There’s less than one month to go before the first voting in the 2016 race for president begins. Among Republican contenders, the field remains crowded and up for grabs. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton holds a sizable lead over Bernie Sanders in Iowa, the first caucus state, and observers say a loss there would be a huge setback. As the race for the White House kicks into high gear, President Obama enters his final year in office, with plans to lay out his own policy agenda, starting with this week’s executive action on gun control. Diane and her guests discuss the political outlook for 2016.
- Norman Ornstein Resident scholar, American Enterprise Institute; co-author of "It's Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism"
- James Thurber Professor and director, Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University; author of "Obama in Office: The First Two Years"; co-editor with Antoine Yoshinaka of "American Gridlock: The Sources, Character and Impact of Political Polarization"
- Susan Glasser Editor, Politico
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. This week, President Obama is expected to announce executive action on gun control and next week, he'll give an earlier than normal State of the Union address. It's part of his effort to lay out his own policy agenda ahead of the presidential primary calendar. Here to discuss the political outlook for 2016, including the race for the White House, Obama's last year as president and the congressional agenda, Norman Ornstein of the American Enterprise Institute, Susan Glasser of Politico and James Thurber of American University.
MS. DIANE REHMThroughout the hour, we will, of course, be taking your calls, your comments, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Well, happy New Year to all of you.
MS. SUSAN GLASSERHappy New Year.
MR. NORMAN ORNSTEINWell, the same to you, Diane.
MR. JAMES THURBERHappy New Year.
REHMGood to see you. Norm Ornstein, compare the presidential primary on the Republican side this year to what it was four years ago. What strikes you?
ORNSTEINYou know, the thing that strikes me the most, Diane is that as we approached the real voting, Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and so on four years ago, the race had really broken down to this. It was Mitt Romney standing on one side and the other candidates striving to be the anti-Romney. The belief was that this would all shake down to Romney and one other.
ORNSTEINAnd what they did through the dynamic, through the first few months was, the other candidates formed the equivalent of a circular firing squad trying to destroy each other to become the anti-Romney and they left Romney standing there, frankly, unscathed through much of the earlier period. That was the anti-establishment versus the one establishment guy. Now, it's the establishment candidates forming their circular firing squad to try to become the one standing against Donald Trump and Ted Cruz.
ORNSTEINAnd so we've seen Chris Christie attack Marco Rubio for not showing up for work. Marco Rubio attacking Chris Christie and saying he ought to resign 'cause he hasn't been back in New Jersey for months. And we've got John Kasich going after the other candidates and Jeb Bush trying to emerge in that fashion, it shows that we've moved from a center of gravity around the establishment of the party to the outsider wing of the party and every poll that we've seen for the last six months shows outsider candidates getting 60 to 70 percent of Republican support.
REHMAnd what about the nature of the voting population, Jim Thurber? Seems to me there's such anger out there this year.
THURBERWell, there's anger this year, but there's also increasing polarization among the electorate. We've seen this going on and I think that Trump and others, Cruz, are reinforcing this, a sort of a realignment of the electorate around cultural things, around guns, gay marriage, around social things, but also on race and also gender. And Trump really fits into that in the sense that he has alienated Latinos and Muslims and women and others.
THURBERCruz has not criticized him. None of the candidates have really criticized him, but it shows how polarized and sorted the American public is going into this election.
REHMAnd we're less than a month away from the caucuses in Iowa. Susan Glasser, how important is Iowa? How important is it to win Iowa and what do you seen happening there?
GLASSERWell, look, the usual caveats apply, Diane. Let's remember that we're not talking about the end of the President Huckabee era or the President Santorum era, previous winners of the Iowa caucus. So it's important to keep that in mind when thinking about this year's Iowa caucuses. That being said, I think that we, number one and most important perhaps, we'll finally test the proposition of whether Donald Trump can collect actual votes of Republican primary caucus voters as opposed to preferences in surveys.
GLASSERAnd that's really crucial. And I think that both Iowa and New Hampshire, in that sense, are really, really important for our understanding what's going to play out later in the primary season this year. So that takes on an elevated importance. Number two, you really have this question of whether Ted Cruz has a viable path to displace Trump, to channel into that anger, but in a way that actually leads toward the nomination. And for that to happen, I think you do need Cruz to probably win Iowa.
GLASSERAnd so that becomes, I think, even more significant than we might have thought a few months ago. But I wanted to go back to your question around anger. I do think there's a survey out last night that's getting a lot of attention online and a lot of attention is focused on the fact that angry white women seem to be the largest sub group of angry voters. But I was struck by the fact that there's a huge gap between -- there's a partisan gap in anger and that Republicans are not just angrier than Democrats headed into this 2016 election year, they're angrier by 30 points more than Democrats.
GLASSERAnd so I think that helps to explain the Trump phenomenon.
REHMHow did they categorize their anger in these polls?
GLASSERWell, that's the fascinating thing, too. It seems to be a pretty diffuse amorphous anger that, you know, perhaps economic unsettlement is at the base of it, but, for example, the survey found that white men were angrier about climate change whereas white women were angry about a different map of issues. So it's hard to say. It's a pretty diffuse inchoate even sense of unease around where the country's headed.
REHMHow important is anger going to be in this whole race going forward, Jim?
THURBERI think it's very important that if you look at people support Congress doing, you know, people think that it's doing a good or outstanding job, it's been in the 14 percentile below that. If you look at the Gallop polls about trust in government, it's way down. Trust in the presidency is way down. Trust in the judiciary is way down. Trust in professors, it's okay. It's a little bit up, so that's all right.
ORNSTEINExcept among students.
THURBERNow, I want to talk about Iowa for a second...
THURBER...and how important field is. We teach a campaign management at (unintelligible) I do and field -- organizing the field is very important and Trump has not done that. There is a report that is over 1800 caucuses where you sit in a room and you figure out who you're going to support. You've got to argue for your candidate. You can't just say, I hate Muslims and I want to deport 11 million undocumented people in the United States.
THURBERYou've got to have concrete policies to persuade people in those caucuses. He's only had about 80 people at his first meeting to train people to go out and organize the caucuses. That's where Cruz has spent a lot of money. That's why I think Cruz is ahead. He's also popular with the far right. He's bringing in all the far right people, but he's organized the ground. The ground is very important. But then, you go to New Hampshire and New Hampshire is very different. It's sort of up in the air, in my opinion, right now.
THURBERTrump may do very well, but, you know, Christie's doing pretty well up there. South Carolina is the next one. I see Cruz, Rubio doing very well there. And then, we go to the super primary March 1 and there you have to have well organize everybody. Can't just have free media, like Trump has. I mean, he's spent no money 'cause he's got earned media.
REHMBut now, he says he's going to spend $2 million.
ORNSTEINWell, he's gonna spend some money on ads. And we do have interesting times ahead in the next month or two. Let me go back for a minute, Diane, to the anger issue. I wrote a piece in August where, you know, the conventional wisdom overwhelmingly was that this would shake down the way it always does and an establishment candidate would emerge and at that point, it wasn't clear who it was gonna be, but it coalesced around Rubio to a fair degree.
ORNSTEINAnd I suggested that people were underestimating the anger and a lot of that anger on the Republican side was aimed at their own leaders. Remember, we had a speaker pretty much hounded out of office. His heir apparent blocked from moving forward to that spot, Kevin McCarthy. What has happened, in part, is that Republican leaders called them "The Young Guns," that's McCarthy, Eric Cantor, who was ousted in a primary, and Paul Ryan -- went out in 2009 and recruited Tea Party people at a time when the anger level after the collapse and the financial bailout had been red hot and basically told him, come into office with us.
ORNSTEINWe will bring Barack Obama to his knees. We'll use the debt ceiling. We'll slash government. And that didn't work. And then, in 2012, they said he's a goner. Nobody will vote for him. And he won reelection, Obama. Then, in 2014, just give us the Senate. So the sense of promises unkept by the establishment enabled the rise of a lot of these outsider candidates. That anger is still there. Now, I don't think Donald Trump has a strong chance of winning Iowa for the reasons that Jim suggested.
ORNSTEINWe've always had this myth, and it's been a myth in the past, that young voters would suddenly emerge and turn out in the caucuses. It hasn't happened. Bernie Sanders is hoping that will happen as well. But Trump's national numbers and statewide numbers, as you move along, are very strong. And Rubio, who is still seen by the establishment as the obvious choice because he would be -- match up well in a general election could finish third or fourth in Iowa, third or fourth in New Hampshire.
ORNSTEINYou've got Chris Christie and John Kasich and Jeb Bush all now moving forward, getting some endorsements and putting some money in there. They could split that establishment vote...
REHMSo the question becomes how important is Iowa?
ORNSTEINNot as important as people have suggested. And then, you've got to remember Jim mentioned the Super Tuesday primary. It's all proportional representation across these many states. We may not see any candidate, especially on the establishment side, emerge.
REHMNorman Ornstein, resident scholar at American Enterprise Institute, James Thurber, professor and director of The Center For Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University and Susan Glasser, editor of Politico. Short break. Your calls, I hope to hear from you when we come back.
REHMWelcome back. We're talking about what lies ahead in the race for the 2016 presidential campaign. We're also talking about what is motivating or not motivating voters. And we have a president at whom lots of people are angry. Where is that anger emanating from, Jim Thurber?
THURBERWell, I think it comes from policy. It also comes from the fact that he's an African American, with a few people in the electorate -- people don't talk about that very much, but that's still there. I think it comes from the fact that sometimes he's a bystander to events internationally or seems that way. And a bystander also in terms of domestic politics. And so he doesn't show a strong leadership, as Trump says.
REHMAnd how does that anger against President Obama affect the electorate as it goes to the polls to choose a new president?
THURBERWell, I think the polls that we're primarily concerned about are the -- of the Republicans. And remember, these surveys before we go to the elections are primarily of Republican voters and leaning Republicans. And that's different slice. The national ones, where there's people running against Hillary, she's doing moderately well. But it will affect her. His policies will affect her. And his style of being the professor president, which turns people off a little bit. And Ed has said that, I said that in a book right after his first two years, it sort of turns people off. She needs to get away from him on Syria and a variety of other policies and move on. And I'm not sure it's going to be very easy. Bernie Sanders is, but I don't think it's easy for her at this point.
REHMWhat do you think, Susan?
GLASSERWell, you know, I think it's important, Diane, to spotlight the question of Obama because he really is the hidden actor on the stage in this Republican primary right now. And he certainly will be on the stage in the general election as well. And I'm struck by a couple things. Number one, it's not so much that Obama is an unpopular president. He doesn't have the best approval ratings but they're not the worst either. If you look at where George W. Bush was, for example, ending his presidency he was more unpopular.
GLASSERThe difference is, is that Obama is a divisive or a polarizing president and there are really two different versions of the Obama presidency, depending on your partisan affiliation. And I also think that this question of the passivity that Trump has played into in his critique of Obama is going to be the one that we hear an awful lot about -- this question of, can you connect Obama's personal leadership style and his lack of throwing himself into the mix on some of these big issues with the broader question of, where is America headed?
GLASSERBecause really it is unease, of course, not about Obama, but unease about where America is headed, unease about the economy and their own family's prospects that's driving the anger, the disillusionment among this segment of primary voters.
ORNSTEINYou know, Diane, I'm struck by a few things. One, we always get a populist anger when you have an economic downturn. And go back to the late 1980s, early 1990s, it was Ross Perot in the middle, Ralph Nader on the left, Pat Buchanan on the right that played into a lot of these sentiments. That continues. The critique of Obama as passive, I get kind of bemused because he -- there are two critiques of Obama. One is, he's running roughshod over us and over the Constitution. And the other is, he's weak and feckless. And you can find a way to put them together but it's a little difficult.
ORNSTEINI do think we need to talk fairly directly about the race issue. It is a significant part of this. Nate Cohn in The New York Times has a very interesting chart in a piece about Trump the other day. It showed -- we now can figure out where you have centers of people who go to websites that are racist or who look or who post tweets or who do things that would lead you to think that there are racial elements there. And you map it out and then you look at where Trump's support is and they overlay almost completely. Now that's not to say all of his supporters are racists. That's not the case.
ORNSTEINWhen he raised the immigration issue, which is what vaulted him into a position of such prominence, taking an extreme position on that to the radical side of all the other candidates, that tapped into a lot of these sentiments -- economic uncertainty but also it's a kind of a catchall for race. And as you see the Black Lives Matter movement move forward and, now, what's interesting this week of course is, you've got a bunch of thugs, militia, you could even call them terrorists, who've seized federal property -- seized a federal building out in Oregon. I'm waiting for the first Republican candidate to address that issue. You know, if that were...
REHMWhat would you expect?
ORNSTEINI expect they're going to tiptoe around it because, for the people who are going to vote in the primaries and caucuses, they're going to separate those people out from a group of Muslims who might have done this or a group of Black Lives Matter people who might have gone in with guns and seized federal property. It's a very different dynamic. And, you know, we're kidding ourselves if we don't think that the racial divide which, now, we have parties that are tribal in nature -- Susan mentioned the gap between Democrats and Republicans on Obama -- the gap has been growing and perceptions of the party's -- of the other party's presidential candidate for several years now.
ORNSTEINBut now we've got one party that's becoming a party of white people and the other party that's predominantly minority and it's adding to this tension and divide in the society.
GLASSERWell, I think President Obama in many ways is interestingly starting 2016, his final year in office, actually playing right into the culture wars over guns. And he's decided, he said in his New Year's address, that guns was the unfinished legacy of his presidency. And now with this incident in Oregon, it casts an even sharper belief that he is coming and he's actually stirring the pot on this and banking on the fact that there's a lot of perhaps more silent democratic anger over guns. There's also the hypocrisy issue which, of course, both Obama and Hillary Clinton will seek to play upon as well.
GLASSERHow is it that Republicans on the one hand can be against guns in the hands of ISIS and playing very nakedly on fears of the other and fears around armed terrorism occurring here in the United States, and at the same time be the most aggressive supporters of gun rights. And so, for them, it poses a very awkward dilemma as we head into voting in two states, Iowa and New Hampshire, that historically, certainly the Republican primary electorate in both those states is very strongly in favor of gun rights.
THURBERI think Obama's leadership, as we can see, is going to ignore Congress as much as possible, unless they veto the Affordable Care Act -- pardon me -- pass it and he needs to veto it. He's going to be using, as we know, executive order probably on guns...
REHMBut how far can he go? They are calling any move he makes on guns, already, unconstitutional.
THURBERWell, I think he can go forward on this. And the question is whether they'll react to it and pass something to stop him. He's also going to use executive order on climate change, post-Paris activities by the EPA on new coal-fired plants and other things. He's going to push it on the criminal justice reform. He's going to -- the big battle this next year, which we haven't talked about, will be on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement.
THURBERThere, you may find some bipartisanship with Ryan wanting to show that he can lead and move ahead because he's ambitious. He probably wants to run for the president in the future. But McConnell saying, he doesn't want to do it until -- in the lame-duck because he doesn't want to push those five -- four or five people that are in trouble in the Republican Party to vote on it ahead of time. That's the one to watch this next year for is leadership.
REHMBut let me ask you about those executive orders. People are saying President Obama is overreaching. He's doing too many executive orders. How does the number that he has done or is doing, how does that compare with past presidents, Norm?
ORNSTEINMany fewer than past presidents, interestingly. Most of the actions that Obama has taken on the executive side have not come through the formal mechanism of executive orders. There have been relatively few of those. I expect we're going to see some more. And it's not the numbers so much as the areas he's chosen that have enraged his opponents, especially in Congress and on the presidential trail. It's picking up hot-button areas that Congress has refused to deal with.
ORNSTEINNow, you know, on immigration, of course, we had this broad bipartisan bill that had been crafted by a Gang of Eight, led by Marco Rubio -- who now denounces his own bill -- that passed the Senate by overwhelming margins and the House wouldn't take it up, did nothing. Obama stepped into the breach and they're not happy about it. He has done so on climate change, where Congress would not take those actions up. On gun control, remember that after Sandy Hook, we had a bipartisan bill, one that was -- Pat Toomey, a conservative Republican from Pennsylvania, joined with Joe Manchin, a very pro-gun senator from West Virginia -- just to do background checks, that didn't pass.
ORNSTEINWhat Obama's doing now is trying to use the executive process to do background checks. And there's going to be a lot of tension going forward. We have a State of the Union coming up very shortly -- January 12. And what's going to be interesting to see is the reaction to the president, who's going to give, I think, a much broader, thematic approach -- the State of the Nation not just the laundry list this time.
REHMSo my question is -- he's doing this on the 12th of January -- is he hoping to affect the elections going forward with his moving the State of the Union back earlier.
THURBERI think he's primarily pushing his own agenda and that will have an effect upon the election. And he is going to brag a little bit. He hasn't done a lot in Congress since 2010, since we've had divided party government and we've got gridlock up there. So he's going to talk about what he has done in other ways. And I think that we should also remember that events change elections. And we've had these terrorist acts domestically as well as internationally. It's likely to happen again. And I think that we've gone from the economy as the primary issue to terrorism at this point and it actually may affect the election.
THURBERWe've gone from 10 percent-plus unemployment to about 5 percent unemployment. And so for the Republicans to talk about what are -- they're going to do about the economy and not talk about the middle-class limits on income or minimum wage is not going anywhere -- I think terrorism is likely to come up. And in that State of the Union message, he needs to talk about that and talk about the Middle East and Syria and immigration. I'm not sure he will. He'll probably talk about Guantanamo -- he promised to get the prisoners out of Guantanamo -- about Cuba -- internationally, they normalized further relations there.
THURBERHe's probably going to talk about TPP, Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is foreign policy, and then an agreement with Europe after that. And I think that's where he'll be on the international side.
REHMAll right. I want to go back for a moment to the Republicans and whether, Susan, you believe there could be a possibility of a brokered convention?
GLASSERYou know, Diane, every four years or eight years at least, there's always talk of a brokered convention. And I certainly am a skeptic that, the way our parties work, that's really feasible. But I think we'll be talking about it for potentially months to come. If you look at the Republican primary calendar, in fact it was designed to make sure that that scenario didn't happen. It was designed to have a cleaner, neater election this time around.
REHMA winnowing out.
GLASSERExactly, a winnowing out. There was a consolidation, the creation of this new super primary at the beginning of March was part of the idea behind really making sure that the party was able to pretty quickly coalesce around a leader. We'll see if that happens or not. But, remember, that it's really been since 1976 -- as we were talking about -- that in the Ford versus Reagan race, that was the last time you really went to the floor of the convention. That's not really how modern politics works anymore. So, you know, we'll see if 2016 has that for us.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Norm, are you a skeptic about a brokered convention?
ORNSTEINFirst, Diane, I want to put a final nail into the coffin of the term brokered convention. There are no brokers. This is not like -- if you saw the movie, "The Best Man," the Gore Vidal novel that was turned into a wonderful movie with Henry Fonda and Cliff Robertson -- where you had governors and party leaders who could move blocks of delegates around like a chess game. There are no brokers anymore. The establishment can't run this. It would be an open convention. And there is a chance of it this time. The last time we had a convention that went to a second ballot was the Democrats in 1952 -- before that, the Republicans in 1948.
ORNSTEINEven in 1976, it was uncertain until we approached the convention. But when we finally got the convention opened, it was clear the Mississippi delegation had moved and Ford was going to win. This time, we could go on much longer. And Susan raised an interesting point. Reince Priebus and the Republican Party tried to set up rules to end this quickly. It's having the opposite effect. We go through proportionally represented states -- some of them by congressional district, some of them statewide -- mandated right through the middle of March. And they you can have winner take all. But some of them are winner take all by congressional district. And all of them, there's a threshold of 20 percent before you can get any delegates.
ORNSTEINIt may well be that Donald Trump and Ted Cruz are the only ones who get over 20 percent moving into this time. And the winnowing out that usually happens very early -- thanks to Anthony Kennedy and John Roberts, Citizens United and some of the other things that have happened on the campaign finance front -- candidates can stay in longer and the incentive -- if you've got proportional representation for a while, you can win some delegates and then you're a player -- you might as well stay in.
REHMWhat's your thought, Jim?
THURBERAnd to add to Norm's comments, as we go through these states, many of these states are blue states, where you're going to have more moderate delegates selected in the Republican Party, which gives an incentive for people who have a lot of money -- Bush, others -- to stay in there, thinking that they'll get more of those delegates in proportional representation to the end. It may indeed be an open convention. I agree with Norm that there are no white guys with big cigars...
THURBER...or anybody out there brokering...
GLASSERWell, just one final note on that scenario. I do think that those -- all of those scenarios in some way, right, presume that Trump actually goes out and does well or well enough at least to stay in it. I think that if Trump proves not to be a big vote getter in these early primaries, then the scenario of the open convention that you're talking about sort of recedes and you revert to a much more traditional type of primary campaign.
ORNSTEINAnd this could easily winnow down to three candidates who matter and you could see a consolidation around one of them. You know, there -- we can't say definitively that the old pattern is gone. It may well turn out to work that way. But one of the things I do believe is that, if we end up seeing an establishment candidate win, the convention in Cleveland is not likely to be a particularly united or happy one. There's a real division here, a great deal of suspicion in the grassroots of their own party's leaders. And if there's any sense that they've pushed aside an outsider who represents them, to go back to business as usual -- and that includes supporting all of these billionaire oligarchs -- there'll be a substantial backlash.
REHMAnd one of our question on Twitter. Does Trump really want to be president with all its limits and restrictions? Good question. Short break here. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd it's time to open the phones to take your calls. 800-433-8850. First to Natalie in Waxahachie, Texas. You're on the air.
NATALIEGood morning. And I love your show for years.
NATALIEI'm -- in the -- I'm an Anglo person who is going to be 80 next month. And I say that to tell you that I have lived in the South and the North and on both coasts over the course of my life. And so I feel that my observations may be somewhat useful. And when Barack Obama first announced for President, I was skeptical at first, and then I listened to him and I got excited. And I started talking to my friends and acquaintances about him and I was just -- I was really gung ho and I'm usually involved in whatever political campaign is going on because that's what I do.
REHMOkay, Natalie, can I ask you to get to your question? We have so many callers waiting.
NATALIEAll right, so this one fellow, when I told him about it, he said, oh, he said, I can't, I can't support him. I don't want him to win. And I said, why? He says, well, you know, he scares me. He scares me. And after, from then on, you know, as time went on, I understood what was going on. He didn't want an African-American to be President. And all this talk about all this anger that is really on the Republican side from my vision, it's because -- it's all got to do with race.
ORNSTEINRace is a significant part of it. It's not all of it, by any stretch. There is substantial economic uncertainly for very good reason. And the immigration issue, itself, isn't all about race. A good deal of it is about the economy. And we have to remember that the demonization of Obama was not the first time that's happened. It happened with Clinton, it happened to a degree with Bush, but certainly, there was an attempt to delegitimize Clinton and he wasn't African-American. But to ignore the issue of race or downplay the issue of race is to make a mistake, I think, in understanding American politics these days.
REHMHere's a tweet from Damon, who says, please touch on the perception of erosion of white privilege and how it relates to angry Republican voters. Susan.
GLASSERYou know, I'm struck by the fact that Norm pointed out we've had these resurgences of populism in American politics in response to economic downturns, really in cycles over the last more than 150 years. And you could read this anxiety about race and is racism fueling it? You could read this in 1890s. You could read this in the 1930s. You could read this at any of the periods. The George Wallace campaign, I think, is the example that a lot of people have turned to in recent months when trying to explain the Donald Trump candidacy.
GLASSERSo, is this a factor? Absolutely. Is it a pretty consistent strain in American politics? Yes. I do think it's important, when talking about the polls, when talking about this, we don't do a good enough job in the media, I think, of pulling back and saying, remember, we're talking about a minority. A substantial minority, but a minority of a minority within the country. Republican primary voters are a minority within the country. Donald Trump is commanding a lead but a minority within that minority.
GLASSERAnd I do think that's an important caveat.
REHMTo Laz in Miami, Florida. You're on the air.
LAZHappy New Year to you all.
REHMHappy New Year.
LAZMy question touches a little bit on the brokered, or the unbrokered, the open, you know, the convention -- convention point you all had. Assuming for a moment that Donald Trump does not become the nominee, and assuming for a moment that he decides not to run as an independent, it's going to be difficult, I'm assuming, for him to get his anti-establishment fans to -- for him to say, okay, I didn't win, but let's all coalesce around the establishment candidate. Won't that pose a bit of a problem?
LAZIt might -- it's also going to pose a problem for Hillary and Bernie, but to a much lesser extent. How will he be able to motivate those non-establishment voters to follow an establishment voter?
THURBERWell, I think that Trump is unique in terms of the way he's running now, and it's hard to predict what he'll do, but if he doesn't get the nomination, it's likely that he would lean towards Cruz, who's really coalesced everybody on the far right. Cruz has really not criticized him, actually, all the candidates have been very cautious about criticizing him, but I think if Cruz is the candidate, he will embrace them. If Bush is the candidate, he would not. Rubio is a real question as to whether he would or not. He may just bow out of the whole thing, but that's unlikely. He likes being in the limelight.
REHMAll right, here's an email from Jason here in Washington. If Obama does this gun action, it destroys the Democratic chances of election. He should have waited and let her do it after the elections. Lots of assumptions there. What do you think? Is the President making a mistake going forward with executive action on guns now as we move into the finale, hopefully, of this election?
GLASSERWell, you could easily also read it as the opposite in terms of its political impact. That it might actually help Hillary Clinton. For example, Bernie Sanders has a different record, and coming from Vermont, a generally pro-gun rights state. Sanders, surprising somewhat, given his otherwise very left views, has been more or less not a supporter of new gun control restrictions. Hillary Clinton has already raised it to some real effect in the Democratic primary debates. Is Obama, one could say, coming in and sort of putting his thumb on the scale of the Democratic primary.
GLASSERYou could look at it that way. Number one. Number two, it's very, very early in the election year. We don't know the extent of his executive actions. One of the things that we've reported at Politico is that he was basically going to be elaborating on the existing definition of what it is to be a gun dealer. And therefore, subject to the restrictions that are already in place. That's unlikely, no matter what the efforts of gun right supporters to portray it is to be seen by a broad swath of the American electorate as some dramatic new step.
THURBERYeah, and remember that we have approximately 100,000 gun dealers in the United States. Almost more gun dealers than supermarkets. And if a customer comes in, they must have a background check. He wants to lower that to people who sell more than 50 guns a year, which would include these gun shows. One of the largest gun shows in America is right out here, a few miles from the White House. And I think he's -- the bottom line is, let's take the calculation on the election aside, he's doing the right thing.
THURBERI mean, we've had these awful acts in America, and he's moving ahead, and I think that that's the right thing to do. Now, whether he wins or not is another question. I think he will for a short period of time on an executive order related to this. It may have to go to the courts or the Congress may have to overturn it.
ORNSTEINIt's such an interesting dynamic, Diane. For probably a decade, Democrats didn't want to talk about guns at all. Because they thought it was a complete loser of an issue for them. Now, they talk about it a lot, and they've made it a centerpiece of what they're talking about. And it tells you that in the aftermath of not just Sandy Hook, but incident after incident after incident of individuals going out and murdering large numbers of people using big magazine weapons and the like, the climate is changed.
ORNSTEINThere's still that very strong and intense passion on the side of the NRA. But now you're starting to see Democrats believe they've got some traction on this issue. Especially when it comes to background checks, simple background checks where 90 percent of Americans support it. Now, the other thing to mention, though, is that on the other side, one of the biggest elements of the conspiratorial critique of Obama, since the beginning, has been that he's going to take all our guns away. The Jade Helm Conspiracy Theory put out by Alex Jones, this radio show host who actually was praised to the skies by Donald Trump.
ORNSTEINWas that this was a part of a conspiracy, including the military, to take all of our guns away. So, you've got this, two different worlds. But Democrats now believe they've got more traction on this issue. It's a dramatic change from the past.
REHMAll right. Let me read to you an email that I think may represent a fair number of people. It's from Barbara. She calls herself a 70-year-old retiree. She calls herself a registered independent. I like to say, she says, I vote for the best man, regardless of party. Trouble is, hard to find a best man these days. I don't trust either party, but I'm leaning toward Bernie. My only concern about him, he won't be able to get much of an agenda through a Republican Congress. Also, I'm not sure that's the cure the country needs. Establishment Republicans seem to have contempt for their own Republican base
REHMAnd indifferent, maybe even oblivious to the real harm their policies have done to the middle class of this country. The Tea Party Republicans seem to want to burn down the forest and Hillary seems to me another Wall Street politician. An anathema to me where to turn. I think a lot of people share some version of this despair. All that from Barbara.
THURBERBy the way, she should say best person this year.
THURBERRather than best man.
REHMOf course. But nevertheless, I think she puts into one paragraph the dilemma a great many people face.
THURBERThis is a -- go ahead, Susan.
GLASSERNo, it's the convergence of right and left, basically.
GLASSERIt's the anger and disillusionment in where they meet on both sides. Now, you wouldn't think that Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump would have much in common, but in a way, it's tapping into different strands of that same disillusionment. What really is unlikely, although I guess is not unprecedented entirely in American politics, is the idea that a billionaire would be seen as the champion of the little guy in this election.
THURBERYou know, the freedom caucus blocked Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, from implementing another campaign finance change that would have given more power to the wealthy donors. And what's interesting is the populism, the anti-Wall Street, anti-oligarch populism, Occupy Wall Street, Tea Party come together. We saw this back in the late 80s and early 1990s. There wasn't a lot of difference on a whole set of policy issues between Ralph Nader and Pat Buchanan.
REHMAll right, let's go to Joe in Louisville, Kentucky. You're on the air.
JOEThank you, Diane. What a great segue, because that's exactly who I called about was Mitch McConnell. In 2008, and this is an old dead horse and I'm going to kick it one more time. In 2008, after the election, Mitch McConnell swore that he was going to do everything in his powers to make Obama, President Obama, a one term President. And he did everything he could to keep any agenda. And Obama was elected, if I remember correctly, with an agenda, and he had a mandate. I think that's the way it was.
JOEAnd Senator McConnell tied everything up, helped create the craziness about the -- Obama being an alien and also from somewhere else, not even a US citizen. Not to mention the Muslim thing. But my point being that they helped establish the Tea Party. They really helped talk radio. This is Mitch McConnell and his group, helped talk radio go after Mr. Obama on everything. Along with Fox News. I mean, they really stoked the flames, and I think they held the United States back from recovering from that -- from our horrible dilemma in 2008 when the stock market crashed and all the job programs that Mr. Obama wanted to put in. He snuffed everything that could have been done at that time.
REHMAll right. And you're listening to The Diane Rehm Show. What do you think, Norm?
ORNSTEINWell, you know, I have a piece up on the Atlantic website today on eight causes of Trump-ism. And Mitch McConnell, and the young guns that I referred to earlier figure prominently in this. Some of this is a self-inflicted wound on their part. They did demonize Obama and blocked an agenda, but they made promises to their own side that they couldn't keep. McConnell now, with the majority in the Senate, it worked for him in a lot of ways. He's trying to protect his own members, including many who are up this coming election in blue states.
ORNSTEINHe now wants to work with Obama where he can to get things done. And that infuriates the people that he managed to exploit from 2008 on and it's causing a big problem within the ranks of the Republican leadership.
THURBERBut remember that Obama, during the first two years of his administration when he had unified party government, got 338 pieces of legislation passed. Many of it very major, like the Affordable Care Act, the stimulus package. He really turned the economy around to a certain extent. Also, re-regulation of the financial institutions, insurance for kids that live below the poverty line. A whole lot of other things that really irritated a lot of people who wanted to shrink government. And so, much of that anger not only came from McConnell and the others, it came from the actions of a Democratic President and Democratic Congress.
REHMLet's talk for just the couple of moments we have left about Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and Martin O'Malley. And how, where Iowa will leave them.
GLASSERWell, it's probably fair to say that Martin O'Malley isn't going to run away with it. But you know, Sanders, as you mentioned earlier in the broadcast, is looking for an upset. And he has some positioning in both Iowa and New Hampshire. He clearly has a hard core support of the kind who might actually turn out on a wintry night in Iowa. But it's not clear that he has really done what's necessary to actually win. And Hillary Clinton has been lucky, one could argue, in the weakness of the field against her. She's been lucky in the Republicans and the way that that's played out.
GLASSERBut remember, we're starting the year with a pretty strong conventional wisdom and my view about politics is that the conventional wisdom is always wrong. You just need to know which part of it is wrong and when.
REHMWhat about the attacks on Bill Clinton that are coming now from Trump? Jim.
THURBERWell, I don't think they have very much traction at all. And I think Hillary learned a lot in 2008 about the ground. She didn't organize the ground, she didn't listen in Iowa. She spent a lot of money there. Bernie Sanders is well organized on the ground. It's going to be very competitive. But beyond that, I don't see Sanders beyond New Hampshire having much traction at all. The best thing that she has going for her right now is Trump and others criticizing her and alienating women, Latinos, Muslims, African-Americans. All kinds of other people that are her base.
REHMLast word. Very quickly.
ORNSTEINSanders raised 33 million dollars. He's got plenty of money, but if he doesn't win Iowa, even if he wins New Hampshire, there isn't a lot of traction moving beyond that. Winning Iowa and winning New Hampshire could change this contest, but Hillary Clinton's odds of winning the nomination are extremely high.
REHMNorman Ornstein, James Thurber, Susan Glasser, great way to start the new year. We'll be talking about this all through the year. Thank you all so much.
THURBERThank you, Diane.
ORNSTEINThank you, Diane. Very much.
REHMAnd thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.