RUSH: We are happy to welcome to the program Bret Baier of Fox News, Special Report with Bret Baier, who has just a marvelous new book out. It’s been out a week. It’s Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission, and it’s not exclusively about this, but delves into great detail about the transition from Eisenhower to JFK, which was multifaceted, including it was a huge generational transition and shift. And, Bret, welcome to the program. It’s great to have you here.
BAIER: Hey, Rush. Thanks for having me. Great to talk to you.
RUSH: What is it…? I mean, of all the things that you might have wanted to write a book about, what was it about Eisenhower and his transition to JFK? What interested you about that? Why did you choose that as something to write about? I mean, this is a detailed, extensive historical book.
RUSH: The reviews on this book are just off the charts. It’s incredible.
BAIER: Well, thank you. You know, we worked on it for about three-and-a-half years. I first got there, you and I are both golfers, and Ike was a golfer. I stayed at the Eisenhower cabin. I happened to be invited down to Augusta, and I was all excited to play, obviously — first time — and I walked around there, and I said, “I don’t know enough about President Eisenhower.” I know General Eisenhower, I just didn’t know President Eisenhower, and if I don’t know it and I cover Washington and politics, surely my generation and younger really doesn’t.
So, I went out to the library in Abilene, Kansas, which, if you can get there and if you haven’t been there, you should go. It’s a spectacular place, the Eisenhower Library, and I talked to the folks there and they said, “Of all the books about Eisenhower, this transition has not really been focused on, and that’s the farewell address.” I went to the library, they pulled out a box, and I put gloves on, and they pulled out a folder, and they gave me the actual address. That’s 56 years ago tonight that Eisenhower delivers the farewell address. I’m holding it in my hands. I see the scribble marks that Eisenhower made and the underlines and the capitalizing, and I thought, “This is the thing that will get me a narrative to breathe life into history and reintroduce President Eisenhower.” And that’s where it all started.
RUSH: Now, Eisenhower, people may not know he was the first Republican president in, what, five terms.
RUSH: We had FDR before him and Harry Truman. His presidency, at least the first four years of it, was culture shock. There are some similarities, interestingly, to Trump. And in many ways, Eisenhower sounded like Trump does today in the sense… You know, Eisenhower warned of the imminent danger posed by the military-industrial complex, and Trump is saying get out of NATO. Trump is suggesting that we’re wasting way too much money here; we need to reallocate resources. Is that a correct assess? Would you agree?
BAIER: Yeah. Obviously, they’re, you know, very different in demeanor. But if you go deeper, there are clearly commonalities there. The biggest one is both of them are outsiders. You know, Ike absolutely hated politics, especially the phoniness of it, and he was determined to kind of be his own man, not beholden to party. He was practical, not ideological. And I think clearly that is the road Trump took. He’s not a politician to begin with. He is more practical. I mean, he’s talked about getting things done. And, you know, he could potentially break the gridlock in Washington, you know, because of the practicality of figuring out common ground. Ike, in that farewell address, Rush, talked not only about the military-industrial complex, but about deficits and debt. “We can’t mortgage our children’s future,” he said in that speech. He also talked about bipartisanship and trying to figure out a way to get things done that you can get done first and then argue about what you can’t.
RUSH: This answer that you had may surprise people, but it sounds like that Eisenhower dealt with obstruction and people that wanted to deny him success as a president. You know, a lot of people’s historical perspective begins with the day they were born and they think that things are happening during their lives are worse than they’ve ever been and they’ve never happened before in some instances. And your book illustrates that there’s nothing new happening here. Maybe the degree of intensity, and there may be some personality differences.
RUSH: Now, Eisenhower and the military-industrial complex warning, what always amazed me about that, and maybe you can help me understand it, he was of the military.
RUSH: He personified it, and here he is warning the nation about it.
BAIER: He was a military man who craved peace, and he realized, as general — who obviously defeated Hitler and came back as a hero of the war — that there was in industry that had been created obviously to help supply World War II, but that it was a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you will. It was pumping money in through lobbyists into lawmakers. They were affecting policy, some government officials were leaving to go head up some of these companies, and then it was a cycle, and he was concerned. He wanted to call it “the military industrial-congressional complex,” but he was persuaded to take out “congressional” to be diplomatic. He was worried that this would be kind of a churning up of policy. You said you had to have dissenting views on everything, and it couldn’t be controlled by the money outside. I mean, obviously that’s prophetic, or prescient, 56 years ago.
RUSH: How seriously and helpful was he in his advice, if there was any, to JFK during this transition?
BAIER: It was crucial. This book starts with the meeting between president-elect Kennedy and President Eisenhower after Kennedy wins at the White House. And, by the way, it ends with the meeting between president-elect Trump and President Obama at the White House. Those are the bookends of the chapters. But in that meeting… Eisenhower, he was really doubtful about Kennedy. He was mad that he was talking about a U.S. missile gap with the Soviets that Eisenhower knew wasn’t there, and he doubted that he had any experience. But he met with him and he was impressed with him. He just didn’t like that Kennedy didn’t like the apparatus Eisenhower had set up to debate operations or decisions. So Kennedy comes in, he dismantles some of that and relies on a few advisers and his decision-making. Cuba happens, the Bay of Pigs, and the first person he calls is former President Eisenhower.
BAIER: And that’s that iconic image on the front of the book.
RUSH: You think that there are some parallels here between Eisenhower and Trump after having researched this. What do you think Eisenhower would say to people about this particular transition? What would he say about people who are declare Trump illegitimate and refusing to go to the inauguration?
BAIER: (chuckles) Well, he wouldn’t like it, just reading and knowing all that I read. I mean, he knew about hurt feelings after elections. Harry Truman really never recovered from Ike’s victory and was barely speaking to him. Really wasn’t, on Inauguration Day, 1953. They pull up, Eisenhower and Mamie in the car on Inauguration Day to go have the coffee in the White House before swearing in, and the Eisenhowers stay in the car. That’s how chilly it was. The Trumans stay in the White House.
RUSH: Now, really, this is important, because people don’t think that kind of partisanship has ever happened before. People, again, whose historical perspective began the day they were born. I’ll guarantee you, Bret, there are people shocked to hear you say that. Eisenhower, great statesman, probably able to put these kind of silly little divisive things aside on the greatness of this day, stayed in the car rather than go in and have coffee with Truman.
BAIER: Yeah. And then both the Eisenhower Library and the Truman Library described the ride from the White House to the Capitol (chuckles) as silent, not a word. Now, Truman and Bess leave the ceremony by themselves, they go to the train station at Union Station, and they refuse Eisenhower’s offer to fly them home and they take the train. So I guess the bottom line is, I think Ike would remind Trump’s adversaries that the peaceful transition of power is the hallmark of democracy. And no matter who’s elected, it’s the whole point of our nation that we can have this vigorous debate, but when the debate’s over and the votes are counted, we become one nation, and it’s not about the campaign or the candidate or the man. It’s about the office. So I bet that’s how Eisenhower would weigh in.
RUSH: Talking with Bret Baier of Fox News about his book. It’s out a week now: Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission. Permit me one departure here from the book. You opened this door. You’ve been covering Washington and studying Washington for much of your professional life. Have you ever seen anything like this, what’s going on today?
BAIER: Never. Never! I mean, it’s like truly amazing. Every day, Rush, I say to my staff, “You know, watch out. This is like drinking from a fire hose,” because, you know, everything that’s happening at this moment… Think about where we are. You know, from that escalator ride June 2015, to our first debate in Ohio, to throughout the primaries, through the general election, to Election Night when we all thought in the exit polls that Hillary Clinton was going to win, and now this. And we are just days away from the 45th president putting his hand on the Lincoln Bible and his family Bible and taking the oath of office. I’ve never seen anything like it, and for an anchor who covers politics, it is amazing.
RUSH: I couldn’t do what you do. I couldn’t keep my opinion out of what I’m doing. Not with this accuse stuff going on. I really admire you, and I’m not smoking you here. I could not do it. Watching the way the Democrats are behaving in this infantile, puerile manner, with the help of the media trying to make it look like Trump… Now the approval polls: “People regret voting for Trump!” Are you kidding me? And you have to report this stuff with a straight face. I mean, it’s fun and it’s interesting, but let me ask you this. Because I know how I react to it. Obama came in to office blaming Fox News. He’s leaving office blaming Fox News. You take what you do seriously. You’re not a partisan. You’re not part of a group of people trying to undermine anybody. You’re just reporting — you specifically, what you do. How do you react to the president when he says these things over and over about you?
BAIER: Well, I mean, I just have a personal view. I mean, I interviewed him in 2010 right before the health care bill became law, and despite asking every week since that time I never got an exit interview or any interview with President Obama. But I watched intently Steve Kroft’s interview with 60 Minutes — I think it was his 17th — and President Obama answered that he was surprised by the partisanship. And I was surprised by that answer, because clearly his actions in office did not change that dynamic, if he was surprised by it.
BAIER: And I think that’s fair to say. (chuckles) No matter your ideology, I think that that’s fact.
RUSH: Well, it’s even worse than —
RUSH: One of the things that Eisenhower did was he invited the opposition party in once a month, at least, even more, and he had drinks with them, and he talked with them. I’m not saying that that’s the best, you know, blueprint. But he worked with Sam Rayburn in the House and Lyndon Johnson in the Senate and got things done, including the highway system that we currently probably are driving on. And who knows? Trump could do the same thing.
RUSH: Let me just ask, did Eisenhower ever say to the Democrat leadership in one of these joint meetings, “I won; you lost. We’re doing it my way”? Because Obama did.
RUSH: Did Eisenhower ever approach him that way?
BAIER: In fact, he was adamant that you should not lead by hitting people over the head, and it was never personal, in his mind. A lot of his leadership style, Rush, came from his time as general, and he dealt with huge egos like Bradley and Patton and MacArthur and then the Allies — Montgomery and de Gaulle — and he had to deal with those egos. And his leadership style was humble, but he never did that. He never hit ’em over the head.
RUSH: We’ve Bret Baier from Fox News with us here for another segment.
RUSH: We have Bret Baier, Fox News, with us, Special Report with Bret Baier and the lead anchor on Election Night special event coverage. And his brand-new book which is a great book, and the reviews on this book across the board are unanimously stupendous, Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission. Now, this next description I’m gonna use about your book is used I think it’s overused by people particularly in the arts, but your book to me is really “important” right now, and I want to ask you why that is. Do you think your book’s important? And if you do, why? Because I clearly do.
RUSH: But you’re the subject and I’d like to hear your thoughts on it.
BAIER: Well, thank you. I’m humbled by the reviews that it’s getting, and you know this better than anybody — and I say this not to blow smoke your way (chuckles) — but I read Rush Revere books to my kids going to bed, Paul and Daniel, and they go to sleep, and they learn something about history, right?
BAIER: They’re nine and six — and, by the way, they love ’em. But I think that this breathes life into history. We found oral histories from the Eisenhower Library and the Kennedy Library and the Truman Library. Some of them had never been tapped, never been heard. Some of them were Eisenhower himself talking about his reflections on this time. We found documents and letters never released about this time, and this book looks at these three days — 56 years ago tonight, the farewell address is delivered — but it also looks at his life.
And I think that if people look back, it was always part of the sleepy era, but it was really a decisive time. He was, you know, somebody who won the world war from Hitler. He was the first Cold War president. But this threat of nuclear war was real, and it was constant, and it was a dangerous time, and I think that that transition can showplace a lot about the transition that is happening right now. It’s a dangerous time, terrorism and the threat of war are present, and there’s many lessons that Eisenhower could convey to us today.
RUSH: You know, you just said something that I think is profound, because you’re absolutely right. People think back, people that have a historical basis and understanding. A lot of people do, look back at the Eisenhower years and think that they were sleepy. That’s a great way to describe it, that not much happened, that Ike was out there… You know, when he discovered that he couldn’t shoot Congress like he could shoot the Germans, he went out and played golf all day.
RUSH: And that nothing really happened. And of course that’s the exact opposite of what it was. It was not a sleepy time; it was a boom time in America. And the postwar period was exuberant, and America was growing by leaps and bounds. And it was not sleepy. I think that’s an excellent way to characterize the mistakes people have made in assuming about Eisenhower. What similarities are there between Eisenhower and Trump? Do you see any?
BAIER: The differences?
RUSH: Differences, similarities, what have you.
BAIER: Well, there’s big differences. I’m pretty positive that Ike would not be a fan of Twitter.
BAIER: He thought less was more (chuckling) and words matter from the Oval Office, especially. So I would bet that he would not be a fan of that. And, you know, he had a different demeanor. The political scientist Fred Goldstein said that he had the hidden hand. He was a bridge player, and he had the behind hand of leadership. In other words, he wouldn’t let his cards show. And it’s interesting. It’s almost exactly the opposite. I think Trump has a hidden hand, but a very showy hand, like, “Look at this thing over here,” and maybe there’s a lot happening behind the scenes while everybody’s focused on this tweet. We’ll see how his leadership style goes. He obviously has dissenting views that he’s chosen for his nominees for cabinet that will enable him to have the ability that Eisenhower advised Kennedy to have: The dissenting views always presented to him.
RUSH: One quick final question going away. The transition period, the actual meetings between Eisenhower and JFK, any insight to how useful for JFK they were, as opposed to I don’t know how useful Obama is being for Trump.
BAIER: I don’t think we fully know on the current day. I think they have talked more than even they’re talking about that they’ve talked. So I think we’ll get a readout over time about the current day. But back then, so when Eisenhower leaves office and Kennedy for the first time goes into the Bay of Pigs and launches the operation — by the way, Eisenhower told him in the Oval Office three things. One, make sure you have an exile government ready to go phone number Cuba. Two, have somebody to take over for Castro. Three, make sure you have air power. Well, one didn’t happen, two didn’t happen, and Kennedy called off the air power ’cause he didn’t want the world to know it was the U.S. for that mission. The mission falls, he then calls Eisenhower, flies him to Camp David, and that’s the iconic image on the front where he turns to Eisenhower and says, “You know, you never really know how tough this job is until you’re in it,” and Eisenhower walking up the path says, “Mr. President, with all due respect, I think I told you that three months ago.”
RUSH: Excellent. Excellent. Well, look, I don’t know where you found the time to do this. I know you’re just busy as can be with your job and family and everything. But this is yeoman’s work here, and it’s scholarly beyond people’s expectations. You have really hit a home run with this, and it’s valuable, and it is important, and I’m not overselling it. I wish you all the best with it, Bret.
BAIER: Rush, I really appreciate you having me on.
RUSH: Bret Baier of Fox News, who is the lead anchor. They’re gonna be anchoring, in fact, on Friday, the inauguration of Trump, as we will be here as well, and as well as the lead anchor for Special Report with Bret Baier. The book again Three Days in January: Dwight Eisenhower’s Final Mission.