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The 2012 presidential election is still being deconstructed by campaign strategists, political scientists and future candidates. In a new book, veteran journalist Dan Balz offers a detailed postmortem of the battle waged between President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney. He brings new insights into the late-stage courting of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as well as Obama’s debate debacle. Balz underscores the unprecedented role of social media and data analysis in the race, and he explains what it all means for future American elections.
- Dan Balz chief correspondent at The Washington Post.
Read An Excerpt
From COLLISION 2012 by Dan Balz. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) LLC, A Penguin Random House Company. Copyright © Dan Balz, 2013. Originally excerpted in The Washington Post.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Dan Balz has covered politics for The Washington Post for 35 years. In the process, he's learned a thing or two about the way Americans elect their leaders. In his latest book, he deconstructs the 2012 presidential race. He explains how it broke new ground and forever changed U.S. political campaigns.
MS. DIANE REHMHis book is titled "Collision 2012: Obama Vs. Romney And The Future of Elections in America." Dan Balz joins me, and we welcome your participation. Give us a call 800-433-8850. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, or send us a tweet. Dan, it's good to see you again.
MR. DAN BALZThank you, Diane. It's great to be with you.
REHMYou know, before we begin the conversation about your new book, what are your thoughts on The Washington Post sale to Jeff Bezos?
BALZIt's a question that we are all asking ourselves every day at The Washington Post.
REHMI can imagine.
BALZDiane, this was as big a shock as I can imagine. I was out of the office the day of the announcement, and I got the email that everybody did saying, please assemble in the auditorium for an important announcement at 4:30. And I called a colleague at the paper and said, what do we know? I mean, what is this about? And he said, the word is that the Grahams have sold The Washington Post. And I said, I don't believe that. I said, I can't believe that's true. And, in fact, it was true.
BALZAnd so the first emotion that I think all of us had was shock. The second was a degree of sadness. The Grahams have been wonderful stewards. Ben Bradlee always had a line that he said, the first thing about being a great editor is to find a great owner. And the Grahams have always been that. They've practiced the highest standards of journalism.
BALZThey've taken tough decisions through the years, and they've stood behind their employees. And Don Graham in particular knows virtually everybody in the building. They have been a presence. They're not absentee owners, and so there's sadness that the Grahams will no longer be associated with The Washington Post news organization.
BALZThe third thing that I think everybody feels is the sense of hopefulness that Mr. Bezos will have the vision and the wherewithal to put The Washington Post on a more secure economic footing without compromising in any way the quality of the journalism that we practice or the standards that we have always adhered to. So it's a difficult week at The Washington Post and we're working through it.
REHMDan, is it just money that's going to keep newspapers like The Washington Post alive?
BALZDiane, if I were smart enough to answer that question, I probably would have tried to tell Don Graham the answer to that so he didn't have to sell. So money is obviously part of it. We've seen, because of the rise of the Internet and because of changing readership habits in general, a decline in the circulation of the print edition of The Washington Post, a dramatic decline in circulation.
BALZAnd print advertising is more lucrative than online advertising, and so, while we have built up online advertising, it has not been enough to offset. And in the middle of all of this, we were hit obviously by the deep recession which caused another hemorrhaging of advertising. But the long-term -- we know that long-term people are getting their information not simply from printed newspapers, and Mr. Bezos himself has said, in 20 years, printed newspapers basically won't exist. So the question is, what's the new platform and is there an economically secure way to do that?
REHMWell, to make that transition, we are looking now at your book titled "Collision 2012." One of the people you did not interview -- could not interview for this book was then and now-President Obama. It has been four years since The Washington Post has interviewed President Obama. Why do you suppose that is?
BALZThey have been very, very parsimonious, if I can use that word, in the way they have doled out interviews with people. He obviously does occasional interviews. He's done a number with "60 Minutes" on CBS. He's done some individual news anchors for relatively short interviews...
REHMAnd Jay Leno…?
BALZ...and he does things like Jay Leno. They do -- you know, they do.
BALZJon Stewart, they do. You know, they'll do strategic local markets, local news markets. But the major news organizations that are print-based, they have done very few. The New York Times got an interview a couple of weeks ago, and that may be the -- you know, perhaps that is the beginning of a wave of -- probably not a wave, but at least a ripple that says they will continue to do more.
BALZFor the 2008 book that I co-authored with Haynes Johnson, "The Battle for America 2008," we had two interviews with then-candidate and then-President-Elect Obama, one interview in September of 2008 and another interview in December of 2008. And an interview that I go back to in this book to refer to -- because some of the things he talked about in terms of his vision of leadership -- are still relevant today.
BALZAnd it was my hope that I could convince the White House to let me interview him for this book. I mean, I think if there is a hole in this book, it is the absence of the president's voice in trying to give us his understanding of what he thinks happened, where he thinks this country is, and where he thinks he may be able to make some changes. I mean, there are a lot of big questions that I try to pose in the book. He can be quite thoughtful on those larger questions. And I was disappointed that he wasn't able to make the time to do the interview.
REHMAnd how would you describe the collision of 2012?
BALZIn three ways, Diane. First, it's a collision between the America that elected Barack Obama in 2008 and the America that swept Republicans into power in the Congress in 2010. These are very different Americas. And in the presidential election of 2012, as I was anticipating it, it seemed to me that this was going to be a clash of those two Americas, and it certainly was.
BALZThe second was a collision of two different governing philosophies. As we know, the president of the United States and Gov. Romney had very different visions about what to do about the economy, how to deal with the economy, the role and scope of government and differences on many of the social issues that are changing in some sense the fabric of the country. So that was the second. And the third collision was between two men, two politicians who come from such dramatically different backgrounds.
BALZI mean, I think we lose sight of that sometimes as we cover campaigns, but the life experience of these two men could not have been more different. Obviously President Obama, the, you know, the child of a white mother and an African father who disappeared right after he was born, raised, in part, by a single mother and part by grandparents, cut his political teeth as a community organizer.
BALZMitt Romney grew up in a traditional family, a family of affluence. His father was a successful businessman and governor of Michigan, a presidential candidate in his own right. His view of the economy and of politics was formed in the business world. And so you had a collision of those two personalities and characters.
REHMWhile you may have many thousands of political junkies here in Washington who want to go back to 2012 and delve into the extraordinarily deep reporting you've done, why is it that this book is so important for people looking ahead? What are you telling us about these two men, their philosophies, and why it's so important going forward?
BALZDiane, it's a very good question because, as I write in the sort of forward of the book, unlike 2008, this was not a campaign that people enjoyed living through. This was a tough campaign, and it was a nasty campaign. I'd characterize it as a campaign about some very big things that was often fought out in some very small ways.
BALZBut I think in some ways it was a more important campaign than the historic campaign of 2008. That was historic because it was obviously the election of the first African-American president. But this was, I think, more telling about where we are as a country, what we have gone through, the struggle between what I describe as the America that we have been and the America that we may be becoming.
BALZAnd so this campaign looks at -- or this book looks at the campaign in that context. There are elements of this campaign, at least in a process sense that I think are shaping the politics and the campaigns of the future, the techniques that are being used, some of the aspects of campaigning whether it's debates or polls, social media, super PACs, those kinds of things. And the second is that, in this book, I often say that campaigns are -- or campaign books are usually written from the inside out. There's a lot of inside detail.
BALZAnd I've tried to provide that and there's, I think a lot of new information in this book even for people who followed the campaign closely. But in many ways, the outside-in story is important. What are the big forces that are changing the country and therefore changing our politics? And I try, I try throughout the book to keep that at least as a partial part of the story so that people understand where we may be heading.
REHMDid Gov. Romney provide you with open access?
BALZDid Gov. Romney? Yes. Now, during the campaign, the Romney -- the people who were embedded with the Romney campaign had very little access to him. And that is the nature of politics today. Even if you are traveling on a candidate's plane, you don't necessarily have real access to the candidate. The candidate is up in the first-class cabin, and the press is back in steerage. And occasionally the candidate might wave. But they usually don't come back and say much, so it can be very frustrating.
REHMDan Balz's new book is titled "Collision 2012". He also wrote The New York Times' best seller "The Battle for America 2008". Short break. We'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Dan Balz of the Washington Post is with me for the hour. His new book is titled, "Collision: 2012 Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America." Just before the break, we were talking about your access to Gov. Romney during the campaign. That changed after the campaign.
BALZYes, happily, it did. As I was doing the post-election reporting up in Boston with a number of his advisers, I asked several of them, would Gov. Romney be willing to sit down and do an interview? I know it's difficult for a losing candidate in the presidential campaign to sit down with a reporter who obviously is going to ask what went wrong and why. But he was very gracious. And at the end of January, we sat down at his home just outside of Boston.
BALZAnd we talked for 90 minutes, and he was -- as I say, he was gracious, and he was open. He was not particularly defensive. He went through some of the most difficult moments of the campaign and also a couple of the really good ones. The Denver debate was a great one for him. But it was a fascinating interview because, in some ways, he understood what had happened, and in some ways he was still trying to process some of those bad moments.
REHMWhat about that 47 percent comment?
BALZIt was one of the most interesting moments of the interview. We did not get to it until the very end. And he said, I assumed you would be asking about that, and I did a little research. And he got up from the chair, walked over to the kitchen counter and pulled his iPad off the -- it was charging there on the counter, brought it back, scrolled through to find some stuff, some notes that he had said.
BALZAnd he essentially said he didn't say what we all think he said. And what he actually said, particularly about the 47 percent when he said they're unwilling to take control of their own lives. And he said, I didn't say that. Well, he did say that. In his own mind, whatever the words were, they came out badly. He didn't mean what it sounded like he meant. He still strongly says that. But he also said, I recognize that perception becomes reality.
BALZAnd, you know, whatever I think I said or whatever I said, the perception was that this was a damning comment, and clearly it hurt. I mean, he made the point. He said, we were talking about the ebbs and flows of the campaign, and he said, I had a lousy September. And that was because of the 47 percent. But he said, I had a great October. He was talking about the debate at that point.
REHMWas that a surprising moment for you?
BALZThe debate was...
REHMNo. Not the debate, but his concentration on the 47 percent?
BALZYes. I think anybody who watched that video came away slightly stunned. It seemed to be tone deaf -- I mean, it was tone deaf politically. Whatever he was trying to say -- and his explanation always was he was simply saying this is a divided country. There's 47 percent of the people who are going to vote for the president. I'm never going to get them.
BALZThere's 47 percent who are going to vote for me. I've got them locked in, and I've got to concentrate on the people who are undecided. But it was as a maladroit way of saying it as I can imagine. And he paid a terrible price for it. Now, it's one of those things, Diane, that's interesting. This was at a fundraiser. The press was not in the room.
BALZCandidates say things in those events that they later regret. President Obama as a candidate made that comment at a San Francisco fundraiser about people clinging to their guns and their religion. You know, it comes at the end of a day. Often, they're tired. They get asked a question. You know, they respond, but their guard is down. And clearly it was down. And he had no idea that somebody was surreptitiously videoing it. And in this day and age, you have to assume that everything you say is being videoed.
REHMLet's talk about President Obama's campaign team and how they pushed the envelope using social media, data analytics, and really other cutting-edge tools that, I think, every candidate going forward will be using.
BALZI think you're absolutely right, and I think this is one of the areas that's most interesting in terms of where we're heading in terms of how campaigns will be managed and run. The Obama campaign broke new ground in 2008 with some of the things they did in exploiting the Internet and the beginning of social media. They created, in a sense, their own kind of mini version of Facebook in 2008.
BALZThe Obama team, from that day on, was always focused on 2012, and part of the team was always looking at, how do we make that aspect of the campaign better? All of that is designed in service to the volunteers who will go out on the streets to talk to voters. And the question is, how do you make that more efficient? How do we more efficiently reach people who may be willing to vote for this president?
BALZAnd so they hired a slew of data people, software engineers, people who understand analytics and modeling, and they created their own software products that took months and months and cost millions and millions of dollars to integrate all of the information they had to make the experience of people out in the field or people who were sitting in their homes somewhere who wanted to help rally people or talk to people as seamless as possible.
BALZThey describe it in ways that the architecture is beautiful and perfect. We know that never is the case on the street. But they were by far more efficient than the Romney campaign in knowing, for example, on a particular block, rather than knocking on 15 doors, there are only two doors that they really need to knock on, one being a person who will support the president if you can get them to the polls, but they have a tendency not to vote in every election.
BALZAnd so you have to go out and remind them, and remind them, and in some ways just get them out to vote. The second person may be a person who is genuinely undecided and still persuadable. I mean, Diane, there are a lot of people who, toward the end of election, if you ask them, as all reporters do, have you made up your mind? They'll often say, no, I'm still thinking about it. The reality is many of those people have already made up their mind.
BALZAnd if you're a campaign with even an unseemingly unlimited amounts of money, you want to be most efficient at talking to people who are genuinely undecided and not the people who say they are but aren't. And they developed techniques and modeling to make sure that they were as efficient as they could in finding those people.
REHMAnd then the debates. How did the 2012 campaign debates affect people's perception of our government?
BALZWell, it's not that there were that many more debates in 2012 than 2008. I mean, between the Republicans and the Democrats in 2008, there were more debates than in 2012. But I think the difference is in the way the debates, particularly in the Republican race, became a national conversation. These were reality TV not just for political junkies but for a lot of people. It became as much performance as what -- as substance. They were billed more as gladiator events than they were as moments in which people could get a reasonable understanding of where someone stands. And it...
REHMHow did that happen? I mean, how did the promotion of these debates become something, as you say, a gladiator event?
BALZWell, part of it is ratings. I mean, they -- all of the cable networks competed with one another to sponsor these debates because these debates were drawing good audiences. And good audiences are what the networks want. And, for example, why a two-hour debate? I mean, two-hour debates stretch everybody's patience. And yet all of these debates were two hours. And often they were then filled with pre-debate talk and post-debate talk.
BALZAnd so, if you were the sponsoring network, you had an evening in which you were dominating the ratings. That's one reason. I think the second is that candidates come to these debates with the idea that only bad things can happen to them, that there is more to be lost than to be gained. If you win a debate, you know, so what? If you're the frontrunner, you're expected to win the debate. But if something bad happens, it gets magnified as poor Gov. Perry learned to his peril.
REHMAnd President Obama learned.
BALZAnd in the general election, what President Obama learned. But I think all of us in the media tend to focus much more on, you know, the gaffe, the soundbite, the clash of the moment. I mean, Tim Pawlenty is a forgotten figure in this 2012 campaign, but it was a bad debate performance in the early stages of the campaign that sunk his candidacy. And it never should have. I mean, it's, you know, people should get a longer look at these candidates. But people are forced to kind of say, well, he should be moved to the sideline and let's bring others to the fore.
REHMWhat's a better way of doing it?
BALZWell, I think debates are an essential part of it. I don't think you have to have as many debates. My feeling is that debates crowd out other aspects of campaigning. One thing we know is that being a skilled debater is not necessarily part of the job description for being president of the United States. There are other things that you look for in a candidate. Now, can a debate reveal something about the character of a person or the intellect of a person?
BALZAbsolutely. But those take a special kind of debate and not one in which you have eight people on the stage and each person gets, you know, 10 seconds to respond to something and made to talk two minutes in the entire debate. To me, the, you know, it's like everything. We only have limited time in our lives. And if you're a candidate and you have to prepare for a lot of debates, it means a couple things.
BALZIt means there's probably less time going into actually thinking about the issues, developing programs or ideas and giving some more serious speeches. I mean, one of the things that Bill Clinton did in the 1992 campaign is he framed his entire candidacy early with a series of speeches called, the New Covenant speeches. And they were a way for him to say, I am a different kind of Democrat than the Democrats of the 1980s or the 1970s and here the reasons why.
BALZBut it was intellectually grounded. There were substance there. And it was important because it put a frame around his whole campaign. There was very little of this in 2012, I think in part because there was very little time for the candidates to do it. And the other area that got short shrift was actual time spent with voters.
BALZYou know, people decry Iowa and New Hampshire being unrepresentative of the country and therefore undeserving of being at the front of the line in terms of the primaries and caucuses. But there's a value to those two states, or used to be, because candidates actually had to go out and be questioned by regular people. And out of those questions, they got a greater understanding of what was really going on in the country.
REHMSo do you see the nature of debates being altered somewhat in the next election?
BALZWell, one thing we're seeing on the Republican side already is an effort to cut down the number of debates. The Republican National Committee commissioned a working group right after the election to kind of review the wreckage of 2012 in the presidential race. And one of their conclusions was there are too many debates. You need to cut back on the number of debates. And they are looking for ways to do that. That may be part of it. But the other is, how do you structure a debate?
BALZThe Washington Post and Bloomberg News hosted a debate up in New Hampshire. And what we tried to do was a couple of things. One was we limited it to one broad topic, the economy. We didn't want to make it about 12, 15 topics. The other was Charlie Rose was the moderator assisted by Karen Tumulty of our operation and Julianna Goldman of Bloomberg. All three of them were at the table, but we had people at the table. We did not have them standing at podiums because we know that when candidates are standing up, they tend to be more confrontational.
BALZAnd if they're sitting next to one another, they tend to be more conversational. And what we wanted with Charlie and Karen and Julianna was to have more of a conversation and less of just the sort of soundbite clash.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Final question on debates, why do you think President Obama did so poorly in that first debate?
BALZSeveral reasons. First of all, because he was an incumbent president in his first debate in a re-election campaign. And almost all of them struggle in that first debate.
BALZYes. He was told that at the first time they assembled the debate team. They were showing a PowerPoint presentation. And interestingly, Diane, it was either the day of or the day before the Denver debate, Gov. Romney got a call from former President George W. Bush. And he said to Gov. Romney, you're going to do fine tomorrow night. I know from my own experience that President Obama will not be fully prepared.
REHMInteresting. Is that because of some reluctance on a president to do the preparation?
BALZThey think they know the issues. They've been dealing with these issues.
BALZAnd, second, Diane, for four years, they have never been spoken to in the way they are spoken to by an opponent on a debate stage. I mean, their aides, even if the aides give relatively unvarnished advice, are respectful. And it's Mr. President and sir. And, you know, that Gov. Romney or any challenger is going to much rougher on the incumbent than that.
BALZAnd the third factor, Diane, was he had bad preparation. He wasn't well-prepared for it. He didn't have good mock debates. And they had a change of strategy right at the end. And I think it kind of flummoxed him. They had told him early on, because they were looking at a very close race, be aggressive, be aggressive, be aggressive. And then the 47 percent comment happened, and the polls opened up a little bit.
BALZAnd Gov. Romney looked like he was much more embattled at that point. So they said, stay above the fray. You're more likable. He's not right now. Don't mix it up too much. And one of the president's advisers said to me, the president's reaction to this was, I'm not sure that's smart, but if you guys think so, that's what I'll try to do. And so for a whole series of reasons, I think his head was just not quite in that debate.
REHMOh, I see. That's very interesting. It would seem that Gov. Romney did not have the support within the Republican Party that he should have.
BALZHe struggled with that. It was one of the reasons that at the very, you know, beginning stages of getting ready to run for president, that he had doubts himself about whether he should run. I relate in the book two instances. One, there was a family gathering at the end of 2010 with all the Romney family, and they took a vote. Should he run for president in 2012 or not? Ten votes were no, two votes were yes.
BALZHe was one of the no votes. And part of it was he knew how brutal the process can be. Part of it was he wasn't sure he was the strongest candidate to run against President Obama. And he said to me when I interviewed him, if someone like Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida had run, I might not have run. The second moment came when he was trying to deal with his health care plan in Massachusetts.
BALZAnd the criticism from conservatives in the party that it was a forerunner of President Obama's. And one morning he got a terribly harsh editorial from the Wall Street Journal basically saying, you know, if he's not going to figure out a way out of this, he might as well join the Obama ticket. And he was devastated by this, and he called his son Tagg very early that morning and said, I'm not going to run.
BALZIf I can't -- in essence, he said, if I can't convince the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal of my worthiness, I'm not going to be able to do it. And I think that he always knew it could be a difficult fit for someone with his profile to be the Republican nominee.
REHMHe almost became the default candidate. We'll take a short break here. When we come back, your calls, your comments. Stay with us.
REHMAnd we're back. It's time to open the phones, 800-433-8850, first to Lawrence in Datil, N.M. Hi, you're on the air.
LAWRENCEGood morning, Diane. Thanks for taking my call.
LAWRENCEI wanted to ask the guest, see, I'm prior military, and I know that when Mr. Romney gave his acceptance speech at the RNC. He didn't mention military, he didn't mention war, debt crisis, et cetera. And I'm wondering, in terms of his numbers, how did he do with the military? A friend of mine told me that -- well, he had no reason to mention that because he didn't have a dog in the fight. He had five sons. None of them were in the military, ever been in the military. So that's why he didn't mention it, and I was wondering what your guest thought about that.
BALZShort answer is I don't know exactly how he did with the military vote. I think he probably did reasonably well with it. Republican candidates in presidential races have generally done pretty well with military veterans, but the Obama campaign put a special focus on that. Both President and First Lady Michelle Obama had spent a lot of time with military families. And I know they were looking at that as a way to try to at least increase their share of that vote.
BALZIn terms of the speech at the convention, you're absolutely right. He did not mention it. I think frankly it was the result of a somewhat chaotic process of developing that speech. They had asked several different people to do drafts of the speech. They ended up throwing out all those drafts. I mean, one thing about Gov. Romney, he was an English major, I believe, in college. And he is a proud writer in his own right. He likes to write his own material.
BALZStuart Stevens, who's his chief strategist and did a lot of the speech writing, said of him, he's a very tough date for a speech writer, and warned the speech writers, you know, you may write something, but he may not use it. But I think it took them -- they were crashing on that speech, and I think it was just an oversight.
REHMThanks for calling, Lawrence. Here's an email from Renee in D.C. "Mr. Balz mentioned Barack Obama's coming from a nontraditional family and Gov. Romney as coming from a traditional family. But I think," she says, "in a lot of ways Romney's upbringing was further removed from the typical American experience. I think that made his 47 percent comments particularly damaging. Could Mr. Balz comment on how he thinks Gov. Romney's wealth and upbringing might've hurt him?"
BALZI think that's a very good point and a good distinction that I should've made in those earlier comments because what -- I was talking about a family with mother and father in the household. But you're exactly right. I mean, one of the things about Gov. Romney was that -- we talk about candidates being able to connect with voters.
BALZAnd with Gov. Romney, as I watched focus groups and talked to people along the campaign trail, I put it in the opposite, that voters could not connect with Gov. Romney and, I think, for exactly the reason that Renee suggests, which is he had a life experience that people could not identify with. And as a candidate he was not able to put, in a sense, his best side forward.
BALZAnd so he seemed a distant figure. The Romney campaign, like all campaigns, did a lot of focus grouping just to try to figure some of these things out. And at one focus group, as people were talking about Gov. Romney, one person said, he has been too rich for too long. And it was that combination that made it very difficult for him.
REHMInteresting. To Pittsburgh, to Bonita. You're on the air.
BONITAHello and thank you for taking my call.
BONITAI have a question. I wanted to ask, in your coverage of looking at these two versions of America colliding, when you saw in some of the states where they were posing very punitive restrictions on people being able to vote, do you actually see that as a strategy that people will use in the future to prevent this new version of America with the population of minorities increasing? Will you also see an increase in those types of tactics?
BALZI think it depends on the state. I think that in certain red states there will be more efforts to do that. We continue to see those at this point. But I also think this is going to be part of the ongoing, you know, debate, battle, struggle because President Obama's campaign fought those in every state that they could. Efforts to reduce the time for early voting they fought.
BALZAnd, you know, this is one of these situations where there's an action and there's a reaction. And I think one of the things we saw in 2012 was not just the effort to enact these laws, but also a reaction against them by voters. And I think that some of the -- in the African-American community in particular, there was a kind of sense of we've got his back. We're not going to -- we're going to make sure we get out to vote no matter what.
REHMBut what about the gerrymandering that took place and is taking place?
BALZWell, the gerrymandering has obviously created a House of Representatives that is easier for Republicans to control than Democrats. Democrats actually won the popular vote for the House of Representatives in 2012, but they did not win a majority of the districts. That's the degree to which we are now gerrymandered. I don't think the gerrymandering in itself has much effect on the presidential race. That's done on a state-by-state electoral basis.
BALZBut the red versus blue America, which is a subtheme of this book, is evidence of that. We have two different Americas that are sort of fighting it out. And there's a part of America that sees the changes and feels that as a result of that. The things that made this the strongest country in the world are at risk. And there is another part of the country that says we are becoming a different country, and that's good. It's good for all people in the country. And that was part of the underlying fight in 2012, and that will continue to be the case as we go forward.
REHMYou talked about red versus blue states. But what about black versus white?
BALZWell, black versus white, I mean, racial politics has been with us for as long as we all have been alive. We've obviously made huge strides in this country as the election of President Obama showed, and we should not lose sight of that. Having said that, there is still racism in the country. The Supreme Court, when it essentially neutered Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, nonetheless said discrimination in this country has not ended. And there have to be means and laws to combat that. So this is part of the politics of the country.
BALZNow, one of the things we saw in this election was that Barack Obama got, I believe, a smaller share of the white vote than any democrat who's won the White House in modern times. But the white vote was a smaller share of the overall electorate then it has ever been. It's still the dominant share. It was 72 percent on Election Day of those voted were white. But that was two points fewer than it had been in 2008, and it has continued to go down from election to election as America has changed. The demographic forces are an important part of why this election ended the way it did.
REHMAnd how is the issue of immigration continuing to affect Republicans?
BALZIt is an obstacle to Republicans in their effort to do better in attracting Hispanic votes. Thirty years ago I was in our bureau in Austin, Texas and covered the Southwest and spent a lot of time dealing with this issue of the politics of the Hispanic vote. And even then, Republicans were saying, we should have a natural base with at least part of the Hispanic community because they and we share similar values.
BALZBut for whatever reason, they have not been consistently able...
REHMThey're not buying it.
BALZ...they have not been consistently able to make that sale. George W. Bush did reasonably well with Hispanics. His brother also did in Florida, but they've been the exception and not the rule. And Gov. Romney got 27 percent of the Hispanic vote. And you cannot win the presidency these days if you're a Republican who only gets 27 percent. The immigration issue is one element of that.
BALZJohn McCain said last week he's in favor of a comprehensive bill that includes a path to citizenship. He said passing comprehensive immigration reform will not win the Republican Party one Hispanic vote. But what it will do is it will put them on the playing field so that they can begin to compete more equitably for the Hispanic vote.
REHMAnd to Birmingham, Ala., Beth you're on the air.
BETHI'm so grateful that you have let me call and make my comment. I absolutely think that Romney was cruelly unaware when he said that children who didn't have money for college to borrow from their parents. That disconnected me from him forever.
REHMWhat do you think of that, Dan Balz?
BALZWell, it was one of a number of things he said that, I think, caused the disconnect.
BALZI mean, he had a habit of talking about things in ways that ordinary voters, middle class families could not relate to. And that was one of those. As I would watch him out on the campaign trail talking about the economy -- I mean, this is obviously a very smart man who does know a lot about economic issues and about the economy -- his perspective is from that of, you know, a job creator which is to say, business owners.
BALZHe spoke in the language of business owners, and he spoke often about people who have and have started small businesses, the importance of entrepreneurship. We know that's important, but, in talking about it that way, he did not talk about the people who work in those.
BALZAnd he seemed disconnected. Diane, I'll tell you one short thing. I asked him at the end of our interview -- I said, given your profile, given your wealth, given your background, given where you came from, do you think in this environment, an environment in which most people think the rich are doing just fine and they're getting left behind, that it was, in a sense, impossible for somebody like you to win an election in this election year? And he said, I knew this was going to be a problem. I knew it was an obstacle. I thought I could overcome it.
REHMAnd he apparently...
BALZAnd he could not.
REHM...really did just the opposite by virtue of his own comments. One of the most fascinating sections of your book has to do with Gov. Chris Christie. Talk about that.
BALZI wanted to do a chapter in the book about the people who decided not to run for president. It was my theory that had several other people who thought seriously about running, had they entered the race, it might've been a much different Republican nomination race. And it might've been more difficult for Mitt Romney to become the nominee.
BALZAnd those people included Gov. Mike Huckabee or Gov. Haley Barbour or Mitch Daniels, any number of people. And Chris Christie was one. And so, in September of last year, I went up to Trenton to interview him. And I said, walk me through the process that you went through as you thought about whether you should run and as people urged you to run. And 90 minutes later, it was a very...
REHMHe likes to talk.
BALZHe does like to talk. It was an extremely interesting, lively, colorful interview. He tells the story with great relish and with lots of detail. And I got back and got the transcript of the interview done and started to read through it and thought, I can't squeeze this into this already too long -- a chapter that was too long. And so I said, I'm just going to make it a separate chapter because it's a wonderful story. And the chapter's entitled, Chris Christie's story.
BALZAnd as he tells it, it's very entertaining. One moment -- I'll just mention briefly here -- there was a breakfast in New York in the summer of 2011. He had been invited to come to the breakfast by some wealthy New Yorkers who were imploring him to run. And he said, I thought it was going to be a relatively small gathering.
BALZHe walked into the room, and he said -- and this is all Chris Christie telling the story -- I walked into the room, and there must've been 60 people there. And he said, instead of a kind of a casual look to it, they were lined up in chairs, and there was a speakerphone on the table at the front of the room. And he said, you know, people were calling in, these wealthy, you know, Republican business people, and basically were saying, if you run for president, you don't have to worry about raising a dime. We'll raise all the money for you.
BALZThe last speaker, Gov. Christie said, was Henry Kissinger. He had had some conversations with Kissinger prior to that, and he said, Henry Kissinger walked to the front of the room using his cane and spoke briefly. But he said -- again this is from Gov. Christie -- I've known X number of presidents over the years. Being president is about two things. It's about character, and it's about courage. And you have both, and your country needs you.
BALZAnd I said to Gov. Christie -- I said, what were you thinking at that time? And he said -- he laughed, and he said, well I was about as speechless as I ever am, which, with Gov. Christie, we know is not exactly speechless. But he said, I said to the group, I don't think I'm going to run for president, but I owe it to all of you to think seriously about it. And he began -- this was in July -- he began a more systematic effort.
BALZHe talked to Ken Mehlman, the former Republican National Committee Chairman. He talked to Karl Rove. He got a call from George W. Bush who didn't urge him to run or not run, but spent 40 or so minutes on the phone walking him through the kinds of things he ought to think about. His wife got a call from Barbara Bush.
BALZSo it was a fascinating story.
REHMDo you believe he'll be a candidate in 2016?
BALZDiane, I do believe. I think that he's right now focused, as he should be, on winning as big a re-election in New Jersey as he can. I think what he wants to do is post a very big margin as a way to say to Republicans, I am a candidate. You may have some qualms about me on some issues, but I'm a candidate who can win blue states. And that's what we need to win the White House.
REHMFinal email: "NPR's Morning Edition did a piece on how President Obama is bypassing journalists and wonders about social media and the entertainment shows. Can we expect Twitter and Facebook to dilute future debates?"
BALZWell, social media has become and will continue to become a more central element of our politics. Campaigns create strategies using social media and Twitter. Journalists use Twitter to create conventional wisdom. We used to see it happen in Spin Alley after a debate. We now see it in real time on social media. There is a danger to that, Diane, because it is a medium that tends to miniaturize things. I would say that I think sometimes we spend more time writing about less rather than focusing on some of the big issues.
REHMAnd there is one call I wish we had time to take from Doug in Petoskey, Mich. He says he's originally from Freeport, Illinois where you, Dan Balz, grew up, and your town is so proud of you.
REHMAnd congratulations on this book "Collision 2012: Obama vs. Romney and the Future of Elections in America." Thanks for being here.
BALZDiane, thank you very much. It's delightful to be with you.
REHMAnd thanks for listening, all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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