Former President Carter on Clinton, 2016 and more
Today on The Lead with Jake Tapper former President Jimmy Carter joined the program to discuss his new book, “A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety,” the 2016 race, and more. A full transcript of the interview is below.
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TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I’m Jake Tapper.
The politics lead now, Election Day 2016 is 489 days away, but the race for the White House already looks like a madcap dash, candidates sprinting across the country, using the first leg of this election marathon to stake out their positions.
And we have got it all covered right here on THE LEAD, including what one former president thinks of the current field. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sitting down for her first national TV interview yesterday, but she made some statements that might not square with the facts. The CNN truth squad is on the case.
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump turning up the volume on his immigration message in a sit-down a short time ago with our Anderson Cooper. And we will bring you a sneak peek at that as well, while just a few hours ago, South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham got candid and a bit emotional when I asked him a question about all of the above, Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and immigration.
But before all of that, let’s talk to the 39th president of the United States, James Earl “Jimmy” Carter.
Mr. President, thank you so much for being here and congratulations on your book. It’s fantastic. Your 29th book, “A Full Life: Reflections at 90”, really just beautifully written, and congratulations on it.
JIMMY CARTER (D), FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much, Jake.
TAPPER: But, first, I do, of course, have to ask you a little political question.
CARTER: Thanks to that (ph).
TAPPER: So, Senator Sanders’ message seems to be resonating with a lot of Democratic voters are out there. His crowds are going up. His polls numbers are shooting up. He’s raising more money. There seems to be something of an enthusiasm gap, compared with supporters for the front-runner Hillary Clinton.
Why do you think that is? What do you think Clinton needs to do to turn it around?
CARTER: Well, I think a lot of people wanted Elizabeth Warren to run, and when she decided not to, when Bernie Sanders came in, he kind of filled a gap there. You know, Hillary has been out of the limelight as far as political realm now for a number of months, and she’s getting back in. But I don’t think there’s much doubt that in the long term, Hillary is still the preeminent candidate for the Democratic nomination.
TAPPER: In your book, you write about what you call a miscalculation in your reelection bid in 1980. You write, quote, “A serious political mistake was not being more attentive to the Democratic Party, both in preparing it for the 1980 election and in avoiding the schism between my supporters and those of Senator Ted Kennedy.”
Do you see Hillary Clinton making some of those mistakes?
CARTER: No, I don’t think so. I think she and Bill together have made probably the most acutely aware and knowledgeable and competent of political team that we’ve ever seen. And I think they maintained their close ties with the Democratic Party.
And they have also kind of healed wounds within the Democratic Party, much better than I did, because for the last two years I was in the White House, Ted Kennedy was running against me for president. And I didn’t reach out to him adequately to try to get him to stay as one of my allies instead of an opponent.
TAPPER: And, in fact, he helped sink your plan for health care, you write about that in the book.
CARTER: Well, he did that too, yes, but, you know, he was a candidate then. And I have to understand — I’m not criticizing, because he had his own agenda, too, before. He felt he should have been president when I was, and so he obviously felt that he should be president when I left. It didn’t work out that way for him or me, as a matter of fact.
TAPPER: In his — Donald Trump’s in the news a lot. What’s interesting is he wrote about you in the “Art of the Deal”, his book from a few years ago. A lot of it wasn’t so nice, I’m not going to read that to you, but he does tell this one admiring story about you asking him for a $5 million donation to your presidential library.
Trump wrote, quote, “Jimmy Carter had the nerve, the guts, the balls to ask for something extraordinary. That ability above all helped him get elected president.”
I thought that was an interesting section of the book.
What do you make of Donald Trump and the controversies he is causing for the Republican Party?
CARTER: Well, I remember going to him like I did to almost every rich person in America, asking for help with the Carter Center. He decided to not give me any money, by the way, which is his privilege.
But I think he’s made some stupid statements, and I think ill-advised statements about immigrants, and he’ll get a tiny part of the Republican Party support, the ones that agree with him in an extreme way, but I think he’s a flash in the pan and he’s getting all the publicity he wants, which is probably his main goal in saying such ridiculous things.
TAPPER: You write in your book that one of the happiest moments of your life came after you informed by your military — you had left the presidency at that point, just a few hours before, but you’d informed that the plane carrying the U.S. hostages had taken off from the airport in Tehran, Iran.
TAPPER: I know you’re supportive of President Obama’s efforts to reach a deal over Iran’s nuclear program. But I have to ask, given your experience with the ayatollahs, and the extremists running that country, do you trust the Iranian government?
CARTER: Well, I don’t think it’s a matter of trust. I believe whatever John Kerry negotiates — and I hope he’s successful — I think would be the better for the country and the world, as well as Iran. If we reach an agreement, I think we’re going to monitor very carefully — and my understanding is we will lift the sanctions step by step as the Iranians comply with their commitments.
TAPPER: A lot of interesting stuff in the book about race and your personal experience, your personal upbringing. When the son after wealthy black neighbor would visit your house, when you’re a child, your father would leave the house. Obviously, we have come a long way since then as a nation, but there’s still lots of raw feelings out there, as seen with the debate over the Confederate battle flag in South Carolina.
I have to ask — you’re a former governor of Georgia. The flag of Georgia is based on the actual Confederate flag and there are license plates in Georgia with the Confederate flag on them. If you were governor of Georgia, would you move to change them?
CARTER: Well, we had a very courageous and wise governor 14 years ago, Roy Barnes, who did away with the Confederate battle flag, which has a connotation of racism. And he was defeated for reelection because of that, and that’s the main reason he was defeated. Since then, the Republicans have been in governorship, but they haven’t chosen to go back and reassert the Confederate battle flag into our agenda in Georgia. So, I’m very proud of what Georgia has done.
TAPPER: What about the — what about the license plates? I guess the larger question I’m asking is: is there anything from your time when you were governor — I get it was a very different era — where you either embraced or turned a blind eye to symbols of the confederacy that maybe caused pain to people that you might regret today?
CARTER: It wasn’t a matter of a Confederate flag. When I was inaugurated as a governor, I made a statement at the time that the time for racial discrimination is over. That was such a momentous news item in 1971 even that late, that two weeks later, I was on the front cover of “TIME” magazine just because I said that.
So, we made great progress in the South throughout the South because of that, and I think that there are very few people that still look upon the Confederate flag as a racist symbol, but for those who feel that way, the black family in our country, we should do away with the Confederate flag and its emblem as white superiority and replace it instead (ph).
TAPPER: Mr. President, I have to say the book has a lot of lovely remembrances of your time in the Navy, your time as president, your charitable works, but there’s probably nothing more moving than the way you write about Rosalynn, your wife. The book is dedicated to her, “To Rosalynn, who has kept my life full of love.”
This week is yours and Rosalynn’s 69th wedding anniversary. And I have to ask you —
CARTER: Yes, sir.
TAPPER: — I’m nowhere near 69 years with my beloved, but what’s the secret, Mr. President?
CARTER: Well, yesterday was our anniversary as a matter of fact. We were in 1946, and Rosalynn has been the foundation for my entire enjoyment of life. And we have just had, first of all, it’s best to choose the right woman, which I did, and secondly we give each other space to do our own things.
We try to be reconciled before we go to sleep at night, and try to find everything we can think of that we like to do together. So, we have a lot of good times. We have a big family now. We have 22 grandchildren and great-grandchildren, 38 of us in all. So, we try to hold our family together and just enjoy the family life.
TAPPER: President Carter, thank you so much. I’m writing it down as soon as the commercial break comes. Find things you like to do together, never go to bed — thank you so much, Mr. President. Good luck with the book.
CARTER: Thank you, Jake.