Maureen Dowd and Carl Hulse strive to find reason within the election chaos
Writers kick off Park City Institute season
When Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist and former White House correspondent Maureen Dowd speaks at the Eccles Center tonight to kick off the Park
City Institute’s main stage season, she won’t be alone.
She’s bringing her friend, Carl Hulse, the Times’ chief Washington correspondent.
The reason is simple.
“I’m terrified of public speaking,” Dowd told The Park Record during a phone interview from her New York office. “I’m not good at it and I don’t do it very often.”
But Dowd’s fear of public speaking doesn’t stop her from traveling to hear the wide array of opinions held by people living in the U.S.
“In an era when the media is being accused of being too cloistered and elitist,
this helps me get out into the country to hear what people are thinking and what they are interested in,” she said. “I feel more relaxed if I’m with someone like Carl.”
The two writers have only done these joint presentations two or three times this year, and Dowd feels they balance each other out.
“He’s very funny and charming, and that made it more fun for me,” Dowd said. “I think it’s better for the audiences.”
Dowd likes working with Hulse because she said he knows more about Washington than anyone in Washington.
“He’s covered congress for 30 years and the senators come to him to figure out what is going on,” she said with a laugh. “I focus on the Shakespearean aspect of White House [meaning that] it’s about power and how power warps leaders or how power helps leaders rise to the occasion. So, doing these together gives the [presentation] more breadth.”
The topic of the evening will, obviously, be about the recent Presidential election. And some of the material will be culled from Dowd’s new book, “The Year of Voting Dangerously.”
“Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the two most unpopular candidates in modern history,” Dowd said. “People didn’t want to hear about them, and, yet, they were obsessed with them. It was like an attraction/aversion sort of thing.”
She should know. She’s been interviewing Trump since 1988 and writing about Clinton since 1992.
The first time Dowd interviewed Trump was over coffee during the 1988 Republican convention. She asked him how his day was and he said, “Great. I just bought the Plaza.”
“I didn’t ever think [Trump] would be a politician, let alone become president,” Dowd said. “That seemed out of the question, even at the start of this year, but he was from the beginning a larger-than-life figure who knew how to get better play. I think we’re all trying to figure out who he is and what character he’s playing.”
Similar to paid actors, Trump has taken on different personalities throughout his career, Dowd said.
At first, he played the student.
“Early on, he would hang out with New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, attorney Roy Cohn and businessman Lee Iacocca, who were all larger-than-life people and sometimes Cary Grant would drop by,” she said. “Trump was more quiet then, and people who worked for Steinbrenner told me that he would study these braggadocio characters.”
A few years later, Dowd noticed Trump donned a new personality when he got “The Apprentice” gig.
“He created another character — the firm, but fair boss,” Dowd said. “Then when he ran for president, he created another character.”
That character went to some very dark places with bigotry and misogyny, she said.
“I told him during the campaign, and this is in the book, that the person I saw was not like the person he had been in New York for decades,” Dowd said. “He said, ‘I know. I guess I went to number one saying these things, so I just thought I had to keep saying them.’”
Dowd believes the character Trump played in the republican primary was, in a way, shaped by what he thought the crowd expected, and she is interested in what character Trump will morph into as president.
“Everything about Donald Trump is uncharted territory,” Dowd said. “He’s the first person to ever enter the White House without military or political experience.
“I think the most surprised person in the country is Trump about Trump becoming president and I think he’s forming this presidential persona in real time,” she said.
Dowd also has thoughts about Clinton and said her opinion about her has changed throughout both their careers.
“When I started covering her in 1992 I had very positive stories about her when Bill was running for president,” Dowd said. “But like with Michelle Obama, I feel sorry for women who have the same educational credentials as their husbands and have so many accomplishments, but get into this little antiquated white-satin box called the First Lady.”
Dowd discovered throughout the years, Clinton developed destructive patterns regarding money and becoming secretive and defensive about an array of issues including Whitewater.
“Those wouldn’t have snowballed if she would have leveled with the press and public in the first place,” she said.
Dowd doesn’t think Clinton lost the election because of gender.
“I think she lost because of basic political mistakes,” she said. “We saw from the onset that the campaign would be anti-Wall Street. We saw it from Trump. We saw it from Bernie Sanders, but Hillary cozied up to Wall Street and did speeches at Goldman Sachs for large amounts of money that she didn’t need.”
Clinton also made a goof with the email server issue.
“I think the judgment on [that] was terrible,” Dowd said. “I mean to have a server in the bathroom in Colorado with all the Secretary of State information on it was, as [FBI Director James] Comey said was really reckless.”
The tragedy for Clinton was also about personal timing.
“She has thought about running for president practically her whole life, so why, at this moment, where she should have been focused on having the right tone by presenting a future-oriented campaign and not remind people of the negative patterns of the Clintons, was she back to those patterns?” Dowd said.
As Dowd looks back on the campaign, she can see how Trump appealed to his voters.
“In retrospect, I have learned you can’t take the humanity out of a presidential campaign, because it’s the most personal choice,” Dowd said. “It’s more than a map graph.”
Park City Institute will open its 2016-17 main stage season with Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd and New York Times Washington correspondent Carl Hulse at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 3, at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd. Tickets range from $29 to $79 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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