Foreign Policy and the 2018 Midterm Elections
As the U.S. 2018 midterm elections quickly approach, James Carville, Mary Matalin, and Amy Walter discuss the role that foreign policy will play in the Democratic and Republican congressional contests.
HINMAN: All right. Well, hello, and welcome to today’s session. Such a great turnout, I think, on the eve of such an exciting election. So I am Katie Hinman. I’m an executive producer at CNN. And I will be presiding with this very distinguished group. I think they probably need no introduction, but I will do so anyway. James Carville, political strategist and author of We’re Still Right, They’re Still Wrong: The Democrats’ Cast for 2016. (Laughter.) Mary Matalin, distinguished professor at Ogden Honors College at Louisiana State and Republican strategist. And Amy Walter, who’s the national editor of the Cook Political Report and host of The Takeaway on WNYC, and a political contributor at PBS NewsHour.
So, listen, it’s been a—it’s a been a week. (Laughs.) And I think—can’t think of two people who could understand more how to disagree and live civilly together. (Laughter.) So I guess I’m just wondering—
MATALIN: Well, you haven’t been to our house. (Laughter.)
HINMAN: Do you two have any thoughts just about kind of the state of our political discourse, and whether it’ll have any affection on next week’s elections?
CARVILLE: OK, how about I think what happened is—the story that’s come back as we look at this era, it’ll find out in November, early December of 2000, a Bush guy by the name of Matthew Dowd wrote a memo. And in the memo, Matthew said: Elections are no longer won between voters in the middle. They’re won by turning out your own voters. And he’s a good guy. And he was the weatherman, he was just telling you what the weather was outside. And that became—and after the 2000 election, prior to that, strategic doctrine in the—in United States politics was is that you went as far to the left and the right as you had to go to get your nomination, then you would sort of inch back toward the center—a kind of gentler—you know, a third way. A different kind of Democrat. And you would always be hearing that kind of a—that kind of a thing.
But then everybody decided that there was no value in the center. So they abandoned the center. It’s what you did. And so races are now won—if you look at our race in ’92, what was in my mind all the time was somebody in Ohio, or Florida, or New Mexico, who might have voted for Reagan, but voted for John Kennedy, and my—you know, voted for different things. Those were the prized possession. Now it’s a sort of most prize possession for either party is a low propensity to vote, but a high propensity to vote for you. And so you’re trying to dig—to reach that person way more than the person in the center. So that’s, to a large extent, politically, this is just a manifestation of an 18-year strategy.
And so you’re trying—and you hear now—it’s never about—it’s all about turnout. Can they get their people to do it? We’ll engage in enthusiasm. We’ll engage all of this. It’s very seldom do we engage the center because, frankly, there’s not much of that left in American politics. And parties have decided that it’s just not worth going after. So what you’re seeing is a logical, I think, extension of eighteen years of political campaigns.
MATALIN: Thank you for having us. My friend Janet Mullins is here, if you really want to know anything. Where is she? So that—the original invitation said just talk about the midterms. And then what you guys got was foreign policy, how it affects the midterms. If you want to know that, ask Janet Mullin, because she’s as brilliant on foreign policy, as is her grandson. So we’re kind of Admiral Stockdale of this.
I don’t—I didn’t know you were going to say that. I never know what he’s going to say, because I usually don’t—(laughter)—
CARVILLE: So now you know it’s not rigged. (Laughter.)
MATALIN: But it’s interesting that you did say it like that, because just by way of orientation, we still have a place here. But this is our 10th year in New Orleans after Katrina. It was my sixty-fifth birthday, the city’s three hundredth birthday, our twenty-fifth anniversary, our baby girl is debuting in December and our big girl got engaged at thirty-nine. So we have a whole—
HINMAN: Lots to celebrate.
MATALIN: No, it’s not that—I’m just saying this by all way of saying, I feel the most like a normal voter I’ve ever been, because I’m not here—although I have one foot in the camp. But Janet—we have, with Margaret Tutwiler running email thing. Like, we follow the politics. But most people outside of here, including crucial issues—foreign policy—they’re not junkies like us. So this behavior—this electorate behavior—you said eighteen years. I was thinking this started around—since not—everybody’s blaming Trump or whatever. This is two decades, almost, in the making.
We rightly lost the House in 2006. Frustrated Republicans who were not even upset about that. We picked up sixty-three seats in the next midterm. Then they won again. So it’s been this—nobody knows who they are anymore, and all these labels mean nothing. And in the middle of that, instead of debating we started calling each other names. So this is—this Trump, as I’ve often said and as you know, is a symptom. He is not the cause of any of this stuff. And I’m not saying that to defend him or to trash the system or anything like that. But there is—we are at a crossroads for lots of reasons that have happened in history before. But it feels calamitous to us because of the information age and we get so much more information faster. It doesn’t make us wiser, but we have a generational shift. There’s now more Millennials than Baby Boomers. A technological shift, an energy shift. So all this stuff is churning, churning, churning around. And the politics is—the way our system is set up is an anachronism.
And so what do you do when you’re in this chaotic kind of situation? You have to go back to first principles. So as it pertains to foreign policy, I think we’re going back to the future, which is peace through strength kind of stuff. And we just—I don’t know what this election—I do think that we’re going to pick up seats in the Senate. We disagree—I’m sure Amy agrees with James on the—I still think we’re not going to lose the House. I don’t know how you could pick up that many Senate seats and not have the zeitgeist carry, except that the House seats that are vulnerable are not where the Senate seats are.
MATALIN: So what would that mean? I turn that over to somebody who actually does it day to day, because that’s not how people out there are watching it. They are watching it for—at least, conservatives are—for Trump transcends politics more than the Republicans do. He stands up, he fights, he exposes hypocrisy, he exposes double standards. And for people out there who have been called names, who had their motives questions for several cycles now, over a decade, they’re just—there’s a visceral, emotional response to that. And that’s just—I don’t—I don’t know how to sum all that up, except to say that we’ve been through worse, I suppose, the Civil War, the Vietnam War. They’re always like wars. So this is kind of like a war.
And it has to—and something—I don’t know how you get out of this, other than the next generation gets us out of this, because people don’t live like this. We don’t live like this in New Orleans. We don’t—we’re a majority minority city. We don’t call each other names and stalk people at restaurants and whatnot. And so normal people see that in the world and, guess what? There’s more normal people in the country than there are junkies.
HINMAN: What do you think, Amy?
WALTER: That’s disappointing. That’s our entire, you know, subscriber base, you’re saying. (Laughter.) And we need more of them.
MATALIN: No, I’m not—
WALTER: No normal allowed. We cannot have normal. More normal people, that’s bad for our business model. I don’t disagree with anything that either of them said. I will say—well, were should we even start?
HINMAN: Well, I would like to get to foreign policy, but I assume that most of the people here want to know who’s going to win?
WALTER: About the elections, right.
HINMAN: (Laughs.) So, Amy, tell us, who’s going to win?
WALTER: So what we have—what I find fascinating about this election is, number one, there is very little overlap between where the Senate—most competitive Senate races are and where the most competitive House races are. So you could, just in the states of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and California, get all or most of the House seats that you need. And those are not the competitive Senate races. New Jersey’s newly competitive because of the person sitting in that seat, not because of the state. But there aren’t competitive House races in Indiana, or Missouri, North Dakota, right? The Senate runs for those.
So the Senate runs through the kinds of places where they still like Trump, and those places that he won by double digits. But the House runs through these suburban districts that don’t like Trump and are uniquely positions to go against what has been their traditional DNA, which was—right, these are affluent, suburban voters, who they voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, sort of holding their nose. But they really couldn’t stand what they saw out of the president.
They are getting the polices that they would traditionally like—lower taxes, less regulation. But they don’t like who Trump the person is. Voters in the more rural parts of the country, who—many of whom are feeling the impacts—the negative impacts on some of his policies, like tariffs, still giving him their support. And so I think what’s happened too over the course of twenty years, talking about normal people for a minute, is that we spend a whole lot of time—and we’re probably going to do this here—talking about policy, right? And voters—we have this image of voters looking at this ideological spectrum and picking their candidates based on where they fit on that ideological spectrum. And what are their positions on trade, and the economy, and the health care—no. It’s picked on personality. And Trump is the perfect personality candidate.
And this is an election—every midterm election is a referendum on the president. But it’s much more a referendum on the person who is the president than it is the president and his policies. And so what you feel about him, whether he’s standing up and finally pushing back at the liberal PC media, or whether you think he’s destroying the fabric of America with his tweets and his rhetoric, that’s what’s driving you to vote. Interestingly enough, that’s not what candidates are talking about either, right? So it’s what we talk about. We know that underneath, that’s what’s driving voters. But if—it’ll look very different.
If you just sat in front of cable news every day, you would think that the only important things going on are Russia, the caravan, Mueller, and Trump’s tweets, right? Somewhere in there. If you just watched TV ads of the candidates, it’s—for Democrats it’s all just—it’s basically sixty, seventy percent health care. It’s Washington corruption, right, special interests, giving deals—you know, using their influence to get Congressman X to do Y. On the Republican side, it’s Nancy Pelosi. And if you put Democrats in, they’re going to move our country to—it’s going to be a socialist hellscape, OK? (Laughter.) But it’s not about Russia. It’s not about Trump. Nancy Pelosi’s getting more airtime than Trump is in the ads.
MATALIN: And Maxine Waters.
WALTER: And Maxine Waters.
So, look, if I were the Republican Party—you have to make it a choice, right? You say, you might not like Trump, but this is even worse for you. What that means—as I said, so we have these two different electorates that are voting in this election. Which is why, I think, you can have a Senate that stays red or goes even a little more red—like a seat or two—and you can have a House that goes Democrat. James and I were discussing this in the—before we got on. In every midterm election that I’ve covered and that we’ve had in the Cook Political Report, we have found that races never break fifty/fifty, OK? The closest races always break disproportionately for the party that’s winning. Doesn’t mean that they’re going to win those seats by a lot of votes. It could be they win a lot of seats by fifty/forty-eight. There are some recounts, you know, that we have to wait two weeks to find out. But it’s almost sixty percent of the closest races break to the out party, the party of the moment.
And if that were to happen today, it would mean that Democrats would win about forty seats in the House. And they would lose a seat or so in the Senate. If—
HINMAN: Forty is enough to give them control in the House.
WALTER: Yes. They just need twenty-three. The only reason that I hesitate on saying this is—it’s going to work exactly out this way, is the other thing we know about midterms is traditionally what gives the winning party the advantage is that turnout is so skewed on behalf of the winning party, right? So the out party is more motivated to go and vote, right? Democrats have been motivated to vote since the day after the 2016 election. And that interest has not waned at all. But we’re seeing Republican energy at a level—I didn’t—it wasn’t there in 2006. Their interest in this election is much different than it was. Significantly higher. They feel better about the president.
2006, Mary is right, there were a whole bunch of Republicans—they were mad about the war. They were mad about Jack Abramoff Republican controlled Congress that they felt was out of control and not sticking with core Republican values. George W. Bush’s approval rating among Republicans going into that election was seventy-seven percent. This president has a ninety-one percent approval rating among Republicans. And interest in this election back in 2006—there’s a Pew study going into that election, October of 2006. Thirty-three percent of Republicans said they were more enthusiastic about this election than previous. It’s now fifty-nine percent of Republicans who say they’re more enthusiastic about this election than previous. So we have a turnout scenario that looks—that’s the one thing that is sticking in my mind, James, about why this may not exactly look like a typical midterm. But I don’t know.
CARVILLE: It’s—the first thing I know is going here is, first of all, it’s going to be a huge turnout. Unprecedented, historic, out of breath, still calculating the turnout for the night. When you have an event like that, it is going to produce a lot of surprises. I can’t tell you where they are, but some group is driving this more than someone else. On election night, if you want to get a sense of what’s going on, I would advise you to pick three races to watch—all Eastern time zone races. Maine two, this is northern Maine. I think it’s New York twenty-two, Utica, that’s Claudia Tenney. And West Virginia three.
Now, why do I say watch these three?
WALTER: Those are all Trump districts.
CARVILLE: I think there’s little doubt the Democrats are going to win those congressional seats in New Jersey, and suburban Philadelphia—
CARVILLE: Places like that. Where you have suburban voters, I’m very comfortable in saying they’re going to do well. The difference between doing well and really well is going to lie in the ability to carry these red seats.
WALTER: Yeah, these are Trump seats.
CARVILLE: That you’re going to have to go in and pick some up there. And those are the three—my friend Al wrote a column about this, and I think he—and he was right about it. Those are the three that I think you want to look at.
I have another weird theory. This is just a James Carville theory. If—in the Florida Senate, if Nelson wins by five, the Senate is in play. If he’s ahead by that much—and I know North Dakota’s different, and Nevada’s different. But elections move in tandem. They just do. And they almost—now, this might be the rare exception, because you have this high turnout, that they don’t move in tandem. But, you know, if you’re like me, you want a cheat-sheet going into election night, so you can get a sense of how we’re going to do. Those three House seats and I think the margin in the Florida Senate is going to tell us a lot. And I think—so I think it’s something very, very important to focus on.
It’s not—in addition to the high turnout, the most interesting demographic by far in this election are white people. (Laughs.) All right. I don’t know how you’ve done it, white people, but you’ve made yourself—(laughter)—a really interesting dynamic, because it’s hard to believe. But, like, in the ’80s the college/non-college vote among whites didn’t—it was 1 percent different. What you’re going to see, a realignment—and I’m talking about college white females. Oh, young—at the Democracy School we did a poll. White females—not college white females, all white females, Millennials, eighteen to thirty, I guess, is the—seventy to nineteen.
WALTER: (Laughs.) And that’s Trump disapprove.
CARVILLE: So, now who knows who’s going to vote. But you’re going to see—I feel very comfortable to say that the political divisions among whites, particularly by gender and education, are going to be as mind-boggling as the number of people that vote.
WALTER: Yes. Yes, one hundred percent.
CARVILLE: Yeah. I mean, that’s—you know, who would have thought, you know, a bunch of old white bread, mayonnaise-loving—(laughter)—people would become the most interesting demographic in United States politics. (Laughter.)
MATALIN: I would.
WALTER: Although, I am fascinated to see too—so, young voters turning out, and Latino voter turnout.
CARVILLE: We’ll see.
WALTER: And that also has an impact on—now, we’re not going to really get to see that until—unfortunately, that’s not an East Coast thing. You have to stay up much later to see Nevada and Arizona, the central valley, House districts in California a little bit, and Texas. But that is also a difference, I think, between a Democratic good night and a really good night. That’s where you’re going to get—you know, you could get four or five more House seats just out of getting a Latino vote that is higher than a traditional midterm. Because when you see drop off in midterm elections—we know fewer people vote in midterms than presidential—but it’s the most significant among younger voters and voters of color.
And you have these different dynamics going on in places like Georgia or Florida, where you have African-American candidates who are turning out young, non-white voters at unprecedented levels for a midterm. It also has residual impact in some of these suburban districts that take in enough of an African-American vote that it could flip a couple of those seats too. So it is—it actually does. It feels very different from most midterm elections where by now the cake is pretty well baked and you have a pretty good sense of, you know, here are the—here are the thirty seats that—just watch those. Now, I feel like it’s—the playing field is so much wider. And it will start to narrow down or expand once we see those early—you know, those early votes come in around 9:00-10:00.
HINMAN: Just on the policy front, you mentioned health care as one of the things that voters tell us is really driving their decision. The other one is immigration. Even in non-border states, it’s often listed as the number one or number two issue for voters. And President Trump’s made it very clear that he wants this to be a driving issue for voters. He said he wants the election to be about Kavanaugh and the caravan. Mary, do you think that he’s right that that will get out the Republican vote or the independent vote?
MATALIN: It transcends parties, right? So immigration—again, we tend to think in snapshots, maybe because we’re so trained to look at polls. But when Fred Thompson ran in 2008, then Kellyanne Fitzpatrick—what’s her real—what’s her name? She’s Conway. She was then—well, she’s married. She said, the number-one issue for your kind of voters, which is sort of conservative libertarians, is immigration. That was a long time ago. That was ten years. And it also was in ’06. So this has been—in a way, health care has been an evolving or a mercurial issue. It was access, and it was cost, and then it was assimilation. Now it’s a security issue, it’s an economic issue, it’s a social issue.
WALTER: Social issue, yeah.
MATALIN: And that’s—it does—I always thought the concept of invasion was a little hyperbolic. But that’s what it kind of looks like, because they keep saying there’s no way to stop them, we don’t know how to—so that just doesn’t jive with people. And I think what you guys do—and not you, per se, because you don’t, because he’s smart, and you don’t either. (Laughter.) But by—well, she is super-smart. But you—but identity politics requires that you think people are monolithic in their votes and their approaches. Legal immigrants, Hispanics in particular, are very—everybody’s pro-immigration, but they’re pro—I mean, anti-illegal immigration because—and same thing with people of color. Trump is really making in-roads in that. And he’s—and in the black demographic.
So there is no—if you dispense with the notion of a monolithic idea or philosophical coherence, then you can sort of wrap your brain around—like he keeps talking about women. Yes, until they get married, until they have kids, then they kind of—people’s behavior and their philosophical preferences evolve. And they—we don’t know how to account for that. I’m not going to trash the polls or trash the media or anything. But we don’t know how to account for what people aren’t telling us. And the reason they’re not telling us exactly how they think is because when they offer any kind of opinion, which is just—even if they’re just asking a question, then they’re called a racist, or a bigot, or a homophobe, or a misogynist. So people just shut up.
So I think you’re—I think you’re both wrong about the House seats. I just feel like—I just—I just—I think there’s so much going on out there that it doesn’t necessarily transcend—or, translate into what you’re saying. And a couple things are different this cycle—really different. We always thought—and you guys are still behaving like money is the message. What does Robert Francis O’Rourke have in Texas, $40 million? And I would say this—
CARVILLE: But we haven’t counted the votes yet.
MATALIN: And what—do you think that’s going to make a difference there? And I would just say—you just used Nelson as an example. Nelson is under—he’s the incumbent and he’s under fifty percent. He’s at—you’re the one—
CARVILLE: OK, look, I’m not—I’m saying if the Democrats win Florida by five or more, that portends well for other Senate seats.
MATALIN: But they’re not.
CARVILLE: I’m saying—but I don’t know. I’m not saying that he’s going to do that. I’m just saying that if the Senate is hard, that would be a sign of a big night.
MATALIN: I’m not attacking you.
CARVILLE: I know.
MATALIN: I’m asking you. (Laughter.) What if Nelson—
CARVILLE: If Nelson loses, it is a disastrous night for Democrats.
MATALIN: Thank you.
CARVILLE: It is a disastrous night.
MATALIN: Thank you.
CARVILLE: If the Democrats lose the Florida Senate, that’s going to be bad—really, really bad.
WALTER: That’s going to be—that’s going to be in before—and we’ll have Indiana in early too.
CARVILLE: I thought that was—
MATALIN: All right. Is that an East Coast one too?
WALTER: It’s early.
MATALIN: OK. Now let me ask you another James Carville-ian lesson, that you taught me that’s always been right. If an incumbent is under fifty percent, they end up with their last numbers.
CARVILLE: Well, first of all, Rick Scott is as much of an incumbent as Bill Nelson is. He’s the governor. It’s not so as—it’s not a classic—and, by the way, he’s never been over forty-seven (percent) and he’s an incumbent. But I’m not—I really don’t want—we’re going to know a week from tomorrow what happens. (Laughter.) I’m telling you, if anything—if Nelson loses Florida and you’re a Democrat, throw up and go to bed, because the night’s over. (Laughter.) So I tell my students about immigration. Instead of sending their worst, actually, they’re sending their best. If you’re a woman—you’re a thirty-year-old woman, and you walk from Guatemala to Juarez with an eight-year-old kid, you’re motivated. You’re motivated. I mean, you’re not—there’s some kind of Darwinism going on. Now, some of the people could be very bad actors. Everybody’s got to be really vetted. But the people that come here, I think, tend to be very highly motivated people that are just doing—they’re just struggling to make their lives out of what they can make them. But, I mean, there’s some kind of a sense of, you know, if you want to hire somebody to work in your hotel. And you say, what were you doing before? Said, well, I walked with my child for 800 miles to get here. I think they’re going to show up for work tomorrow. (Laughter.) You’re in pretty good shape around this.
WALTER: That’s where—yeah.
HINMAN: OK. We have about a half-hour left, so we want to open it up to questions from the audience.
MATALIN: Wait. Can I tell a story? (Laughter.) I—this used to be just in our house. You know, you can’t be with—on election night, we’re never, ever, ever today. Now, it’s like my sister hates me, my daughter hates me.
CARVILLE: I don’t hate you, honey. (Laughter.)
MATALIN: I know. I know. Well, I’m the ultimate weapon as far as you’re concerned. But this, like, election night thing, I just have to tell you how honest he really is. In 2004, we were upstairs at the White House in the residents getting ready—putting on our coats, getting ready to go down and claim victory as Bush’s reelection. And the White House operator comes—somebody comes in the middle and goes: The White House operator is looking for Mary Matalin. You know, it’s James Carville saying: Don’t go out yet. Who do we—Kerry. They’re going to—remember this?
So I had to go—they’re going to contest it. He goes, but the provisional ballots exceed what a contested Ohio would be. So I have to go back and tell Papi Bush, daddy Bush, I mean, W. and everybody to take your coats off, sit back down. So I tell Vice President Cheney. He goes, well, you tell him. I’m not telling him. (Laughter.) I tell President Bush. And he goes, where’d you get that? I said, James Carville. He goes, OK, fine. Everybody took off their votes and sat down. So you are an honest broker.
CARVILLE: I don’t do—I used to actually think that if I said on television and I said something, it would convince somebody of something. Well, that was—well, so much of that rot. (Laughter.) I mean, look, we are—one thing, it’s going to be one hell of a big story the day after the election. And turnout is going to be a hell of a big story. What happened is this is not—you know, when people say this is not normal? Oh, very observant. (Laughter.) They’re very observant. It is not. And you’re going to see it.
Now, we’re talking about foreign policy, and so I was thinking coming here—you know, it would be nice, firstly, just that you all would invite us to be here, and, you know, something I can tell my grandchildren or something. But so I can give you a nice kind of bullshit answer or I can tell you the truth. Foreign policy’s influence on this election is going to be about that much, all right? The great foreign policy question of 2014—I’m flying back from Argentina. And I said—I’m reading because, I confess, that I don’t know anything about Ebola. That was the foreign policy crisis of October 2014. And I’m reading a Business Week article. And a foremost expert on Ebola is—there’s a scientist at Tulane Medical School, a guy named Robert Garry. So I called him. And I said, Dr. Garry, it’s James Carville. I teach Tulane students. Could you come by the seminar, I do it from my house, like twenty kids. So the guy shows up.
And we’re sitting around, end of October. And he said, well, I just got back from Sierra Leone. And I said, wait a minute, you just got back? (Laughter.) I’m not sitting next to you. Jesus. It’s crazy. I’m going to get sued. And he goes, no, no, no. No, that’s not the way it works. You know, then he went through and explained the whole thing. And of course, the Ebola crisis lasted exactly until Election Day. And then the day after the election, there was no crisis anymore. Well, the caravan is the Ebola of 2018. And I bet you that the caravan is out of the news a week from tomorrow. But nobody is voting on the Western alliance. No one is voting on the Trans-Pacific trade agreement. Nobody’s voting on any of that. It’s just not a real factor in this election. I mean, it’s a shame. I mean, when I was growing up as a kid, you know, my dad was in in World War II. I was in the Marine Corps, but I lived through—(laughs)—the greatest foreign policy disaster you can imagine. But there’s not—there’s not the great debates that we had about foreign policy in this election. It’s caravan and not much else.
MATALIN: But that’s not—that’s illustrative, it’s not dispositive. Just—the caravan’s going to be out of the news, but the immigration issue is not going to go away until there’s some coherent recognizable, tangible reform. And everybody knows that. And what’s—normal people—what’s making normal people crazy is that they know that there’s an answer out there. But both sides have staked out a position that precludes their coming up with a sensible solution. But it’s not going to go away. The caravan’s just a snapshot of it.
HINMAN: OK. So questions in the audience. Right over here, sir.
Q: Thank you. David Goldwyn, Atlantic Council.
A question for Mr. Carville. Can you paint the profile of a winning Democratic presidential candidate in 2020? I’m not asking you to name names, but?
CARVILLE: OK. All right. That’s a—that’s a—the question pivots off of the conversation that Amy and I were having in the green room coming in here. And that is, the outcome of the 2018 election is going to have a big effect on the 2020 nominating process. If the Democrats don’t do well, the party will be—throw their hands up. It’ll be—you know, the Bernie people will say, look, you nominated all these mainstream candidates. Where did it get you? There’ll be a huge, huge internal debate within the Democratic Party. I think—and I also think under accounted for—if I go to a Democrat and I say: Look, I’ve got somebody that you’re going to agree with eighty-six percent of the time, but has a fifty-two percent chance to win, or I got somebody you can agree with seventy-two percent of the time but has a fifty-three percent chance to win, they’re going to say give me the guy that can win. I mean, winnability is going to matter a lot in this cycle.
It doesn’t normally, but—so I’m—if you want to get Democratic votes, then go campaign, spend twenty percent of your time campaigning with people who are not Democrats to demonstrate to other Democrats is why are we writing the white working-class people off? I’m not. I’m going out and campaigning. And maybe I won’t get fifty percent, but there’s all the difference in the world between getting big seventy/thirty (percent) and sixty/forty (percent). And you’re demonstrating to other people that, hey, I’m going to fight for ever vote in a general election. And, you know, while these other candidates spend all their time telling you how great they are, I want to go out and expand our ideas. I want to tell people about how fundamentally important Medicare and Social Security are. I want to tell people out there the unbelievable dangers we face because of climate.
I want to tell people out there how we can expand to get more health insurance to people. Whatever the Democratic ideals of the party are, you don’t have to change them but you just can’t have a conversation with each other. Other Democrats want to have a strategy that’s expansive, that they can feel good about. And so I think we’re underplaying that. We underplayed it in ’92. We’d been out of power for twelve years. Those Democrats were willing to let us do anything if they thought we could win. They just—we would hear that all the time. Whatever you do, just do it, just go goddamn win the thing. (Laughter.) I think that’s going to be a big part of the psychology of what’s going on. And if somebody is too perfect, they’re going to say: You don’t have a chance. That’s my general view.
WALTER: I would agree, and amend that a little bit, just in that—let’s say Democrats do great, OK? Let’s say it’s the James Carville five-point Senate flips, governorships everywhere, Andrew Gillum is governor Florida. Then I think you have a Democratic Party that does say, well, let a thousand flowers bloom. Look, we got Joe Donnelly, conservative Democrat, runs on the wall, he wins in Indiana. We got a progressive African-American candidate that wins in Florida. We can have—we have Ocasio-Cortez in New York, right? We got socialist Democrats. We got everybody. Let’s let them all—let’s see who is the best one, right? That’s where you can sort of have those internal debates, and the navel gazing about who we want, and what’s our party?
If it’s a bad night, then the panic meter goes up on oh my God. He’s going to be president for eight more years. We can’t—we can’t let this thousand flower bloom thing. We got to find the candidate.
Q: Right. I’m sorry, four more years.
HINMAN: They’ve been counting carefully.
WALTER: It’s all right. Sorry. Eight total years. Eight total years of all of this. (Laughter.) I—we find that person. We find them now, and we get—you know, we can’t have one of these crazy seventeen-way primaries like Republicans had, where we get on cable television and have these crazy forums. Which, by the way, I—the one thing that is going to be—many things that are unusual and unique about this next presidential election. But can you imagine what those debates are going to look like with Trump tweeting them live time? Like, underneath the chyron is going to read—we know what it’s going to look like. Democratic candidates are going to up there. The chyron running underneath will be, you know, Donald Trump: Kooky Kamal’s, you know, prescription for health care is going to bankrupt America. And that—you know, Wolf Blitzer is going to be reading the tweets live to the people up on stage.
So if you’re already panicking that you’re not going to beat Trump, do you really want a long, drawn-out process that is, right, is determined by some of the very people in the—in the primary process that you think can’t determine who’s the best person to defeat Donald Trump? So that’s going to be a much different—I think, a much different reaction. And the best-case scenario right now for Democrats, as you look at where they are going to be—where they’ll be the most successful in governorships, in Senate races, is the Midwest. Right? The battleground for 2016—Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio—all of those Senate races, which were supposed to be really competitive—Democrats hold those seats—aren’t very competitive now. Democrats likely to hold all of them. The governorships, all competitive, including Scott Walker, who could lose. Democrats could pick up Ohio, Iowa, right?
These are places that we—that looked, after the 2016 election—most are no-fly zones for Democrats. Ohio’s no Democratic state. Ohio is—I mean, a Republican state. Ohio’s a Republican state. Success there is going to also point fingers to, well, OK, who’s the Democrat that can win the Midwest? That’s great that you won Florida. It’s nice and everything, but we need somebody who can do that Pennsylvania, Rust Belt thing.
CARVILLE: Right. I just want to make one point before Mary. A lot of people are saying we need to be more aggressive. We need to be more aggressive. We need to be aggressive. All right? You know who the two Democrats who were thought to be in some trouble a year ago? Bob Casey and Sherrod Brown. They’re both going to win by double digits. And they’re both the anti-in-your-face kind of guy. Both of them—I mean, they’re good Democrats, but they’re very polite, kind of humble people, who just sort of get up and go to work, and do their job, and don’t give loud speeches.
WALTER: Well, and Tammy Baldwin same thing.
CARVILLE: And they’re not banging on podiums, they’re not calling people names. And I think there’s a lesson. There’s a real lesson here. And the false lesson for Democrats to take is, if we want to beat Trump we got to nominate somebody like Trump.
WALTER: That’s right, like Trump. No.
CARVILLE: Nah, that’s not it.
CARVILLE: That’s not the formula. And look at the people who are doing well out there. You look at all these candidates that are running—and I tell my students, one of my favorite moments in history is the Battle of Chattanooga. And over Chattanooga, there’s a thing called Missionary Ridge, which is what you would think it is. It’s a ridge that kind of overlooks the city. And the Confederate Army held Missionary Ridge. And so General Grant comes in with the Union Army. He’s got this kind of complex thing, and Sherman’s going to attack the north flank and Thomas the south flank. And it’s not going very well. And all of a sudden he looks up, and these soldiers are just going up the ridge in the middle. And he looks at his aide and he says: Who ordered those soldiers up there? He said, nobody, General, they just went.
And that’s what I’m telling these Democrats around the country. Don’t wait on orders from headquarters, from the DNC or anything. You look at all these people that are out there running, they’re just going on their own. And I mean, I think that if my hopes are fulfilled, we’re going to see a lot of women candidates, we’re going to see a lot of veterans, CIA agents. There’s going to be a whole new tenor to Washington. And these are all the people that just grabbed their rifle and went up the ridge.
WALTER: And they’re all running on: I’m a centrist, right?
WALTER: These ones who are going to win, they’re winning in these swing suburban, formerly Republican districts. They’re not running on we need to punch more people in the face. They’re running on, right, we need to solve problems, and this is the wrong way to do it and, yeah.
MATALIN: But what’s breaking through is not Casey in Ohio. It is fingernails scratching down and the riots at the Kavanaugh thing. Republicans are naturally skeptical. And that just did—you guys—everything you have done that does not represent what you’ve just described has reactivated tea party people. Let me go back to what he said before, when you look for these ideal candidates. 1992, it wasn’t just that you needed to win, or you wanted to win. Clinton—William Jefferson Clinton is an extraordinary sui generis candidate and politician. There’s just nobody else like him . And Trump sui generis. Now, you might not—obviously this is not a room—but I—in that campaign, we thought—you think Trump is vulgar? We thought talking about talking about boxers or briefs, or going on Arsenio Hall, or going on Imus, or playing the saxophone, or you in that thing with Gennifer Flowers—we thought all that was vulgar, OK?
So I think I think we’re—like, it’s a Rorschach test. So you think like you think. I think like I think. And this is how we’ve—it’s our twenty-fifth anniversary. (Laughter.) He says, I’m not going to fight with you because you think like you think. That’s your problem. No, it’s not my problem, it’s your problem. So we don’t talk about this. But do you see what I’m saying, honey?
CARVILLE: I see what you’re saying. But what I’m saying is the Democrats that are doing well are—tend to be more sedate, nicer people. Bill Nelson, who I think is going to do well, doesn’t bang the podium. And I think the country—I think we always take the wrong lesson. I think another lesson that comes through—
MATALIN: Yes. That’s right. Yeah.
CARVILLE: You know, St. Francis said go forth and teach the gospel. Speak, if necessary. (Laughter.) Speech is but one way of communicating, OK? That’s one way. You can—you can communicate by the way you act. You can communicate by facial expressions. You can communicate using hand gestures. There are a thousand ways to do that. But I think decorum or deportment or whatever word you want to use I think counts a lot for this cycle. I really do. And I—and I think it’s going to count internally in the Democratic Party as it goes to its nomination process. I do think that the stylistic backlash to what we have now is going to be pretty profound.
MATALIN: Can I add one more thing to this? Because we act like this is all new and it’s all—we’ve never been here before.
WALTER: We’ve been here.
MATALIN: So the campaigns—I think this is true of all the parties. When we were doing them, it was such a—we are passionate about it, and it was an honorable profession. It’s more of an arithmetic, algorithm kind of thing today. And the—but campaigns essentially always have been about communicating. So we’re communicating in a much more ferocious and high-velocity way. But I keep—I like history. I don’t like this work that we’re in right now. And so my favorite politicians of all times is Cicero. And James got a—somebody asked him to write, to analyze a strategic memo from Cicero’s brother, who was his campaign manager. And he didn’t want to do it, but I love Cicero, so I talked him into it. He goes, holy shit, this is—like, I could have written this memo. What was it? I mean, so it’s all—
CARVILLE: It was, like, three or four years ago Gideon Rose or something, he’s the editor, and says: Would you do this thing about a memo that Cicero’s brother wrote? And I don’t know shit. (Laughter.) You know, it’s not exactly my cup of tea. So I went to Mary and she said, I love Cicero. I just read the book. So I said, OK. So I started reading it. It was so contemporary, you wouldn’t believe it, about when to go negative. It even called on him to file fake lawsuits. (Laughter.) I mean, there’s—and I wrote in—I said, we always think that we did something different. We invented something new or we don’t know something about politics they didn’t know. We haven’t learned one thing. (Laughter.) It was the same thing in Cicero’s time as it is today. If you go back and read what he said, it was so—it sounded so contemporaneous. And that was my kind of—it was very humbling to think that they’d already thought of this two thousand years ago. I thought I was a genius. (Laughter.)
HINMAN: OK, let’s take another question here.
CARVILLE: Not so much.
Q: Beverly Lindsay, multi-campus, University of California.
For any of the panelists, the races in Georgia and Florida for the governor are within the margin of error for both candidates—Republicans and Democrats. But I also remember when Tom Bradley was well-ahead for the governorship in California and lost considerably because people stated one thing in the polls and then voted otherwise. What do you think will really happen? And particularly in Georgia, because that’s a woman candidate who haven’t done very well in statewide elections in Georgia.
CARVILLE: I think that Gillum is going to win in Florida. But I—in Georgia, everybody tells me it’s—Amy, you might have some—maybe you’ve heard something internally. But I would say Andrew is definitely a favorite in Florida right now.
WALTER: Yeah, they’re two very different states too. You know, the thing about Florida is, right, that’s a—you know, that’s a state that goes one and a half points Republican, one a half points Democrat every—right, in the different elections for president. So it’s sort of, like, right in the middle. And then wherever the national environment is, it sort of moves with that, versus Georgia, which is—it’s a red state that is getting less red, thanks in part to the college educated white voters becoming less knee-jerk Republican, lots of growth obviously in and around Atlanta, and African-American voters. But to get a Democrat to forty-eight percent I think is not—it’s not easy, but you can get a Democrat to forty-eight. Getting a Democrat to fifty is the challenging part. It’s those last two points.
And that’s where the kind of voters that live in the state matter, right? I think Southern white voters are very different from—suburban Atlanta voters are very different from suburban Philadelphia voters, even though they might both describe themselves as Republican or conservative. They look very different. So I would rather be running in a state like Florida as a Democrat. I take your point about Bradley, and African-American, and what is it like? And certainly it’s not been, shall we say, under the radar, the issues around race in the Florida governor’s race, and in the Georgia race. But you know, what’s different, it seems to me, this—in this day in age is that it’s being talked about out loud, not just by the people who are saying racist things, but the people calling out the racist things. And that’s the big change.
And that in some cases that it has an impact too on how white voters perceive the Republican, rather than how they perceive the Democrat. That’s the issue of immigration too. I think the issue of immigration now breaks down on whether you see it as a security issue or a social issue. And that is, I think, a lot about where you position yourself internally politically. Not necessarily what the issue of immigration means, right? Is it that these people are invaders? Or is it that we should see this, as James pointed out, as a more compassionate—this is about humanitarian process, not about MS-13 and ISIS. So—
MATALIN: But they used up their compassion card, OK? They just—and they used up their racist card, is what I’m saying. And I presume you’re going to disagree with me on this, but you’ve been calling people racist for so many cycles now that it just lost its—it’s lost its impact. In fact, it’s aggravated people. The kind of Democrats you guys are talking about that would be victorious are—this is how normal people think, again—results oriented. OK, you have to have something to show. Our dear friend Rahm, who is no conservative, right? But he—in Chicago, every time I turn around I say, you sound like me, balancing the budget. Like, when you’re a governor or some—closer to the state legislative things, those people have to perform. They have to—they’re held accountable. They are people—they have to show results, like we don’t have to. That’s a whole different mindset from singing the Kumbaya song that you want to hear.
And it’s—I think you’re having an internal conflict. And we’re already past this. I think you also have an—there’s no polite way to say this—a geriatric problem. Do you know, like, we don’t tweet, or Facebook, or any—we’re too old. I don’t—he’s ADHD and I don’t get it. Like, if you’re over thirty and you have a glass of wine at night you shouldn’t have a twitter account. He is always tweeting away. Like, do you think Joe Biden is Mr.—and that’s why Trump is—Trump is, like, he is speaking beyond—like, we think it’s vulgar because he’s speaking to all—he’s speaking to this information age generation that we don’t—we kind of get because we both work in colleges, but it’s a whole different kind of mindset that’s—OK, go.
CARVILLE: No, no, no.
MATALIN: You’re twitching. You’re twitching. (Laughter.) That’s why he doesn’t have a Twitter account.
CARVILLE: I just—I—just to your question, first of all, who is the only person to—ever since Eisenhower to ever win 50 percent of the popular vote twice? Obama, OK. So at least we know that over 50 percent of the people in the country.
The other thing I would point out: a very, very kind of underreported event was the African-American turnout in the Alabama special. It was not high; it was beyond historic. We were modeling optimistically a twenty-eight percent contribution. It comes in at thirty-one (percent), almost. And just remember—it’s the hardest thing in political consulting for people to remember—if something goes—if one demographic goes up two points as a contribution, then somebody—then somebody else has got to lose two points. So that’s how, one, no doubt about it, Doug Jones is the senator from Alabama because of a breathtakingly high African-American turnout.
That portends that now Stacey in Georgia, you know, in a place like that, the instinct tells you if that happened in Alabama with Doug—now, you had the glory of Roy Moore, which was a great—one of the great turnout generators that ever lived—(laughter)—but so it’s going to be interesting to see if this holds true. And it may; it may not.
Now, one other thing is what’s really weird is you’re probably going to have Republican governors in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Maryland; and you could have Democratic governors in Kansas, Oklahoma—
WALTER: South Dakota.
CARVILLE: —South Carolina or South Dakota, even. So there—so there is, if you look at what Mary was talking about on the kind of more results-oriented thing, you’re seeing some pretty different behavior in these governors races that you’re not seeing in the more nationalized races.
MATALIN: And can I go to what we all are agreeing on? We always take the wrong lessons from these outcomes.
What, really, can we learn from Florida when a critical swath of voters has been wiped out by the hurricane? So we—that’s just—that is going to have an impact in there.
Not everything is about race. Like, when Mitch Landrieu—when we moved to New Orleans after Katrina, you helped with Katrina, we—James, he was—he did not want to run, and he did, and he won with sixty-seven percent of the white vote, sixty-seven percent of the black vote, uptown, downtown, Ninth Ward. He won across. And it wasn’t—and I’m a Yankee, so I don’t get this, like, Southern thing about race. But everybody came together because we had—we didn’t—we had a—we were flat out—like, we had to start over with everything, schools and—it was just like ground zero. So that—not all of these things are about race.
And I think to the extent that we keep pitting races against each other, that that’s—that does not comport with outcome-based results. It just—it’s just a zero-sum game.
HINMAN: OK. Let’s take one more question. Up here.
Q: Thank you. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned at all is the recent spate of domestic violence. Do you think that’s going to have any impact on voters? Is it the October surprise? I mean, it’s certainly occupying the news.
WALTER: I mean, if I were—there is no such thing as an October surprise anymore because every day is a surprise, right? (Laughter.) I mean, I didn’t think we would be talking about ninety-nine percent of what we talk about on a daily basis.
But, you know, I think that where the news is focused is either helpful or unhelpful for the—for the president or for Democrats. I think when the focus was on Kavanaugh and the focus is on, in some of these states, immigration—but I do think it plays differently in different places, honestly—that’s probably better for the president. And if you noticed, his approval rating actually for the last two to three weeks has been really good, all right? That last poll that came out from—it’s not just the NBC/Wall Street Journal poll had him at forty-seven percent, forty-five (percent) if you have likely voters, but that’s his high-water mark. Gallup has been showing him go up.
Like, if this election were taking place last year, at this point in 2017, it would be a wipeout, devastating wipeout. The president’s at thirty-eight percent. He’s at eighty-two percent or something with Republicans, right? So it’s a divided sort of depressed Republican Party. Democrats are engaged and energized, and they’re turning out. And what’s when you get forty-five seats in the House, and that’s when the Senate flips, and—all right?
Now he’s at forty-five percent. The enthusiasm, as I said, is very different than it was in 2006, certainly different than it was in 2017. But now the focus is on, what, the uncertainty and the—it’s about lack of civility; it’s about, you know, crazy people with guns; it’s about rhetoric and language and targeting of vulnerable groups of people. If you are running in a suburban district as a Republican, I don’t think that’s what you want the conversation to be about, right, because it reminds people, like, oh, right, whether you believe that it’s Trump’s fault or not Trump’s fault, it’s still like, oh, like, life with Trump is always like this, right?
It’s like what I remember when—you know, when the Access Hollywood tape came out and then also with the WikiLeaks that next day. But to me, the thing about what I remember most about the final ten days of the 2016 election was the James Comey letter, not just because it was, oh no, maybe there is more to this, maybe this is a big coverup, but more of like I remember thinking, oh God, this is the next four years. Like, every day it’s going to be another Clinton scandal, right, that we’re going to have to—you know, it’s going to be Bill Clinton, and then it’s going to be the Clinton Foundation, and then they’re going to find more emails, and then we have to talk about Anthony Weiner again, and ugh, right? (Laughter.) Like, oh my God, four more years of that!
MATALIN: Yet another reason not to tweet.
WALTER: Yeah, another. (Laughter.) God. Ugh.
But if that’s the conversation, you know, again, what is it—what is right in front of you? The reminder of, like, oh, right, this is what our—this is what life looks like, versus if it were the last ten days we’re talking about how great the economy is and the stock market’s up and Kavanaugh and these crazy liberal Democrats who want to do all this crazy liberal stuff. So that’s where I think that matters.
MATALIN: Can I quote—Amy was on the other night, and James will attest to this. If you’ve done politics in the years before us—Amy said the other night—and it just broke my heart, which is already sort of crushed—I’m so sad because I’m not surprised at the—I don’t know, it wasn’t incivility, but it was just this ugliness. And during the Kavanaugh thing, I’m pretty tough, he’s very tough; he comes home during the Kavanaugh hearings. It’s five o’clock in the afternoon. I’m in my robe and haven’t brushed my teeth. I’m sitting in his easy chair watching TV in his room. We have separate rooms. I have Fox on, which is a no-no in his room. (Laughter.) And I’m furiously needlepointing. And he hasn’t been home for like a week, and he walks in and I stand up and I huff—throw my robe on and I huff out of the room. Like, he didn’t even know what was going on. (Laughter.) Like, people are—it’s just so—we’re just so worn out by it.
WALTER: Yeah. Yeah.
MATALIN: So what do you do when you’re worn out by stuff like this? You just go back to first principles. And I don’t know that we know how to measure that. Do you? Do you feel like—I mean, like, the polls will get better later, depending on the waiting and all that jazz. But we don’t know how to measure this, not brushing your teeth all day and staying in your robe and needlepointing in your husband’s La-Z-Boy. (Laughter.)
CARVILLE: I’ll tell you—I got one small story.
WALTER: That’s a—it’s a key crosstab, by the way—(laughter)—women in their robes needlepointing. I’ll have to look at that group.
CARVILLE: This was about 2010. And so they were contacting me about a race in Afghanistan. This guy, Ashraf Ghani, is running for president. And so I called—and I didn’t know, so I called Holbrooke and said, is this guy, like, cool with the—(inaudible). And he said, Ashraf Ghani, James, is one of the finest people that I have ever known. And I said, well, Richard, I mean, that’s good, but I don’t think they can pay me; and furthermore, I don’t think he can pay my expenses. And he said, James, you must go. You are a member of the Kennedy generation. (Laughter.) He put John F. Kennedy on the—(laughter). So, to make a long story short, I went over there, and I helped him, and he got twenty-two percent of the vote, and I got my expenses paid, and they gave me a rug. So I still have the rug from Afghanistan. (Laughter.) The next time he ran he didn’t—he didn’t have me, and he won. So maybe there was some sort of connection with it. (Laughter.) But I said, look, I don’t mind. You know, I didn’t think he’d pay. He said, you got to go, so I went and—(laughs)—went to Afghanistan. It was a pretty interesting place.
MATALIN: You ought to know how, like, when he goes to Afghanistan, he comes home with rugs. When I went, I came back with these swords, you know—(laughter)—these like—and a burqa. (Laughter.) And I would take them to our kids’ classes, and the boys—the girls wanted nothing to do with the burqa, but the boys all wanted to put it on.
WALTER: Wanted the sword—oh, they wanted to put the burqa on?
MATALIN: Yeah, because they just didn’t get the concept. And the girls all wanted to play with these giant—
WALTER: Like Samurai kind of swords?
Thanks for the rug, by the way.
HINMAN: Well, listen, I could listen to you three all day, but I’m going to try and play by the CFR rules and wrap this up. Hopefully you all are not too worn out to go vote on Election Day. And thank you all for being here. (Applause.)