Boris Epshteyn is all about getting to the bottom line of America's policy making. As former Special Assistant to President Trump and Chief Political Analyst at Sinclair Broadcast Group, the Russian-born political maven delivers forthright political commentary on his program, "Bottom Line With Boris."
Mr. Epshteyn was senior advisor to Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and worked as assistant communications director in the Trump administration until March, 2017. He is a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center and worked as an attorney and investment banker before joining the sphere of politics and the media. Epshteyn says, "I work hard to deliver information … that is not being largely covered in the media, with a common-sense perspective based on my experience."
In an exclusive interview with Hamodia, Epshteyn details his views on the American political landscape and how it's being shaped by President Trump.
Can you tell us about your background and how your experience as a Russian Jew affects your political outlook?
My family came here in the early '90s as Jewish refugees from Moscow. We spent a year in Brooklyn and then moved out to New Jersey. My background as an immigrant has definitely formed my political beliefs. I've seen my parents work very hard and I am thankful for government help, in terms of the social programs that were available to us as legal immigrants.
We went through a long process to be able to come here. It has taught me that there's a fair way to come — to wait and work hard to get through the process. Others shouldn't get to skip the line. In terms of the economy and taxes, there are government programs that help immigrants who come here legally, but my family has paid back plenty in taxes since then. My parents and I made our own opportunities to work hard to be successful.
Do you think coming from a failed communist country influences your views?
Absolutely. The Soviet Union ended up being a failed system. It fell apart. Socialism, communism and leftist ideals do not work when applied to real life and to government. Look what's happening with Obamacare. Obamacare has been an absolute disaster. It's falling apart. That's a socialist program that's just not feasible in operation.
How did you come to work with President Trump?
This is my third presidential campaign. I worked on the McCain campaign, and I was one of the first people in Alaska after Governor Palin was named as the vice presidential nominee. I was also a surrogate for the Romney campaign. I've been a Republican political analyst since 2009.
I supported President Trump from very early on in 2016. I went from being a supporter to a surrogate to a senior advisor on the campaign. Then I worked as communications director and assistant communications director at the White House before joining Sinclair.
What attracted you to Mr. Trump and his political philosophies?
What attracted me to the president in a big way is his pragmatism, his authenticity, and his business background. I admired his success as a businessman, a negotiator, and a deal maker. Frankly, I admired his bravery, his refusal to being pushed around. He's someone who stands up, and you see that now both with allies and with countries that had been enemies of the U.S., like North Korea.
Do you think America's allies and enemies have internalized his America First agenda in dealing with foreign countries, especially after the friction at the G7 summit, his rejection of the Iran deal, and leaving the Paris Climate accords?
Well, if they haven't, they should. I think that the president has been very clear from day one that he was running to make sure that the deck was leveled again. America has a little over a $500 billion trade deficit around the world. When the president was running, he said we're not going to be taken advantage of as a country. In addition to deregulation and tax cuts, Trump isn't going to make it easy for other countries to export their goods to us and hard for us to export our goods there.
Trump ran on protecting America. Look at IS. When Trump came into office, IS had 17,500 fighters in 35,000 square miles of land in Iraq and Syria. As of a couple months ago, it was already down to around 1,000 fighters on 1,500-1,600 square miles of land. IS has been decimated under this president.
Do you think Americans are focusing more on these accomplishments, especially the growing economy, and are wearying of all the Trump-bashing?
Absolutely. The Trump-bashing has just all been hysteria from the left because they're sour grapes. They lost, and they can't get over it. So they hammer him every time he does anything.
Protecting American jobs used to be a Democrat ideal. Trump just signed the "Right to Try" bill, which allows terminally ill patients access to experimental drugs. These are achievements that should be bipartisan, but a lot of people on the left, and even some establishment Republicans, have TDS — Trump Derangement Syndrome.
Many political analysts who were Never-Trumpers before the election have since enthusiastically endorsed Trump's agenda, and we are seeing this shift even among some establishment Republicans. Do you think their embrace of Trump's policies reflects a political epiphany or political expediency?
If you look at someone like Glenn Beck, his business has really struggled since he came out against the president. He made the wrong bet in media, and people like Bob Corker and Jeff Flake did that politically. John Kasich made a wrong bet against Donald Trump, and I think his career has proven that's not a good idea.
The American people are absolutely tired of Trump-bashing. My segment goes out to millions of people around the country. I get a lot of the emails from folks all over the country (maybe not in the D.C. bubble or New York) who are saying that Trump is doing great. They point to the economy and jobs. We have not had lower unemployment in this country since 1969. But if you read some newspapers here in New York, they'll go on for 15 paragraphs about some in-house drama that may or may not actually be happening in the White House. It doesn't matter to Americans; they're absolutely seeing past that.
Trump's approval ratings are rising and reached 44 percent a few weeks ago, similar to ratings for Reagan and Obama at the same times during their presidencies. They both lost seats to their parties in the midterm elections. Do you foresee the same happening to Trump?
It's very tough to predict, but what I'm hearing from my friends at the National Republican Congressional Committee and around is that about two months ago the Democrats had an 11 percent advantage over Republicans in generic ballot polling. Right now, it's at 2 percent, which is effectively tied.
What are Democrats running on? They have a problem because you have to stand for something and right now all they stand for is they're against Trump. I think the Democrats are failing, and going far to the left is going to marginalize them. Nancy Pelosi is now making fun of the low unemployment numbers. Middle class employees in Michigan, West Virginia or Pennsylvania can't relate to her saying that "$1,000 is crumbs." Democrats are divorced from reality in a big way. Most Americans have not seen this country doing this well in their lives, and it's only been a year and a couple months.
While the final outcome of Trump's meeting with Kim Jong Un is unknown, many critics of Trump's withdrawal from the The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA or Iran Deal) pointed to the lack of trust it will engender in other countries, particularly North Korea. Do you think Kim's eagerness to meet with Trump effectively countered that argument?
The president ran on leaving the Iran Deal, one of the worst deals in the history of the world. Barak Obama and John Kerry wanted a legacy and they sold America down the river to get it. They agreed to have Iran get tens of billions of dollars, while Iran funds Hamas and Hezbollah, terrorist organizations. It didn't go through constitutional procedures for a treaty. Israel has said that Iran has not been compliant, and they definitely have not been compliant with the spirit of it. And now it comes out that Obama opened the American banking system to Iran, after he promised not to. And that has gotten no coverage.
So President Trump rightly said he's pulling out of the deal and reinstating sanctions. This is obviously connected to North Korea — it's the reason North Korea wanted to come back to the table. And Iran knows what crippling sanctions can do. The dictatorial regime of Iran, like in North Korea, knows that if their people get more upset they will topple the regime.
Trump has been hailed as the most pro-Israel president, evidenced by his embassy move to Jerusalem and support for the beleaguered country on the world stage, especially through Nikki Haley at the U.N. With rumblings of an emerging peace plan, do you think Israel can safely assume that the two-state solution is off the table, or will Trump bend to the Palestinians in an effort to demonstrate neutrality?
That's a pretty loaded question. The president has consistently said that he wants to get to a peace deal. He has not necessarily said what is ruled in or out in terms of one state or two states. Those are old labels that haven't worked. Right now, the people in the Palestinian territories don't seem like they're open to true, honest negotiations.
But the White House is going to come out with a peace plan. Are those in Israel who back full status quo going to be happy with every single thing in that plan? I'm not sure. My assumption is that there are going to be people in Israel, whether in Likud or Labor, who won't like whatever it is.
Wouldn't the fact that there is no real partner disqualify any deal from being a realistic one?
Well, the hope is that under the leadership of the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia you can find some sort of unity. This is a very tough needle to thread. The first job would be to connect Gaza and the West Bank. But that's only if there is someone to do a deal with. Let's not forget that Israel is going to have to agree with whatever that peace plan is. It's up to the State of Israel to agree.
You were attributed with having written Trump's Holocaust Remembrance Day statement last year, which was criticized for failing to mention Jews or anti-Semitism. At the time, White House press secretary Sean Spicer defended the statement, saying it "was written with the help of an individual who is both Jewish and the descendant of Holocaust survivors." Can you talk about that episode?
I had a role in writing the statement. Obviously, I am 100 percent Jewish and had family that perished in the Holocaust. As I helped draft the statement I looked at prior statements. There was one in 2008, when President Bush did not mention the Jewish people. The meaning of the statement was to include all of those who perished in the Holocaust. Of course, that includes the Jewish people. Since it was only a couple days into the presidency, I think that attack was a preview of the absolute hatred for the president and anyone who worked for him. It was completely unfair.
Would I have included the term "Jewish people" if I knew that anyone would have been offended? Of course. But for those in the media and elsewhere who call me an anti-Semite, especially those who support the Democratic Party, let them look at the Deputy Chair of the DNC Keith Ellison — a supporter of the hate-monger and anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan. There has been no greater friend to Israel or the Jewish people than President Trump, his family and those who work for him.