Wolf Blitzer breaks down White House race for celebrities, students
Wolf Blitzer, left, addresses the crowd in response to a question from UCLA moderator Jim Newton, right. Photos by John Sciulli.
CNN political journalist Wolf Blitzer entertained and informed a roomful of Hollywood celebrities, top athletes and UCLA students on Thursday during a discussion on the presidential election, including his prediction for the Republicans’ vice presidential pick and even the unlikely possibility of a change in the Democrats’ choice for veep.
The “Race for the White House” event at the Four Seasons Hotel Los Angeles, near Beverly Hills, was hosted by UCLA and the nonprofit Artists and Athletes Alliance
(A&A), an educational and charitable organization that links the entertainment community to policy makers in Washington, D.C. UCLA partners with the alliance to bring educational, policy-related events to Los Angeles.
Luskin School of Public Affairs senior fellow Jim Newton, an editor at large with the Los Angeles Times, interviewed Blitzer in front of a crowd that included “Mad Men” actor Ben Feldman, former “CSI: Las Vegas” actresses Marg Helgenberger and Liz Vassey, former “Lost” actor William Mapother, actor Keith David of such films as “Crash” and “Platoon,” soap opera actor Mario van Peebles and former NFL Kansas City Chiefs kicker Nick Lowery.
When Blitzer noted how proud he was that the nominees for president will be an African American and a Mormon, Newton turned the conversation to the chance of seeing a female or Jewish nominee run for the highest office in the land.
“I’ve always suspected that Hillary Clinton has not completely given up on this,” Blitzer responded.
“There was some chatter … that if they really need to invigorate the ticket, they might flip her and [Vice President Joe] Biden,” Newton said.
“I don’t think they would do it. … It’s a real act of desperation,” Blitzer replied. “But if it looks like he’s going to lose, if it looks like he’s going to be a one-term, Jimmy-Carter, Democratic president … they’ll need to do something. One thing they could do is dump Biden and put Hillary on the ticket. She would energize a lot of that base. … But I don’t think they will.”
The CNN lead political anchor got into even more depth during a discussion about a possible vice presidential candidate for Mitt Romney.
“Here’s a clue,” Blitzer said. “The senator from Ohio, Rob Portman, a former Bush administration budget director in the Office of Management and Budget … he’s in Israel today, meeting with the prime minister.”
Portman may not be well-known, but he’s smart and has a lot of experience, which puts him on Romney’s “short short list,” Blitzer said.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if he were the running mate,” Blitzer said. “No Republican in recent history has won the White House without taking Ohio. And I think [Portman] could help [Romney] a little bit in Ohio. But he’s also qualified.”
Mapother, a member of the Artists and Athletes advisory board, praised the A&A partnership with UCLA that led to the event.
“It’s rare to find this caliber of speaker in such a casual, free-form environment,” the actor said. “UCLA is under-appreciated as a cultural driver in Los Angeles. These events bring national political thought and political leaders to Los Angeles, and it’s a welcome opportunity — and nudge — to get our heads out of the Hollywood bubble.”
Blitzer, top right, with a group of UCLA students.
Blitzer also met with about 20 UCLA students before the event began, giving the undergraduates and graduate students an opportunity to ask the primetime journalist their own questions. Newton and Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science who studies elections and campaigns, joined the students.
“They all had questions, and, in fact, we ran out of time before we ran out of questions,” said Newton. Blitzer discussed his optimism about the future of journalism, as well as how his own show, “The Situation Room,” is put together.
“It was an experience I never really thought I would have,” said Brian Flannigan, a political science major and graduating senior. “I’ve been very pleasantly surprised at the opportunities at UCLA to get perspectives that you might not get inside class.”
“It was a great opportunity, and it was really interesting to see how thoughtful his show is about its programming,” said Stacey Greene, a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate studying race and ethnicity in politics with Professor Vavreck.
“The partnership with Artists and Athletes is really great, especially because I always get to bring students to see these terrific guests," Vavreck said. “In the small meetings the guests are always very candid and interesting.”
In his main talk, Blitzer touched on a variety of other topics, including:
- The next president: “I don’t know who’s going to win. This could go either way, but I do agree the election will be largely determined by whether the economy looks like it’s moving in the right … or wrong direction.”
- Political bias among journalists: “We’re journalists, but we’re also human beings. … We have our prejudices. … You try to divorce your personal ideas from your job as a reporter. … As long as I’m getting criticism from both sides, I feel like I’m doing a good job.”
- Donald Trump: On the same day that Romney locked up the presidential nomination, Blitzer interviewed Trump, the one-time Republican presidential contender, who loudly reasserted his contention that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Blitzer interviewed Trump because “I didn’t understand why he was doubling down on this birther stuff. … I don’t know why he’s refusing to back down.” Newton broke in: “How outrageous does an opinion have to be to not put it on the air?” Blitzer explained that Trump had credibility not because of his views, but because Romney was scheduled to appear with Trump later that same day despite his controversial birther position. “I don’t put crackpots on air,” Blitzer said. Added Newton, “Only crackpots who are appearing with the nominee.”
- Healthcare: Blitzer played a clip of the memorable moment at a Republican presidential candidate debate he moderated when he asked candidate Ron Paul how a seriously ill American with no healthcare would survive under Paul’s plan. “Are you saying that society should just let him die?” Blitzer asked, and several audience members enthusiastically cheered “Yeah!” before Paul answered that neighbors, churches and friends should be Americans’ support network. Blitzer predicted that the government’s role in health care will be a major issue in the election. “The Obama campaign doesn’t bring it up that much,” Blitzer said. “Romney is not going to bring it up that much. But I suspect jerks like me — reporters — will. ... I’m going to try to hone in on where these two candidates differ on this critically important issue.”