National Review

NRPLUS Conference Call with Rich Lowry and Karl Rove

(NRO Illustration: Elijah Smith)

Yesterday morning, NR editor in chief Rich Lowry spoke with political consultant Karl Rove to members of the NRPLUS group on a private conference call. The pair discussed the 2020 presidential race, including President Donald Trump’s chances at reelection and how the Democratic primary will shake out.

Rich started the call by discussing the lurch to the left made by the Democratic candidates for president over the past three months. Karl explained that the Green New Deal, free higher education, and a living wage for people unwilling to work can be good for conservatives, if conservatives take the ideas seriously. For the Right to maximize the opportunity, we should do the following: 1. Make the case about why these ideas are bad from an economic and policy perspective. 2. Explain why these ideas violate the values on which we built this country. 3. Offer the conservative answers to these issues in a constructive way. Only if we handle these issues smartly will we be able to tackle them. Karl pointed out that it’s wrong to assume that swing voters have the same beliefs about these ideas as we do. These issues are energizing the Left, as we could see in the results of the 2018 elections, partially because Republicans weren’t attacking bad left-wing ideas.

Rich and Karl then turned to what strategies Democrats might employ during the primary race. The first strategy, Karl said, is to prioritize firing up the base. “The resistance is real, and the hate for Trump is real,” they would say, “so all we have to do is mobilize them in support of that goal.” The second strategy is focusing on the 2018 victory, and take voters away from Trump in key issues. According to Karl, the overlying strategic judgement is, and the defining factor of a candidate’s campaign will be, is whether to focus on the base or Republicans in the suburbs.

Karl also explored the “critical” rules that will define the Democratic primary process. First, the Democratic rules for apportioning delegates are very proportional, while the Republican rules are not. If you win 17 percent of the vote in Texas, say, you will receive 17 percent of that state’s delegates. So the vote is going to be split up. Second, the Democrats have front-loaded the primaries. Four mega-states are voting early, which means there are going to be many more candidates early on in March as opposed to in the later months, which means Democrats may show up in Milwaukee without someone having a majority on the first ballot. Finally, they have changed the rule defining superdelegates. Now, superdelegates cannot vote on the first ballot, which might cause issues if no candidate is determined and the party has to turn to a second ballot. In that case, 700 superdelegates would come in and completely change the game. “If they go more than one ballot, Karl said, “we have a good chance for a lot of different complications.”

Next, Karl and Rich turned to questions from members. One NRPLUS member asked about what conservatives can do to solve the issue of young people being more left-wing than ever. Karl said that having active college Republican clubs like College Republicans and Young Americans for Freedom, making sure campuses host robust conservative speakers, and reaching out to people who aren’t totally locked into the Left will help campus conservatives recognize that they are not alone and rescue those who aren’t sure what they believe. “We have to treat millennial voters and the generation that follows them like all other voters,” Karl said. “We have to address them like, ‘Here are the actual outcomes of that policy.'”

The movement by liberals to provide free higher education is one way to connect with college students. Many of them are working their way through college on their parents’ sacrifice or their own sacrifice. Is it fair, we ask them, to take money out of the pocket of someone who can afford it and give it to someone who can’t? And where is that money going to come from? It’s going to come from the pockets of people who are working today and will be working in the future. It’ll come with a heavy price tag too, because it’s coming from people who can’t pay it back. “We need to recognize,” Karl said, “that we have to make the argument to them just like we’re making it to everyone else.”

Karl then explored a suggestion from a user that Joe Biden is the strongest Democratic candidate. Karl agreed in part, as Joe Biden has strength in the midwest with unionized voters. He could also announce that he’d only serve one term, stepping in temporarily to pull the country together and then leaving the light. Biden’s drawbacks? The primary is going to be difficult for someone who isn’t on the far Left, and Biden is an unpredictable candidate. It was smart of him to wait, Karl explained, but he needs to get in before the June debates. He has to do something that causes Democrats to say, “Hey, he may be 78, but he has a real shot in this race.”

A recording of the call is above. Thank you to those who joined us, and we look forward to seeing you all for the next one.

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