Frum, Mellman Weigh In On Presidential Election
RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Whether your candidate won or lost last night, we can say America delivered for Abigail Evans. She's the four-year-old who was famously videotaped crying after hearing NPR coverage of what she called Bronco Bama and Mitt Romney.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
November 7th has arrived. The election is over, but political debates continue. In fact, the president said last night they should. The disagreement is a mark of our liberty. So let's talk about the election and how it effects the disagreements to come. Sorry, Abigail. We're joined now by conservative columnist David Frum and Democratic strategist Mark Mellman.
Gentlemen, welcome back to the program, both of you.
DAVID FRUM: Good morning.
MARK MELLMAN: Pleasure to be with you.
INSKEEP: Okay. Americans approved a second term for the president, but what else did they say? Mark Mellman, I'll give you the first word here.
MELLMAN: Well, I think they said a couple of things. First of all, obviously people are dissatisfied with the economy and with the direction of the economy. They want it to improve. But the demographics of this country are changing. That helped Barack Obama win this election, as did the fact that he proved to be the candidate that was really much more in touch with people's needs, with their concerns.
And that is something that they felt as well. So those two factors, I think, really propelled Obama to victory. And - but at the same time, we're going to wake up - we wake up this morning with the same political configuration that we woke up on Tuesday morning with. Democratic president, Democratic Senate and a Republican House of Representatives.
INSKEEP: David Frum.
FRUM: I think Republicans need to wake up to the fact that they have suffered a big defeat and the Democrats have had a big win. Given just the severity of the economic conditions, this president ought to have lost reelection. I mean you have to go back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt to find a president who won reelection with unemployment so high.
And in 1936, the economy was climbing like a rocket. We were having 9 percent economic growth in 1936. This year we had 2 percent economic growth. To lose seats in the Senate and possibly in the House as well at the same time, that is a severe rebuke. And the president now has some very ambitious plans. All of those fiscal time bombs, the tax increases, the sequester, they go into effect at the end of the year and they do more damage to things Republicans care about than they do to things that the president cares about.
INSKEEP: David Frum, I want to remind people first that you were a speechwriter for President Bush, second that you've been very critical of the path that the Republican Party has been on the last several years. But when you say they need to wake up to the fact that they've suffered a big defeat, what is it that the party did wrong to squander whatever advantages it had?
FRUM: Well, the party - the thing you're going to hear most today is the party was wrong about immigration, and I would say anybody who says that has health insurance. The party - the party's problem - the party was - where it went wrong was not understanding the importance of the healthcare problem in an economic crisis. And what the party needs to do is to reestablish themselves as a middle class party.
The 47 percent comment of Mitt Romney's was not just a gaffe, it was a revelation of a way of thinking about American society and American economy that led to mistake after mistake after mistake, moving the Republican Party away from its traditional middle class base and putting the party in a position where it was vulnerable to what's coming next.
INSKEEP: I want to understand what you're saying, David Frum, before I move on because you said that - the remark about - that anybody who thinks that that was important has health insurance. Are you saying that health insurance is a real concern of lots of Americans, including middle class Americans, and even though the healthcare law was unpopular, that Republicans didn't come up with an alternative - is that what you're arguing here?
FRUM: That's a big piece of it. What I'm arguing most fundamentally is that there is no long debate inside the Republican Party that says, look, all of our positions are fine, all we have to do is find some way to recruit Latinos to agree with our highly libertarian economics. That's fantasy. There real - there are very rational reasons why Latinos do not - especially Mexican Americans, who are quite poor - do not vote Republican.
The problem that the Republicans have is not that you can simply staple Latinos to your existing coalition with a more permissive immigration policy. You need to rethink your coalition as a middle class coalition. And that means having had a Republican alternative on healthcare, not to endorse the president's way of doing it, but to do the kind of thinking that Mitt Romney was doing back in 2005, say how do we have a party that meets the fears of middle class America and remains what it was in the 1980s, a middle class-based party?
MONTAGNE: Let me get in here for a moment and turn the conversation to Democratic strategist Mark Mellman. How much of a positive is the fact that President Obama won the Latino vote in greater numbers than he did even four years ago? He won 70 percent of that demographic. What is that going to do for the Democratic Party?
MELLMAN: Well, that made all the difference in quite a number of states. The president would not have won in Colorado or Nevada or Florida or New Mexico, for that matter, had he not won the Latino vote. So it may - and won it by, as you say, an even bigger margin than he did. You know, you go back to - George Bush won around 40 percent of the Latino vote nationwide; for Governor Romney that was down around 27 percent.
It's a dramatic decrease and a dramatic increase in support among Latinos for the Democratic Party. And it's really important because - I think it's a little bit broader than David's giving credit, but in part it's because the Republicans drove the Latino vote away from the Republican Party and in part because Democrats welcome Latinos with open arms, both in terms of welcoming them as an immigrant community, but also in demonstrating that the Democrats cared about their problems, cared about their needs.
INSKEEP: Brief question for you both, gentlemen. We've got a minute or so left. I want to ask you both if there is a risk for the president and the White House in this situation. There's always the danger after a reelection of hubris, of thinking, well, okay, America agrees with our agenda now and maybe things go off the rails rather than going well from that point on in the second term.
MELLMAN: Well, look, the bottom line here is, as it was here before the election, the Republican Congress is going to have to be willing to compromise. So far they've been unwilling to do that. I think this election ought to spur them to compromise and certainly not to greater obstruction and to greater recalcitrance.
INSKEEP: David Frum, you get the last word.
FRUM: The president's plan is to let the Bush tax cuts expire and confront the Republicans with that possibility. This is not going to be a negotiation by the president. He's going to be following the old line attributed to Al Capone, that you get much more with a kind word and a gun than you get with a kind word alone. He is going to use a lot of power.
He wants to raise tax rates. Combined with the tax increases already enacted in Obamacare that go into effect in 2014, the tax rates in 2014 will be higher than in the Clinton years, and that's a big part of his goal, which is to break the Republicans on this issue. Plus the money comes in useful.
INSKEEP: Okay. Well, thanks very much. That's David Frum, former speechwriter for President Bush, now a columnist for The Daily Beast and other publications. Democratic strategist Mark Mellman, who's been a regular guest on the program as well. Gentlemen, thanks to you both.
MELLMAN: Thank you.
FRUM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.