John Sununu, a former Republican senator from New Hampshire, and David Plouffe, a one-time political adviser to President Barack Obama, sparred during an interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital with Al Hunt,” airing this weekend, on the political impact of the health-care law and discussed the 2016 presidential race.
(This is not a legal transcript. Bloomberg LP cannot guarantee its accuracy.)
AL HUNT: The conventional wisdom has been Republicans will parlay the unpopularity of the health-care law this November while Democrats are hoping that a growing economy will offset that. Joining me now to discuss this are two of the best political minds in Washington, former New Hampshire Senator John Sununu, and former Obama campaign chief David Plouffe.
All right, John. Affordable Healthcare Act was going to be a disaster. You know, it still may be, but things have been a lot better lately. Aren’t Republicans making a mistake by putting all their eggs in that basket?
FORMER SENATOR JOHN SUNUNU: I don’t think they’re putting all their eggs in that basket, and things really aren’t that great. The one thing that the president can hang his hat on and try to declare ‘mission accomplished’ on is that they hit a total of 7 million signups.
But when you break down those numbers, you try to identify who was really without insurance before, it shrinks. And the cost is still very high --
HUNT: So you still think it’s a big asset for Republicans?
SUNUNU: It’s a big liability for Democrats --
HUNT: For Democrats.
SUNUNU: And it will continue to be a liability for Democrats. But you’ve got to build other assets, other issues. And I think Republicans are cognizant of that.
HUNT: David, one of the issues they may try to build is the economy. The economy actually is doing pretty well, but the polls show that people don’t think it’s doing very well. They think they haven’t recovered. Is that going to hurt Democrats?
DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST DAVID PLOUFFE: Well, first on health care, I think the Republicans seem obsessed with it, and partially that they’re captive to their base. This is what their base is excited about, is so-called ObamaCare.
And the voters are ready to move on. Even in the most Southern and most conservative states, people don’t want to go re-fight this battle over repeal. So I think the trick for the Republicans is to try and have, as Senator Sununu suggested, other messages on other issues. But we’ll see.
HUNT: But when 55 percent of the country still opposed the bill, for whatever reason, you can’t argue that it’s about the base. It’s not. It’s about a very broad swath of the public.
On the economy, we have some incumbent Democratic senators.
The economy has been playing an important role here obviously. Most economists think that we’re going to gain speed as the year goes on and I think that will help Democrats.
The problem is for people trying to get the middle class, middle-class voters, they don’t feel that much more secure. That’s a defining challenge to our country. But politically, even though the statistics have gotten better, to the average worker out there, you know, they don’t feel that secure.
SUNUNU: And that’s a problem.
HUNT: The president is in Asia this weekend. There are a lot of critics who say, David, that America looks like it’s withdrawing from the world. Fair critique?
PLOUFFE: Not at all. And I think if you look at, first of all, the rest of the world, survey after survey shows they certainly prefer this style of leadership than the previous eight years.
I think we’ve led a fight against terror that continues. We have ended the Iraq war; in the process of ending Afghanistan, where I think we have restored diplomacy to its rightful place in our toolbox.
Asia is a great example, a place where American leadership, I think, can pay profound dividends, and not just for that region, but for our country and our businesses. And I think the sort of -- the turn to Asia, as we look back on it in the years ahead, is going to be a really important --
HUNT: My guess is, John, you have a slightly different perspective.
SUNUNU: Well, you phrased it right. How do we look? We look weak against Russia; we look weak against China. And the president’s traveling around the Pacific Rim right now, knowing he’s not going to get a Pacific trade deal because his own Democrats in Congress have no interest in taking up trade promotion authority, and trade historically has been both a generator economically, but also something that’s bipartisan.
HUNT: Let me turn to politics. I tried to play Albert the Greek and tried to place odds on the Republican nominee for 2016. We will put it up on the board. I started with Jeb Bush at 4:1. John, you spent a long time telling me why I’m wrong. So tell me why I’m wrong on this.
SUNUNU: No, look, anyone’s odds are as good as anyone else’s odds at such an early stage. But looking at your list, I had a couple of observations.
One, my friend John Kasich wasn’t on there. And I haven’t endorsed anybody for president, but I think John and a couple of the national governors, Republican governors, would all be very well positioned to consider a run -- chief executive experience, we’ve talked about this before when you’re coming from a state house.
And I also think you maybe underestimate the current strength of Rand Paul, because he really is building on an infrastructure that his father had, had strong vote totals in a lot of the early primary states, and in a country, an electorate mood, that isn’t necessarily far right or far left --
HUNT: Did I over or underestimate Jeb Bush?
SUNUNU: Yes, I think that’s about right. I think that’s about right.
HUNT: OK. David?
PLOUFFE: I’m not sure anyone’s 4:1. I think -- I think -- I think they’re all in a pack, five, six, seven, eight --
PLOUFFE: I do think in addition to Scott Walker, I agree. I think some other governors will look at this. I think that’s probably a very strong place for someone to run this time. I think people running out of Washington in the Republican Party will have some difficulty.
But you’ve got to understand, someone like a Ted Cruz, you know, if they become the Tea Party darling, you know, that’s, in some states, 25-30 percent of the electorate. So the question is who can consolidate the rest of that?
I think what you’re looking at -- and it’s hard -- you shouldn’t make predictions. This thing could go deep into May or June. And if Hillary Clinton does run and has an uneventful primary, that’s going to be a big benefit to the Democratic team
HUNT: I know that. You mentioned if Hillary Clinton does run, let’s assume she runs. No one has ever gotten a free pass in presidential elections, going back to the, you know, to Eisenhower. Who’s the most likely Democrat to run against her, would you guess?
PLOUFFE: Well, someone will. They’ll take a flyer. I don’t know who. You know, Governor O’Malley’s talking about it.
But listen, we ran against her in ’08 and beat her. She was as almost unbeatable then. She started with 40 percent of the Democratic primary electorate firmly for her. Now she’s up around 66, 65, 70. No one in either party’s been that way and they’re enthusiastic.
So I think there’s very little oxygen for somebody else. Doesn’t mean someone won’t run and, you know, they won’t have their moment on the debate stage or get 30 percent in a state somewhere. But I think if someone runs, it’s really to just try and set themselves up for future, you know, build their name, get a show on MSNBC --
HUNT: You --
PLOUFFE: But not a serious candidate.
HUNT: You, John, you Granite Staters do not like to coronate people.
SUNUNU: No, no. Two groups of people that might run against Hillary Clinton, you know, one group of people who don’t care. I’d put Bernie Sanders in that category. And you might get a few sort of hard progressives --
HUNT: From the Left.
SUNUNU: -- from the Left. And those that are thinking about being vice president. And I think people would fairly put Martin O’Malley in that category.
Another observation, though, is don’t suggest that a coronation is a good thing for the candidate. Look at successful presidential candidates like George H.W. Bush, who came through a very tough primary; Bill Clinton --
HUNT: Barack Obama.
SUNUNU: -- very tough primary; Barack Obama, very tough primary. So there’s a certain value to being put through the paces, being challenged, developing a message and finding out how to connect with different constituents.
HUNT: We will have more fun with these odds. I did say John Kasich was a possibility, but he’s been hurt by the Medicaid expansion. But we’ll see if that’s right, too, John.
Listen, John and David, thank you both very much.
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