Hallie Jackson is an NBC News correspondent who has followed the 2016 Republican presidential campaign from the primaries up through Election Day. She is currently on the road covering the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, and hosts the 1:00 p.m. hour on MSNBC. Jackson sat down with the Daily Princetonian to talk about the importance of this election, Trump’s proposed policies, and the evolving image of the Republican Party.
The Daily Princetonian: If one has never cared about politics, why should they vote in this election?
Hallie Jackson: Well, because why should you vote in any election? To make your voice heard. If you don’t like something about the way the government runs on a local level, state level, or federal level, this is your opportunity. You always hear, ‘You can’t complain if you don’t vote,’ so getting out the vote is super important.
DP: In your experience covering Republican campaigns this year, but particularly Donald Trump, what would you say are the main issues or values in the party’s platform?
HJ: I think for Donald Trump specifically, the messaging and policies that the campaign pushed the most are on immigration and national security, and to a different degree economic security. Those are the areas where he, frankly, rose to prominence during the primaries, and that is how he ended up as the Republican nominee. And even in the general [election], you see him continue those themes, and that has been a focus for him throughout this campaign. In the closing days here, as we head into the final stretch, you’re seeing him trying to make more of an argument against Hillary Clinton, which, frankly, is something that Republican operatives that I speak to wish he had been doing a little earlier in his campaign. He could have been going after Hillary Clinton and Democrats overall on, for example, the Affordable Care Act, on that policy, and the premium rates that some consumers will see next year. So I think you’re seeing sort of a dual-pronged strategy from him now as we head into this last week, but overall the themes and the core issues that have pushed him to where he is remain the same.
DP: As we head into the final days, to what extent does Trump have a strong hold on the swing states?
HJ: I think what we have to do is look at the numbers and the polling of where they are in certain swing states, although polls have tightened certainly in maybe the last week — in the last six or seven days — he still faces an uphill battle in certain swing states like Pennsylvania, which is a place he’s trying to play — it’s a bluer-leaning battleground this year. He’s doing okay in Ohio, you see him sort of neck-in-neck in Ohio, they’re very close in Florida, North Carolina’s going to be really important — those are the big three. But the issue is, even if he wins all the states that Republicans typically win and those tossups, he still needs to scale what we call “Clinton’s blue wall,” the Democrat’s blue wall — those Rust Belt states that he’s been wanting to go after for months. I think of a place like Michigan — it’s becoming increasingly clear that that is an important state on both sides; Hillary Clinton is there Friday, Donald Trump has been there. And that’s something on Tuesday night as I’m held up here in 30 Rock working with the anchors, I’m going to be looking to those really specific states, because that’s going to tell us a lot about how this election plays out.
DP: In terms of the image of the Party, with Trump representing Republicans, to what extent might there unfortunately be a split between “old guard” Republicans and what many are calling the “alt-right?”
HJ: Let me talk about the split within the party more generally, because when we wake up on November 9 we are going to be talking about — no matter who wins the presidency, regardless if it’s Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton — the GOP has gone through a real existential crisis in this last year. We have seen a real divide between Republicans who had a different vision for the party, what you might call the “older guard,” and the more populist wing of Trump supporters within the party, including some folks who are inside the beltway who have shifted over to Donald Trump’s camp. And so I think reconciling that, regardless if it’s a President Trump in White House, regardless if it’s a President Clinton in the White House, reconciling that is going to be a challenge for somebody like House Speaker Paul Ryan, who has been in the center of this for six to eight months; it really illuminated how he has had to step around the topic. I’m thinking of, for example, when Speaker Ryan told his Congress that he does not support the nominee, I’m thinking of when he dragged his feet a little bit in endorsing somebody in the first place. Those are not things that we see in a presidential election, that is not typical, that is not normal. And to me, when I wake up November 9, that’s the story — in addition to who’s in the White House or who will be in the White House — that’s the story I’m looking at, and I think that’s the story we’re going to be covering for months if not years to come.
DP: Going off that, how might Republican leaders like Paul Ryan help to change the image of the Republican Party post-Trump, or even under a Trump administration?
HJ: Let me go back to 2012, when the Republican National Committee came out — and a lot of people called it an autopsy report, a little bit of a postmortem — after Mitt Romney’s campaign, and they talked about wanting to bring in more diverse voices. They wanted to increase the number of women and their involvement in the party, African-Americans, Latino voters, etc. So I think that you are seeing some who believe that in order for the Republican Party to grow and not shrink, you’ve got to reflect the changing demographics that are happening in the United States. And so I think that, regardless of what happens after November 8, how do Republican leaders gather that unity, how do they try to come up with that message? It is going to depend on who’s in the White House, it is going to depend on the effect of Donald Trump whether he is President or not. That said, I don’t think Donald Trump is going to disappear, even if he loses. And if he wins, he’s going to have real influence over the party obviously as the President. The side-storyline of that is who controls the Senate. Everyone’s talking about the presidential ticket, but if it is a Republican President and if the Senate flips … it’s unlikely that would happen but you never know. So many of these questions will start to be answered the morning after the election.
DP: What advice do you have for young Republican voters who want to vote for the first time, but whose ideals don’t necessarily align with Trump?
HJ: Interesting question. As a journalist, I’m not so much in the business of giving voting advice. It’s more my job to just tell the story, and to tell the truth and begin to give people context and perspective. And to me that’s the most important thing. To any voter, a young voter, older voter, whatever, the most important advice I would give is to get informed. And that’s where I come in.
DP: Going off of that, what would you say to individuals who are choosing to abstain from voting this election?
HJ: I think people are going to make the choices they’re going to make, and my job is to just make sure they have the information that they want and they need. And so I think that, particularly when there’s been so much interest in the presidential race, there’s a lot of great stories to be told and great stories to be consumed.
DP: Is there anything else you would like to add in your experience covering this campaign?
HJ: I would say being on the frontlines of history has been, personally, an incredible experience. And it’s fascinating to just be there, out on the road for the last year and a half. I would say that you will see it all culminate on Tuesday night when we have every single resource at NBC News focused entirely on politics. We have our 30 Rock group that’s kind of like our team — that’s Tom [Brokaw], Chuck [Todd], Lester [Holt], and Savannah [Guthrie] — I’ll be handling exit polling, and I think that that is going to be our nine hours of coverage. That is what you’re going to see — everything come to a head and everything culminate. And we’re going to wake up on Wednesday morning starting with all of our shows, The Today Show, etc., and that’s like the new beginning of the next marathon. So for me it’s just a really exciting time, and it’s all coming to a close here.