Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said at a Bloomberg breakfast in Charlotte, North Carolina that the president would work with the business community to overhaul the tax code in a second term, as Democrats today kick off their national convention that aims to propel his re-election bid.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
NORMAN PEARLSTINE: Good morning. I’m Norman Pearlstine, Chief Content Officer for Bloomberg, and welcome to the Bloomberg Link, our center for the Democratic National Convention. This is a breakfast meeting that we do each morning with Bloomberg Insider, the daily publication that we’ve been producing for both conventions. If you haven’t seen it, please get a copy on your way out. This is this morning’s edition, talking about President Obama and environmental issues.
We’re doing this series in collaboration with AT&T, who’s been a terrific partner for us. And following this morning’s session, we’ll be talking about a very exciting program that we shall be doing in collaboration with AT&T. But for now, I’d really like to turn the program over to my colleague, Susan Goldberg, who is Bloomberg’s Executive Editor for all things government - federal, state and local. And so, Susan, I turn it over to you. Thank you.
SUSAN GOLDBERG: Thank you. Good morning, everybody, and welcome.
Valerie Jarrett has been by the president’s side for almost every day in the last four years. On Sunday in a front-page story in the New York Times, a White House official put her role this way, “She’s the single-most influential person in the Obama White House.” Ms. Jarrett has known the Obamas for more than 20 years, when she offered Michelle Obama a job in the Chicago mayor’s office. Today, she’s both counselor and friend and an influential participant in the most important policy decisions of the day and someone who gets to vacation with the first family.
That same New York Times story said, “She serves as the president’s protector in chief,” and added, “If Karl Rove was known as George W. Bush’s political brain, Ms. Jarrett is Mr. Obama’s spine.” All in all, it’s quite a portfolio and I’m very pleased to welcome you, Valerie, to the --
VALERIE JARRETT: Thank you, Susan.
GOLDBERG: - Bloomberg Link.
JARRETT: It’s a pleasure to be here with you.
GOLDBERG: Thank you. When the president was elected, he promised Americans that he could get Washington to change, that he could get Democrats and Republicans to work together on common solutions to our problems. But today, the country is as bitterly divided as any time in the last century.
Of course, you can demonstrate many ways that the Republicans are partially responsible for this, but, like my mom used to tell my sister and me, it takes two. What responsibility does the administration bear for this division and what can President Obama do to change that?
JARRETT: Well, I’ll tell you, it’s pretty challenging when the leader of the Republican Party in the Senate says that his number one objective is to try to make sure that the president doesn’t get re-elected, and he says that at the beginning of his term. I think back to the kind of amazing speech that Senator McCain gave at his concession speech election night, and he talked about how we should all come together and work together. And it was a very patriotic speech, and that message ended that night.
And so yes, we’ve had four tough years where it’s been very difficult to get the Republicans to the table. But notwithstanding that, the president has been able to accomplish a great deal. And I think that part of what this week is about is to talk about the kind of mess he inherited, what he’s been able to accomplish, notwithstanding this enormous amount of division in Washington, and how we’re going to move our country forward.
And the country doesn’t have to center in Washington. A big part of what is happening around the country is outside of Washington, and it is that energy that we’re going to galvanize this week here in Charlotte.
GOLDBERG: But do you think we’ll continue to hear from the president about how he wants to work with the Republicans --?
JARRETT: Well, of course.
GOLDBERG: - or has he given up on that?
JARRETT: No, no, he’s never going to give up on that. I think it’s what the American people expect, is that their president will always try to engage. And it’s not a Republican or a Democratic issue, it’s trying to galvanize all of the elected officials to keep focused not on their short-term political interest, but on all of you, the American people. And that’s something that he is as determined to push forward today as he has ever been.
GOLDBERG: Let me ask you a little bit about the Republican convention last week and Mr. Romney’s acceptance speech. How did you react to his statement about the president? And I’ll quote him, he said, “You know there’s something wrong with the kind of job he’s done as president when the best feeling you had was the day you voted for him.” Are voters disappointed in the president?
JARRETT: I think if Mr. Romney would come here to Charlotte and hear the kind of energy that’s on the ground right now he might want to rethink what he said. Look, we’ve been through a very, very tough four years, the toughest four years, certainly, in any of our lifetimes, the worst in our country since the Great Depression. And it took a long time to get into that mess and it’s going to take a while to dig ourselves out.
But the fact of the matter is if you look at what was happening in the last four to six months -- the last six months of the Bush Administration, our country lost 4 million jobs. Well, you know what? In the last 29 months we’ve had 29 consecutive months of private sector job growth, over 4.5 million jobs. The president invested in the automobile industry when many said, “Oh, just let it go. Let Detroit go bankrupt.”
Now, not only is GM number one in the country, it’s number one in the world. Chrysler and Ford are back on top. The workers are doing well. All of the spin-off industries that depend on the automobile industry are doing well. The president said he was going to end the Iraq war; he did. As those folks come back home, we owe them and their families a level of responsibility.
There’s so much that has changed in the last four years for the positive, but the fact of the matter is there’s still far too many Americans who want to work that are having a hard time finding a job, which is why the president has invested in education. A lot of that investment pays off over the long-term because he’s determined to build a middle class that’s strong, with a core, and it’s built to last, and that doesn’t happen overnight.
GOLDBERG: You talked for a moment there about energy, and I did want to ask you about that. There was so much energy surrounding the president’s election in 2008 and it does feel really different this time around. How are you going to energize these voters, these younger voters, to go out and vote? I know that they are key in a number of the swing states. How are you going to get them back in the game and what are we going to hear about this week?
JARRETT: The president has spent a great deal of time just in the last couple of weeks going on college campuses as students are going back to school, and the way he has been received has been very energetic. And he talks about issues that are important to them.
When I met the president and first lady, it was before they were married and I was trying, as you said, Susan, to try to recruit the first lady to come and work in city government. And part of what they were struggling with is that whether they could afford for her to join the public sector because of their combined debt, and their debt was student loan debt.
That’s why the president doubled Pell Grants, that’s why he fought so hard to get Congress to make sure that the interest rates on student loans didn’t double. And so he comes at this from a perspective where he understands what their plight is. He knows that if you can’t afford college you just can’t ask you parents for a loan all the time. That doesn’t work.
GOLDBERG: Let me ask you a little bit about the administration’s relationship with the business community, which has been rocky at points. If you look at donations by the very biggest givers - the financial industry - they’ve done a flip- flop in the last four years. In 2008, the financial industry contributed more to Mr. Obama; now they are contributing much more to his challenger, by double, actually. Why is that? And what is it that the business community doesn’t like about how the administration is going about things?
JARRETT: I think you have to separate a few on Wall Street from the rest of the business community. There are a lot of businesses outside of New York who have a great deal of confidence in the president, who’ve worked very closely with him in partnership as we’ve moved our agenda forward, whether it’s focusing on education and designing a curriculum where the people who finish our community colleges, for example, have the skills that they need to compete in a global marketplace. We’ve have great partnerships there.
I think the fact of the matter is a lot of folks -- a few folks, I should say, not a lot of folks -- a few folks on Wall Street really pushed against Dodd-Frank and having rules of the road in place. And the fact of the matter is we cannot afford to have the taxpayers of the United States to have to come to the rescue of the banks again. They resisted that. They spent a lot of money lobbying against having those rules of the road in place. They fought against having a consumer financial protection bureau that’s designed to look out for the consumer.
You have to ask yourself, why did they fight against that? Well, they didn’t want the regulations, but they needed the regulations. And so the fact that they’re not providing as much financial support to us is not nearly as important as the fact that we still have a robust number of small donors all across the country. We’d rather have $5.00 from someone who’s making a sacrifice than the kind of money that you’ve seen go into these super-PACs on the other side.
GOLDBERG: But if the president is re-elected he will have the opportunity for a do-over with the business community. What do you think he’ll do differently?
JARRETT: I think he’s going to continue to engage them. And let’s face it, many members of the business community have been suffering through this economy as well. Many of the folks who depended upon the banks for access to capital saw that capital dry up, and so they’ve gone through a tough time as well.
I think as our economy grows and as we come out of this deep hole that was dug long before the president took office, we’re going to see continued opportunities for partnership. There is plenty of room for common ground. And we’re going to look at reforming our tax system, our corporate tax system, and that’s something that we’re going to do in concert with the business community.
I think where you see a common ground is let’s broaden the base, let’s reduce the rate. Well, that means that we’re going to close some loopholes, but that’s going to benefit the broader business community. There are plenty of ways that we can work together.
The long-term, sustainable growth in job creation rests with the private sector. The president knows that and he knows that what government’s role is to create and foster an environment where the private sector can thrive and grow and certain take risks, but not take the kind of risks where ultimately the taxpayers shoulder the burden for it.
I think we can reach that balance appropriately. The president is very confident we can do that.
GOLDBERG: The recession and the very slow recovery have been particularly tough on the African-American community. The income drop among African-Americans has been about double that of whites. The unemployment rate is double that of whites. African-Americans have been much - hit much harder by foreclosure. And the president has been criticized by some members of the Black Caucus for not doing enough specifically to reach out to poor people, people in need, many of whom are African-American. Do you think that that would change in the second term?
JARRETT: I think the president has, in fact, reached out a great deal. If you had a chance to listen to the speech he gave just a few weeks ago at the Urban League, he talked how importantly it is that we have to focus on those who need that help to get up that ladder for success. Let’s face it, many in the African-American community were suffering long before this most recent crisis.
And it begins, of course, with education. That’s why the president is investing so strongly in education. Job training. He’s put forth many pieces of legislation that the Republicans and Congress have rebuffed that would have created, for example, incentives for businesses to hire those who’ve been long-term unemployed, to provide training for those who’ve been out of the workforce for a long time, which also has an impact on women who may have taken off time from work to raise their children. Well, we need to make sure that our workforce has the skills that they need to compete in this global marketplace.
So the president has focused on health care. If you look at the population that is often more uninsured than anyone else, it’s African-Americans. The health-care bill is designed to make affordable health care available for everyone, make sure that people have the ability to get preventative services without co- pays from their -- without having to pay their insurance company’s co-pay so that you can stay in good health, have primary care available and accessible. That’s something that so many times in the African-American community, there isn’t access to primary health care, and so that’s an important part.
And the point is that we are all in this together. The way our country will thrive, the way it has always thrived, is that it is a land of opportunity for everyone. And if we level that playing field, everyone should be able to compete. That’s the story of the president and the first lady and that’s the story of so many Americans, and that’s what has always made our country great.
GOLDBERG: You mentioned the role of women. And women are obviously critical to the president’s re-election. You’re really the only woman in the administration in a truly, truly senior position. Do you think that there need to be more women in high position in the Obama administration?
JARRETT: Well, actually, if you look in the White House, two of the president’s three deputy chiefs of staff are women. His counsel is a woman. He has many women throughout the key positions in the cabinet, from the secretary of state to the secretary of homeland security to the secretary of health and human services to the labor secretary. I could go on --.
GOLDBERG: But it’s not that there aren’t women --.
JARRETT: So he has surrounded himself --.
GOLDBERG: - it’s that I don’t think anybody else is getting described as being as influential as you are. Do you think there need to be more women in that circle?
JARRETT: I think if people actually saw the way the president runs his administration, if you had a peek-hole into his Cabinet meetings, into his senior staff meetings, you would see that he is well surrounded by women. This is a man who was raised by a single mom, who lived with his grandparents, who saw how his grandmother struggled at her bank trying to get promotions. He comes into this job with a keen appreciation for the plight of women and he has spent his life fighting.
That’s why the very first bill he signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. That was no accident. It’s because he watched what happened with his grandmother. So I think if you really look behind the scenes and not what the press tends to focus on, women have him pretty well surrounded.
GOLDBERG: Now, I know that women were a key constituency in his election in 2008, especially married moms. But in 2010, they voted Republican. Do you think that the president can get those voters back? And what is he going to do to get those voters back?
JARRETT: Of course, I think he can get them back. In 2010, he wasn’t on the ballot. So now he will be --.
GOLDBERG: No, he wasn’t on the ballot, but they voted Republican.
JARRETT: This is a presidential race and so we are very confident that those who supported him before -- women who supported him before --. Look, he doesn’t look at women as a special interest group. It’s over half our population. It’s half our workforce. More women are graduating from college than men. Far more women are graduating now from graduate school than me, but yet we still only earn $0.77 on the $1.00. And the president is determined to level that playing field; think women know that.
We can just look at the most recent history where you see what’s going on in the Republican party. And frankly, it looks like what my mother experienced back in the ’50s. It doesn’t make any sense. The president believes a woman should have a right to choose what’s happening with her body -- thank you for nodding back there. Absolutely. And that’s something that we shouldn’t even be -- it shouldn’t even be up for discussion anymore. And the fact that that’s the direction that the Republican party wants to go, well, that’s backward. And everybody knows the president intends to move forward.
GOLDBERG: Let me just ask you one last question. I’ve been reading that the president has been spending a lot of time on the golf course lately. And if he could have a mulligan on one aspect of the last four years, what would that be on?
JARRETT: I don’t know what a mulligan is. I don’t play golf.
GOLDBERG: A mulligan is a do-over. I’m sorry. If he could have a do-over.
JARRETT: Well, you know what? There isn’t a single thing -- . People always say -- every single day we say to ourselves what could we have done better? What could we have done more creatively? And all I can say is that having been in the White House, having seen how this president has awakened every single morning thinking about the American people and how to push that forward, I think what we probably would do over again is in that first year spend more time outside of Washington with the American people and telling our story around the country and really galvanizing the pressure that needed to be put on the Republicans of Congress, because -- Republicans in Congress, because, frankly, Susan, they ignored their constituents.
And if we could have energized them more and maybe in that first year, just the way the president is doing right now, because his message is resonating broadly and we’re confident that when people vote their self-interest, if they vote their self-interest, they vote for him. He is the person who is most looking out for you -- people who are out there each and every day, just trying to make ends meet, raise a family, put them through school, have a good job, have health insurance so you don’t have to worry about going broke if you’re sick or in an accident, and retiring with dignity. That’s the American dream that our president is fighting for.
GOLDBERG: So he feels like he lost some time not being out there?
JARRETT: He didn’t appreciate, I think, early on how important it was to tell that story and to continue to keep the public energized in putting pressure on the Republicans because, let’s face it, they would not have extended the payroll tax cut at the beginning of this year if it hadn’t been for you. They would have not passed legislation that prevented student loans from double if it had not from you. We have to keep that pressure up, and that’s what he’s determined to do.
GOLDBERG: Well, Ms. Jarrett, thank you so much.
JARRETT: Thank you, Susan. Thank you all for being here.
GOLDBERG: We appreciate your time this morning.
JARRETT: Thanks, everybody.
GOLDBERG: Thank you. Now, don’t get up and leave. We’ve got -- don’t get up and leave. We’ve got another panel coming. I want to welcome to the stage my Bloomberg colleagues, Matt Dowd and Jonathan Alter. We’re going to bring up another chair here. Okay, let me introduce them. Matt, why don’t you sit right here? Thank you.
Matt Dowd is one of the country’s best-known political strategists and commentators. He was chief strategist for George W. Bush in 2004 and since then has launched an international communications consultancy. He’s a regular in Good Morning America and Bloomberg TV and he is now an independent, which is appropriate because he’s worked both for Dick Gephardt and George W. Bush. So welcome to Matt.
And Jonathan Alter is a Bloomberg View Columnist. Jonathan is an award-winning writer who’s spent almost 30 years at Newsweek, where he was the senior editor, before coming to Bloomberg. He’s written numerous books, including one about Franklin Roosevelt. President Obama has talked about reading that book and applying some of the lessons to the presidency. So welcome, Jonathan.
Well, let me ask you guys, did you hear anything that surprised you from Ms. Jarrett about either what the president was doing or what we can expect this week?
JONATHAN ALTER: In a word, no.
ALTER: She is relentless on message, which is what one would expect from somebody in her position, as we draw closer to the election. And I think you saw some of the discipline that they try to bring to these campaigns into at least some of what they’ve done in the White House.
I guess the thing that interested me the most was when you asked the mulligan question, and not just because she wasn’t a golfer. My last book was about their first year -- President Obama’s first year in office. I think there is a fair amount of revisiting that first year is going on as they think not just about why they’re in this dog fight with Romney, but also what a second term might be like and this sense that they did not do enough to mobilize the public.
And for me, the thing I noticed pretty early on, and a great surprise about Barack Obama, was we expected him to be this gifted orator, gifted communicator who struggled in executive leadership because he had no experience. And it turned out that he got more done than any president since Lyndon Johnson, as a factual matter if you actually add up significant bills, but he struggled throughout to communicate and to bring the public along and have them understand what he’s trying to do.
GOLDBERG: Well, let me bring you in, Matt. Did that surprise you, what she said, that he acknowledges that he really didn’t do enough in that first year?
MATT DOWD: No, it didn’t surprise me. What I’m always, I guess, surprised at somewhat, but it seems to be becoming intermittently predictable -- I have great respect for Valerie and great respect for the president. Everybody always says that before they’re about to say something negative, “Oh, they’re a great guy, but” -- is the incapacity, and we’ve seen two presidents in a row that have a great incapacity to admit reality at many points in time; that admit a mistake, admit that maybe something’s went off, admit that they didn’t do the job they could have, admit some level of humility that maybe they’re responsible for some of the problems that exist in Washington.
And I think that doesn’t serve them well. Bill Clinton is a perfect example of a president who had a great capacity to admit a mistake and then move on and say, “I learned. I’m this. I’ll do better.” And the American public actually has a great capacity to forgive and then acknowledge that is somebody admits a mistake they’re learning in office and they’re holding themselves accountable.
And, as I said, we’ve had two presidents -- one I worked for and one I’ve actually, and some people know this, who has actually called me. President Obama has called me up and had me come to the White House after the 2010 midterms and have a conversation about what I thought went wrong or what I thought went right or whatever. But I think that doesn’t serve them well.
I think at some point -- I would hope in this course of this convention you’re going to see some level of humility, you’re going to see some level of, “OK, we didn’t do everything right. We are looking forward. There were some mistakes made. We can do better and this is what we’re going to do in a forward- looking agenda.”
But the bubble, combined with the type of people that run for office, at some point you have to take responsibility for the polarization in Washington. Yes, Mitch McConnell said what he said. Yes, the Republicans did what they did. But you only work for one person; you work for the President of the United States. And I think it would strain anybody’s credibility to say they did everything possible to meet with the Republicans, to move the Republicans along, to force the Republicans or to get the Republicans on board. I just don’t think they did everything they could have.
ALTER: I actually don’t agree with that. They didn’t do absolutely everything they could, but I took a really close look -- maybe too close -- at late 2008 in the -- at the end of the transition and then early 2009. And one of the kind of pivotal events that comes to light is that the president actually went to Capitol Hill to meet with just Republicans in the second week of his presidency to try to get them to join him on saving the country from a depression, the way a number of Democrats joined President Reagan in 1981.
And they were all over cable TV talking about sodding the mall and other things that were wasting money that many of which actually weren’t in the stimulus. Some of them were there was some dopey stuff that Nancy Pelosi put in. And the president said to these guys, “Look, I’ll take out anything that you think is stupid or wasteful or not helpful. I put in $300 billion in tax cuts, which you should like. I’m not going to actually reduce tax rates because we just had an election that sort of decided that.”
But he was very willing to negotiate with them. And John Boehner and the others decided beforehand, they told the caucus, “No negotiation. The only way we can come back into power,” and this is in Robert Draper’s book, they had a meeting on the night of the inauguration, key Republicans, including Paul Ryan -- “The only way we can come back into power is complete obstruction.”
So it’s not like there’s enough blame to go around. There’s some blame for Obama, sure, but the bulk of the blame is on the Republican side.
DOWD: Well, I think it’s a question of how shared it is. And I know we don’t want to do this.
GOLDBERG: We don’t.
DOWD: When you meet with the Republicans and they come up with ideas and the response you say is, “I won.” And then, you push the most divisive issue through Congress in the most divisive manner, which was health care, at a time basically you say, “We’re going to bring the country together,” and you do it in the most divisive way with an issue that is incredibly divisive.
Now, there was aspects -- I am not taking any accountability away from Republicans, an ability to come to the table and do that. But in the end, he went, I think, 15 or 16 months without ever having a meeting -- without ever having a meeting with the Republicans. And he would do along the way photo ops -- his golf game with Boehner was a photo op. There was photo ops done along the way, Jonathan.
But in the end if you really want to do it you’ve got to walk up - you can’t say, “I’m going to wait here in the White House and they’ve got to come to me,” or, “I’m the President of the United States and boy, this is” -- and I’m not saying -- George W. Bush actually after 2002 did the exact same thing. The country became incredibly polarized. He didn’t do enough to do it. But in the end the president is responsible for his own actions.
GOLDBERG: And, gentlemen --
ALTER: I agree with that. I think he should have reached out more.
GOLDBERG: I think we can agree there is now total gridlock and a great disgust on the part of the American people, if you look at the polls, with where this has ended up with Congress at 10 percentage points of favorability ratings.
But when you do look at the polls for the presidential race, this is clearly going to be a very tight race. And it seems like people are telling pollsters that they like the president a lot. But what does he need to do not just to be likeable, but to be more electable?
DOWD: The interesting thing about the polls - and this has been - we’ve seen over the course of the last six months is we have two candidates that are unelectable running against each other. And so if you put your hand on one side of the poll and look at all of the dynamics of the country -- the wrong track numbers, the economy, how he’s handling the economy, all of those numbers -- you say, “Barack can’t win.”
Then you put your other hand on the side and it’s like, well, Mitt Romney’s favorable rating, how much they trust him on various personality traits, all of those sorts of -- the perception of the Republican party, you say, “Mitt Romney can’t win.”
And then you open the thing and, well, they’re running against each other; somebody has to win. That’s the dynamic and that’s why we’re in this competitive election. To me, in the end, the voters that both sides have to get are people that voted that Barack Obama, that like Barack Obama and his family, like Michelle Obama and his family, but think the country’s on the wrong track and they’re disappointed in the president’s conduct in his office. And at some point you have to admit those truths in front of an audience.
I think there was parts of the speeches -- some of the speeches -- parts of Mitt Romney’s speech in Tampa, parts of Paul Ryan’s speech in Tampa that spoke to some of that, the disappointment, the faded Obama poster on the wall, all of those sorts of things, which is exactly where the public is, and try to move the country, not to dislike President Obama.
And I think Barack Obama has to figure out a way to say, “Listen, we did some things. It wasn’t always great. Here’s some things we tried. We tried to do a bunch of stuff. But in the end, going forward in the next four years, if you want a vision for the future that actually can get done and will do what you want to do, it’s our side. And if you want to go backward and go back and try things that have already been tried before and haven’t worked, it’s their side.” That’s what you have to do.
GOLDBERG: Jonathan, what do you think the president needs to do?
ALTER: I think that’s all right, that word vision he used. The president needs to have more of one.
ALTER: He needs a second-term agenda, which is not really out there yet. And this acceptance speech on Thursday is a very important opportunity for him to give people a sense of what a second term would bring. And I think if he doesn’t he’s jeopardizing his chances of being re-elected. His slogan, after all, is “Forward.” Well, forward to what?
GOLDBERG: Well, we didn’t hear a lot --.
ALTER: And he did just --. Yes.
GOLDBERG: - from the Republicans, hardly any specifics, really, out of the Republican convention. So you think there’s an opportunity here?
ALTER: I do think there’s an opportunity to lay some visionary ideas on the table. And he will do some repackaging of things that he’s talked about in the past where he’s been rebuffed, like investment in rebuilding the country, in education, and what was in the American Jobs Act that the congressional Republicans rejected, but my feeling is he needs one or two other ideas -- maybe a national service initiative or something to give --. Nixon had this awful line that somehow was lodged in my brain, which was the lift of a driving dream.
You have to have something that takes -- especially because of the disappointment that you talked about and the contrast with 2008, he’s got to have something that lifts people’s sights out of the muck of this campaign.
DOWD: And I totally agree with Jonathan. The interesting thing about the history of this country, and actually the history of the world, is if the leader doesn’t present a vision forward, what people then do -- their appeals to the bygone era have strong appeal. And so if you don’t have a vision forward, “Here’s the mess we’re in and this is where we’re going. This is the promised land. There’s the sunset. We’re going to head - this is how we’re going to get there and this is what --” People then basically say, “If you don’t present them that,” and somebody turns up and says, “Hey, we can go back. We can go backwards to that great days in the past and hearken back to that,” it has appeal.
If you present that, going backward is not an option for people. Without it, that’s why I think you saw a lot on the part of the Republicans did, is it almost felt like a vision backward to a degree. It was like the days of yore when all the things were great and families were together and we gathered around the campfire. And that’s sort of like, “Oh, that feels warm and comfortable. We don’t know what’s going forward, this old days’ feel.”
And I think Jonathan is totally right. The president - the first person in this race to present a compelling vision forward is going to have a huge advantage.
GOLDBERG: What do you think we’re going to hear tonight from Michelle Obama, and how is she going to play into the race in general?
ALTER: Well, she has been a great asset all along, except in 2010 when she just didn’t play very much, didn’t go out nearly as much as they would have liked in the White House. But in 2008 they called her the closer. She would come in and close the deal. And I think that she has that role again in reminding people why they like this president and, in a sense, helping to inoculate him a little bit from some of these attacks.
The likability factor alone isn’t going to get somebody elected, but it can be a powerful asset, especially when the other candidate doesn’t score so well on likability. So she doesn’t have to introduce her husband to the public the way Ann Romney did, but she doesn’t have to remind them of why they like him.
DOWD: I completely agree with Jonathan on that. And the thing that -- she’s got a 65 percent or a 66 percent favorability rating. She’s one of the most popular people on the political landscape now. The interesting thing the Democrats have, this advantage actually, is that she’s, tonight, a very popular and I think she’s going to not do what Ann Romney did. I think she’s going to do some of the here’s my husband, but I think she’s actually going to, I would assume, going to do some of the looking forward. Here’s what we’re going to do. Here’s how we’re going to fight on your behalf. This is what we’re going to do. I think that’s important.
But I think the other thing the Democrats have, they have that tonight, a very popular figure and then they have the other popular figure tomorrow night, Bill Clinton. They have two of the most popular figures in politics that the Republicans didn’t necessary have. Ann Romney is popular, but not as well known. Republicans just don’t have that. And you didn’t see, obviously, the former President Bush anywhere near the convention. I think one, by his choice, but two, they were like, “Well, we probably don’t really want to have George W. Bush here. But we like him, but we’ll go see him in the back room or whatever.”
That’s a huge advantage that they have. And I would guess every one of those speeches is going to build on up to what I would assume was going to be Barack Obama’s vision forward on Thursday night.
GOLDBERG: So what will we hear from Bill Clinton, do you think?
ALTER: I think Bill Clinton is going to first try to give a little bit of the history, some of the backward-looking stuff, to go, “Look, we did great in the ’90s under my administration, more than 20 million jobs were created. And then you had some folks that came in and said the way to continue this economic growth, the way to get a robust economy is to slash taxes and slash regulation. And then we had some of the worst growth in more than half a century in the first decade of the 21st century. And their strategy of cutting taxes and cutting regulation failed. And now they want to go back to that failed strategy. We want to go back to my strategy, what we did in the ’90s. So join Barack Obama in bringing back the glory Clinton days without Lewinsky.”
GOLDBERG: Do you think there’s any chance --.
DOWD: I think they have to be really careful with Bill Clinton.
DOWD: Because I think they can overdo this. They’ve already used him in commercials. He’s giving a big speech tomorrow night. I hear that he’s going to be front and center on a number of commercials in the aftermath of the convention. They’ve got to be careful that he can be a validator and confirm what Jonathan says, which is, “Here’s what I saw when I was president.” But you don’t want to get people and those undecided voters to start thinking, “Well, that was the kind of president. Barack Obama is not like that kind of president. He’s never going to be like that kind of president and maybe I’m going to try a new guy in Mitt Romney.” They’ve got to - overusing him would be a mistake.
GOLDBERG: Do you think that he could overshadow the president? That Bill Clinton could?
ALTER: No, I don’t. I think that Obama is a big enough figure in his own right. He’s not a small political figure. And this is one of the reasons why the Jimmy Carter comparisons are kind of silly. Not just because Obama killed Bin Laden and Carter failed with the Iranian hostages, but also because Obama is just bigger in the culture. And Clinton is kind of rusty. He is, to a certain extent, yesterday’s news. He’s lost a step and I don’t think they’re in danger of having him overshadow him.
DOWD: I think one thing -- not directly related to this. I think the interesting dynamic that this race is turning into is Republicans are hoping this is 1980, where as soon as people sort of -- and now they’re going to get their pass to the conventions, which they didn’t get much bounce and didn’t get much introduction and at the debates, that they’re going to overcome this perception problem Mitt Romney has. And as soon as they overcome that perception, he’ll take a lead and won’t give it up.
Just look at what happened in 1980 with Ronald Reagan. The race was competitive, but the dynamics of the country were in play that they wanted to defeat the incumbent but they didn’t necessarily trust Ronald Reagan. As soon as he overcame that, the race was over.
The Democrats are hoping this is 2004, where the dynamics of the country aren’t great and the president isn’t overly popular like George W. Bush, but they so don’t want the other guy, they so don’t trust the other guy that they maintain and they win this race by two or three percentage points. And I think that’s basically Democrats hope it’s 2004, Republicans hope it’s 1980.
ALTER: Yes. The Republicans are also hoping -- I did a long -- not that long -- a column in Bloomberg View, going through the various analogies. And I think that’s basically right, but the Republicans are also looking to 2004 because they had a big base of mobilization that year, particularly in Ohio, and they’re hoping to get that revved up again. I think they’re beginning to realize they can’t win this thing just in the air; they need to compete better on the ground with the president. And so Karl Rove, who was running that campaign, is really in charge again in this campaign.
And this is something that fascinated me. The most important story that came out of the Tampa convention was the Bloomberg Businessweek story about the meeting with 70 multi- millionaires and billionaires that Karl Rove at American Crossroads held and a Bloomberg business reporter got this amazing scoop. She got into the meeting. That was the real Republican convention. Everything else was kind of show. If they win this thing, it’s going to be because they have enough money to not just saturate the airwaves in a lot of these states, but also by enough of a ground game to be competitive.
GOLDBERG: I was going to ask you guys about that. So on the last day of the Republican convention, a Bloomberg reporter did get into a closed door breakfast. She just walked in and sat down and went into this breakfast and Karl Rove was the speaker. And he was speaking to the party’s biggest donors, and what he said -- their strategy -- what he said was -- against Obama -- is, “If you say he’s a socialist, they’ll go defend him. If you call him a far out left-winger, they’ll say, ’No, no, he’s not.’”
Rove said instead the better strategy was to remind voters of what the president said he was going to do compared to what he actually did do. And his quote was, “If you keep it focused on the facts and adopt a respectful tone, then they’re going to agree with you.”
How do you guys react to that?
DOWD: As everybody probably knows, I’ve worked with Karl Rove in the 2000 and 2004 race. We don’t necessarily have conversations much anymore because I had a fairly major public break with President Bush after the re-elect. The problem with that is -- I agree in principle with that. The problem with that is if you could herd the cats in the room. Because what we’ve seen is -- you’ve seen at many times a very disrespectful tone to the president. I think the empty chair thing and that whole deal that went on, immensely bizarre at many different levels, but I think it’s very hard for them to keep that.
You have all these people out there saying all these things that aren’t necessarily respectful. And if we stick to the facts, I guess it’s somebody’s definition of the facts, I had a huge problem with some of the things that have come out. I think there’s many arguments you can make of why Barack Obama should be defeated, many different arguments you can make -- where the country is headed, the right decisions made and all that -- but you at least ought to stick to the truth.
And some of the arguments that were made and things that were said in Paul Ryan’s speech, I think, and to a large degree the stuff about the GM plant -- and I know this was pointed out -- I said this on Sunday’s show and other pointed out to me, “Well, no, it’s factually correct. Here’s the elements that are factually correct.” And I kept saying that’s not the impression he tried to leave. He tried to leave the impression that Barack Obama closed the GM plant.
And the whole thing about Simpson-Bowles and all of those sort of elements is Karl’s right, be respectful and stick to the facts. I think it’s very hard for them to do that.
ALTER: When Matt said --.
GOLDBERG: You get the last word, Jonathan.
ALTER: When Matt said that over the weekend this was pretty big news, because there’s been this assumption everybody lies, everybody on both sides has always lied, let’s be realistic. And that is true, but there are degrees of lying. And I think the consensus, certainly in the press corps, after the Republican convention is that they have engaged in more than the usual lying quotient.
We’ll see what the Democrats do. So far, in most cases they have stuck at least a little closer to the facts.
GOLDBERG: And we will see a lot of fact-checking stories from Bloomberg, certainly, and I’m sure the other media this week. So that is where we are going to leave it.
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