Kellyanne Conway, Chief Executive Officer and President of the polling company WomanTrend; Scott Miller, President of Core Strategy Group; and Douglas E. Schoen, Founder and Principal of Douglas E. Schoen, LLC join Elliot Stein, Managing Director of Commonwealth Capital Partners to offer insight into the public’s general attitude towards the ongoing presidential campaign and highlight revealing trends that polling data has presented so far. In light of increased partisanship in Washington, distrust of Wall Street, and polarization on the campaign trail, the panel addresses the driving forces that make the 2016 cycle unique. With the general election looming, the speakers reveal what they expect to remain the same and what they expect to change as the national conventions approach and the primary season comes to an end.
STEIN: Good morning. The subject of the morning session is “Public Opinion and the 2016 Election.” The Council has held similar meetings in prior election seasons, but I think in a minute or two you’ll see why this session might be a little bit different.
Our three panelists are Scott Miller, in the middle, who has been doing political communications and strategy for more than 40 years. His clients—
MILLER: Way more. (Laughs.)
STEIN: —during that period have been—included Senator Gary Hart, Michael Dukakis, the Bush-Cheney campaign, Ross Perot, as well as Vice President Mondale and candidates around the world.
To my immediate left is Kellyanne Conway, who has worked for the Republican Party and Republican candidates over the years, including President Reagan, Speaker Gingrich, Vice President Quayle, and Jack Kemp.
And to the far left is Doug Schoen of Douglas Schoen LLC, who is most well-known for his work for President Clinton and for Mayor Bloomberg.
They are among the most experienced polling and political consulting figures in the U.S.
What’s different this—for this session, I think, is this: Kellyanne is—currently the she’s the chair of a super PAC which supports Senator Cruz, but she’s working in a party whose infighting, at least to me, makes me think more of the Democrats than the traditional Republicans. (Laughter.)
CONWAY: “Feel the Bern.” (Laughter.)
STEIN: Right. (Chuckles.)
Doug, in this season, has polled for a mayor who finally decided not to run. And Scott has polled and done communications strategy for a candidate who literally does not exist as a human being.
So I’d like to focus our discussion on public opinion and attitudes, and in our discussion part not so much on rules, conventions, and the like, and we can come to that with the member questions.
But let me begin with this. Scott, would you open by telling us about the “We are Smith” candidacy, how it came to be and what you found and what your research has shown?
MILLER: Yeah. Three of us—Pat Caddell, who some of you may know, the old Jimmy Carter wonderguy—actually, the George McGovern wunderkind and still a wunderkind as an aging wunderkind—Pat and Bob Perkins, who’s a longtime Republican warhorse, and me, who’s a recovering Democrat, got together. We were funded by Lee Hanley and Bob Mercer, and have been doing research for about four or five years—unbiased research not focused on any particular candidate, but really sort of plumbing the depths and the breadth of this alienation, frustration, and anger that’s out there in the public. And we wanted—in trying to understand it, one of the things we did to see if we could channel it was to create a hypothetical candidate. That’s candidate Smith. We said candidate Smith was—we never described as man or woman, Democrat, Republican, independent. But Smith was someone who would come from outside Washington—not a lawyer—(laughs)—not a typical establishment Washingtonian, and bring reform.
But I—you know, and many people jokingly, in the beginning, said, well, that’s Trump or that’s Bernie Sanders. We specifically asked that question in our last poll, and 81 percent of the people say no. Smith is unique.
But I want to—let me address just some of the numbers about this level of anger and alienation. People talk about angry white men. There are a lot of angry black women. There are a lot of angry Hispanic young people. Eighty-four percent of all voters of all demographics in the United States believe that there’s an elite group of incumbent politicians in both parties, lobbyists, big banks, big business, big unions, big special interests, big media in Washington that rig the system for their own power and prestige. How did they find out? Eighty-four percent. That’s an incredible level. I mean, it’s at a revolutionary level. Seventy-eight percent of the people believe that both parties are too beholden to special interests to be able to do anything for the country. And, of course, as you all know, I mean, about two-thirds of the people believe that our country’s in decline. About two-thirds believe that our country is not going to give a better nation to our kids than we’ve had for ourselves. So it’s the abrogation of the American Dream.
The anger is real. It’s going to go way beyond this election. And we found that Smith, a reformer coming to Washington and standing for sort of a common-sense, boilerplate reform platform, could beat every single candidate in the race, and still can, by 2-to-1—Clinton, Trump, Cruz, Sanders, and on and on.
STEIN: So, Doug, is this consistent with what you found in the Bloomberg polling?
SCHOEN: Well, I was going to say, fortunately or unfortunately, his name is Bloomberg, not Smith. (Laughter.) So he didn’t garner the level of support for his own putative candidacy that Smith did in the work that Scott and Bob and Pat did. But there is obviously—and your question points it out, Skip—a commonality across it, because when you do broad levels of attitudinal polling you find the level of anger that Scott speaks of actually, in a certain sense, underestimates what’s going on. And there are really three discrete kinds of anger, all of which I daresay—probably not a great word, but—metastasize into a(n) effective rejection of our politics and our system.
So there’s anger on the right, which is: Donald Trump, to hell with them, send a message, build the wall, let them know about corruption, we want somebody independent, no ties. So there’s that kind. Then there’s the kind of Ted Cruz, cultural, political, anti-systemic, anti-Washington conservatism that Kellyanne can speak about much better than I can.
What Scott was speaking of, and what Mayor Bloomberg was seeking to assess in the work we did, was the anger in the center—those who don’t vote in primaries who, nonetheless, are looking for perhaps the opposite of what those on the right and the left are looking at, which is nonpartisan conciliation, results-oriented decision-making, a sort of a sense just enough of this crap, can we get down to the issues and problems that we are facing.
And, you know, one of the things I said this week—which is not, Skip, a specific comment about the election, but is representative of what I think the problems we’re facing are—I did an interview, and somebody was asking me about Trump versus protesters versus Lewandowski. And I said, look, we had a terror attack last week in Brussels. More people than were killed in Brussels were killed in Lahore, Pakistan because they were Christians celebrating Easter. Now, if we’re talking about domestic political violence in terms of fistfights and who’s grabbing whose arm, what does that say about the campaign vis-à-vis the problems we’re facing?
For those on the left—and I should speak briefly about it, because the Democratic race, while I still believe it’s Secretary Clinton’s to win, it has become much more competitive with Bernie Sanders’ five straight victories—there’s the same level of anger, but it manifests itself in a very different way. It’s we need to redistribute wealth, we need to break up the big banks, raise taxes on the rich, the game is rigged—directed at young people, because there are no guaranteed jobs, you have this crushing student debt, and so the American Dream isn’t real for you. That message is an authentic, clear, unambiguous one that has, as you’ve seen particularly to younger people and those on the left, had broad resonance.
But what is common across the board is everyone is deeply, deeply enraged with a system that is failing to address real problems and is failing to produce any sort of a mechanism to mediate or deal with those problems in a way that gives any confidence.
STEIN: So, Kellyanne, then, do you see the theme of this election being establishment—overarching theme—establishment versus anti-establishment, and that being a more dominant concern than any particular issues, that this is more of an attitudinal and perspective situation?
CONWAY: Establishment versus non-establishment is both a cause and a symptom in this election, in my view.
And let me back up a moment just on this entire narrative of anger and rage. I think that puts too much of the burden on the voter, and it relieves the burden on those who have created this great deal of frustration and betrayal. “Betrayal” is a very important word in this election cycle, because if pollsters would supplant anger for the word “betrayal” or “frustration,” you find many voters left, right, and center gravitating toward that description of their own feeling toward the political class, toward the establishment—again, right, left, and center—than anger.
And anger—Jeffrey Pollack is in the audience. We both worked for Frank Luntz in 1994, when the Republican revolution happened. Anger was very, very pregnant in 1994. I think now people are struggling in a different type of way. And their frustration at the system is that they feel they don’t have a voice, and they feel nobody truly works for them, and that it’s a rigged game they cannot win.
And, by the way, they have a point. What we discovered about 14 months ago or so in qualitative and quantitative research I think has come true through this election cycle, which is this: for all the anger and ire directed at corporate America—the cronyism, the corruption, the backroom dealing, the lack of transparency, the haves versus the have-nots—many voters now have transferred that anger over to Washington and the political class. Doesn’t mean that they’ve taken it away from corporate America, but they’re sharing the burden now. And it’s a very fascinating dynamic for folks to actually think: precisely what I thought about corporate America, I now think about political America. And we see that.
On the Republican side, it’s been establishment versus non-establishment as a pitched battle almost from day one. And, yes, that is occupied predominantly by Donald Trump, but don’t forget it was Donald Trump and Ben Carson who were the front-runners for most of last summer. And then you throw in there Ted Cruz, the original outsider—gratefully, with insider’s experience and seasoning, actually knows ways—knows his way around Washington, doesn’t have to navigate and think too hard about policy issues because he’s already thought about them—but we no longer on the Republican side have the debate between establishment versus non-establishment. The establishment in the Republican Party is flat on its back. All of its candidates are no longer in the race, with the exception of John Kasich, who’s here in New York finding votes and not in Wisconsin, where the battle is Tuesday.
So the argument now on the Republican side is no longer establishment versus non-establishment. It’s now Trump versus non-Trump—not anti-Trump, non-Trump. And the big debate now is, how much of the vote share and the growth opportunity within those two vote shares exists?
So Trump has anywhere from 35 to 42 percent of the vote share in most states right now nationwide. The non-Trump vote share is the remainder. And that’s where the growth opportunity is, because he usually does not get late-breaking voters.
On the Democratic side, it’s very important to the Republican Party to watch the Democratic side also have its establishment versus non-establishment battle, where you have a former first lady, former United States senator, and, indeed, former secretary of state getting 18 percent of the vote in Alaska this week. That is not the “vast right-wing conspiracy” at work. That a Democratic primary and caucus situation where the vast, vast majority of her own voters are saying, hold on, we refuse to accede to the establishment and be told—as Republican voters have been told for years—who can win, who can’t win, who’s electable, who’s non-electable.
This is the year, ladies and gentlemen, when Democratic and Republican voters rose up and said: I will not be told how to think, who to vote for, who can win, who can’t win, who’s electable, who’s not electable, who to coalesce around 18 months before the general election. And you see that in these pitched battles that still exist.
MILLER: I think that’s such a great point. And the point about the voters, too. I mean, the one thing I would hate to give up on because of Trump is Trump’s voters, because they are not Trump.
But one of the really interesting repudiations of the establishment this year—you know, Jack Leslie and Harris Diamond are here. We were all working together in a political company many, many years ago, and we in many ways set some of the established ways of developing a campaign. There’s probably been $300 million spent on traditional negative advertising that has always been just the bread and butter of campaigns. Now they start with it. And it’s the foreboding, dark voice; the ominous tones; the black and white, unattractive photo of the candidate, you know; the white type comes across with accusations, and then some snappy line; and, you know, People for America’s Rutabagas or whatever PAC—(laughter)—is sponsoring it. Three hundred million dollars has not moved the needle at all.
SCHOEN: Talk to Jeb Bush.
MILLER: Yeah, $150 million that didn’t do anything—didn’t gain—well, four delegates.
CONWAY: Well, his consultants are building new beach houses.
SCHOEN: Yeah, exactly.
CONWAY: So there’s that.
SCHOEN: And, you know, one of the things Kellyanne mentioned when we were talking the other day was how they were—how you’re actually deploying resources in your super PAC is totally different.
STEIN: Yeah, talk about that for a minute.
CONWAY: My pleasure. So I run THE super PAC for Ted Cruz, and we’ve been at this from the very beginning. That means that I cannot talk to candidate Cruz or anybody, including volunteers to the Cruz campaign, which means a number of elected officials now we cannot speak with. And so the traditional model of the super PAC—“traditional” being the last six years, since the Citizens United decision came down—has really been to collect check after check after check, and run ad after ad after ad. And we tried to do things a little bit differently this time, under some criticism at the very beginning because people like to see ads. They like to just sit there, point and click, and see who you’re zinging today, and how you’re spending gobs and gobs of donors’ money. And I told our primary donor from the very beginning last spring, a year ago, thank you for investing your resources; I am going to subscribe to the old saw that a fastest way to make a small fortune is to have a very large one and waste most of it; and I will be, you know, very deliberative about husbanding these resources over time.
So, what did we do? We said, who is our candidate? Our candidate is Ted Cruz. Who is he? He’s the original bottom-up grassroots guy. He shows up at rallies. He shows up at these center-right confabs where there are seven or 10 other speakers, and nobody was getting the kind of reception Ted Cruz was getting. The grassroots literally are on their feet. They love him. They’re hooting and hollering. He serves up the red meat. He’s very policy-centric, issue-centric. And he also is somebody who did not hold elective office until he was in his 40s.
So there’s so much about Ted Cruz that most voters don’t know. And there is so much that he was not willing to fill in the blanks. He is who he is. He’s not going to talk about some of the raw personal human connections that he has endured in his life the way all of us have. He’s not going to talk about his opponents right way because he’s actually not that kind of candidate.
So we developed a ground game, data analytics. We invested in talk radio. Our first buy was not TV ads, it was a million dollars in talk radio—state-based talk radio and national talk radio shows, which are much less expensive and much more impactful if your candidate is a guy who most Republican primary and caucus voters got to know through his leadership on Obamacare. So you have 54 Republican senators in Washington, all of whom got there or stayed there in part on their pledge to, quote, “repeal and replace” Obamacare. But only one of them stood on his feet for 21 hours in the well of the U.S. Senate trying to keep Obamacare from its final funding. And so investing in that ground game, the data analytics, and the really what we call touch the voter at every level.
And we’ve run plenty of TV and cable ads, but look at the super PACs that did almost only that, and with 15, 20 percent commissions to their consultants. I call it staph infection in the Republican Party. And I have a very happy, blessed life. I’ve made a fortune as a Republican consultant. And we’re—and my guy’s still standing, so none of this is sour grapes. Make very, very clear that in 2012, the—President Obama’s consultants, particularly the pollsters, they were willing to give up part of their budget—there’s still plenty to go around, folks—but to give it up to invest in a volunteer program, a get-out-the-vote program, a voter-registration program, a door-knocking program. This is very—these are very smart strategic politics. So we just decided at the super PAC level to try to support who our candidate was, and we will continue to do that.
I also think super PACs are—like pollsters, are given too much credit for having too much power. I only wish that that were so, times two. The fact is, the super PACs have limits because we can’t coordinate the message with the candidate. And I wake up every day trying not to embarrass my candidate and try to support. Now, when they do something, we either say to ourselves, are they not running ads there because they want us to do it, or because they don’t think that they are viable in that particular market? So you’re always—you know, you’re always trying to do your best and game the situation that way.
STEIN: So, Doug, let me ask you, how did the politicians and the parties and Congress and the mainstream media so completely miss the attitude in the country?
SCHOEN: Well, Skip, your question now—and it’s certainly one that Scott should answer when I’m done, given the work he’s done—is really a fundamental one. What has been so startling to me as somebody who is, I guess, of the center, but certainly looks closely at the left and the right, the two areas where the degree of anger has been most prominent—but what’s been most surprising to me is the degree to which the mainstream media has totally missed with Kellyanne and Scott and I are talking about this morning, and which now I’m sure most of you would sort of say, yeah, all of this makes sense. But as it was playing out, it was very, very clear in the poll data we collected the level of anger, animus, particularly with Washington, sense of corruption, failed government, failed policies—a sense on the left that the game was rigged and that we need broadly redistributive policies if people are going to have a chance; versus those on the right who want to, you know, basically weaken further the power of the federal government, certainly staunchly anti-Obama. But also, as Kellyanne might or might not tell you, they are almost as angry towards their congressional leadership on the Republican side as they are towards President Obama and the Democrats. The Republican base feels so profoundly betrayed—the word, I guess, Kellyanne and Scott were using a couple of minutes ago—that they were willing to vote for a Donald Trump, who certainly for a long time was mouthing the concerns, the frustrations, and the anger that the base has felt.
So there has been a radical disconnect in this country between mass attitudes and what’s happened at the elite level to the point where I think many of us almost look askance on a daily basis at the newspaper headlines. And I guess this morning, when I woke up and I looked at a headline in the Times that said “Trump Finally Slipping,” I sort of was waiting to read the “ha, ha, ha, we told you so.” And there are plenty of reasons Donald Trump is slipping, but it would be a mistake to believe in that in some way the establishment is asserting itself. If it is, to assert itself through Ted Cruz is a really pretty strange way to do it. (Laughter.)
But on the—but on the Democratic side—and I don’t want to give short shrift—Secretary Clinton’s ratings are—her negative is close to 58, 59 (percent). I had a piece in the Journal to that effect a couple of weeks ago. Her lack of trust rating is over 60 percent. Bernie Sanders, as I said, five straight, within 12 points in the Quinnipiac poll in New York state that just, I think, came out the other day, before the New York campaign has fully engaged. I suspect Senator Sanders, breaking Skip’s edict, will probably win Wisconsin at the same time that Ted Cruz does.
But this speaks boldly and directly to a disjunction between the mainstream media and the voters, because if I had sat here five months ago, or maybe even three months ago, and say we’d see Bernie Sanders surging, Ted Cruz surging as the candidate of the establishment, I think most of you would have said it’ll be a long time before we invite Schoen back. (Laughter.)
MILLER: You know, I think—Caddell says, well, if you have to make a bet, bet on chaos at this time. But I’m astounded, as we looked at this research for—over the last four or five years, that, as Doug says, that the media never got it, still doesn’t get it, and that none of the candidates got it. I mean, most of them thought that this would be a traditional ideological campaign, conservative versus Democrat. Even with the—versus liberal, conservative-liberal, even conservative or real conservative. And many have argued that and still do. Some think it’s still an issue campaign, sort of a women’s reproductive rights versus gun rights, or whatever the issue of the day might be. It is not. This is an insurgency. This is the people versus the establishment, the people versus the government. If this were a democratic election in a Third World, it would be the people, you know, versus the entrenched, corrupt incumbent. And they’re going to keep trying. And they keep trying.
I mean, again—I’m not a—I’m sorry, Kellyanne, I’m not a Ted Cruz fan, and I kind of—I loved what Peggy Noonan said this morning, which is only Donald Trump could make Ted Cruz seem normal. (Laughter, laughs.) But it’s true, but I mean, and not to be pejorative—
CONWAY: Well, you just—(laughter)—well, you just were.
MILLER: No, but I—
SCHOEN: But when will you be pejorative? (Laughter.)
MILLER: But he—but the guy is—but, I mean, you know, he’s a guy who was very, very controversial, and now he is the establishment hope and may very well be the Republican candidate.
CONWAY: I’m sorry, I don’t know what made him so controversial. Was it the fact that he stood up to leaders of both parties, which is exactly—
SCHOEN: Well, shutting down the government is usually not a tactic that freshman senators take.
CONWAY: No, he didn’t shut down the government. Obama shut down the government. All he did was stand on his feet to try to keep—
SCHOEN: Exactly my point.
CONWAY: —an entitlement from taking hold. The fact is, here’s Ted Cruz, has a good shot of being the Republican nominee and everybody’s going to have to learn to deal with it.
I would also just point out—(laughter)—I would also just point out—including Mrs. Clinton, by the way. I would also point out that every time someone has a—every time publicly and of note somebody has attacked Senator Cruz this cycle, how has he responded? In kind? No, very kindly. Former President George W. Bush, whose brother has now endorsed Ted—two brothers have endorsed Ted Cruz for president, Neil and Jeb, and whose brother ran a terrible campaign this past time, he said, about Ted Cruz, “I just don’t like that guy.” What did Ted Cruz say in response? “You were an awful president whose approval rating was 28 percent when you left office”? No, he said, I’ll always be grateful that Jeb—that George W. Bush was the president of the United States on 9/11 and that I met my wife, Heidi, during his campaign. He’s incredibly gracious, and people will see that when it comes down to he versus Hillary Clinton. They certainly are seeing it when it’s he versus Donald Trump. So we’ve heard—in Cruz World, we’ve heard it all before. (Chuckles.) So—
STEIN: OK, so two more quick questions before we go to members.
One is, Scott, if this—if the election was purely based on just a public vote with no party system at all, how would the—how would the Smith candidate or a center candidate have done? If there was no party system to worry about.
MILLER: A center candidate who was from outside Washington, and who opposed the status quo and had a platform of real reform, would win, I mean, under any circumstance.
CONWAY: Yeah, well, that’s like the blind date you haven’t met yet.
MILLER: Yeah, exactly.
CONWAY: I mean, that’s—
STEIN: And I understand. But—
CONWAY: I mean, eventually you have to open the door and—(laughter)—
STEIN: No, I understand. But it—but it’s a question—but it’s a question of attitudes.
SCHOEN: But Kellyanne’s question actually, or point, raises the real problem, which is why there is so much anger. In modern-day America, the way the parties have rigged the game, you can’t get to the door to open it. The political Tinder that Kellyanne is speaking of—that’s a joke, folks, if you—ask your teenagers about Tinder. (Laughter.) And it doesn’t exist because Smith isn’t on the ballot, Bloomberg’s not on the ballot. There are no independents. There really has not been a viable independent since 1992, and there almost certainly won’t be this year. But it really means that this is one of the few so-called democracies where anti-systemic politics just can’t get a foothold unless you happen to be a Donald Trump or a Bernie Sanders-like figure with arguable unique appeals.
CONWAY: And I just want to add to that. I think, but for Donald Trump, the biggest story of this cycle by far is Bernie Sanders. And it doesn’t get enough—he doesn’t get enough coverage because he has no super PAC, he gets on TV and he says donate right now, BernieSanders.com or whatnot, and he raised $44 million in March. He raised $43 million in February, in small donations. That’s incredibly courageous of people all across the country to go against their parties—he’s not a third-party candidate, although he seems to be—to go against their own party’s leader and the next in line.
It’s actually been a role reversal for the two political parties this time in this way. It’s my Republican Party that has suffered—and I use the word advisedly—suffered from royalism: let’s nominate the person who lost to the person who won. That’s really smart. That should work this time. And it never does. And it’s the Democratic Party that’s been masterful at elevating, and indeed electing, figures—male figures—that represent transformational generational change—JFK, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton. Even Jimmy Carter was 52 years old with a 9-year-old daughter when he got to the White House. That’s young. And we—I love these guys, with all due respect to them as public servants—thank you for your service—but we get John McCain, Bob Dole, and Mitt Romney. And so this is the time—(laughter)—this was the time that the roles actually got reversed. We had a couple of 40-something sons of Cuban American patriots. We had governors in their 40s and 50s running. And we have Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, close to 70 and 75 respectively, representing transformational change.
But the story of Bernie Sanders is the one that, in my view, has proven most when people want to rise up and take over the system, they can. And they will not be told by the elites what to think. Record turnout at rallies. Record turnout at the polls. It is really remarkable. Let’s give credit to the voters this time. I don’t really like calling them angry. The fact that you would stand in line for two, three hours to cast a vote is pretty remarkable. It actually gives me a little bit of faith in democracy. It means that people still think their voice and their vote counts. I mean, these are people who won’t even come out of their house for two weeks at a time, staring at screens all day, and having food delivered, and not making eye contact with other people. They showed up to vote in these primaries and caucuses. That’s a big message for all of us.
STEIN: We could go on for a lot longer, but let me turn it over to the members for questions. So I’d remind everybody, this session is on the record. And please wait until the microphone comes to you. And if you could, keep your question short so we can take as many questions as possible.
Q: Rita Hauser.
You just touched briefly on Citizens United. And I’d like to come back to that. I, as a lawyer, personally believe it will go down as one of the worst decisions of the court, perhaps since Dred Scott. What do we see, ordinary people as well as we the elites? You see all the candidates making pilgrimages to the Kochs, and to the Adelsons, and to I don’t know who on the Democratic side. And everybody in the country sees that.
CONWAY: George Soros, Tom Steyer.
Q: George Soros, whoever they all are.
CONWAY: Shall I go on?
Q: But everybody in the country sees this. They see these rich guys calling all the candidates together, as someone said, kissing the ring. And they must stand back. For the first time in my life as a very active political person I have not contributed one cent to anybody or anything, so alienated am I by this process of going out to meet the big guys who tell you what to do and where the money comes from. And I think that that is a very crucial part of the anger that you see. So it’s miraculous that Sanders is getting 10 bucks and 50 bucks and so on.
CONWAY: It also tells you that the super PACs don’t have as much power to appoint somebody who runs—
Q: They may not, but they have had a nefarious picture and impact that people feel. And I do think that that’s really important, because what you’ve all talked about skips around the question of how the hell do we reform this system going forward, whatever happens in this election.
MILLER: Well, one of the things we do is the voters broke it this year, right?
MILLER: Right? Trump and—they’ve pulled Trump and Sanders up, and they broke the system. We’ve redistributed wealth to, you know, local TV stations—(laughter)—from these super PACs that were supporting Jeb Bush and others. So in a sense, the American people are changing that system by making it less effective. But you’re right, it’s completely corrupt. I mean, it’s totally—how more corrupt could you be than if you go to the right person and say the right thing, and tell them you’ll do the right thing, that they’ll give you money in an endless amount.
CONWAY: But you presume that’s the way it works. How do you know who’s meeting whom? You presume that’s the way it works. The last Koch summit was televised on TV, the five candidates who were there in August. And that was on TV. If you missed it, then that’s on you, not on them. The five candidate conversations were broadcast on, I believe it was C-SPAN, but don’t quote me. It was somewhere. And you can go find it. It was certainly livestreamed.
But I think corruption is a very strong word when you’re talking about how the two insurgent candidates this time, Trump and Sanders, have no super PACs. And they make very clear that that’s part of their affirmative message when they speak. If President Obama, who’s very fond of the pen and pad, very fond of the executive order, really didn’t like super PACs I suppose he would have passed an executive order by now. But he had super PACs in 2012. He railed against them, and then he enjoyed their support.
I will tell you this about money in politics: If you don’t like it, reform it. That’s been tried. That’s been—I have to say that the idea that the super PACs are only benefitting people on the Republican side is crazy. And the idea that Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, a former United States senator, the immediate past secretary of state, doesn’t have money advantages over everybody else in the race is just a ridiculous proposition. Of course she does. So people are always looking for ways to level the playing field.
I can tell you that with one exception I receive no super PAC donation that comes close to what Mrs. Clinton gets for a 25-minute speech down the street here at Wall Street. So there’s all types of money in politics that people don’t like. And I think but for those speeches she would have an easier time being the Democratic nominee. So you can’t just talk about super PACs. You have to talk about all the money grabbing among politicians that is bothering people this cycle.
MILLER: But you got to remember, in 2015 Bernie Sanders made $1,850 making speeches. And he gave it all to—
CONWAY: And there he is. I hear you. That’s my point.
MILLER: No, he gave it all to charity. He made $1,400 the year before, gave it all to charity. In that same time period, another candidate in his party made $21 million making speeches.
SCHOEN: I would urge you to read Jane Mayer’s book on dark money, because it’s not a simple case of give and get. It’s more about how the nature of politics has changed to an interlocking group of super PACs, lobbyists, special interests, particularly in off-year elections, influencing the process. And commenting on—this isn’t a comment about the left versus the right. I understand completely that there are good guys and bad guys in your terms. And to my point, they’re all bad guys and it’s a bad system. And whether the presidential election is or is not impacted by a super PAC or PACs is, to me, not really the question.
The question is does this bring us closer to representative democracy? Does it strengthen the bond between the citizenry and the elected officials? And I think if you read Mayer’s book, which is quite rightly tilted against the right, but I don’t think it should be written as a left-wing screed against the right. I think you need to see it as a system of politics that is very different than the one that Rita Hauser was describing and I grew up with, that has emerged. It doesn’t have to be corrupt. It doesn’t even have to be efficacious. It just is one that I think perverts democracy as I’ve come to believe it should be practiced.
STEIN: The gentleman—
Q: Hi. I’m Martin Gross from Sandalwood.
If you—I guess if you want to get corporate money out of politics that’s OK, if you get union money out of politics. If you get it all out, but let’s just not let us pick one side. You guys have described something very interesting, and that is that the pollsters didn’t get the anger, and therefore a lot of what they thought wouldn’t happen did. So let’s got to the next possible miscalculation. Go to the election, OK, and let’s say it’s Clinton-Cruz, Clinton-Trump, OK? Either of—each of those candidates has very significant negatives, as you’ve pointed out.
So how do you think that the American public will react in terms of turnout, in terms of how you think it will behave if it’s presented with a choice that a very significant number of Americans find neither of the candidates very palatable at all. Can you see significantly much less turnout than you would have thought? How do you think that’ll play out, given what you’ve described of this asymmetry, so to speak, between what Americans are thinking and feeling, and what the choice is they’re being presented with?
CONWAY: To me, the big question lies in what Chris Matthews referred to last night on the show we appeared on together, the Charlie Rose show, as a marriage of convenience for Hillary Clinton. And I recoiled, and he said: The marriage of convenience between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. And I think that’s a very important point. If the President goes out and campaigns side-by-side with Hillary Clinton in all of October, it’s huge for her, not just because it brings out the minority vote, which has been incredibly important to her in these primaries.
I mean, she’s—men don’t like her, don’t want her, don’t respect her, don’t—dismiss her commander in chief and secretary—and president, by and large. She’s got about 35, 37 percent of the white male vote right now. But with his—I think it’s important for another reason. With the president’s imprimatur next to her basically saying she’s going to start year nine of the Obama presidency right now, vote for her, that’s a wild card we’re not even—I think we, as a political culture, aren’t examining deeply enough yet. So that will matter. Her negatives could stay as high as they are and she’ll still get elected.
Donald Trump’s negatives are different because they’re more recent. Hers have been that way for a while now. She earned them quite a while ago and she’s done nothing to unearn them and improve them. And she hasn’t worn well on this campaign trail, there’s no doubt. But Donald Trump’s are more recent. He’s had the worst 72 hours, I think, in his campaign, or the worst week in his campaign to date.
And his negatives among women are so high now that it’s really a shame, because Hillary Clinton’s negatives among men as such that we could have a conversation about the gender gap a year from now that is not about the Republican Party’s problem engaging female voters, it’s Hillary’s problem in engaging a sufficient number of male voters—particularly white male voters, in the 2016 election. All that washes away if you nominate Donald Trump and if his negatives among women stay so high.
I think turnout if you’ve got a Sanders or a Trump will be very high, probably be high if you have a Cruz because he’s seen as an anti-establishment outsider. But I think President Obama helping Secretary Clinton is huge—huge. And on the conservatives, on the Republicans’ side, let me say this: The Republicans should have seen the anger, frustration, and betrayal because that’s how they won the elections in 2010 and 2014. It’s as if we wake up and it’s a presidential year and they say, oh, none of that matters. It’s not a different set of voters. It shouldn’t be a different set of circumstances.
It ultimately will be a large amount of money spent a different opponent—Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders—but it’s still the same voters. And it’s the voters who came out and helped the Republicans in 2010, in 2014, when most things got nailed to the ground. And they came—those voters came back this time and said: We are not going backwards into one of those mushy, moderate candidates. So they should have seen that coming. I think you’re going to see record turnout this time, but I think if it’s Clinton—I always thought if it was, like, Hillary Clinton versus Jeb Bush you wouldn’t because people who say, who cares? And I actually thought first woman versus third Bush would never have been a fair fight. So that’s a relief.
Q: George de Menil, Paris School of Economics.
I feel as if I were in a political meeting of the Jacobin club in 1788, where we’re all inviting, encouraging revolution. And my question, though, is: What do you think of a different proposition, that the media and the growing importance of the media are empowering populism? The media didn’t see Trump coming, didn’t see a number of other things, didn’t see the anger, but they’ve certainly played a big role in it. And I think that this is a phenomenon we’re going to continue to have to deal with.
MILLER: Well, I think—you know, again, my friends out there, my old pals, we’ve watched the American people vote for change every time they got a chance. Every single election I can remember in my adult life has been change, you know, and hope essentially. And they’ve been thwarted every time. And this is a revolution. The people now see. They’ve got the bit in their teeth and they’re running. And I think they deserve to. I’m with Doug on the state of politics today. Politics earned this revolution. And I hope it’s sweeping. I hope it really is sweeping. And I hope it extends far beyond 2016.
Q: Bettye Musham.
The media keeps saying that women are going to elect the next president. But I think the number of women voting has gone down since we were allowed to vote. So who are these new women that are going to elect the new president? Are they new people coming into the system? Who are they?
STEIN: Kellyanne, why don’t you—
CONWAY: Thank you. No, that’s actually not true. Women have comprised a majority of the presidential electorate since 1964. And that’s been true for 47, 50 years now.
Q: Not the number of women that are registered to vote. That’s going down—
CONWAY: Well, that may be true. The number of women registered to vote is true. And in part, because of something that everybody has touched on today, and particularly in Doug’s work for Mayor Bloomberg, which is people feel disaffected from the system and they say: Why even bother? It’s not my fault. It’s the system’s fault. Don’t call me the lazy, apathetic, disengaged voter. I haven’t seen any reason to feel engaged or inspired.
MILLER: It’s astounding that 30 percent of the people do turn out.
CONWAY: Well, yeah, that’s right. That’s right, given the way they feel. But on women, I suspect they will continue to be a majority of the electorate. The genders actually represent their percentage of the population at the ballot box, unlike my age or by race, traditionally, or even by geography. The gender is pretty much 52 percent/48 (percent), 53/47 (percent). So women have elected the presidents, so to speak, in the last 50 years. The question is, what motivates them? Are they really going to go and vote on abortion and contraception? Are they going—and most women fill up the gas tank and the grocery cart each week, they don’t get an abortion. You can care about that issue, have an opinion on it, but it’s not a big vote motivator. It’s not in the top five. And particularly when national security and terrorism has popped up.
And on social issues like that, that’s already—everybody already knows where they are with that. The goalposts tend to move on the economy. They tend to move on national security and terrorism when different events happen. And I would just say that women particularly have led the charge. Since 1960 we, as an electorate, but particularly among female voters, have gone—with the exception of 1972—we’ve gone for the presidential candidate that we have seen as more optimistic, more forward-looking, frankly just more pleasant, if not visionary. So you’ve got Barack Obama beating John McCain and Mitt Romney. You have George W. Bush beating Al Gore and John Kerry. You have JFK beating Dick Nixon.
But anyway, we prefer that overall, in addition to the issues that we’re focused on. I look at the split screen between Sanders and Clinton and I’m astonished that Bernie Sanders has it right. What do all of his signs say? “A Future We Can Believe In.” That’s the kind of—see, you’re nodding your head now, “Future We Can Believe In.” Hillary Clinton’s signs say, “Fighting for Us.” That’s unusual, just given the way female voters particularly end up making—(inaudible).
But let me make something last very clear, Hillary Clinton is having a hard time with women in her own party. She lost them to Barack Obama in 2008, and he became the nominee. When you had 56 percent of the Democratic voters in 2008 were women. So this nonsense that the vast, right-wing conspiracy stands in her way, we never even got a shot at her. We don’t vote in the Democratic primaries. (Laughter.) It was the people—women in her own party who voted the other way.
MILLER: Kellyanne, she’s now more worried about a vast, left-wing conspiracy. (Laughter.)
CONWAY: That’s right. There you go. But women will be there.
STEIN: The gentleman—yes, right.
Q: My name is Larry Bridwell and I teach at Pace University.
There’s been this emphasis on “Make America Great Again” by Donald Trump. And then there’s Hillary saying America never stopped being great. How is this idea of the United States being or not being a great country playing out this year?
SCHOEN: Sure. Well, the comment is actually—I think gets at a complicated dimension of our position globally. Undeniably and particularly on the right, there is a sense that our influence has waned around the world, and that our stature around the world—whether it be economically, socially, certainly politically given John Kerry’s comments of a count of days ago, but ultimately militarily. And on the right, it’s we really are, you know, a much weaker country. The flipside, which has gotten less attention, is for a lot of people in the center and particularly on the left there is still a sense that this is a great nation, but it is a great nation not delivering on its promises to the citizenry, hence the Bernie Sanders campaign.
And indeed, what I think is in-artful about the dialogue that the candidates have had, is Hillary Clinton really hasn’t had—been able to figure out how to respond. Because when she says “Make American Whole Again,” it’s pretty hard to figure out what precisely she means. I think it’s some notion of unifying the country, but she doesn’t want to move in that direction until she unifies the Democratic Party, or at the very least gets the nomination. She will move the center, almost certainly, if in fact she faces Cruz or Trump, as appears most likely. But what is very, very clear, and I’m curious Scott and Kellyanne’s comment, perhaps quickly because we’re running out of time, do either of you feel Hillary Clinton has a message?
CONWAY: And I don’t say that as a partisan. I’m astonished she doesn’t. She has very smart people working for her because she’s very smart.
MILLER: No, it’s she’s going to win. It’s get on the bandwagon.
CONWAY: Well, that’s not much of a message.
MILLER: No, it’s not.
CONWAY: She tried that last night. (Laughs.)
MILLER: No, I think it’s not.
Q: My question—hi. I’m Nancy Lieberman.
Here is my question: Bernie Sanders, it looks like, is poised to win Wisconsin. And he has a week on the ground in New York—or two weeks until the New York primary. And last night he had 18,000 people in the South Bronx cheering him on, OK. So this is the scenario I’d like you to answer: If, in fact, Bernie Sanders—despite what Mr. Miller said—somehow pulls it out and the superdelegates realize that the voters don’t want Hillary and they want Bernie, and it’s Bernie versus either Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, who for different reasons I view as extreme in the other direction, what do you think will happen in the presidential election, and what will happen in the congressional races, both for the House and Senate?
STEIN: This is teed-up for you, Kellyanne.
CONWAY: Yeah. (Laughter.) If Bernie—if my dreams come true and Bernie Sanders is the Democratic nominee which, as you point out, is possible—folks, let’s be honest, if it were anybody other than Hillary and Bernie people would be having a conversation with the candidate that got 18 percent of the vote in Alaska, and 20-some percent in Hawaii, and is now going to struggle more than she should have, break a sweat, in her home state, if it’s still her home state, of New York, and you know, against Bernie Sanders. They’d be having a conversation with that candidate to stand down.
If Bernie Sanders is the Democratic nominee, I will personally go around this country and school everybody on what a socialist is. So we will call him socialist every single day. He calls himself socialist every single day. And I think the Republicans will sweep because, from a numbers perspective, there just aren’t enough folks who will come out and vote for him. And the Democratic Party is much more establishment, much more—yes, establishment than I think people let on, since even Vice President Biden didn’t think there was necessarily a place for him in the race. If he were running right now, he’d be running away with it big time. He was the greatest fear that we had.
But if it’s Bernie Sanders—by the way, there could be a revolt on the Democratic side. Everybody’s talking about the convention in Cleveland. Why not say, well, wait a second, the people have spoken. Bernie Sanders has all these delegates, he has all these votes, he has all this energy and momentum. Why are you going to upend the system with the superdelegate situation?
MILLER: Well, as you look at scenarios I wouldn’t stop with the scenario that Bernie Sanders may be the candidate. We may have three or four candidates. We may not have a winner of the electoral college. We may have Paul Ryan as our president. I mean—so, I mean, really I do—I take seriously what Caddell says, that you can bet on chaos. If Trump doesn’t get the nomination, do you have any doubt that he’ll run as an independent, however crazy—
SCHOEN: I have doubts he’ll run as an independent. I have no doubt he and his supporters will go right to the streets in Ohio and around the country. And the same thing could well happen at the Democratic convention if what Kellyanne is saying plays out and Bernie’s denied and he has all these primary wins or near-wins, and his people feel cheated.
Q: Albert Knapp, NYU School of Medicine.
The question for the panelists, we’ve talked about some of the primaries. What about that special one looming, the FBI primary? (Laughter.)
CONWAY: They teed that up for you, Scott. (Laughter.)
SCHOEN: Well, here’s what I would say. And Kellyanne and I share this disability, though she is as reluctant as I am to talk about it, so I apologize. I’m going to out you. You did go to law school once.
CONWAY: I did. I’m a fully recovered attorney. (Laughter.)
SCHOEN: And you did pass the bar, did you not?
CONWAY: Four of them.
SCHOEN: And you did practice, did you not?
CONWAY: I practiced. Guilty. (Laughs.)
SCHOEN: OK. Guilty as charged. OK. So we have two lawyers and one solid citizen. (Laughter.) And the person who put us together, Skip. (Laughter.) So here’s what I would say: I’ve read the statutes. And I would urge all of those who are interested in this email matter that Dr. Knapp raises to read the statutes. There are two standards. One is knowingly transmitted classified information. And the other is gross negligence in handling. And I think in my mind, having looked at the precedent, read the statutes, and considered the facts, it’s at least enough of an open question to say that it is, certainly in my judgement, Marty, a condition precedent for what Obama says or might say, or Valerie Jarrett says or might say to Loretta Lynch before we get to the issue of what they’re going to say in October on the campaign trail, because it’s pretty clear to me that somewhere before the end of June we’ve got to get some indication of how this is going to be resolved. And I think you can make pretty strong arguments either way, and that it is not at all an obvious matter as to how it should be resolved.
MILLER: Isn’t there a royalty exemption, though, for—
MILLER: Yeah, that she gets out—
SCHOEN: She would like that.
MILLER: I mean, does anybody—how many people think she’s going to be indicted? Yeah, that’s what I would think. I don’t either. Now, that’s not the point.
CONWAY: How many think she should? (Laughter.) That’s a good question, how many think she should?
MILLER: How many think she should?
CONWAY: More hands, exactly. Yeah.
MILLER: There you go. (Laughs.)
Q: The subtext—the subtext of “Make America Great Again,” which is where Trump started out, is that somehow or other we’ve lost ground during the eight years under Obama. We’ve lost ground internationally, we’ve lost ground in prestige, we’ve lost ground for all the factors that Doug alluded to. So now we’re confronted with a situation where Obama’s approval rating is higher than it’s ever been in the time that he’s been in office, and that he’s not a negative to a Democratic candidate. As Kellyanne suggested, he’s a big positive. And if he campaigns with Hillary, that could certainly tip the scale if it’s at all a close election. But I wondered what your thoughts were about this elephant in the room, Barack Obama, who is kind of the third candidate. It started out that people would vote Republican because they wanted to vote against him, and now—and how does that play out with your scenario of anger against the system, when the system seems to be something that’s supported by a large number of people?
MILLER: Well, Kellyanne—yeah, she made a great point about the power that he may wield in this campaign. One of the things I had hoped to un-elect him in 2012. And when we were doing the research on that, on the narrative that might move 6 million voters to change their votes, they would go through—all those voters would go through a litany and they would say: Look, he’s a good man. He has good values. He has—you know, he’s smart. He’s doing the best he can. He’s being opposed at every turn. And he inherited a mess.
Now that he’s in the, you know, last bit of his tenure, I think those things are rising in people’s estimation of him. This is a good guy, he goes home to a family, he has dinner with his kids, he’s an exemplary example. He’s just not a leader. But that—I mean, that’s my opinion. And that’s the people’s opinion. But he’s not going to be a leader either. So now they can sort of remove that issue about whether he’s a leader or not and sort of look at the personal issues. And I think that’s what’s rising.
CONWAY: Well, yes, he seems to be a wonderful husband and father. But you said he goes home to dinner with his family. He also does the wave in Cuba and then the Tango in Argentina while the world is burning. And people—that costs him. People did not like those reactions and you all know it. If you read something other than the hometown newspapers, that was not the most appropriate reaction, according to many Americans. Having said that, as the person raised the specter of how helpful President Obama will be to Secretary Clinton, it’s also going to be difficult for her because it’s going to remind many voters why they chose him over her eight years ago. And it’s not a good contrast for her, necessarily.
My view is, she’s been trying from the beginning to figure out how to run for both the third term of Bill Clinton and the third term of Barack Obama. (Laughter.) And that’s ironic in and of itself, for those feminists in the audience, it’s ironic in and of itself. But it’s—but either one has a critical mass of support. There’s not enough voters saying: I want the third term of Bill Clinton. Plenty of people say I loved the economy, I loved the peace and prosperity, but it’s not enough. In other words, there are not enough voters. And then there certainly aren’t enough voters in the general election to say: I want year nine of Obama/Biden to start now. If there were, I assume Biden would have run for year nine of Obama/Biden.
But that aside, it still is very difficult to win that third term. It’s very difficult of the party in power to get that third term. I think he’s a net positive for Secretary Clinton. And I predict he will be much more active for her. He’s got to watch his left flank, though, President Obama, because these Bernie Sanders voters, many of them supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton eight years ago. So he has to be very careful not to offend—not just Senator Sanders, but more importantly not to offend the Sanders voters, just as the Republicans need to—if they want to criticize Donald Trump it’s one thing, but you have to study his voters. What is motivating and animating them to stand in line for two hours just to vote? If he’s not the eventual nominee, how do you dispense with him if he’s not the nominee and yet still attract his voters?
STEIN: So we could go on for a lot longer, but it is 9:00 and closing time. Thank you. Thanks for doing this session. (Applause.)