>> Bernie Sanders lost the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, but his former campaign manager says 2020 will be different.
Jeff Weaver this week on "Firing Line."
>> "Firing Line with Margaret Hoover" is made possible by... Corporate funding is provided by... >> Since Senator Bernie Sanders battled Hillary Clinton during the presidential primaries in 2016, Democrats have been fighting a civil and sometimes not-so-civil war for the soul of their party.
Jeff Weaver led the Sanders political insurgency, and that fight will again take center stage as the wide-open 2020 presidential campaign kicks off right after the midterm elections next week.
And if Senator Sanders tries again, Jeff Weaver will likely lead the charge.
Sanders and Weaver believe that Democrats must return to their populist roots and restore the country's commitment to economic equality and truly make America great again.
Jeff Weaver, welcome to "Firing Line."
>> Thank you.
Happy to be here.
>> What is your assessment of the progressive movement in the midterms of 2018?
>> Yeah, so, I just got back from a nine-day, eight-state tour with Senator Sanders around the country, campaigning for Democrats.
And it is incredible the amount of excitement there is on the ground among progressive Democrats all across the country.
I mean, we were in South Carolina, we were in Michigan, we were in California.
So it's really everywhere.
And, you know, the 2016 race really gave voice to a whole new generation of people.
You know, it's a lot of young people, a lot of working-class people who had given up on the Democratic party, given up on politics, who now feel really re-engaged.
>> How do you think progressives will fare?
>> Well, you know, we have some progressives leading in marquee races.
Andrew Gillum in Florida, obviously, Stacey Abrams in Georgia.
So, we'll see.
A lot of these races are very close, as you know, and who knows what the political moment will be when the election actually happens, but it could flip one way or another.
>> I know.
It could be a wave or a drizzle.
>> You know, it seems to me that one of the contributions of Bernie's 2016 effort is that many Democrats who are running are self-identifying as progressives who wouldn't have before.
So, why is it so popular to be a progressive?
Is it just because of Bernie?
>> No, it's popular because it's popular with the American people.
>> In recent polls that have come out, I mean, Medicare-for-all is a signature issue among progressives.
You know, over half of the Democratic caucus in the House, the current caucus, supports Medicare-for-all.
You know, Bernie introduced his bill.
Virtually anybody in the Senate who is considered a presidential contender is a co-sponsor of that bill.
70% of the American people, according to two NOW polls, support Medicare-for-all, including over 50% of Republicans.
So I think people are becoming progressive because I think what Bernie showed is that it could be popular and not just in cobalt-blue places.
You know, Bernie, if you look at the map of where Bernie won primaries, basically won rural America.
He won the rural primary in the Democratic primary.
And with Independents, not just Democrats.
>> But he won primaries in places that are ultimately red, and so if progressives were winning so seriously at the ballot box, why wouldn't they have done better in their primaries against establishment Democrats?
>> No, I don't -- Look, so, I don't think that that's true.
I mean, progressives have won in Upstate New York, and those places could be -- That's a blue state.
You know, so they have won in some red places, they have won in some blue places, but, I mean, what I would say to you is that progressive politics, when you talk about the real issues confronting the American people, you really turn the map upside down.
>> But, I mean, you can say that, but just to push back a bit, Bernie famously went with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the heartland during the primaries, and Bernie famously had a string of losses in the heartland, from Nebraska to Montana to Kansas to Michigan.
So what do you make of that?
I mean, in Michigan -- But Michigan's an example, in many ways -- What I'm talking about is both candidates were progressive.
One was "a little bit more progressive," but in some places, we had an embarrassment of riches.
Even the "establishment" candidate is much more progressive than that candidate would've been four years or six or eight years ago.
And a lot of this has to do, as you know in politics, has to do with resource allocated, who has resources, who doesn't.
I mean, I think of a campaign in Iowas, very progressive guy who had worked for us who lost his primary but was outspent 10-to-1 on television.
Well, I got to tell you, no matter how good your message is, get outspent 10-to-1 on television, you're probably not gonna fare well.
That's just a reality in American politics.
>> But I just want to get back to this point because it seems to me that the conclusion many people draw from the string of losses Bernie had in the heartland is that the heartland isn't ready for progressive populism.
>> Well, look.
Winning in Michigan, Minnesota -- we have a very progressive candidate for governor in Minnesota, Wisconsin.
I don't, like -- I don't -- I don't think that that's right.
>> Do you think Bernie's contributions to the midterms, in the 2018, is a political contribution or a policy contribution?
>> I think it's both.
So, he has been campaigning for people around the country, and as you know, he's wildly popular with millennial voters who are notoriously "unreliable," in terms of actually coming out.
And so he brings out young voters.
>> But when you look at the issues that the Democratic and progressive candidates have supported in 2018, they're Bernie's platform issues from 2016, right?
It's Medicare-for-all, free college, federal jobs guarantee, $15 minimum wage.
>> $15 minimum wage, yeah, absolutely.
You know, dealing aggressively with climate change, making sure the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
What passes as the Democratic moderate now is much more progressive than what it used to be.
The whole party is shifting back to where it has been, historically.
>> On the politics of 2018, I know you're not involved in it anymore, but Our Revolution was going to be the entity that was going to carry forward the energy, the fundraising momentum, the grassroots, get-out-the-vote lists of the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign.
And that campaign, as you know, raised $230 million, 60% of which was with donations of $200 or less.
Our Revolution, that entity, has been almost a non-factor in terms of supporting progressive candidates in 2018.
>> Well, look.
So, people provide support in different ways.
So, some groups give candidates money or spend money on, say, I.E.
-- independent expenditure -- ads, right?
I mean, that's the sort of Planned Parenthood or Emily's List or others will do that, and there's conservative groups on the other side that do it, as well.
What Our Revolution has been focused on is really much more of the down-ballot.
And they've also been helping people get elected through the Democratic party itself.
So, you know, the county committees, the state committees.
And so the Democratic party, as an institution, is much more progressive than it used to be because Our Revolution has helped a bunch of folks get elected all across this country.
>> It's -- It's a decent explanation.
>> No, they're building a bench, which is a very important thing to do.
Republicans spent a lot of time building a bench, and it paid off big dividends for them.
And Democrats have not paid as much attention to doing that.
>> There's a real delta, though, between the limited activities of Our Revolution and the huge amount of energy that Bernie came off of 2016 with.
And you would've expected all of that energy to have been harnessed in a more, I think, constructive and impactful way for 2018.
>> Well, they do things that you don't see.
So, they have people all across the country -- thousands of people -- who call on behalf of candidates, who text on behalf of candidates.
All of that you don't see.
That's going on.
Let's turn to 2020, which begins on November 7th, the day after the midterm elections.
>> If you read the newspaper, it's apparently already begun.
>> [ Laughs ] So, you, in your book, "How Bernie Won," you end by saying, "Run, Bernie, run."
Is there any combination of events that would lead him not to seek the nomination again?
>> Look, you know, I think he's talked about this.
I've sort of talked about it.
Like, he is, right now, looking about whether he should run or not, and the big question, for him, is, "Who is best position to beat Trump?"
because Trump must be beaten.
And so, if he believes that he is not the best candidate to do that, that somebody else is a better candidate, he would not run.
>> So, is the battle for the nomination of the party this time going to be a battle for the soul of the Democratic party in the way that '16 was, or is it going to be about which candidate is best suited to putting together a coalition that can beat Trump?
>> 2008 was a battle for the soul of the Democratic party.
1992 was a battle for the soul of the Democratic party.
1980, Kennedy versus Carter, was a battle for the soul of the Democratic party.
The presidential process is always -- whoever becomes the standard-bearer -- it's always a contest about what is gonna be the sort of dominant ideology in this grand coalition.
Like, both parties are coalitions of sorts, right?
But within that coalition, what's gonna be the dominant ideology?
>> Has Bernie done his service to the Democratic cause or to the progressive cause by running in '16, by realigning the issues, by realigning the party.
And that names like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris and Senator Cory Booker and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and many who have adopted the mantle of progressivism, following Bernie's lead, does it make him not the best progressive candidate anymore?
>> I think, in terms of where Bernie would start in a presidential election, he obviously starts in a very different place than we did last time where he was at 3% in the polls, nobody thought he was serious, what have you.
I think we all know he's serious now.
>> But he took the progressive lane up, right?
There was no place for the progressive energy until Bernie entered the race in 2016.
But if you look at the practical result, Bernie was winning conservative Democrats, rural Democrats, moderate -- Those are the people he was winning, right?
And some of the other candidates may have trouble putting together that coalition.
If you look at recent polling, he is most popular with African-American voters -- his highest favorable -- second is Latino voters.
So I think he has the opportunity to put together the kind of brand coalition, like the FDR coalition, that can put the Democratic party on a road to success for decades to come.
Just like FDR did, right?
>> He had the help of an economic calamity that was unprecedented up to the time.
>> Yeah, but, look, Republicans have spent almost every waking hour since the New Deal trying to dismantle Social Security, right?
So he institutionalized changes that have benefited Americans for decades.
>> I just have to say, in 1980, Ronald Reagan saved Social Security, and I think since 1980, Ronald Reagan and the conservative movement has stopped trying to dismantle Social Security.
But as a scholar of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, you may know the name Edward Prichard, who was an assistant to President Roosevelt in the White House, part of his New Deal brain trust.
And he was on "Firing Line" in 1982.
Here he is.
One of the leading luminaries of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's White House and New Deal programs.
Well, the point he makes is right, which is there are certain things in a democratic society that people should be entitled to, and that is laid out in that 1944 State of the Union address, and one of those is the -- the right to healthcare, the right to be able to retire with some measure of security, the right to a decent job, the right to operate your business in an anti-monopoly situation, and so on and so forth.
And, look, I think most Americans agree with that.
I mean, Social Security is the most successful social program in the history of this country.
Prior to Social Security, half of seniors were living in poverty.
That's a phenomenal success.
>> It's a phenomenal success, but he also points to the profligacy of the growth of these government programs and that, of course, there has to be this balance.
But the progressive movement really isn't interested in that balance.
You're interested in planting a flag.
>> No, look, we live, as Bernie would say, in the richest country in the history of the world.
Why do we not have healthcare as a right in this country when every other Western democracy, industrialized democracy has it?
Why are they able to do it?
You know, you're a conservative.
You believe in American exceptionalism.
>> They don't have it as a right.
They provide it through government funding and subsidies.
>> Yeah, right.
Yes, it is -- as a resident, you have a right to it.
But why are we unable to what every other Western democracy does?
Are we not as good as they are?
Of course we are.
Are people not as worthy as theirs?
I think they are.
If every other country can do it, we can do it.
>> Moving forward in 2020, it seems to me, amongst the Democratic set in 2020, there really are -- there are significant differences between sort of where the progressives are, sort of the ideas that you just outlined -- Medicare-for-all -- and some of the more mainstream, establishment, neo-liberal candidates.
One of the most glaring items I see is on Citizens United and the role of money in politics.
Perhaps if there is a blue wave, credit will go to the billionaires like Mike Bloomberg, who sent $125 million to help elect a blue wave.
Tom Steyer, who spent tens of millions of dollars this election cycle.
George Soros, hundreds of millions over the course of the cycle -- of many cycles of politics.
So -- >> Well, let's talk about all the money.
Let's be clear -- the amount of money being spent on the other side, I think, dwarfs what they're spending, but go ahead.
So, are you saying there is no fault line on the left about Citizens United, about money in politics?
>> Look, I think -- There's two things here.
There's the world we want to create and the world we live in.
As long as the Republicans are bombarding us with, you know, truckloads of money that come from the Koch Brothers and their allied networks, Democrats have to fight back.
I do not believe in nuclear weapons with pitchforks.
>> But the money and energy this size -- the money and energy in the 2018 midterm elections, it's actually definitively been on the left.
There is more money, Democrats -- >> Certainly small amount.
>> Small-money independent expenditures and big money is winning on the left.
Democrats are outspending Republicans in this election cycle.
What about all the big money on the left?
>> Look, I want a system without big money.
But, again, I don't believe in fighting nuclear weapons with pitchforks -- never have, never will.
I mean, if you talk about Bernie Sanders' 2016 race, what a phenomenal achievement to raise $230 million in small money -- right?
-- and then to almost win the Democratic nomination.
But it's -- that's -- When you're a presidential candidate, you have a very big profile.
When you're a House candidate in the 2nd District of wherever, much harder to raise the money in small-dollar contributions without a radical reform of our campaign-finance system than it is for a presidential candidate.
So I think, by and large, Democratic candidates are not taking corporate PAC money.
I think that's -- I'm not saying everybody, but I think that's pretty common now on the Democratic side not to take corporate PAC money.
But if I.E.s are being run for people, you know, if people are working with the Democratic party organs, the DCCC and other things to raise money, I'm not gonna criticize folks for that.
Until we have a change in the system, it would be an abrogation of one responsibility to the voters to go out there and spend, you know, $3,000 when you're gonna get pounded with $300,000 from the other side.
I just think that that's -- With all that being said, look, we got to get rid of Citizens United, we got to have real campaign-finance reform in this country, we got to move to a system of public and small-dollar financing.
>> Bernie was incredibly outspoken in 2015 and 2016 on trade.
In 2015, he said there wasn't a single international trade deal that he supported.
In fact, he succeeded in getting Hillary Clinton to disassociate herself from the Trans-Pacific Partnership and really pulled the party to the left against trade, and he's been relatively silent since it was -- >> So, it's not about being against trade.
It is being -- You know, and Donald Trump likes to put this as, like, in a frame of nationalism, right?
Like, "Oh, it's the evil Chinese or the evil Mexicans or the evil Canadians versus the U.S.
But, really, what the problem is, as you know, is that capital from America -- it's American companies making their products in China, right?
They're using Chinese labor and Chinese infrastructure, but it's an American company.
So it's not about Chinese goods coming to the U.S., Chinese-owned goods.
They're American goods that used to be made here.
So, why are American companies who are here, who get all the benefits of being an American company, allowed to just make their products overseas and bring them back?
His argument is that disastrous trade deals had collapsed the American middle class and working class over decades.
And that was Bernie's argument, and that's, by the way, Donald Trump's argument.
When Donald Trump, first week in office, took the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, Bernie issued a statement saying, "You know what?
This might be one place where I could work with Donald Trump."
Well, Bernie would've done it.
Hillary, based on what she said, would've done it.
The problem with Trump is, he's very good at offering a narrative that's critique, but then when he has to actually do something, he runs into some problems.
So, how you solve the trade problem is not to throw a hand grenade into American agricultural policy, right?
So, he's a little bit of a bull in a china shop.
>> So, how do you argue with the results, though?
'Cause now there's a renegotiated NAFTA, which Bernie was always in favor of, which, frankly, comes back in favor of dairy farmers, one of the constituencies that Bernie has long advocated for.
He re-negotiated the Korean free-trade deal, he's pulled out of TPP.
How is Donald Trump not Bernie Sanders', I guess, ally when it comes to -- >> You think Donald Trump is a leftist, socialist?
"Donald Trump's socialist trade policies"?
Is that what you were gonna call it?
>> Here's what I'm trying to say.
There seems to be less light between Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders on these issues than there is between the establishment candidates in their parties.
Between mainstream Republicans and mainstream Democrats, there is more daylight on these trade issues.
>> Look, during these trade negotiations, literally, corporate interests are handing trade people pieces of paper.
>> So you're saying that corporations own the centers of each party?
>> I would say that the sort of middle has become increasingly dominated by corporate interests.
And, look, and the -- Like, let's talk about Donald Trump.
Let's not make him out to be some great friend to the working people in this country.
Because his tax bill looted the Treasury, gave trillion dollars to rich people.
>> Medicare-for-all is gonna cost $32.6 trillion.
That's raiding the Treasury, too.
>> But then he and Paul Ryan want to pay for it by cutting Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare, something that Trump said when he was running for office... >> They don't want to cut it.
They want to reorganize it.
>> ...he would never do that.
His budget cut it many -- >> Again, so you're making a case that Bernie Sanders and Trump actually have more in common than the centrists -- >> Look, there's a difference between what Trump says and what he does.
>> It's hard to argue with 3.8% unemployment.
>> Look, people in America are hurting.
There's low unemployment numbers, but if you go out and talk to people like I did with Bernie Sanders this past week, you know, people who have a job, sure, they have a job, but they're making $7.25 an hour, right?
Well, those people are not doing well, right?
Trump may tout those numbers, but those people are not so happy about it.
Their deductibles are going up, their copayments are going up, their insurance payments are going up, right?
Many people are working multiple jobs to get by, particularly people with young children, they can't find childcare.
So, there are real problems in this country, and they need bold solutions.
>> You know, Ronald Reagan was known for having the Reagan Revolution, bringing an entirely new generation of youth into the Republican party.
And I read a book about millennials almost a decade ago arguing that if Republicans didn't look out ahead, there was an iceberg, a big one.
Millennials now are overwhelmingly -- They don't self-identify as Republicans.
The Republican party is completely besmirched to them.
And increasingly, the second half of the millennial generation are for all of your policies -- Medicare-for-all, free college tuition, $15 minimum wage.
You've won them for a generation, and Hillary Clinton didn't.
Is that the lasting legacy or contribution of Bernie Sanders to the progressive movement?
>> Well, it is one of the ways in which Bernie won.
And, you know, if you look at -- I mean, what's interesting about them, if you talk about independent voters, you know, as you know, over 50% of millennial voters are now registered as Independents, right?
They vote Democratic reliably, but they are not -- they don't self-identify with the Democratic party.
And, you know, within different demographics, it's different, but even among African-American millennials, you're seeing larger and larger numbers of millennials registering as independent.
So, there's been a sea change in how people identify themselves and how they're voting.
They're voting Democratic.
They're not quite identifying with the Democratic party.
They certainly don't like the Republican party, that's for sure.
But this is the most progressive generation in the history of the country.
>> The part that concerns me the most about it -- right?
-- is, when you ask millennials whether they believe it's essential to live in a democracy, something like 30% of them will agree with that statement.
Does that trouble you?
>> Well, look, I'm all -- I'm for Democracy, straight up.
But, you know, it's one of the reasons why I'm concerned about Trump.
He's increasingly moving us in a more authoritarian direction, trying to divide the country up, like, pick at the sort of internal fractures in our culture and our society.
So I think that's very dangerous.
Look, I think if you look at young people, young people, you know, issues of racism, sexism, and homophobia and other things, much less among the millennial generation, much more comfortable with people who are different than they are.
I think that's a very positive thing and, I think, bodes well for our democracy.
>> I want to go to superdelegates.
>> Superdelegates, who are special delegates to the Democratic National Convention, have the ability to traditionally, in previous years, vote for whichever candidate they want, but this time, because of reforms brought on by the Bernie Sanders 2016 campaign, superdelegates in 2020 will not be able to vote in the first round of balloting in the Democratic National Convention, and this had to happen, according to you, in order to make the process more transparent.
>> And democratic.
>> And democratic.
What Republicans wonder is, have you set yourselves up to select a candidate who is necessarily more maybe representative of the Democratic base and less electable in a general election?
>> W-- >> I'm looking at 1972, George McGovern, in 1984 -- >> How about 2016?
>> So you think that if the superdelegates hadn't existed, Bernie Sanders would've had the nomination, would've been able to beat Donald Trump, which is a total counterfactual.
>> Trump's pollsters said back in February, we would've beat him.
But, no, this is the truth.
>> Trump had no pollsters.
>> If you look at the -- Like, empirically, like, Donald Trump was the anti-establishment candidate on the Republican side.
I think we can agree on that, right?
And there were various points at which the Republican establishment tried to kill his campaign.
They were not able to do that 'cause they didn't have superdelegates.
So he -- The people on the Democratic party, they were jumping for joy.
"Oh, Donald Trump has been nominated.
We're gonna crush him.
He is unelectable.
He's this, that, and the other thing."
And then, some of us were like, "Mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh-mnh!
Careful what you wish for in life."
And so that process produced an anti-establishment candidate who ended up being, as a factual matter, more electable than the Democratic process, which was more of an insider process.
I mean, I don't like the outcome, but that's what happened.
So if you had a process on the Democratic side which was more democratic, let the people decide who they want the nominee to be.
If you want to know what people want, let them vote.
>> One more piece on the politics of 2018.
What does it mean if there is not a blue wave?
>> Well, you know, Bernie has been out around the country, and what he says is, there won't be a blue wave unless people come out, right?
You know, all this talk about the inevitability of the blue wave, well, it's not inevitable if people don't come out, particularly young people, if young people of color don't come out in this election.
So, what does it mean?
What it'll mean is that Democrats have not done a good enough job energizing the people you need to come out.
Look, I never blame the voters.
If there's a fault, it's on the messengers, right?
And so -- >> So, what's your sense, what's your gut?
>> Well, and I talk about this in my book, which is, I think the Democratic party has not paid enough attention, year in and year out, to building its organization at the grassroots level.
I mean, you hear this in many communities, right?
Oh, they parachute in two weeks before the election, they want our votes.
But then, the election happens, we never see anybody again."
And over time, the Democratic National Committee has essentially become a fundraising vehicle for the presidential campaign.
And we've got to get back to our roots.
Again, the right is doing this quite effectively.
You know, they may have -- >> Sounds like you're hedging.
>> I'm not hedging at all.
>> Do you -- >> That's what politics is about.
>> Is your gut telling you you don't think the "get out the vote" effort is gonna be sufficient enough for a blue wave?
>> Look, you've seen polling in all these races.
All these competitive races are all like 1% or 2% either way.
And as you know in politics, if they all lose by 1%, you'll be like, "Oh, the Democratic party has been destroyed."
So, I mean, you know, that's the way politics goes.
>> Jeff Weaver, thank you for coming to "Firing Line."
>> Take care.
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