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Johnny Premier

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This is the 259th Quaz Q&A and, I must admit, the most difficult I’ve had to endure.

First, to make something clear: My friend Johnny Premier deserves great credit for being here. Roughly nine or 10 days ago I put out a Twitter APB, requesting a Donald Trump supporter who would consider being Quazed. I was greeted by the unmistakable sound of crickets—until Johnny stepped forward and said he would voraciously defend the man he wants to be our nation’s 45th president.

Now, anyone who reads this site, or follows me on Twitter, knows I would prefer an Oval Office starring Emmanuel Lewis, Dennis Rodman Bob Tewksbury, Lady Gaga or Ray (Boom Boom) Mancini to an occupancy of Trump. I don’t like him, I don’t trust him and I believe (deep in my heart) he’s a genuine say-whatever-it-takes-to-become-president fraud. But—and this is an important but—millions of Americans think otherwise. And if we only speak with folks who parrot our views, well, what’s the point? We learn nothing, we gain nothing, we understand little. So, again, I want to commend today’s guest. Because while I don’t share his beliefs, I do share his interest in grasping the philosophies of others.

Johnny is a huge supporter of Donald Trump. He lives in Las Vegas, where he works for StubHub as a ticket return center coordinator. He has spent a good chunk of time announcing pro wrestling and MMA events, and can be contacted (and booked for gigs) on Twitter. Although we disagree on presidential politics, I have nothing but respect for the man.

Johnny Premier, I hope you’re wrong about our next president. But I’m thrilled you’re here to make his case …

JEFF PEARLMAN: Johnny, I’m gonna kick off with something that’s been itching at me from the start of Donald Trump’s recent political rise. OK, so on March 20, 2003, Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks ripped into George W. Bush during a London show, saying she was “ashamed” of the president. And this was a HUGE thing for the right. The Dixie Chicks were berated, shamed, damned. There were CD smashings, death threats, etc. And the general take from the right was an unambiguous, “This crossed a line.” OK, so now Barack Obama is president, and it’s 2011. And Donald Trump is a leader in the birther movement. He is, literally, saying the sitting president of the United States is not an American. Over and over and over again. I found this disturbing then, and even more disturbing now. I mean, this is YOUR candidate for the presidency. Why do you guys not find this disturbing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember that Dixie Chicks controversy well. You’re totally leaving out the context of when the comments were made. We were nine days from invading Iraq, and a declaration of war. To me, that’s a time when, after the debates are done, you as an American should support the troops wholeheartedly. And it’s kinda rich how these liberal ladies who made so much money from our free-market economy were “ashamed” of President Bush.

I supported the Chicks’ right to speak their mind, but their timing was poor. I also supported their sponsors’ decision to disavow that relationship. Here’s the deal, though, with supporting Donald Trump—every once in a while, he says or does something where you say to yourself, “Aw, c’mon, man, let’s not go there.” And for me, the “birther movement” is one of those times. There’s so much about the Obama administration and his specific policies worth criticizing.

But that’s what’s so refreshing about Trump—he doesn’t test out his opinions in front of focus groups or pollsters before rolling them out. There’s an authenticity there!

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You find it refreshing that your preferred presidential candidate repeatedly accused the sitting president of the United States of lying about his place of birth? You’re telling me if Obama or Hillary did something similar you would just chalk it up to, “Hey ho, no biggie”? Really?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Well, there’s never been a Republican president with a Muslim name, so I don’t see how that question is relevant.

Also, whether they agree with him or not politically, I think the American people find Trump refreshing. It’s amazing to think about, but Jeb Bush was at one point the favorite to be the GOP nominee. I don’t think enough is made of that fact. The guy who finished fifth or sixth in the early primaries was once the favorite. Talk about your establishment candidate, with the family name, the big money donors, and the support of the party.

It made no difference. His campaign stalled because there was no refreshing honesty or transparency there. And that is a critical reason why Trump is the nominee, and “low energy” Jeb has no career, no future.

JEFF PEARLMAN: What’s your political background? First presidential election where you voted? Favorite politicians? Etc?

JOHNNY PREMIER: My parents are independent, and raised me to think that way. In doing so, I’ve found that I have always had a deep mistrust of big government. Part of that has been growing up in Connecticut, and our history of crooks (Weicker, Rowland, Dodd—I could go on). The other part is just seeing how ineffective the government is at solving most problems, compounded by how much politicians— mostly Democrats—love spending taxpayer money. The money gives them the power, and the ability to brag at cocktail parties about how they solved problems. It’s all a farce.

The first election I voted was in 1992, for the first President Bush. Ross Perot’s impact siphoned votes from the Republicans and handed that election to the Clintons. It was hard to take, because I knew how dangerous a Clinton presidency would be.

JEFF PEARLMAN.: You mentioned on Twitter that I don’t get Trump’s appeal. And, in a way, you’re right. So explain it …

JOHNNY PREMIER: Look, man, the last two Republican nominees were John McCain and Mitt Romney. Career politicians, mediocre public speakers, establishment guys. Trump has branded himself to be an absolute rock star, through the power of television. You see it at a Trump rally, the excitement that they’re seeing a celebrity. People respond to him because they know he’s going to tell you exactly what he thinks. How many Republicans through the years elicited this response?

That’s why the news channels, and the public, can’t stop talking about Donald Trump. I like him because he happens to be right on a number of issues that are important to me.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump seems to enjoy calling everyone who disagrees with him a liar, or a crook, or whatever insult pops into his head. Yet in 1986, while testifying in a trial about the NFL-USFL, he lied under oath about Pete Rozelle offering him an NFL franchise. In Scotland, as was reported repeatedly on HBO Real Sports, he is loathed for a crooked golf course transaction. Recently there was a tape of him pretending to be his own PR guy back in the day—he lied and said it wasn’t him, after admitting it was him. He also said, on 9.11, he saw Muslims celebrating the World Trade Center attack—an observational that proved to be 100-percent fictional. One. Hundred. Percent. Fuck, the list of total bullshit is v-e-r-y long, v-e-r-y detailed. But I know many folks who simply feel like his supporters don’t give a shit. They always blame the media, or the haters. And, to me, it feels like a cult-like response. What am I missing?

JOHNNY PREMIER: OK, Jeff, so I see what’s going on here. You’re writing a book on the USFL—I’m guessing you were a fan of the league, and in doing that research you’re finding out things about Trump that bother you. Here’s the thing—revisionist history says that the quality of play was good. I remember it to be a poor, second-rate league whose only hope was to merge with the NFL. Trump knew that, and it’s why he tried to merge the Generals. Easy to play armchair quarterback with the benefit of hindsight.

I understand if you’re not going to put this quote on your book jacket, but look, Trump moved on. So should you.

I saw the Scotland golf course hit-piece by noted liberal Bryant Gumbel [JEFF’S NOTE: The reporter was actually Bernard Golberg, who is arch-conservative. Just saying]. It is a beautiful piece of land. They tried to make the old guy who didn’t want to sell into this martyr. I mean, come on.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump recently announced his tax plan, which—according to the Tax Policy Center (a nonpartisan outfit)—gives the wealthiest .1% of Americans an average tax cut of $1.3 million and raises the national debt by $34.1 trillion by 2036. Have you looked into Trump’s fiscal policies, besides, “I’m gonna make this country great!”? And what do you think of them?

JOHNNY PREMIER: This question is just loaded with sarcasm. You, clearly, think Trump’s supporters are just these silly people who can’t think for themselves. Of course I’ve looked into it. I love the fact that Americans who are single and make under $25,000 or married and combine to make less than $50,000, will not pay federal taxes. They shouldn’t. I love the simplification of the tax code with four brackets—0 percent, 15 percent, 20 percent and 25 percent. I love the reduction in taxes for business—small and large—which I believe will incentivize companies that have moved overseas to come back. And the elimination of the “death tax” is huge as well.

The beauty is, we’re going to pay for this with a specific plan that will reduce the size and scope of government.

JEFF PEARLMAN: How do you explain the super strong dislike for Hillary Clinton from the right? For the record, I’m not a big fan. But the apparent hate perplexes me a bit.

JOHNNY PREMIER: She’s just a dangerous person, Jeff. When she was secretary of state, four Americans died as a result of the Benghazi, Libya attacks—including the US ambassador. There were real security breaches that leaked from her office. She conducted State Department business from her personal email account in direct violation of State Department protocols and procedures, and federal law. Do we really want someone so irresponsible with classified information to be our next president?

There’s a history here that shows she is a long-time advocate for big government. Based on Hillary’s stated positions from the 1990s to today, and incorporating her senate voting record, the non-partisan Political Compass has her on a scale from -10 Libertarian to +10 Authoritarian as a +7 liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action love her. What else do you need to know?

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JEFF PEARLMAN: People like myself hear the Obama bashing from the right and we scratch our heads. I mean, if you look at the economic figures, the auto industry, the job numbers, Osama’s death, etc—were these the results of a Republican presidency, the right would be crowing … and I’m guessing you know it. So why so much hatred for a guy who, by most measures, has been transcendent?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I take issue with the entire premise of this question. Transcendent?!? There’s not enough time to focus on each issue, but with increasing boldness, Obama has argued for more government action and spending, and unilateral actions on his part to circumvent the GOP majority in congress.

I noticed you left out Obamacare, which has been an unmitigated disaster. Millions of Americans who were promised they could keep their existing insurance plans found their insurance canceled, and millions more who managed to enroll learned they couldn’t keep their doctor, as Obama had promised. Obamacare was a huge grab of government power, and a dismal failure.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Non-partisan estimates place the number of once-uninsured Americans who are now insured between 14 million and 16.5 million. Clearly Obamacare has had its flaws—no doubt. But I don’t see how it’s a disaster.

JOHNNY PREMIER: The Obamacare website cost $2.1 billion to build, and was supposed to encourage competition. It has not. Of the 11 million who signed up you reference, more than 3 million have dropped out by the end of the year.

Obama promised that it would not disrupt existing doctor-patient and health-care insurance arrangements. Completely false. The American medical scene is extremely complex, admittedly, but to resolve them in once comprehensive government program is the wrong solution. And the prohibition against crossing state lines to buy insurance was wrongheaded and must be repealed.

The congressional budget office estimates it will add $1.7 trillion to our nation’s debt over the next decade [JEFF’S NOTE: With all due respect to our guest, this is a very misleading figure]. And for what? Hillary has proposed new, sweeping additions to Obamacare that would paid for by … you guessed it, a new tax! This is part of what makes her and the tax-and-spend liberals so scary. Once a federal program gets started, the size and scope will expand as far as you let them.

JEFF PEARLMAN: There’s no way Donald Trump builds the wall, and has Mexico pay for it. There’s also no way Donald Trump rounds up 11 million illegals. So, if those two things—both lead elements of his campaign—don’t happen, does that mar his presidency? Do you think the right will hold him to it?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Really, there’s “no way” the wall gets built, and there’s “no way” Mexico pays for it? Again, your question is based on a fallacy!

Estimates I’ve seen are that the wall would cost $5-10 billion. The Mexican economy is so dependent on the United States, specifically here the $24 billion annually it receives in remittance from Mexican nationals working in the U.S. We can prevent those wire transfers to poor families in Mexico. Patriot Act Section 326 is a great “stick” to make this wall happen.

The important point here is that immigration to the U.S. is a privilege, not a right. Having a free flow of undocumented people is not in America’s best interest. And I applaud Trump for taking on a politically tricky issue!

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Donald Trump suggested Megyn Kelly was bleeding from her vagina. He insulted Carly Fiorina by saying, “Look at her face! Look at her face!” He said John McCain—a POW in Vietnam for four years—is not a hero because he was captured. He said Ted Cruz’s father was involved in JFK’s assassination. He mocked a handicapped reporter, Serge Kovaleski, by mimicking his disability. He has called Mexican immigrants rapists. He said Seventh Day Adventists were weird. Back in the 1980s in New York he said a bunch of African-American kids deserved the death penalty for raping a woman—and then it turned out they were innocent. It’s a nonstop insult cycle, and, again, I don’t understand why anyone would support a guy like this. Hate Hillary? Fine? Third candidate? OK. But this is REALLY the man you want representing America?

JOHNNY PREMIER: It’s interesting—you started this list with Megyn Kelly. Fox News wanted to be relevant for the 2016 election, so of course they extended an olive branch to Trump for the Kelly interview that was so promoted so hard by the network.

The one soundbite that the liberal media harped on was Kelly pointing out that Trump called her a “bimbo”—OK, fine—but the balance of the interview was great and I believe strengthened Trump in the minds of “establishment” Republican viewers.

As for the rest … eh. It doesn’t bother me, on balance, when you consider the great things a Trump presidency can do for our nation.

JEFF PEARLMAN: One of the HUGE criticisms from the right (HUGE) is Obama negotiating with Iran. I mean, it’s a Top 5 slam. Recently Donald Trump said he’d negotiate with Kim Jong Un. Again, had Obama or Hillary said this—the right would be SLAUGHTERING them. Are you OK with it? And why is this any different than talking with Iran?

JOHNNY PREMIER: Again Jeff, love ya but jeez, you love asking me questions out of context! I saw this interview—his main point here was that we should pressure China (who we have plenty of economic leverage on, but are not using thanks to Obama) into making North Korea change his ways. And that is a main difference between Trump and Hillary.

JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said—then said he didn’t say, even though it was on tape—that he would “take out” the families of suspected terrorists and that the military would follow his orders even if they are illegal. This probably doesn’t trouble you. Why?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I know the comments you were referring to, in December on Fox News. I do not support the killing of innocent women and children. However, I think you’re taking them out of context. Trump’s point was that the war against terrorists and ISIS in particular was too politically correct. There’s too much concern with the “rights” of these people. ISIS must be stopped, and if it takes torture of a member who we capture to get valuable intel, I’m all for it.

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JEFF PEARLMAN: Trump has said the minimum wage is too high, but also that he would maybe raise the minimum wage. Do you think he has an actual position on the minimum wage?

JOHNNY PREMIER: In fact, he stated his position on this issue very clearly. He believes the states should decide this issue, and it will foster healthy competition between states, and with other countries. Slightly more than 50 percent of the states have a higher floor than the current $7.25 an hour. And that makes sense. Cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York are obviously a hell of a lot more expensive to live in than rural areas.

And let me make this point very clear, Jeff. It is critical to the success of Trump’s candidacy that he support deferring to the states on many issues, not just minimum wage, and he has begun to do that. The majority of Americans believe there is too much power concentrated in Washington, D.C. This is one issue we can hammer Hillary on!

JEFF PEARLMAN: In your gut, Hillary-Trump—who wins this election, and what’s the margin?

JOHNNY PREMIER: I remember a year ago, the odds that a leading offshore sportsbook gave Trump to win was 20-1. It is now 2-1. At the risk of this Quaz ending up on @OldTakesExposed I’d suggest you bet on Trump. The Democrats were not inspired by Hillary in 2008 when she resoundingly lost to Obama in the primaries, and they’re certainly not inspired now after the Benghazi and e-mail mess, the big PAC money, and everything else. Bernie Sanders is still mathematically alive on May 23, 2016!

Meanwhile, Trump is a superstar. The Republican Party is getting in line, and that will happen more and more as the election draws near. Plus, you’ve gotta remember, Jeff … politics is in large part a “work.” I think WWE Hall of Famer Donald Trump learned a lot through his association with the company, dating back to hosting two WrestleMania’s at Trump Plaza in the 1980s. Underestimate him at your peril.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH JOHNNY PREMIER:

• Five all-time favorite political figures: I’m going to resist being a wise-ass and writing “Ronald Reagan” five times. An absolute legend. The way he handled the 1981 air traffic controller strike inspired me at a young age. Put it this way—if Jimmy Carter had still been in office, that union would have owned him. 1. Ronald Reagan. 2. Jesse Ventura. Absolutely shocked the world—it’s awesome that a guy with muluti-colored hair who spent 20 years as a pro wrestler and commentator could become Governor of Minnesota. Brilliant guy who sometimes gets in his own way with the conspiracy theory stuff. Definitely appeals to the more Libertarian side of my brain; 3. Trump; 4. Rush Limbaugh. Might have lost a step, but people forget how much impact he had in the early 90s in stopping the left-wing agenda of Bill Clinton and his cronies. I went to liberal Clark University for undergrad, and he helped get me through those years; 5. Gonna leave this open for a politician who will come to lead the Republican Party into the future. Someone like Trump without the baggage?

• How did you become a Jets fan?: Mark Gastineau and Joe Klecko, the New York Sack Exchange! They were awesome, man—so much so that I’ll forgive Gastineau for giving America his reality show family. And of course the image of Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III. Iconic. I was hooked.

In the years since there’s been the Dan Marino fake spike, Browning Nagle, loud boos at the NFL draft, Belichick “I resign as Head Coach of the New York Jets” … you and I both know the pain. The Jets have taken a lot of money from me and given back precious few satisfying moments. Life as a fan, I suppose. On a personal level, I’m finding it hard to root against the Rex Ryan Bills. I really like Rex—he worked hard to change the culture.

• If Hillary Clinton wins, how do you think Trump supporters will respond/react?: Well, I can tell you what won’t happen. You won’t be reading whiny things from us like, “if Trump loses we move to Canada” like you hear from the liberal elite. The Barbra Streisand/George Clooney types. Trump supporters are proud Americans, and we respect the democratic process. Huge difference!

• Who should be the next appointee to the Supreme Court?: Joan Larsen from Michigan, used to clerk for Justice Scalia. Solid!

• Five reasons one should make Las Vegas his/her home?: Man, it is awesome here! I used to be a loyal Bill Simmons reader—before he became a professional podcaster—and found his transition from Boston Sports Guy to LA to be interesting. He’d always remark how you get “sucked in” by the weather here and how hard it is to go back. And I didn’t buy it … until I got sucked in. Jeff, it rains here, like, once a month! Every day is sunny! Spending the first 39 years of my life in the northeast, you do not take that for granted. And the cost of living is ridiculously cheap. I spend half the money for a place that’s twice as nice as my New York City apartment.

People always talk about the casinos, Vegas has every type of entertainment possible, the best restaurants, high culture, low culture … everything except a pro sports team, which will be rectified soon by an NHL team or the Raiders (and, possibly, both)!

• What’s the grossest thing you’ve ever eaten?: Was paid $20 to eat a bug when I was a kid. Blew it at the arcade.

• In exactly 17 words, make a case for Rich Kotite: Is this a serious question? Worst. Jets. Coach. Ever. Clueless Rich Kotite does not deserve seventeen words.

• Ever thought you were about to die in a plane crash? If so, what do you recall?: Can’t say that I’ve had a moment like that great scene in “Almost Famous.” As Slammin’ Sammy Sosa would say, airplanes been berry berry good to me. So far …

• What’s your take of Bernie Sanders?: It’s wonderful to see how Bernie continues to win states—he trounced Hillary in Oregon. He continues to destroy her on the issue of accepting huge PAC donations from the biggest corporations. And the $250,000 speeches … look, I support free enterprise, people should make as much as their talent merits. But those on the socialist side of the Democrats hate it. Also, there’s something overtly corrupt about Hillary, and Bernie’s supporters sense it. I don’t think there will be a unified party coming out of the Democratic Convention.

• When was the “again” Donald Trump is referring to, as far as America’s greatness?: Let’s not over-analyze an awesome slogan! Look, people use nostalgia to market themselves, as a way to harken to better days … whether they actually were really better or not (I do not want to go back to life before cell phones and Internet).

Trump is awesome at marketing and branding, and it fits beautifully. Think about it … how many national campaign slogans can you remember through the years? Come on Jeff, you know you want the hat.

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Guy Benson

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When it comes to political Quazes, I prefer people I disagree with.

Hell, what’s the fun of having a New York-born liberal? Or someone who thinks Barack Obama has been a strong president? They think what I think, which means—in thinking about how they think—I know how they think.

Yawn.

I don’t know how Guy Benson thinks. First, he’s a contributor to Fox News (a place I don’t like) and a political editor of Townhall.com (a site I don’t often read). Second, he’s an openly gay Republican who doesn’t see any real issue with being an openly gay Republican. Third, he’s a fan of neither Obama nor Hillary. Fourth, um … that’s about it. Which is a lot—and also makes Benson a perfect (And cool. And unique. And generous.) Quaz. You can follow him on Twitter here and purchase his book, “End of Discussion,” here.

Guy Benson, no need to fret over taxes or immigration or Muslims. You’re the 236th Quaz …

JEFF PEARLMAN: OK, Guy, I hate being clichéd here, but I’m gonna be clichéd here. You’re an openly gay Republican. Which is confusing to a lot of people—including myself. Why? Because for so long, your party has been pretty hostile when it comes to gay rights, gay marriage, even civil unions. You’re younger than I am, but it wasn’t all that long ago when Pat Robertson addressed the Republican Convention and basically damned gays to hell. I realize there are 800,000 issues in the world, but I have to ask: How are you comfortable largely supporting a party that has long seemed to marginalize gays as sinful second-rate citizens?

GUY BENSON: As I see things, the existence of proud, unapologetic gay conservatives really shouldn’t be particularly confusing at all. Here’s how I put it to Buzzfeed a few months ago:

“A free-thinking, free citizen of a free country is not obliged to be confined to a bedazzled ideological straitjacket because that’s how they ‘ought’ to think and ‘ought’ to vote and ‘ought’ to rank their priorities … Part of liberty and tolerance and coexistence is understanding that, ‘Hey, I might have something in common with this person over here, and they have every right under the sun to disagree with me on this whole panoply of public policy questions over here.’ And if their views on those things lead them to another conclusion about how they exercise their right to vote, to jump to the conclusion that that is borne of some secret, deep-seated self-loathing is just lazy and boring. And false.”

I realize you didn’t employ the “self-loathing” smear, but it’s something that I’ve heard more than once, and I think it’s deeply unfair to the millions (yes, millions) of right-leaning LGBT people in this country. Look, I care about the country. I think policy matters. I want the best for America—as virtually all of us do, even if we differ on the best course to pursue. Overall, on the issues that matter most to me, I’ve concluded that the Republican Party represents my priorities and views far better than the Democratic Party does (though I do lean more to the left on some issues). I’m not a one-issue voter.

I’d also point out Democratic Party also embraced a platform that treated gays as “second rate citizens,” to borrow your term, until approximately four minutes ago. And Barack Obama’s cynical “evolution” on the issue was a pretty revolting spectacle, really. He was for gay marriage as a liberal candidate in a liberal district in Illinois, then became “opposed to” gay marriage as he geared up for a statewide run in 2004, before switching back to his original position years later. He invoked the Matthew Shepard murder as an influential factor in changing his mind … back to a position he’d previously held. Every turn on this journey coincided with his political interests at the time, so pardon me for not bursting into tears of gratitude for his alleged leadership on these issues.

Two more points: First, if liberals are hoping to shape a progressive/libertarian consensus on gay rights moving forward, isn’t it beneficial to have voices at both ends of the spectrum advancing those arguments? Second, an observation from my own personal experience. The vast majority of ugliness and venom I’ve received since coming out publicly has come from the Left—especially the gay Left. Because I’m the “wrong sort of gay,” or whatever. It’s amazing what kind of slurs the Tolerance Brigades will hurl over what they perceive as identity treason. Conservatives, with notable exceptions, have been overwhelmingly kind and welcoming. I recognize that I owe a great deal to the gay rights activists who’ve labored to pave this road over many generations. I’d venture a guess that most of them would probably disagree with many of my political views—and that’s completely fine. But thanks to them, I’m living in a new paradigm, and I don’t feel compelled to exercise my equality and liberation by marching in lockstep like a single-issue robot with a party and ideology that doesn’t represent me as a human being. I can’t remember who said this, so I’m stealing it without full attribution: Since when is the rainbow just one color? I don’t feel remotely obligated to pledge fealty or allegiance to the “blue” team.

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J.P.: You and I had a brief Twitter exchange recently that I’d like to expand on. I’ve been Googling around about your views, takes—and it seems like, 99.6 percent of the time, you dump on liberals, Obama, Hillary, etc. And I wonder (and I don’t mean this exclusively for you, because it’s a national thing), why should we take people’s viewpoints seriously if they refuse to compliment the other side, or bash their own? I mean, I watch Sean Hannity at the gym sometimes, and it’s complete slamming of the left, praising of the right. A-l-w-a-y-s. Same with Al Sharpton at MSNBC. Why can’t we have people who are completely unbiased, unslanted and simply take it all case by case?

G.B.: Well, if you read my book (shameless plug: “End of Discussion,” co-authored with my dear friend Mary Katharine Ham), you’ll notice that we’re not big fans of dogmatic, intellectually-dishonest ideologues who scrupulously avoid introspection. When deserved, we target “our side,” and even ourselves individually, for criticism. I’ve moved to the left on a number of issues over the years, having been convinced that liberals had the better argument. I wrote a whole piece a few weeks ago debunking a bogus attack on Hillary Clinton because (a) it was the right thing to do, and (b) conservatives shouldn’t waste our time with anti-Hillary nonsense when there’s so much legitimate material to work with. You ask why we can’t have people who are completely unbiased and un-slanted. Well, we do. To the extent that anyone can subordinate any instinctive worldview, that is. There are many journalists who work extremely hard to be even-handed and tell the truth. CNN’s Jake Tapper is one of them. ABC’s Jonathan Karl is another. I approach my work from a clear vantage point; I advertise it freely, and people can evaluate my work accordingly. As a news consumer, I’d much rather have someone disclose their biases than pretend not to have them while subtly or overtly advancing an agenda.

J.P.: After 9.11 happened, Republicans and conservatives absolutely pummeled the Dixie Chicks for openly ripping the sitting United States president in the wake of a terrorist attack. We are now in the wake of a terrorist attack—significantly smaller, but still an attack. And it seems like the GOP candidates, and their supporters, can’t stop slamming Barack Obama for everything and anything. I’m truly troubled by this, because I think we have a pretty profound history (FDR during WWII as the best example) of trying to show unity in times of crisis—whether we agree with a leader’s political leanings or not. I’m guessing you disagree. Yes? No? And why?

G.B.: Get back to me when Obama stops smearing his domestic opponents as ‘ISIS recruiters’ from abroad—which is exactly he did in the wake of the Paris attacks, amid bipartisan criticism of his ISIS and refugee policies. And Democrats called President Bush a “loser,” a war criminal, and worse, so I’m rather unmoved by the Left’s pearl-clutching on this front. That said, I wish our political climate weren’t as toxic as it’s become.

J.P.: So I know you’re 30, know you attended Northwestern journalism school, know you’ve done some sports—but how’d you get here? Like, when did you become interested in politics? In media? And what’s the goal?

G.B.: Politics first blipped on my radar as a sixth grader, during the 1996 presidential election. We were asked to pick a campaign to “work for,” as part of a project. One of the local papers had an infographic that summarized various issue positions held by the major candidates, so I went through and circled the stances that made the most sense to me, then tallied them up. Winner: Bob Dole. Pure excitement. I proceeded to treat politics as if it were a spectator sport for a number of years, rooting for one team over the other. That mentality changed early on in my junior year of high school, when 9/11 happened. My hometown lost 12 people that day. I remember being overcome with the conviction that politics really matter. During college, I called sports games for the same campus radio station on which I hosted a right vs. left-style weekly talk show. Ultimately, my first job offer was on the political side, and that’s the route I’ve taken ever since. It was the right decision. I feel like I’m devoting my career to trying to influence our politics and our country for the better. Sports remains a wonderful, welcome, needed distraction for me. Go ‘Cats, by the way.

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J.P.: The right is all over Hillary Clinton and Benghazi—as are you. Let’s say, hypothetically, Ted Cruz is president, and secretary of state Marco Rubio has the same type of scandal. Are you and the right equally interested, determined to dig the truth? Or is this, in part, a political thing, or a Clinton thing? Because, having watched the hearings, it seems that way.

G.B.: I think it depends on the nature of the scandal, of course. As someone who leans to the right, I’d probably be more forgiving of a Republican administration. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. But I genuinely make an effort to be fair and intellectually honest. If you read my work, it’s not like the GOP emerges unscathed every day. One of the best things about our imperfect, adversarial political system is that the opposition always has an incentive to hold powerful people’s feet to the fire. That’s healthy in a free society. Sure, sometimes the oversight is partisan in nature. But a partisan investigation doesn’t necessarily mean that the partisans are wrong. The parties compete and present their cases (sometimes with the media’s thumb on the scale, I’d argue), and then it’s up to the American people (most of whom aren’t super-political weirdos like me) to determine who’s got a point, and who’s full of it.

J.P.: You co-authored a book this year, “End of Discussion,” with Mary Katharine Ham. This is probably a bit too inside baseball for many, but—fuck it. It’s my blog. The question: How did you go about co-authoring a book? Did you split chapters? Passages? Did one of you write more, one edit more? Was it a struggle to find a cohesive voice? I know it’s out of nowhere, but this shit fascinates me.

G.B.: Mary Katharine and I have freakishly similar world views and writing styles, so achieving “voice” continuity wasn’t much of an issue. We have close friends and family members who read the book and couldn’t tell who wrote what. The way we went about tackling the writing process was collaborating very closely on the opening and concluding chapters, then splitting the eight “issue” chapters, half and half. After we’d written our individual chapters, we swapped, to edit, tweak and augment. We think it worked out pretty well, but that’s for readers to decide. It’s a fun, occasionally funny, book that definitely comes from a political perspective, but is intentionally accessible to people who don’t agree with us. We’d ask that you keep an open mind and give us a chance!

J.P.: You’re clearly a smart, informed guy. Do you recognize man-influenced climate change as a problem? As a major problem? Why or why not?

G.B.: I believe that a large majority of the scientific community sees anthropogenic climate change as a real problem. As a Christian, I also believe that we are stewards of this planet. So I’m not someone who dismisses this issue as a “hoax,” or whatever. And conservatives have to breathe the same air and drink the same water as everyone else. I do think that a piece that ran in The Economist in 2013 calls into question some of the alarmism connected to this issue, including the fact that measurable warming has essentially stopped for the last 15 years or so, even as CO2 emissions have climbed considerably. Doom-saying projections have not been borne out by actual data. I also reject many of the so-called “solutions” being proposed as government-empowering, unrealistic, economically-ruinous policies that—based on their advocates’ own data—won’t actually fix the problem. Steven Hayward wrote an excellent post about this a few years back. I’ll also say that the “hide the decline” scandal at East Anglia University really undermined my confidence in some climate scientists’ self-stylized posture as impartial, data-driven empiricists. Their internal machinations make them look more like agenda-driven activists, determined to stamp out critics at all costs.

J.P.: In one of your Townhall columns you wrote, “The pro-Bush line is that W transformed his presidency and kept America safe after the stunning trauma of 9/11, which occurred less than a year into his eight-year tenure. True.” OK, so I don’t see it. We’re attacked on 9.11. The Bush White House responds by going into Iraq—a country that had zero to do with this, opening the region to all sorts of awfulness (including the ISIS you and yours now bash Obama for not handling well). So, Guy, while I suppose Bush “kept” us safe in that there were no other attacks, did he really keep America safe? Am I missing something here?

G.B.: Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen wrote a solid piece recently enumerating the myriad ways in which President Bush kept the country safe after 9/11. I notice that you jumped right to Iraq on this subject. You skipped Afghanistan, revamped detention and interrogation policies, new programs to disrupt terrorist financing networks, and a massive upgrade of technological and human intelligence. Many plots were discovered and foiled. Lives were saved. Preventing another large-scale attack on the US homeland was quite a feat, and those who’ve worked tirelessly on behalf of our safety deserve our thanks. Now, looking back, I do think the Iraq war was a mistake. Key elements of our intelligence assessment turned out to be wrong. Saddam, a heinous monster, could at least be counted on a buffer against the heinous, monstrous Iranian regime. Were there reasons to take him out? Sure. Was it worth countless billions and thousands of American lives? I don’t think so. Barack Obama was right about that. He was wrong about almost everything else, from the efficacy of the surge, to the politically-motivated abandonment of Iraq without a status of forces agreement, to the “jayvee” nature of the ISIS threat that which cropped up in the power vacuum he recklessly helped create. (Disclosure: I was an intern at the Bush White House in 2007).

J.P.: ESPN’s Bob Ley did a Quaz, and he referred to the pull of “red-light fever”—meaning being on TV, getting some celebrity status, being recognized in an airport terminal, autographing a scrap of paper. You’ve now been on the tube quite a bit. Does it do anything for you? Do you enjoy the medium? Do you feel like there’s an art to it?

G.B.: I’ve been on the air in some capacity since age 14, so I obviously love it. And I’m extremely grateful for my on-air platforms at Fox News and Salem radio. Everyone—everyone—in this business has an ego to some extent, but for me, it’s not about being “famous” or making huge money … although I wouldn’t turn down a raise, just in case certain (attractive and wise!) executives happen to be reading this. It’s about applying my passions and God-given talents for good, while doing something that gets me out of bed every morning. I feel very blessed. Prominence obviously helps amplify one’s message, so I don’t feel guilty about working to grow my profile. The key is to not lose your grounding, bearings, or values along the way. I have friends and family who will help see to it that I don’t.

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J.P.: So as far as I can tell, the GOP should just make Marco Rubio it’s nominee right now. He’s smart, young, handsome, has a major job, speaks well, doesn’t completely cause moderate Democrats to run the other way. Am I missing something? Because he strikes me as the guy most likely to beat Hillary—by far.

G.B.: Nice try, you’re not going to trick me into tipping my hand. Part of my job is to cover the GOP primary for the next seven months or so, and I want to be fair to the various candidates, even though I’m paid for my opinions. Caveat: My work product makes it abundantly clear that I am not a Donald Trump fan. I think he lacks the temperament, requisite knowledge and core principles to be someone I could support for president. As a genuinely undecided voter in this process, I will agree that Sen. Rubio is a gifted communicator who brings a lot to the table, particularly as it pertains to offering the electorate a stark contrast to Hillary Clinton. I’ll leave it at that. May the best man or woman prevail.

J.P.: What are we supposed to do about healthcare? I know the right abhors Obamacare, and perhaps with good reason. Costs are rising, etc. But what about all the people now covered? What about those with pre-existing conditions? Does a Republican president come in and simply say, “Back to the old way?” Do you have an idea or two for a solution?

G.B.: Policy wonks like Avik Roy and James Capretta have done some really terrific work on this subject, and I do believe that opposition to Obamacare (I’ve been strongly opposed from the beginning and feel vindicated by subsequent events) requires those in power to present viable alternatives. Those alternatives exist, several in the form of actual legislation. But one of the GOP’s biggest shortcomings since 2010, in my view, is its failure to unify around a plan and present it to the American people. Harshly critiquing Obamacare is valid. The law’s advocates and supporters deserve every bit of criticism they receive, based on the parade of broken promises alone. And Democrats have paid a steep, richly-earned political price for the costly, dishonestly-sold misnomer of a monstrosity that they rammed into law, over the public’s wishes (I apologize if my position on this law is too ambiguous). But if repeal is in the offing, there needs to be a thoughtful replacement plan that takes care of people, including those with pre-existing conditions. Some 2016 candidates have laid out their visions on this score. They all should.

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QUAZ EXPRESS WITH GUY BENSON:

• I don’t mean this insultingly at all—but you don’t meet many people named Guy. What were your parents thinking?: It’s a family name — long line of Guys on my dad’s side. I give my parents an A+ in the naming department, with all three kids. Guy Pelham, James Alexander and Olivia Grace.

• Five all-time favorite political figures: I believe I’m legally obligated to list Ronald Reagan five times here. #Reaganing

• Rank in order (favorite to least): George Will, Darnell Autry, Pope Francis, Sheriff David Clarke, Dwight Howard, Glenn Beck, Law & Order, Lyndon Johnson, “Princess Bride,” Lucas Duda, Thor, Entourage, Us Weekly: Law & Order (the original is the best), George Will, Thor (Brad, that is), Darnell Autry, Pope Francis, Princess Bride, Sheriff David Clarke, Glenn Beck. Dwight Howard,  Lucas Duda, Entourage, Us Weekly, LBJ.

• Three memories from your senior prom: 1. My date, Jisoo, was the Prom Queen. She’s a badass and we’re still friends; 2. I was expecting to be really nervous but ended up having a total blast. The whole class sang and danced to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ toward the end; 3. We piled into a limo and headed ‘down the shore’ (a Jersey term) post-prom for the weekend, per tradition. The weather was terrible the whole time, so we watched ‘Family Guy’ and the NHL finals (go Devils). Certain products may have been consumed by some. (Bonus side note: enjoyment rankings of the various stages of my educational career: College (great), high school (great), elementary school (good) … and then middle school).

• Barack Obama calls and wants to know if you wanna grab some dinner. Do you go and have a good time?: Oh yeah, of course I’d go, and we’d have a terrific time. We share a favorite beer (312) and TV show (The Wire), and we’re both college hoops fans. Plus there’s a Chicago connection. I’d like to think that I can find common ground with almost anyone, even a bad president—plus, I respect the office no matter what.

• Best joke you know: A friend of mine tells a long, filthy joke that ends with the punchline, “because I’m the bus driver!” He horrifies strangers with it in bars sometimes.

• You did some Cape Cod League play by play. Three memories, please: I did. Four summers for the Chatham A’s alongside my best friend from home, Dan, who’s pursuing the dream as a pro sportscaster. 1. Game 1 the 2005 division playoff series. Chatham beat Orleans in extras in an absolutely thrilling ballgame. The A’s (a team packed with future MLB talent, from Evan Longoria to Andrew Miller to Chris Coghlan to Jeff Frazier) went on to lose the best-of-three series; 2. “The sprinkler game,” in which the sprinklers went off mid-game, both on the field and up by our broadcast location, wreaking all sorts of havoc. Not sure I’ve ever laughed harder on the air; 3. Our 10-year anniversary broadcast: Dan and I, long since “retired” from the A’s broadcasting booth, returned for a one-off game to commemorate the ten-year anniversary of the play-by-play program we pioneered. The broadcast went off without a hitch—lots of reminiscing, but we called the game professionally and thoroughly. It was like riding a bike. So much fun. I really miss it sometimes.

• Why’d you stop doing the podcast?: Between writing, TV, other media, and a robust travel schedule, I just couldn’t find the time to do the show properly. So after nearly eight years on the air in Chicago (and five in DC), I recently suspended the show indefinitely. Radio is a special medium. I love it. But I didn’t want to do a half-assed job on account of being spread too thin.

• What does Sean Hannity’s set smell like?: It smells like freedom.

• One question you would ask Macaulay Culkin were he here right now: Gonna end on a super lame note: I’ve got nothing. Literally nothing.