Interview with DNC Chairman Tim Kaine

By Rachel Maddow Show, Rachel Maddow Show - July 9, 2010


July 8, 2010



Guests: Jakada Imani, Brig. Gen. Ben Hodges, Tim Kaine, Terry O'Neill

CHRIS HAYES, GUEST HOST: Good evening, Keith. Thanks a lot. Have a great weekend.


HAYES: Thank you at home for staying with us for the next hour. I am Chris Hayes, Washington editor of "The Nation," in for Rachel Maddow. We'll have more of her reporting from Afghanistan coming up this hour.

But we begin tonight with President Obama back on the campaign trail in Nevada, attempting to save the seat of the top Democrat in the Senate, Harry Reid.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: He doesn't always do what's easy. He doesn't always do what is popular. But he always does what's right for the people of Nevada. That's why you have to send him back for one more-for one more term.


HAYES: Over the next four months, as we creep towards November's midterm elections, prepare to see a lot of that from Barack Obama. High energy campaign rallies, big donor fundraising events, desperate pleas to get out there and vote Democrat in November.

Right now, the task facing President Obama and elected Democrats is a pretty daunting one. Find a way to hold off what looks to be a Republican electoral tidal wave. Doing that involves finding a message that will resonate with voters and Mr. Obama now appears to have settled on one.


OBAMA: There is a real choice here. We know how the movie ends if the other party is in charge. You don't have to guess how they'll govern because we're still living with the damage from the last time they were governing. And they're singing from the same hymnal. They haven't changed. They want to do the same stuff.


HAYES: So, broadly speaking, that's the strategy for Democrats:

argue that if Republicans take back power, things will get worse.

Republicans on the other hand have an easier task. Their only objective at this point is to make these elections a vote of no confidence against the Democrats.

Take the race in Nevada. The Republican running against Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is, of course, one Sharron Angle. Perhaps you've heard of her. Sharron Angle has made herself famous over the last month by advocating, quote, "Second Amendment remedies to take Harry Reid out," for arguing impregnated rape victims should make lemonade out of lemons, and most recently, for calling the BP compensation fund for oil spill victims a Democratic slush fund.

And yet, Sharron Angle still has a pretty good shot at beating Harry Reid because she gets to run TV ads like this.


HAYES: It goes on from there-on and on like that, lots of ominous music and lots of staggering unemployment headlines from Nevada. On the surface, what's about to happen in November is sort of obvious, right? I mean, just look at the unemployment numbers in the country right now and you can make all of the Republican landslide predictions that you want.

But if you actually scratch the surface, it's a fascinating moment in American politics. Here's why: over the past decade or so, this country has gone through such a series of failures that there's now this serial discontent with whoever happens to be in power. The last two elections, 2006 and 2008, have essentially been elections of discontent. They've been elections of frustration, and the party in power has paid. And this election, 2010, will be the third consecutive election like that.

Democrats now inherit that discontent and the Republicans stand to benefit from it. For Republicans, being the challenger is unifying, necessarily. It's easier to keep together a coalition when you're in the opposition. That was certainly true of the center-left during the Bush years. Everybody was more or less pulling in the same direction. And now, that's happening in a similar fashion on the center-right.

Earlier this week, Sam Stein of "The Huffington Post" uncovered this chart that's been making the rounds in Democratic circles. It shows the staggering amount of money that center-right groups are prepared to spend on the midterm elections: more than $200 million for Republican candidates. Conservative groups are mobilized in a big way right now.

And as much as Democrats might want to believe that the rise of the tea party might help fracture the right and siphon votes towards Democrats, as Dave Weigel notes at today, the evidence doesn't quite bear that out. The tea party is much more aligned with the Republican Party than Democrats would like to believe. In a lot of ways, what's happening on the center right amongst conservatives and Republicans right now at this moment is an exact echo of what was happening on the center-left during the Bush years. It's all these outside groups prepared to spend unprecedented amounts of money to get their candidates elected. It's a mature and savvy grassroots focused on pragmatic victories, willing to bite their tongues in some cases in order to win back the majority.

And what conservatives are adopting what's worked for-are adopting what has worked for the center-left in recent years: coordination, activated grassroots, big, independent expenditures, and a simple message that amounted largely to a referendum on the party in power based on people's discontent.

OK. So, now, it's your move, progressives. It's your move, Democratic Party. It's your move, Barack Obama.

The progressive infrastructure that swept Democrats into power came together under conditions of opposition. And it now faces the first election which its own tactics are pointed against it. So, the question right now for the left is: what does that infrastructure do in its first time defending incumbency?

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