Two University of Delaware alumni from across the aisle – Democrat David Plouffe and Republican Steve Schmidt – offered their views on the 2012 election during a National Agenda "Road to the Presidency" presentation on Wednesday in Mitchell Hall.
Their verdict was that the electorate offered a mandate for the two parties to work together to solve important problems facing the nation, including the "fiscal cliff," and that the Republican Party must consider significant changes to attract support in a changing America.
Plouffe is a senior adviser to President Barack Obama and Schmidt is vice chairman for public affairs of Edelman, one of the world's largest public relations firms, who has served as a senior adviser for a number of GOP candidates, including 2008 presidential nominee John McCain. He has been seen frequently on television as an analyst for NBC and MSNBC.
The two Blue Hens were greeted enthusiastically by a large audience as key players in making UD the "epicenter" of national politics, and offered a lively and entertaining take on the election.
Plouffe said it is important not to "overlearn" the lessons of an election just over and that while the demographic makeup of the winning coalition – Obama captured a significant percentage of the vote among Latinos, African Americans, women and younger voters – is justifiably getting a lot of attention, he believes the race was decided just as much on policies. When it came time to cast ballots, he said the voters had more trust in Obama on issues such as the economy, education, the environment and social issues.
If there is one mandate for both parties, Plouffe said, "it is simply a mandate to work together" and he is hopeful this is a moment in history where the leaders of the two sides can put aside their differences to focus on the needs of the people.
Schmidt said Republicans should not underestimate the magnitude of the Democratic victory, quoting McCain who in turn quoted Mao Zedong: "It's always darkest before it's completely black."
And, Schmidt said, demographics is a huge problem. From the 40 percent of the Latino vote captured by Republican George W. Bush in 2004, the GOP has being steadily going downhill. "You are seeing the Republican policy of antagonizing the fastest growing group in America paying off," he said to laughter.
Beyond the presidential race, he lamented the fact that Republicans have lost five U.S. Senate seats in the last two election cycles by putting up unqualified candidates, including Christine O'Donnell in Delaware in 2010.
Where conservatism is in fact a serious governing philosophy, "conservatism has become synonymous in the voters' minds with absolute looniness," Schmidt said, making it difficult "to get to first base" with many voters.
For change to occur, Schmidt said it is vital that Republican leaders stand up to what he called the "conservative entertainment complex" – the Glenn Becks and Rush Limbaughs who make a lot of money pushing polarization.
"We have a lot of soul searching to do as a political party," Schmidt said, adding that the GOP has not only a demographic problem but also a message problem and a policy problem.
"It may be that Republicans have to lose another election or two before thy figure out that they have to meet voters where they are at rather than the other way around," he said.