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Influencer Group Meets With All GOP Candidates But Trump


Movie fans will know a line from that Robert Redford classic "The Candidate." Having won a Senate election, Redford's character turns to his adviser and asks, what do we do now?


We have a guest this morning who tries to answer that question for presidential candidates. He co-founded a group dedicated to giving policy guidance to Republican contenders. In fact, they've even offered it to Democrats if they'll take it. He would like to advise one more candidate, Donald Trump, if Trump would take the advice.

The group is called The Hay Initiative, named after a man who was a private secretary to Abraham Lincoln, later secretary of state. Its co-founder is Brian Hook who served in the second Bush administration, also advised Mitt Romney, 2012 presidential candidate. He's in our studios. Good morning, sir.

BRIAN HOOK: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: How many candidates have you advised in this election?

HOOK: Well, the field started with around 17. We've advised well over half, probably around 10 of the candidates.

INSKEEP: Ten of the candidates - and you feel that some of them have taken your advice?

HOOK: Well, we've wanted to be a resource to the field, and I think we've been successful, you know, at doing that. I think within the field you've had a - I think there's been more that people agree on within the Republican Party than they disagree on. And so we've worked with a range of folks, some of whom are in the race and some of - you know, many of them are not in the race.

INSKEEP: Ted Cruz you've given advice to.

HOOK: Yup.

INSKEEP: John Kasich you've given advice to.

HOOK: Yes.

INSKEEP: Donald Trump you haven't given advice to...


INSKEEP: ...At least not yet. Now, foreign policy is not math. You don't have an objective answer that you can give to a question. You bring a point of view. What is it essentially?

HOOK: Foreign policy?


HOOK: Well, we believe that, you know, starting around the time of World War II emerges what has become a bipartisan tradition of American leadership in world affairs. And that tradition has served not only the United States but, you know, the world in a number of ways. The benefits of this sort of global leadership - the guarantor of the international system - has produced a lot of benefits.

And we try to educate candidates on a range of issues, whether it's on foreign policy, national security, intelligence, defense, human rights, democracy, intel, cyber. I mean, it's - it's a - and we published a book late last year, which is a comprehensive governing agenda for the next president, regardless of party.

INSKEEP: Now, I have to mention there have been news articles suggesting that it seems like a lot of candidates who've run this year have read your book. There's a number of them made statements that you have made in the book, but Trump has not yet listened to your advice.

What do you make of his policies as they've been laid out in the debates so far? And how do they compare to that bipartisan tradition that you just described?

HOOK: Well, every candidate in 2016 has given a foreign policy speech except Donald Trump. And, you know, he likes taking positions instead of presenting policies. And on some issues he's taken a 360-degree tour around the issues. So we don't - I think there's a lot that still is left to be spelled out. And...

INSKEEP: I'm thinking of an example of what you're talking about. On Syria, he said last year as far as destroying ISIS "maybe let Russia do it. Let them get rid of ISIS. What do we care?" That's part of his quote. But he also, the other day, talked about sending 30,000 U.S. troops to Syria. Is that the kind of 360-degree tour you're referring to?

HOOK: Right. And this is part of the problem is that if you're just taking positions and not presenting policies, it's hard to sound consistent and coherent. And it's really important when we're talking about the commander in chief to give the American people an opportunity to actually judge your foreign policy and your national security agenda.

And I think George Kennan had said foreign policy doesn't fit on a bumper sticker. But the foreign policy I think to date that we've heard so far just is very, very light on specifics. And we're going to need that for the next commander in chief.

INSKEEP: There was one issue on which he tried to be specific, he said as regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict he would be, quote, "neutral." He was fiercely criticized by pro-Israel groups for that. And then he revised his statement after he was criticized. Let's listen to a little bit of that.


DONALD TRUMP: If I go in, I'll say I'm pro-Israel and I've told that to everybody and anybody that would listen. But I would like to at least have the other side think I'm somewhat neutral as to them so that we can maybe get a deal done.

INSKEEP: Is it normal for a presidential candidate to keep changing positions like that?

HOOK: No. It's not but this - this presidential cycle has been, you know, has not been very normal. It's certainly outside the range. I think one of the things we say in our book is that the first order of business for the next president is getting our system of alliances back in order. And when, you know, since the end of World War II, as I was saying earlier, a major part of the international order is this global system of alliances that America largely created.

This is a world that America has made. And when we start creating uncertainty among our allies, it causes them to hedge. And I think it creates more disorder and especially on something like Israel where he sounds like he would rather be a mediator than, you know, an ally. And that's true not only for Israel, but it's also true for Japan and for Korea and for our allies in Europe.

He doesn't seem to have a lot of time for NATO. And so, you know, to my ears he sounds a lot like Senator Robert Taft in the '40s. This was a Republican who had no time for American leadership in world affairs. He criticized our allies. He opposed aid for Britain in the '40s. He opposed expanded trade - a range of things. And this sounds like we're going back to the 1940s.

INSKEEP: Just got about 30 seconds left here. I want to ask about a fundamental dilemma that I think a lot of foreign policy experts are facing, people who say they disagree with Trump. Do you ostracize him in some way or try to cozy up to him and advise him in some way?

HOOK: I think that it would be good if he would widen his - his circle a little bit. He says that he speaks to himself on foreign policy for - everyone running has people they consult with. And those are largely known. Even Ted Cruz had rolled out his list of advisers. And I think it's important for him to widen the circle.

INSKEEP: OK. Mr. Hook, thanks very much. Brian Hook was a senior policy adviser to Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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