Mike Madrid

Republicanism vs. Trumpism

Air Date: November 24, 2020

Lincoln Project cofounder Mike Madrid discusses Georgia’s Senate run-off elections and the operation to defeat Trumpism.


HEFFNER: I’m Alexander Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. Thanks for watching. I hope you and your families are staying well. My guest today is Mike Madrid. He is co-founder of the Lincoln Project. Mike, it’s a pleasure to see you. I understand you just returned from the Lincoln Project fortress in Utah.


MADRID: Yeah. Alex, it’s always good to talk to you. We finally are wrapping up I think, the presidential race and gearing up for the specials in Georgia. So just got home to Sacramento.


HEFFNER: And you were at the bubble, and as was profiled in 60 Minutes, the Lincoln Project was an essential ally of the Democratic Party to attempt to restore accountability. As you see what appear to be the complete results of the election now, or the near conclusion of the election and during this transition period, what’s on your mind?


MADRID: Well, obviously there’s concern about the president’s refusal to concede and what the interregnum period might bring for the country. Interregnum period being of course, the time between the election and the swearing of the new president, Donald Trump continues to violate the norms that we have used to keep our country together kind of the basic civil discourse, the peaceful transition of power that every president going back to Washington has engaged in to make sure that we remain this beacon of hope and democracy in the world is, is every day being tested. And even, even when he has lost, even when the people have spoken, he refuses to concede and that troubles us greatly at the Lincoln Project. And we’ll be engaged, I think, in the messaging and pushing to see that he does leave.


HEFFNER: Mike, let me ask you this. Did you anticipate that the crossover of voters from Donald Trump to Joe Biden would be in the suburbs, not just in Georgia and Pennsylvania and Arizona, but would be in Ohio? And we saw, of course in Michigan and Wisconsin, the Democrats were able to hold that, that blue wall, but were you expecting those crossover suburban voters to break more in favor of Biden?


MADRID: Well look, we were hoping for an overwhelming landslide, I mean, even if we didn’t want 70, 30, we would be open to an 80 and if we want 80, 20, we’d be hoping to win by 90, 10; the larger the mandate against this authoritarianism, the better. That didn’t happen. But it was a clear decisive victory that, that is clear; if he won by 306 Electoral Votes is what he secured. And it was by the largest margin in the history of the country. So, there’s a mandate here for different direction. Ultimately that’s the primary objective we accomplished 90 percent of our goal. But the fight continues. There’s no question about that. And it is also a great concern that so many of our fellow Americans continue to support a very troubling dynamic in American democracy. And so that’s why the Lincoln Project work will continue as well.


HEFFNER: What can you gather from your analysis of the campaign that resonated in those states that I mentioned where Vice President Biden, President-Elect Biden won: Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Georgia, Arizona. What happened in those states compared to Ohio or Iowa or Florida? Was it a question of strategic investment or demographics or something else?


MADRID: I think it was a combination of the two. It’s important to understand on the winning side of the coalition for Biden for two key geographic areas that are quite distinct. And let me explore those a little bit with you. The first are kind of what is known as the rust belt states. These are Pennsylvania, the Great Lakes: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin; these areas were dramatically affected by COVID, the incompetence and mismanagement of the Trump Administration, and the economic havoc that came as a result. So, what we saw was those four states served as really our fortress. That was our backup plan. We knew that they were polling in the strongest range that we could, or that we could hope for, they were the ones that were the most consistently pro Biden. So, in the night early, you recall wasn’t that long ago, but Tuesday night when North Carolina and Florida were moving towards Trump, I think there was a lot of concern in the country like, oh goodness that we’ve seen a 2016 flashback. We didn’t see that at all. We knew that we were going to be strong in those areas, but the question that remains is why, were Florida, North Carolina moving in that direction. Let me get there in one second, because the last two states that you mentioned, the win column were Georgia and Arizona. These were Trump states in 2016 and they are changing rapidly demographically. And this is an area that we leaned into very strongly at the Lincoln Project. We called it the new Southern Strategy to realign southern states on a diametrically 180-degree different strategy than was used by Republicans in the late sixties, early seventies, formerly known as the Southern Strategy. Back then Republican party was seeking to secure the votes of Dixiecrats, very conservative, racist Democrats in the south where Republicans would dog whistle and use terms like law and order and use the wedge between blacks and whites to move and win a majority for the Republican party that lasted about half a century. We noticed pretty early on in this race, that there was a growing chasm between college educated and non-college educated white Republican voters. College educated Republicans are increasingly turned off by Donald Trump, by Trumpism, the cultural war that he’s been waging but most specifically the racial dog whistle that he’s engaged in as an attempt to recreate this winning strategy that Republican started again, back in the sixties and seventies. We think that we were highly successful with that moving just enough Republican college educated voters out of the win column for Trump, towards Joe Biden in both Arizona and in Georgia. And we feel confident that those were the margins of victory in securing those two states and an Electoral College victory.


HEFFNER: Mike, what was the consequence of COVID and the pandemic in terms of organizing? It’s understood that the Trump campaign was knocking on doors even at the height of the first resurgence and the second wave, whereas Biden and allies were far more cautious although we’ve learned now that Stacey Abrams and other groups were active in door knocking in specific States, namely Abrams in Georgia. But do you think that the numbers ultimately were correlated to the most grassroots activity on the ground as soon as the Democrats deployed?


MADRID: There’s no question that it did have some effects. Both Stacey Abrams’ work in Georgia, which I think her work was obviously very helpful with the organization that she built, frankly, with Beto O’Rourke was doing in Texas helped move that needle on the grassroots perspective. Both of them should be commended. But I also think we need to commend Joe Biden for taking the proper health precautions of not endangering the lives of his fellow countrymen, despite the ensuing political campaign, Donald Trump of course, could care less both putting his own campaign staff workers and the voters in the cross hairs of a deadly virus. So, there’s a real moral question is, should we be doing this? Even if we think it’s going to win us more votes, is my political career more important than the lives of my countrymen for Donald Trump that answer was yes for Joe Biden that answer was no. I think it probably did have an effect in closing the race. We saw an extraordinary number of people who voted for Donald Trump and non-college whites demographic that did not show up in 2016 that did show up. We had a record turnout across the board. I think that door-knocking and traditional canvassing probably did move the voter model at least one or two points. But I still think that Joe Biden did the right thing. I don’t think that endangering people’s lives is the proper course of action. I think that pushing for a strong universal Vote by Mail program was the right thing to do, as opposed to asking people to show up en mass again, the middle of a global pandemic with a deadly virus to vote on Election Day, simply because you could use that as a case to make a fraudulent voting happen when we know that it did not. So, it’s really not. It’s a, there are tactical implications, but from my perspective, it was really a moral question. And I think and hope that that motivated enough voters to do the right thing to take action and vote. Obviously, Joe Biden has won the election. And I guess we can presume that at least some of those voters were voting because you had a President Elect who’s more responsible than the current president of the White House.


HEFFNER: That’s Biden-ism, restoring a moral code, Lincoln-esque; honest Abe sits behind you in the portrait, Mike, you said to me on our podcast, The Open Mind podcast months ago, that the Democrats can’t keep taking Hispanic voters for granted. And we saw some inroads with the Hispanic community in Arizona for Biden, but it was dismal in Florida just plain dismal. How do you read that?


MADRID: Well one thing we’ve learned now and again on November 3rd, just a few days ago, Hispanics surpassed blacks as the second largest ethnic racial voting group in the country. And as that group gets bigger, the community, as you know, Alex starts to, the diverse elements of the community become more glaring. They become more evident. And there’s no question we saw that what we really did see though, was with a very strong regional component that broke in three different directions. Let me walk you through those. The first of course was in Florida, Miami Dade. This was the Cuban vote where the Trump campaign spent very effectively to their credit. I think that was the one county they spent the most amount of money on this entire election cycle, to consolidate the Cuban vote, multi-generational first, second and third generation voters were voting in a block in a way that we really frankly had never seen before. That in large part meant a victory for Trump in Florida. Move over to Texas, which was a very competitive state. Most prognosticators myself included, suggested that the Democrats could win Texas if they could keep the Hispanic votes for Trump under about 30 percent, maybe even upwards to 33 percent, they had to keep it lower than that with the turnout that was expected in order for Biden to win. They were not successful in that regard. Hispanic, especially Hispanic men, even in the Rio Grande Valley border communities. First, second generation Mexican Americans were voting for Trump to the 37 percent, upwards of 40 range. These are significant numbers and it’s something that has to be examined. The third region was what I call the Arizona, California corridor, where you have the most anti-Republican sentiment amongst Latino voters, predominantly with Mexican Americans. The reason why that anti-Republican sentiment exists is because you had notorious figures like Pete Wilson in California in the mid 1990s, Sheriff Joe Arpaio who lost his election in 2016, both states had very torturous political battles with legislation that was anti-immigrant anti undocumented. And that politicization created a voting block amongst Mexican Americans that oppose Republicans, regardless of whatever it is they stand for to very strong marked degrees. That’s distinct from the Texas experience, at least at this point. And so what we’re really looking at is a tremendous regional diversification with this vote. I’m excited as a student of Latino voters, Latino, obviously myself, I’ve been looking at this for 30 years. This is just a great petri dish to start examining the evolution, the assimilative tendencies and the politicization of the fastest growing segment of the electorate. So, going forward, what is clear is that no party and no national presidential campaign will be able to take an overly simplistic tenor towards the Latino community. It’s going to have to be very sophisticated, very smart, well resourced and probably seamless from top to bottom, if a campaign is going to be successful going forward.


HEFFNER: You had the resistance to socialism on the part of Cubans in Florida, but you also know that Mexican Americans are most closely connected. Now, if you just think of the government in Mexico to a left leaning government, so it’s like you said, it’s not a monolith. I’ve proposed on Twitter, that there be a détente or some alliance with the Lincoln Project and the Hispanic and Latina and Latino Democratic coalition, which has in some ways resisted the influence of the center right element in the Democratic Party now. And I don’t know if you, Weaver and co, you know, now consider yourselves proud Democrats, or still want to reform the Republican Party. Either way we’re dealing with these special elections now in Georgia. And I said that in the home of FDR, you need honest Abe. You know, warm springs is not just for Roosevelt. You need Roosevelt and Lincoln together. So, if you were to build the roadmap for victory in the special elections for the two Democrats running against incumbent Republicans who have been Trump enablers, what is that script? What have we learned from the last two weeks that can be applied in these specials?


MADRID: Well, I spent most of my morning working on exactly that, so I can tell you specifically where are we going to be engaged, but let me back up just a moment, because you said something very important. First, I’m not Democrat. I’m marginally Republican at this point. And frankly, most members of the Republican Party public don’t want me around because we’re very successful in unseating our Republican president and at least a couple of U.S senators because of their authoritarian tendencies and the threat they pose the Republic. So where does that leave somebody like me, it leaves me squarely in the camp of advocating for my community and the underrepresented. And I’m proud of that. And I will take on the progressive left as much as I take on the extremist right. Both of them, I think have been engaged, unfortunately the last few days in deriding us as allies, because they’re more worried about their position in stature and influence in the administration than actually advocating for the community. That’s their right. They can do that, but we’re going to continue doing what we do, which is the right thing. And whoever wants to criticize us can absolutely do that. And I say that as a precursor to the fact that we just got off the phone with one of the largest coalitions of black churches in Georgia, that we will be working with in partnership to ensure dramatic and increased and sustained African American turnout. It’s not ideological. I don’t care where you sit on the political spectrum. If you want to try to enforce your progressive agenda on that, you have every right to do that, but I don’t care. I just care that people are practicing democracy the way that this country was built and designed to do. That’s my first priority, the second, and that this is the real important point, which I think some of our friends on the progressive left don’t understand. There’s no point in trying to take credit. If you’re not going to be victorious. The Lincoln Project is particularly well suited at moving suburban college educated white voters into a column that will help Joe Biden win to me. That’s, that’s common sense. You win by addition, not by subtraction. And if taking credit is more important to you than saving people’s lives then I think you probably need to re-examine your priorities can’t force you to do that. So, okay, if you don’t, I’m going to keep doing what I do, which is building majorities to successfully work towards the empowerment of people and the respect for our traditions and constitutional rights as granted by the founders, although unrealized, with our desire and our need as Lincoln Project, to make this promise of who we are supposed to be become a reality. Long-winded way of saying this, let’s just start working in coalition, where there’s a common threat, the only way you can win Georgia is by having high, high African American turnout and movement from Republican voters towards the Democratic column in this case, to prevent the Republicans from doing dangerous things. That’s how politics works.


HEFFNER: And then also that’s how big tent politics works when you’re fighting autocracy or authoritarianism, whether it’s Pinochet or Trump. And, you know, you wish that there was more appreciation of that across the board. But let me ask you tactically speaking with Georgia, right, it seems to me that the most compelling argument of what’s transpired since Election Day for the Democrats, Warnock and Ossoff, is that the Republicans have refused to accept Biden’s victory. They are not conceding in the case of Donald Trump. And so far one cabinet secretary has been fired. They are destabilizing democracy further.




HEFFNER: So is this correct that if Warnock and Ossoff are going to be successful it’s not going to be on big money in politics. It’s not going to be on tax hikes for the wealthy. It’s not going to be on fiscal or economic issues where frankly, the public is more on the right than on the left. It’s going to be on the assault of democratic norms and there should be a clock that that’s running right now and I, and I encourage you on the Lincoln Project, to run this clock, when Loffler and Purdue will congratulate Joe Biden because as of this recording, they have not done so.


MADRID: Well. And moreover, will they continue to support a president who lost the election and undermining democracy and filing a lawsuit to prevent people’s votes from being counted? I mean, that I think is, is just as important message. What you’re saying is absolutely correct. If that the opposite side of the same coin I think is equally incorrect, right? Both messages are very important. And they’re central to, I think the peaceful transition of power, which is truly the hallmark of a healthy democracy. You have two Republican senators at this point, or at least two Republican candidates who have not vocally said that they will support this peaceful transition of power. My strong sense is they will continue to cow-tow to a president who is undermining that. So yes, that is absolutely going to be a central message of what we will be conveying. Again, I think we have a specific lane that we are uniquely positioned to deliver in the way that Democrats cannot. And there are certain things that Democrats do better than we do like turning out a more base democratic constituencies. You cannot win Georgia as a Democrat, unless you’ve got Republicans to vote for you. You can’t, you can’t. So that’s the role that we fully intend to play. We think we can do it very effectively. We just did it effectively in the presidential campaign, frankly, we just did it effectively in Georgia. So, we’ll be doing it again and again, we’re working with allies on the left and with the progressive community, incidentally we’ll work with people on the right, we don’t, we’re not a partisan ideological organization. We’re not trying to reform the Republican Party. We’re not trying to influence the Biden Administration. We’re simply trying to keep democracy on its rails. And when, a politician or a party veers from that, we will come after them.


HEFFNER: The tricky thing Mike, is that when did public policy become separated from whether you have republicanism or autocracy, you know what I mean, I’m with you in the sense that right, center, left their economic policies, traditionally that had been in each one of those lanes and sometimes they reverse, but the question of Republicanism or Democratic Republicanism versus authoritarian autocracy that’s, man, that’s clear cut.


MADRID: Yeah. I mean…


HEFFNER: Can Democrats win on that? I mean can they win on that? And, and what do you think Stacey Abrams did tap into if you’re thinking of not necessarily the threat of Donald Trump’s authoritarianism, but a constructive public policy message for Democrats in Georgia?


MADRID: Well look, I’m a huge believer in the way that you appeal to minority communities are very different and unique. The black experience in America is very substantively different than the Hispanic community’s experience. And as we just discussed, there are different variations even within the Hispanic community. So, I want to resist the attempt to kind of just say, how do we, how do we do this with people of color having, having said that, I know that’s not what you’re suggesting, but having said that Stacey Abrams is extraordinarily effective in what they were able to do in Georgia in terms of turning out voters of color, black voters specifically very successful. We need her to continue to be successful, frankly. And I think that what drives people in an environment like this is understanding that the threats to basic constitutional and civil rights is very real. Now, I’m not convinced that that’s sustainable. It certainly has not been a sustainable model for the Hispanic community. We need to have, and I’m talking about specifically the Hispanic community right now, there needs to be an aspirational middle-class economic agenda for a multicultural nation, whichever party is able to do that will be the dominant party for the next generation. The Republican Party is not able to do that because it’s become the home of white identity politics. And it has rejected a multicultural America. It’s language, its President, its leader has decided that America is a white Christian nation and that’s what makes America great. It rejects anything other than that. Conversely, the Democratic Party has a really difficult time because of its constituencies that make up its coalition in advocating for a blue-collar, working class, non-college educated, middle-class agenda; doesn’t want the types of jobs that oftentimes are done by working class people. And then what it does, it’s stifled the economic mobility of those that are engaged in. So, both parties have their own challenges. It’s why I don’t feel comfortable in either. I have friends on both sides. I have people that don’t like me on both sides. I’m very comfortable with that. I sit squarely with my community and I fight for my community and I don’t care if you’re a Democrat or Republican. I, that’s my interest, that’s what I will advocate for. It’s what the work I did at the Lincoln Project. It’s what we’ll continue to do, regardless of whether you’re an ideological leftist or Rightist. It doesn’t matter to me.


HEFFNER: You have confidence Mike, that the Electoral College vote will be according to the centuries-long tradition, you know, as has been pointed out during the Trump Administration, so much of American heritage is on the honor code it’s the honor code. And so there still would be an opportunity for someone with authoritarian impulses to stage effectively a coup during this period. How confident are you that some of the institutional Republicans and Supreme Court justices would intervene if that were to transpire now that there’s a clear Electoral College victory and mandate for Joe Biden?


MADRID: That’s a great question. And it’s a fundamental question, Alex. So, let me answer it this way. I do believe that as every day goes by the circle around Donald Trump is beginning to shrink and beginning to weekend, kind of like becoming one more isolated in his bunker as more and more people realize this is a fool’s errand and there’s no legal basis for the challenges that they are mounting. And that the size of the victory of too many key states is too big to actually make up any votes’ difference. Look, Joe Biden won this election. He won it fair and square, and only Donald Trump’s ego is standing in the way of him acknowledging that. So, because of what we know of him, we also know he’s probably never going to concede the fact that he actually lost this race, he’ll live out his days, believing and articulating that the race was stolen from him.


And he frankly, he profits from that and will profit from that after he leaves office. I do believe that there is a day of reckoning coming in the Republican establishment as people realize that this is becoming less and less tenable as a political position for them, and for the establishment. Now set aside for a moment that it’s unfortunate that our democracy and our Republic has gotten to a point where you only move at the last minute because it’s politically viable not because it’s the right thing. That’s a serious problem. It’s a character problem. And it’s one that I hope can remedy itself, as this country gets better and heals from this very dark hour, but I can, there’s something also that’s I think equally important. And that is the realization that our Constitution has some weaknesses, weaknesses that we never imagined only because we never imagined somebody of such low character as Donald Trump being president. The Lincoln Project will likely be involved in some of these reform efforts to kind of close up these loopholes, areas such as the Emoluments Clause. It’s far too nebulous. We have a president who’s profiting and his family turned our government into a family business. That can’t be permitted. Pardoning, right? Part of the pardoning abuses that have already gone on and will likely continue during the interregnum should cause all of us great concern, and great pause. Nepotism. These are issues you should not be hiring your family and keeping them in a position for power, providing them with security clearances, especially if they might be compromised simply because they’re a son-in-law or a daughter or son. These are types of things that were never envisioned by the framers of the constitution. And they were made apparent only because we had somebody of low character, which we never imagined would rise to the highest level of office. So, the Framers did the best they could. I think in trying to protect us from in an abstract sense. We believe that it is incumbent upon us to close some of these loopholes so that over the next 250 years of the Republic, if this were to happen again, the people of America would be better protected.


HEFFNER: Or in 2024. Mike Madrid of the Lincoln Project, striving for our better angels and successful in the completion of this first project, but this is a multi-stage affair. Thank you for your insight. And thank you for the constructive work you’re doing to protect democracy, Mike.


MADRID: I really appreciate you having me looking forward to our next discussion.


HEFFNER: Thanks Mike. Please visit The Open Mind website @Thirteen.org/OpenMind to view this program online or to access over 1,500 other interviews. And do check us out on Twitter and Facebook @OpenMindTV for updates on future programming.