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tv   National Book Festival - Author Discussion on the Lives of James Baker and...  CSPAN  November 5, 2020 5:41pm-6:25pm EST

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>> i'm judy woodruff and i'm thrilled to be joining the three amazing authors today. you can see them on the screen.
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they are george packer whose latest book "the man who ran washington" richard holbrooke and "the man who ran washington" and the life and times of james a. baker, iii. two brilliant books about two complicated and fascinating men. they were born a decade apart. baker in houston in 1930 and holbrooke in manhattan in 1941. baker a republican trained as a lawyer, holbrooke a democrat foreign service officers student of foreign policy. their lives are very different and they are project trees but they both ended up in washington where they became major power players. peter, picking up on that this is a man with great ambition and i was there even before he came to washington.
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>> yeah it was. he was a family of aristocracy. his family built modern houston and he was expected to do great things. a very dominating father who is in part done him the legacy of his family. one thing they were not meant to do with politics. he was told at the time he breaks away from his father's domination over his life at age 4020 suffers this great family tragedy. his first wife dies of cancer and he ran the country club tennis courts and george h.w. bush the two went off on an odyssey that really put them at the center of world events. >> and george i'm going to be going back and forth because the stories in the book are so rich that we could go in so many directions that i want to try to weave these stories together.
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george packer and richard holbrooke why did you want to write about him and talk about his ambition and what drove him and frankly what the first book is about, but vietnam. >> he's died and december 2010. he was in the secretary of state's office which was a high drama characteristic of him. a few weeks later his widow offered me his personal papers and i know holt holbrooke a bet not very well and i had a chance to explore a fight -- flamboyant mesmerizing maddening character whose career covered a half-century from kennedy to obama from vietnam to
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afghanistan through an intimate look at his diaries and letters and other papers so i said yes without quite knowing why i said yes. holbrooke as soon as i began to read those letters and some of them as they said he began his career in south vietnam. in the may come delta where the war was at its hottest in 1963 and his letters from the mekong delta to his first wife anyway made a good choice produce such a great writer and funny and arrogant and the guy who could fill a book and maybe more. his ambition was in kind of a demonic engine that was there from the very start and it got him into very high places and led to some triumphs and also it cost them a great deal. friendships relationships and maybe his own desire which was to write at the top of his
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field. he never got there because people consider him an abrasive person. >> demonic engine, what a term. susan and peter talk about jim baker. he came to washington, he ran the campaign against ronald reagan for george h.w. bush and yet ronald reagan chose him to be as white house chief of staff and he was seen as probably the most successful person at that job of this modern time. how did he do it? >> it's that's a great question because he didn't go into background that would necessarily suggest he be successful. then a lawyer and he ran and the campaign of 1776 coming from nowhere.
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the previous group had been sent off to jail in the nixon scheme and it opened up a world of people like jim baker dick cheney brent scowcroft and several people who came to the floor. an example of a president of what made sense to him. his outsider coming to washington by the one to get things done. he has the organizational skills. he would pick the guy who ran two campaigns against ms's chief of staff but it ends up being as you said a smart choice on his part. >> susan what was that quality and jim baker that got them
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chosen for that job and made him as successful as he was pretty one on to be treasury secretary and pulled out this big bipartisan tax plan which as we no, we haven't seen anything of the likes of it since the reagan years but what was it about him that pulled it all together? >> jim baker, this is the question everybody asks he will give you that folksy twang and he will tell you well you know my family -- has prevention for poor performance that we know pretty well that washington is full of ambitious lawyers who do their homework and stay up late and certainly it's true that jim baker was assiduous to the point when it came to getting the job done and he would stay in the reagan white house at night and return every phonecall from every member of congress often
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after he knew they had already gotten home. this is a. netted. internet era. certainly that's one aspect of it but i think peter and i found in working on the book that anna and for jim baker success was really the only option. he was obsessed with winning and the hypercompetitiveness is part of what they had in common with george h.w. bush and i think that's how they bonded on the tennis court and by the way there are stories about it but one simple answer is in the picture is looking at the other day jim aker pointing to the wall before george h.w. bush showed up in houston at the houston country club. it was james a. baker to third and george h.w. bush wanted to
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team up with the winner. there's no question about that. jim baker's father exerted and his family in general exerted is over leaning power over his early years. his dad literally beat this competitiveness into him. they joked, they call them the warden but jim baker would play tennis matches and his father was a successful tennis player and when he was done as and why playing is mapped his father would make him stay on according keep practicing. baker and holbrooke both men of ambition both had an insecurity and an obsession with how they were perceived by others but the difference was jim baker i think had enormous self-discipline where is holbrooke was the character who emerges in george's wonderful and powerful book.
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baker had that discipline that was beaten into him and take never could have done it while his dad was still around in the life. it was only after his dad pass from the scene and rebuilt from the family tradition and goes north to washington. >> george, pick up on that. there's so much to say as we keep saying about richard holbrooke. people talk about what was he another version of henry kissinger and how did you see him in his take on the world as a diplomat and how did he combine that with getting things done in washington? >> first of all bear some overlapping themes between petersburg and mine. one is ambition and one is tennis.
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holbrooke played a ton of tennis and i have this feeling if he rose up through the hierarchy in saigon and in washington by whipping people on the tennis court and being so competitive that they had to respect him. first there was anthony blake was his close friend and peer in foreign service in saigon and they remained friends for 10 years and their friendship mysteriously disintegrated with great consequences for them and for u.s. foreign policy. later when they were working together on oz via under bill clinton and then he starts playing tennis against westmoreland and maxwell taylor in saigon and eventually got to bobby kennedy in washington this is how holbrooke maneuvered and would be invited to the best dinner tables in georgetown. he revered this post-war generation of american statesmen from averell harriman to george
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kennan george marshall. he thought of them as the model for him. he wanted to be just like them. the problem was he was a very different man. he was not born to an aristocracy. he was although he never talked about it and had an outsiders attitude and in uncouth and as they kept getting in his way as being a way of for him to push people aside and get ahead. the times changed. the foreign-policy establishment was falling apart during his career. there was no longer that group of wiseman who simply could be called up pond by the president. holbrooke was forever trying to get to the top of the mountain. he loves mountain climbing stories and always just falling short. i have this line about how we got to the highest base camp
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imaginable but every summit failed think it's because history failed. he didn't have a geostrategic mine. he was more of an operative, guy who went in and got things done especially in foreign countries and bosnia for example. time change and holbrooke was not cut out to smoothly ride his way to the top. he wasn't self-discipline like baker as susan said. he was undisciplined. he was transparent and his appetite in the security for -- were all on the surface. he thought he was playing people wanted back they saw right through him and in the end the relationship that fail them was the one with barack obama. he works closely with him and obama never liked or trusted him. holbrooke had some degree of a broken heart and a sense of failure at the end of his life.
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>> these two men who are vastly different and being one. they both were relentless and they both were interesting. >> just looking again so many things to explore and looking for places where they intersected where they obviously knew of each other knew each other better. baker obviously was there in the administration at the end of the cold war. the balkans i remember he said we don't have a dog in that fight. and that was his greatest triumph. what were richard holbrooke's
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strengths and weaknesses? >> i think not having a dog in that fight was crucial because it said something about james baker's worldview and his foreign policy. it was a slavic struggler we could never understand in no this is getting involved in. yet a cursory effort to negotiate with the milosevic and other balkan pairs. the beginning of the war he botched it. bill clinton inherited it at ampere of the stage and bosnia. not baker's finest hour to show something about the limits of his realism. the difference is holbrooke had a passionate sense that america had to be involved in the world. if we let that country bleed it would essentially become our
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problem and would possibly rupture the transatlantic alliance. it was not of no consequence. we exited at the dog in that fight and that less holbrooke committed himself to that and he did it in a way that shows he really didn't care about other countries and people and places whose names we can't pronounce who are suffering in civil war and as refugees and floods and famine. this is something that characterizes him throughout his career. a passionate humanitarian streak and that was activated by his suffering as was his very post-war acheson kennan sense that america had the lead. he was not going to stop until you deal and the recklessness that peter mentioned was what was brought out of in him. the same qualities did not work out in other places but in wozniak all strength came
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together and he achieved his claimed history which is the data he supports. >> susan listening to you and thinking about how baker was in the balkans at the end of your book and other period and of course the first iraq war in 1990 the first gulf war where in writing the book he wanted to take out references. there was a line in there about maybe we should stay longer saying he didn't want that in their suggesting he felt maybe mistakes were made. >> well look jim baker was a pragmatist and a realist and he came by that verizon experience. he was not all about imposing a freedom agenda or democracy agenda on the world. taker was essentially very calculating about where he thought it was possible and he
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was going to jump on it. he was going to be disciplined. for example at the beginning of the bush presidency when he became secretary of state he wasn't interested at all the middle east. they couldn't get him to pay attention to because there was no deal there and he understood yet the focus on those priorities and partly why the career democrats were suspicious of him. he was going to have his own very political list of what he could accomplish and he wasn't going to focus on the rest. he went looking for the deal and i think that is the key to understanding his foreign-policy worldview more than even a kind of centrism or an idea that he was an isolationist. ..
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>> is the holbrook's view of all of that and how he maneuvered, you talk about the ballgame but how did he maneuver in the aftermath. in this post cold war era. peter: i think he would not have been masterful as baker was at the moment of the fall of the berlin wall. in his solution for the soviet union. holbrook in a weird way, never said must and had much interest in the greatest foreign policy issue of his life which was the cold war. i think he found the soviet union may be just too abstract and to static and not enough is happening. he would've never gotten interested in that. is intensity and attention were always directed towards particular countries where there
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were conflicts. and where there's hundred there was suffering. vietnam afghanistan and once the cold war ended, think the holbrook for the opportunity for democrats to reenter the foreign policy arena. he had been scarred by vietnam as with every other democrat of his generation. both sides having been involved in the for an jobs thinking that we need to get out which was the position he ended up in. he was always looking over his right shoulder worried about an attack from the hawks. once the cold war ended, and a sense that pressure was off. i think he had an outside idea what americans could do is the sole superpower. he wanted to be involved not just in bosnia but in cyprus and east seymour in congo. nonmilitary power but certainly
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as an all-purpose negotiator, the horn of africa. all of the small wars was on in the '90s since countries were disintegrating. and he send of the mall irresistible. so anyway, baker is more i think a figure who had sort of a large view of what was possible and was not. and about the foreign policy, holbrook was more of an operative who would go in and try to solve problems. i think in the post world war era, and maybe also and is most time and got himself into some troubles that and had a hard time getting out of. susan: peter i would like you to pick up on that. there was one plan that i wrote down about baker. in the end when you are writing about how much he wanted to be seen as a diplomat. and again working on the book.
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that i am corny, he was after all a fixer. no matter how much you try to break out of that straitjacket but a fixer is shaped world events. george is saying that is james baker and some respect like henry kissinger but there was a difference. peter: yes that's right, and a sense that they took on the big things. baker was temperamental. he was not moved by pictures of suffering . would've never thought that sprayed he was very populating in that sense. but it was not like in that he didn't have a great world strategy or geopolitical view of things. he would not have gotten into discussion with you about australia. he was a fixer, a lawyer who knew how to negotiate. a political operative in about to get legislation through, a campaign leader who could
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negotiate the base of the other team. in the great downfall of his life, the thing that question the most when he had been secretary of state for three and half years, hand negotiated peace talks and brought the coalition together for the gulf war. he managed the unification to germany and then his friend george bush, because they back to the white house. he was about to lose reelection in any needed baker to come back. i was again reason that role of the fixer. this is a crushing blow for breaker . cannot stand the idea suddenly he was wearing about blues again instead of the great issues of the day. in effect through the fall, as he was once again at the white house, his own staff felt like he wasn't really there. he said why are you doing anything and they called his wife and said even barbara bush was convinced baker was not really all in for her husband. in fact that he was trying to avoid blame for the coming loss, that was on his shoulders and
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ecologist rift between baker and the bush family that took years to resolve. he wanted to transcend and in the end, he could not escape. judy: i was covering washington then and it felt like we waited around for months for baker to get into the campaign. the problems they were having. george, we talk about the ambition of these two men. in holbrook's case larger than life. the flaws, what was it about him that in the end, you think kept him from realizing it. he really wanted to be secretary of state. imagine what happened between him and president obama. what was it about him. george: in 1996, had just achieved his greatest triumph which was the piece talk and bill clinton was reelected and had to decide who would replace warren christopher as an secretary of state.
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it came down to richard holbrook and madeleine albright. and clinton was actually leaning towards holbrook because he said he's brilliant. his right mind, he knows more. his relentless . hillary clinton wanted her husband to pick the first female secretary of state which went decisively. but in the end, clinton said to al gore, i don't think that holbrook has the self-awareness from incoming toxic for you and that was clinton's very shrewd analysis of holbrook's character. holbrook understood the person across the table brilliantly whether it was bill clinton or whoever. he did not know himself very well. he could not see himself . could not laugh and himself . cannot see himself as others were seeing him. there was a kind of lifelong blindness to his own flaws in his own character that i think
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was a fatal flaw. in the end it meant that he could negotiate but when there was an obstacle delayed with him himself they did not know how to get around it. and that was what and in his relationship with barack obama. holbrook was driving obama crazy. with his lecturing is flattering and talking about vietnam. like this and should enchant manner to come to grab the young president by the lapels and you must listen to me i know have been there. and obama cannot stand it. so holbrook did not know why none of his charms and his talents were working with the sterling young president who he desperately wanted to impress. and that was the reason i think that he never got that job of his heart's desire. secretary of state. the reason was himself. i wanted to ask susan and peter one question began. so holbrook's boss warren
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christopher, became the counterpart to james baker. and he was beaten. and i've always felt that should james baker was a kind of blue-eyed chiller. nobody can beat him when he came down to that kind of content . anything richard holbrook would've done going up against james baker on the florida recount. obviously is not a political operative is a campaign manager or lawyer but he is a brilliant negotiator. honey think holbrook would've done gets bigger. it. susan: is also a question for you have to say that one of the interesting things going back to that recount, any democrats he said to me, and we knew that al gore as soon as we heard that jim baker had been involved. i think the people were well aware even at the time even before the recount of the differences between these two men. first thing. one of christopher's greatest mistakes actually was it sitting down to retell the story the book, the two of them sitting
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down in the first meeting this dramatic moment, election is undecided what's going to happen in florida and christopher locked up the whole amount of time to sit there and she's going to roll out of their and get down to business negotiating. jim baker was not there to negotiate. he was there to win. an adult think, that fundamentally, i thank you so where his experience as a corporate lawyer for decades, came into his. so i think it would've been an asymmetry there. with holbrook and baker then did come from his understanding of what a high state legal venture this was. he understood he wanted to get out of the florida court. and he had a very again, calculated and disciplined a sense of what it took. it is not going to and had no interest in figuring out what was in the minds of al gore are warren christopher. so that might've made it hard for holbrook and negotiating in
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this particular situation. you also have to come back to, do you have the wanted the respect it to command your own team. and i think that was one of baker's hidden assets always in dealing with bush. and certainly, peter and i have been having debates about this. were they that causes secretary of state and president ever recorded or the closest and friendliest secretary of state and president since madison and jefferson. he thinks ever. i'm not so sure. these are not an expert on medicine and jefferson. george: that's what you talk about at the dinner table. sweet if know to baker would've appreciated richard holbrook as an adversary in a debate partner and that is for sure. he recognized his excellence. by the way, and very sexist on, women and men. he writes to and likes to play
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against a good player need would've looked at holbrook is a good player. it. peter: but it's a great thought experience . what would've it been baker versus holbrook. peter, pick up on george's, will let me ask you. judy: you talk about in the end that richard holbrook did not know himself. does jim baker know himself. peter: that's a great question from unit he has not an introspective guy. and going through his paper. i love doing his book because he was, but we have alive is subject in georgia did not. and so we get the chance to ask him all of these questions. the truth is that he's not somebody is going to open up his psychological profile to you. and really express himself in that way. he is super disciplined even to this day . for us the paper. in this paper start again, like holbrook's from leap vietnam. they were not expressed in that
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way. but they were little clues in one of them i thought was very human. it was this tragically mention, his first wife died of cancer. and he gave us a letter that had never been published before. judy: it is stunning. stuart any rights it with his friend george bush. any try to get baker to run first task seemed . to make a right similar explain why is not going to make a campaign. he said to his friend george, the reason why is because his wife is dying an event she doesn't know it. the doctors in october. this was back in the arab work maybe that was okay with husband told the wife was not braden and he said. even in the time. but he said his friend, can't do it because my wife is dying. i haven't told anybody. i am told her i haven't told my kids my mother. the one person that he tells, is george bush. that is a friendship that is in fact powerful and
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transformative. and that is human. that letter showed us and sign a little bit in the way that we haven't seen him. they also had ideas from his letter, his dying wife mary stuart, write him a letter because of that she does know she was dying. she hides it in the house. he hence this letter 50 years later he is trying even to this day. the very human story. it's a very powerful story. it is not psychologically open the way that opera kind of was predicting george's study is so powerful and so rich, so three dimensional . figure is nothing kind of a person. a belief is a human person. i think that's one of the things that really made this book interesting. peter: to be able to do my book depended on holbrook not been that way. they been able to talk to james
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baker. but not having richard holbrook looking over my shoulder. in fact, he would not have given me his neighbors at all. all the people talked me to not have to worry about what he would say once he found out what they said to me. so to me, this had to be the story of a man who had come and gone. and that was how i was able to write his story. susan: is an important distinction. both holbrook and they were dreamily astute in different ways of managing their images. though that their critics would say that was one of the great his skills . actually talking to the reporters and people like us are needed had an extreme sensitivity towards their own image. in judy you pointed out that one of the great things for us in writing this book actually was looking at what baker had deleted from his memoirs. it is time in his public life the kandiss it's often stage
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managing of your image of the parts they don't want to tell you that are as revealing as anything else. but it would say that jim baker, he's not keeping his personal starring around to document and things we do have the benefit of talking to a subject with in life. it just turned 90 this your breed is written to memoirs of his own. and i found him to be candid with us. especially about his family. you get a certain level of servant and for self-awareness by the time you're 90 years old. you can talk about how you call your dad the warden. how your father micromanaged you so much that even after you were a marine veteran and graduated from college, you agree to not only to go to law school that he insisted you go to but also to sign up for the fraternity. because, that was the fraternity that is father thought he should begin. he was willing to get
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surprisingly personal and hank that helped us understand that is not just a resume as you are talking to. that you have to look at those personal things to understand what made him able to tackle a series of washington targeted jobs in a way that nobody actually did. in a compressed during that certain time during the modern era. judy: i finally went to ask you all, today's washington and howell, i am interested george to know how holbrook would be able to function in washington of today. party on the power. what would it be like. and peter, jim baker, what is the think of what is going on now. we know this interview will be released in september. simulcast another month or so. george, what about that.
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george: i think he would've been at sea. he was shaved as i stand by the postwar, his dna was the architects of the post world war. the insulins that he never stopped comparing himself to pray and today, who first, trumps washington would be just mind-boggling alien and a falling for richard holbrook. everything the trump does in foreign policy is the opposite of which what richard holbrook would do. i can't think of a single month the trump is made that holbrook would've agreed with. and vice versa. he would've been writing columns for the washington post. when been denouncing the isolationism, america first . would've been talking about the importance of the trans atlantic alliance and nato. in our allies in asia.
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and during the pandemic. thinking would've been a brilliant organizer of other countries to find a cooperative response. that was a kind of thing that he excelled at. hiv-aids as an issue before the human security up canceled so he understood that disease could be a threat to national security. i think it away, he would've been out to sea. he would've not known how to function social media would've bought out all of his first qualities . the schmoozing and the seducing, mental seducing of reporters. he excelled at. that's something that is so easily done in matters so much anymore. so think it would've been an alien world for him. and he would've felt as if the golden age was gone. judy: peter, james baker is
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watching closely what is going on. susan:peter: i think everythinge believed in about governance, as a leader. trump is tearing down basically but the architecture of affairs in the world and republican party the baker's spent a lifetime building up. and in doing research when i, discovering the impeachment trial of president trump and i was going through some baker files one night after deadline. i found this memo that i had not noticed before. as a member of the baker had written in the style because baker kept his integrity are at least is integrity meant so much to hampering that he he kept a file audit freedom keep records showing he would not doing certain things. it was a bow out about 1992 campaign and saying hey you're losing . you need to ask written
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and russia for help understanding about bill clinton's overseas activities when he was young . baker bush said no. do not ask foreign powers to help in our domestic with russians. i remember looking at that and so struck by it because it's such a contrast of underwear covering to date. susan: i think his point is really well taken . jim baker was the un- trump. in any ways and he could not - i sat down with him and he was a man stricken. he was absolutely in pain and tortured over what to do about donald trump. he told me that donald trump does not believe anything that i believe when it comes to foreign policy. he saying crazy things in fact he told me that he thought donald trump was nuts. and yet he could not bring himself to reject the parties nominee. jim baker came out of his time in washington convinced that the only willpower is from the
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inside. and just not a man there is any efficacy whatsoever and begin outside complaining. the new and will take you seriously. this is a struggle that the republican party under trump party and really been i think a window into the parties install, to watch jim baker wrestle with donald trump on a personal level, is the exact opposite of him. and it baker has never brought himself to publicly denounce trump. and to disembowel in the republican party that he spent his whole life working in a different direction. judy: this is fascinating. this is off endlessly fascinating bring these two men who clearly help shape washington. such enduring legacies. the books could not be more important right now. i want to begin think these amazing authors, george packer
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author of "our man". and susan and peter baker, "the man who ran washington". thank you all three for this extraordinary conversation. >> thank you. susan: thank you so much judy. ♪ ♪ ♪
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♪ >> licking heights this month, we are featuring book tv programs is a preview of what is available every weekend on "c-span2". tonight we focus on covert operations, first and former fbi special agent holly savard talks with the early years of the u.s. war on terror. then chris whipple talks to former cia directors, to provide an inside look at the intelligence organization operations. in light of the book the great secret, which looks back at the sinking of 17 allied ships in italy in december of 1940. testers the name p.m. eastern. enjoy book tv this week and every weekend, "c-span2". >> you are watching book tv on "c-span2". every weekend with the latest nonfiction books and authors per minute "c-span2", created by americans cable television company is a public service for


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