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Diplomacy in Action

Economic Issues in the 2012 Election

Thomas Edsall, Professor of Journalism, Columbia University
New York, NY
March 5, 2012


Date: 03/05/2012 Description: Prof. Thomas Edsall briefs at the New York Foreign Press Center on ''Elections 2012:  Economic Issues'' - State Dept Image3:00 P.M., EST


MODERATOR: Good afternoon. I’m Alyson Grunder, the director of the New York Foreign Press Center. This afternoon we’re very pleased to have with us someone who is actually one of you. He had a 25-year career at The Washington Post, and you may have seen his current New York Times blog on the election. Professor Edsall is also a professor at the Columbia University journalism school and a veteran of American political campaigns and presidential elections.

So we’re really pleased that you could come this afternoon. Thank you very much.

MR. EDSALL: My pleasure.

MODERATOR: I will turn over the podium.

MR. EDSALL: It’s good to be with you guys. I’m here really to promote my book, Age of Austerity, but I would suspect – are you folks interested in tomorrow’s election as a subject? All right.

It’s going to be very interesting, and I don’t know how much you’re familiar with it, but Ohio is going to be the key state. That’s where Santorum has his one chance to try to prove that he can appeal to working class voters, the Reagan Democrats, or the "angry white men," whatever you want to call them. It, though, looks like now that it’s not going to be a good day for him. The trend has been steadily downward in Ohio and all across the country. And the other state where he looked very strong was Tennessee, and he still is ahead there, but again the trend line is down. So he could really be looking at the virtual end of his campaign tomorrow. But we’ll have to see what the results are, but the trend line does not look good for him.

It does look good for Romney, and it looks to me increasingly like Romney is going to be – I mean, I think – I would bet a lot of money that Romney is going to be the nominee. If anyone wants to take the bet, I would be glad to take you on. He – assuming he is the nominee, it’s going to be a very interesting election. He has defined his candidacy to a large extent on balancing the budget and cutting way back on entitlement programs. Entitlement programs in reality are very substantial middle-class programs, Social Security and Medicare, but the way he is presenting them – his use of the word “entitlement” – to some extent suggests that these programs are really for poor people. And a lot of his listeners, when they hear “entitlement programs,” they think these are programs where poor people feel they are entitled to them and not like Social Security and Medicare, where they are for senior voters who have retired and paid into systems. But the reality is if he wants to cut the budget the way he’s talking about, he’s going to have to reduce entitlement programs, including Social Security and especially Medicare over time, and that’s going to be a very tough hurdle for him once he – if he gets into office.

I think there’s a strong argument to made that Republicans are looking at this election as their last chance to pull off basically a white victory. They have a party now that is overwhelmingly white, it’s dependant on white voters to win, and the demographics are working against them. The rise of Hispanic voters, the less fast but still slow and steady increase in the percentage of the vote that is black, and combined with that, single voters of all races basically who have become increasingly Democratic are growing. Fewer people in this country are getting married. The Republican Party has depended for its core support on white, married Christians. That’s been the solid base of the party for decades. And that group – white, married Christians – is declining very rapidly, relatively speaking, over time, I think from roughly 70 to 75 percent of the electorate in 1970 to below half of the electorate now.

Republicans are looking at this 2012 election really as their last chance to win facing this kind of demographic tidal wave coming at them. And if they can win, theoretically, what they would like to do is to win the presidency, to hold the House, and to win the Senate. If they could do that, you can use a process known as budget reconciliation, which is a way you can pass spending and tax bills that can be enacted without – and not have a filibuster. It automatically is legislation that gets voted on in the Senate, it’s very unusual, where you don’t need the 60-vote margin. So if you have a majority in the House and the Senate, you can pass that kind of legislation, so that in 2013, they could pass a version – a substantial alteration basically of the American welfare state and pare it back very heavily.

Once they’ve done that, they could then rest on their laurels. They could face, in fact, defeat after that, but they would have won a policy victory. And over time after that, they could start changing their policies and practices to appeal more to Hispanic voters, especially, and try to get back to the majority. But that would be – to win in that fashion and then enact a very conservative, very – a strong retrenchment of the welfare state would be a huge policy victory that could then carry them into the next decade.

Any rate, let me take some questions if you folks have some.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: How do you see the – religion play out (inaudible)?

MR. EDSALL: Religion?


MR. EDSALL: Religion has been very interesting. Well, it’s all been on the Republican side, and the key religious group is made up of white evangelical voters. Romney has had real trouble with white evangelical voters. He’s improving, but he still has a long way to go. There is a substantial wariness among these voters, especially Southern Baptists, towards Mormons.

It’s interesting that the Mormon religion – America has had a steady process of becoming more tolerant on almost every subject from homosexuality to women’s rights, all the big issues, except Mormonism. And suspicion of Mormonism – Mormons has actually grown, in contrast to almost everything else. One of the reasons for that, if you’re interested, is that historically the Mormons and the Southern Baptists both became assertively evangelical at the same time in the – I think the 1950s and ’60s, and they began going door to door trying to recruit new members.

The result was that basically the Southern Baptists and the Mormons began competing with each other, and they were competing for bread and butter, i.e. new parishioners. The Southern Baptists at that point became very hostile to the Mormon church, and they developed a very strong critique of it as being anti-Christian, in effect, and this was driven really by marketplace forces. They wanted to build their parishioners, and they wanted to basically beat out the Mormons. Before that, there had not been much hostility to Mormons, and it’s interesting that it’s driven by competition, and the competition was most intense among this constituency, Southern Baptists, and now Pentecostals and other – all the evangelical churches who also compete for parishioners. So their focus has been to criticize Mormonism.

There’s a big overlap between white Christians and the Tea Party. They are not one and the same, but many members share the same views or actually are described as being both evangelical and Tea Party. So – but it’s been – the evangelical vote is roughly 40 percent of the Republican primary electorate. So it’s the single biggest bloc of voters, and it cannot be disregarded.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

MR. EDSALL: Excuse me.

QUESTION: My name is Louise. I’m with a newspaper in Denmark. I’m sorry I missed your opening, but I wanted to ask about the Citizens United.


QUESTION: There’s been much discussion about how that would effect this election cycle. And now that it’s playing out, how do you think it is affecting the current – the primaries and the overall 2012 elections?

MR. EDSALL: It’s actually been – Citizens United has had a radical effect on the Republican primary process. Republican primaries in the past always were very quick, basically. In a couple of contests, you’d reduce it down to two, and then in a couple more, you’d have just a winner. They were designed to basically filter out competition and reward the winner in a big way. What the Citizens United has done has given losers a chance to gain life again by getting big backing, in the case of Newt Gingrich from Sheldon Adelson.

It’s very interesting. You have the Republican Party, which is the moral party, where the guy who gives life to one of its candidates is basically a casino billionaire with facilities in Las Vegas and Macau and I don’t know where else, and then Santorum has had the support of this other guy, Foster Fleece. But what it’s done is revived candidacies that looked close to dead, and has turned the Republican primary process into a much longer and more extended one than even Democratic primaries have been, which is really striking because Democrats have actually encouraged competition by having proportional representation so a loser doesn’t lose everything; they get a piece of the action. Republicans adopted proportional representation this time, at the same time as Citizens United came, empowering seemingly marginal or losing candidates to suddenly come back. And it’s been very tough on Romney, although Romney has also depended for his survival for these. But he would not – his reputation has been hurt badly by the negative attacks financed by very big donors.

MODERATOR: Think I’ll take a question from Washington.



MR. EDSALL: Over here?

QUESTION: -- (inaudible) in Washington.

MR. EDSALL: Sure. Rock and roll.

MODERATOR: Go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. My question is regarding over budget reconciliation (inaudible). And I would like to know, if I did understand it well, if Republicans take the House and the Senate, do they need the White House, too, in order not to have the filibuster? Is the first question.

And the second question is: What would happen in the case of victory of the Republicans – what would be the reaction of the markets? Like I know that some Tea Party members are very hostile to the Fed, that they want to stop the stimulus programs. And my suggestion, or I think that the markets will be very skeptical and they will go down a day after the elections when the Republicans win. Is there a right to tell that Wall Street has all the reasons to support Obama therefore? Thank you. World Business Press Online, Zoltan Mikes.

MR. EDSALL: I think actually that the markets and Wall Street are not worried about Mitt Romney. They would be worried if it was Santorum or Gingrich or Ron Paul. But Mitt Romney is one of them. And I think he would be – it actually would probably boost the markets with him coming in. He wants to limit or reduce taxes. He wants to eliminate the tax on overseas income. His policies are very favorable to corporate America. And I think people who invest would find his policies favorable in this tax sense and other areas. And so I don’t – and the Tea Party, in terms of being – I do not think that they would be able to cut the Fed off at the knees. I would think that actually the market would respond well to a Romney victory. And the market has become very – or certainly Wall Street has become very increasingly hostile to Obama. Not entirely, but more hostile than it was in 2008 when he had really more support from Wall Street than John McCain did.

Budget reconciliation, you need to have both branches of Congress to pull it off because you have to get 50 percent on both sides, and then you have to have the president sign it into law. So it does require all three branches of Congress to be on your side – or all three branches of government.

QUESTION: Hello. Adele Smith from Le Figaro, a French newspaper. How do you see the influence of the Tea Party evolving toward the general election compared to what it was in 2010? Because every candidate seems to be wooing to them, and yet they’re – you don’t see them as active as they were in 2009-10.

MR. EDSALL: Well, one reason they’re not as active is that you don’t – it’s not the general election yet. It’s when they – they don’t – they hate Democrats, primarily. So we’ll have to wait until the general election comes out. They have been very influential in pushing Republican presidential candidates to adopt much more conservative positions than has ever been the case before, at least – including Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush.

George W. Bush, if you recall, ran as a compassionate conservative. And he criticized Republicans in Congress who wanted to cut back on a special tax break that goes to poor – working poor people, the Earned Income Tax Credit. That’s inconceivable with this group now. George Bush also ran as a supporter of immigration and a supporter of immigration reform that would lead to citizenship and legal status. None of these guys would go for that.

The party has been – the Tea Party has been one part of a very strong push within the Republican Party to the right, and I think Obama is hoping that that push will be far too hard. And he may have a good case on that – on this other issue of contraception, which is becoming more and more – and Rush Limbaugh certainly is helping on this front – where the Republican Party is taking a stand that some people, myself included, think is just no longer acceptable in American politics. Even as conservative as Americans may be, people don’t want their daughters having babies. I think there’s a tendency to go off the deep end, and we’ll see what it does.

MODERATOR: Another question from Washington.

MR. EDSALL: Hi. Washington, can you hear me? Hello.

QUESTION: Okay. I’m (inaudible) with Asahi Shimbun, Japanese newspaper. I would like to have your comment on the relationship between the economic recovery and the election. The – as you know, the economic conditions are getting gradually better. And what kind of impact or effect will this recovery give to the primary campaign as far as this recovery is favorable for Romney or favorable for Santorum or makes it no difference? Or – and also, the – eventually, I want to have a comment on the impact to the presidential election.

MR. EDSALL: All right. I don’t think it has – the economic improvement takes a little bit of the wind out of the sales of conservatives in the primary process who see the big cause of economic decline being excessive government spending. Many economists don’t agree with that theory, but that’s the view that has dominated conservative views within the Republican primary process. In the general election, if the trends continue as they are now, it really sharply increases Obama’s chances of reelection.

And there are some special markets where people bet on American elections. I don’t know if you’re familiar with those. There’s one called Intrade, I-n-t-r-a-d-e – you can look it up on Google – where they actually will give you what people who put their money behind their thinking do. And actually, these are pretty good measures, and they certainly show trends. And the trend has been upward for Obama and downward for the Republican Party as the economy has improved. I recommend that as a site just to take a look at during the election as it goes on. It’s sort of an easy fifth or sixth paragraph that readers find interesting and amusing.

QUESTION: My name is Johan Anderberg. I work for the Swedish magazine Fokus. I wonder, once the primary is over, which side do you think the Citizens United case will benefit? Will it benefit the Democrats or the Republicans in the general election?

MR. EDSALL: What will benefit them? Citizens United?

QUESTION: Yeah. Will that, in the end, benefit Democrats or Republicans?

MR. EDSALL: So far, it looks like it’s going to benefit Republicans. Obama initially was against this and – but it may turn out that – it’s hard to predict, but for two reasons I think it’s going to benefit Republicans. One is they’ve already shown a huge willingness to give and almost all the big donors to the people running against Romney actually say that they would be prepared to support Romney in the general election.

Secondly, the Republicans have a very effective tool in this group called American Crossroads, the one that’s run by Karl Rove. And it raises huge amounts of money and it also raises money through other groups that don’t have to report their money at all. They’re called 501(c)(4) advocacy groups, where they can’t actually promote a candidate, but they can say things like President Obama wants to socialize medicine, they can say bad things but they can’t say vote for him or vote against him.

But I think net, if looked at purely from a dollar point of view, the Republicans are likely to have the edge on this. Obama, though, is going to be very strong in the amount of money that he raises in the traditional way for his campaign, where the maximum contribution is, I think, $2,700 for the primary and $2,700 for the general election or the total an individual can give is $5,400. He’s going to raise a lot of money that way, and that will probably be bigger than what Romney raises. But the Citizens United money is, I think, going to benefit Republicans.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: You mentioned the Ohio primary before. Does the fact that Romney has to compete in Ohio now make him more prepared for the general election there?

MR. EDSALL: I think this whole process has been damaging to Romney. The people who, if you look at the trend and poll data, and the Pew Research outfit, which is a nonpartisan place, has followed his characteristics, like do voters consider him to be honest and telling the truth and being forthright, those numbers are going down as this process continues.

And he may win Ohio but not win the working class vote. Ohio has an exceptionally high number of white voters, and it’s white voters who vote in Republican primaries, not minority groups. But it has a very high percentage of white voters, 63 percent, who do not have college degrees. That’s much higher than the national average, which is 54 percent among whites. So it’s 9 percentage points higher. That’s why it’s a real test of sort of the working class vote.

But as I say, the way things are looking in Ohio going into it, the trend line is that Santorum is likely not to win. And Ohio has been his sort of ace in the hole. It looks like it’s going to turn into a deuce in the hole.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I’m Qian from Sina, Chinese media. I want to know how is the China issue, the Sino-U.S. relationship will play during the general election.

MR. EDSALL: How is China going to play into the general election? I think heavily. Both Obama and Romney are talking more and more about taking China on. I can’t remember the exact thing that Romney said, but he says, I think on his first day in office he is going to file complaints – is it with the WTO? I’m not sure. He’s going to – he is going to – and he’s going to take, I think, unilateral action, but I’m not sure of that. But at any rate, he is taking a very aggressive policy. And Obama, who I think in his heart is a free trader, is becoming much more aggressive. It’s going to be a political issue and I think could be a substantial one.

QUESTION: Given Mitt Romney’s general moderate view before the – I mean him being a moderate, how do you think – how right is he going to stay after – if we suppose that he wins the nomination, is he going to more centrist, or not, because he’s going to have still so much pressure to go on the right even in the general election?

MR. EDSALL: I think he will try to go to the center, and Obama will do everything he can to make him stay on the right. Everything that he has said in public, I am sure Obama has videotape and they plan to use it. And so do the unions and so does everybody. So they’re going to try to hold him to every statement he has made.

He is, I think, clearly at this standard, it’s not unusual for him. Every candidate does this. He is going to try to move to the center, and I think his people, his staff and his campaign aides, have been very upset with this process in the sense his campaign aides are not radical conservatives and they privately call the pressures from the right coming from what they call “wing nuts,” w-i-n-g n-u-t-s. And they would never say that in public, but they see that hard right part of the party as really slightly crazy and they’re very angry that their candidate has been pushed so far to the right, or they’re worried that their candidate has been pushed so far to the right. He will try certainly, and Obama will do everything he can.

What’s hurt him is that Romney’s credibility during this process has been undermined, so as he tries to adjust his position, if you’re not credible with the voters, it’s harder to do that. If you have a base of credibility with the voters, you can then moderate your stand because they sort of trust you. But he has lost some basic ground in the primary process through not Obama’s responsibility, but Newt Gingrich and Santorum and all these other guys have – they’ve hurt him. And it’s made him less able to maneuver than he would have been had he won his primary process much quicker.

QUESTION: And – sorry, just to go on. And then Obama might show him or expose him as a flip-flopper?

MR. EDSALL: Yes, absolutely.

QUESTION: Which will play not good for the independent votes.

MR. EDSALL: There’s no question that every attempt they can do to do the same thing as was done to John Kerry – you remember where they had a picture of him on a sailfish or whatever you call it, going back and forth? They’ll do the same thing with Romney with a vengeance, and they’ll have every quote – bang, bang. And – but the thing of it with Romney is you can go all the way back to 1994. It’s not just now and what he tries to do two months from now, but there’s a history where he has been – his ideological travels have been long and distant. And it’s going to be hard for him.

QUESTION: Do you think there’s any realism to this idea of this idea of this white knight sort of (inaudible)?

MR. EDSALL: Only if – if Romney did badly today, really badly. But I don’t think he’s going to do badly. And --

QUESTION: Tomorrow (inaudible)?

MR. EDSALL: I mean tomorrow. And also, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but a lot of very prominent Republicans are coming out – I think they’re joining forces behind him, and that idea of a extra candidate coming in is increasingly a very, very, very small possibility. And assuming he does well tomorrow, I think it basically disappears.

MODERATOR: Let’s take a question from Washington and then we’ll come back (inaudible).

MR. EDSALL: Washington.

QUESTION: Yes. Zoltan Mikes, World Business Press Online News Agency, Slovakia. And my question is regarding of possibility of a military attack of Israel on Iran before the elections, and what impact would it have on the outcome of the U.S. elections, assuming that the economy will go down then and also assuming that maybe some political preferences of Americans – and like, would you think that is it likely that this military strike of Israel on Iran because of nuclear policy will occur, and how much is it playing some not so favorable relations among the Obama Administration and Netanyahu administration in likelihood that it will appear before the elections? Thank you.

MR. EDSALL: I think that could have a very large and significant effect, but I have to admit I’m really not sure which way it would go. A lot would depend on if – say if Netanyahu does this without consulting the United States, to some extent that will make Obama look weak and a big event happening without him exercising control over it. If it’s seen that way, that will hurt him. How he manages something like this will be crucial. It will also affect money, because a lot of the supporters – Sheldon Adelson, for example, his big issue is Israel, and he’s very close to the current Israeli Government. They don’t like Obama. And if the war brings – intensifies tensions between Obama and Israel, the supporters of Israel who feel very strongly about that are going to be inclined more and more to provide financial support to the Republican candidate.

It’s hard – war is a very – initially, it depends if war – if the United States was involved in the process, the initial reaction in the United States is usually to support the troops. That doesn’t last for too long, especially now and in this kind of war, but it does last for a while. So the timing and the relationship of the United States to an assault on Iran would be crucial in terms of the election. If it’s going to happen, this – I’m not favoring it, but if it’s going to happen, Obama is better off having it happen close to the election.

When there’s a crisis like that, there tends to be a not just rally around the troops, but rally around the President kind of feeling that takes place. If it takes places within the next month or two, that’s a long time to the election and that’s a long time to maintain the kind of initial support that you have from an event of that sort.

QUESTION: Just to follow up, please. How likely is that some personal preferences or dislikes between Netanyahu and Obama can influence the decision of Israel in order to strike before or after the elections, if it – they’ll strike.

MODERATOR: Many of these questions are very, very speculative, and I know that’s a part of election reporting, but this briefing is supposed to be about the election, not about U.S.-Israeli relations. Thank you.

MR. EDSALL: Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Myoung-Soo Kim. I’m the correspondent of Maeil Business Newspaper. It is Korean business newspaper. As you know, the United States and the Korean Government will make a free trade agreement effective on this month. And what kind of an impact will this make on the election in the United States? Does – can the FTA become a big issue?

MR. EDSALL: The Korean treaty?


MR. EDSALL: I don’t think it’s going to have a big effect on the election. I don’t – my impression is that specific treaties of that sort, I don’t think, really affect elections. The only one that had some effect was NAFTA, which was with two countries and it opened up trade with Mexico and Canada in a way that the unions felt was threatening to them. But there’s some union opposition to the – to almost all free trade activities. I don’t think that’s going to be a big issue. Free trade in general is an issue but not specific treaties in that sense.


QUESTION: Pincas Jawetz, Sustainable Development Media. My question’s about Ron Paul. What role does he play now? What role can he play if he decides to run on the third line in the actual elections?

MR. EDSALL: If Ron Paul runs, he elects Obama. I don’t see him taking many votes at all from the Democrat, but as a libertarian candidate – and the advantage he would have is that the libertarians actually have ballot lines already – many states – I think New York may have one. So you don’t have to go through a whole process of getting onto the ballot. Very hard to get on the ballot in America. That’s one reason why third parties have a big difficulty, because you have to get petitions – it’s a very long process.

But libertarians have actually done this in many places, and I would have to look at which states already have – how many competitive states – there are about 12 competitive states in the general election – and how many of them either have fairly easy access or whatever, but if he was on the ballot in any state, he would take anywhere from four to 15 percent of the vote away from the Republican. And in a close election, that’s a lot of votes that they can’t afford to lose. So I think --

QUESTION: Yeah. Follow-up. Could it be possible is that people like Occupy Wall Street that are unhappy with the Obama Administration handling of the economy could actually welcome something like a Ron Paul?

MR. EDSALL: I think he’s too crazy. Wall Street is not a radical place. Ron Paul is a radical politician. He just – Wall Street would not --

QUESTION: Occupy Wall Street.

MR. EDSALL: Oh, Occupy Wall Street. He’s not really their cup of tea. Occupy Wall Street is a liberal institution. There are some people who like his anti-war position, and he would get some of those voters, but he much more gets conservative libertarian voters and anti-Fed people, people who hate the role of government in – and those tend to be Republicans. But I don’t think the Occupy people in any large numbers would support him.

QUESTION: Alf Ask, from Aftenposten. How do you explain that all these young people are surrounding Ron Paul? I mean, if you look at the figures, something like 20 to 25 percent they show the voters – young voters in this primary have voted for him.

MR. EDSALL: Young voters are rebellious. They like to go against the establishment. For a long time, when the United States – when liberalism was very strong, there was sort of a right wing youth movement to sort of defy the establishment. These are also people who are very oriented to the internet. They are sort of a subgroup of young people, but they’re not insignificant.

QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Nicholas. I’m working for the Swiss paper (inaudible). I have a question about – like these whole primary processes. As far as I understand, the Republican Party has redesigned this year’s primaries in order for it to actually be longer, to – also to more on Super Tuesday. There are only 10 states as opposed to 24, I think, like four years ago. But now you say this long process actually damages Romney. So do you think that was actually a strategic mistake by the Republican Party or do you think basically in the summer it’s going to be forgotten?

MR. EDSALL: No. I think it has proven to be a mistake. The Republican Party – there’s a phrase politicians use. They say the Democratic Party tends to kill its kings. Whoever is the frontrunner often gets defeated, whereas the Republican Party always crowns its princes, and whoever is considered the frontrunner, like George W. Bush was or his father or Ronald Reagan, Bob Dole, the whole history of Republicans has always been that whoever sort of is number one in the pecking order wins. They’ve created a situation now that breaks their own rules system, and what the – and what a lot of people can’t understand – myself included – is how the Republican Party, which is very – supposed to have these very smart people and thoughtful people who want to win, how they could have picked this crew of candidates. They’re really Grade B at best, they’re not serious candidates in – they would never be in a normal circumstance. And how the party has allowed this to happen, how the party establishment allowed this to happen, is one of the big mysteries of this campaign. And there were other candidates around – Mitch Daniels, Jeb Bush.

I’m trying to think of who else, but there were a number of entirely, sort of, establishment conservative candidates who might have been very credible. And certainly it was an attractive year because Obama looked very vulnerable. But they couldn’t get any of these guys to run and it’s a mystery. And then on top of that, they put on this – so they put a bunch of weak candidates and they give the weak candidates a chance to fight it out at length to point out all their weaknesses. It’s like Obama couldn’t have asked for more. And how did this great party, that’s supposed to know everything and plan everything, allow this to happen? I don’t know. It’s a good question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: I would like to know your opinion on – if Romney wins the candidate, what kind of topics, which topics are left to fight against Obama? And if – you just said that the recovery of the economy is playing to Obama, religion is – like these conservative topics like birth control and so forth, they are not really the topics – so what kind of arguments are left that Romney can bring to the table so people would vote for him?

MR. EDSALL: I think, and if you look at 2010 when Republicans got a lot of support, Republicans used the argument that the Democratic Party and Obama are transferring income, in that case especially through Obamacare, the healthcare program, from middle class people to poor people. And America – there are a lot of Americans who don’t like that idea, especially white Americans. And the Republican Party has been very successful in persuading many whites of lower middle class or middle class that they actually are members of the party of the haves versus the have-nots, that what they have is threatened by these Democratic have-nots – poor people, black people, Hispanic people.

So the great success of the Republican Party has been to expand sort of the party of the has goods to include, at least psychologically, many people who in a European country, for example, would not feel that sense. But in this country, they do. And they feel – a lot of that has to do with race in this country. And you can't – it’s not all racial, but race, class, a lot – all these things play together and they’ve given the Republican Party real opportunity to expand their base of support.

QUESTION: And this will be the topics that Romney will play after the primaries and in the general election?

MR. EDSALL: That’s what the Republicans are gambling on and I think they are – they could win. I wouldn’t rule out – the economy moving up helps Obama, but if it hadn’t moved up, then I would be betting on the Republicans. So it’s not an insane strategy, politically. Not on the merits, politically.

QUESTION: Cecile Gregoriades with the French Newspaper L’Humanité. I have a question about the blue collar vote. Is it still a relevant voting bloc today? How big is it? And which way does it swing? I mean, we present it as a Democratic voting bloc, but is it Democratic? Is it more Republican?

MR. EDSALL: You have to decide, are you talking about white blue collar voters or are you talking about all blue collar voters? Because they are different. White blue collar voters have been a key factor in American politics since at least 1930. In the Depression, they joined the Democratic Party for the New Deal Coalition, and were the core of the Democratic Party. At that time, they were a very large percentage of the electorate. I don’t have the figures right in front of me, but they were probably well in excess of half the vote was white working class. Don’t forget blacks in the South could not vote back then.

Those voters, though, became crucial after the mid-1960s to the rise of the Republican Party, first in the South but then really across the whole country. And you had – this is all before most of your day, but Richard Nixon used to refer to the silent majority. Ronald Reagan had his Reagan Democrats. Newt Gingrich had his angry white men. And then I don’t know what the group in 2010 would have been called, but these voters on the whole that has been the – those voters who are white and have less than a college degree, they are a smaller and smaller percentage of the electorate, but they have been the key swing vote that has been crucial for conservative majorities. And Clinton actually did fairly well among them – relatively well, but it’s hard because Ross Perot ran when he was running so that screws it up some. But, they as a percentage of the population, though, they have declined to somewhere I think around 30 percent.

So they’re less. But that’s a very big bloc of votes no matter what. And for a while after the 2000 elections – 2010 election rather, Obama’s people were calculating that they were not going to win these voters. And instead, they were looking to build another group stronger. They have the black vote solidly. They need the Hispanic vote; that’s another – and they need to push, well anyways, they are trying there. But the other group that’s growing for Democrats are white, well-educated professionals, not businessmen, but professionals. People who have advanced degrees, they are becoming a much more solid Democratic vote – and you see this is in the suburbs even around here – Westchester County, Nassau County, all around New York in the suburbs. These areas have become Democratic. These are affluent, white areas in the main.

The same is true around Philadelphia. There’s five counties right around Philadelphia. They’ve all become Democratic voting places with – and they’re aren’t businessmen. Businessmen remain Republicans. They are lawyers, academics, they’re high-tech people. The upper west side is clearly very liberal, but I’m talking about more suburban areas. Around Chicago, all around this is the place. So the Obama campaign was hoping to build on that support and to focus on key swing states, like Colorado has a lot of these kind of voters. That they are – it is a well educated, professional class state. And that way they could afford to lose some of the more working class places.

But the fact is with the economy coming back and the Republicans damaging themselves and Romney particularly getting hit with the Bain Capital thing and then saying his wife has two Cadillacs – all these statements of his – I like to fire people – all that, that has been hurting him in this group that is very important for the Republican Party. And so I think the Obama people are rethinking the white working class and considering it a more eligible target. All voter groups are eligible targets. If you’re going to lose them, you want to keep your loss to a minimum, but they may be less worried about it going as badly as it did in 2010.

I don’t know who gets the mike.

QUESTION: Tom Deptula from the Polish Newsweek. I got a question about immigration issue. How important it will be and will – does Romney has any chance to win Latino voters and also Asian voters?

MR. EDSALL: Clearly in the Republican parties starting in 2005, the immigration became a hot button issue and you had to be anti-immigration. It became a requirement. That hurt them very badly with Hispanic voters. George W. Bush had done pretty well with Hispanics in 2004 and he and his people all saw the Hispanic vote as crucial to them, especially in Texas. But the way Republicans refer to Hispanic – and if you look at the debate in the House and the Senate on the immigration bill that failed, the tone and tenor of Republican comments are insulting to Hispanics. They talk about them being not American, un-American, alien culture, all kinds of things. That really infuriated Hispanic voters and – as much as the issue, it was the tone and tenor.

And they, in 2006, lost the Hispanic vote, and 2008 lost the Hispanic vote, went back to where it had been. And I think Romney has a problem, a big problem, and what he may well do is pick Marco Rubio, who’s a Cuban American and senator from Florida, to try to ameliorate this. There’s also been talk of Susana Martinez. She’s the governor of New Mexico. But she has said she doesn’t want to do that. But it could well be that he would pick an Hispanic to try to mute that hostility.

But Republican – if you talk to Republican operatives and strategists, they all say we can’t go on this way, that we have to get back and start becoming competitive, because the Hispanic is going to be – it’s going to become the (inaudible) of the white working class vote was for the Republicans; the Hispanic vote is going to perform the same function for the Democrats on the path that it’s now going.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) getting back (inaudible) going to support so-called comprehensive immigration reform?

MR. EDSALL: Or something along – I mean, all right. The immigration issue – the fact is there are 11-to-12 million people in this country who do not have papers, and many of them are Hispanic, many, many. As a guess, 9 million of them are Hispanic. The thing is that Republicans had thought they can say we only care about the Hispanics who are citizens and they don’t care about the illegal immigrants. But the fact is the illegal immigrants are integrated into the Hispanic community to an extraordinary extent. They are, in many cases, people’s relatives, they live in the apartment next door, they go to church with them, they run the store where they buy their food. There was a survey done of Pentecostal storefront ministers and they found that 25 percent of the ministers were in this country illegally.

So you got – you’re talking about – when the Republicans talk about tossing all these people out, these are real people to a lot of regular Hispanic voter – you’re not just talking about an abstraction as you are when you talk about it to a lot of whites, that this is a real universe of friends and associates and, as I say, relatives, fathers, they have children. People feel for this constituency. And I don’t see how the Republican Party can – I think they’re going to have to do something. Plus the reality is, as a policy matter, something’s going to have to be done.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On the trade policy of U.S. and under the Obama Administration, U.S. promoted the cheaper dollar, and with that policy, they promoted the product overseas. And do – after the – in the election, those – after the election, that if there’s a Republican wins the election, the debt policy can be changed? And the second question is on the --

MR. EDSALL: How would it be changed? What --

QUESTION: To change the currency and the trade policy.

MR. EDSALL: Change American currency?

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah – no, no, no, the --

MR. EDSALL: Chinese currency?

QUESTION: No. The --

MR. EDSALL: Whose currency?

QUESTION: U.S. currency.



MR. EDSALL: You mean to make ours less valuable to --

QUESTION: Now the cheaper dollar.

MR. EDSALL: You mean to raise the value of the dollar? I’m not sure what’s going to happen after the election, to be honest. I don’t have an answer to that question.

QUESTION: On the energy policy, Obama --

MR. EDSALL: Energy policy?


MR. EDSALL: If Romney wins, I think there will be a more pro-nuclear policy. But again, I’m not an expert. I’m not someone who ought to be answering that question.

Go ahead.

QUESTION: On Romney, his wife.

MR. EDSALL: His wife?


MR. EDSALL: I don’t know, really. She’s been a presence and I think – but I’m not sure. She hasn’t really changed the ballgame, I don’t think. Maybe you know more than I do, but I don’t know.

Do a couple more, then.

QUESTION: The gasoline prices, there’s a lot of fuss about it in the television now.

MR. EDSALL: About?

QUESTION: Fuss about the gasoline prices, price of gasoline, gas price.

MR. EDSALL: Gas prices, yeah.

QUESTION: But is that a really big issue among the American people?



MR. EDSALL: But how much it’s political is another – people get very angry about gas prices. This is a country that uses cars, believes sort of that driving your car and not having to pay too much is a right. It’s not like Europe where they accept quite high taxes and limit the use of cars to some extent. In this country, it’s viewed as, like, a civil right, especially in Western states where you drive long, long distances all the time. And many people drive long distances to work every day and they’re – so I think it’s an issue. It has not yet become a fully political issue, and it’s going to be hard – I think harder than the Republicans think – to make it a Democrat-Republican issue. But it certainly has that potential.

And look back at Jimmy Carter. That’s when we had the gas shortages. We had two crises, as I recall, during the Jimmy Carter years. And he lost badly, in part because he was seen as unable to manage a crisis in the OPEC production, something he couldn’t manage, but he was viewed as failing to protect the American people. And we had gasoline lines that went around whole blocks, of cars waiting. As soon as any gas station got gas, there would be a surge of – because there was such a shortage. Yes, gas can be an issue.

One more. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Thinking of the cities of Berlin and Vienna, was appearance of something called the Pirates Party. Now, this starts with local elections, which would mean elections for the House – House of Representatives. Do you see the chance for a Pirates Party in the United States? I’m getting back to those people that are in the Occupy movements.

MR. EDSALL: It’s very – as I say --

QUESTION: There’s one in Berlin.

MR. EDSALL: No, no, I’m not – European countries – I’m not an expert on Europe, but I think in Europe you have multiple parties and there’s a much stronger tradition of multiple parties. This country has been a two-party country almost since its inception. And the politicians prefer it that way. They have made rules that make it harder and harder to get on – to be credible when you’re outside of the system. And it’s possible to have third-party movements. And New York City has, for example, easier access to the ballot, and there are a number of third-party groups in a place like New York City.

But across the country, the rules are set by politicians who are overwhelmingly Democrats or Republicans. And the rules that they create are designed to keep the candidates within those two parties. And they create rules that – for example, you have to get a lot of names on a petition in order to qualify to get on a ballot. Then on top of that, they make rules so that when you fill out a sheet – say it has 50 names on it – if there’s one mistake, one mistake, the whole sheet gets thrown out. And they do that kind of thing in many, many places. So it’s very – just mechanically, very hard to do.

You need – the real problem is to run in these kind of campaigns, you generally need rich people who can afford to go through all the fights, can – like Ross Perot could pay lawyers and petition people who get paid money to go out and get petitions. It’s not an easy thing in this country. And we just haven’t had many third parties at all. And usually, they come out of something angry, like George Wallace was a third-party candidate, and he was a segregationist. And Ross Perot, when there was a lot of anger about foreign trade – but he had a lot of money too.

So it’s possible, but I – also, the Occupy movement is not a well-organized movement in the sense that – and you need to be well organized, disciplined, willing to accept hierarchy, which they don’t accept. It’s pretty hard to do what you’re describing.

But thank you very much. It was a pleasure.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much.

MR. EDSALL: Thank you.

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