Mike Dubke ’92 P ’19, veteran communications operative and former assistant in the Trump White House, and Marc Elias ’90, a partner with Perkins Coie who served as general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, met for a live Facebook chat on Dec. 2. The two discussed America’s increasingly polarized political divide and what created this division, a conversation inspired by Hamilton’s Common Ground event.
The discussion was moderated by journalist and independent communications consultant Jackie Judd P ’14 and was part of the College’s 1812 Leadership Circle Weekend.
So how did we end up in this severely polarized political climate?
Dubke and Elias began by discussing possible inflection points from the past few decades. Dubke referred to 2004 and the reelection campaign for George W. Bush as an important event from a policy and technology standpoint.
“The Republican party made a strategic decision to go after the base and get those individuals who more identified with Republicanism or conservative ideas to turn out and vote, rather than trying to persuade the middle,” Dubke said.
He continued, saying that the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (commonly known as the McCain-Feingold Act) advertised that, as Dubke put it, “it was much more efficient to turn out those who might be like you, than spend money trying to persuade somebody.”
Elias cited Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America in 1994 as an example of a key pivot point that contributed to today’s partisan divide, but said that a more complicated issue has been plaguing our country.
“It has become okay in 2016 and 2017 for a politician to say ‘There were good whites marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville’ or to retweet a fringe-racist video from the UK, and for a political party to defend all that… what you have here is that the divisions in politics are not whether the tax cuts should go here or there, but more to people’s senses of who they are,” Elias said.
“You could be in favor of net neutrality, lower taxes, free internet, whatever, but if you don’t believe that DREAMers should stay, you don’t believe that there is such a thing as global warming, and you’re not willing to acknowledge that someone who calls themselves a Neo-Nazi and marches with torches is not a good person, there is no entry point for that person to consider your candidacy,” Elias said. “And the reverse is also true.”
Dubke and Elias also touched on the role of media in today’s political climate, discussing how Trump’s preference to communicate with Americans using Twitter impacts our country, as opposed to using traditional press releases.
“Almost no one reads The New York Times,” Elias said. “When I was growing up, you would start on page one, then work your way through The New York Times. Now, if there’s an article that someone likes that happens to be in The New York Times, it self-populates, it shows up in your Facebook feed, or Twitter feed.”
Dubke and Elias answered questions from the live audience.