“Rainbows & Rainclouds” with Jen Psaki and Paul Begala
Recorded August 28, 2020
Katie Barlow: Our guests today are veterans of literally dozens of presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional campaigns. Our first guests began her political career in the Hawkeye State of Iowa and campaigns for US Senator Tom Harkin and Governor Tom Vilsack. Jen Psaki served in senior positions in the 2004 Kerry presidential campaign and both the 2008 and 2012 Obama presidential campaigns. And from 2013 to 2015, she served as chief spokesperson for the State Department Under Secretary John Kerry and from 2015 to January 20th, 2017, as White House communications director under President Obama.
Katie Barlow: Our next guest is an attorney, best-selling author, a documentary film star and political analyst. Paul Begala began his political career in student government at the University of Texas and ran several high profile senatorial and gubernatorial campaigns in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and my home state of Georgia before becoming chief strategist for then Governor Bill Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. Paul later served in various senior positions in the White House, eventually becoming counselor to the president,
Katie Barlow: Jen Psaki and Paul Begala, welcome back to Words Matter.
Jen Psaki: Great to be here,
Paul Begala: Katie. Thanks.
Joe Lockhart: So we like to disclose up front on our episodes that we are friends and we are good friends. I’ve known Paul forever. I’ve met Jen in Washington now probably seven or eight years ago. So we’re happy to have you back. And we’re going to try something a little bit different today. After four days of watching the Republicans, I realized that I had lots of thoughts and feelings. And I wanted to answer questions rather than ask them. So I’m going to step back from my hosting duties and join Jen and Paul as part of a panel. And for those of us old enough to remember, we’re going to do today’s episode, McLaughlin Group style. Although knowing this crew, it may be more like Saturday Night Live.
Joe Lockhart: With that I give you. The famous and award-winning Barlow Group.
Announcer: From the Nation’s Capital, the Commonwealth of Virginia and the State of Maine, The Barlow Group, an unrehearsed program presenting inside opinions and forecasts on major issues of the day,
Announcer: Here’s the moderator, Katie Barlow,
Katie Barlow: Issue One: “Rainbows & Rainclouds”
Alice Johnson: I was once told that the only way I would ever be reunited with my family would be as a corpse. I stand before you tonight and I assure you I’m not a ghost. I am alive. I am well. And most importantly, I am free.
Donald Trump: Joe Biden is not a savior of America’s soul. He is the destroyer of America’s jobs. And if given the chance, he will be the destroyer of American greatness.
Katie Barlow: Jen and Paul have been working with Joe long enough to know that every night at dinner he and his wife ask their kids to tell them about the rainbows and the rainclouds of their day. So, Jen, let’s start with you. Did you see any rainbows at last week’s Republican National Convention? And knowing this group, there will be several from each of you. But what was the worst raincloud?
Jen Psaki: Oh, boy. I mean, first of all, we do roses and thorns in my house. So I completely relate to this. Although I love rainbows and rainclouds, that’s a little bit more creative. I watched probably 10 to 12 hours of the Republican convention, which really is emotionally exhausting. I mean, by the near end of Trump’s speech, I almost couldn’t. I mean, I was keeping my eyeballs open and I was like trying to stay with it.
Joe Lockhart: So was he.
Jen Psaki: So was he, right? He seemed even more tired than I did. And I was sitting in my bed. So there’s that. But look, I think that to me, there were a number of rainclouds I’m going to start with kind of maybe the less obvious one, or maybe it’s obvious to Joe and Paul. But I worked in the White House for eight years and I look to people like Joe Lockhart, Paul Begala and even Republicans who had served before me as this being an honor. And you were kind of following the footsteps of before you and seeing Donald Trump and Melania walk out onto the South Lawn was just horrifying to me.
Jen Psaki: And I say that because there were many horrible rainclouds. But the visual of that is not going away. I think the question I had watching it was, can we go back? They’ve now used the White House as a political prop. It’s not the people’s House. It’s a political house. And I think that was very damaging to me to watch that. Not to mention they created a world of super spreaders with all of the people who didn’t have masks on. And we’re sitting right next to each other in the audience, which is so irresponsible as the president. The other piece that I think kept coming up again and again throughout the week to me, that was a raincloud, was the fear mongering. Joe Biden is somebody who’s going to support violent anarchists, agitators and criminals. They don’t want me to keep serving because I want to protect you. I mean, it was fear after fear after fear night after night. That’s a political tactic, but it was certainly a raincloud for me.
Katie Barlow: Paul, what about you? Rainbow, Raincloud?
Paul Begala: Well, let me be positive. Alice Johnson spoke, she is a woman who had served twenty two years in prison for a nonviolent drug offense, twenty two years and was scheduled to serve a great many more decades more, President Trump commuted her sentence and then he signed the First Step Act, the first step toward criminal justice reform. That is a good thing. And I think it’s incumbent upon people like me who can’t stand Trump to say that, because if Hillary Clinton had signed that law, I would have said, oh, that’s great. But I also would have said it’s only a first step. Right. We’ve got to do a lot more to make sure our prisons aren’t filled with nonviolent offenders, disproportionately African-American. So that’s a good thing. Now, of course, he did it because Kim Kardashian asked him to. I mean, even when Trump does a good thing, it has to be a reality show based. But but good for him. I mean, that and I thought Ms. Johnson spoke beautifully the rest of it? I’m with Psaki on. As a former White House official, it offends me, too. They should just put crime tape around the White House. It’s just CSI Pennsylvania Avenue, because the event itself was a crime. The president likely implicated many of his aides. He’s not subject to the Hatch Act, a law that says you can’t do political things in the White House.
Paul Begala: But I think the bigger thing is that while they were meeting. While they were meeting, screaming about law and order. A 17 year old boy picked up an AR-15 assault weapon, went to Kenosha, Wisconsin, and allegedly, allegedly, he’s under arrest for gunning down three people, killing two, wounding one. Apparently inspired by right-wing hate. Yet they seem to be so un-self aware that they don’t even appreciate that when they say this stuff, it lands and sometimes it lands on very damaged, maybe even hate filled ears. And for that to happen during that convention, you do wish I mean, Jen, Joe and I, we’ve scheduled and written tons of these things. You always do want to make sure that this lands properly. And so the notion that they might have in some way contributed to this violence is just appalling. I have to say, there’s no shred of conscience in them. You don’t see that. Then at the same time, Jen’s right. They’ve exposed their own supporters to coronavirus. But during the convention itself, more people died of coronavirus than died on 9/11. During Trump’s speech, if statistics hold one hundred and forty one hundred and fifty Americans died. During his speech, and yet he doesn’t seem to have his arms around it. I feel like Democrats should say, even though I’m offended by using the White House for political purposes, he should give his speech, should have given his speech from a covid ward, from an ICU, from a morgue. And I’d let him get on top of the Washington Monument and give a speech from up there, if he could get his arms around testing, tracing, isolating and treating the four things we have to do. But he can’t. And I think that’s the hard thing for those of us who are analyzing, is to keep the main thing – the main thing. The main thing is allegedly a young man turned to vicious violence during this convention. And the main thing is one hundred eighty thousand have died because of coronavirus and most of them didn’t need to die if Trump had done a good job.
Katie Barlow: Joe?
Joe Lockhart: Well, let me first before I get to the rainclouds and rainbows, I agree with Paul and Jen violently on the use of the White House, but I want to make sure that we don’t make that the story. The story is that one hundred and eighty thousand people have died. The story is the president is going to bankrupt Social Security. The story is the president is trying to take away your pre-existing conditions. And the story is that as he tried to tell Peter Baker, using the word “Um” more than any program, that he’s got no clue what he’s going to do in the second term. I think we have some idea, but he has from a policy point anyway. So on the rainbow front, I was trying to decide between Alice Johnson and something else. Paul made the decision for me. My Rainbow is a youngish looking guy. And if you watch CNN, you know who he is, Daniel Dale. Roughly three minutes after the speech, he did a probably three and a half minute monologue of everything Trump got wrong, and not only was it substantive, it was entertaining because it was a split screen of Anderson Cooper’s face expressing about nine different emotions until finally in the middle of it, he had to take a sip of tea and roll his eyes. So that’s my rainbow. My raincloud is, there’s a lot to pick from, but there was one throwaway line that offended me beyond belief from Trump speech when he talked about Joe Biden likes to give hugs and then waited for a minute and said and even kisses. This is a guy who 30 credible women have accused of sexual assault. This is a guy who’s famous for his Access Hollywood tape. This is a guy who there is a very credible and in court right now case that he raped someone. I just don’t think that’s really his best territory to be joking about.
Katie Barlow: All right. So one of the struggles that journalists had in covering the RNC last week was that there were so many lies and so many fabrications that it became difficult, if not impossible, to keep up with all of them. And the three of you know better than most since the dawn of time, as long as there have been politicians, there have been political exaggerations and even outright lies. But have we come to the point in American politics where the truth is dead or to put it a different way, is there any benefit to telling the truth in politics? Paul, let’s start with you.
Paul Begala: Well, the truth is important. And this is the first thing that an autocrat wannabe does is waging war on truth, on facts, because the autocrat wants to be believed beyond your lying eyes. And Trump has done it literally since first thing he did was send his press secretary and otherwise well-regarded guy, Sean Spicer, to that podium where Joe worked, where Jen worked to lie to us about the size of his crowd. But here’s the thing with Trump, and this is both brilliant and pernicious and quite frightening. He has redefined truth for his supporters. I don’t mean the vast majority, the country, but about a third of the country, the hard core Trump supporters, if you ask them why you’re for Trump and I have family and friends who voted for Trump and I’m spending most of my life these days in rural America. If I ask my friends and family and neighbors why they like Trump, one of the first things they say, you know, they say he tells it like it is.He’s a truth teller and my head explodes. It’s like he’s the biggest fattest liar in the whole wide world. They go, no, no, no, no, we don’t care if he says he went to Slovenia when he went to Slovakia.
Paul Begala: But he says the things that if I said it, I’d get fired from my job at the tractor supply. He says, and I hate to say it, but for some of them, what he says that they loved and they think is a deep truth is all the racist stuff, misogynistic stuff, the Islamophobic stuff, the homophobic stuff, the trans phobic. They believe, that stuff, I’m sure Mr. Trump does, and so he has walked the very definition of truth itself, truth is now not fidelity to facts. It is stating politically incorrect, in my view, bigoted, things that resonate with a minority of Americans, a small slice of Americans that is very, very dangerous. The answer to it, I think Joe’s right. Daniel Dale’s coverage has been terrific, but this is very perilous for journalists. I’m not one. But journalists, their highest value is fidelity to facts. If you get important facts wrong and you’re a journalist, you get fired when any of us. If I do a column for CNN, it goes through editors, fact checkers, lawyers. We care a lot about that because that’s that culture. But most people don’t live in that culture. They don’t. And it’s really a danger to simply zero in on that for the Democrats. The Democrats have to do what Joe said. They have to be Jack Palance and city slickers who told Billy Crystal at the end, the secret of life is the main thing is always keep the main thing. The main thing. The main thing is you’ve got 180,000 Americans dead because of Trump’s failure of leadership, honesty and competence. The main thing is we have 50 million people on unemployment because of Trump’s failures, incompetence, dishonesty, corruption. The main thing is we have 10 million people have lost their health insurance. That’s what we have to keep getting back to.
Katie Barlow: Joe, you’ve talked a number of times on the show about the need to tell the truth from the podium and in your interactions with journalists. What’s your take truth in politics?
Joe Lockhart: Well, I think it’s there are two different challenges here. Paul’s right. It is a challenge for journalists and they have struggled. And you you have watched them get better, but still not be very good at it. Because Trump says something and their instinct is to report what the president says because he’s the president.
Joe Lockhart: As great as Daniel Dale is having him speak at 11:45 at night and going through what the president got wrong does not have the power of the president up there lying for an hour and a half. So I think it’s a challenge for journalists. Katie, you’re right about politicians. Exaggerate, embellish. I like embellish rather than lie. But they they put the best face on any facts they can. And in the past campaigns, I think about 1988 where George Bush #41 developed a caricature of Mike Dukakis and that became the issue in the campaign. Mike Dukakis is caricature became the issue. In 2004 George Bush, who was running in a weak economy, made the campaign about security because we’d been through 9/11. It didn’t matter what John Kerry did or said because he wasn’t president on 9/11. We’re in a whole different territory here. This is where he’s the president is not trying to define his opponent or the president not trying to define the main thing as the main thing. The president is trying to redefine reality. He’s trying to say, as he said to I think the Veterans of Foreign Wars: “Do not believe what you see. Do not believe what you hear. Only believe me.” We’ve really entered Animal Farm territory, Orwell saw Trump, long before Trump saw Trump. And if he can reshape reality and revise reality, politics is a mimicking game people always look at. It’s a little bit like football where one team wins the Super Bowl and next year everybody adopts that offense or everybody adopts that defense. Everyone will adopt this and our politics will be forever changed.
Katie Barlow: Jen, what about you?
Jen Psaki: Look, I mean, what Joe just laid out is a pretty dark vision of where where we’ve been left after this, but I think we all need to be sober about the fact that the bars have been lowered on a number of fronts.
Joe Lockhart: Jen, you can’t use you can’t use the word sober and bar in the same sense.
Jen Psaki: Laughter fair fair.
Paul Begala: By the way, we haven’t ever mentioned that neither Joe Biden or Donald Trump has ever had a drink in their life.
Jen Psaki: There is that,
Paul Begala: The two, The two drunkest, sober people in the world are running against each other.
Jen Psaki: Imagine if they drink. Paul.
Paul Begala: Yes. Sorry, I just had to throw that. I just think it’s amazing.
Jen Psaki: What I think we learned from this past week. We saw what Trump’s overarching strategy might be, inklings of it. Right. Watching that speech, it was not a clearly weaved together narrative. It was a poorly written speech and it was like hard to follow. But in there, we saw a couple of hints of what he’s going to try to do over the next couple of months. And a lot of that is what Joe and Paul have been talking about. You have creating his own alternative reality. Every president who’s running, even Barack Obama. And I’m sure Bill Clinton, which Paul and Joe can speak to, is trying to say to the American people, give me more time, give me more time. I haven’t solved everything yet. But I’m I’m going to take us on the right path. Now, for Barack Obama. When I was working for him, that was I know we’re not fully recovered from the economy. We need more time. We’re on the right path. And what we heard from Donald Trump and actually a number of the speakers who spoke about him was, yes, we had coronavirus. It was awful, but he stepped up and now we’re past it. This alternative reality is so dangerous for many reasons, including the fact that we’re at a pivotal point where even in Northern Virginia, where I live, the numbers are going up again. People are looking for that moment to be soothed back and to comfort that everything’s going to be OK. And he’s tapping into that. So we’re seeing that. We saw him say there’s going to be a vaccine by the end of the year. He’s saying to people, stick with me. I’m going to get you the vaccine. That’s going to make everything better. And also, businesses need to reopen. That’s contradictory. But he knows what people want to hear and that’s something we should keep our ears open to. And then the other pieces, I think, are hints at kind of what we’ll see over the next couple of months. We heard from him and also from Ivanka Trump and a number of the people who spoke before him leading up to his speech that he’s a man of action. He’s not a typical politician. Joe Biden’s been around for 50 years and he’s a typical politician who isn’t going to act. He’ll be wrapped up in bureaucracy. Those are some themes I think we’re going to hear again and again over the next couple of months. So I think truth absolutely matters. And we have to as as public servants in our heart and all of our pours for life, even if none of us ever go back, we have to believe in that. But I also think we need to keep our eyes open about what he’s trying to do and figure out the right way to combat it, which isn’t fact checking every single sentence in every moment because it’s just not going to work. People aren’t going to hear it. It needs to be a bigger theme than that.
Katie Barlow: So the three of you have spent your careers assessing the political landscape. And as we all know, Labor Day kind of marks the start of the final stretch in any campaign. So how do you assess the political terrain for both candidates heading into the final stretch of the twenty twenty presidential campaign? And Joe, you can take the lead off on this one.
Joe Lockhart: The first way to define it is unprecedented. We’ve never had a virtual campaign before, we’ve never had a campaign where candidates cannot go and be with large crowds of people. Now, I think Trump will push the envelope on that and we’ll see how that works. We’ve never had a campaign that, in my view, has been so short. The coronavirus, I think, in addition to defining this campaign, froze this campaign. Because it became the singular issue. And politicians were very careful, I think, not to try to overtly use this issue at the outset. So we’re really looking at a 60 day sprint to Election Day, and that’s unusual. I think the polls are probably pretty accurate where they are, which is that Biden has a lead nationally. He’s got a much smaller lead in the battleground states, but the race hasn’t really been joined. And the shorter and shorter that period is of the race being joined between the two of them, the more volatile it can be. So I think there could be some very big swings when I say very big swings, three, four or five points a week moving back and forth. And we will know. A little bit earlier, though, than last time, when it was the last week, the last swing sort of was determinative only because so many people are going to vote early. And we will have a sense for Pennsylvania, for example, we know today that breakdown of who’s asked for absentee ballots or mail in ballots, Democrat or Republican. It’s about 80 percent for Democrats, 20 percent for Republicans. So we’ll know when we see how big that bloc is, what the Democrats advantage is going to be. So, again, I don’t generally think debates are determinative, but the three debates may be the campaign because we it’s going to be very difficult to virtually engage here, I think.
Katie Barlow: Jen, what about you?
Jen Psaki: Yeah, I agree, I mean, we’ve all lived through debate preps, the lead up, the expectations setting the spin room, which hopefully is a dead end now for sure. And I think, though, that these debates are going to be more important than they’ve been in recent memory, because there is not a lot of other campaigning to compare it to to fill the space. I was working for President Obama. I was his traveling press secretary and he had a horrible first debate. And he didn’t really, wasn’t really tracking that the next day. He kind of settled into it by the next morning. But the next day he probably had his best campaign speech and event because he was like motivated, his back it was against the wall in Colorado. And then we went campaign for days. It’s not going to be like that. Now, Joe Biden, they’ve announced he’s going to be out a little bit more, but that’s not like it was historically. These debates are going to be the two of them standing side by side. Now, we all are Joe Biden supporters here, but debating is not his strength. And that’s not even a lower lowering expectations thing. He can get quite defensive. He doesn’t know what to do always when he’s attacked. He’s not always great with delivering the line.
Jen Psaki: Obviously, he’s he’s a savvy politician, but this could be a bit trickier for him. So I think that’s these debates are really going to be a tricky balance for the Biden team. I will also say in terms of the state of things, the Biden team also has this very challenging balance right now between keeping all of the party coalesced. And they’ve done a really good job, in my view, of bringing in they had the kind of coalition of Bernie supporters and Biden supporters doing the platform. There are a number of very progressive policies that Biden has announced that have been supported and applauded by parts of the party that weren’t with him initially. But now there’s a balance because Trump is going to be all over him about law and order, about being a friend to China, about not defunding the police. And he is going to have to walk the tightrope between these kind of different pressures. And that, I think is challenging. I think they’ve maybe gone a little too far, given this is still a general election campaign and you still have to beat Trump to the left at this point. I think they need to come a little back, but that’s something we’ll have to see play out over the next two months to.
Katie Barlow: Paul?
Paul Begala: Both campaigns have to begin by solidifying their base. And, gosh, the analysis of the Trump base has been endless. And let’s just give them that, OK? He’s solidified. It’s good for him. BIDEN More difficult. Jen’s right. He’s had to reach out to left. He is a moderate. He’s probably the third or fourth or fifth choice of the Sanders wing of the party. And yet, to their credit, the Bernie folks have really rallied in a way that they didn’t with Hillary. Sorry, but it’s true. Far too many Sanders supporters voted for third and fourth party candidates. It allowed Trump to sneak the goods through customs and become president. I don’t see that happening. Now, that is a credit to Joe for being open, but it’s also a credit to Bernie and to the left to those folks and people like me who are not from that wing of the party need to salute that. But so here’s to me what the election comes down to. College. Educated. White. Women.
Paul Begala: There’s two on this call and this show,
Jen Psaki: Katie, it’s our people. They’re going to determine what our lives are like in a year.
Paul Begala: Yes, yes. And I just I tend to be too much of a reductionist. OK, but that’s it’s “College educated white women, stupid!” Here’s a quick if you’re driving while you’re listening to this, pull over the side of the road, fog up the window and just write these numbers down. Barack Obama, Jen worked for him. I helped his reelection. He’s a pretty good politician. He lost college educated white women by three points. That was actually great because no Democrat ever wins college educated whites. So he’s minus three. Four years later, Hillary, my friend, wins them by seven, plus seven, a ten point swing in a key demographic. Good for Hillary. That’s how you win the popular vote by two point eight million. Now switch just two more years ahead. Nancy Pelosi’s Democrats win college educated white women, not minus three, not plus seven, plus 20. 20 today in the polls, and I am a little more suspicious of the polling perhaps than Joe, today in the polls, Joe Biden is leading among college educated white women by thirty nine! When you go from minus three and Obama to plus thirty nine with Joe, there’s something going on. I don’t know, literally I’m gonna ask Jen, does American carnage bring them back to Trump or does American chaos, the Biden argument, push them more toward Biden? Jen?
Jen Psaki: One, I will say that as a white, college educated woman in the suburbs during the primary, everybody I talked to supported Elizabeth Warren. So I had some kind of concern about would people come and support Biden? And before Trump was even using the or before Trump and his people were even using the Trojan horse analogy. My sister, who is a very progressive Democrat from was living in Brooklyn until a month ago, Joe, said, look, my friends and I have just decided Joe Biden is the Trojan horse to bring a progressive woman into the White House. So there’s lots of reasons, I say, to why people are on board with Joe Biden who may not have been during the primary.
Jen Psaki: I do think the chaos piece is a big factor for people because there is an instability about Trump and a destabilizing in your everyday life. Not every white woman in the suburbs is like a soccer mom with kids, but you’re getting your kids to school. You’re just trying to kind of get through the day, and the week, and you have to turn down the morning shows because there’s the President of the United States saying something racist, saying something that is beyond the pale. And I think there is a there is a desire for stability and to move beyond chaos. That I think is is that like a quote that’s going to be written on a monument one day? No, but I mean, it is, I think, a motivating factor for a number of white, college educated women who feel we just need to move beyond this.
Katie Barlow: I like the Trojan horse campaign. I think that one’s going to have staying power as they.
Jen Psaki: It may get some some people in the base to the polls. It’s even if it’s a Trump attack.
Katie Barlow: Right
Paul Begala: Well, I, I don’t think I see in data. I know in my life that what the Trump doesn’t understand and they seem to be stuck in the 60s. They think this is Archie Bunker’s America. They think it’s George Wallace. George Wallace carried five states, OK? There was power in that racist message in the 60s. He carried Georgia Katie sorry, and Louisiana and Arkansas and Mississippi and Alabama. He won five states with overt racism. That was 1968. It’s not 2020. The majority of white people, overwhelmingly two thirds of white people agree with the statement Black Lives Matter. I saw a poll that had 58% of cops agreeing Black Lives Matter. So when Rudy says Black Lives Matter as if it were a bad thing, I think he is misunderstanding white people in America today. I say this as a veteran white person who actually believes that black lives matter.
Jen Psaki: You’ve been a white person for a long time, Paul,
Paul Begala: For quite some time. But I’m more interested in joining your cohort, right. When Rudy says Black Lives Matter do your friends and women you went to college with, are they frightened or do they go well? Heck, yeah, Black lives matter, obviously.
Jen Psaki: Yes, that’s what they say. Now, I will say most of my friends from college and otherwise are we’re we’re Biden or Democratic supporters of different candidates. Before all this, they weren’t undecided Trump leaners, most of them. I do certainly know. I have neighbors who were Trump supporters. I mean, all of that. But the question I have and maybe for you guys is, do you think that some of there’s an element of this where it’s people just saying, oh, racism is terrible? Of course, I support Black Lives Matter, but they actually are going to vote like they’re scared that the suburbs argument is going to work. Are we missing that or we’re not missing that?
Katie Barlow: So I actually I wanted to ask about about that. And something in parallel is that politically, this race is really about parallel messages on a bunch of different fronts. But for a primary example, the George Floyd murder and the Jacob Blake shooting have mobilized the traditional Democratic constituencies around social justice and black lives matter. But at the same time, the protests are mobilizing and amplifying Republicans to call for law and order. We saw a lot of that in the RNC this past week. So how does that play out over the next 10 weeks? Joe, we can start with you.
Joe Lockhart: Yeah, I’m going to answer it by citing another piece of data or qualitative data rather than quantitative. The single biggest gathering, since Trump was elected was not over George Floyd. It was not over Jacob Blake. It was the women’s march when he had just taken over. There was something like two million women in Washington, D.C., and then around the country and around the world. So that gives me a big clue about and this is the right question, which is, are people going to vote what they say they believe or vote what they really believe? But I think if Paul is right and I think he is, that women will decide this election, there is real power there and there’s real commitment. And I think there we’ve seen obviously great demonstrations from both black and white Americans in support of social justice. And so I think it’s a real. And I sure as hell hope it’s real.
Katie Barlow: Jen?
Jen Psaki: I absolutely hope it’s real, too, after the women’s march, which I was a part of, I wore pink hat, the whole thing, you know, it felt really good that day. But I was pretty skeptical, honestly, that there would be anything after that. Trump had just been elected. Everybody felt wounded. It kind of became a cultural moment where it felt cool to kind of take a picture from the women’s march, which is always a red flag for me, because then it’s like, are those people going to go home and donate and volunteer? But they have I mean, we’ve now seen evidence, as Paul said, in 2018 women in the suburbs helped make Nancy Pelosi the Speaker of the House again. And I know I said it was chaos. I think I was speaking there to the people who are maybe on the edge. I will say for women who are Democrats, who have been supporters, maybe haven’t always voted or have not felt like it related to them. It’s a cultural moment and movement. There is a pride. I think there’s we certainly know there’s been a pride among African-American women about their role in bringing Joe Biden to become the nominee. I think there is a cultural moment of pride among college educated white women about how we need to get this guy out. And that’s what I hear a lot. I mean, just like so many people, text message chains with friends from college and Zoom calls, they’re not particularly political, but they are like outraged. Right. And these are people who are like doctors, lawyers. They don’t really they never worked in politics. And they are going to be motivated and get their neighbors in a way that I don’t even think we saw in 2016. I hope that’s the case. They’re afraid of what could happen in a way that’s different from 2016. That’s what I’m saying. And I think it’s real to0.
Paul Begala: The suburbs have changed. I grew up in a small town in what would have, I guess, been called the exurbs, but they put in a freeway to Houston and it became a suburb and it exploded. Fort Bend County, Texas, track Fort Bend County. And you’ll know what’s happening to America. Fort Bend County went from being a little backwater when I was a kid, a couple of thousand people in my town. We didn’t have a high school. I had to drive to Sugarland, take the bus to Sugarland, the next town over to go to high school.
Paul Begala: Today, we’ve had decades of immigration, it not just suburbanites moving there to commute to Houston, but immigration from all around the World, Asia, Africa, Latin America. I’ve been back. I went to my Homecoming game a couple of years ago and hadn’t been back in decades. And I sat with the parents. One hundred percent of the parents I was sitting with were born outside the United States. One hundred percent. They’re watching their kids on the field from seriously, all over Asia, South Asia, Africa, Latin America. Fort Bend County, Texas is the most diverse county in America. It’s certainly the most diverse county in Texas, and it is the wealthiest county in Texas. This gives the lie to what Mr. Trump says, that somehow immigrants make us dirty and poor. No, the wealthiest county in Texas is that way because of immigrants. And that is why that county. I think…It went for Hillary. This is a county that was Republican, even when Texas was Democratic. They went for Ford when Carter carried the state. So when you’re moving counties like that, I think Trump and the Republicans haven’t adapted to the New America. When Lockhart and I were working for Bill Clinton back, you know we would ride our dinosaurs to the White House. Here’s how long ago it was. 87% of the voters in the election that picked Bill Clinton were white. Eighty seven, nine out of 10 indistinguishable from Reagan and only down eight points from Roosevelt when Roosevelt was elected, it was 95 white because we had no civil rights laws. So it’s 87%white electorate when Clinton wins.
Paul Begala: You know what it is this year? 69%, maybe 67%, so Trump thinks he’s still running. George Wallace is America, he’s not. He’s running a Barack Obama’s, he’s running a Kamala Harris’s. We’re not freaked out by the daughter of a Jamaican immigrant and an Indian immigrant. We think it’s great because like my home county, it makes us wealthy, makes us smart. It makes us able to compete in the global economy. The suburbs love immigrants, and I think they’re not at all open to Trump’s racist arguments.
Jen Psaki: Just to touch on the Kamala Harris piece, I mean, I think people want to support diversity, it makes you feel good to support someone like Kamala Harris and there’s not fear from that. There is pride in that. Like, you kind of feel feel pride in being associated with a ticket that has someone like Kamala Harris running as the running mate.
Paul Begala: Right.
Katie Barlow: Paul, I want to ask you, because you put a lot of thought into this and in fact, you wrote an entire book about it. And for our listeners, if you want a Labor Day beach read, long weekend read, it’s called You’re Fired The Perfect Guide to Beating Donald Trump. And You Can Find It will add an Amazon link to our show notes. But, Paul, I wanted to ask you, give us the Cliff’s Notes version of the book, a couple of sentences. How do you beat Donald Trump?
Paul Begala: Well, first, thank you for the plug. That’s very kind. My two quarantine projects where this beard and and my book. And I think the book turned out better. It’s the first, I think, political strategy book written since Coronavirus and the Cliff’s Notes is this Don’t be distracted by Trump’s personal character. Don’t spend a lot of time talking about his latest racist tweet. Talk instead about people’s lives. Listen to Jen. Listen to Joe. This is a guy who proposed a two trillion dollar cut in Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. If any other Republican had done that, Democrats would be screaming that from the rooftops. We hardly ever mention it. Again, Trump has proposed a two trillion dollar cut in Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security. He has presided over the loss of millions and millions and millions of jobs. Make it about voters lives, not about Trump’s. He’s a narcissist. The narcissist wants the camera on him no matter what, no matter what. And so we take the camera off of him and we go to Wisconsin. And we show that farm bankruptcies are a record high, farm incomes at a record low. I’m sitting on a farm and I got twenty five acres of corn next to me, it’s less than three dollars a bushel. Those of you are listening or corn farmers know that’s a catastrophe. So talk about folks lives, about their health care, about their prescription drugs, about their preexisting condition, about their Mama in a nursing home who needs that Medicaid, not about the latest Trump outrage. I don’t excuse it, but he uses division for diversion. I’m sorry, but I’m getting to the notion that he just sucks at being president. And I think we have to talk about that rather than he’s a terrible person. He is a terrible person, is awful. But that’s his problem and that’s his kids problems. That’s his wife’s problem. The country’s problem is that he is hurting you. He’s in court trying to take away your right to health care if you have a preexisting condition. He’s at his budget trying to cut Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security. He’s in China, taking away the biggest market that our farmers have. That’s what I think we ought to be talking about.
Katie Barlow: Jen, let me ask you, for three and a half years, President Obama has kind of followed the tradition of former presidents with being seen. Very little heard, almost not at all. But in the last few weeks, he’s really been stepping up his appearances and speaking out. What do you think we can expect from him in the homestretch?
Jen Psaki: Well, I think, one, he’s reading his book, so that’s continuing, and I don’t think he’s going to be out every day. I think we should all manage our expectations with that. But I do think he deeply loves Joe Biden. I mean, not just as a candidate, but as a human being. And I think he’s going to be out there within reason as much as Joe Biden and the campaign want him to be. I mean, looking back in 2016, Obama’s approach then was what does the campaign want me to do? And I’ll go do that. And a lot of what he did then was get out the vote and going to college campuses and getting young people and people of color out to vote. I think there’ll be elements of that. And obviously, he’ll be advocating for people to register and request their ballot. I think there’s a larger and I would argue maybe a more important role I think he’ll play, which is reminding people of what the norms are and the fact that we could be preparing for a President Trump who, God willing, will lose. May this be our problem, who may not concede the election and may not abide by the historic norms. When we transitioned with the Bush administration and Lord knows Barack Obama did not like George Bush, but there is a history of transitioning power, and I think we should all prepare for that not to be the case. And I think beyond traditional get out the vote. Look, Obama”s still love by 90 percent of Democrats and by a huge percentage of independents. He’ll be super involved on the trail, is my expectation, or Zoom or fundraising, whatever, whatever that it looks like. I also think he will play a role in being a statesman and reminding people the importance of the transition of power, what is normal and what is not. And I think that could end up being an even more valuable and important role.
Katie Barlow: All right, so let’s talk about Q-Anon. Joe,
Jen Psaki: Oh Boy
Katie Barlow: I know I have a theory, you have a theory that Trump needs millions of new voters and you think Q-Anon is where he hopes to find them. So explain how he’s going about that. And let’s see if Jan and Paul agree.
Joe Lockhart: Yeah, I think if you look at the race, Democratic base is energized through their hostility to Trump. The Republicans are energized by their love of Trump. So I think the campaign ultimately comes down to not who turns out their own voters, but who turns out new voters. And if you look at this, this is what scares me. If you look at Michigan, Wisconsin, there’s potentially more white male voters not registered or who have not voted before that are available than traditional Democratic voters. And that’s why I think the president has done a full embrace of Q-Anon. That is the group he’s talking about, the far right conspiracy group that traditionally has a lot to say. But they don’t turn out to vote because they don’t believe the vote is real. They don’t believe in government. Everything is a conspiracy. And most normal educated people think, how can he not condemn them? Well, he doesn’t condemn them because he needs them. He needs these people who haven’t voted before that don’t show up in the polls to come out and vote in big numbers. He knows the Democrats are going to turn out. He knows his base will turn out. That’s what his convention was about. He needs to spend the next 60 days finding these voters who don’t vote. And the Knight Foundation did a great study, I think, about six to eight months ago that showed that unregistered voters in America split a little bit more Republican than Democrat. I think there’s a myth out there that there’s a lot of the underclass that aren’t registered and that the Democrats just register more voters, they’ll win. That’s not true based on our demographics. There’s more Trump voters who haven’t registered than Biden voters. And I think that’s something really to watch, which is how does he connect with this group? And can he mobilize a group that believes that satanic babies are being born in a pizza parlor in Washington and John Podesta is delivering them?
Jen Psaki: Can I add another element of fear to that, just to echo, Joe? Unlike a lot of elections in the past, perhaps 2016, though, was similar to this, a lot of how Trump and his team will be communicating with these people, we won’t see. Because so much of it will happen on Facebook and platforms where all of us are not the targets. It’s almost like it’s a dark underbelly of this whole campaign, because it’s not like we’re waiting for the Willie Horton ad on TV, although there could be whatever, but like this is all happening, communicating, engaging with the Q-Anon folks, Q-Anon-plus, people who don’t even know they’re Q-Anon, is happening in social media platforms where the algorithms are driving growth and driving resharing. But you and I won’t see it. We won’t even necessarily know about it. And a lot of Democrats won’t know about it. So there’s a there’s a danger and being lulled into complacency when you’re like, oh, look, Trump just is like a blithering fool who was sweating through an hour and a half long speech. We’re going to be fine, but never mind. They’re taking chunks of that speech language about how Joe Biden is going to put you at risk. A lot of the kind of fear mongering, the law and order language from his speech from Rudy Giuliani’s. And they’re sharing it with these groups and we don’t even know. And that’s what scares me.
Paul Begala: I agree with that. I think you guys are right to to sound that warning. One of my one of my hunting buddies, actually, Katie from Georgia, calls it “The empty the deer stand” strategy,
Katie Barlow: Oh?
Paul Begala: And I kind of thought, he was positing this to me, And I said, well, you know, I think the deer stands kind of empty after twenty sixteen. I think it got them all. But Joe’s right and I was wrong. You look at the data and there are a lot more. And Trump has decided, I think, unwisely in terms of strategy and morality, to keep drilling deeper. He’s going to deepen his support, not widen it. It’s like he drilled down, he hit some oil and he’s going to drill deeper, figuring there must be more oil below it. Right now, most geologists tell you actually you should find a new field to drill. The the way I think the way that Democrats should combat that is twofold: First, again, talk about these bread and butter issues. Even Q-Anon supporters need Social Security. They need Medicaid. They need Medicare. They care about pre-existing conditions. They care about jobs. In other words, if you keep undermining his effectiveness as a president, I think that helps. But then also this is hard. It takes a big cultural shift for liberals. Liberals want to attack Trump for being a bully, for being a strong man that only strengthens him. The truth is, he’s weak. He’s too weak to take on police misconduct. He’s too weak to take on neo-Nazis. He calls some very fine people. He’s too weak to take on Putin. He’s too weak to walk down a bloody ramp. I’m telling you, and I say this as a guy who never even took freshman biology, there’s something wrong with Trump. And I mean, in an organic, physical, biological, neurological, there’s something wrong with Donald J. Trump. And I honestly say that with no joy in my heart. But I’m telling you, he couldn’t walk down the stairs unaided. He grabbed the first lady with his left hand. He had a death grip on the railing with his right hand. He was still very unsteady. During the speech, he was listing to port and listing to starboard, sort of resting as he read the words, many of them in the correct order, but not all. He’s clearly there’s something wrong with him. I think we should say that first, because I want an intervention to help save the poor man’s health.
Paul Begala: But second, because it undermines his support with the people that Joe is talking about. If you tell them that he’s a bully, they go, “Heck yeah”! You tell me he’s a jerk. “Well, but he’s a jerk.” You tell him that he’s weak and that he’s ineffective and in fact, he’s hurting you. I think that can help maybe keep him in their distance. They’re not going to go vote for Joe, but maybe they say, yeah, he’s he’s past his sell by date.
Katie Barlow: So in the spirit of The McLaughlin Group format, let’s do some predictions before we end here and this case, a “forced prediction.” So, Paul, let’s start with you. In twenty sixteen, it was James Comey and the email investigation. What is 2020’s October surprise?
Paul Begala: Russia will produce fake evidence, fraudulent evidence that they will then leak, they’ll hack somebody, they’ll penetrate somebody’s email, they’ll release her or his emails, and then they’ll sort it with this fraudulent stuff. So it’ll be real stuff in there. Like we learned John Podesta’s family secret for making risotto in the Hillary email hack. That was a real email. John makes great risotto. They’re going to salt that stolen information with fraudulent alleged evidence and they’re going to use deep fake videos which they did not have access to in 2016. There’s now technology, and Russia has it, that can allow them to manufacture a video that looks absolutely authentic, absolutely real, but is absolutely fraudulent. Russia is going to create evidence that will favor Trump and disadvantaged Biden. And I fear that the media, as we did in 2016, will just bite hook, line, and sinker that that’s that’s the thing to guard against Russia falsifying, fabricating evidence.
Katie Barlow: Jen, what’s your prediction?
Jen Psaki: I have two. One, I agree with Paul. Russia’s up to something. We don’t know what it is yet. That may be it. I’m following you down that rabbit hole that I’m scared. Yeah, a vaccine. I mean, Trump hinted at it last night. I would just think we should prepare ourselves for a scenario where he says we have a vaccine and we’re preparing to distribute it sometime in October. Not that it would be distributed in October, but that there would be some sort of announcement about it. Right? Two a Supreme Court justice vacancy. Now, this is like a historic rallying point that has been more the case for Republicans. It’s more for Democrats now that it has been in the past. There was a standing ovation when it was mentioned by, I think, Ivanka Trump that Trump had filled to Supreme Court slots. This is still a rallying cry for the base for on issues like abortion and protections of gun rights and things that have historically been rallying cries for Republicans. And there’s a lot of ways it could happen. I certainly pray for Ruth Bader Ginsburg every day. I have a mask with her face on it. But, you know, this is a that’s that would be my second one. So now we have three October potential surprises in the mix.
Katie Barlow: Joe, what’s your prediction?
Joe Lockhart: I’m going to make a prediction that will surprise Republicans and a prediction that will surprise Democrats. The October surprise for Republicans and the President is a Republican. Money is going to move away from President Trump and back.
Paul Begala: Wow
Joe Lockhart: To the Senate to keep the Senate. I think they will make a cost benefit analysis of what’s in their interests. Mitch McConnell knows no other way. And it’ll be in Mitch McConnell and the Republicans interest to make sure that they keep the Senate even at the expense of the presidency. They will not do this in an overt way because they are afraid of Trump’s base. And I’m going to pick up on Jens and just elaborate a little on what will surprise Democrats, because even though Trump has no shame, we still wake up every day expecting that he might have some.
Joe Lockhart: I think he’ll have a two hour special, Thursday night before the election, that leads up to the reveal where Dr. Birks injects him with the first vaccine.
Joe Lockhart: And he spends the whole weekend telling us how how good he feels. And this is solved. And it’s just going to be The Apprentice Survivor, Big Brother, The Great Race. I’ve never seen any of those shows, the show where they give you a rose. It’s going to be all that together and it’s going to be even better and we’re going to have a vaccine.
Katie Barlow: All right, so last one finally, and I’m just going to limit the answers to name and number, but who’s going to win and with how many electoral votes?
Katie Barlow: Joe, start with you.
Joe Lockhart: Biden, 320.
Jen Psaki: Jen?
Jen Psaki: Biden. Three hundred, I’m not as rosy, but I still think it’s Biden.
Katie Barlow: And Paul?
Paul Begala: It’s Biden, and if it is, I think it tips. So Biden 370.
Jen Psaki: Oh, all right.
Joe Lockhart: I think if Trump wins, it’ll be in the 275 range. If Biden wins, it will, as Paul said, tip there will be a wave and my 320 could easily be 370.
Katie Barlow: Well in the spirit of The McLaughlin Group, thank you both, Jen and Paul for joining us and Joe for being a part of the panel.
Katie Barlow: And that’s all we have time for this week. Bye bye.