Is There Room for a Pragmatist in the Oval Office?

While the nation’s attention is rightfully focused on November 6th, the most pivotal midterm elections in recent history, I’d also like to peer ahead into the not-so-distant future.

Dave Spencer - Oct 19, 2018

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While the nation’s attention is rightfully focused on November 6th, the most pivotal midterm elections in recent history, I’d also like to peer ahead into the not-so-distant future.

Once the dust has settled and Congressional majorities have been decided, our eyes will begin to turn to the 2020 presidential election. While that may seem like a ways away, in actuality, campaigning has already begun, with President Trump declaring his intention to run for re-election, and the emergence of the first Democratic candidate to throw his hat into the ring, Congressman John Delaney of Maryland.

I spoke to Rep. Delaney recently on our Practically Political podcast and want to share some of that conversation, as it resonated with some of my own thoughts and feelings about what this country needs in our next president.

A little background on Delaney: he was elected in 2013 and is the only former CEO of a publicly traded company currently serving in the House of Representatives. In 2017, he was named one of “50 of the World’s Greatest Leaders” by Fortune Magazine. He is also a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a group of 68 Democrats in the House who are committed to pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies, and are seeking to bridge the gap between left and right by challenging outmoded partisan approaches to governing.

[Note: This interview has been edited from the full podcast.]

DS: In the 2016 primaries, I supported Ohio Governor John Kasich, whom I thought was the most practical and qualified presidential candidate, as well as one who sought to unite rather than further divide the country. But the Republican Party leadership, as well as an angry, alienated base, was unwilling to move towards the center and given the nomination of Donald Trump. I ended up voting for Hillary Clinton. I know one of the foundations of your platform is a firm commitment to pragmatism, which is music to my ears, but what is a realistic definition of pragmatism in today’s highly partisan political environment?

JD: The realistic definition of pragmatism is for people to focus on areas where there’s clear common ground. There’s a long list of issues in this country, whether it’s infrastructure or reforming our criminal justice, doing things to improve the problem that is the Affordable Care Act, doing things for skills training, etc., where 70 to 80 percent of the American people broadly support action in these categories. But right now, the leadership is entirely focused on talking about things where we don’t agree with each other.

At the end of the day, whether it’s health care, education, employment, greater opportunity for their kids, and creating a world that’s more prosperous and more secure, these are the issues that overwhelmingly preoccupy the American people. They are the issues that affect their day-to-day lives and when Democrats are not talking about these issues, it’s a big missed opportunity because fundamentally, that’s our job, to improve people’s lives. I think the American people are rightly upset because their elected officials are too preoccupied with the things they care about as opposed to what citizens care about.

DS: You look at Bill Clinton in 1992 and it seems like there’s a real similarity to today. Democrats had lost five out of six of the last presidential elections and Republicans have lost six of the last seven popular votes. I believe that Democrats need a reason to get excited again and they need someone who understands how real people live. Clinton was that new Democrat back then, why are you 2018’s version of a New Democrat?

JD: The world has changed a lot since the early nineties and public policy and the issues have changed, as well. I’ve got a track record of building coalitions. For example, I have a bipartisan trillion dollar infrastructural proposal that has the head of the Progressive Caucus and the head of the Freedom Caucus each on the bill. Everything this great country has done historically has been on a bipartisan basis, so you have to build on a foundation of common ground. I also believe in the power of the private market; capitalism has been an extraordinary innovation machine and will continue to improve the quality of all of our lives. But we absolutely have to make capitalism more just and inclusive. And I fully embrace a whole bunch of reforms that are also broadly supported by the business community, to actually make it a system that more Americans can benefit from. And we need a president who understands the entrepreneurial economy because that’s what’s going to get us out of this mess.

I also spend a lot of time talking about how technological innovation and globalization are fundamentally changing everything in our society and the government is not doing the basic things that we should be doing to prepare ourselves and the American people get that. They see it in their day-to-day lives. They see that their kids are addicted to these digital devices and affecting them in school and with their mental health. They see how jobs are being displaced by automation and robotics. And we haven’t had leadership that has actually had the courage and honesty to talk about these issues and problems, and also talk honestly about the solutions that we need to do together as Americans.

DS: If President Trump runs for re-election in 2020, how will you and other Democrats counter his distortion or a denial of the facts, and how do you stay calm when he stokes anger amongst his base and makes personal attacks on his opponents? The concept of “when they go low, we go high,” is totally unrealistic in this scenario, much like the old saying “you don’t bring a knife to a gunfight.”

JD: Look, you have to go toe to toe with the president and call him out when he lies, call him out when he belittles people, call him out when he’s undermining the values and norms in our society. But the election isn’t about how bad he is, because my view is I think most Americans have figured a lot of that out. The election is really about what are we doing for them? What as a president will I do to make a difference in their lives?

What I would do in my first 100 days as president is say, “listen I represent everything to one of you whether you voted for me or not, and to prove it, in my first 100 days, here’s a list of things that enjoy broad bipartisan support in the Congress. I’m going to get the thing done for you and they’re going to matter in your lives. They’re going to help you, they’re going to help your kids, they’re going to help your families and they’re going to help our country compete in a world that’s changing rapidly.”

DS: As an estranged Republican, I believe the best thing that could happen to the GOP is to lose few elections because I just don’t see any other way to bring the party back towards the center. And if there is a blue wave in November, I hope it’s the beginning of a return to actual progress and that our country isn’t so deeply divided that the healing will take far longer. What makes your business experience relevant to resolving this fissure as the country’s chief executive officer?

JD: The entrepreneur in me knows that things can change and that we can turn this around very quickly. But we need a different kind of leadership and, more importantly, the American people have to own it. They have to be called upon to actually solve this problem because it’s going to take electing different types of people who actually want to try to represent everyone and get things done. The Democratic Party has a once in a generational opportunity right now because of what Trump done to fracture the Republican Party. If we can just become a civil, inclusive, commonsense party, we can get progressives, moderates, Independents and disaffected Republicans under one umbrella and we can win elections and actually govern.