It’s been three months since Democrats took control of the House. What that’s meant for legislative priorities in Congress and the balance of power in Washington.
This weekend, Hillary Clinton blamed her surprising election loss in part on FBI Director James Comey. Days before the election, he had revived an inquiry into her use of a private email server while secretary of state. But analysts see a more fundamental problem. They say the Democratic Party has lost touch with white working class voters—the group that ultimately lifted Donald Trump to the White House. Now, Democrats need to reach out to alienated Americans and champion causes like jobs and trade they say could help the party win the White House in 2020.
- Hilary Rosen Democratic strategist; managing director, SKDKnickerbocker, a political consulting and PR firm; and a CNN contributor
- Thomas Frank Author of "Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?" and "What's the Matter with Kansas?"; columnist for Harper's magazine.
- Molly Ball Staff writer, The Atlantic
- David Bowen State Representative for the 10th district of Wisconsin; vice chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
- Steve Israel United States Representative, New York's 3rd congressional district; former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
MS. SUSAN PAGEThanks for joining us. I'm Susan Page of USA Today sitting in for Diane Rehm. She's on a station visit at WESA in Pittsburgh. This time last week, Democrats were optimistic about Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the presidency and about their chances of taking control of the Senate, too. Now, they are dealing with a stunning loss. In January, Republicans will control the House, the Senate and the White House and they will hold 34 governor seats, the most in nearly a century.
MS. SUSAN PAGEHere to talk about lessons learned from the election and how Democrats move forward, Molly Ball of The Atlantic, Thomas Frank, author of "Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened To The Party of the People?" And Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist. They're all here with me in the studio. Welcome to "The Diane Rehm Show."
MR. THOMAS FRANKIt's great to be here.
MS. MOLLY BALLThank you, Susan.
MS. HILARY ROSENThank you.
PAGEAnd we're joined by phone from Milwaukee by David Bowen. He's a state representative in Wisconsin and vice chair of the Democratic party of Wisconsin. David, thanks for being with us.
MR. DAVID BOWENHonored to be on, Susan.
PAGEWe invite our listeners to join our conversation later in this hour. You can call our toll-free number, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to email@example.com or find us on Facebook or Twitter. Well, Hilary Rosen, you were a surrogate for Hillary Clinton, one of those who, I think, were optimistic a week ago today. What do you think happened?
ROSENWell, now's the time, right, to say that this wasn't a landslide, right, that the total vote difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was about 107,000 votes in key states. In Michigan, it was 12,000 people. In Wisconsin, it was 27,000 people. In Pennsylvania, 60,000 people. In other words, the size of the difference between who our president is would've all fit, like, in Michigan Stadium. And so we have to think long and hard about what this means in terms of kind of sweeping change.
ROSENHaving said that, this was a change election and there was only one candidate in the race who was perceived to be change. So we have to figure out how to combine those two very real thoughts as we move forward.
PAGEDavid Bowen, you were a super delegate for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic Convention. What do you think went wrong for Democrats in the election last week?
BOWENWell, I think you definitely saw a, you know, the top of the ticket fall off of support, while Trump was able to engage his base and excite them so much to get them out and voting. I think there was a problem when you had so many millennials that believed in a progressive bold agenda that Bernie Sanders pushed, including myself, and they weren't authentically engaged in this election process after the primary. And then, essentially, some of us were even shunned for even believe in bold ideas that could actually transform this country dramatically and not just waiting for moderate small changes.
BOWENI mean, some of us were just -- they were expecting us to just fall in line because Secretary Clinton won the nomination, but we still had to not only win over us as supporters of Bernie Sanders, but a message that can go back to those in our communities, those who are passionate about the issues that they are protesting over, that they are standing up about. And it was really hard to promote Secretary Clinton as a candidate that would do some bold things to transform those issues as a change candidate, right?
BOWENAnd really highlight the fact that Republicans have been obstructing the political process even more, but we couldn't get out of that box. We were -- as Secretary Clinton was boxed in as a status quo, establishment candidate and we couldn't get out of that.
PAGEMolly Ball, let's go back a week. We've had some time to adjust to what was a surprise, I think, to many Americans. I think a surprise even to many in the Trump campaign when Donald Trump won the White House. How big a surprise was it for Democrats, especially for Democratic leaders in the party?
BALLIt was an enormous surprise. They absolutely believe their own spin. And as you say, the Trump campaign also believed that Hillary Clinton was going to win this election. So it was a universal phenomenon. And based on the evidence before them, they had reason to expect that they were going to win. But in retrospect, there are a lot of signals that they should have taken more seriously.
BALLIn retrospect, Hillary Clinton's persistent failure to achieve 50 percent in any of the polls, even when she was leading Donald Trump by a few or by several points, should've been a red flag that said that even as most Americans found him unacceptable at his lower points, they still were not really coalescing around her as a positive choice. In retrospect, a lot of the -- as Representative Bowen was talking about, the lack of enthusiasm among millennials, the lack of enthusiasm among minority voters should have been more of a red flag.
BALLI spent a lot of time talking to younger African-American voters in places like St. Louis who didn't like Trump, but didn't really find him as alarming as they thought they were supposed to and were not at all galvanized by the Clinton campaign. And one of the incriminations we've heard from some of the Democratic critics is that she invested very few resources in outreach to communities like the African-American community, that she felt certain would just show up on their own.
BALLSo much of the Clinton campaign's messaging was about trying to convert these Republican or conservative-leaning white college-educated women in places like the Philadelphia suburbs where tens of millions of dollars were spend on television ads. In retrospect, those were never going to be more than soft votes for Hillary Clinton. Those were the kind of votes that were very easy for her to lose the minute something like the Comey letter came along that sowed fresh doubts.
PAGEThomas Frank, your book came out in March and the title sounds pretty prescient now. "Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?" because one of the things that we saw happen in this election was Donald Trump getting support from the kind of white working class voters that Democrats used to count on.
FRANKExactly, yeah. Well, this is a culmination of a long term process and I trace this sort of process in "Listen Liberal" and it begins quite a while ago. But the -- basically, what we're talking about here is the Democratic party walking away from working class people and working class issues over the years and understanding themselves, thinking of themselves as a party of the professional class. And they have all these different ways of talking about the professionals class, but, you know, the creative class, this kind of thing.
FRANKBut that's really who they are these days. But then, there is also a long term political process that's been going on here and this is what I would call the wages of centrism, that we have, you know, people who are on the left, like me, have, you know, been told as centrist Democrats sell us out again and again and again and you have all of these different, you know, issues where centrist Democrats have harvested sort of disaster, you know, whether you're talking about NAFTA or bank deregulation or the bank bailouts or the Iraq war, but it's always on the grounds -- we accept it on the grounds that these guys win elections.
FRANKRight? That centrism, it's, you know, they do these terrible things and they sell you out at every turn. And people, by the way, will come to this, I'm sure, are still extremely bitter about NAFTA and, you know, all the trade deals passed during the Clinton administration. But at least these centrists, we're told, will win elections for you. Well, that is now over.
PAGEWell, there was a -- Bill Clinton did win election and reelection to the White House with defining the Democratic party in a new centrist -- in a more centrist way. Is that over, Hilary Rosen? Are we going to see a party defined more as a progressive or liberal party?
ROSENI do think there's going to be a resurgence of focus on the economic issues, but I disagree with Thomas a little bit. I think that what happened is, that as a party, we became more a party about social values, fighting really the right wing and that became to define us. And I think that that is much of what happened in this election in Hillary Clinton's campaign. We sort of followed the bright shiny object of Donald Trump's outrageous comments around race, around women, around religion.
ROSENAnd so in essence, losing the economic argument, not paying enough attention to those sorts of aggressive values that really was much of the debate in the Democratic primary, you know, as our earlier guest said. And that bright, shiny object of outrageousness, I think, did end up defining much of this. And because Democrats have come to be the multicultural party, as opposed to the working class party, and that multiculturalism and identity politics, I think, is what has taken over much of our party. And the economic arguments have gone, you know, more by the wayside.
ROSENAnd that’s going to be -- and we'll talk about this in a minute, I'm sure, that's going to be Donald Trump's challenge and our opportunity going forward.
PAGEWe're going to take a short break in just a minute and come back and take your calls and questions. I want to note that we're joined by Molly Ball. She's a staff writer at The Atlantic. Thomas Frank, he's author of "Listen Liberal: Or, Whatever Happened to the Party of the People?" Hilary Rosen, she's a Democratic strategist for a political consulting firm and PR firm. She was a Clinton surrogate in this last election.
PAGEAnd joining us by phone, David Bowen, a state representative for the 10th district of Wisconsin. He's a vice chair of the Democratic party of Wisconsin and was a Sanders super delegate. And when we come back, we're going to talk briefly with Steve Israel. He's a congressman from New York's third district. He's the former head of the Democratic congressional campaign committee. He's retiring this year so he's going to be able to be really candid with us on what went wrong and what the party should do ahead.
PAGEWe'll take you calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us.
PAGEJoining us now by phone is Representative Steve Israel. He's a congressman from New York's Third Congressional District on Long Island. He's the former head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, so he knows about politics all across this country. Congressman Israel, what went wrong?
MR. STEVE ISRAELWell, I think fundamentally it's this. We Democrats have to learn how to tap into the unique economic anxieties of middle-class and working-class voters constructively, or else Republicans will continue to tap into those anxieties destructively. You know, people say what kind of country could have elected Donald Trump. That's the wrong question. The real issue is what kind of time could Donald Trump -- could elect Donald Trump. And this is a unique moment in time.
MR. STEVE ISRAELPeople are facing a unique convergence of economic anxieties, economies changing radically in front of their very eyes, a historic breakdown of faith in all institutions, not just government but the church and sports and Wall Street, unprecedented sense of threat at home and abroad and finally the sense that democracy has sold out, that if you don't have a lobbyist and a Super-PAC, you don't matter.
MR. STEVE ISRAELYou take those four convergences, put them all together, nobody should be surprised that Donald Trump won this election, at least in the electoral college, and the Democratic Party needs to realign itself and be able to communicate effectively and empathetically with those voters and win elections on different fronts.
PAGENow Congressman, we know that Hillary Clinton had some big strengths as a candidate. She also had some big flaws. These were the two most unpopular candidates ever to run for the presidency. Could another Democrat have defeated Donald Trump?
ISRAELWell, let's remember that Hillary Clinton did win the popular vote. Let's also remember that we had record low turnout in this presidential election, 18 million fewer voters in the 2016 presidential election versus the 2012 election. You put that together, the majority of the electorate did not vote for Donald Trump either because they voted for Hillary Clinton, or they didn't vote at all. And so I'm not sure that it's really an issue of the candidate.
ISRAELI think it's more an issue of -- of the message, it's more an issue of how he mobilized voters, and it's more an issue of learning how to tap into those anxieties, understand them, embrace them and offer specific solutions to them.
PAGEI told a Democrat that I was going to be interviewing you today on the Diane Rehm Show, and this person said, why doesn't he run for DNC chair.
PAGEAre you interested in that job?
ISRAEL(laugh) You know, I chaired, as you said, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee for four years, two cycles, in one good cycle, one bad cycle. I have to be honest with you, my scalp has no more room for one more gray hair. (laugh) I gave up -- I gave all those gray hairs in service to my party several years ago. So, you know, I'm not sure that that's something that I would want to do at this time.
ISRAELI can tell you that although I am retiring from Congress as a Democrat, I am not retiring from the Democratic Party. And I intend to be very active and push very hard to make sure that our party is tapping into those concerns, those anxieties, and we're not writing off entire segments of the electorate. We just can't afford to do that anymore.
ISRAELAnd finally, you know, when I was a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chairman, you know, I argued that we won all of the blue districts we can win, you've got to start pushing into red districts. It's not enough to win in New York and California. You've got to win in Scranton. You've got to win in Youngstown. You've got to win in districts that are red and turning redder. And we need a strategy to do just that.
PAGEThere is support for Keith Ellison, the congressman from Minnesota, for DNC chair. I think he's supposed to announce his candidacy for that post today. And Bernie Sanders is supporting him, also Chuck Schumer. But some people are concerned about having a sitting member of Congress in that role, that it's complicating both for time reasons and for reasons of having to be concerned about their own political situation. Are you concerned about that? Would there be a better choice for party chairman?
ISRAELYou know I -- that is not a concern that I have. I chaired the DCCC and was a sitting member of Congress in a very competitive district. I think it actually helped me become a more effective chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee because I woke up every morning understanding what it's like in a competitive district. I woke up every morning understanding firsthand the need to appeal not just to the Democratic base but to moderate voters, and that made me a better chairman.
ISRAELAnd so I don't believe that the fact that you happen to have a seat in Congress should disqualify you from DNC chair. The other bunch of people who are either thinking about announcing for DNC or who have announced in various ways, Howard Dean was in, you know, I just that maybe he won't, Martin O'Malley said that he's seriously considering it, my guess is that you're going to see at least several more names before all is said and done.
PAGEOne last question. I asked Molly Ball how big a surprise were Tuesday's results for Democratic leaders. Let me just ask you. For you, Tuesday night, we're watching the returns come in. Over time it becomes clear that Donald Trump is being elected. How big a surprise was this for you?
ISRAELI was completely shocked, to be honest, and I'll be honest -- continuing to be honest, I was in Clinton campaign headquarters just three days before FBI Director Comey released his first letter. At that time, looking at the data, poring over all the analytics, it seemed pretty clear that Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president.
ISRAELJust three days later, the Comey letter is released. I can tell you about specific House, congressional districts where Hillary was ahead, and our Democratic candidates were doing fine, that then went underwater as a result of the Comey letter. By the time Director Comey recanted, it was too late, and so I think that the combination of the Comey letter, but more importantly that failure in my view to really sense what was happening with these -- with working families and middle-class voters, those two things together created a perfect storm that shocked me and shocked everybody else that I was with in the Javits Center on election night.
PAGECongressman Steve Israel of New York, thanks so much for joining us on the Diane Rehm Show.
ISRAELThank you so much, bye-bye.
PAGEWell, Molly Ball, this -- one of the interesting things we saw when we looked and analyzed the exit polls and looked at the election returns was that there is this huge urban and suburban divide from rural America, that in rural and counties -- and in counties with small towns, turnout was way up. That wasn't the case in urban and suburban counties. Is there a new divide in American politics based on that kind of geography?
BALLI think this is a very old divide. It was the case that Mitt Romney did -- had his -- by far his highest showing in rural areas, which are -- about 20 percent of American voters live in rural areas, and then about 30 percent of American voters live in large or medium-sized cities, and Obama did overwhelmingly well with them. But about 50 percent of voters live in American suburbs, and that is the real contested territory, where I think Hillary Clinton was expecting to do better than she did by raising questions about Donald Trump temperament.
BALLIt's also true that you had a disproportionate turnout, where those -- as you said, those voters in those rural areas turned out at far higher levels than they ever did for Mitt Romney. They were really galvanized by the Trump candidacy. He really did, as he said, build a movement in a way that I think the Clinton campaign never really did. And those urban voters who turned out for Barack Obama, particularly people of color, were not galvanized by the Clinton campaign, and she saw much, much lower turnout from those areas where she might have expected to really run up the score.
PAGEThomas, what about the geography of the Democratic Party, looking ahead, what it is now and what it ought to aspire to do?
FRANKLet me say first of all, so I just came back here from Kansas City, Missouri, and before that I was out in Columbia, Missouri, for the last week. And the -- Missouri was formerly and very famously a very Democratic state. This is the home state of Harry Truman, he's from Kansas City. This is -- Dick Gephardt is from there. It was a very -- always a very, very, very Democratic sort of place.
FRANKAnd you look at it now, and it looks like all these other places, where the Democrats won the two big cities and the college town, and that's it. Everything else on the map is colored red. And you go to those places that voted for Trump, and these are disaster zones. These small towns, this is not Norman Rockwell's America. It's not Walt Disney's America anymore. This is a place that's like decimated by Wal-Mart, by, you know, factory farms.
FRANKYou know, the destruction of the family farm has been going on for years and years and years. These people are desperate. Someone comes to them saying they're going to make America great again, yeah, they're going to sign on to this. Now think about what the Democrats were selling in this last election, right. It was America is already great. I want to say what Mr. Israel was saying, very interesting, we need to learn how to tap into working-class anxieties.
FRANKThat's -- you know, that's traditionally who the Democratic Party was. When I mentioned Harry Truman, that's who that guy was. You know, that's what the Democratic Party dealt in. That's who they were. And today, I mean -- and that's why they -- we elected Barack Obama, by the way, in 2008. Remember that time of darkness and desperation and the hundreds of thousands of people that would rally for him because he did speak to those middle-class anxieties.
FRANKBut the opportunity was lost when he refused to come down like a sledgehammer on the Wall Street banks, and he refused -- well, we can go down the list of the opportunities that were missed in the Obama presidency, but now here we are.
PAGEDavid Bowen, do you think if Bernie Sanders had won the Democratic nomination, and he came closer than I think many of us thought he might, would he have defeated Donald Trump?
BOWENWell, I think you just have to look at the clear comparison, right, of his ability to be able to tap into basically working-class voters and presenting a platform that was really bold, that said that, you know, we can transform the way that things are done in this country so that it actually benefits working people and taking on those interests that voters know exist and have been trying to build their alliances with even some Democrats in our party and those that are elected.
BOWENSo I think, you know, it's clear that Bernie Sanders was able to build just support from folks that we know from this election that were -- that weren't really engaged, that weren't really enthused about the choices that they had.
PAGEHilary Rosen, what do you think? Could Bernie Sanders have won the election that Hillary Clinton lost?
ROSENNo because it's equally clear that this is not an either-or choice. Bernie Sanders didn't excite women and people of color. And so when we -- when we look at where we need to go as a party, we do have to embrace a more populist and working-class viewpoint, but we cannot ignore the civil rights agenda and gains that have been made. And perhaps young people didn't feel as threatened about losing in terms that -- in the way that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton tried to convince them of such.
ROSENAnd I'm fascinated by the exit polls. And when you look at them, it -- they demonstrate kind of the schizophrenia of the American voter today because on the one hand, they said Donald Trump was wholly unqualified to be president, and yet they voted for him. But a key factor here was that over 70 percent of voters in both parties think that the American economy is rigged against them, and that is a very, very profound statement.
ROSENAnd when you look now at where Donald Trump is going, putting Reince Priebus in as chief of staff, having his transition committee filled with lobbyists, talking about dismantling the CFPB and Dodd-Frank financial regulations, when you look at all of those issues, you really, I think, begin to see clarity for, you know, a resurgent uprising because those voters who felt abandoned economically by the Democrats are not going to find any comfort in kind of the fat-cat notion of the new Republican Party under Donald Trump.
PAGEI'm Susan Page, and you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. We're taking your calls, 1-800-433-8850. We're going to go to the phones in just a moment, but let me ask you this. The Clinton campaign ran strongly against Trump, Trump as unfit. They didn't, or they've been very criticized, the Clinton campaign, for not articulating a positive message to be for. Democrats now, going forward, is it enough to oppose President Trump and some of the things that they expect him to do that people won't like or he wouldn't be able to deliver on everything he promised, or do they need to do more than that, do they need to articulate some kind of new message? Molly, what do you think?
BALLI think that's a fascinating question going forward. I mean, eight years ago, when Barack Obama took office, and Republicans very quickly settled on a strategy of total obstruction, they were not going to be complicit in any of the things that he wanted to do, partly because they didn't agree with them and partly because they thought this would be good politics.
BALLAnd Democrats screamed and cried about how unfair this was and how wrong it was to ignore the people's choice and not to compromise. It will be interesting to see if those same Democrats now want to compromise with the new administration and help it be successful, or if they make the same political calculation, which worked out for the Republicans in the end.
PAGEWhich worked, yeah.
BALLIt took a long time, but it did work out in the end. Do Democrats decide that it will be smart politics for them to be the not-so-loyal opposition, to just oppose and obstruct, in part, again as with the Republicans, in part out of a sincere feeling that what the in-party wants to do is not good for this country. That was part of what motivated Republicans eight years ago, and it's certainly how a lot of Democrats feel now.
BALLBut if they're taking their own advice from eight years ago, will they want to find compromises, find ways they can work together? Chuck Schumer, the new minority leader of the Democrats in the Senate, is a dealmaker, is someone who likes to try to find common ground with people across the political spectrum. And then, you know, the Republican Party is still at war with itself. We don't have any idea which way the Trump administration plans to go on a lot of policy issues.
BALLSenator Jeff Sessions, who is the only senator, I believe, to support Donald Trump wholeheartedly, the first to endorse him, told me on election night that he's already been talking to senior Democrats in the Senate about areas that he sees they could work together, things like trade, potentially also foreign policy.
BALLSo, you know, with both parties so internally conflicted, it remains to be seen how they'll proceed.
PAGEThomas, what do you think they're going to do? And what do you think they should do?
FRANKCan I start by -- yeah, can I start by giving you my bright side -- the bright side of all this?
FRANKAnd like everybody here at this table, I think -- you know, I dread what Donald Trump is going to do as president, and I'm deeply afraid for my country. At the same time, though, let's -- this guy destroyed the establishment wings of both parties in one year. He ended two political dynasties. Look, from a -- you know, from a Jeffersonian point of view, that's awesome. That is -- that is a thing of beauty.
FRANKAnd he also showed us anything is possible in American politics. For my entire adult life, we've been told you can't run for president unless you've got the billionaires behind you. Hillary outspent him. Hillary had everything behind her, celebrities, newspaper endorsements, everything. He still won. This is extraordinary. This is mind-boggling.
FRANKI was down in Florida the week before the election, and it was -- you turned on the TV, and it's wall-to-wall commercials for Hillary. I didn't see any for him. He had like one mailing that came in the mail, and it was -- you know, it was a silly thing. It was so poorly done. This is extraordinary that this guy won.
FRANKOkay, but will the Democrats -- can they turn? Can they articulate a new message? You know, I would like -- I hope that they can, and I know that there are still -- there's a lot of good Democrats out there from my admittedly pretty left-wing perspective, a lot of Democrats that I really like. However, this party has -- this is the story of "Listen, Liberal." This party has been moving in the same direction for 40 years, and that direction is away from unions, away from the working class and towards embracing the professional class.
FRANKThat's who they see themselves as today, and there's been an enormous investment in this over the decades. I don't know how that -- how that gets reversed, something like that.
PAGEWe're going to take another short break, and when we come back, we'll go back to the phones, we'll take some of your calls and questions, 1-800-433-8850. And we'll also read your emails, email@example.com. Stay with us.
PAGEWelcome back. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. With me in the studio, Hilary Rosen, the Democratic strategist, Tom Frank, the author of "Listen, Liberal," and Molly Ball, staff writer with The Atlantic. And we're joined by phone from Milwaukee by David Bowen, who's a Wisconsin state representative, vice-chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin.
PAGEHey, David, here's an email from Amy that seems directed at you. She writes, "I grew up in Wisconsin and left after college. My home state has really changed in the decade since. I grew up in the days of liberals like Bill Proxmire and Gaylord Nelson, who was instrumental in forming the first Earth Day. Now, the voters of Wisconsin supported a man who denies the reality of global warming. Please tell me what is going on there and states like it." What would you tell her, David?
BOWENWell, and that's why I talk about how people are engaged because elections are won by turnout. Right? When you can engage your voters that care about the issues and the platform that you are bringing forth, can you turn them out to vote? Can you engage them so much that they know that they need to be engaged politically in that process?
BOWENAnd, you know, what's happening in Wisconsin, it's the same reason why we haven't been able to beat Scott Walker, our governor currently, is that we keep running campaigns to say that our candidate is better than this candidate because, you know, just because how bad the other candidate is.
BOWENAnd that's not enough. People want to be engaged in progressive visions to change a state, to change this country. And, you know, until that happens, you know, then people say then, I don't need to be engaged in this process because nothing speaks to me, nothing shows me that things will actually change with whatever you're presenting to me.
BOWENSo I think we really have to hit home and really target that, especially when you talk about millennials, people of color, where the issues, they are out in the streets, they are out using their voice on these issues. And they're screaming to be engaged and they're not authentically being engaged.
PAGEHere's a tweet from Theraren Usaul (sp?) who writes, "What is ex-chair and Congressman Debbie Wasserman Schultz's role in this historic Democratic loss?" Of course, Hilary, Debbie Wasserman Schultz pushed out, forced to resign during the Democratic convention because of disclosures in the WikiLeaks case. What kind of role do you think she played in this?
ROSENOh, I don't think she played much of a role in the -- this outcome. I think, you know, you have what was a horrifying invasion of personal privacy in the security breaches at the Democratic National Committee, but ultimately it didn't really show that Debbie Wasserman Schultz had done anything much to put her finger on the scale, that the process was the process. And Hillary Clinton essentially won that primary.
ROSENBut I think going forward the DNC has a really important role to play, because, of course, now it's the political organizing vehicle for the party on the outs. And so investing in the DNC and investing in the activism it can play is important. I do think that the DNC has work to do to bring the party together, to pull some of those, you know, the disappointed Sanders' folks in to suggest that there is a place at the DNC to organize together.
PAGEYou think still some wounds there from the primary battle?
ROSENThere are clearly wounds there, you know, real and imagined.
BALLYou know, I'm not a Democrat and I don't -- I'm not in the business of giving parties advice. I don't want any side to succeed necessarily, but, you know, I don't think -- I agree with Hilary that I don't think that Debbie Wasserman Schultz had a material impact on the outcome of the election. I don't think she did a very good job as Democratic chair. But when you have the White House, the leader of the party is the president, not the chair of the Democratic National Committee.
BALLAnd I think in retrospect the lack of party building that the party led by Barack Obama engaged in over the past eight years is something that's really coming home to roost by the Democrats. You know, there was an epic loss in 2010. And Democrats didn't really take that to heart as much as they should. They just said, oh, well, it's a midterm. We don't get turnout in a midterm. Well, why not? Why didn't they ever think about the fact that their voters could have voted and chose not to?
BALLIn fact, you look back on the past six years, the only time the so-called Obama coalition ever showed up to vote was when Barack Obama was on the ballot. And in retrospect, Democrats did not read enough into that fact. They didn't read enough into the fact that these, this was a set of voters that was not enthused by the Democratic Party. It was not engaged by the Democratic Party. They were engaged by a single candidate, Barack Obama.
PAGEAnd now we have this really extraordinary situation where the president, the incumbent president Barack Obama has a really healthy approval rating, 58% I saw at the end of last week in the Gallup Poll. And yet his successor is someone who rose to political prominence by questioning his legitimacy to be president. How does that happen, Thomas?
FRANKWell, I mean there's -- we are so awash in paradox here, you know, and irony and that sort of thing. But Barack Obama is still personally very popular. But I want to go back to what Molly was saying just a second ago. I think the DNC, I mean, it's the DNC scandal is so long ago that I was having trouble remembering. It's been, you know, supplanted by different scandals, so many of them. But they did put their finger on the scale on behalf of Hillary. But Hillary had sorts of other support as well.
FRANKShe had the support of nearly every Democratic-elected official in the country. President, as we know from Politico, President Obama did everything in his power to ensure that she was the candidate, to dissuade, for example, Joe Biden from running. It was like a dynastic succession, is what was going on here. And what's crazy about it is that I think, well, I mean, we're going back to one of the questions that we started with. Would another candidate have done better than Hillary?
FRANKAnd I think absolutely. Absolutely and for sure. You look at a guy like Bernie Sanders, he does speak to those disaffected working class voters. I think Joe Biden speaks to those disaffected working class voters. And so you're left with this, like, highly ironic scenario in which the party appears to have cheated in order to lose.
PAGEAnd we also have this president who's been so historic, starting with his election in 2008. And popular now, but has presided over the gutting of Democratic office holders below him, in the House, in the Senate, in the governorships, and in state legislatures.
ROSENIt is a terrible legacy. And one that has frustrated the president greatly. But, you know, I'll just say I don't -- look all politicians are flawed fundamentally. Right? If -- frankly, if they weren't fundamentally…
PAGEAll humans are flawed fundamentally.
ROSENAnd if politicians weren't fundamentally flawed, they wouldn't run for office. Right? They -- so, you know, this notion that somebody else would have won and that their negatives wouldn't have them become, you know, significant problems in the campaign I think is just, you know fantasy. But I do think that the Obama campaign changed politics in a way that has -- will matter for a long time.
ROSENAnd the Clinton campaign learned that lesson, potentially, the worst part of that lesson, which is that you can create a technology that gets you to a result, that you, you know, that elections are about data analytics, that they're about identifying your voter and targeting them for turnout. That they're about, essentially, building a machine. That's what the vaunted Obama election was about, was building a machine, but what people forget was that that original election was also a changed election. And so what you have is, you know, this wave that happened yet again. And, you know, the best data analytics was not going to be able to suppress the wave.
PAGEDavid, you used an interesting word early in this show. You said that Sanders' supporters felt shunned by the Clinton campaign during this election. And I wonder, this -- the Sanders' supporters, which included a lot of young people, do they feel like the Democratic Party is their party and they want to change it or are they not affiliated particularly to the Democratic Party?
BOWENAnd thank you. I want to be clear, like, that I'm hard on the Democratic Party because I love the Democratic Party. Right? And I see the potential that we have. But we can't continue to have an attitude where when new people want to get engaged in the party, if they haven't been around and engaged for years and decades, they're told that they can't, you know, take leadership positions or they can't do certain things.
BOWENAnd they're treated in a way that they have to stay in a corner until it's their time to be engaged, in a sense, or be connected with a connected inner-circle of the party. And what we really have to do is knock those walls down. If we truly want to be a big-tent party, we have to show that people and their issues have a place in our party. And I think, frankly, we have to get more grassroots-organized connected.
BOWENAnd I think that's how Barack was able to win in 2008. Because he also had a mechanism of organizing on the ground and connecting with communities and not just expecting people to support you because you are a part of a party, but because you are actually highlighting the things that really matter to those folks.
ROSENYou know, I just have to jump in here. I am sorry. Hillary Clinton has spent a lifetime of public service helping women and children and families and delivering results for real people. This idea that somehow she was simply anointed by party elders, you know, against the will of the people is just completely offensive. She was actually elected by Democrats, after having gone through a significant election before, and chosen by Barack Obama to lead this country at the State Department.
ROSENAnd so the idea that somehow everything she brought to the table and her supporters brought to the table is a wholesale rejection of real values is just completely wrong.
PAGEYou know, I don't -- we don't mean to, I think, criticize Hillary Clinton's long service. But it is true that she was the heir to the most powerful Democratic machine of the past couple decades and that there was not the kind of -- when you looked at the Democratic Parties -- Party's primaries, it wasn't the kind of open contest where we saw all the bright new lights of the Democratic Party choosing to compete. In fact, we saw most of them backing off except for Martin O'Malley, who didn't do so well.
FRANKHe didn't get the memo.
PAGEAnd Bernie Sanders who wasn't taken very seriously by many of us and ended up doing very well.
ROSENRight. Fair enough. But that's not, you know, her fault, if she had that kind of support, that people thought we were, you know, ready for her and ready for a woman and she was the best candidate to do that. So I think that that's just something that people have to remember, this sort of revisionist…
PAGEYou think she's getting criticism she doesn't deserve?
ROSENWell, yes. I -- this notion that somehow she was anointed, as opposed to having paid her dues and anointed by actual voters is not true, is, you know, is really the point.
BALLNo. I think that's a good and a fair point. Hillary Clinton won the Democratic Primary fair and square. There was some hijinks behind the scenes, as we learned from the stolen emails, but she won the primary and she won it with Democratic votes. It was Bernie Sanders who was winning mostly the primaries in which Independents could vote. The rank and file of the Democratic Party supported Hillary Clinton, wanted her to be the candidate.
BALLBut, you know, I -- what I -- in terms of her career of public service, what I heard from a lot of voters, including some who attended Donald Trump rallies, was there was a feeling that Hillary Clinton had changed in the last eight years. That the Hillary Clinton who ran against Barack Obama, was still someone who was associated with Bill Clinton's administration and the things that it did for jobs and for working people. And with her term as a senator of New York, where she was in touch with her constituency.
BALLSince then, she became this sort of jetsetter, this globalist, as the Trump people would put it. She was racking up all these airline miles, traveling around as secretary of state and then after that, giving these expensive speeches and running a foundation, which, while certainly the Clintons argue did a lot of good, was not something that was seen as in touch with regular people's concerns. So I actually met a lot of people at Donald Trump rallies who said they supported Hillary in 2008, and now they were supporting Trump.
PAGEI'm Susan Page and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go back to the phones. Matthew's been very patient. Matthew is calling us from Louisville, Ky. Thanks for holding on.
MATTHEWHi. Thanks for taking my call. I just had two quick points to make. The first is in reference to Bernie Sanders. One of your panelists made a comment earlier that he didn't really get minorities to identify with him. Well, I'm glad to say that I really disagree with that. I know quite a few people who definitely wanted him to win the primary over Hillary Clinton. I think there's just one big problem, and that's the fact that people do not vote in the primaries. And if people in general don't vote in the primaries, minorities especially tend not to vote in the primaries, which is like a real problem that needs to get fixed.
MATTHEWBut my second comment was that I just wanted to comment on why I think Trump really won the election. One thing people don't think about so much is that most countries around the world are much more homogenous than we are. The United States is the definitely the melting pot of the world, but even when you look at most of the red states in the middle of the country, that really isn't the case so much. And that's where he got a lot of his support.
MATTHEWI truly believe that -- I don't -- definitely don't want to call it white lash and I definitely don't want to say it has to do with racism per se, but a real view that white people feel that the country is legitimately being taken away from them, especially when you combine the fact that manufacturing jobs are gone, the recovery didn't do so well and all the constant media showing what are ultimately minorities to white people doing so many negative things throughout the world and in our country, that many white people around the country truly just felt like the country is, in a sense, being taken from them. And Trump was definitely rallying with that in mind.
PAGEMatthew, thanks so much for your thoughtful call. One of the interesting analyses I saw in The Wall Street Journal, looked at counties. It said one of the places where Trump did the best, got -- earned the most votes that we didn't think he was gonna get, were in counties that were in economic decline with manufacturing problems and that had an influx of immigrants. So there had been increasing diversity in these counties. Is that -- that's something along the lines of what Matthew was saying, that there were some of these voters who just felt like the country was changing too fast and not in their direction. What do you think, Thomas?
FRANKWell, I think that's -- of course, that's correct. But there -- I think, you know, so much of this, you know, people can stand things like this if there is some compensation made for them. But you think about the, you know, the deindustrialization, the trade deals, all the stuff that we've been doing in this country for the last 20 or 30 years, even, you know, economists who are very pro free trade will tell you that when you do a trade deal, like something like NAFTA or PNTR China, when you do something like that you're gonna have winners and losers.
FRANKIn any kind of trade deal you have to compensate the losers. What do we do in this country? Think about it. We scold the losers. We tell them it's their own fault 'cause they didn't go to college. Or maybe they did go to college, but they didn't study the right thing. They didn't study a STEM subject or something like that. And this is how we -- and the Democrats as well. The Democrats are constantly talking about stuff like this, you know. This is who they are.
ROSENWell, that's not actually true. I mean, we've had -- we have something called trade adjustment assistance, which has been (unintelligible)…
FRANKOh, come on, this is (unintelligible) I know, but it's so minor, it's so tiny.
ROSENLet me finish, that the Republicans actually gutted.
ROSENAnd so, you know, it took away the substantial benefits. But I do think that the point about trade is an interesting one because it's a question of do we have an honest conversation with Americans around trade. Because technology is on a forward march. It is not going to stop. The idea that Donald Trump can bring back all of these jobs is a simple fallacy. And so the idea that -- I think that's probably one of Hillary's larger mistakes, that they focused on the social aspects and not really on his lack of empathy and history, in terms of dealing with workers.
PAGEI want to thank our pane for being with us today, Molly Ball, Thomas Frank, Hilary Rosen, David Bowen, thank you so much for being with us on "The Diane Rehm Show." We talked today about the future of the Democratic Party. We noted there were some divisions in the Republican Party, as well. On tomorrow's show at 11:00 o'clock, we're gonna talk about the future of the Republican Party. We hope you'll stay and join us then. I'm Susan Page of USA Today, sitting in for Diane Rehm. Thanks for listening.
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