David Plouffe doesn’t sound too worried about the current strength of the Republican Party, which he called “as popular as the Ebola virus” on Sunday night at Manhattan’s 92nd Street Y.
Plouffe, who as Obama’s campaign manager was an ardent foe of Hillary Clinton’s during the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, also predicted that the former secretary of state will be “the most interesting and probably the strongest candidate” of either party if she decides to run for president in 2016. Especially against the nominee of a dysfunctional, disconnected GOP.
“If the election of 2014 were held next week, we’d do rather well, because the Republican brand has been tarnished,” President Obama’s top political strategist said during a Q&A with PBS’s Jeff Greenfield. “I think the fascinating question is what are they going to do between now and next November [of 2014], because when you’re as popular as the Ebola virus, that’s not a great way” to wage a campaign. Greenfield pointed out that the election, of course, will not be held next week.
Plouffe, who was Obama’s 2008 campaign manager and, for the past two years, a senior presidential adviser on the White House staff, added that GOP officeholders, especially in the House, seem to be “operating in an alternative universe” when reacting to the demographic realities of the 2012 election. Chief among these realities was the steep fall-off in Republican support from Latino and Asian-American voters, who went overwhelmingly for Obama.
“Part of this depends on how the Republican Party responds to these challenges,” said Plouffe, who left the White House staff in January and earns his handsome living making speeches and consulting. “The spectacle of CPAC this weekend would suggest: not very well,” he added. The Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington last week featured appearances by every GOP politician from Sarah Palin to Mitt Romney to Jeb Bush—but, conspicuously, not New Jersey’s hugely popular Republican governor, Chris Christie, who was deemed too moderate to invite this year.
“They will never win a presidential election again getting 32 percent of the Latino vote,” said Plouffe, who noted that the GOP’s prospects are not aided by the persistent cries to defund Obamacare, a very popular program among Latinos, from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. “They gotta get that back up to where [George W.] Bush had it—it was in the 40s,” Plouffe said of the Latino vote percentages, adding the dire prognosis: “Never. Ever. That’s a fact.”
Plouffe, who spent much of the evening conducting yet another postmortem of the Romney campaign—and denying Greenfield’s assertion that Organizing for Action, the latest iteration of Obama’s campaign juggernaut, is a political operation (“as anyone over the age of 8 knows,” Greenfield insisted)—was asked by an audience member if he’d sign on as Clinton’s 2016 campaign manager if she called him and requested his services.
“No, I won’t run her campaign, because I’m done with that,” Plouffe replied. “I’m not going to speak to what Secretary of State Clinton will or will not do ... No question we [the Obama and Clinton campaigns] had a very tough primary ... But it’s interesting. When you go through something like that, you’re the only people who can fully appreciate what it was like. So you’re really slugging it out, really angry, and you can hold some grudges. But you have deep respect for your combatant who you went through it with. And then you see the amazing job she did as secretary of state.”
Plouffe added that if Clinton were to run next time, “she obviously will be an enormously strong candidate. It is too soon to know. She is, in both parties right now, by far the most interesting candidate and probably the strongest candidate.” Plouffe added: “All I know is I will accept her call whenever she calls—even if it’s at 3 a.m.”
The audience roared with laughter at Plouffe’s cheeky reference to one of Clinton’s more famous anti-Obama television commercials of 2008.
As might be expected, Plouffe fiercely defended his boss’s record—enacting Obamacare, degrading al Qaeda, ending and/or winding down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, reforming education, reversing economic catastrophe, and so on and so forth. He declared that he’s “proud” that Obama has frequently resorted to executive action to accomplish his agenda when Congress has refused to act. Plouffe bobbed and weaved in response to Greenfield’s questions about the continued use of Guantánamo prison, despite a campaign promise to close it; the persistent use of “rendition,” whereby suspected enemies of the United States are sent to jail in foreign countries that are less fastidious than Americans concerning prison conditions and torture; and the ambiguous attitude of Attorney General Eric Holder regarding the killing of American citizens on U.S. soil. “I don’t want to wade too deeply in these waters,” Plouffe responded.