American Politics and Elections
Finding Common Ground in an Era of Divisive Politics
Jim Messina, deputy chief of staff for former President Barack Obama, and Reince Priebus, former chief of staff for President Donald Trump, will discuss current issues from opposing points of view in a Common Ground program on Thursday, April 11, at 7:30 p.m., in Hamilton College’s Margaret Scott Bundy Field House.
The moderated discussion is free and open to the public, but tickets will be required.
Hamilton President David Wippman said the program – the fourth in the Common Ground series – responds to the sharp and escalating political polarization in the United States and abroad. Common Ground was established at Hamilton to demonstrate the power and importance of civil discourse. The program features well-known public figures with divergent political and worldviews engaging in thoughtful, respectful dialogue about difficult issues.
Jim Messina is arguably one of the world’s most successful political advisors. The mastermind behind President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign, Messina seized the reins on what Bloomberg Businessweek dubbed “the highest-wattage crash course in executive management ever undertaken”—and succeeded, earning the president another term in the White House. With the guidance of technology’s foremost leaders, Messina abandoned every step of a traditional presidential campaign and merged technology and politics in a way that was both unpredictable and unprecedented.
Messina’s strategies established the modern presidential campaign; Google’s executive chairman Eric Schmidt called it “the best-run campaign ever.” The American Association of Political Consultants crowned him the Campaign Strategist of the Year in 2013.
Since then Messina has advised presidents and prime ministers on five continents, including the U.K.’s Theresa May and David Cameron, Mexico’s Enrique Peña Nieto, Argentina’s Mauricio Macri, Italy’s Matteo Renzi, and in 2016 he helped Spain’s President Mariano Rajoy win a surprising re-election margin.
In 2013, Messina launched The Messina Group. In this role, he provides strategic consulting to businesses around the world. The firm has been involved in winning public policy campaigns on five continents. Clients include Uber, Airbnb, Google, Delta Air Lines, Hutchison Whampoa, and over 70 others.
Previously, Messina served as deputy chief of staff in President Barack Obama’s White House, where he was integral to the passage of the historic health care bill, the economic stimulus act credited with saving the U.S. economy, and the landmark repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.”
Messina continues to advise and guide Democratic candidates and organizations at all levels, and provides insight on news outlets such as MSNBC, CNN, Bloomberg, BBC and others. He serves on the boards of Organizing for Action, Virgin Hyperloop One, Google’s Advanced Technology Panel, Vectra.ai, Pillpack, the Patient Safety Movement Foundation, LanzaTech, Hyp3r, the United States Soccer Foundation, and the Montana Land Reliance.
Reince Priebus was named Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff shortly after the 2016 campaign concluded. Prior to managing the White House staff, Priebus was the longest-serving chairman of the Republican National Committee in modern history. He oversaw a dramatic turnaround of the RNC, rescuing its finances, repairing its operations, and rebuilding its ground game. By welcoming new voters and harnessing the power of new technologies, Priebus built the infrastructure needed for landslide GOP victories. He left the RNC as one of the winningest chairmen of either political party in American history.
A successful chairman of the Republican Party of Wisconsin, Priebus created the framework for one of the most historic election cycles Wisconsin has ever experienced. During his tenure, Republicans in the state elected Ron Johnson to the Senate, gained two additional U.S. House seats, won the Governor’s mansion, and took back both the state Assembly and Senate, defeating the leaders of both those chambers.
Priebus has a long history in Republican politics as a grassroots volunteer. He worked his way up through the ranks of the Republican Party of Wisconsin as 1st congressional district chairman, state party treasurer, first vice chair, and eventually state party chairman. In 2009, Priebus served as general counsel to the RNC, volunteering his time to help manage the party’s most difficult challenges. Priebus will be a visiting Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School this spring. Currently, Priebus serves as president & chief strategist of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP, and chairman of the Board of Advisors of Michael Best Strategies, the firm’s government relations and public affairs group.
The inaugural Common Ground program at Hamilton took place in October 2017 and featured political strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove. USA Today Washington Bureau Chief Susan Page served as moderator. Former national security advisors Condoleezza Rice and Susan Rice were featured in a combined Common Ground/ Sacerdote Great Names discussion moderated by NBC’s Andrea Mitchell at Hamilton in April 2018. Hamilton alumni Mike Dubke, a former assistant in the Trump White House, and Marc Elias, general counsel for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, engaged in a Common Ground discussion in October, with journalist Jackie Judd as moderator.
Finding Common Ground in an Era of Divisive Politics
Diplomacy at its Finest
On the brink of possible U.S. airstrikes in Syria, and a summit meeting with North Korea, the discussion between Susan Rice, former U.S. ambassador to the UN and national security advisor to President Obama, and Condoleezza Rice, former Secretary of State and national security advisor to President George W. Bush was particularly relevant on April 11.
Rove and Axelrod Find Degrees of Agreement
The Hamilton community crossed and recrossed the aisle on October 18 during the inaugural Common Ground discussion, which featured David Axelrod and Carl Rove, chief strategists and chiefs of staff for former presidents Obama and Bush 43rd, respectively, as well as moderator Susan Page, Washington bureau chief of USA Today.