Nov 12, 2020
McCain Institution Conversation on 2020 Election Transcript November 12
Cindy McCain introduced the McCain Institute’s conversation on the 2020 election on November 12. Read the transcript of the discussion here.
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Cindy McCain: (00:19)
Hello, can everyone hear me, first of all? Are we okay? Okay. Good afternoon and I’d like to welcome you to the second part of the McCain Institute Straight Talk Live. And my clock is dinging right now. I’m so sorry. Thank you today our four eminently qualified panelists, the campaign managers for both the McCain and Obama presidential campaigns, Rick Davis and David Plouffe. Election Law Expert Trevor Potter, and New York Times White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman, guided by our capable moderator journalist Alex Wagner will offer their analysis in what will surely be an insightful discussion of this national election held just nine days ago and still counting. They’ll tell us which of the last Tuesday’s outcome surprised them and which met their expectations and what it all means for American politics in the months and years to come. I have as many questions about this wild, unusual campaign as I suspect all of you do. And I can’t wait to hear our panelists take them on. If I may be allowed a little editorializing before I give the floor to Alex, I’d like to say a few words on behalf of my husband about the importance of the American election. John believed that self government was the only moral government and every human being on earth was entitled to it. He believed it was America’s great cause in the world, and he served it with unwavering dedication. He loved nothing as much as traveling abroad to observe the first free elections held in countries that were emerging for decades of tyranny.
Cindy McCain: (02:16)
He was also so moved even to tears sometimes to see again the joy, the hope in the faces of people who had long been oppressed and were now claiming their freedom and equal justice by exercising their right to choose who would govern them. For all that we take for granted, our elections are a sacred endeavor and we should respect them as such. They are the source of our strength. Our enemies know that, and they’re trying to reverse that as we speak. To use our elections to weaken us, that’s why they spend so much time trying to cast doubt on the integrity of our election process and propagandizing the democracies that they say are as corrupt as our own regimes are. We shouldn’t do their work for them. Though Biden was elected our next president and he will soon be duly certified as the winner.
Cindy McCain: (03:15)
On January 20th, he will be sworn in as the 46th president of the United States. Pretending that there is some doubt about this for the sake of politics is doing these thugs worldwide doing their work for them. I feel certain, John, where he still here would be making the same point emphatically. It is in the American people’s vital interest that the transition from the incumbent administration to the Biden administration be as orderly as it was thorough when the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. And I hope American patriots on both sides of this see it for what it is. That’s the end of my brief editorial. And now, I’ll turn it over to Alex and our panel to explain just how we got here. Thank you.
Speaker 1: (04:20)
Former Vice President Joe Biden will win Pennsylvania and Nevada putting him over the 270 electoral votes he needs to become the 46th president of the United States.
Alex Wagner: (04:38)
… this afternoon. In part one of this program exactly one month ago, some are our most agile political lines? Okay. The video, we can hear. Okay. I can’t like …
Speaker 2: (05:13)
We’re checking [inaudible 00:05:14]
Alex Wagner: (05:16)
Can you guys hear me? Can anyone hear me? Yes, you can hear me. Okay. I’m just going to keep talking. We’re going to start this all over again. Apologies. I blame Zoom. Thank you, Cindy. And we all hope that there is going to be an orderly transition soon. My own resting heart rate has tripled in the last week alone. Thank you to everybody who’s joining us today. This, of course, again is Straight Talk Live. It is the second installment of a two part series from the McCain Institute examining the 2020 election.
Alex Wagner: (05:48)
I’m Alex Wagner. And it is great to be with you all this afternoon. In part one of this program, exactly one month ago, which feels like a lifetime ago, some of our most agile political minds discuss the state of the presidential election and they boldly made some predictions for what was to come in November. And now, here we are just over a week after the election and it is fairly certain what just happened although the sizeable portion of the country remains unconvinced. Because of this, there are a plethora of pressing issues to discuss, including ongoing legal actions from the Trump administration, the Biden transition, the very crowded agenda for the incoming president, and most urgently, whether it is possible for the United States to come together and find common ground or whether our divisions will only grow deeper.
Alex Wagner: (06:40)
Today, we are once again, joined by some of the sharpest minds in politics to discuss the way forward for the United States and the world. Up first, I’d like to introduce Trevor Potter, the former chairman of the FEC and the founder and president of the Campaign Legal Center. Trevor served as general counsel to John McCain’s 2000 and 2008 presidential campaigns, and will give us an update on the current legal issues related to the election. There seem to be quite a few. Trevor will tell us what we can expect from the lawsuits coming out of the Trump administration that are challenging the election results, something I know we are all keen to hear about. Welcome, Trevor.
Trevor Potter: (07:22)
While we have a tradition in this country of the losers of an election conceding, that’s not a constitutional requirement. And if President Trump loses this election and wants to say he doesn’t think it was fair or he thinks there were, as he said, when he won last time, millions of illegal votes cast up, he can say that but it doesn’t change the outcome.
Trevor Potter: (07:46)
A little video of me going on on the screen.
Alex Wagner: (07:50)
Okay, great. I don’t … do that. So you go right ahead.
Trevor Potter: (07:53)
Good to be with you all today. In the past couple of days, Vice President Biden has been declared president elect by the AP and the number of TV and cable networks. This reflects his apparent wins in states having more than 270 electoral votes. If the current total holds up, he will have earned around 306 electoral college votes, which President Trump termed a landslide when he got that number four years ago. It will have flipped Arizona, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. I think we all understand these are unofficial results published by state election officials and they still need to go ahead canvas them, which means check them and produce final numbers. There is one state where the totals are sufficiently close, Georgia, that there will be an official recount, a hand recount. And there are two other states, Nevada and Wisconsin, where the losing candidate may ask for a recount and Trump has said he will do so.
Trevor Potter: (08:59)
The important thing to understand about these recounts is that they are unlikely to change any state election results. Recounts are normally in the 2 to 300 vote range. These margins are 20,000 in Wisconsin for Biden 14 in Georgia, Nevada around 20. So, it is unlikely that they will have any effect on the certifications coming out of those states. Furthermore, Vice President Biden does not need those three states to get to 270 electoral college votes. If he even were to lose all three recounts, he would still be the electoral college winner. This explains the Trump campaigns current litigation strategy, where they have filed suits in Michigan and Pennsylvania with much bigger vote margins in those states, 45,000 for Biden in Pennsylvania and rising and 145,000 in Michigan. Arizona, which is closer, does not allow recounts in this circumstance. So in all of those states, it looks as if the Trump campaign is in court or will be in court asking federal courts’ judges to stop the certification process.
Trevor Potter: (10:28)
Now, those lawsuits say basically that there is a problem with mail in ballots and the fact that they are counted in a different process than the votes that are fed into the machine by voters on election day. And that that represents what’s called an equal protection problem under the Bush v. Gore decision. They also say there may have been fraud in those states and they weren’t sure because they didn’t have enough election observers close enough to follow. And they finally say they have some evidence of dead voters or other people who moved out of state and voted anyway.
Trevor Potter: (11:07)
Now, I don’t believe these lawsuits are actually going anywhere. The mail in ballot system challenge in particular should have been brought before the election and there’s simply no way that federal courts are going to throw out two and a half million votes in Pennsylvania 40% of the total cast in that state after voters have relied on the existing mail in system to cast their ballots. The observer issue has already been litigated in Pennsylvania and the Trump campaign lost. They had said they didn’t have observers and then they admitted in court they actually did have [crosstalk 00:11:47] in those rooms.
Trevor Potter: (11:50)
Finally, the fraud and error allegations either are really very few and scattered or have already been debunked in those states. All of that said, I expect we will see more litigation filed as we move towards the final state certifications of election totals, which will be by the end of this month in every single one of those states that leads to the electoral college vote, December 14th, and the congressional acceptance of those votes, January 6th.
Alex Wagner: (12:30)
Thank you, Trevor. We will see you back here on the program a little later in the hour, but before we get to our big discussion, let us first get to our initial polling question, one of several we’ll have throughout this event. A box is going to come up on your screen. Please respond to that question. I’ll give everybody a second to check it out and log in their responses. Okay. Assuming everybody has answered that whole question, let’s get to our panelists. It is my great pleasure to introduce Maggie Haberman, Rick Davis and David Plouffe. Maggie Haberman is a White House correspondent for the New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for her work investigating President Trump and his advisors ties to Russia. And we have news this morning that Maggie will be writing a book about President Trump to be released sometime in the next year or two, I believe. I’m sure we will all be pre-ordering it on Amazon right after the segment is over.
Alex Wagner: (13:44)
Rick Davis, as many of you know, served in multiple capacities in both the Reagan and George HW Bush administrations, as well as multiple presidential campaigns, including for the first President Bush, Bob Dole, and for John McCain in 2000 and 2008. And now he has a very successful career in the private sector.
Alex Wagner: (14:02)
David Plouffe is also a time political strategist who most notably was campaign manager for Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, and then served as a senior advisor to the president. Since then, David has worked in senior positions at Uber and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Welcome folks. I’m very excited to have this conversation with all of you. Do I have a-
Alex Wagner: (14:33)
And there is a subsection of the American electorate that has given up on the institutions and rule of law.
David Plouffe: (14:41)
He looked defeated. He was talking about fox holes. He wasn’t talking about jobs or healthcare or COVID.
Rick Davis: (14:49)
The decision making at the top has always been Donald Trump. He’s running the bus and the bus is veering all over the road.
Maggie Haberman: (14:57)
And then when he got sick with the coronavirus. I mean, if you talk to the Republican pollsters, they will tell you that they saw the bottom dropping out.
Alex Wagner: (15:18)
All right, everyone. Thank you for bearing with our technical difficulties here. It is now … Have we done the poll? Have we done the poll? We’re going to get to the first polling question. If you haven’t seen it already, a box is going to come up on your screen. Please respond to the question if you haven’t already, and we’re going to get right to our discussion. It is my great pleasure to introduce our panelists, Maggie Haberman, Rick Davis and David Plouffe. Maggie Haberman, of course you have know her byline. She is a White House correspondent for the New York Times who won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for her work investigating President Trump and his advisors ties to Russia. We have news this morning and she is writing a book about President Trump, which we eagerly await sometime in the year 2022.
Alex Wagner: (16:01)
Rick Davis, as many of you, as you know, served in multiple capacities in both the Reagan and George HW Bush administrations as well as multiple presidential campaigns, including for the first president Bush, Bob Dole, and for John McCain in 2000 and 2008. He now has a very successful career in the private sector.
Alex Wagner: (16:19)
And David Plouffe is also a long time political strategist who most notably was campaign manager for Barack Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, and then served as senior advisor to the president. Since then, David has worked in senior positions at Uber and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. Welcome folks. I hope you can all hear me. My Zoom is completely malfunctioning, but I know your brilliance and strategic insight is going to make up for all technical difficulties. So, thank you in advance.
Alex Wagner: (16:50)
Maggie, I want to start with you, my friend. I think a lot of Americans are not necessarily surprised that President Trump has refused to concede the election, but I wonder if there is anything in particular about the aftermath of this period that has either shocked or surprised you given the fact that you are such a fount of information and prognosis about this administration.
Maggie Haberman: (17:13)
Well, first of all, thank you for the very kind introduction and thank you for having me for this panel. It’s great to be here. And I hope that enough people can hear me through our Zoom challenges at this time. So Alex, look, I’m not at all surprised by how he’s conducting himself. I am a little surprised at how many Republicans have gone along with it over the last couple of days. And I shouldn’t be given the tight hold that he keeps over his party and he has made clear that he is not going to recede from the spotlight when he leaves office. And to be clear, I do think he will leave office.
Maggie Haberman: (17:45)
I think he will just be saying all the things he’s saying about rigged elections as he’s walking out the door. But I think that he is well aware that he has won the second most votes in an election in history. Joe Biden won the first, and he is going to use that to propel himself both commercially and potentially politically in the future. That has made other Republicans very nervous, particularly as Republicans are facing these two runoffs in Georgia in January.
Maggie Haberman: (18:15)
I think that if more Republicans in the Senate in particular were saying it is time to go, I think that might expedite it. You are starting to see some of that. Even Lindsey Graham, who has been among the most vocal defenders of the president’s right to raise what have really been pretty specious questions about fraud in various states, even Lindsey Graham today said Joe Biden ought to be getting intelligence briefings. So, I think that you are seeing some cracks, but it has surprised me how many people, almost all of them privately say they are looking forward to the end of this era have declined to say so publicly.
Alex Wagner: (18:53)
Interesting. Public versus private facing.
Maggie Haberman: (18:56)
Sort of a big thing of this administration is the public versus private, but yes.
Alex Wagner: (18:59)
Yeah. That discrepancy tells you a lot about where we are. You-
Alex Wagner: (19:03)
That discrepancy tells you a lot about where we are. David and Rick, I would love to get you to weigh in on the data we’re processing from this election. And David, in specific, this was a very close election and if you go look at what was happening on the ground in some of these battleground states, these were hard won electoral votes. I would love for you, David, to weigh in on the efficacy of the Trump campaign strategy. And Rick, if you could, I’d love for you to talk about Biden’s campaign strategy on a state-by-state level, if you could. Not every state, but just how you see the battle landscape now that we’re in the aftermath. David, why don’t you start?
Sure. Thanks, Alex. Well, there’s still a lot of data we’re going to have to analyze. It’ll take months really for that data to get [inaudible 00:19:52] into the voter file to get a clear picture. I will say this was not a particularly close race. I mean, they are battleground states for a reason. Biden’s going up with 306 electoral votes, which is a healthy number. It’s the same number Trump got in 2016, but Biden’s margins in a state like Michigan and Pennsylvania’s much wider than that. Popular vote, which is not how we elect our President, but Biden’s margin’s going to be stronger than Obama’s in 2012, just shy of what he got in 2008. So it’s a big number. So I think what the Trump campaign did well, I’d say this, this was a race Donald Trump clearly could have won, as close as it was in some of these states. Had he campaigned more I think effectively during the closing weeks, had he had a better first debate.
The original sin, of course, is not taking the pandemic as seriously as the American people would have liked. But they drove strong turnout. And that’s the one thing, even when polls showed Biden winning by a lot, I kept coming back to his people. His people are coming out, and when his people come out, the watermark just rises that Biden has to surpass. So Wisconsin’s a great example. Trump wins it back in ’16 with about 1,400,000 votes. He puts up 1,600,000 votes. 200,000 votes in Wisconsin is a huge increase. Biden was just able to get over that. So Trump had great turnout, his core rural and exurban/rural county margins held up. It turned out that ’16 was not an anomaly. I think some of that’s probably going to continue in terms of our parties, but Trump was particularly strong there.
He obviously hemorrhaged in the suburban areas and hemorrhaged in exurban areas that were close into suburban areas and urban areas. That’s really where Biden, in Erie County and Pennsylvania, in North Hampton County in Pennsylvania, in the three key counties outside of Milwaukee and Wisconsin, he was able to gain back. But Trump did a remarkable job of turnout, and I think that they knew that they were in good standing in Ohio and Iowa. They cut back their resources there. They felt better about Florida I think than most people thought. They thought Florida would be more a comfortable when for them than a lot of people thought. And just like ’16, they were focused like a laser on those those two Midwestern states in Pennsylvania. So they probably wished they’d done more in Georgia. No doubt about that.
And my guess is they would’ve wished they would’ve done a little more in Arizona. That was a core battleground for them. But based on the data I’ve seen around spending and resources, not as core as it was to Biden. So they did a lot of things well, and I’m sure one of the reasons that he’s so outraged and refusing to exceed to the reality is he probably does think it was a winnable race. But they deserve an enormous amount of credit for turnout. And I think one of the questions going forward is, is this what Republican turnout is going to be in ’22, ’24, ’26, or how much of it was unique to Trump? And that’ll be one of the most important questions facing American politics, because if this turnout is consistent for Republicans, Democrats are going to have a very, very hard time winning elections.
Alex Wagner: (22:58)
Rick, how do you see the landscape given everything that David was just highlighting?
Yeah, I think he’s spot on with the differences. I would drill down and even say that, from a Biden perspective, he knew it was always going to be about Donald Trump. He didn’t get in the way of the debate that everybody was going to have anyway. And so a lot of criticism early on about campaigning from his basement, it reinforced the COVID pitch, brought it home very personally. I think that penetrated. But he didn’t get in the way of people talking about Trump or Trump talking about Trump. I mean, I think over 75% of the people polled on election day said that this was all about Trump. And so that was number one, don’t get in the way of the debate that’s probably going to help you win. Two, I think he knew where his votes were going to come from and so a lot of his strategy was focused on these suburbs and exburbs that David just talked about.
He knew he could try to run up some numbers in Philadelphia, but he had to have those suburbs too. Bucks County, I mean, when was the last time Democrats were actively campaigning in Bucks County? And I think he knew that better than Trump. I think if Trump looked at the results today and realized he could penetrate as he did in the Hispanic vote, he’d actually get double digit Black vote, he’d look at this and go, “Hey, we’ve got to get into those suburbs more.” I mean, he waged a campaign against the suburbs. And the reality is that was a mistake. Suburbs would have listened to his economic arguments and he might’ve done better. And I do think, different from maybe the Hillary Clinton campaign four years ago against Trump, she was running around all over the country trying to put states in play like Arizona and yet didn’t pay attention to the base states.
And I think Biden did a very good job of paying attention to the base states. He spent a lot of time in Michigan, sewed that up. Spent a lot of time in Wisconsin. In Pennsylvania, it was like his second home or third home or fourth home, all in one. I mean, when you look at a week before the election, how many visits he and his surrogates paid in Pennsylvania. And by the way, that was exactly the right strategy. And I think David’s right. If Donald Trump looked at these numbers in Georgia and Arizona and even really Wisconsin, he’d have spent more time there. He spent a lot of time in Wisconsin, but I think if you knew it was within 20,000 votes, he spent more time there. And yet even in Arizona, speaking to the state I probably know better than all the rest, he wouldn’t go to Maricopa County, the largest county in America.
He traveled all over the rural parts of the state and just wouldn’t pull the suburban card. And yet that’s where he lost Arizona, in Maricopa County. So I think there were small mistakes made along the way by both campaigns. I’d say the mistakes Trump made cost him the election I mean, as David said, it was an election he could have won. So we’ll see. I mean, it is a big question when you get over 66% of the vote turned out. Best performance for an election since 1908, that’s saying something. Is that a future wave? It was certainly a big turnout in the mid-terms. Is that all geared toward Trump? And again, if it is geared toward Trump, what’s the future of Trump? So without saying what the future voting is, someone would have to tell me what Trump’s going to do in the future, and good luck with that.
Alex Wagner: (26:30)
Yeah, only Maggie Haberman knows what Trump’s going to do in the future. I just want to note, I spent election night in Bucks County, and I spent so much time criss-crossing the state of Pennsylvania, and literally every part of the state you went to, there was someone from the Biden campaign or someone from the Trump campaign. I mean, they blanketed that state. It was almost preordained that Pennsylvania would be the deciding factor in this election. But to Rick’s point, Maggie, I mean, when we talk about this President and this presidency, you have been in the white hot center of the Trump administration. You know what has gone on inside that White House in a way that few other people do, and I think you understand the mind of Trump. I wonder if you have a sense of what his legacy may be and whether or not he has forever changed the American presidency.
Alex Wagner: (27:18)
I mean that I think in terms of what is expected of leaders and how they approach, not just the office, but the campaign. I mean, Trump basically made every part of the White House into a campaign plank, if you will. He used the White House as the center of his campaign several times. How do you think things change or don’t change in the wake of Trump?
Maggie Haberman: (27:41)
I think it’s a great question, Alex. And I think that both Rick and David have pointed to things that Donald Trump will point to as victories on his way out the door, things that he did to transform at least the Republican Party. But it’s not clear how permanent those will be. In terms of the durability of what he did for the office and the kind of change, I mean, when he was elected, I remember having a conversation with a Democratic strategist about the fact that we were about to all learn just how much of our system was norms and not laws. And that is obviously what we learned over the course of the four years. There are some norms that he busted that we have repeatedly heard. Every Democrat who ran for President this cycle, a campaign is something they would restore, among the things that we heard about was the White House press briefings.
Maggie Haberman: (28:28)
I think that White House press briefings are an important tradition, but I also think that they, certainly in this administration, had almost no utility whatsoever by the end. Will there be things that a President like Biden and maybe a President after him decides not to continue with detailed readouts of foreign leader calls, more specific sharing of schedules, things like that. I don’t know. I think Trump has been so [inaudible 00:28:57] generous that I have a hard time seeing a lasting imprint of a lot of what he did. I don’t think we’re going to elect a wealthy reality TV star, real estate developer in the future with that specific combination, and a lot of what we saw related to that. But it’s a real open question. I guess I’m flipping it a little bit. I think there are things that he did that he discovered he could get away with doing, not just not releasing his tax returns, but certainly up there.
Maggie Haberman: (29:27)
Will there be other elected officials who find that it’s appealing to not go with transparency? I have heard Presidents complain over many years about the media. Donald Trump was not the first. He certainly was the first to call us enemy of the people from the briefing room podium. But there are aspects of his presidency that I think that may have some appeal, stylistically anyway, to future Presidents, but it’s way too soon to say. What we discovered over the four years was not just that so much of what we were used to was a norm and not a law, but that the general public didn’t care about a lot of it. And so I think that how much restores to previous systems and previous expectations and norms is going to depend on what the public will tolerate.
Alex Wagner: (30:12)
Yeah. I can say that nobody’s eager to have another convention just from a media perspective. That whole thing we can throw out, in my humble opinion. Sorry to all convention lovers out there. I want to take just a quick pause and give you guys the results from our first poll, which is again, what do you view as a top priority for the new administration? Overwhelmingly, 74% of you believe it is a COVID-19 response. 14% believe it is the economy. 3% believe its foreign policy. 4% social and racial justice. And 6% believe healthcare is the most top priority for the incoming administration. We have another poll for you. It is again, going to come up in a box on your screen. Do you think the country is going in the right direction or the wrong direction?
Alex Wagner: (30:58)
So take some time to think about that and answer it as we switch gears a little bit and talk about the elusive ideal of common ground here in America. I think that this is a question we ask ourselves generally speaking in American politics, but most certainly in wake of this election there’s the question about how we get back to the united part of the United States. So David, I’ll start with you. What is your expectation for the Biden presidency and the degree to which he can and will pursue this lofty idea of unity?
Well, Alex, let’s start with some optimism before we get to the reality, which is quite pessimistic. The truth is, the American people, on any number of issues, assault, weapons, ban, comprehensive immigration reform, various education and healthcare questions, even climate change, you’ve got north of 70, 80% agreement on a lot of these issues. The issue, of course, is the people who drive our politics, right, and left, who vote in primaries, who contribute, who are most active on social media, really make it harder to compromise. We need more John McCains, quite frankly, people who are willing to be courageous. What’s interesting to me, like Rick, I helped a lot of people through the decades get elected to office, Governor, Congress, Senator, eventually President, not a single one of them, even the worst of them, and some of them were pretty bad, said, “The reason I’m running is so that I never lose.”
And I’m always in the office, I see it, they’re running to do something, and then they get there and the thing they fear most of all is losing. And, quite frankly, I don’t understand it, because being a member of the House is not a great job, quite frankly. It’s a lot of travel. It’s a lot of heartache. So the question is, let’s look at the three parts of the presidency, there’s foreign policy, where an American president has great ability and leeway to execute on their vision. So I think Biden will take full advantage of that. There’s executive actions and regulatory decisions and measures where I think Biden will be very aggressive there. Then there’s legislation. I worked in the White House when we had a Republican Senate with Mitch McConnell as the leader. And so the only things that I think potentially could get done is maybe an infrastructure package.
And by the way, I’d put the odds on all of these well south of 50%. maybe an infrastructure package, maybe a slimmed down immigration package, maybe something around COVID relief perhaps, but the notion we’re going to get long-term deficit deals, tax reform, Biden’s healthcare plan, it’s just not going to happen. Listen, we have the highest debts and deficits since World War Two in this country. We’ve got a grave fiscal situation that happened with a Republican President and a Republican Senate. But McConnell I’m sure is going to say, “Listen, Joe Biden is not going to get one cent from me for anything.” He’s going to go back to, I think, denying any fiscal stimulus. And McConnell, who is a savvy player, it’s why Democrats fear him and hate him, but he’s very savvy, he will make decisions based on one thing, what maximizes his ability to add to his majority in 2022 on the upside [inaudible 00:15:07].
And I think he’s got some incumbents running and tough states, so one question will be, does he think they have a better chance if the economy is a little bit stronger? So that might lead him to cooperate a little bit on some economic measures. He also may view the more unpopular Biden and Democrats are, the more ability my incumbents have to win in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and Florida, which we just saw in this election, will be close again. So I would say, on legislative matters, Biden will try, he’ll have cocktail parties, he’ll talk to McConnell every day. But at the end of the day, particularly in this environment, and this is where over half of Trump’s voters viewing Biden as an illegitimate president hurts. So anybody who is thinking about running in 2024, Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley, Nikki Haley, of course, the Trump kids, all have to say it was stolen from Trump.
So when you say the President’s illegitimate, it makes it really hard for members of a caucus to cooperate with them. And so it’s going to take courage. And, listen, my view on this, last thing I’ll say, is citizens have a role here. We always criticize the media. We criticize social media. We criticize the lack of courage of politicians, all super valid. But citizens have a role here. So if somebody that you gave money to, I’m a Democrat, let’s say you gave money to someone who just won a House race or a Senate race, and they decide to sponsor legislation with a Republican that you disagree with, don’t take out your phone and fire up a tweet and say, “I regret supporting that person,” or, “That person should get a primary.” If we want people to reach across the aisle, we’ve got to celebrate it, even when we disagree with it. And I think as citizens we’re failing on that front.
Alex Wagner: (35:46)
Hmm. I mean, that would be a different tact. I think that the instinct right now is to double down on your side and not congratulate working across the aisle. Rick, if Biden comes into this office as someone who is notoriously capable of brokering relationships and peace up on Capitol Hill, does that matter? Do you see the Republican Party as united in, I guess, the wake of Trumpism? Even if Trump is no longer in office, as David outlines, he will very much be animating the soul of the grand old party. How complicating do you think that makes any efforts to work across the aisle on the part of the President?
Yeah, I think there’s a weird anomaly, and I think David just touched on it. Republicans, they’re going to see this as a referendum that has supported Donald Trump. He turned out more Republicans than anybody in history. It’s an angry party, the way he’s cultivated it. It focuses on the dark end of politics. But in all the surveys, and if Bill McInturff were here, or any of these guys, they’d tell you, everybody wants you to work together. I mean, even though you hate each other, you’re tired of Congress not getting stuff done. And I do think that was the gamble Biden took in the election. He actually talked about that. Not a very popular thing to do. It doesn’t rev up your base. Bipartisanship is not a hot issue. It’s not a wedge issue. It is since Donald Trump takes the opposite approach. Normally, everybody would say, “Yeah, we want unity.”
But I think if he makes good on that, and he brings in Republicans into his cabinet, that stirs the pot a little bit. It confuses the issue. And even though we’re all waiting to see what happens in Georgia, and that’s going to determine the control of the Senate, the reality is even if Republicans win both of those seats, it’s a two vote margin and you’ve got Collins, you’ve got Murkowski, you got Sasse, you’ve got Mitt Romney, you got a lot of votes you can go shopping for at those cocktail parties that David was talking about. And Biden is just the kind of guy who’s going to go to those folks and say, “Look, I got a stimulus. Pelosi wants two and a half trillion, McConnell wants half a billion. Let’s take a trillion …”
Wants half a billion. Let’s take a trillion and a half and call it a day. Those are the kinds of deals I think are going to get cut all the time. Republicans want a jobs bill. So, to Democrats it looks a little bit like infrastructure, to Republicans it looks like a jobs bill.
Going to be hard to vote against that if you’re Susan Collins, who is liberated. This is her last term in office. She’s got six years of looking across the aisle and trying to figure out, what mark does she want to make? And there are a number of other Republican senators like that.
And so there is a crack in the armor whether McConnell likes or not. He is a master strategist, and he can stop things from happening, but he doesn’t have the control on his caucus in the future because the president isn’t going to discipline them for him. And he had that benefit. He could kind of quietly make his moves the last four years and know that anytime he wanted, one call to the White House, and Donald Trump would blow these guys up. Call them disloyal, go right at them. There’s nobody who’s going to do that anymore. McConnell has never done that. He disciplines his caucus in private, not in public because he knows that if that gets hurt politically, he doesn’t get to be majority leader anymore.
And so I think we’re going to enter a completely different environment. I err to the dark outcome that David described, but being a McCain guy, I have to be optimistic all the time.
Alex Wagner: (39:28)
Live in the light, Rick. Live in the light.
Live in the light. And I really do believe that if Biden doesn’t fall prey to the left and sort of trying to grab too much in pursuing policies that aren’t going to even have enough majority in the House versus the Senate, I think he can thread the needle here for at least a couple years before this all heats up again and turns into another presidential campaign. So he does have the benefit that no one’s going to be afraid of running against him because it’s highly likely he won’t be on the ballot four years from now, so he won’t be a threat personally.
Alex Wagner: (40:07)
Maggie, we have reports that President Trump is already talking about running again in 2024. He may start a media company of his own. I think that there is some perhaps optimistic thinking that he will go back to the sidelines, but there is some data that suggests he might very much try to hold onto the mic. And there’s a complicated sort of love triangle that’s emerging between Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell. Where does Donald Trump fit into all of this? You know this man. I mean, does he still try and dominate the Republican Party even out of office? And what do you think the legislative implications of that are?
Maggie Haberman: (40:49)
A couple of things, Alex. Number one, Trumpism, as you know better than anybody, is not defined by some core ideology. It’s very much about the President personally. And it has been this kind of catch-all basket of issues that he has actually cared about, such as immigration to some extent and trade to some extent, and then a bunch of other things that people have thrown into that basket.
Maggie Haberman: (41:12)
So I don’t actually expect that he’s going to become some strong voice on legislation from the sidelines. What I think he will do is hold rallies. And again, this is not set in stone. This is just the likeliest path. He will hold rallies. He will campaign for people if he thinks it looks like they are winning and he will be able to claim that he was a victor. Everything with him is about surviving sort of short increments of time and seeing what he can get away with.
Maggie Haberman: (41:36)
Where he falls in the middle of this is I think he likes the idea of making things very difficult for Joe Biden because he believes, and I’m not approving of this, I’m just saying this is how he views it, he believes that bad things were done to him during his transition and that his presidency was never able to get lift because of the various investigations. He ignores in that the fact that he fired the FBI director, and he fired his own National Security Advisor for lying to the Vice President and so forth and so on. But in his mind, all sorts of damage was done to him, and he wants to be some form of face of the opposition to Joe Biden.
Maggie Haberman: (42:14)
That’s what I imagine. I think that if Mitch McConnell finds Donald Trump to be helpful, he will try to call on him. I think that we will start getting tests in 2022 of the staying power of Donald Trump’s political potency, but I don’t expect him to do much more than sort of on-the-fly things.
Maggie Haberman: (42:29)
The two things you mentioned, both of which are true, that he’s talking about, running for president again, whether he actually runs or not or just says he is, or forming a media company, those are in conflict. Those are not two things you do at the same time. So I think that he is basically leaving himself this big menu of options, and he will pick whichever path is most convenient once he gets there.
Alex Wagner: (42:50)
Maggie Haberman: (42:50)
And I don’t think that involves some well laid out strategy about how he wants to impact the future of [inaudible 00:04:55].
Alex Wagner: (42:57)
Well, he seems to be a president that goes with his gut and just sort of follows his instincts, so I would assume that won’t change in his post-presidency. David-
Maggie Haberman: (43:06)
I just want to say that, Alex, I mean, David pointed to something that is very important. The number of votes that he turned out, we’re going to find out if it was just about him or not, but there is every reason to believe that it was just about him just based on previous of votes for Republicans. So that is something of a commanding presence that he knows he has.
Alex Wagner: (43:25)
Right. David, I would love to get you to weigh in on this as we talk about the future of both parties. There is already an intraparty war brewing among Democrats. The aftermath of the election, the loss of some House seats when there was a gain expected, moderates and progressives publicly decrying each other. Do you think the Democratic Party moves forward? What do you think the implications are? We have a Democratic president coming into office, and yet the caucus itself is very big and very rowdy. What do you think that implies legislatively going forward?
It’s a little less big, right? Because I think the conventional wisdom is Democrats might net anywhere from three to 10, and ended up losing a significant amount of House seats and not winning the Senate seats that … I think by the end people thought some of the Iowas and South Carolinas. Now, both Georgias are still possible. So yeah, I mean, you would’ve felt we were the one that lost the presidential election given the few days afterwards where the left and the center-left are sniping at each other.
But listen, I’d just say, first of all, the numbers. This was a tough congressional map that was put in at the beginning of the last decade. I think most observers thought there was no way the Democrats could win back the house, but in 2018 they did. And I think what you saw was that was kind of the high watermark on that map. And particularly because Trump was able to turn out very strong numbers in some of those Trump districts that went Democrat in ’18.
We lost some of that turf. It turns out we were at our ceiling as opposed to thinking the ceiling was five to 10 seats higher. And listen, Senate races are … Right now, I think the natural state in America, just because where … The Dakotas, the Plains, a lot of the South, Democrats can’t credibly be competitive in those [inaudible 00:45:11]. There are some places like the Pacific Northwest, California, New England, where some of those New England States it’s harder for Republicans.
But right now, I’d say the natural state of things is Republicans should have 54 to 56 Senators. That’s just kind of the … Right? And Democrats are not going to lose the popular vote anytime soon unless we have like a Reagan/Carter thing, but we’re going to struggle to win the Electoral College. That’s just where we are.
First of all, when we look at elections, people always make the mistake … Just first of all, the exit polls are probably completely screwy. Okay? So let’s be careful about that. But as we get full county results in, we can learn a lot. We see that along the border Trump made huge gains. We see that in Miami-Dade Trump made huge gains. Biden won 260,000 votes out of the four counties around Philadelphia. I never thought I’d see that.
So important trends, but we always just look at the votes. You got to remember, to get votes, you need activism, you need money, you need volunteers. And so you have to look at it in a 360 view. So you can’t just say we need candidates who can only appeal to the center and center-right [inaudible 00:46:17] we’ll be okay. If you don’t have the fuel in the car, it won’t work.
But we have to understand that to win Wisconsin in a presidential race or to win a Senate race, which we have to do in Wisconsin in 2022, or a Pennsylvania Senate race, or maintain the House majority, we have to win in really tough areas. I always tell people in presidential races because the popular vote doesn’t matter. It frustrates me, it doesn’t matter. It’s like saying in football, “Well, I gained more yards, but I didn’t have as many points.” Who cares? Okay?
In every battleground state, there are more conservatives than liberals. Every single one. And Republicans get more reliable turnout, so they start closer to the 50 yard line than Democrats do. Why did Biden win? He was able to get enough turnout, and he dominated among self-described moderates. So our party has to understand that you need the activism, you need the passion that comes from the left and younger voters. But to win in Western Pennsylvania, to win in northern parts of Minnesota and Wisconsin, to keep gaining in places like Maricopa County, those are center, center-left, center-right voters.
It drives me crazy, quite frankly, because it isn’t all of the above strategy. How do you win a tough state or district? You need activism, and you need strong turnout, and you need to win the moderate vote. And it’s just simple math that sometimes after elections, we seem to forget Democrats, “Well, it has to be this way. It has to be that way.” And at the end of the day, we have a lot of work to do. And it’s got to be year-round work because if the Republicans can build on what Trump did and cut down our margins with Hispanic voters, particularly rural Hispanic voters and Hispanic men … By the way, the African-American vote in the Carolinas, if you look at some of those rural Carolina counties, it was frightening to me. So we’ve got to get on it.
And then at the same time, how do you maximize your gains in suburban areas? How do you hold onto some of the blue collar gains? How do you keep the urban margins up? So every election reveals where you’re stronger than you thought you were and where you’re weaker than you thought you were. And so I think the sort of internal firing squad stuff is really not helpful. We need to figure out how are we organizing the Rio Grande Valley year-round, 365 days a year, because if we don’t … Some of that was unique to Trump, but I do think you see a trend now that’s quite concerning. And so much of what’s going to drive our politics in the next couple of decades is that rural-urban, rural-exurban, suburban-urban divide. And education. The education divide is as stark as we’ve ever seen in American political history.
Alex Wagner: (48:55)
I’m going to call that a mixed prognosis for the Democratic Party.
Well, yeah, that’s just reality.
Sounded pretty negative to me.
Alex Wagner: (49:03)
Yeah. I was trying to be optimistic given the McCain of all of this, but we are going to have some questions from our community. First, I wanted to welcome back Trevor, and to continue the conversations with a few questions from folks who have been avidly watching this and have submitted some questions.
Alex Wagner: (49:22)
But first we want to kick that off with the results from our second poll about the right direction or the wrong direction of the country. So, 41% of you believe that we are going in the right direction, and 59% of you believe we are going in the wrong direction. The pessimism continues.
Alex Wagner: (49:39)
Trevor, let me just start with you about the legal challenges that are playing out here. I mean, I think a lot of people are wondering how we take the information that we’re all processing right now and make sure that this situation doesn’t happen again in the next election. So, what needs to happen before the 2022 midterm elections, practically speaking, to make sure there is not this uncertainty and chaos after an election? And more sort of broadly speaking, are we, as the United States of America, more or less of a democracy after this year?
Trevor Potter: (50:18)
Well, I think one thing we have to recognize is that it is essentially unique that a candidate who is so far behind in the states is challenging the fundamentals of the election process. Normally, what we see is a dispute over contested ballots, and they claim that ballots weren’t counted that should’ve been, or that maybe there were voters who shouldn’t have voted and did. And those are sort of detailed discussions. That’s the sort of thing that will happen in Georgia in the recount.
Trevor Potter: (50:57)
But when you’re looking at 145,000 vote margin in Michigan or 50,000-plus in Pennsylvania, you’re not talking about the specifics of a couple of voters. The charges there, the claim is that somehow the whole system was invalid, that we shouldn’t have had absentee votes in those states where 40% of Pennsylvanians voted absentee. And that’s a pretty fundamental matter to be raising. As a legal matter, I don’t think it goes anywhere at this point because the … That if ever raised it should’ve been raised before the election, and I don’t think it would’ve gone anywhere. There’s Supreme Court cases allowing different rules for absentee votes than for votes cast on Election Day.
Trevor Potter: (51:50)
But to raise it at this stage really is more of a political point than a legal point. It goes to the conversation about whether Trump will say he actually lost or not and whether his voters will believe he lost. But in order to maintain this concept, I think, soon to be fiction that there was a shot at him winning and that something was done wrong that can be corrected, in order to do that he’s going to end up with an awful lot of people who rely on him for information believing that the result of the election was somehow illegitimate. That if the system had been run differently and correctly, that somehow Trump would therefore have won.
Trevor Potter: (52:42)
And I think that willingness to ignore the vote totals and what people actually have done in these states, it is a problem for us as a democracy. And it will present a problem for President Biden once he’s inaugurated because you will see the pressure from the grassroots and the pressure from the sort of blogosphere and these various silos on the internet on Republican office holders not to cooperate or not to recognize this victory. We’re seeing it in some of these states already where there’s a push by some public officials even to say Pennsylvania and Michigan should ignore the result of the vote, and instead ask their Republican legislators to send Trump electors to the Electoral College and to the vote counting in Congress, even though Biden won the state based on the overall vote totals. So that’s new and, I think, disturbing.
Alex Wagner: (53:59)
Terra incognita. David, I know we’re running short on time with you, so I want to get one more question to you before you have to leave and sort of put all of this in the global context, right? One week after the election, President Trump fires his Secretary of Defense. I think shortly after he started disputing it, the United States formerly withdraws from the Paris Climate Accords. And of course, we know that the US has tried to pull out of the World Health Organization. What is the message that is being sent to America’s allies around the world, especially right now as the President refuses to concede?
Well, Donald Trump may not be moving on, but the rest of the world’s moving on. So other than Putin, every world leader has reached out to Biden of note to congratulate them. Their governments are preparing strategically what a Biden administration means, where there’ll be change of American policy.
So the look for America could not be worse. I mean, we have spent decades going around the world, cajoling, partnering with, sometimes lecturing people about how to run elections, how to build a strong democracy, how to be faithful to your constitution, how to respect democratic norms and traditions. And they’re all being violated. So I understand that’s going to sound like a partisan, but that goes through Republican administrations, Democratic administrations, conservatives, liberals.
So even though I think we look like a joke, so I don’t think most of the world takes this seriously, the fact that an American president who decisively lost an election is saying that he doesn’t care what the voters say, he wants to stay, he’s going to test every little weakness to see if he can stay. For the most part, with some notable exceptions, one of our two major political parties is saying …
Actually, let’s not forget, every Senate race to get called for the Republican is legitimate. Every House race to get called for a Republican is legitimate. Every state that Donald Trump wins is legitimate. But the states that have decided the presidency are not.
It could not be a worse look. And I think it’s going to take years and years and years. It’s not just the new president. I think people will be watching carefully to see if we walk the walk. Not just during a Biden presidency, but what comes next. And back to your first question for Maggie, to me, that is an open question.
And for me, in the future, 2024, whether it’s Biden or Kamala Harris or some other Democrat who’s running for the presidency against whoever emerges on the Republican side, if it’s Trump, we know he’ll just continue the act, but will there be trashing of elections and trashing of election officials and trashing of norms and threatening not to abide by results?
And I really think, and Rick knows far more about this than I do, but I will violate … I’m an amateur here, but the most important people in the Republican Party today about the future are not really Mitch McConnell. On legislation, of course Mitch McConnell. Or Kevin McCarthy or anybody thinking about running for president. It is Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch. It’s the people that run Breitbart. It’s the people that run Prager University. It’s the people that run The Epoch Times. Now it’s the people who are running Newsmax. If they …
… that were running the [inaudible 00:00:57:00]. Now it’s the people who are running Newsmax. If they said the election was not legitimate, if they say Trump isn’t is the thing we need to double down on, whether Trump’s at the head of the snake or not, that’s what’s going to happen because that’s where the energy is. So to me, what we need to be watching is all of those entities over the next 60 to 75 days. Where do they land? Because where they land, I think most Republicans are going to feel that they have to follow that.
Alex Wagner: (57:27)
Maggie, let me allow you to wax philosophical for a moment. Given what David just highlighted about the media and the polarization, I would also say that the emergence of alternate realities and parallel universes where facts are not agreed upon, how do we find common ground? Is it possible? I mean, as someone who works for the alternately very successful and the failing New York Times, where do we find that common ground in the 21st century?
Maggie Haberman: (57:58)
It’s a great question, Alex. And it’s one that I’ve been asked a lot over the last four years and one that I wished that I had a better answer to other than I’m not sure. The choose your own adventure nature of partisan news that David was just describing is, I think, one of the biggest impediments to moving forward with an agreed upon fact set. Because at least for me, the 2016 election was the first time it wasn’t just a difference of opinions, but a difference of describing which reality people wanted to see.
Maggie Haberman: (58:27)
I don’t know how that genie gets put back in the bottle. The thing that I have talked about a lot, and again, it will be a very slow process given that there is such eroded faith in the media, in part at our own hands, over the last two decades, is better news literacy on the part of people who want to be active in the public process.
Maggie Haberman: (58:47)
David mentioned something several answers ago about the role that citizens play. And it is absolutely true that there are a million things that the media should do differently, could have done differently, things that candidates should or could do differently, but citizens have various roles to play in terms of participation in the process. One is voting. That’s the main way that, if you don’t like who your representation is, you can change it. But being aware of what is real and what is not is something that news users need to become savvier about.
Maggie Haberman: (59:19)
I have waxed on at length, to boring length, about the destructive nature of Twitter. I think it is very dangerous how many people in newsrooms get their main news from Twitter these days. That actually really scares me because it does shape the opinions a lot. And I remember this was just an emerging thing in 2012 in a real way. And now it is just a full-flown virus. So I don’t have a great answer, but I do think that that is one component of it.
Alex Wagner: (59:51)
Rick, let me just ask you this last question as we think about ourselves as part of a global community. In terms of foreign policy and restoring alliances, what should be at the top of the incoming president’s agenda in terms of what his administration can do to begin to reopen American channels to the rest of the world?
Well, there’s a bunch of leftovers. I think President-Elect Biden is going to have to address sort of how he’s going to follow-up on the Middle East peace initiative that Trump initiated. In the Middle East, they’re pretty happy with the Trump initiative and wouldn’t want to see backtracking on that, and everything we’ve heard publicly is that he’s for it. So he’ll need to articulate that as a policy, and it’s more complicated for him since relations with Saudi Arabia are going to be refocused on things like humanitarian and human rights, rather than just economics and military.
I think pushing back on our competitors, China and Russia, resetting the relationships there as competitors, not pals. And there’s a whole host of issues, North Korea, Iran, a lot of them focused around nuclear ambitions of these countries that Biden comes from a really bad place. I mean, the Obama administration kind of booted those two problems, kicked them into the next century, and they were getting worse, not better. And nothing’s changed, right? I mean, it’s not like Trump had anything. None of the Trump magic really worked in either one of those regards.
So does he pick up with the Europeans and try to find a new accord that they can push into Iran to stop nuclear development there? And what kind of sanctions or pressure can they put on China to try and discipline the North Korean regime? I mean, these are really big moving pieces that are going to be immediate for him on his desk.
And obviously, the bilateral relationship with China is pretty much in disrepair. And I’m sure if it were better, I think Biden’s ambitions would be human rights and climate to be almost the top two priorities with China, but trade and economics and COVID are going to step on those things. So there is going to be an enormous amount of questions about what is the new US bilateral relationship with China going to look like. And then that will inform literally half the world population.
So it is one of the questions that is pressing now with all this discussion about the transition is, what access to information is Biden going get to try and start putting some ideas together related to those things? Because unlike most issues, it’s what you don’t know in those areas that actually are material, not what is in the public domain. And so I think that’s going to be some of the challenges that he has literally in the first 100 days of his term.
Alex Wagner: (01:03:19)
Maggie, what’s your expectation for the way in which the Biden presidency will be different than the Trump presidency, not just in terms of style, but in terms of execution, in terms of … I mean, they’re both, I think, tenacious in the pursuit of their ideas, and Biden seems very intent on repairing the sort of broken fabric of this country. I mean, as a political animal, how do you see him in terms of accomplishing those goals?
Maggie Haberman: (01:03:48)
I think that Biden has, well, a couple of things. I was having a conversation with someone about this the other day, that the last two presidents, including Trump, Trump and Obama, have not been creatures of Washington in any real way. Yes, Obama was in the Senate, but it’s just not the same thing. Joe Biden loves old Washington, right? And it’s a Washington that actually doesn’t really exist anymore.
Maggie Haberman: (01:04:10)
So how he navigates his way around that, I think, is an open question. I think, in general, his approach to politics has been something of a do-no-harm approach. He has tried to be inoffensive to people, but he clearly also knows what he wants to say. He’s been thinking about and knows what he wants to do. He’s been thinking about running for president for many decades. And so I think that actually, unlike Donald Trump, Joe Biden is going to come in with a number of things he actually wants to do. And I think it’s going to be far less captive to various people’s ideas than what Donald Trump was. I don’t think you’re going to see Joe Biden demonizing entire groups of people. I mean, I think that we can’t really skip past the fact that Donald Trump spent several years in office demagoguing immigrants, making statements that were clearly racist, making statements that were clearly sexist. You’re not going to see Biden do that. I think Biden will have a separate set of issues, but I think they will just be typical of what we’ve seen.
Maggie Haberman: (01:05:08)
And then there’s the functionality piece of it. Look, I don’t know what his outreach to the half of the country that didn’t vote for him is going to look like. I think that’s an open question. I think that you are going to see a much more traditionally functional White House than what we have seen over the last four years. And it has become something of a punchline, but just sort of the carousel of revolving staff in and out of the president’s service and in and out of his head. In one year, another person in another year, basically would sign him on what he wanted to do.
Maggie Haberman: (01:05:42)
I think you’re going to have a lot less of that in a Biden White House, and I do think that that will end up having an effect over time. It might take a while, but I think it will be important in terms of the tone he sets for the country.
Alex Wagner: (01:05:54)
I hear in that a note of optimism about functionality and [crosstalk 01:06:00]-
Maggie Haberman: (01:06:01)
I mean, just even on a simplistic level, just because somebody was messaging me, the communications director at the White House, Alyssa Farah, was rumored yesterday to be looking for another job. And she just put out a Tweet thread of sort of the moments she most remembered in the last couple of years in this administration. In a typical administration, this would be pretty mundane, but in this one, because there has been this sort of oath of don’t go out and look for another job while the president’s fighting the results, it’s seen as strange.
Maggie Haberman: (01:06:32)
I think just the degree to which, how unusual this White House is and how abnormal it’s been has filtered down to the very granular level. I think that we forget because we’ve been doing it for so long, but I think it will have an impact when it’s not like that anymore.
Alex Wagner: (01:06:47)
Yes. I think that that is sort of as the door closes, the window opens. And that is, I think, an important takeaway from all of this. I want to thank all of you very talented, brilliant people. We have another poll that is going to be popping up on everyone’s screen about what has the most potential to bring the country together. And I want to thank the great Maggie Haberman, Rick Davis, David Ploeffe, and I think, Trevor, we’re losing you as well. Trevor, thank you for your time as well.
Alex Wagner: (01:07:16)
We are so thankful to have this admittedly somewhat dark assessment, but I do think that there is some silver lining, some optimism, about basic competence perhaps. And a decidedly lofty goal, but maybe somehow achievable about finding common ground. So thank you guys all for your insights and thoughts on the topics.
Alex Wagner: (01:07:36)
I want to now introduce Mark Green. As many of you know, Mark has had an extraordinary career in public service, serving as ambassador to Tanzania, as president of the International Republican Institute. He served as the administrator of USAID before becoming executive director of the McCain Institute. Welcome, Mark. I will pose to you the question that is burning in all of our heads. Do we have any hope of finding common ground, in your opinion?
Mark Green: (01:08:04)
Yeah, Alex, I’ll be the optimistic note in all of this. So as I was listening to our great guests, I was reminded of an experience that I had with John McCain a few years ago. It was right after the 2016 elections. I was serving as president of the International Republican Institute, and McCain was chairman of the board. And I was persuaded, along with my friends at NDI, the National Democratic Institute, our sister organization, to sponsor an event in which we had Madeleine Albright and John McCain on the same stage talking about foreign policy.
Mark Green: (01:08:40)
Well, they disagreed on just about every issue you can think of. And when I got back to my office, I thought, “Well, that was a bust. We just wasted all of our time.” I could not believe how positive the response was over and over again. And I said, “But they disagreed.” And I kept hearing over and over again, “But it’s how they disagreed. They disagreed civilly. They treated each other with respect. They actually listened to each other.”
Mark Green: (01:09:12)
And at the McCain Institute, an institute bearing John McCain’s name, we try to put that principle to work. Now, like McCain, we most definitely have a point of view on a range of topics. We believe in the primacy of human liberty and human dignity, and we’re internationalists in our outlook, and we believe in the importance of American alliances and leadership. We also believe in the marketplace of ideas, and we believe in that need to be civil, to listen to each other and to make common cause where we can, because we’re stronger that way, and we know that’s what our opponents, what authoritarians, really fear the most.
Mark Green: (01:09:54)
So at the McCain Institute, we have a number of bipartisan international working groups. We have a working group on Russia, a working group on human rights and democracy, great power competition, strengthening America’s alliances, the topics that were so near and dear to McCain’s heart. Not everyone on these groups agrees. They have quite strong points of view and sometimes disagree sharply. But we do listen to each other, and we do try to capture that sense of constructive disagreement and looking for ways to turn that disagreement into consensus where we can, to make common cause, and to try to create actionable items.
Mark Green: (01:10:40)
And I think there are going to be plenty of opportunities in the coming months, in the coming years, to use that model. Yeah, there’s going to be disagreement between the two parties. There’ll be disagreements between Biden and McConnell. But if they disagree constructively and if they try to turn that into action items, there’s an awful lot that can get done.
Mark Green: (01:11:02)
So I am one of those who believes sure, we’ve gone through a bruising time, absolutely. We’ve seen information weaponized. We’ve seen social media used and abused. We’ve seen too much of perhaps echo chamber media. But on the other hand, I think the basic fundamentals of our institutions are still there. And I believe that we have a great opportunity, all of us who care about these causes and about democracy, to really listen to each other and move forward. So I’m your note of optimism tonight, Alex.
Alex Wagner: (01:11:39)
Thank you. It is much appreciated, Mark. Before we go, I want to go over the results of our latest poll. Asked the question, what has the most potential to bring the country together? 54% of you believe it is Joe Biden, the incoming president, reaching across the aisle. 18% of you believes it is a plan to address COVID, our shared humanity in the face of a global pandemic. 13% of you believes it is Trump changing his tone. Good luck to us all on that. 12 of you believe it is an agreement on an economic stimulus package, perhaps likely in the coming weeks and months. And 3% of you believe it is alignment on foreign policy. So some interesting feedback in terms of what you think might get us to that common ground in the end. I just want to thank everybody who spoke tonight. I am filled with thoughts, lots to chew on mentally in the coming weeks. Trevor Potter, Maggie Haberman, Rick Davis, David Ploeffe, and of course, our wonderful hosts, Cindy McCain and Mark Green, Mark Green dropping the optimism so necessarily at the end of all of this.
Alex Wagner: (01:12:50)
Thank you to everybody who joined us in the audience. We hope you enjoyed this conversation. We hope you feel a little bit more optimistic about the future and the road ahead. Thank you to the McCain Institute and everybody who helped put this together. We look forward to seeing you all again soon. Thank you again.