Party insiders and backroom deals: One author on why we need to bring back old-time politics.
November’s presidential election may seem like its still very much up for grabs, but journalists and pundits are already making their picks and predictions — and they often rely on conventional wisdom. For example, “incumbents always lose if unemployment goes above 9 percent in the days before the election.” But conventional wisdom only tells us part of the story. What candidates do and don’t do on the campaign trail, and whether they are the incumbent or challenger are also key factors. Join Diane for an examination of what it takes to win the White House, and what previous campaigns can tell us about the one we are watching unfold.
- Eleanor Clift contributing editor for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and author of "Selecting a President" with Matthew Spieler
- Samuel Popkin professor of Political Science, University of California, San Diego and author of "The Candidate: What it Takes to Win - and Hold - The White House"
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. America's presidential process is grueling. Over many months and with many millions of dollars spent, a field of candidates whittles down to just one eventual winner. Our two guests this morning have covered and worked on presidential campaigns for many years. They're with me to talk about what it takes to win.
MS. DIANE REHMSamuel Popkin is with the University of California at San Diego. He's author of "The Candidate: What it Takes To Win and Hold the White House." Eleanor Clift from Newsweek, The Daily Beast, is author of "Selecting a President|" with Matthew Spieler. Throughout the hour, we'll welcome your calls. I'll be interested to hear what you think it takes to win. Call us on 80-433-8850, send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org, join us Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to both of you.
DR. SAMUEL POPKINGood morning.
MS. ELEANOR CLIFTMorning, Diane.
REHMGood to see you both. Eleanor Clift, this book is subtitled "Fundamentals of American Government." Tell me why you and Matthew Spieler felt the need to write this book.
CLIFTWell, the publisher approached me with the idea, and -- Tom Dunne Books, and Tom Dunne sees a opening, if you will, in the market of education where you no longer have civics courses being taught, and you have kids sort of emerging from high school ready to vote, really having not much of an understanding of how the political process works, and they're awash in all of the soundbites and the negative advertising, and they must wonder where this all comes from.
CLIFTSo this is basically, you know, a how-it-happened book, how we came to have the system we have, how it works, how it's supposed to work and how it sometimes differs from how it's supposed to work it seems in reality.
REHMAnd how different it is from other democratic systems around the world.
CLIFTYes. I mean, we have winner take all, although our primary process has many proportional primaries. And so the selection of each party's nominee sometimes takes longer than you would think if you had winner take all. And you have a system which is really almost cluttered with checks and balances so that it leads often to the paralysis that we see today, although I would argue that the paralysis we see today is something of an aberration.
REHMEleanor Clift. Her new book written with Matthew Spieler is titled "Selecting a President: Fundamentals of American Government." Turning to you, Sam Popkin, "The Candidate: What it Takes to Win and Hold the White House." What does it take to win in addition to tons of money these days?
POPKINWell, it takes extraordinary audacity to say I deserve to be president. I'm ready to be president.
REHMA big ego.
POPKINNot -- a huge ego. It's both the strength and the weakness of the candidates. You have to be -- Mo Udall once said it's like in the old days the western. The new gunman in town would walk into the saloon and everybody would eye him. And he said, when you announce you're running for president, everybody looks at you a little differently. Who are you to think you're ready? Who are you, you know?
POPKINLyndon Johnson said the same comments about John Kennedy. He's just a boy. What has that piss ant ever done? That Joe Biden got in trouble for saying about Obama when he said, he's bright and articulate, but he's a kid, what has he done yet? You know, the seniors don't like the freshman to think they could do it.
REHMSo that person who declares that he or she should be president has to believe beyond all belief...
REHM...that he or she can be president and should be president.
POPKINAnd then how do you act like you're ready and have people explain to you things you don't understand at the same time in private? How do you get out there? You need incredible certainty to go out there and give a speech, but your campaign has to -- at the same time, you need to have confidence, be preparing for the unexpected events that might trip you up, the speech might blow up in your face.
POPKINSo if you're going to say agile and you're going to bounce back, you need a team that can be very flexible and can operate without you. And that was what I realized that no matter no brilliant your strategist or your ad man or your finance team, you're going to -- Mike Tyson has the great line. He said, everybody has a great strategy 'till they get hit in the face.
POPKINAnd if you're going to have a great strategy after you get hit in the face, you need a team that's going to, you know, fan you in the corner and say we've got a plan ready. We have an alternative plan, we have a contingency.
REHMSamuel Popkin, he's professor of political science, University of California at San Diego. His new book is titled "The Candidate: What it Takes to Win and Hold the White House." We do invite your calls. 800-433-8850. Eleanor Clift, as you look at the campaigns you have covered, and how they changed going back to Jimmy Carter, the extent to which the press is now involved in what happens if that candidate gets hit in the face as Sam was saying, he or she now has to have this humongous staff to be ready to react.
CLIFTWell, listening to Sam talk about the ego and the audacity that's involved, I kept thinking of 2008 when there was a lot of anger among Hillary supporters that Barack Obama had jumped the line, that he was supposed to wait. And now a lot of people think that Hillary Clinton might run in 2016, would the Democrats clear the primary field for her? Would Governor Cuomo, Governor O'Malley, Senator Warner step aside? I don't think so. So that's kind of a quaint notion in presidential politics that people step aside for someone else.
CLIFTSecondly, the being prepared for what happens. When you listen to the pundits on television, they're always analyzing the response. It's as though what happens is irrelevant really compared to the response. Elizabeth Warren in Massachusetts and is she Native American, does 132nd count? It's, you know, how did she handle it, was her campaign deft enough? Mitt Romney with the various challenges that he's faced, most recently the business about his hazing when he was in high school.
CLIFTI think he probably handled that one pretty well, but, uh, I think Romney's problem is that he does have a staff advising him every step of the way, and you never get a sense that there's an authentic human being responding. So sometimes the staff calling every shot, anticipating every move is not necessarily the best thing.
POPKINCan I jump in?
POPKINStu Spencer talked about that once, and he said, you know, everybody wants to tell you want to do. And he would test candidates like Reagan and Rockefeller or Connelly and push them hard and say, if you can push them and they change their mind, then they don't know who they are, and they'll never be able to decide how to handle the staff.
POPKINSo you have to have -- some people say, oh, it's easy today, you just buy a staff and you pay a lot of money and they'll make you look good. When you've got Dick Holbrooke and Bob Rubin in the room, or you've got Larry Summers or you've got John Bolton and Brent Scowcroft and you have to referee it, I don't know how anybody can say it's easier today.
REHMWhat, Sam, would you consider the first modern presidential campaign?
POPKINThat is -- I have to tell you, that is both a really good question, and one of the very hardest questions. Right now, there are books saying that Andrew Jackson was the first modern campaign, that Dewey Truman was the first modern campaign, that JFK. I've decided that 48 was the first modern by our standards, because it's not about the media, because the media and the ways you use it change every election, but 48 was the campaign in which both candidates maneuvered separately from their party organizations.
POPKINTruman had a secret group because the DNC had fallen apart under Roosevelt. Dewey had to have a group because so many Republicans were beholden to Taft. So that was the year you saw the candidates on both sides really culminating the process that started with Teddy Roosevelt of the President not just being a rubber stamp in the campaign.
REHMSo did each of them, did Dewey and Truman each take hold of their campaign operatives in a way that perhaps is more difficult to do now?
POPKINThat's even harder. Truman as an incumbent won, not because he was this great passionate defender of the new deal, which he was, but because he pinned Dewey by giving Taft the rope to hang Dewey in Washington, and then red-baiting in a way, if I may say so, be frank, to stop Wallace on the left, and they took away Dewey's moves. When Dewey looked like the little man on the wedding cake, that was because Truman took away all the options for this dashing dynamic man to use by letting Taft show that he wouldn't listen to Dewey.
CLIFTTaft was in the Congress and had a...
CLIFT...conservative agenda, much like today's Republican Congress has a conservative agenda, and Mitt Romney, an urban northeastern governor, has got to run away from that agenda or else it could sink him.
REHMAnd who can ever forget that newspaper headline, Dewey Wins? We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more talk and your calls.
REHMAnd here with me this morning, Eleanor Clift, contributing editor for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and author of a new book titled "Selecting a President" written with Matthew Spieler. Also Samuel L. Popkin. He's professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego and author of his new book "The Candidate: What It Takes To Win And Hold The White House." We're going to open the phones very shortly because I know many of you want to join us, but posted on our website is this from Gerald, "What do the traits needed to win the White House have to do with the traits needed to govern wisely and well?" Sam Popkin.
POPKINI think that I can say -- Ellie and I both think there are fundamentals and I get flack for saying that the screening process today works better than the smoke-filled rooms.
POPKINAnd I think that not because the voters are smarter than Mayor Daily or Boss Bailey, but because this long process makes you stand up forever and defend your macaca remarks or explain what you meant about the poor or what you meant about your draft deferment. And you have to bring in a much bigger team of advisors. You have to learn to work with policy people, economic people, tax people and you have to show people that you can get down off your high horse and go to Iowa.
POPKINYou know, this process dumped General MacArthur for General Eisenhower because MacArthur thought he was the American Caesar, too good for the people. Eisenhower thought questions and answers were humiliating but he agreed to do it and showed people he didn't act like a conquering general but more like a wise man with more experience. And it's always been the -- and more and more today -- look at the people who got screened out 'cause they could raise money on Fox as Ed Rawlins complained about Michelle Bachman, but never come up with an answer.
REHMSo what you're saying is that the traits needed to govern will come out during the campaign as one campaigns, Eleanor.
CLIFTI think I agree with that in broad terms, but it's hard to look at the Republican Primary process and think that that was really character shaping. What it forced Mitt Romney to do was take a lot of positions to the right of everybody else, positions that he may or may not be able to move away from.
CLIFTAnd on immigration, he got to the right of Governor Perry even on reproductive rights. He's pledged to "get rid of Planned Parenthood." And these are positions that -- he's pledged also to never raise taxes so how does he make -- if he wins, how does he make the compromises necessary, I think, to set this country on the correct path?
CLIFTSo I guess, yeah, it does show us how Romney handles himself and what kind of maneuverability he has. But there's always -- and this is true of Barack Obama too. Obama and his people ran a brilliant campaign and yet it's hard to look at the last three years, four years in the White House, and think that they governed with equal brilliance. Now is that because there's a gap between the skills that are needed or is that because governing is simply a lot harder than campaigning? And I'd ask Sam that question.
POPKINWell, I think Eleanor hits it and it's something that any wise person who reads Eleanor's book would ask. And I think the problem is -- well, there's a good thing about what happened to Mitt Romney. Mitt wouldn't agree and I don't mean it's good for him, but when you're president, you're the leader of a party whether you like it or not. You're not a man coming in from another planet who can do just what he wants magically in the White House. And the campaign grounds you in your party and you have to be prepared to know how to navigate these demands. And I don't think there's any doubt about it.
POPKINNow Ellie is -- nobody would ever say that any of our recent presidents did more than they promised they would do when they got to Washington.
REHMWhatever happened to the definition of politics as being the art of compromise? If Mitt Romney is saying no new taxes, he's already setting out a no-compromise position or I'm going to get rid of Planned Parenthood, hardly a compromise position. What happened to that thought that politics is the art of compromise?
CLIFTIt's supposed to be the art of the possible. And this is where I think what we've seen the last couple of years is a little different and that is the rise of the Tea Party movement, which really does see compromise as a dirty word. And the gentleman Richard Mourdock who beat Richard Lugar in Indiana, he says there's too much bipartisanship in Washington. And yet many people in Washington sort of worship at the altar of bipartisanship. And the president did too even though it didn't yield anything for quite a long time.
CLIFTSo I think we have gone off the rails. It's as though -- and people are looking towards this election as somehow establishing a compass for the way forward. But with most things, we're probably not going to get such a clear cut victory that one party or the other controls the White House and both houses of congress and has 60 votes in the Senate. I mean, that if Romney wins, we would probably have a Republican Congress, but they wouldn't have 60 votes.
REHMWhen did Iowa and New Hampshire become so incredibly important, and are they still as important in the election process as they have been since...
POPKINI think New Hampshire has always and always will be important. And I think the only time where winning Iowa really mattered was for Barack Obama in 2008 when African Americans didn't think it would make sense to vote for an African American candidate 'cause he could never get enough white votes. And when he won Iowa that was an extraordinary game changer. But normally you can come in third to Pat Robertson. You know, Bill Clinton didn't have to campaign because you had, you know, Paul -- Tom Harkin.
POPKINThis is -- Iowa comes and goes. The only affect of Iowa I can see is we all say things we shouldn't say about ethanol for the candidates. But New Hampshire matters a lot because it's a more complicated state and it's a testing ground, like spring training or the football camp before you get going.
CLIFTWell, contemporary history often starts when you personally begin to experience it. So for me, it started with the Carter campaign. And I think he did -- he saw an opening that George McGovern in '72 had gone into Iowa. It wasn't made that much of, but Carter saw that opening and he slept in people's living rooms on couches, you know, for many, many months and really worked the state.
CLIFTAnd he was a conservative Democrat from the south at a time when the Democratic Party was governed by the northeastern liberals, and frankly, liberals from all around the country. And so he kind of barged into Ted Kennedy's party. And the Democrats were very resistant, but he won in Iowa and he won in New Hampshire. And then he did have the backing of significant civil rights figures from Atlanta who gave him the credibility and authenticity that he needed to be acceptable to the party's northeastern establishment. But they never fully accepted him.
CLIFTAnd Carter had a reunion here Saturday evening with his domestic policy staff in Washington and he noted with some wryness that he had more trouble with the Democrats than with the Republicans.
CLIFTWhen he was in the White House, it was a very different time.
POPKINAnd that's what Mitt Romney -- that's what's happening. And I am not now nor have I ever been a supporter of the Tea Party but they're an important part of the Republican Party. And if you want to lead the party, you have to be prepared. And I think when I look at this year, I keep thinking how lucky the Democrats were that Walter Mondale was such a perfect messenger for an out-of-date message. Because after 1984, nobody could say it was the messenger not the message.
POPKINAnd that really led to the kinds of movements that made a Bill Clinton policy agenda possible to get through the primary without making the kinds of promises Mitt wasn't prepared for. Remember in 2009, Mitt Romney was the perfect candidate to take out Barack Obama. He could say, I'm exactly the same health care plan with good economic management. And look what I did in Massachusetts and I'm a moderate and I'm not a bigot. And I support science and I support research so let's have a jobs plus health care. And then he had to repudiate that not because he wanted to, but because his party needed him to do that or he couldn't lead it.
REHMYou know, what's fascinating to me is that we now seem to be -- since the election of Barack Obama, maybe even before then, in a perpetual presidential campaign. It never stops. The day after the 2008 election was over, you had, of course, people on the Hill, Mitch McConnell, saying we're going to make him a one-term president and you get into a new campaign immediately. So how long has that been going on?
CLIFTWell I defer to Sam on that. In a way, you know, again having covered the Carter White House, I think one of Carter's problems was that he kind of quit campaigning after the first couple of months. And he thought, if I just work my inbox and do my job, that that's enough. And he kind of stripped the presidency of a lot of the pomp and circumstance and he set himself up and the country up for kind of wanting the grandeur of a Ronald Reagan. So I do think a president has to keep campaigning throughout.
POPKINAnd I think the difference, Diane, is that the campaign is permanently a public campaign. Lyndon Johnson -- you just had the great Robert Carroll on your show.
POPKINLyndon Johnson in 1947 is already saying, I can't buy an oil well 'cause that kind of money won't get me where I want to go. So he's already thinking, I need a radio station if I want to be president 'cause oil money in those -- who knew there could be an oil ticket -- but in those days, you couldn't be an oil man. And people are always going to -- I mean, there's not a senator in Washington who isn't, when they meet with the president, thinking, I know more about this issue than he does. I could be doing it. And you've got all these people who ran once and who resent the fact that you were the lucky one.
CLIFTBut what I think is gone is that honeymoon that the president used to get...
REHMUsed to have.
CLIFT...when both parties got together and put aside some of their more dogmatic positions and did things for the good of the country. And you would think, given the economic situation that this country faced at the end of the Bush Administration, at the beginning of the Obama Administration that that would've called for the same kind of coming together that we saw after the 9/11 attacks. But that didn't happen and I can't remember the last time it did happen, unfortunately. Well, 9/11, it did.
REHMEleanor Clift of Newsweek/The Daily Beast, author of "Selecting a President" with Matthew Spieler. Samuel Popkin, his new book is titled "The Candidate: What It Takes To Win And Hold The White House." And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Before we open the phones, let's talk about the way the media has changed over time and how that makes it, on the one hand, more difficult, on the other hand a little easier to be out front putting your name, your face, your image out there to run for president. A plus or a minus, Sam?
POPKINI think the plus is that there are people who want more content and people who want less and you have to be careful not to over promise. You have to be very careful when you say something about, you know, guns and God at a small fundraiser and understand what you say to one group the other groups will hear. You can say -- Dick Armey said when he was in Congress, all he had to do when asked about foreign policy was make a few insulting remarks about the French and then move on. But now you can't make too many insulting remarks about the French.
POPKINI mean, even Newt Gingrich got in trouble, you know, Mr. Big Mouth, for going too far. You have to be very careful and you have to deal with people who are really smart and really know your issue. And then you've got to go off in Iowa and talk to ordinary people. And it's a big challenge.
REHMAnd a 24-hour news cycle.
CLIFTYou know, the Reagan White House was considered, I think, by a lot of reporters too, is they were masters of message management. They would get together every morning, decide what the message of the day would be and the photo ops and the interviews that they granted were all designed to get what they saw as their minute or minute-and-a-half on networks that night was their advertising. And they were very good at it and they were quite open compared to today's White Houses in terms of granting access to the press, to top aids, not to the president.
CLIFTReporters used to joke, covering Ronald Reagan means never having to see him. But his philosophy and his aura permeated everything. And you can't do that today anymore because of the unrelenting nature of the news coverage. There's very little time to speak and to think, I should say.
CLIFTAnd I think this White House has probably done better than most would in terms of adapting to and taking advantage of the new social media culture, to the point where people who cover the White House feel like they're kind of just a small prop, that the president is getting his message out in a lot of other ways where they're really not relevant. And a president has to do that. I mean, any White House has to do that.
REHMOf course, it also means the exposure of any failing, any faltering, any mistake, however small or large, witness John Edwards.
POPKINI was very intrigued the other day when I read an interview with Ross Douthat, the very, very smart conservative columnist at the New York Times, who he was talking about the media and he said, basically you're not ready to be president if you can't defend yourself on "The Daily Show." And when the New York Times says it's not enough that we like you, you have to be good enough to -- he didn't say you have to agree with Jon Stewart, but if you can't go on Jon Stewart and defend yourself with smart intellectuals, you're not ready. That impressed me.
REHMBut what I mean is that the focus is so intense that someone like John Edwards found himself, you know, sort of really out of touch with (unintelligible) .
CLIFTWell, John Edwards is almost, I think, pathological the way he was pressing on to win the White House then thinking he could be Attorney General. All the while payments are going to his pregnant mistress and he's trying to keep it away from his wife and so forth. Talk about the ability to come -- departmentalize. He makes Clinton look like a piker.
REHMEleanor Clift and Sam Popkin, two new books, "Selecting a President" and "The Candidate." Short break. Your calls when we come back.
REHMAnd if you've just joined us, Sam Popkin is here with us. He's professor of political science at the University of California at San Diego. He's author of the new book, it's titled, "The Candidate: What It Takes To Win And Hold The White House." Also, Eleanor Clift, contributing editor for Newsweek, The Daily Beast and author of "Selecting a President, Fundamentals of American Government." She's written that book with Matthew Spieler.
REHMWe're going to open the phones now. First to San Francisco. Good morning, Jesse. You're on the air.
JESSEGood morning, Diane. Thank you so much for taking my call.
JESSESo I have very brief observation that I want to pose to a question.
JESSEIt seems that religion, in particular, Christianity plays a paramount role in the American electorate and presidential campaigning. And it seems that Mitt Romney has been down-playing his Mormonism, while at the same time Barack Obama has kind of down-playing his Christianity. So I'm wondering, for the guests, how important of a role does religion play in electing a president and why doesn't Barack Obama kind of cater to the largely Christian nation and his Christian identification?
POPKINThat is a very good question. I think Mitt Romney did a very good job of closing some of his gaps, trying to get it all done before the convention with his Liberty University speech. He would have certainly preferred not to have had to make the speech, but given the nature of the challenges he had as a Mormon to cover his base, I thought he did a good job.
REHMHe did not get a huge warm reception until he said, I do believe marriage is between a man and a woman.
POPKINYes. And now he called it a smoke screen when Obama started talking about gay marriage and said, let's get back from social issues to the economy. I didn't think I would see the day when Republicans treated gay marriage the way Democrats regarded Willie Horton, as a smoke screen.
REHMNow, Eleanor, what's your reaction on Obama? Is he playing down his own Christianity?
CLIFTI don't actually see him playing it down because when he made the announcement about supporting same-sex marriage, he invoked Jesus Christ. And I think in the days afterwards, it was reported that the White House reached out to a number of pastors and so forth. But I think if you accept the caller's premise, you could say that Obama may still be haunted by the connection with Reverend Wright from the '08 campaign and doesn't want to awaken any of those conflicts.
REHMAll right. Thanks for calling, Jesse. To Wayne in Florida. Good morning to you.
WAYNEGood morning, Diane. My comment is that all the pundits and columnists and writers are totally missing the Republican Party strategy to defeat Obama. They're objective has been and will continue to be to defeat Obama, but their best candidate was a guy who lost to the guy who Obama creamed. So what did they do? They get seven surrogates to go out for three, four months, blasting Obama. Each with their individual little segment of the population, setting up their communication lines, their transportation lines so that when it comes time for them to then endorse Romney, they have this machine in place that they can put into action come the election.
CLIFTIs the caller referring to the rest of the Republican candidates as the surrogates? Because I don't think any of them are particularly strong, but the fact that Romney did have to campaign in a number of states does allow him to put down an organization. And I think probably earlier than usual in presidential campaigns. The Obama side certainly is trying to activate the ground game that worked for them so well in 2008.
CLIFTAnd if this is as close as an election as some think, then it matters if you have people on the ground who can actually get your folks out to vote.
REHMAll right. To DePaul, Ind. Good morning, Butch.
BUTCHHey, Diane. How you doing?
REHMI'm good, thanks.
BUTCHYou mentioned at the outset what besides money or how does money play into it. I have personally taken money out of the campaign. I will not listen to anybody's ad, my candidates or who I oppose. I skip through that. I don't listen to the back and forth arguments between the left and the right because I feel like I never get anything out of them. I do pay attention to what Romney says at Liberty University or what Obama says at University of North Carolina. I listen to the words of the candidates and make my judgment there, but I think the only way to get money out of politics is stop listening to the money. Cut off the access of money to my ears.
POPKINJesse, if there were 120 million more like you many of America's problems would be solved. In the meantime, I can only wish that you would encourage more people.
REHMActually, that was Butch.
POPKINI'm sorry, Butch.
REHMThanks for your call. And to Charlotte, N.C. Hi there, Michael.
MICHAELGood morning, Diane. And I respect what you've done over these years. And I respect both of your people that you've got there right now. I'm in my late 60s. I'm originally from Wisconsin and I was a neighbor of one of our wonderful congressman there many years ago, Glen Davis. My question is, this election has gotten to be really nasty and really dirty. One of the dirtiest ones I've seen in my entire life. I'm wondering if Miss Clift and the professor could give their definition of who could possibly be the most perfect candidate for president.
REHMThe most perfect in what sense?
MICHAELIn character, accepted by Catholics, Muslims, Baptists, atheists. It just seems like all this stuff affects them, even when they go back and look up somebody's record in their high school or college. They may have smoked dope or they've been married a couple of times. A lot of that I don't think really matters anymore.
CLIFTWell, I don't think anybody is perfect if you're going to have a human being. And I think a couple of people -- I think it was Joe Biden who said, look where, you know, these are two people running against each other. It's not one person running against the incarnation of Jesus Christ. And in fact, if they were the incarnation of Jesus Christ, not everybody would go along with that either.
CLIFTSo yeah, and again, what we talked about early …
POPKINJesus doesn't even dress well.
CLIFTAnd what we talked about earlier, it's how the candidates respond to adversity. And it gives us glimpses into their character. And then you can imagine how they might respond to a crisis if they're in the White House.
POPKINWell, I was intrigued. And in New York I went to see the new revival of Gore Vidal's play, "The Best Man" which was about the dual between a man with bad morals and good policies and a man with good morals and bad policies. And I got a big kick out of it because in 1960 when the play first opened, Ronald Reagan desperately wanted to play one of the candidates and everybody said nobody would take him seriously as a candidate. He doesn't have the gravitas to...
POPKIN...be a president.
REHMOh, my. What an (word?).
POPKINIt's one of my favorite stories in the book.
CLIFTWell, it was Reagan who, when people said to him, how can an actor expect to be president and he said, how can you be president without...
CLIFT...the ability to act?
POPKINBut, in fact, being an actor, I just have to say, gave him -- learned that you don't always have the best lines 'cause he was a second-rate actor. And he said, what do you mean? I can play second fiddle. I was in a movie with Errol Flynn.
REHMLet's go to Ann who's in St. Louis, Mo. Good morning.
ANNGood morning, Diane. You have the most courageous team of producers and show on the air.
ANNI'm so grateful for you. I’m concerned about what kind of world we're passing onto our children and grandchildren because my vote didn't count when I voted for Al Gore. And I'm wondering if a woman had won as Al Gore won, would she have marched on Washington to claim her presidency. I think Ronald Reagan would have. If the same thing had happened to Ronald Reagan that happened to Al Gore, I believe he would have marched on Washington and claimed his presidency.
ANNWith all the people behind him.
REHM...there are a lot of folks who do believe that Al Gore gave up much too quickly, that he should have had the whole state of Florida recounted. You know, she may have a good point.
CLIFTYeah, this was one team of savvy lawyers against another team of savvy lawyers.
CLIFTAnd the team headed by Jim Baker, former Secretary of State, Chief of Staff to Ronald Reagan won. And the Supreme Court ruled. And I, for one, think it's probably better that we respect what the Supreme Court rules even if we disagree with it. I think it would have...
REHMBut before it got to the court...
CLIFTBefore it got to the court, yeah.
REHMIf Al Gore had said, I want a recount of the entire state, you might have precluded it's getting to the Court, Sam.
POPKINI think people who study the recount will find the same flaws in the way Gore handled the recount that my chapter on his campaign discusses, that was the painful experience that prompted this book to look at campaigns.
REHMTell me more.
POPKINWell, the Gore campaign was a dysfunctional, painful experience, as different from the war room of '92 or even the hilarious cats and jammer of '76 or some of the other campaigns and I decided you need standards if you're going to make judgments. You know, did Al Gore bogey the course and Bush pared it? Or did Al Gore triple bogey and Bush double bogey? You have to have some standards. And it made me realize that it's very different to be a successor incumbent or a challenger.
POPKINAnd Gore blamed everything on Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, whereas G.H.W. Bush in '88 understood he had to be very careful and very slow about how he separated from the president at the convention, not trying to dump on the president a year in advance.
REHMBut do you think that Al Gore's campaign itself was dysfunctional...
REHM...so that when it came time to make those critical decisions, there just wasn’t the where with all?
POPKINThere was too much concern, to be very blunt, for New York Times editorials and not enough for facts on the ground. The Republicans flew in staffers from Washington to raise hell and Gore appealed for civility.
REHMSamuel Popkin. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Let's go now to St. Augustine, Fla. Hi, Guy.
GUYGood morning, Diane.
GUYThanks for taking my call and thanks for the show. I guess my feeling has always been in a sense -- we spoke of how we chose our presidents. When I was first able to vote for President Kennedy, I believe back then it was more of a popularity contest. And I believe, as the media has changed, the general populace learned a little more and can select more wisely. What I would like to see happen is for all the money that we're wasting on these elections every four years would be to have a president go in for a six-year term and get him to the best job he or she could do.
GUYAnd then give up the office to another candidate and eliminate every other election. So that's my feelings on how we could fix a lot of the government and a lot of constant campaigning that goes on from the day they're first elected to the day they get their last term in office.
REHMAll right, sir. Thanks for you call. He's got a point. When you talk about this constant campaigning that the candidate who wins needs to do as soon as he gets in the White House, do you see the dysfunctionality that currently exists in our operating system leading us in the direction that our caller suggests, a single six-year term, Sam?
POPKINNo. Ted Sorenson proposed it, I don't know, 15 or 20 years ago for the same eloquent arguments that our caller just used. But that means from day one the president is a lame duck and so you have both parties in permanent campaign mode every day of every year as opposed to only one party in campaign mode during the first four years. And the other party, at least giving the president some support.
CLIFTDo you know when President Obama leans over to Medvedev, the Russian then-president and says, you know, in a second term, I'll have more flexibility. And you think that president …
REHMAnd the news media picks it up.
CLIFTYes. And you think that a president freed from the constraints of having to court public opinion might be free to do bolder things. I think it's a nice theory, but it's not going to happen. And I think you do then give up the sense that you're a competitive player in the next round. And that sidelines you always, to some extent.
REHMAnd finally here's a tweet from a listener. "Is it possible the parties actually believe in their dogmatism, that they are doing what is in the best interests of the country?" Sam?
POPKINWell, I would say there's somebody who believes every bit of the dogma within the leadership or, let's say, will refuse to say that it's out of date without surrendering their status. But nobody could possibly believe all of the dogma in either party.
CLIFTI think depending where you sit is how you view the dogma. I mean, I see dogma that I agree with so therefore, I don't see it as dogma.
POPKINIt's not dogma.
POPKINThere's truth and there's dogma.
CLIFTSo there may be people on the other side who think the same way.
REHMEleanor Clift. She's contributing editor for Newsweek, The Daily Beast, author of a new book titled, "Selecting a President, Fundamentals of American Government." I sure hope lots of people read both these books. And Popkin's book is titled, "The Candidate: What It Takes To Win And Hold The White House." Thank you both.
CLIFTThank you, Diane and Sam.
REHMGood to have you here.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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