The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Michelle Cottle
On The Nation: Lisa Owen interviews Michelle
Youtube clips from the show are available here.
Lisa Owen: Well, the Democrats had a catchphrase during this election campaign ‘When they go low, we go high.’ But the campaign did go low when it was revealed that Donald Trump had made sexist comments about women and had been caught on camera. But that didn’t stop women voting for Donald Trump. I’m joined now by Michelle Cottle from The Atlantic. Good morning. Can you tell me – Hillary Clinton, was she just the wrong woman to stand for this, or were people rejecting her as a woman?
Michelle Cottle: Well, I think mostly it was the particular, but it’s impossible to pass the sexism that has gone into vilifying her over the years. So I think in the big picture, there’s a lot of sexism involved in terms of why certain segments of American society hate Hillary so much. But, that said, on the flip side, there were a lot of people who should have been really excited about this moment who weren’t, and a lot of that was wrapped up in Hillary’s baggage, how controversial she is and just all these years of people watching her and making their judgements about her.
Yeah. I think the thing is on the street, when people came up to you unsolicited, people would say she’s not trustworthy, she’s part of this political elite, a dynasty. What was with all of that?
Well, it has been going on since the early ‘90s, that the message especially from the right politically has been, ‘They’re corrupt. They’re crooked. She’s Lady Macbeth. She’s Machiavellian.’ They did not have, kind of, the squeaky-clean image that Barack Obama had when he was running. So when all of this came up with the email server and then when people hacked into her emails and found things that are actually pretty common in politics, but because they were looking at Hillary through the prism of, ‘Oh, this family is always trying to get away with stuff,’ it had a very negative impact and dampened enthusiasm.
Well, I suppose it raises the question how much of that criticism was founded, was fair criticism of her?
And it’s really difficult to pass out, kind of, what people’s baggage specifically with Hillary, how that played into all this. People talked about and there have been lots of pieces written about how if it were another politician, it would not have resonated quite so much. And let’s be frank. I mean, Donald Trump is being investigated for a lot of different things as well and none of that stuck to him. Almost nothing. It was like Teflon.
Well, the thing is, I suppose, also Trump is part of the elite as well. He’s an incredibly rich man. He moves in certain circles, so how it is that he managed to win people over?
Well, it was the ultimate irony in that this Manhattan billionaire was able to play the populous card. Now, there is a bit to Trump’s style. I mean, he’s always had this chip on his shoulder. He’s been looked down on by political and business elites, because he’s, frankly, a vulgar guy, and a lot of him money started out coming from his family. So he’s always had this chip on his shoulder, and I think that resonated with the white, working-class voters who turned out in droves for him, because they feel like they’ve been looked down on, they’ve been left behind and people have scorned them as well. So he took that really angry populist message, and it was the right message for this point in time.
But the thing is when you look at the numbers, more than 50% of white women voted for Trump, and you’ve really got to ask why, given everything we saw during the campaign. What turned them to him?
Well, married white women almost always go Republican, so Trump’s particular benefit this time around was non college-educated white women. Now, Hillary won college-educated white women. But what was underestimated was the numbers of these people that would turn out and vote for him. And American politics is kind of like a blood sport. There are conservative women who would rather vote for Stalin than vote for Hillary Clinton, just like there a conservative men who would go that way as well. Now, what usually happens is the Democrats make up in other ways, but that didn’t happen this time. Hillary’s base did not turn out for her in the numbers to make up for that, and the result is what it is.
Why didn’t her base turn out?
Well, this goes to the- Hillary has never been an inspirational candidate. She’s has always been the kind of workhorse who earned it and deserved it. I mean, this is why, in some ways, she lost to Obama in 2008. He was hope and change and he spoke to people’s emotions. And when Americans are voting for a president, they are voting on gut-level feelings. I mean, no one even knows what Trump’s policies are. (LAUGHS)
And in that sense, you knew where he was coming from, though. He spoke to people’s gut.
He absolutely spoke to people’s guts, and some people hated it, but some people loved it. And on balance, that’s better than not having any sort of clear message at all, and she lacked a clear message. She’s always lacked, kind of, this driving, inspirational message. In 2008 she lacked it and-
So ‘stronger together’ wasn’t enough of a message?
No, that’s not a message. What does that even mean? He had a message that really jacked people up. I mean, good or bad – he had this, and it was enough.
So he had a message, but has he got to the goods behind it? I mean, what kind of presidency can you expect from Donald Trump, given he’s said things like he’s going to look for a conservative person to appoint to the Supreme Court? He wants a conservative judge. For women, what’s that going to mean for decades to come?
Nothing, because it’s going to basically put the balance of the court back where it was. Now, if he were picking to replace, say, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s a very liberal Justice, that would be something different. This basically means if you don’t want the court to tilt, as a woman, you need to be rooting for everyone to stay healthy going forward. But he is replacing Antonin Scalia, who was the most conservative brain on that court. And so it will return it to what it was. The problem will be if there is another opening coming up, and then Democrats will have to deal with that.
But there are – what – two, three judges who are there aged over 70. It’s conceivable that could happen.
It is. It’s absolutely conceivable that could happen, and what is coming up will be a question of what happens in the midterms, which are just two years down the road. Democrats will be reminding people of this, you can bet.
But he’s been saying things, and he said in the debate about abortion that he would overturn- he wants to get Roe vs Wade overturned. Landmark case regarding women’s rights. Can that happen?
Well, if he stacks the court beyond this appointment with conservative justices who are happy to overturn Roe vs Wade, yes, sure. Anything can happen. Now, one question is, ‘Is that really a priority of his?’ People say a lot of things in campaigns, and he has said more than most. He has made the most outrageous promises. He’s going to build that wall and deport 11 million immigrants and never let Muslims back in, and he’s going to be stack- He has gone through, he has promised the world to his voters, and these people are waiting to see what he delivers on.
And how much do you think he will deliver from that list?
Well, there are certain easy things that I’m not even sure they care about. Like, the TPP trade pact will be dead for a while. He’s going to try to roll back ObamaCare, and he’ll have to work with the Republicans on that if there are any pieces they want to try and keep. The things that he agrees with the Republican Congress on will be much easier to try for. Things like a trade war. There is not a Republican senator who is going to be lining up to start a trade war or to tear up a lot of these trade negotiation pacts that he’s been aiming for.
But he seems to be dialling things back already. In his acceptance speech, if you like, he was already kind of dialling things back, taking a more conciliatory tone. Yet, he’s promised some of those things. As you said, he appealed to people’s guts by saying, ‘Let’s build a wall.’ If he doesn’t give those baseline things, where does that leave him?
Well, it leaves him, basically, with a really angry group of followers. Now, here’s the thing – no one knows what he believes. No one knows what his politics are. He is not a traditional conservative, but that’s what made the Republican Congress nervous. He is not one of these people who is looking to strip out all government. I mean, his first discussion is infrastructure. Infrastructure spending is extremely expensive. That money has to come from somewhere, and the deficit hawks in Congress aren’t going to like all that spending. Everybody, in theory, likes infrastructure spending, but when it comes time to pay for it, he’s going to have to figure this out. So there will be a lot of these issues that he just kind of has to work through, and it will be a question of priorities, and it will be interesting to see how that pans out.
So, what do you think is going on in the Republican Party at the moment? Because obviously there was a lot of- there was massive gnarl-ups during the election campaign. You had Paul Ryan throwing down with him, people backing away from Trump. Are they all going to play nice now?
Yeah, they’ll play nice, because they’ve got control of all of government. There will be a few people like Senator Lindsey Graham, who was very outspoken and he didn’t even vote for Trump. Senator Ben Sasse. There are a handful of people who were very outspoken about their concerns, but even they will acknowledge that they have to play nice with a president from their own party.
And the woman who didn’t get the presidency – let’s come back to her. What do you think? In her concession speech, she said, ‘This is going to be painful for some time.’ Must have been humiliating for her. What’s she going to do now?
She can do whatever she wants. I mean,
basically, she can go back to the foundation. She can start
some new women’s rights. She’s always been starting
issue organisations, things like that. Vital Voices, which
works with women leaders across the globe, she started years
ago. She has the, kind of, credentials and the high profile
to do whatever she wants. And when she’s not running for
president, everyone loves her. When she was Secretary of
State, she was the Republican’s favourite Democrat,
favourite member of the Cabinet. It was only when she became
the presidential nominee that they decided she was once more
So, 2020 for the Democrats. Who’s it going to be?
Well, this is one of the party’s big problems, because ever since Obama won, Hillary has been the presumptive candidate-in-waiting, and that has shaded a lot people and kept them from growing as they should. So the question is what do they do about their farm team now, and no one knows. There are a lot of different directions. They’re going to have to fight it out. Whether the populist Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders branch-
Yeah, I was going to say is it going to be a woman again?
…of the party is going to dominate, or if they’re going to try and stick with the more, kind of, middle of the road. And that’s just going to be- Every time a party loses, there’s so much soul-searching and so much infighting that it’s just best to sit back with popcorn and watch. It’s ugly.
You thought you were going to have a woman in the White House as the president. In 240 years, it hasn’t happened. How long are you going to have to wait?
Well, this depends kind of on what the Democrats do about their farm team. There are senators in waiting, but a lot presidents just can’t come through the Congress, so it’s almost going to fall to governors or people in the states or just some crazy, totally without experience candidate, like Trump did. Although, I do think that’s less likely to happen with a woman. Fair or not, I think that’s one of those gender issues where people would not accept that from a woman.
Michelle Cottle from The Atlantic, thanks for joining us this morning.
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