May 10, 2019

Rob Reiner

Director, actor and activist Rob Reiner explains why he is using his voice to call out President Trump on social media, reflects on the continued divisions in the country that his character on “All in the Family” helped to illustrate, and talks about which Democratic candidate he believes has the best shot of winning back the White House in 2020.

Read Full Transcript EXPAND

He played a liberal on TV.
Now he’s playing one in real life and using his platform to bash President Trump this week on ‘Firing Line.’
To many, Rob Reiner will forever be known by his television nickname.

Get away from me, you meathead!
Keep away from me, meathead!
Now, wait a minute, meathead.

That came from his fictional father-in-law and politically incorrect foil, Archie Bunker.
After ‘All in the Family,’ Reiner went on to direct some of the most memorable moments in movie history.

I’ll have what she’s having.

Now, Reiner is not having it.

I want the truth!

His public attacks against the President on a scale of 1 to 10 go to 11.

You got to get this guy out of office, and we as Democrats and we as patriots and we as Americans have to say no more of this.

But whom exactly is he hoping to convince?
What does Rob Reiner say now?

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Additional funding is provided by… Corporate funding is provided by…
Rob Reiner, welcome to ‘Firing Line.’

Thanks for having me.

It’s such a delight to be with you.
You are an iconic film director…

…of classic American films like ‘Stand By Me’ and ‘The Princess Bride’ and ‘This Is Spinal Tap.’
And almost more germane to this conversation is the role you played as the son-in-law of Archie Bunker…

…on ‘All in the Family.’


But you have gone on from your acting career and directing to become a political activist.
I met you first on a cause that maybe started as a liberal cause but then became a bipartisan cause where you worked very closely with conservative legal icon Ted Olson and liberal lion David Boies.


To challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8 in California, which outlawed same-sex marriage.

Right, and that led to essentially making it the law of the land, to allow for same-sex marriage, and I remember, you know, when we had the first trial in San Francisco in the district court, you were there.

I sat next to you in federal district court.

Yeah, that’s where we met.
And it was an interesting, you know, dichotomy between, as you say, David Boies and Ted Olson, because the way Ted Olson talked to me about it the first time I met him, and I even said to him, when we first met, I said, ‘You realize you put me in bed for two days in the Bush v. Gore argument’ because he was on the side of George Bush, and as it turned out, David Boies was on the side of Al Gore, and the fact that they teamed up basically took the politics out of the issue.
And what he said to me is that he viewed marriage as a very conservative idea, that it is the bedrock of conservative principles, and a married couple should be allowed to be able to be together and to have a family, so that was, to me, an eye-opener.

It was an eye-opener hearing a conservative make a case for a value and an ideal that you believed in.


And since then, have there been any opportunities to forge that kind of a bipartisan consensus on the political issues you’ve been involved in?

Well, I mean, obviously, the country is so divided now.
It has been divided for a long, long time.
I mean, there was a huge divide that started over the Vietnam War, and that divide has never closed.
It has kept getting wider and wider, and I do believe that this last election, in 2016, that divide was exploited.
The Russians saw an opportunity where there was a huge divide and the addition of social media, which blew it up all out of proportion.
And what I’ve discovered — and it’s kind of a weird thing that — and Trump has done more, I think, to even divide us further in that I’ve made a lot of Republican friends over this, people that I would not have normally talked to, like David Frum.

You mean Republicans who are never Trumpers.

Well, they didn’t start out as never Trumpers.
Some of them did.
Some of them then went like, ‘What’s going on here?’
These are not people that I would necessarily agree wholeheartedly on issues, but certainly, they argue their point with a basis in fact.
Patrick Moynihan said, ‘You’re entitled to your own opinion, and that’s your own facts.’
At least there’s a common basis of fact that you can discuss things with them.

So, when you first played Meathead, as you were endearingly called by your father-in-law on ‘All in the Family,’ I mean, you were the liberal son-in-law.
He was the conservative father-in-law, and the divisions and the conflicts and the disagreements you had on the show, in many ways, parallel the same disagreements that we’re having today.
Let’s look at a clip from ‘All in the Family’ from the first moment you met Archie Bunker.

Let me tell you something, Mr. Bunker.

No, let me tell you something, Mr. Stivic.
You are a meathead.

What did you call me?

A meathead.
Dead from the neck up.

So you wrote that episode.

I did.

That is where they first met.

That’s it.
That was a flashback to the first time Archie and Mike first meet.

And then they go on and throughout the entire course of the run of the show, it’s marked by these fractures in their world view, which we’re going to show a clip of here.

Salvatore, Feldman, O’Reilly, Nelson.
It’s an Italian, a Jew, an Irishman, and a regular American there.
Take Feldman there.
He’s up for treasury.
Well, that’s perfect.
All them people know how to handle money.
Know what I mean?

No, I don’t.

Send me your poor, your deadbeats, your filthy.
And all the nations, send them in here.
They come swarming in like ants.
Your Spanish P.R.s from the Caribbean, your Japs, your Chinamen, your Krauts, and your Hebes, and your English fags!
All of them come in here, and they’re all free to live in their own separate sections.
That’s what makes America great, buddy!

[ Scoffs ] [ Laughs ]
How germane is that to the current —
Well, it’s exactly the argument we’re having now.
We saw it happen in Brexit, where one side demonizes the other and then blames the other for their lot in life and tries to criminalize it, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.

You joined Twitter, it’s been reported, to troll President Trump.

I was so technologically inept.
I mean, I didn’t e-mail.
I didn’t do Twitter.
I didn’t do anything.
My father was on Twitter long before I was on, and he’s 97 now.


He just turned 97, yeah, and he tweets every day.
But my wife said, ‘You know, we’ve got to have a way to push back against Trump,’ and so I joined Twitter and I started that in 2016.

What was it about him then that caused you to take him seriously?

Well, I mean, it’s the cult of celebrity.
I mean, you know, the Republicans are the ones who do wind up, you know —
Right, I mean, the celebrity presence we have happened —
Ronald Reagan was a celebrity, you know.

Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump.

And Donald Trump.
And we’ve seen that happen — you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger was a celebrity in California.
People are enamored with celebrity.
Personally, I didn’t think he was gonna win.
I really didn’t.
My wife thought he was gonna win, but I didn’t think he was gonna win.
But I thought I knew this guy.
I mean, I knew his background.

Did you feel you knew him because you knew him, or did you feel like you knew his voters because of the role you played and the time you spent with those ideas in ‘All in the Family’?
You know, it’s funny.
I knew there was the disenfranchised white working class, and many cases, racist mind-set in this country.
I knew there was an undercurrent of racism.
But I didn’t know it was gonna bubble to the surface like this.

Let me just ask you about that.
I mean, do you ever de-link those two, that white working class, non-college-educated voters have real economic grievances, cultural grievances that aren’t racism or bigotry?

No, no, you’re exactly right.
It’s not all.
I mean, you can’t say all, you know, Trump supporters are racist.
That’s not true.
But there’s a big chunk that are, that are comfortable with him saying there are good people on both sides of that.

Or they’re not uncomfortable enough.

But there were a lot of factory workers who lost their jobs, and Trump said, ‘I’m gonna bring those factory jobs back and we’re gonna –‘ And we knew that wasn’t true.
Everybody knew that wasn’t true.
And he’s a huckster, and he’s a great huckster.
He’s like the best snake-oil salesman ever.
It’s poisonous for this country because there’s no guarantee that democracy survives forever.
There’s no guarantee.
We’re just people and laws.
So if you destroy the structure, you destroy the laws, you could wind up with an autocracy, and that’s where we’re headed right now.

There does seem to be an alarmism, particularly from people who disagree with Trump, that our entire 242-infrastructure of rule of law will unravel at the seat of one president.

I don’t think it’s necessarily the case, but I would put it to you this way.
Isn’t that what you just said, though?
I mean, that’s what you’re saying, is that we could lose everything.

I don’t think it’s gonna happen.
I do think that, hopefully, the institutions will hold.
But right now, what you have is a president who is thumbing his nose at the rule of law, by not allowing, whether it’s his tax returns or people to, you know, testify in front of Congress.
Now, there are mechanisms to deal with that.

And are they working, in your view?

Not yet.
We’ll have to see.

You don’t think?

Not yet, because what happens is —
Democrats were elected, for example.

No, no, Democrats were elected.

There’s a check against the President.

That’s theoretically the check.
The check is subpoena power.
If those subpoenas are fought against and if then somebody’s held in contempt as a result and then there’s no consequence to the contempt of Congress, where does that put us?

I understand the concern and the worry and the constant need to be vigilant.
But are you optimistic that we will be able to retain those checks and balances, or are you concerned?
I mean, it sounds like you’re quite concerned.

I’m nervous about it.
Benjamin Franklin said, ‘We’re a republic if you can keep it.’
If you can keep it.
And right now, we’re being tested.
I mean, when you look at the sweet spot of any great civilization, it’s usually 250 to 300 years.
We’re coming up against that.
What we’ve seen in the recent four years is a sledgehammer to the institution.
I talk to a lot of constitutional-law experts, and many of them who said they respected William Barr.
He was an institutionalist and that he was gonna be very, very down the middle with the rule of law.
He hasn’t done that.

But it’s really the Congress.

The Congress is the check on the executive branch, but if the Congress shows criminality or the preponderance of evidence and it’s referred to the Justice Department and they say no, then you have a situation where —
Where the check is the people.

And that becomes 2020.

So, before we get to 2020, one of the things you did in 2016, after Trump was elected, was found a committee called the Committee to Investigate Russia.


And you worked with James Clapper.
You worked with John Brennan.


What was the goal of the Committee to Investigate Russia?

It is so complicated.
What the Russians did — and people are still trying to unpack it — we wanted to be able to give as much information to the public so that they could understand —
So it was to be a repository of information about the Russia investigation until you had full visibility into —
Right, and now, what’s scary is that we don’t even have full visibility because the full Mueller report hasn’t come out.
The underlying documents have not come out.
Congress is trying to subpoena them.
They’re getting thwarted.

So now that the committee to investigate Russia has been disbanded, where is Rob Reiner gonna focus his energy?

Well, my energy is gonna be focused on making sure that Trump doesn’t serve another term.
We cannot have that.
And I’m — Not just as a Democrat.
As an American, I don’t want to see American institution, for good Republicans, I don’t want to see the country destroyed.
And the good Republicans that I talk to all the time are like — their hair is on fire.
They don’t understand why those people in Congress are in this cult where they’re worried about their election.
At a certain point, you got to say, ‘I care more about this country than I do about my getting re-elected.’

How can you be a constructive force in the 2020 field?
I mean, how do you see your role?

What I try to do — and it’s gonna be almost impossible because Joe Biden just got into the race.
My mantra has always been support everybody.
Support everybody and don’t trash anybody.
Well —
You’re sort of Reagan’s 11th commandment.

It’s already thrown out the window because the minute Joe Biden announced and the way you know it works in politics, whoever is the perceived front runner at any point gets all the fire from the other candidates.
So I’m hoping that they keep their powder dry because ultimately we want the strongest person to emerge and that person to take on Donald Trump, and I like the fact there’s a lot of candidates because they’re all taking on different issues.


You’ve got Jay Inslee talking about the environment.
You’ve got Elizabeth Warren talking about economic issues.
You’ve got Kamala Harris talking about healthcare.
You got Joe Biden talking about the survival of our country and the soul of our country.

So you’re not concerned about the progressive energy on the party nominating somebody who’s too progressive for the country to get behind?

Well, if it can’t win, yes.
I mean, if they can’t win, but I believe whoever we nominate will be able to win.

Do you think this country could nominate and elect a Democratic socialist for President of the United States?

That we’ll find out.
That we’ll find out.

Do you think that Bernie Sanders could beat Donald Trump?

I think we as Democrats — I mean, he’s not a Democrat, but — yeah, yeah.

What if he gets the Democratic nomination then?

Then he is the Democratic nominee.

And you would vote for him over Donald Trump?

And what has to happen is Democrats have to coalesce.

Do you think that the Democratic primary process will yield the candidate who is best to beat Donald Trump?

I hope so, boy.
I like Joe Biden for that reason.

But at some point, the field has to narrow, and it is clear that the energy on the left, on the Democratic side, in the Democratic Party, is on the progressive left.
That is really where —
Always is and same thing with Republican primaries.
If you look at Republican — they go hard, hard to the right and then have to swing to the middle for the general.

Well, that didn’t happen on the Republican side in 2016.
Instead you got the hard-right candidate who is the complete outsider from the field of conservatives.

But he wasn’t the hard-right candidate.

Well, you’re right.

He wasn’t the hard-right candidate because the hard-right candidate believes in international trade.

He disrupted what the mainstream conservative movement had heralded for, frankly, five decades — I mean, since William F. Buckley Jr. began this program in 1966.
I’m gonna play a clip for you from a early version of ‘Firing Line’ where William F. Buckley Jr. was sitting here on this set, talking about —
Was he like this?

Arched, yes, you’re gonna see him.

Was he sitting like this?

Talking about your character.

Why did William F. Buckley always sit like this?
He was always like this.

You wouldn’t have directed him like that.

Why was he sitting like this?

Let’s take a look at this clip.

Yeah, let’s see if he’s sitting like that.

…absolutely preposterous and not only that, mean.

He’s a coward, a bully.


A cheat.

He didn’t like Archie.

He didn’t like Archie, but he didn’t like that he characterized — he made a stereotype of conservatives that he didn’t like.


So my question for you is, now that you’ve been a political activist and a director and an actor, where do you think you have the most impact in terms of really affecting hearts and minds about particular issues?

Well, I think —
Is it directing and is in Hollywood with the culture?


Or is it actually in the nuts and bolts of politics?

There you go.


There you go.
I mean, ‘All in the Family’ was on for eight years.
We were seen by 40 to 45 million people every week.
We brought these issues up every week, and we were certainly part of the dialogue.
You know, people talked about it.
I mean, you didn’t have Tivo and you didn’t have DVRs, so everybody had that shared experience and they were talking about it the next day.
But it didn’t change the way, you know, America went.

You don’t think it laid the foundation for certain legislation to get passed or to change attitudes, cultural attitudes?

Not really.
It just was part of the dialogue.
Yes, you have to keep stoking the conversation, and that hopefully leads to something, but in order to get anything done, you really have to get under the hood, in the nuts and bolts of public policy in order to get it passed.

The people have accused you of being a coastal elite.
You’re from New York and you live in Los Angeles.

All that garbage.
And I actually had a government job for seven years in California.
The point is, the point is the two most important issues that I care about is, one, the environment, because that affects the whole planet, and, two, the survival of democracy.
Those are the two things I care about.

So, in those states that the Democrats need to win in 2020, Hollywood isn’t particularly popular necessarily.

Yeah, not at all.
Not at all.

I don’t know if Rob Reiner is the most successful messenger.

No, no, I’m not.
I’m not. I’m not.
I understand that, and I — Listen.
I can’t tell you how many times I get ‘libtard,’ you know, on my Twitter feed.
I’m the libtard of the world.
I get all that.
And I understand that I’m toxic in those ways for those people, but if anybody wants to spend any time actually talking and talking about how policy can be effected, how it can be put together, I can sit and talk with them.

As you became more political and more of a political activist from being an actor to being a director to then spending a lot of your own hard-earned resources on the political issues you care about…

…how did that impact your reputation in Hollywood?

Well, it didn’t make it any worse for me in Hollywood.

Do your movies suffer in red states because you made them?

Oh, yeah, I’m sure, sure.
But the only thing that’s good for me is I like making the movies, and I’m now 72 years old, so I mean, I just want to do the things I want to do.
I enjoy doing it, and some people will like them, others won’t, and I can’t worry about that.

So do you think Hollywood is fair to conservatives?

Well, for the actor, maybe not.
Maybe not.
Because that’s just — you’re just hiring somebody.
You can hire another actor.
But for the people who are in power to actually make the films, I don’t think it matters.
Don’t think it matters.

Hollywood has mostly voted against and supported Democratic candidates to the Republican candidates.
They were really strongly opposed to President Bush, especially because of the Iraq War, strongly opposed to Mitt Romney, strongly in favor of Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama.
But now that Donald Trump is President, do you think that Hollywood overreacted to previous Republicans?
Because when you compare — Many liberals will say there’s just no comparison between Trump and Bush and Romney.

There isn’t.
I mean, the fact of the matter is, we still forget about the Iraq War and the devastation and the terrible mistake we made in terms of foreign policy, what we did there, so you can’t take that away, and a lot of people died.
I mean, not just 5,000, 6,000 Americans but also up to a million Iraqis.
So there’s nothing that has happened as of now that Trump has done that equals that.
But what he has done in terms of dismantling democracy ultimately could be way worse than that.
So that’s the reaction.

Apples to apples, was Bush worse than Trump?
Right to date.
Up to date, is Bush worse than Trump?

As a human being, no.
In terms of public policy and where we — and the effects of that public policy, I would say no, that — No, that Trump is not as bad as Bush.

As you look to 2020, what gives you hope?

What gives me hope is 2018.
And what we saw happen in 2018 was the biggest turnout we’ve had for Democrats and the biggest margin of victory of any midterm in a repudiation of Donald Trump, and I’m hoping that we can ride that to the next step in 2020 because I don’t think — Two things, I think, need to happen.
One is he has to be defeated, but he has to be defeated by a large margin.
Not just by 3 million votes but by 9, 10 — whatever it is, a lot of votes, and a big electoral win, and then we have to see him held accountable in some way other than the ballot box.
If it is determined that he committed crimes, I’d like to see him convicted because if that doesn’t happen, it basically paves the way for anybody to take stuff from foreign governments, hostile foreign governments, to line your pockets, to do whatever it is you want, and we don’t want that in a president.
You can’t even — This is way beyond Watergate.

Do you ever get accused of Trump derangement syndrome?

What, being deranged?

Or just being — I mean, you have tweeted more than a thousand times.

A lot of tweets.

About Donald Trump.


Do you think you’ve changed anybody’s mind?

Who knows?
I don’t believe I have changed many people’s minds, but I believe there’s two aspects to this.
One is maybe you change a few people’s minds around the margin.
Probably not.
What you do is you keep the people who are going to be engaged engaged, to get out there and vote.
It’s making sure that those people are energized to get out and vote.

But you’ve got to energize those people and you’ve got to energize some Archie Bunkers that voted for Obama.

Yes, and that’s why I support Joe Biden is because he will appeal to a lot of white working-class voters in those Rust Belt states.
He’s from Pennsylvania.
He knows — He comes from that background.
Does that mean they’ll all — No.
But he can peel away enough around the edges to be able to make a difference.

Well, these are early days in the presidential campaign.

They are, and he may not make it.
I think he’ll have a much tougher time getting through the primary than he will winning against Trump.

Rob Reiner, thank you for being here.
Thank you for being on ‘Firing Line.’

Thanks for having me.

‘Firing Line with Margaret Hoover’ is made possible by… Corporate funding is provided by… ♪♪ ♪♪ ♪♪