In a conversation with Brunswick CEO Neal Wolin, the legendary campaigner and former Chicago Mayor assesses the 2020 race for president and sketches a blueprint for a progressive future. By Patti Solis Doyle.
On August 5, Democratic political strategist and former Mayor of Chicago Rahm Emanuel joined Brunswick CEO Neal Wolin in a Brunswick webinar conversation. The two served together in the Obama administration, where Rahm was the President’s Chief of Staff and Neal was Deputy Secretary of the Treasury and a key architect of the administration’s financial reform plan. Neal and Rahm both worked in the Clinton administration as well. After winning a House seat, Rahm became Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee chair in 2006, leading the party to a gain of 31 seats in the House of Representatives. From 2008, he served as President Obama’s Chief of Staff, a position he left in 2010 to run for Mayor of Chicago. He was elected and served two terms, deciding in 2018 not to run for a third.
Most recently, he is the author of The Nation City: Why Mayors Are Now Running the World, a book that former President Clinton called “a new blueprint for making a progressive vision a reality.” This conversation took place before Vice President Joe Biden chose Kamala Harris as his running mate.
NEAL: I’d love to get your sense about where this presidential campaign stands 90 days out.
RAHM: A couple of things: One is, I think it’s all but certain Donald Trump cannot win the popular vote. If Hillary won it by 3-plus million, Biden’s on course to 5-plus million. I think Trump’s only shot is through the electoral vote. And I think the doors on even that are closing on him.
What we do know about this season in politics is that whatever you think is true on Tuesday is probably not true by Thursday, because Donald Trump is such a different type of a factor. If the election were today, the Democrats would win the White House, the Senate, and add to their majority in the House.
Among voters, Donald Trump has depth. While he has got a loyal 38 percent, maybe 40 percent that follow him, it goes deep and it goes far. Biden has breadth to Trump’s depth. And what I mean by that is he has a unique coalition that really includes retired four-star generals and Black Lives Matter protesters. That’s a very broad coalition. The organizing principle of it: Get rid of Donald Trump. There’s a lot differences in that coalition, but they’re unified under one singular goal. I think that the vice presidential selection for Biden, if every vice presidential selection was to scratch some kind of itch, for Biden it’s to provide some kind of spark around the candidacy, so his breadth has a little more attached to it.
Donald Trump is trying to recreate 1968, about law and order versus what’s happening on the streets. I happen to think the country is way past that. I actually think the touchstone is not 1968, but 1980. In 1980, Ronald Reagan successfully not only won, but he did it by wooing what was then termed the Reagan Democrats. If you look at the demographics that are going on, both about the suburbs, women with college degrees, and senior citizens 65 and older, we’re about to coin a phrase, I think, what I call Biden Republicans.
I really think the burning question for the Democrats isn’t the battle between a moderate versus progressive wing; it’s really about whether we’re going to allow these Biden Republicans to have an election that is transactional or an election that ends up being transformational. How we govern, assuming that Joe Biden wins, and what policies we’ll put forward and how it happens will determine whether those Republicans just came to the Democratic party to beat Trump or they decided because of a host of cultural issues to become more deeply affiliated with the Democratic party.