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Ralph Begleiter moderates a discussion featuring Stephanie Cutter and Steve Schmidt.
2:49 p.m., Nov. 20, 2014--As famed philosopher and Baseball Hall of
Famer Yogi Berra once observed, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
During a University of Delaware National Agenda speaker series
discussion held Wednesday evening, Nov. 19, in Mitchell Hall, political
strategists Stephanie Cutter and Steve Schmidt noted that, far from
being over with the midterm results, the current political slugfest for
control of Congress and the White House in 2016 is just beginning to
The final discussion in the 2014 National Agenda series, with “Battle
for Congress” as its theme, was moderated by Ralph Begleiter, director
of UD’s Center for Political Communication.
Begleiter introduced Cutter, who was deputy campaign manager for
President Barack Obama in 2012, and Schmidt, a UD alumnus and veteran of
several national election campaigns, as “two people who have spent
decades running political campaigns, winning them and losing them.”
Cutter said the parties of American presidents who are in their sixth
year in office tend to lose seats in the midterm elections, and that
Republicans enjoyed a playing field that featured a great deal of “red”
A major shortcoming for Democrats this year was their failure to
express a unified vision on critical issues, including the economy,
“We needed a stronger message,” she said. “We didn’t have one on the
number one issue with which voters were concerned, the economy.”
Cutter also noted that while Democrats were successful in the 2008
and 2012 presidential elections, the same strategies that worked then
did not play out as well in this year’s midterm elections.
“You can’t run the race that was run before,” Cutter said.
“Republicans learned their lessons going into the midterm elections.”
Whatever the reasons for their midterm losses, Democrats will need to do a lot better in the 2016 race, Cutter said.
“The election is only two years away, but in presidential politics,
that is a lifetime,” Cutter said. “It’s an exciting time, and we are
trying to pick up the pieces and improve.”
Schmidt received a warm welcome after being introduced by Begleiter
as one of the reasons Bloomberg News once called UD the “epicenter of
Begleiter noted that Schmidt, who is vice president of the public
relations firm Edelman and a senior fellow at the Center for Political
Communication, is a UD political science graduate. A leading
international political strategist, Schmidt has been a top adviser to
President George W. Bush, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2008
Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
“It’s great to be back here at the University of Delaware,” Schmidt
said. “I have a lot of great memories and it has been a great experience
to come back to this University on an annual basis for the last six
Schmidt described the tumultuous nature of an American electorate
that gave Democrats control of the House of Representatives and the
Senate in 2006, elected Obama as president in 2008 and 2012, yet elected
Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 and
gave them an overwhelming victory this year.
“What we are seeing right now is an unprecedented level of volatility
in our political markets,” Schmidt said. “This is very unusual, these
wild swings between two parties in successive election cycles over the
better part of a decade.”
The defining issue of our time, Schmidt said he believes, is the
collapse of trust in nearly every major institution in the country, with
the exception of the American military.
“It’s not just the political parties, it’s not just the political
leadership of country,” Schmidt said. “In institution after institution,
esteemed figure after esteemed figure have betrayed the public trust in
the eyes of the American people.”
The result, Schmidt said, is the lowest level of trust in major
institutions in the history of polling, and represents a prolonged
season of pessimism from people who historically have been the most
optimistic people on Earth.
“People believe the country is headed on the wrong track,” Schmidt
said. “They believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and
they don’t have confidence in the institutions and political leadership
of the country to get it going in the right direction.”
A summer marked by American troops headed back to Iraq, the sweeping
success of Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq, and the Ebola
outbreak only served to darken the mood of the voters, Schmidt said.
“All of these events together created a sense of anxiety in the
country,” Schmidt said. “People sensed that the wheels, so to speak, are
coming off the wagon, and the American people are very upset about
In 2014, the main strategy of the Republican Party was to run on a
platform that was marked by “steely, steady opposition to the
president,” Schmidt said.
“What the election was fundamentally about, in this case, was the
American people rendering judgment on an unpopular president with
approval percentage ratings in the low 40s, very similar to where
President (George W.) Bush was in the 2006 election,” Schmidt said. “The
results are what they are.”
2016 presidential candidates
Both Cutter and Schmidt offered their views on the likely and
unlikely candidates for each party in the race to the presidency in
“There are two kinds of elections, a more of the same election, and a
change election,” Schmidt predicted. “The 2016 election will be a
change election, and the Republicans will nominate one of their
The opening salvo of the 2016 presidential campaign, Schmidt noted, will be Obama’s executive order on immigration.
“This will be the foundation and backdrop against which the next
battle for the Hispanic vote begins to play out for 2016,” he said.
Cutter said she believes Obama is going to begin a legalization process for immigrants and their children.
“Republicans are up in arms about something they think the president
shouldn’t be doing,” Cutter said. “They think it’s their authority to
act on this — well, go ahead and do something.”
With a nod to the 2016 election, Begleiter questioned Cutter about
who the possible Democratic candidates would be if Hillary Clinton opted
not to seek the nomination.
“I believe Hillary Clinton will run,” Cutter said. “If she decides
not to, you might have Vice President Joe Biden. It’s rumored that he
might run. I think he would be a great president. There are rumors that
Elizabeth Warren is thinking about it. Most people believe Hillary
Clinton is going to run, and if she does, it’s the overwhelming opinion
that she is going to be the nominee.”
While Schmidt noted it might be too early to predict who the
Republican frontrunner candidates might be, he said he doesn’t think it
will be U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
“The world we are living in will be more chaotic than it is today,
not less chaotic, and I think his [Rand Paul] national security and
foreign policy issues are out of step with the majority of the
Republican Party and a substantial percentage of Democrats,” Schmidt
said. “He is, for sure, to the left of Hillary Clinton on any one of a
number of national security issues, which is why you will hear many
Republicans say that if Rand Paul is the nominee of the Republican
Party, they will vote for Hillary Clinton because they will respect
Hillary Clinton as being an effective commander in chief, even though
she wouldn’t be their first choice.”
‘Fade to Black’ film series
This year, National Agenda alternates with a political film series, and the final screening will be Thank You for Smoking, at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 3, in Mitchell Hall.
The series, “Fade to Black: Dark Political Humor in American Film,”
is moderated by Lindsay Hoffman, associate professor of communication.
Article by Jerry Rhodes
Photos by Duane Perry
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