Stay Tuned Transcript: Politics & Pandemics (with David Plouffe)

Stay Tuned Transcript: Politics & Pandemics (with David Plouffe)

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Preet Bharara:

From CAFÉ, welcome to Stay Tuned. I’m Preet Bharara.

David Plouffe:

This is the first time Trump can not really spin his own alternative facts and version of events. Pretty soon, unfortunately, we’re going to know people who’ve lost jobs, who’ve been affected economically, who’ve gotten the virus, and that’s going to fly in the face of him saying everything’s fine.

Preet Bharara:

That’s David Plouffe. He’s the author of A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump, a pragmatic handbook for voters getting involved in the 2020 election. Plouffe also hosts the Campaign HQ Podcast, where he breaks down the latest on the presidential race with campaign managers and political insiders who are closest to the action. And Plouffe knows plenty about campaigns. He managed Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential run, served as a senior advisor to the president during his 2012 reelection, and advised countless candidates as a partner at a political consulting firm, founded by his close collaborator, David Axelrod.

Preet Bharara:

We’ll talk about Joe Biden’s comeback, the political impact of the Coronavirus, and how Plouffe believes democrats can defeat President Trump in November. That’s coming up, stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

Hey, folks. You’ve heard me talked about Café Insider, and maybe you’ve listened to samples of it in this feed. It’s a subscription service that helps members make sense of law and politics. And we want to make sure everyone gets an opportunity to participate, which includes students, who are eligible for 65% off an annual membership, plus the first two weeks free. No time like the present to give a student in your life, or if you’re a student listening, give yourself the gift of understanding. Head to café.com/student. That’s café.com/student.

Adam:

Hi Preet. This is Adam from Denver. My question is about the actions, or really, the inaction of the House following the closure of the impeachment proceedings. They don’t seem to be following up on any of the potential impeachment witnesses, such as John Bolton, but they also don’t seem to be investigating anything else, including Bill Barr’s political interference with the DOJ. They haven’t sought to hear from any of the prosecutors who resigned from the Roger Stone case, and they also don’t seem to be interested in holding any hearings about the botched response to the Coronavirus outbreak. Or any of the other long standing targets for investigation, such as abuse of office and personal enrichment by Trump’s family.

Adam:

So I was wondering if you had any thoughts about this, about this lack of interest in pursuing their investigative functions? Thanks, I love your show. I love your choice of guests. Please keep the hits coming.

Preet Bharara:

Hey, Adam. Thanks for your question. There are a lot of things going on, and there a lot of different issues that the House could be pursuing. One thing I think that’s going on is that there’s an overwhelming amount of other news; the primaries, that rough contest taking place, week after week of primaries and caucuses. You also have the Coronavirus, which is a very serious problem in the country; that’s taking up a lot of oxygen also. It is true, however, that I have also not seen any push to get John Bolton’s testimony. We hear from time to time something about the delay of his book, but to date, neither the House nor the Senate has subpoenaed John Bolton; that is a little bit odd. The House has asked for the testimony of the four Roger Stone prosecutors who withdrew from the case, but no word yet on whether that’s going to take place.

Preet Bharara:

Another thing that’s going on that we’ve talked about previously on the show is a legal setback the House has suffered in trying to obtain testimony from former government officials. The DC Court of Appeals, as we’ve discussed, basically said that they’re not going to get involved in the effort to force or compel former White House Council, Don McGahn, to testify. It may be that part of this is House democrats are trying to figure out the most effective way forward.

Preet Bharara:

As for the Coronavirus, and oversight of that response, which I think has been inadequate, as we speak, as I’m recording this podcast on the morning of Wednesday March 11th, there is in fact a House oversight and reform committee hearing that includes, among other people, Doctor Anthony Fauci. There’s some argument about whether or not that hearing is going to go as long as the Chair, Carolyn Maloney, wants it to go. But that is happening, and I expect you’re going to see a lot of oversight effort and attention to the Coronavirus response.

Preet Bharara:

One more thing to look for, which may be interesting, is that to the extent, there is going to be additional action with respect to Burisma, and Hunter Biden, in the wake of Ukraine, and in the wake of Joe Biden looking like he might be the nominee for the Democrats, there might be a countermeasure that’s been discussed by, among other people, Michael Bloomberg and his advisors. As an effort to play, I guess, tit-for-tat, if Republicans and Trump supporters are going to investigate Joe Biden’s son, then it’s possible Democrats, and the House, may choose to investigate Donald Trump’s children, and financial dealings and benefits they may have gotten by virtue of their relationship to the President.

Preet Bharara:

So there’s not a lot of time between now and the election, and my guess is that democrats want to be careful and picky and selective in what they choose to pursue, but you can see one or both of those things happening; Coronavirus and maybe some response to what the Republicans are doing on Burisma.

Preet Bharara:

This next question comes in an email from Nate who says, “Hi, Preet. Love the pod, you’re an invaluable voice of reason. I was surprised to hear you refer to Lee Harvey Oswald as the “alleged” assassin of JFK. Correct me if I’m wrong, but your use of the word “alleged” seemed deliberate. Do you believe in any of the JFK assassination conspiracy theories, or were you respecting the presumption of innocence? Thanks.

Preet Bharara:

So yes, Nate, it’s true. Last week when I was having the conversation about deep fakes with Professor Farid, we were discussing a photograph of Lee Harvey Oswald, and in reference to him, I called him the “alleged” assassin. No, I do not believe in the conspiracy theories. I do believe that Lee Harvey Oswald is the person who assassinated JFK. I will note though, that he was murdered before he had the ability to be tried in a court of law. And I guess my habitual training as a lawyer and former US attorney is, in that circumstance, to use the word “alleged”.

Preet Bharara:

This question comes from Twitter user “Paula votes blue,” who says, “# Ask Preet, tell us how you really feel. Damn this thread is cathartic.” Paula appears to be referring to a Twitter thread that I posted, and it’s very rare that I post threads of any kind. I like to keep my Tweets to a minimum in terms of length. But I posted one on Saturday night. The first Tweet in the thread was “Donald Trump is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on America.” Now, a bunch of folks have asked me, including members of my family, why those Tweets? Why then? And I’ll tell you, I try to remain calm and measured. And I generally am. But there are moments when you do feel overwhelmed by the ridiculousness of the administration, the threats that are coming fast and furious, whether they’re economic, or health-related, or political, or damaging to the rule of law.

Preet Bharara:

As I was sitting in front of the television, on Sunday evening, and hearing the reports about the bottom falling out of the market in the coming days, and hearing more and more about the unpreparedness of the administration to respond to the Coronavirus, and hearing about my own boys’ high school closing suddenly because there was a positive case, in the middle school, in the school district that I live in, I thought back to what the initial response of Donald Trump was. And it was this: on national television, Donald Trump referred to the Coronavirus as “a Democratic hoax”. He uses the word “hoax” to disguise his own ineptitude, to attack his enemies, to put other people down. And it occurred to me that could be turned on its head, because the hoax actually emanates from the White House.

Preet Bharara:

So, let me end by addressing a bit of news that broke, literally, as I was walking into the studio this Wednesday morning, March 11th, and that is Harvey Weinstein has finally been sentenced. And there have been some speculation about what the sentence would be, Anne Milgram and I discussed it on the Café Insider podcast. Anne has a lot of experience with these kinds of cases. She was a Manhattan ADA herself. In our discussion, we thought that he might receive something like six to nine years. Recall, that he was convicted on two of five counts with which he was charged by the Manhattan DA’s Office, and the two counts on which he was convicted were the less serious ones of the five. Based on the law in New York, Weinstein could have gotten as little as five years on the two convictions. But in this case, the Judge, James Burke, has imposed a sentence of 23 years on Harvey Weinstein. He imposed 20 years on the count of criminal sexual assault of Miriam Haley, and another three years, consecutively, for rape in the third degree of Jessica Mann.

Preet Bharara:

I think a lot of factors probably went into the decision to impose such a high sentence. I think the judge was trying to achieve a deterrent affect. I think the judge was trying to send a message. I think the judge was not impressed by the lack of remorse shown by Harvey Weinstein. And I think this is a very important milestone in the treatment of these kinds of cases. By the way, I think credit is due to a lot of different folks, not just the Prosecutor’s Office, for this conviction and hefty sentence. Credit goes to the victims who came forward under very difficult circumstances after having been harassed and abused and careers destroyed, nonetheless came forward and made this kind of conviction possible. Credit also goes to the free press that often gets attacked by the President and by others, in particular Megan Twohey, Jodi Kantor of the New York Times, and Ronan Farrow of the New Yorker, who we’ve had on the show.

Preet Bharara:

And while the 23 year sentence is significant, we have to put it in perspective. Here’s a statement released by the Silence Breakers, a group of people who were victimized by Harvey Weinstein. They write, “Harvey Weinstein’s legacy will always be that he’s a convicted rapist. He is going to jail, but no amount of jail time will repair the lives he ruined, the careers he destroyed, or the damage he has caused.” That’s true. One more thing, while justice may have been done in this case, it’s not finished because Harvey Weinstein still faces charges in California. Of course, Harvey Weinstein is just one person. We’ll know whether these efforts are succeeding when more people like Harvey Weinstein are brought to the bar of justice, convicted, and sentenced.

Preet Bharara:

It’s time for a short break; stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

My guest this week is David Plouffe. He’s a political consultant who managed Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Last week, he published A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donal Trump, a collection of straightforward strategies for getting out the vote this year. He joins me to talk about his memories of the contentious 2008 primary battle between Obama and Hillary Clinton, his hopes for Democratic Party unity, and the uncertain future of primaries and caucuses. We also talk through President Trump’s handling of the Coronavirus and reflect on the candidacies of the presidential candidates who have dropped out in recent weeks.

Preet Bharara:

That’s coming up, stay tuned.

Preet Bharara:

David Plouffe, thank you for being on the show.

David Plouffe:

Preet, it’s great to be with you.

Preet Bharara:

So you have a book, a new book called A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump. Everyone should carry one of these. We’re going to get to this and some of your prescriptions in it, in a moment. But I should state for the audience, we are recording a little after 2:00 PM on Monday, March 9th. And all hell seems to be breaking loose. There’s a proliferation of Coronavirus cases. Schools are closing. Universities are saying they’re not going to have face-to-face teaching. We’re getting lots of stories of more people contracting the Coronavirus because there’s now testing, seemingly for the first time, on any kind of scale. On top of everything else, the bottom of the stock market seems to be falling out. This morning, after, I think, four or five minutes of trading, the New York Stock Exchange halted trading, based on protocols, because the S&P 500 dropped a full seven percent just within minutes.

Preet Bharara:

So let me ask you first, David, given your past on the Obama campaign, how much does the last few days feel like the fall of 2008, when the financial crisis was upon us? Is that a fair comparison or not?

David Plouffe:

Well, we didn’t have the physical health component, but yeah, the uncertainty, every day seeming worse than the last, people really beginning to get concerned about their jobs and saving; so it does. I mean, we’ve had plenty of challenges in this country in the intervening 12 years, but that’s a long time, historically, to go from, certainly, downturn to downturn, if that’s where we’re headed. But yeah, I think it does have a familiar feel.

Preet Bharara:

Can you describe for us what was that like? I remember I was working in the Senate at the time, so we were watching it sort of play-by-play. There was, I think, a moment where John McCain … Did he suspend his campaign in September?

David Plouffe:

He did.

Preet Bharara:

2008, yeah. You guys did not?

David Plouffe:

We did not. Folks forget, that was a relatively close race, deep into the election. I think that one of the reasons Barack Obama was able to, kind of, take a lead, he was never going to give up, was even though he was the younger person, the less experienced person, classically, he looked calm. Famously, on the day McCain said he was going to suspend his campaign, Barack Obama said a president has to be able to learn to do more than one thing at a time. Then, there was the meeting at the White House, that McCain pushed Bush to have, with all the congressional leaders. McCain did not perform well there, Obama did. Kind of that performance delta leaked out.

David Plouffe:

But for us, what was interesting, you’re running a presidential campaign which is hard enough, and then you have, really, from September 15th on, I mean things were deteriorating prior to Lehman. But during that period, I mean, in a way, the presidential campaign almost came secondary. And also from a candidate standpoint, I mean, Barack Obama was talking to Hank Paulson every night, he was talking to economic experts. So this doesn’t matter to people, right? But to us, it really made it harder. But, you know, you just didn’t know what the next day would bring.

David Plouffe:

I think that’s what hearing. Listen, you see, we obviously hope for the best in terms of Trump’s response to this and our government officials’ response. But when he Tweets out today, on Monday, trying to basically say, “Hey, the flu kills a bunch of people. Why are people freaking out?” We know what’s behind that. The only thing this man cares about is himself. For the first time, on Friday when he was down in Georgia, he didn’t look good; physically, or obviously the crazy stuff he said. And I think it’s because he’s not concerned about the number of cases, or deaths, or even the market; he’s concerned about his political life. This is the first time Trump cannot really spin his own alternative facts and version of events. Pretty soon, unfortunately, we’re going to know people who have lost jobs, who’ve been affected economically, who’ve gotten the virus, and that’s going to fly in the face of him saying, “Everything’s fine. Don’t look over here, we’ve got it all under control.”

David Plouffe:

That’s the other thing. We saw with Katrina, with President Bush, that’s really when the public lost faith and confidence in him. One of the things that’s damaging is our presidential campaigns are not covered the way the presidency unfolds. Right? It’s all like, “Who’s got this policy idea? Who’s likely to get 51 votes for it?” But at the end of the day, that’s all important. Most of what comes into that building, you weren’t planning for. At its most basic level, what the American people expect is, regardless of the politics, regardless of the inconvenience, they want you to be on top of crisis. So far, we’re a few days into this, in terms of Trump really taking the ship of state, and it’s probably one of the historically worst performances we’ve ever seen.

Preet Bharara:

Because for among other reasons, you can’t mock the Coronavirus. You can’t belittle the Coronavirus. You can’t give it a silly, dumb nickname. You can’t bully the Coronavirus. And other people have been making this point; it is what it is, and it’s a medical thing. It’s not a opponent about which you can spin fables and yarns, and he doesn’t know how to do it. Remember, as recently as a week or two … I lose track of time because everything moves so fast, when there was the first big stock market dip, I think he said, “Oh, that’s because the public finally got a look at who the Democratic nominees might be,” because there was a debate. Well, I don’t think there was any debate last night. So it’s a downhill, rhetorical slide for him.

Preet Bharara:

I want to go back to 2008 for a second, and see if there are other lessons to be wrung from that. You talked about this meeting that Bush had with both candidates, Obama and McCain. I remember that, and I talked to somebody who was there. And you say that the reports of the delta became known. Part of what I remember hearing was, and the difference between the performances of Obama and McCain, was not one of knowledge or expertise, but one of temperament. That Obama seemed, and I think became a president of this type as well, sort of calm and collected; no drama Obama. McCain was kind of fiery and a little dramatic. Is that fair, and do you think that mattered?

David Plouffe:

Well, I think temperament for sure, though I think McCain’s grasp of both the problem and the solutions was also lacking. I almost feel bad saying this, given how much we all still love so much about John McCain, but it’s just a truth.

Preet Bharara:

Yes, of course.

David Plouffe:

The other thing was it was an unusual meeting because George W. Bush … I remember Josh Bolton, who was Bush’s Chief of Staff, calling me, somewhat sheepishly, saying, “We kind of have to do this meeting.” He didn’t come out and say it, but reading between the lines, it’s like, “He’s our nominee and he wants to have the meeting.” So this was not a meeting Bush called. This was McCain saying, “We all need to go back to Washington and do what’s right and put this ahead of politics.” You had the republican leadership for the House and Senate there, but they kind of designated McCain as their spokesperson, and leader of that meeting. The Democrats did the same for Barack Obama. McCain didn’t say much, was not really focused on driving to a solution. So I think people saw through, that it was a stunt.

David Plouffe:

But the other thing I’d say about that is, people were not supportive of a bailout. The easier politics for us would’ve been to say, “Hey, there’s a Republican president in office. They’ve completely messed this out, and they need to clean it up.” I think Barack Obama deserves a lot of credit because we didn’t even have a conversation about what the right thing to do. It was so clear that we were literally on the precipice.

David Plouffe:

So that’s the other thing I think that that’s a good reminder of is, when presidents are faced with crises like this, the last thing you can do is think about your own politics. You just can’t do it. I know that a lot of people believe that can’t be true, that everything these people do is politics. But there is a difference, I’ve worked on Capital Hill in senior leadership positions with a lot of local government officials, and local government officials, as you know, do have to handle crisis. But in Washington, it is the executive branch always, no matter whether the politics are good or bad, it’s the right time or the wrong time, you’ve got to be the one that can’t just posture in position. You just got to deal with it.

David Plouffe:

That’s the other thing that concerns me about Trump is, no matter what you … Democrat, Republican presidents for pretty much the entire history of the country, with a couple of exceptions, have operated in that way. Trump, obviously from day one, on the day he put his hand on the bible and gave that dark speech, he opened up his presidential reelection campaign. But we see now the terror in his eyes, and the terror in his Tweets, is not for any of us, it’s just for him. And I think that is going to be revealed for all to see, and I think he could be heading to a pretty dark place, politically.

Preet Bharara:

Did you have sense, back in September of 2008, either at the time, or in retrospect, that the inflection point that was sort of negative … and it was quite negative for the country, was for good or ill, ended up being positive for the Obama campaign? Then, I want to ask you, in parallel, what effect do you think the crisis of the last few days will have on the trajectory of this race?

David Plouffe:

Well, back in 2008, so Lehman was September 15th, I believe, or September 14th. There was a two week period then, before that really dark Monday, and the first presidential debate, which is another thing where McCain says, “I might skip the debate because we all have to be focused on the financial crisis.” Obama said, “There’s no more important time for the American people to see us, because one of us is going to win and have to handle this, because clearly it’s going to be something that’s going to be with us for a number of years.” So the crisis itself probably added a little bit of sense that we need a change, but it really was the performance of the two candidates.

David Plouffe:

That first debate, as you might recall, was centered on foreign policy. Obviously, we started the debate talking about the financial crisis. So it’s like, well, here’s the young Senator who seems calmer, who’s trying to reassure us, who seems to be putting politics second, and then he wins the event that should’ve been McCain’s strongest event; the debate on foreign policy. So it’s those two weeks, I think, where people really, for the first time, saw Barack Obama fully as someone who could sit in the Oval Office, sit in the Situation Room, go to the United Nations. They saw him as a president, which now seems … we kind of take it for granted. But voters still had concern back there: they liked him, they thought he was knew, they thought he had changed; but was this too big of a gamble? And then, you add Palin’s selection to that. McCain became the reckless and the risky choice, and Obama became the safe choice.

David Plouffe:

I don’t know, yet, where the politics go on Trump, and I think that should be secondary in all of our thoughts. But we see his approval ratings, we know that the only thing holding him up into the 40s is a statistically healthy economy, although there’s lots of people that don’t feel great about their own economic situation. So any kind of sustained hit to economy I think will hurt him, but I think what will hurt him even more is just the way he’s behaving. I mean, that Tweet today, where he’s basically, like, “I don’t understand it. We have a lot more flu cases, a lot more flu deaths, and people aren’t freaking out.” I mean, that will be part of American history now, a dark part of American history, because presidents just don’t act this way. He is not up to this moment, and this is going to get a lot worse before it gets a lot better. I think he can’t bluster his way out.

David Plouffe:

But if nothing else, the American people want to know their President’s got it, whether they support the person or not, whether they despise the person or not. At those moments, you want to know they’ve got it. This guy is about the most unstable presence we’ve ever seen in that office.

Preet Bharara:

So when we think about the other side of the political coin, on the Democratic side, you’re Joe Biden or you’re Bernie Sanders, put yourself in the position of being on their campaign. What are you saying behind the scenes about how they should address the issue? How they should distinguish themselves from each other, not just from Trump? What’s the strategy here?

David Plouffe:

That’s a really interesting question, Preet. So harkening back to 2008, we still in … Barack Obama in interviews, in town halls, and in speeches, as the economic crisis got worse, would talk about healthcare, and Iraq, and bringing about change in core elements of our campaign, but you had to really start and emphasis with where the country was, which is, “Let me tell you where I think we are and what we need to do about it.”

David Plouffe:

So I think Sanders and Biden both need to understand that what democratic primary voters, much less the American people, are concerned about is, what’s going on with the Coronavirus, and what are we going to do about it, and how it affects us. So we’re talking, Monday, I saw that Joe Biden did an interview with MSNBC, Bernie Sanders’ talk about free vaccines. That’s good. I mean, I’d actually like to see both of them really kind of narrate Trump’s response to this every day, and critique it, when it’s worth critiquing, and remind people what someone who’s stable and smart and selfless would do. I think it’s a real opportunity.

David Plouffe:

It’s too early to know. So we’re recording this, Monday. We’ve got some big primaries in our debate on Tuesday night. But there have been some polls to suggest that Democratic primary voters view Biden, maybe not unsurprisingly because he served as Vice President, as the person they would trust most in a crisis. So just as we’ve seen in the markets, a flight to safety, I think there may be an increasing flight to safety in politics. So I think this is set up exceeding well for Joe Biden to be a calm voice for people, so that people can see that, actually, there’s a lot of things we should be doing that we’re not doing. Also I think that will drive Trump crazy, which I’m not wild about as a citizen, but it’s probably good politics.

Preet Bharara:

Yeah, I’m not running for anything, but I’ve been getting more angry lately, seeing the ineptitude of the response, and the lying about this, when we’re talking about life and death, and the minimizing of it. I went on a Twitter rant yesterday, but I’m a private citizen and I think that’s okay every once in a while. Do the democratic candidates have to be careful about how they critique the President? Can they be too forceful? Can they be too meek?

David Plouffe:

Well, I think when he deserves critique, both for the response to date, and obviously comments like he’s made today, that are so deeply irresponsible, he deserves harsh and frequent critique. When he’s doing something well … Like Gavin Newsom, the Governor of California actually said, he’s been pretty satisfied with his discussions with the federal government over the cruise ship. So that’s fine. We need to call balls and strikes here fairly. I don’t think we should just get in the mindset of we’re going to critique everything he does or his administration does, and when they do something smart, not praise that.

David Plouffe:

So no, the health and safety of the American people and our economy need to be front and center. But I don’t think he’s going to change, right? I mean, this is who he is. And I think the panic that is emerging in him is going to make him behave even more irrationally. There’s going to be days where almost all of his administration and Republicans in Congress are saying one thing, and he’s saying the other.

David Plouffe:

One question I have is when does Fox News turn?

Preet Bharara:

Will they? Look, I’ve been talking to people, some of them on the right and some of them who know people who are Trump supporters, and I wonder, how are the Trump supporters reacting to the President’s performance on this? And I’ll tell you, a lot of them, still, as recently as Saturday or Sunday … and we’re recording on Monday, they take the view that, yeah, this is overblown. People are panicking. There are some Democrats, they claim, are rooting for the Coronavirus to spread, they’re rooting for a recession. You have a standup comedian who has a television show who specifically rooted for a recession so that you can get rid of Trump.

Preet Bharara:

So they view all of this through the lens of time and time again, the Democrats said, “This is a disaster,” or, “That’s a disaster,” whether you’re talking about the Russian investigation, or you’re talking about Ukraine, or you’re talking about the killing of Sulemani in Iran. All these terrible things never came to pass. Here’s another example of that. Will that break?

David Plouffe:

Well, I think, first of all, the most important actor will be our nominee. Listen, this primary could end up wrapping up sooner than any of us thought, a couple of weeks ago. Right? So if it Joe Biden, he’s going to narrate kind of what the Democrats think about this, and how to handle this. He’s not rooting for a recession, and I think he’ll be sober in how he approaches this. So I think that will be helpful, because I do worry a little bit about that.

David Plouffe:

But I do think it shouldn’t have been the case, but whether it was Ukraine, so many things that’s happened in this administration, Charlottesville, where he did get some criticism, but they’ve stayed unified behind him. At the very least, I think you’re going to see people saying, he needs to take it easy with the Tweeting. I saw a little commentary from some conservatives today about this, like what he did today was not helpful.

David Plouffe:

But I think, to your point, the reality here, Trump’s … The alternative reality he likes to create. So if the economy continues … Right now, we’re obviously seeing it in the markets. But when it hits the real economy, when you begin to see layoffs, and you begin to see people getting less hours, and somebody who’s a conservative knows somebody who lost their job, or maybe they did, I think they’re going to take it a lot more seriously, or you know people who’ve been sick.

David Plouffe:

So again, I think the reality here … Healthcare was always interesting in politics because everybody’s a healthcare consumer. Right? So everybody’s got a stake in what’s happening with the Coronavirus. I think there’s a lot of people who felt strongly about Ukraine, and the impeachment proceedings, but they didn’t have a personal stake in it. We all have a personal stake in what’s happening right now. That will be interesting for me to watch.

David Plouffe:

I think, they won’t outright, critique him and say he’s mishandling this. I think what they’ll say is it’d be helpful if he stopped his rage Tweeting. But if this gets much more serious, and the delta between the leader we need and the leader we have is clear to all, even including some of his fan boys, I think you may begin to see that wall really break for the first time.

Preet Bharara:

Can we talk about Vice President Biden a little more?

David Plouffe:

Yes.

Preet Bharara:

I want to ask you if you have any concerns about his candidacy? And also, how you remember first learning about him? You’re a Delaware. Biden’s been a Senator from Delaware since, I think, 1867, or something like that. What do you make of the current run, and do you have concerns?

David Plouffe:

Well, first of all, I think the first time I met Joe Biden, I was working on a US Senate campaign in Delaware in 1988, against Bill Roth, famous for the Roth IRA and his Saint Bernard’s. Biden, as you remember, when he ran for president, had to pull out because of the plagiarism incident, but then had a very serious aneurism. So I was down in … Delaware’s only got three counties: Sussex County is the southern most, which is both along the beaches, so Rehoboth and Dewey, but very conservative in the rest of the county. There was a big Democratic event there, it was at night, and Joe Biden reemerged. And it was the first political event, and it was really such an emotional event for people because they hadn’t seen him in months. So that’s how I first met Joe Biden and saw him.

David Plouffe:

So here’s the thing, he’s doing this largely on momentum, so that concerns me. It’s not coupled with the type of money or organization you’d like to see. But he did have a lot of political support. So what’s happening right now is people who had left Joe Biden, when he wasn’t performing well in debates in Ohio or New Hampshire, have come back to him. And now that it’s a two person race, people are having to choose. So folks who weren’t either with Biden or Sanders, who were undecided or with some of the other candidates, seem to be flocking to Biden in big numbers.

David Plouffe:

So his challenge now is, one, to build the kind of national campaign, including with great digital sophistication, to go up against the Trump machine; no small task. To really build out his campaign, they’ve got to hire a lot of staff into Philadelphia, into the headquarters, and out into the states, and they’ve got to get on that pronto. So that means they have to raise the resources to do that, and do that in a thoughtful way that builds a good culture.

David Plouffe:

And then, he’s got to up his performance. So it’s been stronger recently. I think his interviews have been stronger. He had a really good CNN town hall. His last two debates were better, although I think we’re grading on the curve. So I know some Democrats, generally, no matter who they’re for, a lot of Biden supporters, are worried about the debate on March 15th, the one-on-one debate with Bernie. He needs to do that debate. I mean, he’s got Trump looming, who’s going to be 50 times harder than Bernie Sanders to beat, or any candidate, given his money and his organization and his obsession with winning. So that’s not a knock on Bernie, it’s just neither of these candidates are ready for the Goliath that’s waiting. And, I think we all want to get a little more confidence, if he’s our nominee, he’s up for this.

David Plouffe:

I helped to prep Joe Biden in 2008 and 2012. People forget I think, sometimes, those were one-on-one debates, high stakes, high pressure. He performed well with Palin and Ryan. Even in 2007 and 2008, when he ran and dropped out after Iowa, he was a very strong debater in that multi-candidate field. So politics and campaigns are like a decathlon, there’s a bunch of different events. Right? One of them is the debate event, and that’s actually always been a strength of him. So that’s where I’ve seen the biggest delta, between the Biden of yesterday and the Biden of today, and he needs to pick that up.

David Plouffe:

But I also think that the digital side of this concerns me, it would concern for any of our nominees. It concerns me a little bit more for Biden, so we need to really I think do a lot of great work there. Because what the Trump campaign’s doing online is super sophisticated, and if we end up blowing this race out it won’t matter, but if it’s really as close as the last one was, and I think we better assume it is, it can make a difference.

Preet Bharara:

Do you think Bernie Sanders can beat Donald Trump in the general election?

David Plouffe:

I think he could, yeah. So I look at Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan, and I think Bernie Sanders’ economic message there is quite resonate. I think he’d get credit for being consistent his whole life, for wanting to blow up the system. So in that case, it’s not 21-year-old college kids supportive of that, it’s a 58 year old iron worker who’s fed up.

David Plouffe:

My concern about Bernie would be … So it’s less about his ability to win those three battle grounds. I have not seen any evidence suggest, right now, he couldn’t do that. But can he put states like Arizona, North Carolina, Florida and maybe Georgia, in play? And the most important decision a presidential campaign makes is where are the battle grounds? And we, as a Democratic party, cannot find ourselves having to win all, or almost all, of the battle ground states. We’ve got to have seven or eight in play, so we have a higher margin for error if we don’t win them all. So that would be my concern about Bernie.

David Plouffe:

But he’s been a very strong performer, his debate performances have been remarkably consistent. He’s built, obviously, an amazing fundraising community online, strong, on the ground, grassroots volunteers. So if Joe Biden does win this nomination, I mean, I think Bernie will do the right thing, and I think he’ll campaign harder than he did for Hillary, and I think he’ll really mean it. I think he’ll do everything. But Biden’s folks ought to hire a lot of the Bernie people, because clearly they’ve run a good campaign. Unification doesn’t happen because we demand it.

Preet Bharara:

But if Bernie becomes a nominee, he’s not hiring in the Biden people, is he?

David Plouffe:

Well, listen, some of the folks doing African American organizing for Biden, some of the folks who really understand how to do well in suburban areas, god, I would hope so. Maybe he wouldn’t, but I think that’s important.

Preet Bharara:

There seems to be a lot of antipathy, just, if you look at social media, between and among campaign staff for Sanders, and even campaign staff for Elizabeth Warren, and some others. Warren was criticized by a lot of folks, simply for having a laugh on Saturday Night Live, last Saturday. People arguing on Sanders’ side, she has time to go on SNL but doesn’t have time to endorse him.

David Plouffe:

Right. Well, listen, first of all, we can over-estimate Twitter for real life. Right?

Preet Bharara:

There’s no doubt, for sure.

David Plouffe:

So I mean, I’ve been out on the road for my book tour in some battleground states. I’m in Pittsburgh today. There’ve been Bernie people in audience, and Biden people in the audience, and there’s no doubt it’s not going to be kumbaya right away, but I think people understand the ultimate goal here is to get the menace out of the White House.

David Plouffe:

But primaries, I went … Listen, the ’08 Clinton, Obama primary was much tougher than this.

Preet Bharara:

That was not a picnic, right.

David Plouffe:

I mean, god knows if Twitter was around then, but it was not a picnic, even, given that. We came together, and at the end of the day, if we lose to Trump, I think the number one reason, likely, is not because we didn’t unify. But if that doesn’t happen to the degree it needs to, it’s a pretty shaky foundation to build a campaign on, so it’s going to require a lot of work and thought.

David Plouffe:

And for all of us, by the way, if you supported the winner, you need to be super patient. I mean, I think I wasn’t as patient back in ’08 as I should have been. It was like, hey, we’ve got five months to beat McCain, and it was a tough primary, let’s get going. I listened, and I did a lot of outreach. But you always have to remember, I want to hear from you first. What’s bothering you? What did you think was unfair? We need you, clearly, if you’re the Biden campaign. It’s like, we don’t know how to get the support of young people. You do.

Preet Bharara:

[crosstalk 00:35:22].

David Plouffe:

Yeah, right. Right.

Preet Bharara:

So, to take a page from ’08, if it ends being Biden as the nominee, and he wins the presidency, should he make Bernie Sanders the Secretary of State? And vice versa?

David Plouffe:

I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I saw there was some story today, which I’m sure wasn’t really anybody in the know in the Biden world, talking about potential picks. You got to do that thoughtfully, and you’ve got a race to win. So I wouldn’t be really thinking about who’s going to be in my cabinet until much deeper in the year.

Preet Bharara:

Okay. Well, so maybe not the cabinet. But is it your sense, or would it be your prediction, that both of those campaigns are thinking about the Vice-President?

David Plouffe:

Well, what they’ll have is a process, kind of, almost disconnected from the day-to-day campaign, of people beginning to put together lists, and how are we going to vet them, and what’s the interview schedule. So that doesn’t really intensify until you, either, know you’re the nominee, or you’re pretty sure you are. Then that’s a very exhaustive process, and it’s the most personal decision the candidate. It ought to be, first and foremost, about who you want to serve with you, if you win.

David Plouffe:

Because history suggests that it doesn’t really move voters, it can exciting to your base. And whether it’s Bernie or Biden, I mean, I can’t think of a reason why this wouldn’t be a women. To me, it’s crazy. We’ve got lots of talented women out there. I do think that would give a spark, and we’ve got a lot of women who would be a great Vice-President. So you’d have to give me an amazing reason, I currently cannot divine, for this to be a man; certainly, a white dude. I mean, that would be insane to me.

Preet Bharara:

Okay, so who are they? Let’s go through them. Let’s say you’re advising … I mean, look, people have these perceptions of what these decisions are based on; balance, geographical balance, or racial balance. We’re talking a little bit about gender balance here. Isn’t it the case that a Vice-Presidential running mate, never really gets the nominee over the goal line, or not?

David Plouffe:

That’s exactly right. There’s even some political science research, lately, to suggest that the one time people thought it was, 1960, with LBJ in Texas was overwrought. But it can hurt you politically, as we saw with McCain. So that’s exactly right, voters are thinking about the two people at the top of the ticket. So now, both of our finalists here are … One is 77, and one’s 78. So, the threshold is, voters-

Preet Bharara:

A much more important decision now, right?

David Plouffe:

… and activists, I want to make sure they pick somebody who can do the job. So that threshold is exactly right.

David Plouffe:

So listen, we are blessed with so many … You’ve got Senator Cortez Masto from Nevada, former attorney general, Governor Gretchen Whitmer from Michigan. You’ve got Stacey Abrams, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Val Demings from Florida, Amy Klobuchar. A lot of men, too. But we are blessed with a lot of great contenders, so I think this will actually end up being a hard choice because there’s no obvious person.

Preet Bharara:

What would you make of a Sanders/Warren ticket? Could that happen?

David Plouffe:

I don’t think it would happen. I don’t know. I mean, Bernie said he would only pick somebody who’s Medicare. Of course, his hardcore supporters now think Elizabeth is not real Medicare For All, because she wants a longer transition period. So I don’t know. I mean, I think at the end of the day, it’s so much about personal … Listen, here, I’ll even give Trump credit for this. He didn’t pick Mike Pence because he was some incandescent political performer. He also had to meet some bar of this was somebody who could do the job. Bush with Cheney.

David Plouffe:

So the two times, McCain and Palin. McCain paid a price for that. By the way, when people were voting against McCain, they weren’t voting against Palin. They were voting against him. It’s like, we’re heading to maybe a great depression and let’s look reckless. That makes me worry about your decision making. And John Kerry, as you know, has spoken to, he believes he made a mistake picking John Edwards. He would’ve rather picked Dick Gephardt; that’s kind of where his head, but they were convinced they needed a spark.

David Plouffe:

So, you got to think about, 90% of this is, if I win, who do I want to be in that position? Because this job is not a bucket of spit anymore; it’s a real job. And this person’s in your life every hour of every day, so you want to get along with them, you want to trust them. You want to make sure it’s somebody who will give you really candid advice, who will disagree with you when that’s required. So I think the campaign part of it is a small part of it. You don’t want to make a mistake.

David Plouffe:

I think the bonus, here, I don’t think a swing voter in Wisconsin is going to vote differently in our presidential election because of who Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders picks, but it can excite all of us. Like, I know I want to be excited on the day this is announced.

Preet Bharara:

Any chance it’ll be announced earlier than in other years, because people have been suggesting that would give Biden or Sanders a shot in the arm?

David Plouffe:

Well, I don’t think you’ll see it in the primary. I think, if Biden ends up looking like he’s going to secure this nomination earlier than we might have thought, he’ll put that in motion. As Bernie would, I assume, if we’re surprised here. The conventions are later in July. The earliest I think he’d probably do it is towards the end of June, because you’ve got to take your time; there’s vetting, and really serious vetting. And then there’s all the discussions that the nominee and their senior team will have with these various candidates. So it just takes time.

Preet Bharara:

So let’s talk about your book, A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump. And we talked about some of the things that are in the book, already. But this seems to be something that a lot of people are asking about, I seem it in my Twitter feed all the time, people wanting to know that they can do. And sometimes there are people who live in swing states, and sometimes there’s people who are here in New York, where it’s a foregone conclusion that New York will go for whoever the Democratic nominee is; you have a lot of prescriptions in here. Why don’t you give us the top line one or two things that someone who’s listening to this show, who really cares about the country and wants to defeat Donald Trump, what can they do?

David Plouffe:

Right. So, Preet, the spirit to me is more important than the specifics. I’m proud of the specifics I’ve captured here, but the spirit is there is no magic cavalry that’s going to emerge; that is all of us. And this is going to be a close election, so make your own plan for this election. So, first, if you live in a battleground state … So, I was in, the last two days in North Carolina and Florida, and saying, “The whole world’s counting on you.” So if you haven’t been a Precinct leader before, in Hillary’s campaign, or Obama’s, consider doing that. If you’re doing four hours a month, can you do 12? If you haven’t been doing a lot of social media, where you’re sharing content and fighting against information, do that.

David Plouffe:

If you don’t live an a battleground state, obviously, you can give money. But the point I make in the book is as important as that is, and we need people to do it, it’s the easiest thing to do, it just takes a couple seconds. So, 1) Social media is the new battlefront. Use your social networks, if you understandably might have gotten rid of them because you frustrated by them, you need to sign back up through November 4th. Create your own content, share content that motivates you. I think, in ’16, so much of us, what we shared on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram was anti-Trump. And we need to share more positive, both ideas, if we see a great interview by our nominee, share it, create content.

David Plouffe:

Best example, if you have a neighbor or a friend who votes for Trump last time, who’s now going to vote Democrat, ask if you can take a 15 second video and post that. There’s postcard writing that’s super effective. There’s phone calls. If you live in New York and you can drive to Pennsylvania, there’s not really a good reason for you not to do that a lot. Part of it is ownership-

Preet Bharara:

What do you mean postcard writing?

David Plouffe:

Well, there’ll be postcards … The campaign will say, “Here’s people that we think are swing voters, or who are registered who we’re concerned might turn out …,” Will you write them a postcard and tell them what the election means to you, and how we’re counting them? I’d love to see postcards written to all the volunteer leaders in the battleground state from people like you and me, who are in New York and California, saying, “Gretchen, I just want to thank you for all you’re doing in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. We’re counting on you.”

David Plouffe:

So there’s a lot you can do. The other message I make, whether it’s posting on social media, knocking doors, making phone calls; just embrace the fact that it can seem wildly inefficient, that you may only have an impact on one or two people per shift, and that’s okay. Because if you think about your individual effort in the aggregate, and 5- or 10,000 people are also doing it that day, that’s how we can create, in each of these states, hundreds of thousands of voters, who may turn out, which is much bigger than our win number.

David Plouffe:

So I hear that a lot, understandably, which is, “I went door-knocking in Wisconsin, and I literally think I only impacted two people.”That’s okay, just go into it expecting that, and know that the fate of the world’s right in front of us; we’re all going to do our part.

Preet Bharara:

If the average person is trying to figure out who they’re trying to reach, and they’re like, well, I have members of my family, or neighbors, who are pro-Trump. Should I be spending my time trying to convince them? Or should I be trying to convince the people who are on the fence, and they’re leery of the Democratic, they don’t love Trump? Or people who are supportive of the Democratic nominee, opposed to Trump, but you’re worried they’re not going to get out and vote? If you’re thinking about those three categories of people, to the extent people are being so rational about their time, what’s your advice?

David Plouffe:

I’m glad you asked that, Preet. So I would not spend a minute on anybody who’s hardcore Trump. I talk about this in the book, there’s formal activity, and informal, and we all need to do both. So, informal, is your friends and families and colleagues. If you have somebody who’s currently not registered, and doesn’t want to register, you need to find a way to convince them to register. Somebody who says they’re not going to vote is a huge target. Or, maybe, they might vote third party, which as such an important reason Trump won, was the high third party margin. And then there’s a true swing voter, who’s conflicted.

David Plouffe:

And part of what I capture in the book is, we’re going to win this election, both with swing voters, and with people who are at risk of not voting. These aren’t people who are going to be having our nominee’s bumper sticker on their car or truck; they’re cynical about politics. And I actually use this phrase in the book, “somebody who’s holding their nose and voting”, or is apathetic and voting, counts the same as me or you. And I think sometimes as Democrats, we want to get up on the soapbox and preach.

Preet Bharara:

Right!

David Plouffe:

And we want to say, “No, no, Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, they’re going to be on Mount Rushmore.” I think the conversation that may work is, “You know what? I’m not super excited either. Okay? But let me just tell you something, you care about climate change, they’ll get back in Paris. And they’ll get rid of Trump. I hope they do more than that; if that’s all they do …,” like, we’ve got to meet people where they are, not where we wish they were, so that’s important.

David Plouffe:

And then, the form of volunteering you’ll do through the campaign, they’ll have great data. And so, the list you’ll be calling, if it’s good, will be only people that are concerned, who are true swing voters, or people who may be flirting with third party vote, or that massive group of people who are registered who aren’t sure they’re going to vote. So those are the key categories, and in all of the battleground states, there’s more of those types of people that we’d like.

David Plouffe:

Whenever I get concerned about our ability to beat Trump, and I think he’s going to be hard to beat, I just remember, there’s more than enough people in all the battleground states, particularly when we do some smart registration over the next few month, to beat him. Our problem is execution. The best debate answer in the world, and the best ad from our nominee, will be as effective as the right human being, talking to the right person, who’s conflicted about the right thing. The power of that is still the most effective conversation in politics, and I think we all need to take ownership of that and kind of make our own plan for activity in this election.

David Plouffe:

I’ll give you an example. I live in San Francisco now, most of my friends out there aren’t in politics, but a lot of them are progressive and they want to know what they can do, right? And so, we talk about that, and I say, “Have you made your plans to go to Arizona?” “Well, I haven’t. I’m not sure.” I’m like, “I really don’t want to talk to you. Like, you kind of deserve Trump. If you’re not planning to spend 36 hours on the ground in Arizona, you can’t make that happen?” That’s what it’s going to take.

Preet Bharara:

But do they go to Arizona to work on the General, or should they go to Arizona to work on candidate Kelly’s candidacy for the Senate?

David Plouffe:

You kind of get a two-for there. And what’s interesting is, two of the, I think, just essential battleground states in the presidential race, Arizona and North Carolina, are now must wins in the Senate race as well. So the energy we need to bring to both of those states … We can win the presidency without winning either of them, if we do what need to in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania or Arizona, but, to me, I’d rather not risk that. But we know we’ve got to win both of those Senate races, so I think you get the real pleasure of helping out on both.

Preet Bharara:

I’m going to go back to something you said a second ago, and see if you could amplify it. Some are on social media, I have mixed feelings about, there’s a lot of toxicity, but there’s good stuff that happens.

David Plouffe:

There quite talented at it, though. But yes, yes.

Preet Bharara:

Well, I have my moods. But most of what I see, and maybe just the people that I follow, and I do this myself, it’s saying negative things, or critiquing the President. And I thought you said a couple of minutes ago that the more productive thing to do is for there to be positive posting about the candidate you support. Why is there so little of that? And give us some examples of things that might be productive? And also, by the way, maybe people would be in a better mood if they tweeted more positively?

David Plouffe:

Right. Well, because, you see today, even if Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders gave the Gettysburg Address today, given what Trump tweeted about the Coronavirus, you feel like you’ve got to express your anger as a citizen, before you even do it as a Democrat, right? So he drives a lot of that. I’m not saying, if Trump does something outrageous and you want to comment on it, you shouldn’t comment on it.

David Plouffe:

If our nominee gives a really compelling interview on Jimmy Kimmel, and it maybe, like, 30 seconds that’s not even about a policy, right? It could be something … Joe Biden talking about Beau, or something, and you send it out. You see a great infographic they put out, about the difference between a Democratic president in the next four years and Trump for four more years, on the environment and climate change; send that out. I think what you’d say is, you’d post this in Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, and say, “This has me excited,” right? If you’re out volunteering, capture that on social media; do an Instagram story, and say, “I had a really great time today. I think I made a difference in Pennsylvania.”

David Plouffe:

So I think we have to realize that we missed that. I know I missed that in ’16. It was all anti-Trump, and that’s where all the energy was. It’s also important because I think there’s a sense, in our party, right now, that no matter who we nominate, it’s not the second coming of Abraham Lincoln, or John Kennedy, or even Barack Obama; so we don’t have a savior. So I think we have to work to show people that we can still be excited.

Preet Bharara:

What about this other issue that is of increasing concern, I had a prominent professor on the podcast last week, talking about deep fakes. He made the point that these things can upend elections, because there’s a lot of mistruth out there. And even before you worry about deep fakes, you’ve got to worry about shallow fakes. And I’ll give you an example of something that happened just this pass weekend, and millions and millions of people saw this, they saw a grossly, unfairly edited video of Joe Biden, where Trump supporters are trying to make Joe Biden look foolish by cutting a clip in which he is saying, “We can only reelect Donald Trump.” And that’s playing on an endless loop, I think, millions and millions of views. When what Joe Biden actually said was, in totality, “We can only reelect Donald Trump if, in fact, we get engaged in the circular firing squad here.”

Preet Bharara:

What’s the role of people in trying to police the truth about the candidate?

David Plouffe:

Right. Well, that can be frustrating. So you have to do both; you’ve got to share the positive content, the positive sentiment, what’s motivating you. But if you see something like that, so your Uncle Jared posts that and says, “See this guy? He’s senile. He’s not ready.” Fire back with the actual lengthy clip. And you know there are conservative voices who are criticizing that as well, and thought it was deceptive, and put that, and said, “It’s just a lie.”

David Plouffe:

So when you see something like that, I think the mistake we can make, either on positive or negative is, that will be handled in the upper precincts of a campaign headquarters, right? But I think we all have to understand that it can seem like guacamole, but if you see that in one of your feeds, and you know a friend or a family member is pushing it around, you got to jump in there. But the way, maybe nobody in that exchange will change their mind, but other people will see you doing it, and they’ll say, “You know what? I’m going to do that, too.” So we’ve got to fight back.

David Plouffe:

I’m actually less conc- … I am concerned about deep fakes. The things I’m most concerned is the disinformation and the lies. I’ve seen focus group results recently in some battleground states, where swing voters, so these are not Trump mega-partisans, are saying, “I’m concerned that I might not be able to eat steak anymore if the Democratic party got in.” Right?

Preet Bharara:

Right!

David Plouffe:

Or, this kind of stuff, you know, takes hold. We used to think, if it didn’t lead the New York Times or the nightly news, you shouldn’t pay attention to it. Anything, now, can spread around the world in a minute and infect phones and computers in battleground states, so we just got to be on this. And I know that’s a lot to ask of people, but it’s only seven or eight months, and it’s only the fate of the world, so we all have to get into the game.

Preet Bharara:

It’s just life and death!

Preet Bharara:

So let me ask you a question about how the game of politics should be played, particularly when it comes to fighting back. And we talked about that a little bit just now. How do you, today, complete the very famous phrase, “When they go low …”?

David Plouffe:

We don’t go as low, but we do … we’re willing to throw some kidney punches.

Preet Bharara:

You’re no longer saying, “We go high.”?

David Plouffe:

Yeah. Well, I think-

Preet Bharara:

You’re no longer saying, “We go high.”?

David Plouffe:

No. I still think we need to motivate people. I don’t think we have to lie to win. By the way, if we lose this election, I may revise that thought. But I think we can win but by being tough. Talking about going after Hunter Biden, I’d put all three of his kids squarely in the sights, and hopefully Mike Bloomberg will do this, and run tens of millions of dollars of advertising.

Preet Bharara:

I was going to ask you about that. I mean, he’s hinted at out, Tim O’Brien who advises him, has put out some tantalizing posts on social media, saying, “You’re going to learn a lot more about his kids and his son-in-law.” Fair game for you?

David Plouffe:

Absolutely, it’s fair game. Trump’s mental capacity: fair game. His sexual assaults: fair game. In advertising, like, it’s all fair game. Nothing’s more important, in the history of the world, than who we elect as president in 2020. I mean, maybe 1860 rivals it, in terms of import. So, yes, sometimes I think, we as a party, would rather be right than to win: I think you can be both.

David Plouffe:

But, listen, Barack Obama inspired people. He is such an enormous person, of great character. And we never lied, but we ran tough campaigns, and it’s what you have to do. So we do not have to follow them … And I think, Biden, lately, has had some really great language around this. Like, just because they’re going that low, we don’t have to go that low. But that doesn’t mean we can’t win. And we’d better not assume people will just discount things that are so crazy. Like, “We cannot believe anybody would believe that.”

David Plouffe:

If Biden’s the nominee, they’re going to treat him as a socialist, so same as Bernie. It be, like, your taxes are going to triple if you’re a worker. You will not be allowed to eat meat any more. You’re never going to be allowed to fly on an airplane. And we’ll laugh at this? No.

Preet Bharara:

Are they going to say Biden’s from Kenya, too?

David Plouffe:

Well, they might! Maybe that would help Biden, actually, make him a little more exotic.

David Plouffe:

But I think that it’s a great question. And for me there’s, like, in campaigns, your main messaging, your economic messaging, differences on healthcare and taxes. But you have to understand, particularly with social media, there’s all these sideshows. And you need to create your own sideshows and fight back on theirs. And Trumps a bully.

David Plouffe:

I was reminded, Preet, I went on Fox & Friends earlier in the week to talk about my book, and we had a talk about, one of the reasons people have to get so involved in the election is because Fox is like Trump’s [inaudible 00:54:33]; it’s his happy place. One of the hosts in particular, who took offense at that. But the other reason I think we need to be tough is bullies don’t like to be bullied, right? I mean, Donald Trump will Tweet when he sees Donna Brazil on Fox; this is how easily he’s disturbed. So I just think we need to be in his grill in ways that make him uncomfortable. There’s some psy-ops around this, which is how do you destabilize your opponent? But yeah-

Preet Bharara:

You’re going psy-ops now? Wow!

David Plouffe:

Well, I think it’s really important. I really think it’s important. And he’s so easy to read, right? It’s not hard to figure out how to throw he and his team off their game. I do worry about that; one is, our nominee doesn’t have a lot of time to put that together. The Bloomberg effort, to me, is a huge part of this because those guys take no prisoners; they got a lot of money; they’re super sophisticated. Now, they’ll have to be outside the nominees’ campaign, so that’s not as effective as being in, but it can be effective.

David Plouffe:

But yeah, I think this is really important. Now, that doesn’t mean we don’t take our mind off talking about the trade war and the effect it had in Wisconsin, that we’re in a manufacturing recession right now, in large parts of Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Obviously, healthcare is a debate we have to win. I’m not suggesting we don’t do those, but I think we also have to understand that we’ve got to fight super hard. We don’t have to fight as dirty as they are, but we’re not going to win the presidency of this guy, by playing by different rules, in my view.

Preet Bharara:

Who should be doing that kind of tough attacking? It seems to me that Trump has broken, what was an unwritten cardinal rule of politics, which is you stay sunny; the candidate himself stays sunny and positive, like Reagan did, and then the other people muddy themselves by saying the terrible things. Here, Trump is the guy who does the bullying and the name calling and everything else. Should Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders take that upon themselves, because it’s their adversary who’s doing it? Or can you really delegate that down?

David Plouffe:

Right. That is authentic to Trump. The one thing you don’t ever want to do in politics is be unauthentic. So I don’t think either of those guys are necessarily Triumph the Insult Dog … Write our comic! I think they can throw punches, and they should. I think, when they’re fighting on behalf of people, and their outrage is on behalf of people, Americans who are being harmed by Trump; that’s great. But I don’t think they should trade insult for insult. But that’s where your campaign … number one; outside groups, number two; all of us who have audiences, number three; have an ability to do that.

David Plouffe:

I don’t think, necessarily, Trump or Sanders should match Trump blow for blow. They need to be tough, and particularly in the debates. I know Trump’s saying he’s not going to debate, and maybe he won’t. I find it hard to believe as much as he likes the spotlight, that he ultimately won’t. And so, in those, I think, you do not want to show one whiff of weakness. Those are going to be geriatric cage matches of kind of historic proportions; they’re going to be something to watch. But I think at its core, you want to drive your message, and you want to make people think, you’re going to run through a wall to fight for them. That’s sadly, the campaign within a campaign, Trump won last time. He was going to fight for working people.

David Plouffe:

But you cannot look weak. And that will be his fundamental debate strategy, which is, I want to bring either Biden or Sanders to heal. And Trump’s touch in that way because, as you just said, he will say anything, he will go anywhere, he’ll throw ordnance at you that you couldn’t believe he would do. Remember when he brought all the women to the second debate?

Preet Bharara:

Oh yeah!

David Plouffe:

By the way, everybody thought that was outrageous. I don’t know whether it was smart or not, but I think-

Preet Bharara:

His people loved it. His people loved it.

David Plouffe:

But his people loved it.

Preet Bharara:

And it was a distraction. Look, you can see him at a debate with Joe Biden, even while he- Trump, himself, slurs his words and says things that make no sense, you can see him, at the same time, on the same evening, attack the mental acuity of Joe Biden. He has no shame on that. And his people it seems, sometimes, they buy it. The utter projection of every flaw, they seem to buy it.

Preet Bharara:

Let me ask you this question. We’re left with, basically, Sander and Biden on the Democratic side. But putting them aside for a moment, what, if any other campaign, on the Democratic side, were you impressed by, and you thought showed something special, and that you think means that they will be a force of the future in the Democratic Party?

David Plouffe:

Actually, a lot of them, Preet.

David Plouffe:

So Pete Buttigieg, who went from nowhere, didn’t even make it to the finish line in a DNC Chairs’ race, and ends up winning Iowa, almost winning New Hampshire, and inspiring so many people; number one. Andrew Yang; so he didn’t produce a lot of votes, but built a really great organization. And I think was the only candidate, really talking about the things this country’s going to be facing in 20 years. I have been disappointed about the debates; they’ve been very here and now. And I think Andrew Yang’s talking about, how do we prepare for some things that are likely to happen?

David Plouffe:

I thought Elizabeth Warren was just probably the most consistent performer in every event; interviews, town halls, debates, and I was really impressed by that. I know she built a great organization. Amy Klobuchar showed such enormous grit to produce that finish in New Hampshire.

David Plouffe:

You know, what’s interesting, probably the lease impressive, just from a campaign standpoint, you’d say is Biden. But on the other hand, this is about getting votes. I would say this: before this primary and others, people asked me, “What do you think?” I’m, like, “I may have my opinions, but ultimately you spin polls, number of Twitter follows, number of contributions; all that matters is votes.” And Biden’s shown the ability to bring about votes. Bernie’s, obviously, got an enviable base, he hasn’t been able to grow.

David Plouffe:

But I think we have a lot of talent in this field. I think we got a lot of talent, potentially, as part of the vice-presidential selection. And we saw in 2018, all those remarkable people who won. I think the lesson there should be, Mayor Pete, again, showed us Barack Obama, showed us … People always talk about what’s the right time to run for president? I think very few people ever run too early; you run too late. What if Barack Obama has listened to most people and didn’t run in ’08, and ran in ’16? He would be into his third term as a U.S. senator, and all those barnacles of Washington would be setting in.

Preet Bharara:

Right. And a lot of bad votes?

David Plouffe:

Right. Mayor Pete showed, you know … Who knows? Maybe, Mayor Pete will be president? But he ran at the right time, that generational contrast really worked for him.

Preet Bharara:

How is this ideological debate going to work out in the Democratic Party between, say, on one side … Oversimplify it for a moment, the progressives, Warren, Sanders, some others, verus the moderates that are roaring back after Super Tuesday in support of Biden? In the longer term, 4 to 8 years from now, what’s the Democratic Party going to look like? What’s the soul of the Party?

David Plouffe:

Well, first of all, it’s interesting, we say “moderators”. Think about just how much the Party has moved, just in the last eight years, in a much more progressive direction. We have, I think, extremely liberal, very liberal, mostly liberal … Yeah, there’s a few moderates and conservatives, but I think that’s important to understand. But I think for this election, hopefully, we will, most of us anyway, believe that getting Trump out is such a contribution to global history in this country that we’ll unify to do that.

David Plouffe:

I do think that this is a fascinating question. I think we’ll see if play out in primaries in 2022 and 2024, you’ll see it played out in Washington. I’m getting way over my skis here because I am not a political scientist by training, just play one on T.V.. You see, in both the Republic and Democratic Party, at what point does the two party system not suit people? Will all these varied ideologies work in two parties, right, or are we going head to a place where we have multiple parties, which is more similar to other Western democracies? So that is interesting to me because I think the tension is real.

David Plouffe:

There was a while there, where the Democratic, primary electorate was very much connected to moderate voters in general elections, right? And that’s why the Republicans were paying a price. To win their nominations, whether it’s senator or president, you had to go so far to the right that when you scrambled back, you had positions that the middle of the electorate was really repulsed by. I think you’ve seen a similar move in the Democratic Party; a lot of energy there. I think it’s going to be one of the more interesting stories in our country over the next 10 years, not just in the Democratic Party, or Republican Party. I think there’ll be a peace of some sort for this election.

David Plouffe:

But even in ’22, you see a lot of folks who might win house races this time, or some of those remarkable Democrats, a lots of women who won in ’18, or are more moderate, are they going to get primaries? And how does that affect, not just our politics, but how those candidates react and behave in office? So I think that this is really an important question. And my view, again, it’s an amateur’s take on this, but I’m not sure the two party system is sustainable for another generation.

Preet Bharara:

David Plouffe, thank you for your time. Congratulations on the book. You should all pick it up. It’s A Citizen’s Guide to Beating Donald Trump. Thanks again.

David Plouffe:

Preet, a real privilege and honor to be with you.

Preet Bharara:

Thank you, sir.

Preet Bharara:

The conversation continues for members of the Café Insider community. To hear the Stay Tuned bonus with David Plouffe, and get the exclusive weekly Café Insider podcast, and other exclusive content, head to café.com/insider. Right now, you can try a Café Insider membership free, for two weeks, @cafe.com/insider.

Preet Bharara:

Well, that’s it for this episode of Stay Tuned. Thanks again to my guest, David Plouffe.

Preet Bharara:

If you like what we do, rate and review the show on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen. Every positive review helps new listeners find the show. Send me your questions about news, politics, and justice. Tweet them to me at Preet Bharara with the hashtag Ask Preet. Or you can call and leave me a message at 6692477338. That’s 66924Preet. Or you send an email to [email protected]

Preet Bharara:

Stay Tuned is presented by Café. The executive producer is Tamara Sepper. The senior audio producer is David Tatasciore. And the Café Team is Julia Doyle, Matthew Billy, David Kurlander, Calvin Lord, Sam Ozer-Staton, and Geoff Isenman. Our music is by Andrew Dost.

Preet Bharara:

I’m Preet Bharara. Stay Tuned.

 

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