Roy Exum: This Ain't Burger King

Monday, February 10, 2020 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I think America stooped to a new low last week. At the beginning of President Trump’s State of the Union Address, he shunned Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s obviously outstretched hand. That infuriated me. Then Speaker Pelosi, hinting her Cruella De Vil moment that was yet to come, immediately dropped to Trump’s carefully-plotted low by shunning the ages-blessed introduction to our president. She should have said, by rote when one is Speaker of the House and representative of all of America, “It is my high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you the President of the United States."

But, no, she dropped “privilege” and “honor” like a stone and instead cheekily offered, "Members of Congress, the President of the United States.” When she later ripped up her copy of Trump’s speech, it was conniving and malicious. This isn’t the way I want our country, not how we are to act to one another. Last week I received a hysterically funny email video that I would love to share but the profanity and vulgarities it contains prohibit my sharing it live. Yet the gist of the 43-second tape speaks to who I really am.

“Hey,” this bearded and unkempt – and intensely admirable -- redneck shouts at the camera. “Guess what? I didn’t vote for Obama … couldn’t stand him … but in the eight years I put up with him, not one time did I ever allow myself of wanting to see him fail … why? it’s simple …. because like it or not, the little (expletive) was my President! … And for all your dumb-*** liberals and Democrats who want to attack Trump … who want to see him fail … that want to see him impeached … that want to do all this BS to d---- well take this country down to its d--- knees … well I got news for you (expletives), this ain’t Burger King … and you ain’t always ‘gonna have it your way!’”

Again, I just love it. And with the huge core of Americans in their shirt-sleeves who got Trump elected in 2016 feeling the same way – but now refusing to put up with the left’s audacious behavior and fighting back – this huge army of people will not only put Trump back in the White House for another four-year term, they’ll also flip the House out of the Democrats' hands, vote Republican in every state and local race, and all because the Democrats are acting so badly.

The problem with that? Much of America can’t stand the Republicans either. Seriously, look at what they have created in Chattanooga – Chuck “Do Nothing” Fleischmann is repeatedly named as one of the worst “followers” in our Congress and he’s breezing to be elected for a fifth term. He could be the poster child for “term limits” yet Chuck is such “an obeying little soldier” for the GOP, the party will not allow anybody with promise or gumption or moxie to threaten their puppet. Really. We all know that and, while Chuck is a nice man, the stagnation tells you exactly why we can expect nothing for our Washington representative for two more years.

Tennessee is worse. Senate designee Bill Hagerty came straight out of the party’s cookie cutter and that he left his job as the Ambassador to Japan to serve “his state” is hogwash. He hasn’t even lived in Tennessee for many of his later years. UN Ambassador Nikki Haley is doing a fundraiser for the millionaire Hagerty on Feb. 18 in his quest to replace Lamar Alexander in the Senate. The consolation is that for $2,800 donation you can get a picture taken with Nikki. Trouble is, Haley is on the first flight out when the music stops and we are left with a somewhat pitiful “Party appointee,” and, yes, who already stinks of the GOP stagnation. The truth is that Haley would adore Nashville trauma surgeon Manny Sethi far more than the vanilla pawn the Republicans have carefully prescribed. A Sethi win in the primary is very plausible, a fitting rebuke to the state GOP, and – this is key – the best thing that could happen to the real people of Tennessee.

Meanwhile the Democrats trying to beat Trump are the worst band of misfits you’ll find north of the Mexican border. It's been just six weeks since the election year bloomed and, as James Carville said last week, the Democratic Party is clearly about to implode. While the Republicans have gotten about as enticing as a vacant amusement park, Carville said he believes his party has lost all focus of the people its represents. I believe the same thing has happened to the Republicans and know that’s the case in Chattanooga.

Candidly, I am neither a Republican nor Democrat. I am a conservative, espousing to be a Christian, and I am a deeply concerned American.

So here’s what I want you to do. My favorite liberal commentator or expert is Carville, the Louisiana marvel who I find is as funny as he is noted for telling the truth. He came out forcefully as a critic of his own Democrats last week and in this enjoyable follow-up interview with Sean Iling on, I found much of what he said was … I must admit … about more than just the Democrats.

* * *


By Sean Feb 7, 2020, 9:50am EST

James Carville is “scared to death” of the November 2020 election.

In a rant on MSNBC that went viral on Tuesday evening, the longtime Democratic strategist vented his concerns about the party’s prospects for beating Donald Trump, taking particular aim at the party’s leftward lurch.

“Eighteen percent of the population controls 52 Senate seats,” Carville said. “We’ve got to be a majoritarian party. The urban core is not gonna get it done. What we need is power! Do you understand? That’s what this is about.”

His diatribe took place against the backdrop of an Iowa caucus that had fallen into chaos and amid a rancorous ongoing debate among Democrats over the party’s direction. He took particular aim at Senator Bernie Sanders, who he fears could lead the party to defeat in November.

Bernie Sanders leads Donald Trump in polls, even when you remind people he’s a socialist.

Carville’s lament distills a concern among the Democratic Party’s establishment: Will ideological purity and playing to the base cost the Democrats victory in November? For Carville, at least, “We have one moral imperative, and that’s to beat Donald Trump.” That his comments went viral speaks to the sense of urgency among Democrats, even as it only fuels the debate over the direction of the party.

I spoke with Carville this week by phone. We discussed where he thinks the Democrats went wrong, what it will take to build a majoritarian party in this climate, and why he doesn’t have a lot of confidence in the current field of candidates.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

SEAN ILLING -- Why are you “scared to death” about the 2020 election?

JAMES CARVILLE -- Look, the turnout in the Iowa caucus was below what we expected, what we wanted. Trump’s approval rating is probably as high as it’s been. This is very bad. And now it appears the party can’t even count votes. What the hell am I supposed to think? I’ll just say it this way: The fate of the world depends on the Democrats getting their (poop) together and winning in November. We have to beat Trump. And so far, I don’t like what I see. And a lot of people I talk to feel the same way.

SEAN ILLING -- What’s gone wrong? Who’s responsible?

JAMES CARVILLE -- I don’t know. We just had an election in 2018. We did great. We talked about everything we needed to talk about, and we won. And now it’s like we’re losing our damn minds. Someone’s got to step their game up here.

SEAN ILLING -- What does that mean?

JAMES CARVILLE -- In 2018, Democrats recruited really strong candidates, really qualified candidates. And the party said, “This is what we’re going to talk about and we’re going to keep talking about it.” And you know what happened? We (expletive) won. We didn’t get distracted, we didn’t get deflected. The purpose of a political party is to acquire power. All right? Without power, nothing matters.

SEAN ILLING -- Give me an example of what you mean by distractions.

JAMES CARVILLE -- We have candidates on the debate stage talking about open borders and decriminalizing illegal immigration. They’re talking about doing away with nuclear energy and fracking. You’ve got Bernie Sanders talking about letting criminals and terrorists vote from jail cells. It doesn’t matter what you think about any of that, or if there are good arguments — talking about that is not how you win a national election. It’s not how you become a majoritarian party.

For (expletive) sake, we’ve got Trump at Davos talking about cutting Medicare and no one in the party has the sense to plaster a picture of him up there sucking up to the global elites, talking about cutting taxes for them while he’s talking about cutting Medicare back home. Jesus, this is so obvious and so easy and I don’t see any of the candidates taking advantage of it.

The Republicans have destroyed their party and turned it into a personality cult, but if anyone thinks they can’t win, they’re out of their damn minds.

SEAN ILLING -- I wouldn’t endorse everything every Democrat is doing or saying, but are they really destroying the party? What does that even mean?

JAMES CARVILLE -- Look, Bernie Sanders isn’t a Democrat. He’s never been a Democrat. He’s an ideologue. And I’ve been clear about this: If Bernie is the nominee, I’ll vote for him. No question. I’ll take an ideological fanatic over a career criminal any day. But he’s not a Democrat.

SEAN ILLING -- You know people are going to read this and say, “Carville backed Clinton in 2016. So did the Democratic establishment. They blew it in 2016. Why should I care what any of them think now?”

JAMES CARVILLE -- People will say anything. And first of all, Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million. And secondly, the Russians put Jill Stein in front of Clinton’s campaign to depress votes. And thirdly, the New York Times a week before an election, assured its readers that the Russians were not even trying to help Trump. And then they wrote 15,000 stories about Hillary’s emails.

But back to Sanders — what I’m saying is the Democratic Party isn’t Bernie Sanders, whatever you think about Sanders.

SEAN ILLING – A lot of threads there. First, a lot of people don’t trust the Democratic Party, don’t believe in the party, for reasons you’ve already mentioned, and so they just don’t care about that. They want change. And I guess the other thing I’d say is, 2016 scrambled our understanding of what’s possible in American politics.

Are we really sure Sanders can’t win?

JAMES CARVILLE -- Who the hell knows? But here’s what I do know: Sanders might get 280 electoral votes and win the presidency and maybe we keep the House. But there’s no chance in hell we’ll ever win the Senate with Sanders at the top of the party defining it for the public. Eighteen percent of the country elects more than half of our senators. That’s the deal, fair or not. So long as [Mitch] McConnell runs the Senate, it’s game over. There’s no chance we’ll change the courts, and nothing will happen, and he’ll just be sitting up there screaming in the microphone about the revolution. The purpose of a political party is to acquire power. All right? Without power, nothing matters.

SEAN ILLING -- What’s the answer?

JAMES CARVILLE -- By framing, repeating, and delivering a coherent, meaningful message that is relevant to people’s lives and having the political skill not to be sucked into every rabbit hole that somebody puts in front of you.

The Democratic Party is the party of African Americans. It’s becoming a party of educated suburbanites, particularly women. It’s the party of Latinos. We’re a party of immigrants. Most of the people aren’t into all this distracting (poop) about open borders and letting prisoners vote. They don’t care. They have lives to lead. They have kids. They have parents that are sick. That’s what we have to talk about. That’s all we should talk about.

It’s not that this stuff doesn’t matter. And it’s not that we shouldn’t talk about race. We have to talk about race. It’s about how you deliver and frame the message. I thought Cory Booker’s “baby bonds” plan was great and the kind of thing the party could connect to people’s actual lives.

We have one moral imperative here, and that’s beating Trump. Nothing else matters.

“The fate of the world depends on the Democratic Party getting its shit together and winning in November”

SEAN ILLING -- So your complaint is basically that the party has tacked too far to the left?

JAMES CARVILLE -- They’ve tacked off the damn radar screen. And look, I don’t consider myself a moderate or a centrist. I’m a liberal. But not everything has to be on the left-right continuum. I love Warren’s day care plan just like I love Booker’s baby bonds. That’s the kind of stuff our candidates should explain and define clearly and repeatedly for voters and not get diverted by whatever the hell is in the air that day.

Here’s another stupid thing: Democrats talking about free college tuition or debt forgiveness. I’m not here to debate the idea. What I can tell you is that people all over this country worked their way through school, sent their kids to school, paid off student loans. They don’t want to hear this (poop.) And you saw Warren confronted by an angry voter over this. It’s just not a winning message.

The real argument here is that some people think there’s a real yearning for a left-wing revolution in   this country, and if we just appeal to the people who feel that, we’ll grow and excite them and we’ll win. But there’s a word a lot of people hate that I love: politics. It means building coalitions to win elections. It means sometimes having to sit back and listen to what people think and framing your message accordingly.

That’s all I care about. Right now the most important thing is getting this career criminal who’s stealing everything that isn’t nailed down out of the White House. We can’t do anything for anyone if we don’t start there and then acquire more power.

Can I say one more thing about the cultural disconnect?


JAMES CARVILLE -- I want to give you an example of the problem here. A few weeks ago, Binyamin Appelbaum, an economics writer for the New York Times, posted a snarky tweet about how LSU canceled classes for the National Championship game. And then he said, do the “Warren/Sanders free public college proposals include LSU, or would it only apply to actual schools?”

You know how (expletive) patronizing that is to people in the South or in the middle of the country? First, LSU has an unusually high graduation rate, but that’s not the point. It’s the (expletive) smugness. This is from a guy who lives in New York and serves on the Times editorial board and there’s not a single person he knows that doesn’t pat him on the back for that kind of tweet. He’s so (expletive) smart.

Appelbaum doesn’t speak for the Democratic Party, but he does represent the urbanist mindset. We can’t win the Senate by looking down at people. The Democratic Party has to drive a narrative that doesn’t give off vapors that we’re smarter than everyone or culturally arrogant.

SEAN ILLING -- A lot of Democratic candidates don’t talk like that. Warren doesn’t talk like that. Sanders doesn’t talk like that. Buttigieg doesn’t talk like that. Cory Booker never talked like that.

JAMES CARVILLE -- Warren knows her stuff, and I’m particularly hard on her, because she was the star pupil, the one who was smart, had a good story. But I think she gets distracted and loses her core anti-corruption message, which resonates. With a lot of these candidates, their consultants are telling them, “If you doubt it, just go left. We got to get the nomination.”

And then Biden gets in and blocks out good candidates like Cory Booker or Michael Bennet or Steve Bullock by occupying this mainstream lane. There just isn’t enough oxygen and they couldn’t get any traction. But these are serious people, professional people, and they could’ve delivered a winning message.

SEAN ILLING -- Are you confident that any of the remaining candidates can beat Trump?

JAMES CARVILLE -- I don’t know, I just don’t know. I’m hoping that someone gets knocked off their horse on the road to Damascus.

SEAN ILLING -- Buttigieg seems to model the sort of candidate you think can win.

JAMES CARVILLE -- Mayor Pete has to demonstrate over the course of a campaign that he can excite and motivate arguably the most important constituents in the Democratic Party: African Americans. These voters are a hell of a lot more important than a bunch of 25-year-olds shouting everyone down on Twitter.

SEAN ILLING -- I take all your points about power and the Senate and the need to be a majoritarian party. I just wonder where the limits are, especially in this media ecosystem where even the best Democratic messaging gets deformed and bastardized in right-wing media and thus never reaches the people Democrats need to reach, or at least doesn’t reach enough of them.

JAMES CARVILLE -- I think the other side wants us to think there are no swing voters, that we’re doomed and it doesn’t even matter if you have a message because you can’t reach anyone. I think that’s (BS). I think that’s a wholly incorrect view of American politics. But look, if no one’s persuadable, then let’s just have the revolution.

Falling into despair won’t help anyone, though. I mean, you can curse the darkness or you can light a candle. I’m getting a (expletive) welding torch. Okay?

* * *

One lingering question: Sean mentioned “the right-wing media” when that has hardly been my daily experience, no?

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