political environment in the states and you hope to move the ball forward from there.

But from pro-life perspective, the optimistic argument is that Roe, this 50-year battle to overturn this misbegotten Supreme Court decision would finally achieve victory in Dobbs. There are more restrictions on abortion, the abortion rate has diminished somewhat than ever before, and Republicans still won the House. It doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of work to do, it doesn’t mean there are a lot of — aren’t a lot of vulnerabilities, but just running and hiding is not an option.

ISAACSON: Early on, Governor DeSantis, in fighting off the immigration influx that it happened, was sending people up to Martha’s Vineyard and other places. To what extent do you think he can make a strong case against our immigration policies and how is that going to play in the primaries?

LOWRY: Well, the — this is an issue where I think Trump fundamentally transformed the party and, in my view, changed the party for the better. Just making — being an immigration hawk almost as necessary as being pro- life to survive in Republican national politics. I think the border, you know, it’s been a mess. He inherited Joe Biden a stable situation, threw away a lot of policies that actually worked and were humane, and we’ve been reaping the whirlwind. Now, the DeSantis, you know, operation, sending these immigrants to Martha’s Vineyard, obviously, a political stunt to make a point. The large-scale busing though from places like Texas and Arizona, I think, one, has been fine on the merits, because they asked these migrants, well, where do you want to go? And they say Chicago and New York. They say, OK, this is the bus.

And by demonstrating to blue cities that are, in theory, sanctuary cities, that this is a real problem, that these folks, they’re desperate, but they also are a burden to public services and to the taxpayers. The City of Chicago has declared an emergency, over 8,000 illegal migrants arriving since last August. Just 8,000. You know, a city of 2.6 million. What do they think is like in the border? What do they think it’s like in El Paso? So, I think that’s actually — that policy has really brought home that point. And we wouldn’t hear, you know, the mayor of New York, Eric Adams, saying, we need to close the border and do a better job at it unless New York now has skin in the game the way border cities do as well.

ISAACSON: Do you think there’s room in the field where somebody could get traction by running against Trump in the Republican primaries and who would that most likely be?

LOWRY: Running against him

ISAACSON: Yes. Sort of Chris Christie tried it a bit. Sununu. Go ahead.

LOWRY: Yes. Sort of having that as humane rationale. I’m doubtful. You know, I think it’s important to make the case against him on a number of fronts, especially — and this is going to be tricky, you know, for someone like DeSantis, who wants to win over a fair amount of these MAGA voters, you’ve got to be willing to sail off of 2020. Because if you didn’t lose in 2020, what electability case do you really have against him, right? He’s — he was — he’s not a loser, he’s a victim, and maybe he should be the rightful heir to the nomination yet again to write this wrong. So, I think that’s a key area where you can’t dance around. You just got to say, the election was legitimate. He lost and the problem is that he could lose again.

ISAACSON: Rich Lowry, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

LOWRY: Thank you.

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