Joining Jim Monaghan this morning on Jersey Magazine is Bret Baier, the chief political anchor for Fox News, talking about his new book on George Washington.
JIM MONAGHAN – He is the host of Special Report on the Fox News Channel and the chief political advisor, or anchor rather, for Fox, Bret Baier. Good morning, and welcome back to WDHA.
BRET BAIER – Hey, good morning. Thanks for having me.
JM – The new book To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment. As I’m reading through the book, Bret, over and over again, a couple of things pop out at me. One is there was no precedent for any of this that was going on. George couldn’t look back and say, well, President So and So had done this. I can follow that lead. How did this all come about?
BB – Yeah, that’s right. To Rescue the Constitution is about George Washington and how indispensable he was. And we always look back at history, and he’s lifted up as this godlike figure. He was a real man, and he desperately just wanted to go home. He wanted to be back at Mount Vernon with his wife Martha and her two kids who he adopted. He wanted to farm. But yet every time he was tapped to serve, he did, because for the greater good of the country, he believed. This moment in time is like a soda straw look at something that is largely overlooked, and that is after the Revolutionary War, the British are defeated. The country is actually falling apart. A lot of people don’t know it was a really dangerous, divided time. States are going after each other. They’re fighting. They’re fighting tax collectors. Nothing can get done. It’s kind of chaos under a large umbrella of the Articles of Confederation that loosely stitches the states together, but it’s just not working. In fact, a lot of people at that time said, forget it. Let’s just go back to British rule. And at that moment, the Constitutional Convention is called in May of 1787, and they tap the guy who commanded the Revolutionary forces, George Washington, to head up this convention. And through the dissent and all the back and forth, he hammers out this document, and then they get it ratified, and he obviously becomes the first American president. But without him in that process, we honestly would not have a country today.
JM – Now, this book obviously details events that happened so long ago. It’s kind of hard, I would imagine, to write a book like this when you don’t have any first person accounts. You can’t go to someone and ask them about what happened. How difficult is it to research a book like this?
BB – You can’t ask them, but there are amazing writings that sometimes are overlooked, diaries of different people, writings of the actual convention. And you can look back in these nuggets of history in our archives. By the way, our archive system is the best in the world, and the National Archives is a godsend. And I have this great researcher who finds these nuggets, and we put them together in sort of like a quilt, pieces of quilt, and then you stitch together. The narrative this book has, just like the other four presidential books, has the longest note section because each chapter is definitively tied to a source. So it’s not fiction. It’s all real history, but yet in a readable way that I think is a narrative that people can get into.
JM – You recently moderated one of the Republican presidential debates, and you said afterwards it was kind of like herding cats.
BB – It was.
JM – I wonder if you had been able to do that with some of these personalities going back to this point in time that you reference in the book. What do you think that would have been like?
BB – You know, it would have been interesting, but they would have given deference to George Washington. That’s why it’s so amazing that he is this figure. He’s not the elite scholar that Thomas Jefferson was or the intellectual powerhouse of John Adams. He’s not the backslapper with charisma of Ben Franklin, who’s a genius, and he didn’t have the analytical rigor of James Madison, and he certainly wasn’t the fiery speaker of Alexander Hamilton, but he was this steady, thoughtful, process person who was kind of this gravitas. So I think they actually would defer. It would be a lot easier than the debate I did in which nobody followed the rules. And who knew that Vice President Pence was going to be the problem child in that first debate?
JM – Bret Baier our guest this morning here at 105.5 WDHA. I’m thinking about, and I’m paraphrasing the quote here, those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. And I think we see it again and again and again these days. You’ve already referenced the fact that a lot of Americans back in the 1780s thought that democracy was doomed, the country would never get off the ground. And you also mentioned your other presidential books. And in each of them, there has been a point of crisis. Whether it was Eisenhower transferring power over to Kennedy, or Reagan and the end of the Cold War. FDR. Ulysses S. Grant. All of these points in time where if you read social media now and you kind of said this, we feel like the country is falling apart, but at various points in our democracy, we’ve been, at least it would seem, on the brink of that already.
BB – So that is the crucial part of all of this, and that’s the thread that goes through it. And you’re right to point it out is that we have been in very very bad places. We have been in dark, dark times where the country literally almost crumbled from our start. We almost didn’t get to the starting line. It collapsed a couple of times before they stitched it together. Civil War is an ugly, ugly period. And then after the Civil War, we almost fall back into the Civil War in 1876. And Grant kind of makes this deal and holds us together. Think about all of the protests through 60’s and the Vietnam war where there’s real rioting on the streets. That’s not like just the regular rioting. I mean, they’re really, really tearing the country apart. So as we sit here and you look at social media and you go, god, we cannot be more divided, the answer is yes we can. And so we as a country, there is hope that dissent is built into who we are. It’s baked in the cake. But union is there too. And meshing the two together is what Washington did and what hopefully we can do.
JM – You mentioned more recent times and I’ve long thought that the period between November of 1963 when John Kennedy was assassinated and August of 1974 when Richard Nixon resigned, was among the most tumultuous that we’ve ever experienced in this country. And I’ve long thought if we could get through those eleven years, we can get through anything. And I think the major point in your book is that we almost didn’t get to this point how tumultuous it was right from the very start.
BB – Yeah. And more and more people are forgetting that and we are not infusing that into our history for our kids and they’re just not getting it. So who we are from the beginning is really, really important. And so that’s what this book does. It puts you in the room, it puts you in the moment and just like the other books, hopefully people enjoy it and can digest a little bit about who we are so that we can see where we’re going.
JM – The book is To Rescue the Constitution: George Washington and the Fragile American Experiment, written by Bret Baier. Bret, thank you so much for your time this morning here on WDHA. Always a pleasure to have you with us.
BB – Thanks so much for having me.