A Watershed Race

Political strategists David Axelrod and Beth Myers, J79, analyze the current election season in a conversation at Tufts
Beth Myers and David Axelrod at Tufts
“We need young, motivated people to turn to civic engagement, and policy in particular,” said David Axelrod. Photo: Shamit Sthankiya
April 19, 2016

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All bets are off in the current presidential election cycle, according to two veteran political strategists. “It’s a fool’s bet to put money on anyone right now,” said Beth Myers, J79, a senior advisor to Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012.

David Axelrod, senior strategist for Barack Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, said that Democratic voters would only be galvanized in the general election by having to make a choice between Hillary Clinton and her Republican opponent. “The choice is going to be very, very stark,” he said. “A lot of Democrats are going to be excited if Donald Trump is the candidate. They’re going to come out and vote.”

Axelrod and Myers spoke to a capacity crowd at Tufts on April 13 as part of the Tisch College Distinguished Speaker Series. Their discussion was moderated by Jeffrey Berry, the John Richard Skuse Professor of Political Science in the School of Arts and Sciences.

“In an election, the winning party’s future is defined by the president,” Berry said. “What I want to know is what’s going to happen to the losing party?”

With Republicans controlling the House and Senate, Myers suggested that Democrats would need to work with House Speaker Paul Ryan to demonstrate bipartisan cooperation as well as connect with constituents on the state level. Axelrod characterized the Republican Party as “incoherent,” with a fracturing between an angry core of Trump supporters and more traditional center-right Republicans. In addition to piecing those groups back together, he said, the GOP needs to do more to attract women, young people and Hispanics to the party.

Axelrod and Myers share a combined six decades “in the trenches,” Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont noted in his introductory remarks. Myers was Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s chief of staff and his presidential campaign manager in 2008; in the 2012 race, she also oversaw the vetting process for his running mate. Axelrod has worked for more than 150 candidates, including John Edwards, Deval Patrick and Rahm Emanuel, in addition to Obama. He is also founder and director of the nonpartisan Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago, a senior political analyst for NBC and MSNBC, and host of a CNN podcast called The Axe Files.

When Axelrod met Myers at a 2012 post-election event at the University of Chicago, he asked her to join the politics institute as a founding fellow. Now she serves on the board of advisors. “Four years ago we were competing against each other fiercely,” says Axelrod. “There’s a lot of stuff we don’t agree on, but she is one of the most honorable people I know. One of the things we need to get away from in politics is the need to impeach each other as human beings because we disagree on some issues.”

The importance of reaching across party lines once all the campaigning has ended was a theme throughout the discussion. One student asked what could be done to encourage better relations between political parties. “Our generation screwed this up,” said Myers. “There needs to be civility and accommodations. You guys can do better.”

Axelrod agreed. “We need young, motivated people to turn to civic engagement, and policy in particular,” he said. “Congress is going to meet—with you or without you. Legislatures are going to meet with or without you. We need smart young people to get involved.”

Divya Amladi can be reached at divya.amladi@tufts.edu.