Road to the Oval Office: Live at the DNC – Day One/July 25

Live from Philadelphia, Mark Alderman, Blake Rutherford and Howard Schweitzer recap the RNC and provide an update on developments they foresee unfolding on day one of the Democratic National Convention (July 25).

Blake: Welcome to "Road to the Oval Office," a podcast hosted by Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies. My name is Blake Rutherford and I'm joined by my colleagues Mark Alderman, the CEO of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies an Howard Schweitzer, the managing partner of Cozen O'Connor Public Strategies.

Guys, welcome to our inaugural podcast about the 2016 presidential race.

Mark: The last time I saw Howard, it was in Ohio.

Howard: That's right.

Mark: It is good to be here.

Blake: It is day one of the Democratic National Convention. The republicans have come and gone from Cleveland, we're starting to see a little bit of data coming out of Cleveland. Trump got a little bit of a bounce, some key demographic groups for him. The democrats who forty eight hours ago were preaching "unity, unity, unity," no longer have the chairman of the Democratic National Convention in the chair of this convention in place.

Although she said she's going to step down afterwards but symbolism being what it is, for all intents and purposes, Debbie Wasserman Schultz is no longer in charge of the DNC.

Before we get to that, I want to come back and recap Cleveland a little bit. You were both there, you both saw what took place in the hall, what was going on outside of Cleveland ...

I just thought I might get some final thoughts. Howard, I'll start with you. Just final thoughts on Cleveland.

Howard: Well, Blake, I would describe it as generally low energy. The hall was flat most of the time. Fairly fired up for Trump at the end, but gosh did he speak for too long. He went on about thirty minutes longer than he should have. People were starting to fidget. People that had been waiting a year to see him speak in that hall were bored.

He went on too long, it was an aggressive speech, obviously. I think that wasn't the republican convention. That was the Trump convention and that's kind of the beginning and the end of it.

Blake: Yeah, Mark, what'd you think about Cleveland?

Mark: Well first and foremost about Cleveland, hats off to Cleveland.

Blake: Seriously.

Mark: Cleveland the city was awesome.

Howard: Awesome.

Mark: After all the fear of new Black Panthers and open carry, it was as safe as any place I've ever been. It was an armed camp but that was good.

Blake: Right.

Mark: That was good. Every single person, every single cop, every single person working for the convention, every single person was friendly and helpful and kudos to Cleveland, we now need to replicate that.

Inside the hall, yeah. It was what Howard said, I thought. It was a flat convention. I think a convention needs to do, tries to do, two fundamental things. One is fire up the base, the other is reach out beyond the base and expand the electorate. I don't see any evidence that the electorate got expanded a molecule by that convention. I'll just leave it there.

In terms of firing up the base, sure. I think the base got fired up a little and then put to sleep and then fired up a little and then put to sleep. But Blake, it's 2016. Every rule has been suspended by this guy Trump and everybody sat out there, all of we geniuses, all of us geniuses, and said "oh, this is a mess of a convention. He's not going to get his bounce, it's good for the democrats" and sure enough we were wrong.

Blake: Right.

Mark: A little bounce, two points, but a bounce is a bounce and that brings us to the democrats.

Blake: That brings us to the democrats. As I said in my introductory comments, the democrats have very much hoped that Philadelphia would be the unity convention. It's something we've been hearing about since Bernie Sanders endorsed Hillary, since the President came out and endorsed Hillary, and now when the schedule was released a little while ago, Michelle Obama speaking on the first night and really her first big pro-Hillary speech.

Unity is where the democrats were headed and then Wikileaks decides to drop a treasure trove of emails about the DNC and some very very harsh comments the DNC staffers had about Bernie Sanders. We knew there was a hack months ago, we didn't know what was in the hack. Now we do, at least to a degree, I'm not suggesting I've read or seen all these emails, but it has caused ripples throughout the democratic party insofar as it has dominated the news cycle, it is the headline today in the New York Times, and Debbie Wasserman Shultz has stepped down as chair of the DNC.

Mark: Sort of.

Blake: Yeah, sort of. She has announced at the end of the convention she will step down. Donna Brazil is taking over as the honorary chair of the DNC. Mark, these kinds of things tend to happen to the democrats, but it also, I'll admit, Howard is going to have a different perspective, it sort of feels a little like inside baseball to me. But I ... What do you make of this?

Mark: Yeah, I would say, Blake, all of the above, honestly. There is so much going on in this simple story. There's a very serious dimension of this, which is that there seems to be evidence that the hack was accomplished by Russian agents and somehow the hacked emails made their way to Wikileaks and were released the day before the convention. That's very serious and that will be, I am sure, investigated.

There is also the fact that when everything seemed to be going well between her and him, Hillary and Bernie, these unfortunate and inappropriate, just flat-out inappropriate emails pop up and that has put some friction back into that relationship and that is unfortunate.

But at the same time, I think I agree with you. It's, I just said this to Howard, it's Will Rogers, I'm not a member of any organized party, I'm not a democrat, we always seem to be doing stuff like this and I do believe that this will not be the story of this convention, although unfortunately it is the story of today until Bernie speaks.

Blake: Right.

Mark: Once Bernie speaks tonight, and God knows what he's going to say, but once Bernie speaks tonight, we're going to have a different story tomorrow.

Blake: Howard, what do you make of this?

Howard: Okay, look, on one level, Debbie was always going to be the sacrificial lamb. She's like the Thanksgiving turkey, actually. They've been prepping her for months to take the fall to preserve peace in the party and one way or another, she was going down.

Mark: She's gone.

Howard: From that point of view, it's just accelerating the inevitable but look, I think it's serious. Some of the things that were in those emails were serious and offensive and you better believe that the guy on the other side ... It plays right into the narrative of the system being rigged, the game being rigged, and soon of enough, I think, Trump will have a name for Debbie. It plays right into that narrative so I do think, it's not going to hurt the convention, but it's going to hurt, it's going to come back to haunt Hillary. That's my perspective.

Mark: It's also, I agree with that, and just on a visceral level, the fact that it was emails ... Enough about emails already.

Howard: Emails!

Mark: If it had been telephone records it might have been different but emails are a symbol of all that you're saying, Howard, and we just don't need any more emails at this point.

Howard: I mean since when is it news to people that something you put in an email might become public? What is the deal? You've got to be smarter than this. It's inexcusable from that perspective. It's just bad judgement.

It's not on any one person, although Debbie is in charge, it's just enough is enough.

Blake: You sort of led me to next question mark, which is both a preview of what we're going to see tonight and then the magnitude of Bernie Sanders' speech because he has been, not only in the last couple of weeks, a very forceful advocate for Hillary Clinton, he also, despite drawing some political contrast, endorsed her vice presidential choice Tim Kaine, which we will get to eventually.

We're talking about Debbie Shultz and there was another big announcement that just is not in the news. But Bernie and Michelle Obama are our prime-time speakers tonight, day one in Philadelphia. What do you think Bernie is really going to say about this, Mark?

Mark: I think Bernie is going to say what he's been saying the last couple of weeks. He is committed to doing everything he can to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. He has made that abundantly clear and he has been true to his word and we are going to hear that again tonight.

That's different from an enthusiastic embrace of Hillary Clinton as the next president of the United States and I think you're going to feel that-

Howard: Burn?

Mark: Yin and Yang, feel that burn, exactly. We'll see. It will be, I'm very confident, on balance a good speech for the party, a positive speech for Clinton's candidacy, but it isn't going to be an embrace. Bernie is playing a bigger game than just the presidential election, as though there is a bigger game to play, but in his mind, the revolution is being televised tonight in his speech and he's going to try to keep that alive.

It's not going to be a Ted Cruz speech, but it isn't going to be a Chris Christie speech either.

Blake: You know, it's interesting, yesterday in Philadelphia we did have a large number of Bernie Sanders delegates march in protest of Hillary and now we're hearing that delegates are being called into the hall very early today in anticipation of potentially, you know, what we always like to describe in conventionland as floor fights, but it's not, hopefully, physical. We're going to get after it intellectually over the platform, maybe over the rules, who really knows.

Mark, you've been to so many of these. Do you think that the events of the last twenty-four hours are going to cause some disruption in the hall today? Do you think some Bernie delegates are going to use this as a mechanism to express whatever is on their mind?

Mark: Yes, is the short answer. Yes, but in two different ways. If Debbie speaks, that's going to be bad. That's going to be a problem, there will be "boo's," it will be our version of Ted Cruz. Debbie, as you all know, is a friend and I admire the work she has done as chair although she put a fork into this. I would say she had to go but she should not be speaking. She should not be speaking, that is not going to go well.

Also, Blake, there is an actual, as you know because you're a delegate and you're going to vote on this, there is an actual issue that the Sanders supporters intend to bring before the committee on super delegates. Because the Rules Committee entertained a Sanders motion to abolish super delegates and voted it down, but there were enough votes for it that it's a minority position and it can be brought to the floor.

I expect it will be. I don't mean to tell you how to do your job, but boy, I would give away that super delegate position in a heartbeat with everything that's going on.

Blake: Yeah.

Mark: Having to fight on the floor over super delegates could not play more into, as Howard said a minute ago, Donald Trump's narrative that it's all rigged against him and Bernie.

Blake: Yeah, it's interesting.

Mark: Give it up, Blake. Give up the supers.

Blake: We'll see, actually I have something to really think about, Mark. I'm going to do you proud, I hope. Howard, in the sense of what this convention intends to achieve, you said earlier you don't think the Debbie Wasserman story overshadows the convention. Do they move past it with Bernie's speech or does this linger?

Howard: I don't think anyone cares, really, other than Bernie's supporters, what Bernie says and yes, I think they move past it. He gives whatever speech he gives. He's not going to get up there and shellac Hillary because he doesn't want to see Trump elected president so he's in a little bit of a bind.

At the end of the day, this convention is about getting elected president of the United States. She needs votes. This is about votes. Who cares what happens here? What matters is what happens in November and I think she does still have a long way to go to convince Bernie's supporters to pull the lever for her in November.

Blake: It's interesting because one of the things we've talked about in our calls, and it's great that we've transitioned now to the podcast format, one of the things that we talked about was how Hillary Clinton expands her base. We know where she's strong, we know where she's weak and over the weekend, although we're just not talking about it as much, she did announce and then appear with her vice presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine from Virginia, someone we know who is accomplished across every sector. The response to that seems to be favorable across the board, non-partisan accolades for Senator Kaine joining the ticket.

Their appearance together seemed to be a lot more dynamic than I think the pendents and thought that it would be, but we're not talking about him today. What do you think that pick does for the ticket, Mark? Where is it helpful and where is it maybe not so much?

Mark: I'm a big dissenter from the idea that the vice presidential matters much unless you blow it. Sarah Palin was a problem for John McCain after she wasn't. First she went up and then somebody asked her a question and that was the end of that.

That's a problem if it's a problem. Tim Kaine is not a problem. By the way, Mike Pence isn't a problem. I think neither pick is going to move the needle much at all. This is about Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton but I think the Kaine pick is very significant for Hillary Clinton because she likes him and she's comfortable with him and he is going to make her a better candidate and that could be worth a point or two in a close election. Otherwise, I don't see this being much of a movement.

Blake: Howard, what do you think about the Kaine pick?

Howard: I think it was good. It's a couple things. One is, I agree Mark, it doesn't screw anything up the first do no harm principle, but I do believe that it's being ... I think it's a couple things.

One, he's a white guy and maybe he makes some of the quote, unquote, that demographic out there, that may be going one way or the other more likely to go for Hillary, more comfortable going for Hillary and it's Virginian.

I don't buy into this, Mark, I'm sorry, she likes him. I don't buy into this. It's the governing choice. The vice president doesn't really govern. He's ceremonial until the president gets in a bad situation that we hope never happens.

Mark: I agree with you.

Howard: She doesn't know him well enough to like him or not like him. She doesn't know him well enough! She hasn't worked with him. I mean, yes, they've been senators together or whatever, but come on. This is a political pick. Everything that happens in a campaign is political and she made a political calculation. I think primarily based on Virginia and white male voters that he was a good pick and that's what this is about.

Mark: I don't disagree with the Virginia part, I stand by thinking that he makes her a little bit better candidate, but set that aside. There was something that happened last week in Virginia that was actually very significant because Governor McAuliffe's executive order permitting several hundred thousand rehabilitated felons to vote was overturned by the Virginia Supreme Court. That's a big deal.

Presumably the majority of those voters, had they shown up, were going to be for Hillary and not for Trump and I think Virginia got a little closer with that court decision. I do think Tim Kaine helps in Virginia.

Sure, no question, it's all political. The fact that he speaks Spanish is cool, helps a little bit-

Howard: No, it's a plus.

Mark: He did a good job down in Florida-

Howard: It's a plus.

Mark: But at the end of the day, it's about him and her and I think, I think Tim Kaine and Mike Pence are not going to be much of a story this cycle.

Howard: No, they're not, but I think it does show that she knows she's in for a fight.

Mark: Oh, yeah.

Howard: She did not make an edgy pick in terms of-

Mark: No, well Trump's pick of Pence-

Howard: -the aggressive side of the agenda, which is fine by me, but I think shows that she knows she's in for a fight.

Mark: She knows she's in for a fight. If she didn't know it when she picked him on Friday, she found out yesterday.

Howard: Yeah.

Mark: That she is in for a fight. But also, I think that Trump picking Pence freed up Hillary to do something like this. She didn't have to think about a bold pick, a women, a Latino, an African American. Had Trump done something like that, she would have had to think harder about that. I think Pence made this an easy pick.

Blake: We'll hear from Kaine, it's looking like we'll hear from him maybe Wednesday night, although that hasn't been announced yet but traditionally that's when that works. I want to wrap up, really, with your thoughts about what you expect on day one. What are you really looking for out of day one at the convention? Mark?

Mark: I believe Bloomberg is going to speak today? Is this his day?

Blake: I don't know.

Mark: For one thing, my first prediction about the convention has already been proven wrong. I was very proud to tell my daughter yesterday there were ten billionaires who addressed the Republican National Convention, there are zero billionaires addressing our convention. Of course, that's now wrong because Bloomberg is speaking, if not today, than one day.

Howard: He has more money than all the other ones put together.

Mark: Yeah, so I'm already 0 for 1. With that caveat, what I expect today is a great appearance and speech by the First Lady who is all sides of this thing going on in that hall, respected and beloved. I think she is going to do a lot to calm everything down and bring everybody together.

And I'm rooting for Bernie and I'm betting on him. I think we're going to be in better shape at the end of his speech than at the beginning.

Blake: Howard, day one?

Howard: Same. I think the Debbie controversy will rage. I think in 2016 these conventions, and we saw it last week, Mark, in Cleveland, I think obviously we'll see the same thing today, these are as much or more, they're more about the media show than they are about anything.

Yeah, floor fights, blah, it's all about the media. The media is going to perpetuate the controversy because that's what draws viewers. I think we'll continue to see that. I think you're right, Michelle will get up and give a great speech, I think Bernie will come and go, and it'll be on to Bill Clinton tomorrow.

Blake: But interestingly, I'm sure you guys saw this, despite record viewership during the Republican primaries, the Republican Convention actually had flat viewership or even dependent on how you count, it was a little down from 2012.

Yeah, it's just a TV studio and it's all just a media extravaganza but there weren't even that many people interested and I don't expect record viewership of this either. Most, as far as we can tell in our bubble here, most people out there are just tired of all this. I don't think we're going to get record viewership even though history is being made.

Love her, hate her, think she should be president, think she should be in jail, which we heard a lot about in Cleveland, it's going to be historic on Thursday night when the first woman candidate of a major party accepts a nomination.

Howard: It's going to be interesting to see what Trump does this week to try to steal the media cycle away from Hillary. That's what I'm watching for.

Blake: Yeah, yeah. The republican response versus the democrat's response.

Mark: Maybe he'll appear with Putin. That would appropriate given what's going on.

Howard: That would certainly steal the spotlight, yeah.

Mark: Yeah. I'll have to watch for that. That's my prediction.

Blake: We'll be back tomorrow. Guys, always great to be with you. Thanks for listening to "Road to the Oval Office" and look forward to talking day two from the convention in Philadelphia tomorrow.

Howard: Great, thanks Blake.

Mark: Thanks.


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