David Axelrod is a political consultant who served as chief strategist for Barack Obama’s presidential campaigns and later as a senior adviser in the Obama administration.
Axelrod’s candid, full interview was conducted with FRONTLINE during the making of the two-part January 2020 documentary series “America’s Great Divide: From Obama to Trump.”
The Democratic nominee, whoever it turns out to be, should use the president’s contortions and carrying-on against him.
The person most capable of defeating Donald Trump is Donald Trump. If Democrats are smart, they will let him do the job.
President Trump thrives on outrage and resentment. He seethes with it, stirs it in others and mines it for his own political profit. His political project relies on driving Americans to their cultural and ideological corners. He is Pavlov. We are the dogs.
Mr. Trump’s serial assaults on the decency and the decorum upon which civil society depends are enraging — and meant to be. It is only natural to respond to his every provocation with righteous indignation.
My advice to the Democratic nominee next year is: Donʼt play.
Wrestling is Mr. Trump’s preferred form of combat. But beating him will require jiu-jitsu, a different style of battle typically defined as the art of manipulating an opponent’s force against himself rather than confronting it with one’s own force.
Mr. Trump was elected to shake things up and challenge the political establishment. And to many of his core supporters, his incendiary dog whistles, bullhorn attacks and nonstop flouting of “political correctness” remain energizing symbols of authenticity.
But polling and focus groups reflect a growing unease among a small but potentially decisive group of voters who sided with Mr. Trump in 2016 but are increasingly turned off by the unremitting nastiness, the gratuitous squabbles and the endless chaos he sows.
Plenty of attention has been paid to the historic shift in suburban areas Mr. Trump narrowly carried in 2016 but that broke decisively with his party last fall. That revolt was led by college-educated white women, who overwhelmingly turned against Republican candidates.
But what should be of even greater concern to Mr. Trump is the potential erosion among the non-college-educated white women he is counting on as a core constituency. Those women gave Mr. Trump a 27-point margin over Hillary Clinton in 2016. Yet in a recent Fox News poll, Mr. Trump was beating former Vice President Joe Biden by just four points in that group.
If I were sitting in the Trump war room, this number, more than any other, would alarm me. He won the presidency by the slimmest of margins in three battleground states. With little place to grow, even a small erosion of support among these women could prove fatal to Mr. Trump’s chances. While they are inclined to many of his positions, the thing that is driving these voters away is Mr. Trump himself.
And one thing we can be sure of as the election approaches: Donald Trump is not going to change.
Given that Mr. Trump’s approval rating has been hovering around 40 percent throughout his presidency, his obvious and only strategy is to turn his dial further into the red. He will try to raise the stakes by painting the election as a choice between himself and a radical, left-wing apocalypse. He will bay about
- open bordersand
- “deep state” corruption
and relentlessly work to inflame and exploit racial and cultural divides.
But as Mr. Trump seeks to rev up his base, he also runs a significant risk of driving away a small but decisive cohort of voters he needs. His frenetic efforts to create a panic over the immigrant caravan in the days leading up to the 2018 midterms may have stoked his base, but it also generated a backlash that contributed to major losses for his party.
With everything on the line and nothing, to his mind, out of bounds, the same dynamic will be in play in 2020, and this creates an opportunity for Democrats — if their party’s message allows Trump defectors to comfortably cross that bridge.
There is a legion of arguments on moral, ethical and policy grounds for Mr. Trump’s defeat, and that’s leaving out the sheer incompetence. But the most effective question for Democrats to get voters to ask is simply whether the country can survive another four years like this.
Can we continue to wake each day to the tweets and tantrums, the nasty, often gratuitous fights and the ensuing turmoil that surrounds this president? Can we make progress on issues of concern to the way millions of people live their lives with a leader who looks for every opportunity to divide us for his own political purposes? And is a Trump freed of the burden of re-election really going to be less combative and more constructive in a second term? Um, no.
Each time Mr. Trump lashes out, as he will with increasing ferocity and frequency as the election approaches, these questions will gain more resonance. Every erratic escalation — every needless quarrel, firing or convulsive policy lurch — will provide additional evidence in the case for change.
Mr. Trump’s impulse is always to create a binary choice, forcing Americans to retreat to tribe. He wants to define the battle around divisive cultural issues that will hem in his supporters, and it would be seductive for Democrats to chase every tweeted rabbit down the hole. The president would welcome a pitched battle over lines of race, ideology and culture.
But while Mr. Trump’s thermonuclear politics may rally both his base and Democrats who slumbered in 2016, it is the paralyzing disorder and anxiety his bilious behavior creates that is a distressing turnoff to voters at the margins who will make the difference.
To win, the Democrats will have turn Mr. Trump’s negative energy against him without embodying it themselves.
A consequence of the increased power of campaign consultants was a blurring of the line between campaigning and governing, creating the titular “permanent campaign” dynamic. The decline of industrial-era bosses and rise of poll-driven consultants, Blumenthal argued, mirrored the broader transition in the economy from manufacturing to computing and information technology, “where white-collar workers outnumber blue-collar, computers are the archetypal machines, knowledge is a vital form of capital, much heavy industry is exported to the more dynamic Third World countries, and America becomes the home office of the world.”
.. The basic argument of Rise of the Counter-Establishment is that the conservative movement emulated what it perceived as a loose but effective conspiracy of elite institutions — the Brookings Institution, the Ford Foundation, the New York Times editorial page — and so created a much more cohesive and effective counter-establishment — the American Enterprise Institute, the Olin Foundation, the Wall Street Journal editorial page — to combat it. “They imitated something they had imagined,” Blumenthal wrote, “but what they created was not imaginary.”
.. The book, the conservative writer Tevi Troy notes, “provided a blueprint for what would be called the vast right-wing conspiracy”
.. It laid out who, exactly, the enemy was that a new generation of Democratic politicians had to defeat.
.. Clinton, Blumenthal writes, was part of a group of Democrats interested in “rethinking … the future of liberalism and the Democratic Party”
.. [President Clinton] said, “Monica Lewinsky came at me and made a sexual demand on me.” He rebuffed her. He said, “I’ve gone down that road before. I’ve caused pain for a lot of people and I’m not going to do that again.” She threatened him. She said that she would tell people they’d had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn’t be the stalker any more.
.. the crux came when Blumenthal was questioned about whether he had been tasked by the White House with spreading rumors about Lewinsky being a “stalker.” He had already told the grand jury that Clinton told him Lewinsky was known as a stalker among her peers and resented the label. The question was whether Blumenthal spread this further in the press... Christopher Hitchens, signed a sworn affidavit saying that Blumenthal had called Lewinsky a stalker repeatedly in a March 19, 1998, lunch with Hitchens and his wife, seemingly contradicting the claim that he’d never called her a stalker in conversations with reporters... a motion from Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), who would vote against Clinton’s conviction, to have the Senate investigate “possible fraud on the Senate by alleged perjury in the deposition testimony of Mr. Sidney Blumenthal.” Nothing came of the matter, and Hitchens eventually promised to withdraw his affidavit if Blumenthal were ever put on trial. The two remained distant for years, but reportedly reestablished contact shortly before Hitchens’s death from cancer in 2011... Blumenthal was also a central figure in recruiting the unlikeliest Clinton loyalist to date: David Brock, the former American Spectator reporter and anti-Clinton muckraker who has since become a liberal stalwart, founding the media watchdog group Media Matters and the Democratic Super PAC American Bridge... learned how Drudge had been prompted by a small group of right-wingers to post the libel about me on his website.” They became friends, and Blumenthal became a counselor to Brock as he broke from the right, a move announced in a 1997 Esquire article titled “Confessions of a Right-Wing Hit Man.”Politico’s Thrush calls Brock’s conversion “Blumenthal’s greatest coup — and the one that cemented his standing as a Clinton loyalist.” Blumenthal.. Blumenthal had helped flip a key member of the counter-establishment he had chronicled a decade prior. He was putting his analysis of the right into practice, and getting major results... he was caught driving 70 miles an hour, drunk, in a 30 mph zone in Nashua, New Hampshire. The serious charge — “aggravated drunken driving” — was pleaded down after the arresting officer was called up for service in Iraq, rendering a trial impossible... he was involved in spreading some of the most vicious, race-baiting attacks of the primaries... a hoax originated by ex-CIA officer and ardent Hillary supporter Larry Johnson claiming there was a videotape of Michelle Obama railing against “whitey”.. Blumenthal and Hillary alike were convinced the tape was real... reports surfaced that she was planning to bring him on as a counselor, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, “Hell no. If she hires him, I’m out of here.” Senior adviser David Axelrod added, “Me too.” Emanuel was left to deliver the bad news to Clinton, who accepted the verdict.
The Trump administration is nearly finished drafting its Mideast peace proposal and will release it soon, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Thursday.
.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”
.. Haley added that U.S. negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason D. Greenblatt are “still going back and forth,”
.. Palestinian leaders have said the Jerusalem decision means the United States can no longer be an honest broker.
.. David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama, pressed Haley on whether the United States would propose an independent Palestinian stat
.. “It’s for them to decide,” Haley said
.. Axelrod asked Haley about proposals to cut legal migration “by 40 percent,”
.. She advises Trump directly and is among the most hawkish voices on issues including Iran and Israel, sometimes putting her at odds with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
.. Kissinger, she said, had advised her that negotiations go better when one tries to understand an adversary’s goals and motives. That applies in international affairs and in politics, she told the students.
“You don’t have to agree with them – most times you won’t. But you have to understand where they’re coming from,” Haley said.
“This is a skill that I am afraid is being lost in America today,” along with perspective on political differences, she said.
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