The second, and final, day of the BPC Inaugural Political Summit proved just as captivating as the first, as some of the leading political thinkers took center stage once again to discuss and recite their opinions about many issues currently facing the nation’s political system, and they all found at least some level of accord on these heavy topics.
Honorary Co-Chair, James Carville welcomed guests back to his hometown for this exceptional event by citing a well-known Lafcadio Hearn quote: “It is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than own the whole of Ohio.” With his apologies to Ohioans, Carville introduced Charlie Cook, the first moderator and another Louisianan.
The first panel, “Looking Ahead to 2010 and 2012” welcomed leading Democratic consultants, Joe Trippi, Steve McMahon, and Stanley Greenberg, and top Republican advisers Alex Castellanos, Bill McInturff, and Tony Blankley. Cook opened with his approbation for BPC’s initiatives, highlighting that efforts, such as this, have the power to bring politics back to the place it ought to be. This fast-paced discussion cited critical issues ranging from the campaign strategies and crucial topics for both parties to the recent Republican de-branding that could potentially hinder their ability to prevail over the Democrats. However, both Democrats and Republicans agreed that the economy and the unemployment rate were key issues that needed to be addressed by the candidates of the next two elections. Trippi expressed his belief that 2010 would be an extremely disruptive and intense election for both parties, citing that it will probably top any other election that he has seen while working in politics. Panelists all agreed on the importance of independent voters. Castellanos and McMahon also emphasized the significance of young voters, stressing that even though they came out in mass to support Obama, they did not do so last week in the New Jersey and Virginia elections.
Cook then posed a specific question towards for each the Democratic and Republican panelists. He asked the Democrats what advice they would give the President if presented with the opportunity. The three Democrats agreed that the President needed to justify his actions, show where progress was being done, and demonstrate his success. Cook then turned his attention to the Republicans, asking them what advise they would provide for the leaders of their Committee. They each recognized the recent dissolution of their party as a core issue, stressing the criticality of developing and implementing new policies, other than what McInturff cited as generic “tax cuts,” in order to re-establish their party’s identity.
During the audience’s questions, Carville stepped in, asking panelists’ to define an “independent,” associating the word with the reason for his hair loss. Cook pointed out that independents are not too invested in politics because, if they were, “they would have gravitated to one side or the other.” McInturff agreed, stating that independents share anger with both parties, making them more volatile and inconsistent. When asked which party should be more concerned with splinter groups, Trippi stressed that not one, but both parties should be worried because brands, or party names, are damaged very quickly. Still, full bipartisanship was not reached because both sides inevitably felt the opposition was the more likely candidate for a split.
The Summit’s final panel, “The Role of the Media in Elections,” covered the growing trend of technology in the future of elections. The panel featured another set of well-experienced consultants, all moderated by New York Times reporter Jeff Zeleny and including: Democrats Tad Devine, Mandy Grunwald, and Joe Lockhart, and Republicans Mark McKinnon, Steve Schmidt, and David Winston. The group unanimously agreed on the effect to which new technologies have altered the methods that news is both made and covered. All panel members addressed how presidential campaigns work to shape a specific candidate narrative and use both traditional and untraditional outlets to achieve this. However, they also each noted that aberrant appearances could have either positive or negative consequences. Schmidt referenced the role of Sarah Palin’s appearance on Saturday Night Live, explaining that skits about her brought more attention to the campaign, but it was not necessarily positive. In contrast, Grunwald mentioned that she was hesitant when Hilary Clinton appeared on The Daily Show but that it ultimately turned out well.
Schmidt also described the battle between candidates’ campaigns as they “fight to control the dialogue,” highlighting the significance that a cell phone photo can now have on a race. Devine explained that there used to be a direct process for a piece of news to become a story; now it is more convoluted. Winston agreed that technology has nationalized politics, citing that today when a story hits, “it really permeates.” Zeleny then asked how consultants determine which news and entertainment outlets candidates should appear on. They all agreed that there is no monolithic audience and by ignoring certain outlets, as expressed by Lockhart, “you are just legitimizing the opponent.”
Throughout this final panel, consultants on both sides of the political aisle demonstrated a consensus over most of the topics discussed, concluding the first BPC Summit on a very bipartisan note.