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Larry Wilkerson, just returning from New Hampshire reports on what is on the minds of voters in a state that gets to define the terms of engagement for the 2016 elections

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The New Hampshire primary is the first in a series of nationwide primary elections held every four years as a part of the process of choosing the delegates for the National Convention where each party, the Democrats and the Republicans, choose their presidential nominees, in this case for the 2016 elections. Although only a few delegates are actually chosen in the New Hampshire primary, it’s very important, especially because there’s massive media attention and also because it is symbolically the kickoff of the 2016 elections. Our next guess, Larry Wilkerson, was just in New Hampshire to give us an inside look at the Republican Party’s murmurs. I’m joined by Larry. Larry is the former chief of staff for U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, and currently an adjunct professor of government at the college of William and Mary. As always, thank you so much for joining us, Larry. LARRY WILKERSON, FMR. CHIEF OF STAFF TO COLIN POWELL: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: So Larry, tell us what’s going on in New Hampshire. WILKERSON: It’s really exciting to be up there. I had never understood completely what it’s all about. There are so few people in New Hampshire and so many venues, and so man small venues in particular, like fire stations and restaurants and cafeterias, that you might have Jeb Bush in front of 40, 45 New Hampshirites. Or Marco Rubio, or Hillary Clinton. And this gives them a real opportunity to hone in and ask questions, even multiple questions. Even follow-up questions. And to have the some 100 to 200 media who are surrounding them with cameras and everything else film it all. So you’ve got to really be on your toes in New Hampshire if you’re one of these now 19 GOP candidates who’ve paid the $1000 and are actually in the race, at least probably through New Hampshire, Iowa, maybe another state or so, but probably those first two states at any rate. PERIES: So Larry, give us a sense of what are some of the issues that they are discussing, in terms of the emerging platform. WILKERSON: As you might suspect in foreign policy, my specialty, security policy, they’re looking at the Iran negotiations. They’re looking at the recent opening to Cuba. I’m really interested in what Jeb Bush is going to say further on that. They’re looking at things like ISIS and what’s going on in the Middle East. A lot of concern that the United States is floundering in that region, not really got a policy. And they’re looking at terrorism in general. But I did find, thankfully as far as I’m concerned, that there was more concentration on bigger issues than terrorism. 9/11 is well in the past. And people were concerned with taxes, they’re concerned with jobs, with job security and so forth. So there are going to be some real questions for these people. Whether it’s Marco Rubio, whom one person told me based on his Cuba attitude, or his attitude towards President Obama’s opening to Cuba, is an anachronism. He’s in the past. So I pick up the newspaper and I read that Marco Rubio might challenge Jeb Bush, you know, and New Hampshirites might have a different idea about that. PERIES: Now, I have a sense that in New Hampshire they’re talking real issues, and not the usual party rhetoric. For example, in terms of what the GOP would normally advocate for in terms of war in the Middle East. Ordinary folks really aren’t so pro-war. Only once the machinery and the industrial complex related to warfare kicks in do candidates sort of take up that kind of campaign message. What are ordinary people saying in New Hampshire about what’s going on in the Middle East? WILKERSON: That’s an interesting question, Sharmini. You know, New Hampshire is also a state for Republicans. I mean, they have Kelly Ayotte, she’s a Republican. They have a lot of Republican interest in New Hampshire. The party there is vibrant and alive, unlike some places I go. And so if I said there was a tending I’d say it’s toward the Republican line. But based on what you just said I’d say they’re going to have a buzzsaw hit them on a lot of these issues, because people are not happy with interminable war, they’re not happy with what they see as a rotting infrastructure. Bridges and dams and so forth. They’re not happy with what they see as a dead Congress, a do-nothing Congress. A Congress often stymied by Republicans from doing anything. They are going to ask some really good questions, I think, and they’re going to ask them of the Republicans as much as the Democrats, if not more. They’re not happy with what they see happening in Washington. If I heard any refrain constantly, it was sort of like this: we wish Washington weren’t even there anymore. PERIES: And is this a venue, New Hampshire, where also issues get defined? I was just speaking to you off-camera that The Real News just held a town hall meeting about the school to prison pipeline, a huge issue given Ferguson in this country. And what’s followed since Ferguson, and perhaps, you know, even before Ferguson. But if you were trying to garner the African-American vote in this coming election in 2016, you better have your ducks in order to address this issue. WILKERSON: Yes. And I’ll tell you something I didn’t know that I know now. There are over 1,000 Indonesians who are illegal in New Hampshire. And they are unsure what to do with them because they’ve been there for some time, the community is concentrated around Concord and that area, Manchester. And the approach of the federal government and no immigration policy of note is troubling them greatly. So I imagine there’s going to be a lot of questions. 1,000 Indonesians in New Hampshire is a considerable population. There are going to be a lot of questions about that, and about the lack of an immigration policy, and particularly the Republicans apparently stymieing any kind of meaningful policy. Prisons was a big issue. I found people, I did NHPR. I did some other radio interviews, I did an editorial board with the Concord Monitor. I found people are very concerned about the privatization of prisons and what that means for perverse incentives. For example, they were shocked when I told them that there are actually lobbyists in Washington now whose purpose is to lobby Congress for more draconian prison sentences. And for more things being crimes that require a prison sentence. Because that’s their incentive, to put more people in jail. At the same time they were very concerned, but they have to look at it with a holistic point of view, about defense contractors influencing decisions to go to war. They have BAE there, they have Lockheed Martin there. They have a number of defense contractors who because of the small population are very important to New Hampshire. So they have mixed emotions about that, much the way Elizabeth Warren does in Massachusetts, for example, right next door. She’s very good on the Fed, on the SEC, on helping average Americans get ahead of the big banks and so forth. But at the same time because she is from Massachusetts, she’s very much a fan of the F-35 Lightning Strike fighter, which is in New Hampshire, a little bit too expensive, to quote one individual. PERIES: And Larry, finally, who are the emerging candidates that you think have a shot at it? WILKERSON: Looking at what I saw in New Hampshire, I saw everything from Mike Huckabee to Lindsey Graham in a snowstorm with a car off the road, to Marco Rubio to John Bolton, The ‘Stache, as we began to call him in New Hampshire. I’d have to say that I think Jeb Bush is going to come out of it once we’ve had New Hampshire, we’ve had Iowa, we’ve had other states. South Carolina, I guess, is third. I think Jeb Bush is probably going to come out of it with money and backing and so forth. I wouldn’t count one or two of the others out on the Republican side. And from what I saw, I think Hillary Clinton is going to come out of this. Although there are some people, I even heard word Lincoln Chafee might be getting ready to challenge her. You may recall he was the Senator from Rhode Island. So I think it–my bet right now would be a Bush-Clinton ticket. PERIES: Larry, we’ll be watching, as I’m sure you will be. Thank you so much for joining us today. WILKERSON: Thanks for having me, Sharmini. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.