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[00:00:08]

Hey, everybody, it's David Plouffe, welcome to Campaign HQ. Well, we're almost in August, so the calendar continues to turn. I want to kind of focus my opening today before we get to our guest on just voting. So, you know, we've talked about it quite a bit on this podcast and there's some great journalism happening around this. But just a caution for all of us that just the simple act of voting is going to maybe determine this election.

[00:00:34]

I mentioned, I think last week, you know, some of these primaries are showing seven to eight percent of mail in ballots are being thrown out. I've seen some data suggest amongst first time voters, which predominantly or younger voters, it's over 10 percent or so people who aren't just familiar. And again, the rules differ by state. You know the story about my own mistakes in the March presidential primary in California, my wife and I were voting around the table and in California have to sign the envelope that the ballot goes into.

[00:01:06]

And I signed my wife's ballot and she signed mine. So we had to take those physically into our precinct, which we're able to do. So our votes counted. But if we had sent those in, they might not have counted. So I guess my message is all of you individually, your friends and family members who are committed to getting Trump out of office, you know, just make sure you're talking to them, sharing good content, checking with them, make sure they're first of all, their request is in.

[00:01:30]

There's no reason to wait if you're going to vote by now and listen, if you want to vote in person and you're not worried about the safety issues around there, you know, your vote is going to count as long as you're registered. So, you know, in-person voting is just fine. You know, your votes going to count. You make a mistake on a mail in ballot may not count. So, you know, I don't think we necessarily want to discourage people who are intent to vote in person to do so.

[00:01:51]

But there's no doubt we just don't know what the health and pandemic situation will be in November. So a lot of people are obviously going to vote by mail, many for the first time. So just to have your own checklist for yourself and for everybody you're in contact with, if they want to vote by mail, do they have the request? And there's no reason to wait. You know, do they know the rules for making their selections? Here's how you vote for Joe Biden.

[00:02:12]

Here's how you vote for a state senator. Is it a check? Do you connect the lines? Do you need postage? Do you need to sign the outside of the envelope? You know, some states require you to have the ballot in on Election Day. Others just require to be postmarked. Very important to know. So, you know, where this takes me is let's just all be early on things. Let's a request our ballots early. Let's fill them in at the first moment.

[00:02:35]

Let's double check them, make sure you're you're sharing content and the rules with everybody. You can don't let anything to chance. So, you know, as we look at things that could go wrong here and how could Joe Biden lose this lead, you know, he could make a big mistake. Maybe he doesn't do well in debates. You know, I think the debates are much more likely to help Joe Biden than not. You know, maybe the pandemic doesn't miraculously go away.

[00:02:58]

Is Donald Trump ridiculous? He says, but things settle down and the economy surges a little bit. I don't think that'll be enough for Trump, but he may gain some votes back. But the thing that really concerns me is, you know, just the pure execution. So the people who say I am voting and I'm voting for Joe Biden, but somehow too many mistakes are made. So and we know there's already other challenges. You know, some election officials, particularly in states that aren't used to this volume, are going to have a hard time counting these.

[00:03:23]

So it's going to take a long time. They're still counting votes in New Jersey and New York from their primaries had happened weeks ago. You know, you've got the postal service. This is going to put a big surge of demand on them. So let's just take care of our business and everybody should, you know, be their own agent here and make sure that you're talking to everybody you can about this and making sure we're on top of this.

[00:03:45]

So one of the big moments to come in this campaign is the Democratic convention for Joe Biden. And so we're going to talk today to Stephanie Cutter, who's producing the convention about what they hope to get out of the convention. Obviously, this is a very different convention because of the pandemic. It's our first mostly virtual convention. Stephanie has announced that they're going to be having shorter segments, each segment shorter, but also just two hours of primetime programming a night, which is shorter than it's historically been.

[00:04:12]

So really, we're going to go deep on the convention, some of the challenges that the situation presents, but also some of the opportunities. It's an opportunity to rethink the convention. Stephanie is a long time Democratic strategist and operative. I believe she began her career back with Governor Mario Cuomo, worked in the Clinton White House, was communications director for both John Kerry and his presidential race, and for Ted Kennedy in the United States Senate. Was chief of staff for Michelle Obama in the first Obama campaign, was a colleague of mine in the White House and was our deputy campaign manager in the 2012 reelect.

[00:04:45]

So Stephanie is also a master of all things message. So in addition to talking about the convention, we're going to talk to her about the state of race from a communications standpoint, the kinds of things we should be watchful for that Donald Trump and his campaign may try and execute in the coming weeks and and some of the challenges and opportunities Joe Biden has. Coming out of the convention to further cement in voters minds what he'll do as president, so I hope you enjoy this conversation with Stephanie Cutter.

[00:05:16]

Stephanie Cutter, welcome to Campaign HQ.

[00:05:19]

Thanks for having me. So you just can't say no. So now you're back in the midst of another presidential campaign in charge of producing kind of a historic convention, given the pandemic's I want to start their own in terms about the campaign generally. So you made a little bit of news this week where you announced that there'd be two hours of primetime programming every night, shorter than normal. Most of it would be virtual. So I'd start with, like one thing on audience as you think about it, like what percentage of the audience do you think will consume this real time, you know, whether online or one of the networks?

[00:05:54]

Or do you think a lot of this will be content that gets shared in the days afterwards?

[00:05:59]

Well, we're planning for both and making sure our content is short, digestible, good for a TV show like this where your segments really have to be short and engaging and to keep the program moving, but also short and digestible for people to pull them up on their iPhone. And we are looking at multiple ways to get that information out and engage more people than ever before in the convention, since it's a totally virtual convention. You don't need a hard pass or a credential to get into anything.

[00:06:38]

You're if you've never been involved in politics before and this is your first convention, you can be just as involved as a delegate. This been going to a convention for 30 years. So and we want to involve people in ways that they feel comfortable, where they are already receiving information. So there is a there will be a very strong digital component of this. We'll run our own live stream on multiple platforms and have different ways for people to engage.

[00:07:09]

Right. All that sounds great. It's a shame it took a pandemic to force shorter segments, right? I mean, I guess we tried and failed. I know.

[00:07:20]

It's so one thing I'm curious about now, the shorter the shorter two hour window should help with this. But you probably remember back in 08, you know, when you were serving as Michelle Obama's chief of staff, you know, we didn't get a lot done in the primary until very late.

[00:07:34]

Right. So we had to turn around and figure out the convention. But I thought we had such amazing, really starting in the afternoon all the way through primetime, you know, just average voters, you know, talking about their story, why they were for Barack Obama. And of course, the networks didn't carry much of that. Right, because they talk over that with their talking.

[00:07:52]

It's something you and I have both been in the past and just focus on the principle. So how do you think about that? May be easier for the content that lives after the convention that gets shared on social media. But in terms of how do you ensure some of those most I'm sure you're going to have people who voted for Trump or and again, how do you ensure that that actually gets covered?

[00:08:13]

Well, you know, this is new for everyone, right? So we're throwing out a lot of the old playbook of how you plan a convention. Most of the party business will happen off screen with the exception of the roll call. And and I think the same argument can be made to the networks that they need to rethink how they cover this. Because, you know, just like every other program that networks have produced over the past six months that we've been dealing with covid, this is a virtual convention, which means that a lot of this content has to be prerecorded because you cannot do a two hour live program four nights in a row.

[00:09:00]

That would be a disaster. So, you know, the the type of content that people will see, it will be very heavy, everyday Americans. And because that's we want to give a sense of where the country is and better to hear that from everyday Americans than politicians. So they see the upside and downside of having a two hour convention is that you can include fewer people. So if you're me, that's an upside. If you're somebody who wants to speak, that is probably a downside.

[00:09:43]

And so you'll see less of the same typical political speeches that you see at a convention of the past and much more engaging content conversations, you know, getting elected officials out into their communities and engaging with. Their constituents, a snapshot of where the country is on racial justice and covid and the economy and all of the different crises that we're dealing with at once that are screaming for leadership, we're going to tell those stories through the eyes of everyday Americans, because that's what people are experiencing it right now.

[00:10:26]

Should the networks choose not to cover that and talk over it? I think they'd be really missing. Something is good content. And if you rethink how you're going to cover this convention, you know, just like we've rethink this, I think they, you know, they'll be more open to it. We have the same issue as, you know, in years past, that they don't cover videos because they consider that to be campaign propaganda. Well, conventions are campaign propaganda, and we each have one, right.

[00:10:59]

So it's fair. They have theirs.

[00:11:02]

And the you know, to the extent that we are having videos, it's because it's a quicker way to relay information than in having speech after speech after speech. So, you know, we'll have plenty of live content for them to cover plenty of pre-recorded segments of people actually engaging. I think it's possible you might see Biden more than just his Thursday night speech. And we're just we're shaking everything up and looking at everything with fresh eyes and not, you know, how many conventions have you been to?

[00:11:41]

Probably the same number as I have. And I went to the last one in 2016 and swore I would never go to one again. Turns out we don't have to.

[00:11:53]

Maybe never again. We'll see. Maybe that'll be another thing. So I want to talk to you about some of the message imperatives, but I want to talk a little bit about voting an organization.

[00:12:03]

So, you know, in both of our conventions in 08 and 12, I believe Hillary did this in 16. You know, you talk about, you know, are sections about volunteering. Right. And and registering voters. But this seems to be profound. Right. Which is we're seeing in some of these primaries that just happened, you know, seven, eight percent of absentee ballots not counting because they were filled out incorrectly. I believe there's data out there that says with Younger and First-Time Voters, it's over 10 percent.

[00:12:28]

So how much of the convention is also about just the the the the practice of voting? You know, it's a it's a great time, I would imagine, to educate people. Obviously, you don't want to overdo that because you've got important messaging on, as you said, covid racial justice, the economy, health care. But will there be kind of a component about here's how you vote?

[00:12:49]

Well, without revealing too much. Right. Right. 90 calls to action, including voting. But, you know, Pluff, where what where this convention will be in mid-August. There were still three and a half months out from the election. That's a big gap, though. People will start voting just shortly after this convention. So we need to we want to be able to issue these calls to action at the right time for people when they're ready to receive the information.

[00:13:19]

So you'll hear plenty of that at the convention. But I think post convention, there'll be a real conservative concerted effort on voting and ballot chasing and ensuring people understand that the new rules in which they have to vote because every state is different now. And certainly there are lots of obstacles being thrown up in making it easy for people to vote. So I think the campaign's going to take that very seriously. It will start at the convention, but the big push will come after that has about right.

[00:13:52]

So, you know, Joe Biden's running against a deeply unpopular incumbent who's mishandled, you know, a crisis maybe worse than any presidents, mishandled anything. And that is a known fact. It's one of the reasons Biden has opened up such a big lead. But the convention, to your point, it is the one opportunity where you get to tell your own story. And I think it's important for people to understand you can't view this is one speech versus another speech, a good convention, you know, from the beginning and tells a story.

[00:14:23]

And so as you think about this, what is the balance between continuing to remind people why they can't afford four more years of Donald Trump versus, you know, what Joe Biden will do both from an issue standpoint and a crisis management standpoint, but also from a character and values standpoint?

[00:14:40]

Well, I think, you know, again, because this is a different program. This is people are just watching this on TV or on their iPhones or whatever device. It's different than being an a live convention. When you're throwing red meat to the crowd at a life convention, the crowd cheers. When you're throwing red meat into the television. People are going to turn it off. So there has to be a careful calibration is not that Trump is not going.

[00:15:04]

To be in the convention at all, it's that people have been living that dream for years, they know very well all of the mismanagement and chaos and corruption coming from this administration. We don't really have to remind them of that, but it does provide good context for what we can change. So our first and foremost priority for this convention is to tell people who Joe Biden is. We know him very well and lots of Democrats know him. But people who really haven't been paying attention or people that were trying to persuade, they don't know that much about him.

[00:15:50]

And if there's anybody's life story that's worth telling us, Joe Biden's and such a story of resilience and perseverance and, you know, sort of a purpose driven life and it's so rich with family and his career and his record and everything that he's done, that is our first priority, to give people a window of who this man is. You know, he's a man of faith and family. He's a man of incredible resilience who has suffered some of, you know, some of the worst losses imaginable.

[00:16:31]

But he picks himself up every single day and and works towards making things better for the American people. That is that's the story we want to tell. And that's such a distinct story. In contrast to Donald Trump, you know, Joe Biden, we threaten Joe, as we used to call him. He he has this amazing connection with working Americans across the country. And working Americans are hurting right now. They are taking the brunt of the coronavirus and he has a unique connection to them.

[00:17:10]

That is his life story. So we're really looking forward to telling it. We've got some interesting ways we're going to try to push that out.

[00:17:19]

Yeah, well, we can't repeat it enough that, you know, Joe Biden. I mean, you know, as any figure is, you know, short of a president is not that well known. Right. There are some younger voters who barely know he's the VP, but even those who know the views, Obama's VP, you know, it sort of starts and ends there. And so this is a great opportunity for that.

[00:17:41]

And I'm curious, you know, as you look at the Republicans and Trump in particular, scramble around, I mean, this was like a you could see it's like a car wreck in slow motion. You kind of knew it was going to end with things kind of a mess. But, you know, part of I'm sure I mean, for the most part, you just want to execute a great convention almost regardless of what the other side does. But as you think about the other side may do, I mean, do you have a sense is this going to be Trump basically just, you know, an extra two hours every night of Sean Hannity and just kind of speaking to his aggrieved base?

[00:18:13]

Or do you think they may actually try and begin to reach out and tell a more cohesive economic story? To me, it's fascinating because whatever his team thinks, it really only matters what he thinks. Right. And he could overrule even great strategy or advice to the extent there is any. So you have any sense of what we should expect from them?

[00:18:32]

You know, I know what it's like to plan a convention, particularly planning a convention, a coronavirus, and it takes months to put a program together. I can't imagine what they're planning is anything more than just a series of tirades. And, you know, maybe they'll try to tell their economic story. If you were them or if we were on that campaign, we'd certainly be struggling, trying to put lipstick on that pig. And, you know, when you're an incumbent president, you have to make it a choice.

[00:19:01]

So I think one of their primary objective is to take it right now. It's a referendum, but they're going to try to make it a choice and spent a lot of time tearing down Biden. And certainly that's all Donald Trump knows how to do in terms of campaigning and to show that, you know, sort of like that George Bush choice in 2004. You may not like me or everything that I've done, but at least you know where I stand.

[00:19:33]

And it could be that sort of choice that he tries to set up. I'm not sure that Trump is that sophisticated in making that choice or would ever admit that anything he has done has been anything less than perfect when it's just been the opposite of that. But that that's their their. You know, that should be their objective, and we're certainly looking at our convention and thinking, you know, we're not going to plan this in anticipation of them.

[00:20:03]

We're going to tell the story, want to say. But just in just because we have been in politics for a long time, I pretty much know the kinds of things they're going to pull out and try to wedge against us the following week. I just don't think it's going to be effective. You know, the people don't need to be reminded about what's gone wrong. They need to know what what can be done right. They need to know what the future looks like.

[00:20:33]

You know, the politics of fear. I just don't think work this year. They worked in 2016. They have certainly worked in the past. But they don't work this year. They don't work on Biden in particular. And people feel pretty good about his attributes and his ability to do the job and his experience. And it's that type of comfort that, you know, that somebody will be looking out for you and has that steady hand and experience to get it done right that I think people would find comfort in right now.

[00:21:09]

Yeah, well, it's interesting. Of course, we talked earlier that, you know, people still need to learn a lot more about Biden. So he's benefiting from more of a sense right now. Right. Of those attributes. And I think if the convention goes, as you hope it does and, you know, I think if he just shows up on the stage in the debates, that will be more than what Donald Trump, you know, suggests Joe Biden can do.

[00:21:30]

Right. So if he has a good convention and some good debates, it seems like, you know, this these strengths right now, he has electorally, I think, are a little bit tenuous. But if they're strengthened with more information, right. And more validation in his performance, it really could be. So I'm curious, this is, you know, in part about the convention, but about the campaign generally.

[00:21:49]

So, you know, you were, you know, leading the charge in 2012 as we define Mitt Romney successfully, you know, to make that race a choice. You were on the either side of that when George Bush did that to John Kerry. You saw Bill Clinton do that to Bob Dole in 96.

[00:22:06]

So why it's just, you know, kind of, you know, politics one on one. If you're an incumbent, whether governor or president, particularly when you're in a challenging situation like Trump, is to make this a choice.

[00:22:19]

Is it just I've been thinking a lot about this and I'd love your thoughts on this. I mean, I think he is such a narcissist that he he actually doesn't think this should be a choice, that this should just be rehire me because I'm awesome and here's my reality and all the things I've done. But he must they must. You know, I always think it's a mistake to underestimate your opponent, right. In business or politics. So he's got some smart people around him, maybe maybe not a lot, but some.

[00:22:42]

So what has happened here? Because it is getting really late. I mean, you know, to your point, people aren't voting yet, but they will be in about 30 to 45 days and a lot of places. And if he blows this convention and doesn't do what he needs to do, it seems like, you know, the you know, at that point you're almost to midnight.

[00:23:00]

Yeah. And I also suspect that the debates are not going to come off as as normal and he's going to try to mess with those two. You know, can he make it a choice? He can certainly try the way you make it a choice is, you know, to to be able to articulate that under your leadership, the country is on a better path and that if you change from that leadership and take a wrong turn, you're going to go back, you know, back to the days of, you know, whatever it is, even though the days of pre Trump weren't that bad compared to where we are right now.

[00:23:42]

Right. So it's not you know, he can try to make that argument. I think he's got he's sort of in a box because, you know, people know enough about Joe Biden and Joe Biden is associated with the with President Obama and eight years of a pretty successful White House in terms of the the voters that we're trying to appeal to and to make it a choice and make people afraid of Joe Biden in terms of where he would take the country.

[00:24:15]

It just doesn't it doesn't add up to people. You know, he did this against Hillary Clinton in 2016. The difference there is there was already a lot of work done over the course of 30 years on conditioning the ground for people to believe those arguments about Hillary Clinton. And that is not the same for Joe Biden. And they're very, very different people. So Trump's playbook, I don't think, will work on Joe Biden. And that's the only playbook he really knows.

[00:24:49]

If you watch his rally speeches when he went to Tulsa and got everybody sick with the same rally speech that we heard in 2016. So he hasn't progressed as a candidate, obviously hasn't progressed as a president. But in terms of articulating where this country is and what his leadership can bring people or what the choices on the ballot he has is not at this point. You know, we're almost in August. If you think back to 2012 when President Obama was running for re-election, we had our arguments set on where the where the president wanted to take the country over the course of the next four years and what the choice was on the ballot that was well set in stone at that point and already pretty well saturated into the electorate.

[00:25:41]

Of course, we had a better argument to make, but the fact that they are they're still sort of throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks on Biden, whether it's Sleepy Joe or corrupt Joe or something like that.

[00:25:54]

Now sleazy Joe and his opponent.

[00:25:59]

So that speaks volumes. And and I think it also says that the only person that really matters on that campaign is Donald Trump. He's calling the shots. And that's also a very dangerous place to be for a presidential campaign, particularly for an incumbent.

[00:26:16]

I think being kind of a swashbuckling challenger maybe can get away with a little bit more. Yeah. So I want to talk about something more.

[00:26:22]

But your point about the attacks falling flat, I mean, that is one thing I've learned is that for political attacks, whether they be just straight attacks or contrasts, you know, they have to have ideally both. They have to have at least some credibility with voters that that's plausible and credible people making the charge. So, you know, back to over, you know, the horrible Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, you know, maybe not a plausible attack, but there was plausible people making it right.

[00:26:50]

You know, and, you know, you remember back in 2012, you know, Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney running around the country suggesting Barack Obama is going to end Medicare. People might have thought a lot of things about Barack Obama, but they didn't think our first African-American Democratic president was going to, you know, build a second term or cutting Medicare. So that's the issue, it seems, with with Trump right now is this you know, Biden's going to eliminate the suburbs and basically your house will be on fire.

[00:27:13]

And, you know, is people just I don't think they believe it no matter who is running. But they certainly don't believe that it's Joe Biden. Right. And that seems to be if that's what they trot out in their convention the week after yours, it just seems that there's not going to be a market for that.

[00:27:27]

Yeah, I think there's two problems there. They don't believe the messenger, but they also don't believe the message. And those are two problems for the Trump campaign. Right. Right.

[00:27:37]

So on the convention and, you know, Democrats, you know, as a whole are pretty nervous people. Right. So one of the things I think we should talk about and guard people, you know, sort of prepare people for is just given Biden's lead.

[00:27:49]

I mean, I hate this discussion about a convention bounce anyway. But, you know, Deb, folks out there, in my view, shouldn't expect that.

[00:27:56]

You know, after Democratic convention, Joe Biden adds another five or six points. I mean, it seems to me the the the goal the convention is to lock in as much of the support he currently enjoys. Right. Because I do think he's kind of close to a ceiling with some voter groups. But how do you view that?

[00:28:11]

Well, I think that. Some people get short bumps at a convention. Some people don't, but the most important thing is to solidify what we do have. And and look, Joe Biden is beating Donald Trump right now. Is it going to stay that way over the course of the next three and a half months? It will probably take just because of the nature of this country right now. But it is really important for this convention to lock in what he has not just in the Democratic base, but for Obama, Trump voters, swing voters, people that are on the fence and people also who need to be urged to come out and vote.

[00:28:53]

Those are all key people that we're trying to reach with this convention. And you'll see a lot of messaging directed at them there. There's a lot of crowd sourced content that will be part of this convention of just people saying what they want in the next president. And a lot of some of them will be coming from former Trump voters. So. So, yeah. So that's ah ah. That is I can't speak for the campaign here, but speaking for myself and for someone who's been through these conventions of the past, the primary goal is to solidify what you do have and to begin the appeal to new voters.

[00:29:41]

Yeah.

[00:29:41]

So let's talk about those new voters, because I think a lot of times people think about the convention is, you know, leaving aside the party business, you know, you're really talking to the middle of the electorate, you know, the traditional swing voters in places like Wisconsin and Florida. But, you know, you just mentioned a really important part of this. I think, frankly, for Joe Biden, where, you know, the enthusiasm to vote for Biden has increased, which we all like to see.

[00:30:03]

But there's still a lot of room to grow, particularly with younger voters of all races. So, you know, that seems like you're very cognizant of that. But and it may be the virtual convention is an asset in that regard. Right. Because a lot of those types of voters aren't going to sit there and watch three hours on MSNBC. But if it's bite sized and more shareable. So how do you view reaching that cohort?

[00:30:23]

Well, we have to make it relevant to them and relevant in terms of what we're talking about and also who they see on TV or on their device. Is it people that look like them or is it people that look like they're, you know, their great aunt or uncle? Right.

[00:30:43]

And so you'll see, you know, obviously it'll be a very diverse, multigenerational, but will you'll see lots of content that is very relevant to young voters today. Certainly, you know, racial justice and climate and how you deal with this economy. You've got college graduates who had to graduate virtually who are locked in their parents houses now for some unforeseen future. Those are those are people that we want to speak to and and those people that are voting for the first time, we need to show them that their vote really counts and and ensure there's no complacency.

[00:31:29]

So those are critical, critical objectives for us. And, you know, I don't want to reveal too much about our content because we're still still locking things in and making our making final plans. But, you know, the different types of messengers on the different platforms, the use of entertainment, all of those things to make it relevant and relatable for young voters. Right.

[00:32:01]

OK, so you're going to OK, there's the Democratic Convention, which you will ensure is a ten out of ten in terms of what we hope. Right. Then we have the next week we have kind of their white power shit show and then we move into September.

[00:32:17]

So I'm curious. I mean, I think they don't really disguise it anymore before.

[00:32:24]

But if we ever call it the white power should show. Yeah, but the I'm just curious.

[00:32:29]

So so taking your convention hat off and now just putting on your veteran of of of presidential campaigns, you know, I'm just curious.

[00:32:38]

You know, I've talked to some, you know, friends and former colleagues of yours on this podcast, you know, Jen Palmieri and Dan Pfeiffer and others about this question.

[00:32:46]

But I'm just curious, how do you you know, you see you've got the conventions and then you've got and I agree with you, we don't know yet what the debates will look like, but assume there are two or three of them. Those are the big moments then you have every other day, right.

[00:33:00]

Where Trump, even though I think it's hurting him as much as it's helping him now, probably hurting him more, you know, he still does dominate the oxygen and maybe that's fine. But when you think through, you know, the communications challenge for Biden, so. One, it's like put Trump on the defensive to make sure he fully owns his disastrous handling of the pandemic and the economic consequences. And three, continue, which I think is the hardest part of this, you know, kind of day to day, you know, pound through with Joe Biden's message about what he'll do.

[00:33:30]

Just how do you look at the fall, you know, in terms of what are the challenges and opportunities there?

[00:33:37]

Well, the challenges are that the you can't campaign like you normally do. So engaging with voters, both whether you're an organizer or a candidate, is very different. And I think that the Biden campaign has moved mountains in terms of adjusting to that new normal in a very short period of time and is doing a great job organizing virtually. And so what does it look like in terms of driving a narrative through the fall and making your closing argument? As you said, you've got the debates?

[00:34:20]

I I'm very wary that those debates are going to happen as planned. And then you've got a president who changes course every two days on one of the greatest crises this country has ever faced. And you don't want to get stuck going down a rabbit hole every single day and react to that because he's doing enough damage to himself. You know, I think that the campaign probably has, you know, a couple of key things. They want to get done in September and October.

[00:34:58]

You know, we talked a little bit earlier about getting a message out about not just voting, but how to vote in this coronavirus era. I would I if I were on that campaign, I would spend a lot of time doing that and doing it below the radar, as close to the ground as possible to get people organized and comfortable and to be able to vote with confidence. And then I would pick my battles and probably not let Trump ever get off of coronavirus, both from a health standpoint but also an economic standpoint.

[00:35:41]

And on top of all of that, it's there's a character issue here where he can't be consistent in his leadership, consistent in his thoughts coronavirus. It consistently makes it about himself. So I would pick my shots and I would find use those shots as a way to lift Joe Biden up. Certainly there up with advertising. Now, they've they've got a lot of raising a ton of money. So they should be able to stay up on air. They're using digital very effectively, both in not getting their message out for sure to voters, but also in trolling Trump and pulling him into debates to trying to get him to have turns out it's not that hard to do.

[00:36:29]

But, you know, I think I think they've adjusted to a new way of campaigning. It's done virtually. And it's if you're organizing online or communicating online and really trying to drive a national narrative through the news media. And, you know, I think that the vice president probably, in addition to what we'll do at the convention, has more to do to talk about what he will do to turn this economy around and to also prevent this country from ever falling into a crisis like this in the future.

[00:37:09]

And I would encourage him to do that. I think he will. As much as we want to make this a referendum, you can't take your eye off the ball of ensuring that you are a good, solid choice from the person that you're running against. So it's not enough to be against someone. You have to give people a better option as well. All right.

[00:37:32]

So on that better option, you know, you've always been very good at kind of understanding what the big things are versus the small things. And looking around corners a little bit, it seems to be a core argument that will be on voters minds will be and you'll maybe this case has to be made more directly that everybody wants to escape the clutches of the covid-19, but ultimately will do that until we both have a vaccine. But that in and of itself may be the easy part compared to making sure it's distributed.

[00:38:00]

We've got a huge percentage of the country saying they won't take it like. Do you think that's a core argument like that? Basically, who can you trust to make sure that this country gets vaccinated in a timely manner and. In a safe manner, in a comprehensive manner, the guy who basically created the shit show Trump or Biden, that seems to be maybe an argument that, again, I think a lot of voters maybe already are pricing that into their decision and that's why Biden's doing so well.

[00:38:24]

But what do you think about that?

[00:38:26]

I think that's incredibly important and spot on. I think we you know, Joe Biden had a lot to do with how we handled Ebola, Ebola, the end of the Obama administration. He had a lot to do with that pandemic playbook that we left in the Oval Office where Donald Trump and it turns out Joe Biden has been working on pandemics throughout his career. And I think as we articulate that and articulate someone who has experience and steady leadership and knows how to use government for the greater good, not for his own political purposes, but to protect the American people, people will be reassured by that.

[00:39:15]

And even, you know, remember when we had avian flu and H1N1 and and the amount of work that we had to go through just to get people to take those vaccines and mobilizing doctors and health professionals to get the message out. PSA is organizing, using private sector partners like CVS and others to encourage people to get vaccinated. That work needs to start now, assuming we get a vaccine, God willing, knock on wood in the next six to eight months.

[00:39:55]

The work to get organized to get people vaccinated has to start right now. In fact, it's almost too late. I guarantee you that that is not a priority of this White House. And people know it. People smell it. People have been experiencing the White House for four years. Why would they believe it? There has never been any marshalling of government resources or forces for the greater good for this country under a Trump presidency. And that's not lost on people.

[00:40:25]

You know, I think Joe Biden is almost the perfect messenger for this moment. People want someone who knows what they're doing and who can has gotten us out of a crisis before and can do it again. And you know who you can trust to put you first, not himself first. And that's a big distinction between these two candidates. And, you know, of course, like any campaign, there's work to do to get that definition out there.

[00:41:03]

But the good thing is people already sort of believe it about Joe Biden because it's true. And when it's when it's true, there's nothing more effective than that. It's not like they have to. You know, we've both worked out a lot of campaigns and sometimes it's easier to craft messaging for a candidate than others because you can't change people. They are who they are. And the message has to fit with who they are. And that's exactly what's happening right now.

[00:41:34]

The steady leadership, the ability to get this country out of crisis, the steady hand putting country ahead of politics. That's who Joe Biden is. So there's not a lot of convincing on that. It's just a matter of deployment, deployment or reinforcement.

[00:41:51]

So you mentioned your worry about the debates happening maybe at all or certainly as they're currently constructed with the commission. Talk a little bit more about that. What concerns you and where do you think it could end up on the debates?

[00:42:04]

It seems like every day another debate site is pulling out of hosting the debate.

[00:42:09]

Shouldn't we just go to a TV studio like they did in 60?

[00:42:12]

Yes, you know, I mean, maybe if we're really inventing conventions and doing things unconventionally, we should think about doing debates unconventionally. And I don't think there should be an audience. And I think we should look at different formats and and different types of moderators and shake it up a little bit. But what will Trump try to do in debates? He won't want any of that. He will want a single moderator. He won't want average Americans asking questions.

[00:42:48]

And he's just not that agile in handling that kind of thing. But I could also see a scenario where he tries to get out of them because he has to, quote, unquote, manage the crisis. And I don't think it will help Donald Trump to debate Joe Biden. And, you know, I'm not sure he believes that. But I have a sneaking. Suspicion some of this people do, right? So the question will be just given his narcissism and belief in himself, will he plow forward anyway?

[00:43:23]

It's going to be fascinating to watch.

[00:43:24]

Yeah, I mean, even like I think the you know, we call it the town hall debate, one of the three presidential debates, you know, has always been in recent times. You take questions from the audience and, you know, there's ways to do that. And we've all been spending a lot of time on Zoome if you bring people in by Zun. But, you know, there's ways to still, I think, capture a lot of what's worked in the past.

[00:43:44]

But refashion. But I agree with you. I mean, I generally think the audiences outside of that, the other two debates, I think would always be better served just being in a TV studio. And I think that will be a challenge for Trump just because there's no energy for him to draw off of at all. So I'm curious, Stephen, you've managed your fair share of crises in your career, and I want to talk about post-election.

[00:44:04]

So, you know, there's a scenario where this ends up being razor thin. The result is really in doubt, as it was in 2000, where counting ballots for weeks. I want to talk about that scenario, although it's not implausible. Let's talk about a scenario where it's clear Joe Biden's won, whether we actually know that night or we know November 10th or whenever it is. And, you know, Trump continues to say it was illegal, you know, fraudulent votes.

[00:44:28]

The fix was in. I shouldn't leave, like and I'm thinking about this.

[00:44:32]

I think that's a crisis for the country before. It's a crisis for the Democratic Party. But you have thoughts on the planning that should be going into that right now. And that's probably less for Biden's campaign. They have to win an election than Democrats on the Hill and governors and secretaries of state. But you have any thoughts about how we should best handle that period if Donald Trump refuses to believe that he lost?

[00:44:50]

Yeah, so so not a scenario where the questions it's really in doubt, right. Where, you know, let's say Joe Biden wins nationally by six points, wins battleground states by two or three, and he's clearly won plenty of electoral votes. Again, maybe we don't know on election night. But that scenario where he's just trying to tear down institutions even further on the way out, maybe they're filing lawsuits. I guess, you know, one question is we go to the mattresses, too.

[00:45:14]

That's one strategy. Other strategy is, you know, you kind of, you know, say, OK, crazy Uncle Donald. You say what you're going to say. We're kind of moving on. I'm just curious. It may be too early for that, but if you have an instinct on that.

[00:45:26]

Well, I think I would do two things right now. I would make sure that you've got a legal apparatus in place at a state level and at a federal level to deal with that, to certify the election, to push back aggressively on the crazy things he's going to say about fraud in this election. And, you know, he's going to say it. I mean, the man. You know, one in twenty sixteen, barely seventy thousand plus votes, and he still said there were there was fraud.

[00:45:57]

So we know he's going to say this time, but I would get that apparatus in place now. And I would also start preconditioning people that he's likely to say this and not to believe it. And and I would I would do that fairly aggressively and I would concentrate on the transition, which I know has started. That essentially becomes a shadow government pretty quickly. And in 2008, it did for us because we were in the middle of the economic crisis.

[00:46:30]

And the day after the election, the transition team was announced and we got going and we we essentially operated as a shadow government. We were negotiating a stimulus package. We were working on bailouts, all of the things that the Bush administration, they were great to work with. Absolutely every step of the way, but they were very anxious to pull us in so they could hand it over to us and, you know, I would do that here, know, create the presumption that countries moving past him and moving past the chaos and putting effective leadership in place.

[00:47:08]

And look, if Joe Biden wins and if he wins by enough margin where there is, there is no doubt then we probably did pretty well in the House and Senate, too. And so our margins will grow there. Potentially, we could take back the Senate and I would use that as a mechanism to help us move past Donald Trump. Also just start working on things that people care about, you know, ignore the chaos. And he you know, legally, he cannot stay in the White House even if he's challenging the election.

[00:47:40]

So hopefully it doesn't get to that point. But never underestimate Donald Trump. But I would I would do both of those things, start preconditioning people. This is what he's going to do, put a legal apparatus in place and then stand up that transition as quickly as possible, create a shadow government and show that the country is moving past him.

[00:48:03]

I think that is really sound advice. I'd also hopefully more and more journalists out there will get Republicans on the record saying that, yeah, they believe that the election results should be respected because I think they've got all of them will do it. But I think a lot of them will. And I think that's very helpful, too. So, Stephanie, last question for you. It's kind of an existential one. So, you know, you've been, you know, as a lead communicator dealing with the effects of FOX for now decades.

[00:48:30]

You've got Breitbart, you've got Sinclair that almost ran this planned EMEK piece, you know, over the weekend. You've got Prager University, you've got Ben Shapiro. I mean, this is not just a question of, you know, it makes it harder for Democrats to win elections, that they have the power of this ecosystem that's coordinated and far reaching and is willing to say anything. But it's obviously devastating for the country. I mean, one of the reasons people didn't wear masks and didn't take this seriously was these conservative news outlets.

[00:49:00]

So I'm just curious, like, you have any new thoughts about what we do about this? And I think the key is not just Democrats, but the country like ultimately. Is there a solution to this so that somehow we can mitigate some of these down, you know, really negative effects? Yeah, you know, I agree with you.

[00:49:18]

It's not just about building the counter to it. I think it's more convincing everybody but these outlets that you can't trust what's coming out of them, you know, always be an audience for it. But we need to limit that audience as much as possible. And, you know, not to say that we haven't been doing this, but call them out, you know that the I was impressed with how quickly the rest of the media I no longer call the mainstream media because it's everything, you know, you've got these crazy outlets, Sinclair and others, and then you've got everybody else.

[00:49:59]

Everybody else pounced on Sinclair for what they were doing to Dr. Petit and to the point where Sinclair had to backtrack and say they were going to air it. I was impressed with that. And, you know, I think coming out of the Trump era, you know, the the news media is much more vocal at calling out untruths and not always doing the he said she said thing, but just saying something is just flat out not true. And that's a big shift in the media.

[00:50:35]

As someone who's been dealing with the media for a very long time, it's the he said she said that was their way of getting around untruth that were being said. And it just muddied, you know, muddied it, prevented you from providing any clarity on it or correcting the record. But now, if they will just call out something as being untrue and not just saying, you know, Democrats think it's untrue, that they just flat out call it a lie, it helps.

[00:51:07]

And that's what they did here on the Foushee thing. And it was effective. So I think we need to see more of that and to make sure that people have their eyes wide open and are awake to the damage that these kinds of networks can do. That's my best answer for right now. But as you know, we've been pondering what to do about Fox for two decades. So, you know, the the Trump era put a lot of fuel on the fire of those networks.

[00:51:41]

If Trump loses, it'll be interesting to see just how much of a mark a growth market there is. We know there will always be a market, but how much of a growth market there is for those networks? You know, certainly, as you know, he's going to start with those.

[00:51:57]

So, of course he can. Yeah, no, but to your point about there is going be on it's and sadly, you know, it would be good news if basically we got, you know, the percentage of the American population electorate who believe this stuff down to twenty or twenty five percent, which is still an enormous number, you know, but it's better than 40 or 42. So I think that's right. Well, Stephanie Cutter, thank you for your time.

[00:52:21]

Three weeks from now, you'll be in the middle of what we all hope is a just an awesome convention that helps. One of the major themes have helped propel Joe Biden to become our 46 president. So thanks for spending some time with us.

[00:52:33]

Thanks for having me on. Talk to you soon.

[00:52:43]

Well, great conversation with Stephanie actually made me excited for the Democratic convention, I will profess that that's not always the case, even the ones I was intimately involved with. Sometimes they can be more of a chore than not. But I'm excited about this. I think it's going to be more bite sized pieces of content from speeches to video to it. Sounds like they're also going to have some discussions involve a lot of everyday Americans in the programming you know, the programming portion of the conventions also going to be shorter.

[00:53:08]

So I think it will not drone on. It'll be quicker and therefore, I think more interesting to people. So it was great to hear from Stephanie that their goal, I think, is the goal, which is, yeah, you've got to continue to remind people what a disaster Trump was. But, you know, the bigger piece of business here is just to fill in the Biden side of the ledger, who he is, his personal story, his biography, his values, his character, some of what he's accomplished in his life.

[00:53:35]

But more importantly, I think what he'll do as president and why America can trust him to dig us out from this mess so that we can both finally escape the clutches of covid-19 and rebuild the economy, but also on health care, on climate change, on immigration, on foreign policy, all these issues where I think more than enough Americans are hungry for a different direction, for Joe Biden to give them both knowledge of what he intends to do, but confidence that he can actually accomplish it.

[00:54:02]

So thanks for tuning in this week and look forward to being with you next week.