Political reporter talks political trends, past and future

Sore losers and President Obama’s next steps were just some of the topics covered by political reporter and TV pundit Eleanor Clift, who spoke Thursday evening at Scripps College’s Garrison Theater.

Ms. Clift is a panelist on The McLaughlin Group, a long-running roundtable political affairs program that airs on public television that she describes as “a televised food-fight.” She is generally the one woman on the program and regularly the lone liberal voice. As such, she is used to a certain level of acrimony from her fellow panelists such as Pat Buchanan, Clarence Page, Mort Zuckerman and John McLaughlin.

“I get interrupted a lot more than they do,” she said.

The tone of the discourse on the program immediately following the election was exceptionally negative. Ms. Clift had cherished a hope her fellow presenters would at least have congratulated her for her accuracy in calling the election. The week before, she had predicted that Obama would win by more than 300 electoral votes. No such luck. The conservative panelists launched right into decrying the election results, with Mr. McLaughlin notably pointing out that the Dow Jones’ industrial average plummeted by 313 points the day after the election.

A friend consoled her afterwards, Ms. Clift said, by pointing out that she was in the losing team’s locker room.

“Republicans have been behaving like sore losers for the last couple weeks. Four-hundred thousand people in Texas signed a petition for a succession movement,” she said. “I must say: Go for it.”

During the Q&A period following her presentation, an audience member asked why there had not been more substantial gains by Democrats, given the high voter turnout of traditionally Democratic subgroups. 

Ms. Clift acknowledged that on November 6, Republicans held on to some significant strongholds, including control of the House of Representatives.

“Underneath the surface, however, there was an earthquake,” she said.

First, of course, there was the presidential election. Even though it was clearly evident that Barack Obama had won a second term, Mitt Romney, with his hopes bolstered by Republican pundits like political consultant Karl Rove, really thought he would win, according to Ms. Clift.

Much of that confidence was based on the assumption that Democrats, particularly minority groups like women and Hispanics, would turn out in lesser numbers than they had in the 2008 election because of a prevailing disappointment in President Obama’s failure to solve the U.S. economic crisis.

“Romney was living in a parallel universe constructed by Republicans,” Ms. Clift asserted, referring to what a friend of hers has characterized as “a conservative media entertainment complex anchored by Fox News.”

Instead, Ms. Clift points out, the voting turnout “defied all predictions.” More young people and more African-Americans turned out in 2012 than they did in 2008. Obama won by 332 electoral votes and by the end of the night, the popular vote tally showed 50 percent support for Obama as compared to 48 percent for Romney.

Now that all of the absentee ballots are almost tallied, Ms. Clifted noted, it looks like Romney may end up with 47 percent of the popular vote. This, she joked, is a bit of “poetic justice,” given that the Republican candidate outraged detractors by characterizing the 47 percent of Americans that he claimed rely on social services as people who don’t want to help themselves. 

There were many other defeats.

“Republicans thought they were going to get control of the Senate, because there were so many Democratic seats up, many in red states,” she said.

For instance, Missouri senate incumbent Clare McCaskill (D) “was a gonner until her opponent opened his mouth about rape,” Ms. Clift said. She was referring to Todd Akin’s infamous comments about “legitimate rape.”

What will become of Romney as the Republican Party seeks to rebuild and rebrand itself in the wake of election 2012? Many have already turned against Romney, she said.

“Romney is a man without a party. The Republicans are mostly eager to blame him,” Ms. Clift said.

There certainly were some missteps in Romney’s campaign, including an immigration platform that was so unrealistic as to be “bizarre,” as in his suggestion solution of “self-deportation.” Promising to de-fund Planned Parenthood, which she said is right up there in public popularity with The March of Dimes, was also disastrous, “right up there with his 47 percent comment.”  

Still, she feels the former Massachusetts governor would have done better if he hadn’t had so many conservatives managing his image during the campaign and instead had run as a Republican progressive who had pushed significant healthcare reform through on the state level.

His party may have disavowed him, but Obama notably had Romney over for lunch on Thursday. No details have been released as to the one-hour meeting except that white turkey chili was on the menu.

“I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall during that meeting,” she said.

Ms. Clift hypothesized the president may tap into his opponent’s abilities.

“I think Romney could be a bridge to corporate America for this president.  He could be a useful conduit to corporate America.”

Next steps for 2012

Now, Ms. Clift emphasized, it’s time for President Obama and Democrats to get down to business if they want to capitalize on their gains with some significant reform.  President Obama’s first step will be to cut a big budget deal to stabilize the economy. Despite dire “fiscal cliff warnings,” Ms. Clift said she suspects a deal, “mini-deal” or “roadmap” that will be cut between Democratic and Republican legislators before next year.

Some Republicans are beginning to ponder compromising on the “No New Taxes” mantra that has been de rigueur since the first President Bush was in office. And the president, Ms. Clift said, is ready to move forward with some cuts to social services that will be unpopular with many constituents, but which are necessary to create a sustainable government. It’s going to involve across-the-board compromise, she said.

“This time, the president is not going to let any of his supporters across the country off the hook. He’s already on a campaign-style [path], appealing to them to tweet or call to lobby congress for a balanced deal that will get our fiscal house in order,” she said.

Republicans are already back to their old ways, trying to gum up the works through the rote rejection of the administration’s preferred policies, and it may be time for Obama and the Democrats to move forward with some much-needed filibuster reform. And, she said in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which “literally flooded Wall Street,” climate change will need to become a significant part of national dialogue and domestic policy.

How much President Obama will accomplish in his second term has yet to be determined, as will which politician is to be his successor.

Ms. Clift, however, took some time to discuss some of the candidates who look to be gearing up for the 2016 presidential election. There is the possibility of a strange repeat of the 1992 election, with a Clinton and a Bush contending for the presidency. Hilary Clinton is eminently qualified and has drummed up quite a bit of Democratic approval during her tenure as U.S. Secretary of State. And former Florida Governor Jeb Bush looks to be jockeying for the next big contest. He is a better prospect that Romney, Ms. Clift said.

“He has a more realistic approach to immigration reform, he speaks Spanish. I think he was the one in the Bush family who was supposed to be president and George W. Bush sort of snuck up to the head of the line,” she joked.

After her 50-minute talk and some 20 minutes of Q & A, Ms. Clift headed for a red-eye flight to Washington in preparation for the next taping of The McLaughlin Group and another televised food fight.

—Sarah Torribio



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