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Why James Carville thinks Trump will lose

“This is an opportunity that you just don’t see very often in politics. ... We have a chance to run the table in November,” Carville says on Today, Explained.

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James Carville onstage on July 29, 2017, in Pasadena, California.
Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon

After working for Bill Clinton during Clinton’s long-shot presidential campaign in the early ’90s, Democratic political strategist James Carville gained a reputation for being a shrewd and salty political strategist. And he’s basically been on TV ever since, says Today, Explained host Sean Rameswaram.

So what does a 70-something-year-old white man think about the three 70-something-year-old white men who are vying for the presidency right now? Do Democrats need to change their strategy online to win the 2020 election? And in Carville’s dream scenario, which Rameswaram points out is clearly a Biden nomination, who does he think would be the best vice presidential pick?

Listen to the full episode of Today, Explained — Vox’s daily explainer podcast — to hear the answers. Below is a lightly edited transcript of Carville’s conversation with Rameswaram.

Subscribe to Today, Explained wherever you get your podcasts, including: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify and Stitcher.


Sean Rameswaram

It seems like what you were calling for in your conversation with our colleague Sean Illing was for the Democratic Party to get its act together and rally around a moderate candidate who could win the election.

James Carville

This moderate, this word that people throw out. In other words, if you’re not Bernie Sanders, you’re part of the moderate wing of the Democratic Party. It’s a bullshit word. I don’t consider myself a moderate. I consider myself a liberal. But it doesn’t matter because it’s just become a convenient way to describe anybody that is not Bernie Sanders. And the Democratic Party has taken what would historically be some pretty liberal positions going into this race.

Sean Rameswaram

Do you think there’s something to be said that Bernie Sanders, being such a progressive, could have excited a younger base and perhaps that way taken the —

James Carville

No, no, that’s the equivalent of climate denial or creationism. You’re not going to change the turnout model. It’s never been done and it’s not going to be done.

Sean Rameswaram

So you weren’t impressed by Bernie’s win in California?

James Carville

No. I mean, Bernie can’t. He has no relationship with the most important constituency in the Democratic Party: African Americans. The newest and most exciting demographic in a Democratic Party are these college-educated white voters, particularly women. He has no relationship with them. They came out and voted against him in droves. He got a third of the California Democrats. I’m sorry. I’m just not that impressed.

Sean Rameswaram

Let’s talk about Joe for a minute here. A smart man once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” The economy has been in pretty good shape until these Covid-19-related dips recently. How does Biden do against Donald Trump in a race where Trump plans on bragging about how well he’s done with the economy?

James Carville

So he inherits a country. It has 2 percent growth. He sticks a trillion dollars’ worth of stimulus, gives a green light for every polluter to go. And what do we get? Drum roll, please ... 2.1. Trump got 46.1 in 2016. The Republicans got 44.8 in 2018. His approval on FiveThirtyEight is 43.4. Whatever he did, it didn’t.

There’s 55 percent of the country that wants to not be for this guy. That’s a big number. We should do everything we can to maximize that number. Political parties don’t exist to make arguments. They exist to win elections. Without power, there is nothing. It’s all a bunch of people sitting around talking to each other in cities.

Sean Rameswaram

I take your point. But Trump, of course, lost the popular vote in 2016 and still won the Electoral College. So in the states that matter here, do you think people are feeling like the economy is good and thus maybe we should just vote for the incumbent? Or do you think they’re hurting and thus Joe Biden has a strong argument?

James Carville

All of the evidence I see is people do not want Trump back. But we got to run a strong persuasion campaign in Pennsylvania, in Michigan, in Wisconsin, in Florida. We can’t go with this urban strategy that we are the growing party. Eighteen percent of the country elects 52 senators. Take that, urban strategy. The party has to have a majoritarian instinct. We’ve got to be skilled enough to excite our most important voters, African Americans, to get our own new exciting demographic out, these college-educated women, and also to cut into the margins in the more rural and small-town parts of Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, places like that. And I think we can do that.

Sean Rameswaram

What do you think the strongest argument Vice President Biden can make in states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Wisconsin might be?

James Carville

“I want to get Trump out of there. You’re not going to live like this anymore.” You know, “You’re not going to be waking up to tweets.” And, “People that are trying to inspire young people are not to have this for an example; we’re going to put competent people to run the government.”

Sean Rameswaram

But, I mean, Democrats are hoping that Biden will convince people who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 to switch their vote back to the Democratic Party. Is the argument that we’ve got to get Trump out of there as strong as an argument that might appeal more to things that affect their lives personally?

James Carville

What you do is you talk about things that affect their lives personally. You think they think that Trump’s done something about prescription drug prices? You think they think that his tax cut went to anybody but the richest people in the country? You think that people are not so stupid that they know Donald Trump went to Davos and while he was in Davos said he was going to cut Medicare after he was elected again?

And he’s probably ruined morale in the diplomatic corps. They’ve tried to hollow out the CDC and NIH, I don’t know. That don’t seem very good to me. We’ve added a trillion dollars in debt in a functioning economy, which I don’t think is a very good idea at all. We’ve abandoned any environmental regulation. We’ve just become, the government has become an assistance center for the fossil fuel industry. We’ve pitted one American against another American. We’ve told citizens of the United States that they should go back to the country they came from. It’s the most repulsive thing anybody can say about anything in this country. I think it’s just a violation of everything. None of us needs to go back anyway, you’re here.

Sean Rameswaram

What do you think it says that he’s got near-record approval ratings with the Republican base?

James Carville

That it’s a personality cult. The Republican voter very much wants Donald Trump where he is. And the way to deal with this is defeat Republican politicians and then get power and win the Senate back. And, you know, look at where you got to win a Senate seat. You gotta win in North Carolina. You’ve got two in Georgia. You’ve got to hold Alabama. You’ve got a shot in Texas. You should win Arizona. You should win Colorado. You now got a shot in Montana. Believe it or not, you got a shot in Kansas. You’re probably ahead in Maine. You gotta hold Michigan. That’s the reality of politics. This is an opportunity that you just don’t see very often in politics. I mean, we have a chance to come in if we’re smart, we have a chance to run the table in November.