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The Nation: Republican strategist, Evan Siegfried

On Newshub Nation: Simon Shepherd interviews Republican strategist, Evan Siegfried 3/11/18

Simon Shepherd: Two years after Donald Trump was elected president, voters in the US are returning to the polls - this time for the mid-term election. At stake is control of the Houses of Congress. President Trump's waded into an already heated debate with attack ads linking immigrants to violent crime; and suggestions the military could fire on migrants who throw rocks. But will his anti-immigration stance work... or backfire badly for the Republicans? Republican political strategist Evan Siegfried joins us now from New York. Evan, thanks for your time. How is that anti-immigration message really being received in the US?

Evan Siegfried: Well, it’s being received by Republicans as a shot in the arm. It’s a bunch of steroids for what was a depressed base. Democrats have had the wind at their backs for quite some time now. In 2017 it became evident with the few races in Virginia, New Jersey and local races that were across the country that Democrats were doing very well and over performing what people thought they would do, and they thought they would do well then. So the level to which Democrats have been performing based upon the anger at Donald Trump and Republicans in general is through the roof, whereas Republicans – we haven’t been as enthused. That changed just over a month ago with the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings and the drama from that. There was the so-called Kavanaugh effect which everybody thought was going to take Republicans back into looking like they were going to keep control of both the House and Senate, but it was a sugar high. And now Donald Trump is going to his greatest hits and what the Republican base eats up of immigration. That is really what drives Republican voters out, whereas Democrats are talking about healthcare – affordability of it and access to quality care – and it’s really resonating with the Democratic base and independents. On top of that you also have this being a referendum on Donald Trump. There are no two ways around it.

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Okay. Other events leading up to the midterms – we’ve seen the 11 people killed in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and pipe bombs sent to the media and prominent Democrats. Has any of that had an effect on voter turnout in this election?

No, it hasn’t changed voter turnout one way or the other. The pipe bombs, the shooting in the Tree of Life Synagogue – all of those were things that are symptomatic of a political world in the United States that is way off the rails. It is much more divisive, it is much more nasty, and I think voters were already upset about that and that’s part of the reason why they’re voting. The only person who is actually saying it has an impact is Donald Trump, who says it took away all this glorious momentum Republicans had, and that was his real anger at those acts – not the fact that the media were being sent pipe bombs and prominent critics of his, not the fact that somebody went out and shot and specifically targeted Jews for execution because he believed in these conspiracy theories that are way out there on the far right. In defence of Donald Trump on that, the shooter, who was a monster, didn’t even believe Donald Trump was as far to the right as he should be and was too friendly with Jews.

Early voter turnout, as you say, has – I mean, it’s almost doubled from 2014. 20 million votes already cast and it’s evenly split. So the blue wave of disgust from Democrats is being equaled by Trump’s greatest hits on immigration?

Well, look who normally turns out in early voting. You see people who are the base – the really fired up voters. They’re the ones who turn out, but you also have groups that are turning out much more than they did in 2014. Yes, these are record turnouts compared to 2014, which was the lowest turnout for a midterm election since the end of World War II. But young people – we’re told that young people don’t vote, yet this election looks like young people are going to turn out in record numbers, particularly my generation – millennials, because millennials, they aren’t really in tune with the Republican Party or the Democratic Party, for that matter, but they’ll still vote Democrat because they despise the Republican Party. When you look at, say, the state of Texas, young people voted 500 per cent more so far in the early voting that ends later today than they did in 2014. Same in Georgia and it’s close to 200 per cent in Arizona. We’re seeing spikes that are through the roof. What we’re seeing – young people are expected to turn out at about 31 per cent, which sounds very low, but when you compare that to 2014, which was just 19 per cent, that’s a significant increase. And when you’re talking about that big an increase, that’s almost 10 to 12 million new votes injected into a system where you’re going to have a great deal of close races. And all of these votes, from what we’ve been able to pull from trends, indicate that they are not going to be voting for Republican candidates.

Will that turnout of young voters be enough so Democrats can get the 23 seats they need to take over control of Congress?

Well, it depends upon where it happens. I live in New York City, and in my congressional district it’s been gerrymandered to the point that if the Democrat doesn’t break 90 per cent at the polls, he’s a failure of a congressional candidate. So if a ton of young people turn out in that district it doesn’t mean anything, but if they turn out in states with Senate races that are competitive or competitive House districts, that could absolutely swing it. The other group that’s out there that has really moved away from Republicans, are the group that gave Republicans the majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 and gave us the majority in the United States Senate in 2014, and that’s suburban married white women. They’re college-educated and they’re furious at what they’re seeing, and they’re going and revolting, saying what Donald Trump does is too much drama, not enough solutions and he cannot get the job done, and Republicans are enabling it. They have turned their backs on the Republican Party. When you combine those two groups together, it makes for a lethal, lethal combination against Republicans. At the same time, you have seen other tea leaves that show these groups are going to turn out. We see it in the polls and then we also see it in voter registration data throughout the year.


I began tracking and compiling— Go ahead, please.

I just wanted to ask you, if these people do come through, Democrats do take over, let’s say, the House of Representatives, what does that mean for the last two years of Trump’s presidency? And can we actually take anything from that in terms of re-election chances?

You can’t take anything from it for re-election chances. There really could—Anything could happen. It depends upon who Democrats put up as a candidate. It looks like they’re going to have between 15 to 20 presidential candidates, including Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren and other prominent Democrats, and they could be in a free-for-all and they tear one another apart and Donald Trump is just waiting to pick off a weakened nominee. But what does it mean for the next two years? If Democrats take back the House, there are two things that will happen. One – Donald Trump’s anger levels and divisiveness will increase exponentially, because if they take the House they will have the power of the subpoena, and you bet all of these different House committees will be investigating the Trump administration. They will be subpoenaing Donald Trump’s tax returns and his blood pressure will go sky high. The other thing it means is that Donald Trump will not be thrilled, but you’re also going to see a lot of Democrats be upset because the far-left Democratic base has been screaming for impeachment proceedings to happen against Donald Trump because of how he’s behaved as President as well as the Russia investigation. They believe that it should happen, but Democratic leaders are smart enough to realise that actually increases his chance of re-election.

Okay. Evan Siegfried, thank you very much for your insights and we’ll see what happens this week.

Thank you very much for having me.

Transcript provided by Able.

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