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Diplomacy in Action

How Will the Presidential Race Impact Congressional Races?

Melinda Henneberger, Editor-in-Chief, Roll Call
Washington, DC
May 5, 2016

10:00 A.M. EDT


MODERATOR: All right. Good morning, everyone. Welcome. My name is Mary-Katherine and I am the information outreach specialist here at the Foreign Press Center. Thank you all for being here for what I think is going to be a most timely discussion. Today we’re pleased to host Roll Call’s editor-in-chief, Melinda Henneberger, for a conversation on how down-ticket races – so those of lesser prestige, I guess – will be influenced by the presidential race.

As I mentioned, Melinda is the editor-in-chief for Roll Call, a leading provider of congressional and legislative news. Before joining Roll Call, Melinda worked as a writer for publications such The New York Times, Bloomberg Politics, and The Washington Post. She has also served as a fellow for institutions such as Harvard University and Catholic University. And if you’d like to learn more about her, there are bios available at the sign-in table.

One quick note before we get started. I’d just like to recognize CQ Roll Call. As some of you might know, this is our fourth briefing with them in a series of briefings, and we just really would like to recognize how much we appreciate their making experts like Melinda available to us and available to you guys. So thanks to CQ Roll Call for that.

And at this point, I think some of you know the drill. I’d like to ask all of you to silence your cell phones. Feel free to use them to take pictures, to live tweet, whatever you’d like to do, but we’d just ask that they remain silent for the duration of the program. And one final note: I’d like to remind you that the views represented here are those of the speaker, Melinda, and not of the U.S. Government. So a big disclaimer. And with that, I’d like to welcome Melinda to the podium.

MS HENNEBERGER: Thank you very much for coming today and for having me. So I have been covering politics since 1988 for various publications. No one has ever seen a year like this in American politics. So when we say – and I – are most of you covering the presidential election? Right. So there have been a lot of assumptions made about how things would go this year. All of those have been proven false. So when I’m asked to say, oh, how is the presidential race going to affect the down-ticket races – so especially the Senate and the House races – I should really first say that anyone who says they know that answer is not really telling – they’re either deluded or not telling you the truth. But there is, of course, the widespread assumption that this could be – that Trump at the top of the Republican ticket could be very harmful, could – for the party, could have a high likelihood of turning the Senate back over to the Democrats. The Republicans can only lose three Senate seats. There are 10 in play. They can only lose three Senate seats and keep their majority.

So when we look at the highly contested races, and there are a bunch of them, it’s probably most likely – again, although anything can happen in politics, and does – it’s most likely that the balance in the Senate is going to swing to the Democrats. And I’ll go through some of these most exciting races in a minute.

In the House, in the House of Representatives, no one has thought that Democrats really had any true chance of taking back the House. It’s really just in the last I’d say week or so when people have said it still is difficult – structurally it’s quite difficult because of gerrymandering, because of redistricting – it’s structurally set up now so that it would be hard for the Republicans to lose. But for the first time, people really are saying it’s doable, this could happen. Now, they would have to flip 30 seats. That’s an awful lot of seats, especially place – many of those seats lean Republican.

I’ve heard people say – people who look at these races for a living say 10 is possible, 20 is not crazy, 30 is a stretch for sure, but the place that Democrats think they can – might be able to pull this off is in mostly suburban districts that are changing. So I think that we say this every election, but it will never be more true than this election that women voters will tell the story, both at the top of the ticket and down-ticket, and that’s because Donald Trump’s favorables with women are quite low. And with Hillary Clinton as the nominee, this really is going to be not just a battle of the sexes but some of the top issues in the race, and again, those top issues at the top of the ticket are going to filter down to the local level because increasingly the House and Senate races are nationalized, by which I mean the issues that are argued every single day at the top of the ticket are what people vote on locally as well.

The Republicans – anyway, to finish my thought, those are going to be over things like equal pay. They’re going to be over what we have – I don’t know for sure that there is such a thing as women’s issues. All issues are women’s issues, but that conversation about gender, especially given a lot of the statements that Donald Trump has made, is going to be front and center in this election.

So how do vulnerable Republicans handle that is going to be very interesting. So we sent out reporters yesterday to ask all those vulnerable Republicans: “So, are you endorsing the nominee of your party?” We got some different answers, of course. Kelly Ayotte in New Hampshire, who is in a very tight race with the governor of her state, Maggie Hassan – she’s up four points but it’s really going to be a very tight race – she said, yes, she’ll support the nominee, but like a lot of other Republicans, she’d rather not say the name of the nominee.

Now, of course her opponent is already talking about the Trump-Ayotte ticket, and that’s what we’re hearing all over the country with – Democrats are using some of Trump’s statements against the Senate candidates. Some examples – okay, so in Wisconsin, where Ron Johnson is one of the most endangered Republicans in the Senate running against the Democrat Russ Feingold, who served in the Senate for 18 years – so already Ron Johnson is saying, “Well, I’ll support the nominee but I’m focused on Wisconsin. I’m not focused on the top of the ticket.” And the – so Russ

Feingold’s campaign is already saying, “Oh, does Ron Johnson believe that women who want abortion to be put in jail?” So that’s the kind of thing we’re going to be hearing everywhere. Kelly Ayotte’s people saying, “She doesn’t plan to endorse anyone,” which is kind of funny because anyone – like, oh, who would it be that she would endorse? Of course she would only endorse one person, Donald Trump. So there’s going to be and already is all this Republican running away from the top of the ticket. However, they’re also in a difficult position, complicated position, because they don’t want to speak out against the nominee and alienate a lot of their own voters who really feel obviously very strongly about this guy.

So I’m just going to run through the top six races that I think – the Senate races – that really could go either way. In Ohio, Rob Portman, who’s the Republican incumbent, is up against the former governor, Ted Strickland. And this is a dead heat at this point, 38 to 38. Portman just said yesterday, “I’ll endorse the nominee unless something crazy happens.” Like if something crazy hasn’t already happened, I don’t know how he would define crazy.

North Carolina – again, a virtual tie. The incumbent, Richard Burr, is up by four points over a virtual unknown, Rebecca (sic) Ross, who was not the first choice of her party to run, a state representative. She worked for the ACLU for many years, which is not exactly necessarily a plus in a conservative state like North Carolina. And yet she’s – and in a state that leans Republican, she’s neck-in-neck with them.

Another one that’s a complete toss-up is in Pennsylvania, where the incumbent, Pat Toomey, is up against Katie McGinty, who just won a very hotly contested primary over Joe Sestak. She is considered a weak candidate. She was the choice of the establishment because Sestak was considered such a loose cannon and someone who couldn’t be told what to do, and Democrats were really complaining, this is our choice; we’re putting all this money into Katie McGinty, and yet she’s – she again is neck-in-neck with the incumbent, Pat Toomey, which does not look good for the Republican Party.

I already talked about Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold in Wisconsin and the New Hampshire race.

In Illinois, the incumbent, Mark Kirk, is trailing Tammy Duckworth, a congresswoman from Illinois, by about six points. And so that’s one that there are – again, anything can happen, but he’s probably the most endangered Republican.

In the House, there are – just in all of these, there are probably 25 seats that are truly in play. And again, the Democrats would have to get 30. So it would have to be a complete tidal wave for Democrats to take back the House, but this year that’s not totally out of the question.

So tell me what your questions are, what you’re wondering about.

QUESTION: You mentioned that she’s going down --


QUESTION: Oh, I’m sorry. You mentioned that she’s going down the ticket, and then talked about some women’s issues and – but I’m interested in whether an issue as esoteric, perhaps, as judicial appointments, which I think the chattering class believes is a hugely important issue in this election – can that affect the down-ticket campaign, or is it just too hard to articulate --

MS HENNEBERGER: I think that that is a big deal in the presidential race on both sides, with – because Hillary Clinton is perceived, I think correctly, as having – as being a candidate with a lot of weaknesses too, or we wouldn’t have seen the strength of Bernie Sanders that we’re still seeing. So at the top of the ticket on both sides, you’re going to hear Democrats arguing, “Okay, even if you don’t like Hillary, do you want to see Donald Trump’s Supreme Court?” And vice-versa.

Down since – since that – it’s not up to Congress to decide that – although, of course, the balance in the Senate does make it up, but I think that’s – I think that’s maybe one turn too many for people to make down-ticket. I’m not sure it will turn on that so much as it will on trying to tie – as I said before, in commercials and on the stump – trying to tie the Republicans who are running to anti-Muslim sentiment, anti-women sentiment, Mexicans, all the various comments that Trump has made. And people really like to have a divided government. That’s the other thing, is that I think people – Americans in general feel very comfortable having the checks and balances that have – having different branches of government controlled by different parties brings.


MODERATOR: Can we just have you say your name and your outlet before you ask a question?

QUESTION: Sure. I am Juliano Basile from Valor Economico; it’s a Brazilian financial newspaper. I am just wondering, if you are a Republican in Congress and you need to be re-elected, what should be your strategy? Are you going to take the Trump train, are you going to support Hillary, or are you going to play as an independent?

MS HENNEBERGER: You’re definitely not going to support Hillary, at least no one knows what you do in the voting booth, but you’re not going to come out for the Democratic nominee, I really don’t think. You can – you’ll probably try to run away from the question. You’ll probably do as many are doing, saying, “Of course I support my party.” And remember when Sharon Engle, who was running in Nevada, literally ran away from reporters on camera? I think you may see some of that. I think people are really not going to want to be tied to Trump, but neither can they say – I don’t think very many of them will say, “This is – would be really bad for the republic,” because they fear the backlash from their own people. So they’re in a pickle.

QUESTION: Thank you. I’m Jan from German Public Radio. You’re mentioning people have – doing awkward endorsements for Trump. Are there candidates really jumping onto the Trump train and really embracing him?

MS HENNEBERGER: Mostly not. I mean, there have been a couple who have – well, look at John McCain, okay? I mean, John McCain, here we have a man who was one of the first people to have been disrespected by Donald Trump very publicly saying, “I don’t like people who were captured,” okay? To someone who – I mean, we would have thought and did think that you could not say that in the Republican Party and survive, and here is John McCain who is the antithesis of Donald Trump on every conceivable level and who disagrees with him – to the extent that we know what Donald Trump’s positions are, who disagrees with him very strongly, especially on national security, saying he endorses him.

So now that – I’m sure it’s the weakest possible endorsement, but in his state, because immigration is such a big issue in Arizona, I think he’s one who can’t afford to run away as fully as we think he would love to, so.

QUESTION: I’m Marcel Calfat with Radio Canada. But in today’s papers, he’s quoted behind closed doors, McCain saying Trump’s going to hurt him because of the Hispanic population in his state. So he endorsed him at the same time as thinking, “I’m going to have a hard time.”


QUESTION: He said that he’s in the race of his life because it’s Trump.

MS HENNEBERGER: Oh, he certainly is. That’s what I mean. That’s the tension. I mean, we did a piece a week ago saying – our columnist Patricia Murphy saying Trump has fenced in McCain. He’s made it very difficult for him because he can’t come out against him but neither can he embrace him because they’re – the feelings are so high on both sides. I think that probably McCain will survive this race, but a lot can happen obviously between now and the election, so.

QUESTION: Thank you. Sorry, Keith Boag with Canadian Broadcasting. So just to be devil’s advocate, what is the evidence that Trump is wrong when he says he’s going to redraw the electoral map and that Republicans will win in places that they haven’t won in decades? And I am playing devil’s advocate there – (laughter) – but is – have you looked at this question to see whether there’s any truth to that at all? Thank you.

MS HENNEBERGER: Well, we don’t know and it’s, in a sense, unknowable, but I’m not someone who rules out a Trump victory. I know that a lot of Democrats feel that this is going to be a landslide. I think it – I think that Clinton could lose. That doesn’t mean she’s going to lose, obviously, but I think it’s true that he can – he, Trump, can pull Democratic votes, especially because she’s not so popular in all quarters, both among – among the liberal wing of her party but also some of the more conservative Democrats, and there still are some, even if they’re not well represented in Congress.

So I think that the old – like what used to be Reagan Democrats, to the extent there are any of those left in the Democratic Party, I think that’s the kind of person Trump could pull. And we’ve just never seen a candidate quite like him who has succeeded on this level, so we don’t know, but because – also because he’s such a chameleon. I mean, if you hear him and he’s not talking about immigration that day, he can sound like a Democrat. I mean, he says don’t touch Social Security; he says we have to take care of people on the health care front; he says protectionism, which appeals to a lot of union members I could see feeling that he’s going to – when he promises he’s going to bring all these jobs back, I’m not sure how he thinks he can unilaterally reverse globalization. But those promises appeal to a lot of people, so we don’t know.

When you put together the protectionist, isolationist impulses with the kind of moderate, even Democratic-sounding promises plus the – I won’t even call them dog whistles to racism, xenophobia, misogyny that appeal to another kind of person, I don’t know. It’s possible, I think.

MODERATOR: If we could take a question from New York. Ready for --

MODERATOR: New York, go ahead, please.

QUESTION: Okay. Hi, Igor Borisenko with the TASS Russian News Agency. With Trump a presumptive nominee, what about the magic number, 1,237? How important would be the allocation of the votes during the next primaries? What – and actually, could you shed some light how the allocation would happen when Trump is the only runner, actually?

MS HENNEBERGER: Well, those Californians were so excited that they were going to get to matter for once and now they don’t. So really, the primaries are over now, I think, on both sides. There of course is a difference in that in the Democratic Party, not only is Bernie Sanders staying in, but he – his goal at this point is obviously to influence the platform, influence Hillary Clinton, try to continue to keep her to the left. Whereas on the right, since Reince Priebus has said he’s the presumptive nominee and the other two candidates, Cruz and Kasich, have dropped out, we’re done. I mean, I can’t imagine now a scenario in which there’s an open, contested, brokered convention.

So, no, the primaries going forward really don’t matter, I’m sorry to say. And I think that this election has shone a lot of light on how – what a jumble our whole system of primaries and caucuses is. I mean, I have a college-age daughter who just voted in the caucuses in Colorado and what she describes is – was just a mess. And you hear this in so many situations in these caucuses, where in her voting place she said it was complete pandemonium and at the last minute they shouted out, “If you’re not in your corners in five minutes, your vote doesn’t count.” So there was a stampede and then they heard the next day, “Well, those votes aren’t even binding.” So she was quite – and I was sorry, of course, because you want your children to become – to have a sense of civic responsibility and to vote and to feel that your vote matters. And she said, “They announced the next day that – so I did that for – I went around and was in this stampede and I was there for three hours for nothing.”

So there is that sense this year, because – I think because on the Republican side that there was all this uncertainty about an open convention and whether the vote – whether the popular vote would really count for much. And on the Democratic side, all this new renewed attention on the superdelegates and is – on both sides, the question was: Is the system rigged? And the answer is yes, the parties control the system, but I think this year has started a big conversation about how both parties might want to reform the process, because they were so criticized this year, and I think rightly so.

QUESTION: Yeah. I heard an analysis at CNN that Trump needs to turn only four states. It’s like he needs to keep the same results as 2012 and he only needs to turn out like Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, and maybe Michigan. So what do you think it’s going to be his strategy? Is he going to try to make alliance with politicians over there? Or his strategy is going to be the one to make national speeches and gather as most voters as he can?

MS HENNEBERGER: I don't think he’s going to be going for the endorsements of politicians. We see what happened in Indiana, for example, with the governor there, Mike Pence, endorsing Cruz, and no one cared. And that’s very much in line with the feeling – the antiestablishment feeling this year. So I think Donald Trump will be Donald Trump. And the funny thing is that even though he says he’s not a typical politician, he has a different position depending on who he’s talking to, sometimes several different ones in any given day, which is very much a typical politician. So I think we will see Donald Trump be Donald Trump, maybe a little toned down in terms of taking on every group in the world.

But we’re definitely going to see some very over-the-top attacks on Hillary Clinton, and she on him as well. So I don’t know if he has sent back the wedding gift they gave him, the Clintons gave him, but I mean this is really going to be a very nasty battle. I think that he will – I think he’ll do the thing that, again, is very typical, which is try to appeal to racial fears and to people who feel that people are coming in from elsewhere and getting a free ride and taking their jobs. And then when he’s criticized for that, he’ll say, “Oh no, those are my best – Mexicans are my best friends,” and whoever he’s just attacked, they’re his best friends. So he’ll say both things and try to appeal, of course, to all.

MODERATOR: Should we take one from New York, please?

QUESTION: From Slovenian Press Agency. Before you said he’s a kind of a chameleon, Donald Trump, right? So we can expect that he’s going to be moving to the middle during the general campaign. But how do you think that’s going to play with social conservatives in the Republican Party? I mean, is their hatred or fear of Hillary Clinton be stronger motivator than, I don't know, the feeling of betrayal from when he switches position on, I don't know, abortion, things like that?

MS HENNEBERGER: I think that social conservatives are – have been very upset about Donald Trump for a really long time. Those were his biggest critics within the Republican Party. And I think they have already lost the argument for this cycle within their party. I mean, Donald Trump is not a national security conservative, he’s not a social conservative, and he’s not an economic conservative, and the majority of Republicans said they did not care. Now – so – but social conservatives, above all – because as you say, he’s had several different opinions on abortion, and I – most social conservatives I know don’t believe that he is – don’t believe him when he says he’s pro-life, don’t even – he did not even know that it’s not a pro-life position to say that women who have an abortion should go to jail. He had to be told that, because he came across very much as someone who’s never really thought about that issue much, one way or the other, even though he says he’s on all sides of it.

So I – we ran an interesting story the other day before the Indiana election that showed some anti-Trump messages. It was a survey that looked at people who had seen certain anti-Trump ads and how they voted versus people who had not seen the ads. So it’s not asking people what will you do, but it’s measuring the actual behavior, how they did vote after seeing that or not seeing that. So there’s a control group. And it found that men who support Trump could not be dissuaded by any anti-Trump ad, any anti-Trump information. Women could be dissuaded. Especially powerful for them were those ads you probably have said with the women just saying all the things that – some of the things that Donald Trump has said about women over the years.

But when you say, “Well, women can be moved,” then you say “What women?” So few women are – I mean, that’s Donald Trump’s big problem is women voters and minority voters. I mean, back to your question, you were saying how to – they only have to win four states, four more states, but that means they have to keep what they had before, whereas I would be shocked if Donald Trump does as well with Hispanics even as Mitt Romney did, and as we know, that was very poorly.

So, yes?

QUESTION: Yeah. Just one – I think my point was – it was a long question. Do you see a social conservative – do you see any danger of them staying at home, not coming to the polling places?

MS HENNEBERGER: Very much so. I mean, in recent days I’ve heard Republicans say they’re not voting because they couldn’t possibly vote for either candidate. And I’ve also heard some Republicans say they would vote for Hillary Clinton – some serious Republicans. I mean, Mark Salter, who for years was a top aide to John McCain and helped him write his books, has said he’s – he put on Twitter, “I’m with her.” So you are seeing some very serious conservatives saying that they would prefer to see Hillary Clinton. I mean, that’s tough to measure at this point, right?

And also, remember that in ’08, right after the – right after Barack Obama won the nomination over Hillary Clinton, a lot of Clinton supporters said, “I’ll never vote for Barack Obama; I’ll stay home or I’ll vote for the Republican rather than vote for him,” because feelings were so raw. And in the end, almost all of them did vote for Obama.

So we don’t – it’s early, and we don’t know how he’s going to be reaching out. Like, I heard Mark Levin, conservative radio host, last night saying, “He’s got to convince me that this wouldn’t be the disaster I think it would be. I’m open to it, but I’m unconvinced.” And I think that’s where a lot of conservatives are.


QUESTION: Thank you once again. Talking about the elections for the Congress, seeing Trump’s success with special kind of voters, do you think the other candidates can harvest this success, they can be on the Trump train and be Trump’s guy? Or is he so special, people only like Trump and they wouldn’t – don’t care about the other ones?

MS HENNEBERGER: I think if we’re wrong that it hurts – in other words, if Trump does better than we think he might – if it’s – if there is a Trump train, then of course that would help Republicans down-ticket. And there are places, especially the House races, where those Republicans will, in very Republican-leaning districts or even slightly red districts, would I’m sure feel very comfortable supporting him and where there’s no dissonance at all.

Where I’m from, in a very small town in southern Illinois that is very conservative. Even though Illinois is a blue state, it’s – I’m from one of seven counties that went for Alan Keyes over Barack Obama in the Senate race, if that tells you how conservative. I’m sure that’s Trump country, right?


QUESTION: Just a follow-up. But you just explained that Trump isn’t really conservative, he’s more --

MS HENNEBERGER: Isn’t really?

QUESTION: A conservative candidate. He is more – sounds more Democratic. So perhaps some of your neighbors would say, no, I don’t like this guy because he is not in my value range or something like that.

MS HENNEBERGER: You would think that, and yet so far that hasn’t hurt him with Republicans. I mean, I think that – so you have, like, the National Review Republicans, right? I mean, the more, like, intelligent – the elite Republicans who are appalled, people who have maybe worked in the Republican Party who are very upset. And then you have the rank and file, and they’re all over the map, so I don’t want to say there’s any one feeling that they have.

But the most probably surprising thing about Donald Trump is how impervious his supporters are to learning that his views don’t mesh with theirs. At – so I was covering Trump before I took my current job. I was – that’s what I was doing. And I would say to people at these rallies, “Are – do you consider yourself a conservative?” Yes. “Do you consider yourself a strong conservative?” Yes. “If you take immigration out of the equation, what did you just hear him say that was conservative?” I literally had no people who could tell me something he had – “Well, I think he’s very pro-military.” But he said we shouldn’t have gone into Iraq. But he said we should be so strong that we never have to go to war. “Well, but I think he’s really for the vets. I just feel that.” There was nothing, and yet that did not make them feel that he wasn’t their guy, on the contrary.

Voting is so emotional. (Laughter.) Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I have two questions. One’s quick: I heard Norm Ornstein, for whom I have a lot of respect, say yesterday Trump starts with a base of 45 to 46 percent. What do you think of those numbers?

MS HENNEBERGER: Oh gosh. I mean, I can’t take on Norm’s numbers.

QUESTION: Sure, yeah.

MS HENNEBERGER: I think it’s very difficult to know, but he starts – they both start with such high unfavorables. That that makes it unpredictable too in terms of how many people are going to stay home or cross over. Some people – it goes the other way too. We’ve mostly talked about suppressing the conservative vote, but there are also Democrats who, even against Donald Trump, won’t vote for Hillary Clinton. I suspect that number is smaller than the Republicans who won’t vote for Trump, but we don’t know that.

So --

QUESTION: Also, my understanding is that typically once the pivot happens from the primary campaign to the general election campaign, then the campaign structure of the candidate who’s the nominee moves over to the election structure, but that there’s noise that that won’t happen this time or that there will be resistance to that this time on the Republican side. Can you talk about that? I mean, is it really possible somebody else will run Trump’s campaign, that he would let that? Or on the – from the other point of view, is it really possible that Republicans would let him run his own campaign?

MS HENNEBERGER: I don’t think there – when it comes to Donald Trump, I don’t think there’s any letting involved. I think no matter what they do, he’s going to be himself because he can’t do otherwise. And I think he will end up running his own campaign no matter who’s officially in charge of it.

So – and you have to say, he’s been a lot savvier than the establishment he’s run against, so why should – on that level, why should he turn it over to a bunch of people who have completely lost – so lost the faith of their party that some of the pro-Trump feeling is you hear people say again and again, “My party has lied to me. My party has disappointed me. If Donald Trump doesn’t agree with me on everything, I say let’s blow it up.” So there’s really that anger.


QUESTION: Okay. Hi. What is your opinion about the younger voters and the independent voters? How these groups can vote in November, in your opinion?

MS HENNEBERGER: The younger voters and the --

QUESTION: Independents. Independents.

MS HENNEBERGER: Independents. That’s one place – the independent votes – because independents couldn’t vote in a lot of these primaries – that I – my guess is that a lot of them would support Clinton over Trump. But again, that’s really to be seen. I think with younger voters, I saw an awful – all I can say is I saw more younger voters out supporting Trump than I did Clinton. Now, of course, most of the young people were over at the Sanders rallies, so we’ll see when it comes to the general what happens. But I don’t know that younger voters will turn – I don’t think younger voters will turn out for Hillary the way they would have for Bernie, especially when you hear them saying, “We’re in this movement with or without the Democratic Party.” So that same thing I just said, that feeling of, “My party has lied to me; let’s blow it up” – there’s that feeling in the Democratic Party as well, which is why you see the strength of Sanders and especially from young people.

Did you have a question?

QUESTION: Yes, I have two questions. Yeah. Sorry for my pronunciation. My first question is do you think the deep division created by Mr. Trump during the primaries will remain after the election even if Mr. Trump is elected?

Another question is that last month Mr. Ari Fleischer, adviser to former President Bush – he said that if Trump wins the nominee – the nomination of the party, the definition of Republic Party – Republican Party will be rewritten. How do you think about – the definition has been rewritten or not?

MS HENNEBERGER: Well, Michael Reagan, the former president’s son, said – tweeted the other day that the Reagan Republicanism is dead, Reagan – the Reagan’s Republican Party is finished. And I know that a lot of people do feel that way, that the party – that Trump is already completely redefining the party. Then you hear other Republicans actually comparing Trump to Reagan, but that’s, again, offensive to other conservatives who don’t see it that way at all, especially in the sense of decorum, because whether you agreed with Reagan or not, he certainly had a lot of respect for the office and conducted himself in a way that I don’t really think can be compared to Donald Trump’s presentation.

But how – again, how all that’s going to play out – I think there’s an argument to be made that both parties are rewriting their histories right now in a way that you haven’t seen in a really long time, even at a time when demographics really favor Democrats, right? I mean, there are a couple of – if we didn’t know who was running, on the one hand we would say it’s very unlikely for a Democrat to win a third term in the White House, and on the other hand we would say that the changing demographics in America really favor the Democratic Party. But what that means in this year when so much has happened that’s unexpected, we can’t say.


QUESTION: Ernst Kernmayar of ORF Austrian TV and radio. The fact that the two candidates have so high unfavorables – what does it mean for the campaign? Is it the race for Independents, or is it more a race to expect for the core party followers?

And the second question: Donald Trump is now reaching out for the Sanders followers very strongly. Do you think that’s a successful strategy?

MS HENNEBERGER: You’d have to think no, but yet I – I mean, I haven’t been able to measure that. But you do hear Sanders supporters, again, say they would vote for Trump before they would vote for her. Will they still feel that way in November is the question we can’t answer. And as to whether they’ll – this is a turn out the base election or go for Independents election, I don’t know that – those have been the two models, right? Either you strongly – you just try to turn out every last member of your own party, you really – the thinking has been you still can never win the White House without getting some crossover votes.

I think that they’ll both be going for those crossover votes, and because of the perceived toxicity of both candidates, they’ll both get some crossover votes. I mean, this is going to be the most mixed-up election we can think of, so I don’t think it’s of – it’s going to be an appeal to Independents in the usual sense of both trying to be very moderate. I think it’s going to be a high-decibel, high-anger, high – an election fueled by fear, actually, on all sides and over the Supreme Court. Don’t – with the pitch being, “Don’t you fear the Supreme Court of this candidate or this candidate,” but it will be based on those crossover votes and bringing potentially – on Trump, bringing new people into the system. I don’t think Hillary – anyone thinks Hillary Clinton will bring new people into the voting booth.

MODERATOR: Should we do New York, please?

QUESTION: Good morning. Hajime Matsuura of Japan Sankei. You mentioned – described Trump as a chameleon, so could you put yourself in his shoes? Why did he at the beginning decided to run as a Republican, not as an Independent or a Democrat?

MS HENNEBERGER: I could never --

QUESTION: Question – if I may – excuse me --


QUESTION: Excuse me, second question: U.S. media has been criticized even by the President for over-portraying Trump. Do you think that claim stands well?

MS HENNEBERGER: I’ll start with that. Yes, I think that it – well, first of all, when people say “the media,” that means a lot of different things. So I don’t really like being thrown in with cable shows that are running every single word out of Donald Trump’s mouth, because that’s not what I do. So all media is not created equal. It also rubbed me the wrong way to hear the President telling us about how important it is to do meaty journalism when I see this Administration trying to keep the American press from doing meaty journalism, so I’ll just say that.

On the other hand, yes, Donald Trump started with 100 percent, practically, name ID, and I think it was very unfair – you’ve never seen another race in which every single speech the man gave was run in its entirety on cable television. I think that gave him a crazy advantage. So – and of course it was for ratings. So I do think that some of the criticism is warranted, yes.

And I forget what the first question was.

QUESTION: About him being a Democrat --

MS HENNEBERGER: Oh, why is he – why did he – put myself in his shoes. So I cannot put myself in Donald Trump’s shoes. (Laughter.) But he has said that he has – and we know that he has donated to people in both parties as a businessman, and he has definitely – if you believe nothing else from Donald Trump, we can believe that that’s how business gets done, and he has certainly shown that to be true.

His views – I don’t know the – how his views have developed. But his views do seem to mostly be Democratic with the exception of his views on immigration and on trade. So both the Republican and the Democratic parties are much more free trade than he is. So – which, again, mixes up the alliances. But I can’t really say why he decided to be – to run as a Republican or to register as a Republican. He – again, with the exception of those two issues, sounds more like a Democrat.


QUESTION: Hi, I’m Lauri Tankler with the Estonian Public Broadcasting. I have another media question. You – with the – with your outlet, Roll Call, mostly focused on Congress. What’s your strategy going to be come this fall in the terms of how to cover the races? Is it mostly going to be focusing on the Senate being maybe in play, or are you focusing on the question of how to cover Donald Trump without that sort of excess that has been attributed to the media until now?

MS HENNEBERGER: Well, I think on the other side of that equation, to ignore the Trump phenomenon would – that’s – that – it’s one of the most interesting stories of our lifetime and the most surprising. I mean, as a print journalist, you’re not – it’s just a completely different situation. So we wouldn’t be in the situation of deciding whether or not to run the whole speech, and we would be reporting on him and every other candidate critically, so I don’t really feel that an excess is a problem, although I’m sure some would disagree with me. I think – I mean, Roll Call really covers Senate and congressional races in a way that other outlets typically don’t. So – and those two stories are quite connected, as we’re talking about today. So how Trump does will affect the down-ballot races. So there – it’s not – you can’t write about one without writing about the other, but we will continue to focus very strongly on the down-ballot races.

MODERATOR: So we do New York for the final question, please.

QUESTION: Hello. Argemino Barro from Capital Radio, Spain. It seems to me that somehow this phenomenon in the United States this year, polarization, has happened in Europe similarly in the past few years – populist movements in the south, left-wing; in the north, right-wing – the UK, France, Germany, so on. So my question is, do you think that Donald Trump incarnates this phenomenon, like after the recession people is frustrated? And most importantly, even like the cases in Europe, do you think, like – did anybody like forecast it, forecast or expect it, like, the phenomenon in the U.S., saying like, “Look, the salaries are being down; economy, yeah, we’re creating employment, but it’s less quality, people is very angry to the parties. We can have the similar phenomenon as in Europe.” Did anybody, like, think of that, like, a year ago? Thank you.

MS HENNEBERGER: A year ago – and I have just been looking back at things I was writing about a year ago – a year ago we were saying, “Oh, this is going to be an election over inequality. Poverty is going to have a focus in this race that it hasn’t had in decades.” So that turned out to be partly right. I mean, I think that really fueled the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. As far as did people see – there has always been a lot of heat or – in recent years in the immigration debate. Did anyone see that as becoming such a top-tier issue, I would say – in this race? I would say no. But again, Donald Trump is not a politician in a purely right-wing – he’s not like Marine Le Pen; he – because so many of his views are in – more in line with our Democratic Party. So he’s not all right-wing; he’s kind of a combo plate in a way that is not – it has elements of the influences you’re talking about seeing in Europe, but it’s not only that. So --

MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

MS HENNEBERGER: Thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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