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Democrats Aim For Their Own Initiative Modeled After The Tea Party


Senate Republicans broke through a Democratic blockade yesterday. They changed the Senate rules to allow a vote on Donald Trump's nominees after Democrats refused to show up for two days of hearings.


That was a pretty aggressive move by Democrats, and we may see more of this if the man known as Hillary Clinton's attack dog has anything to do with it.


DAVID BROCK: At the end of the day, I think Donald Trump will be the great unifier of the Democratic Party.

GREENE: That is the voice of David Brock. He used to be a conservative. Then, in the '90s, he switched sides and became one of Hillary Clinton's fiercest advocates.

MARTIN: Our co-host Steve Inskeep sat down with Brock recently after he organized a gathering of Democratic fundraisers over inauguration weekend. Here's their conversation.

BROCK: I think the Democratic Party has to learn how to be a party of opposition. We won the most votes in this election, and I think we should act like it.


What does it mean to act like you won the most votes?

BROCK: Well, I think it means that you oppose and you resist Trump at virtually every turn.

INSKEEP: But when you say resist them at every turn...

BROCK: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...If the president comes to Democrats in Congress - as in fact he has - and says, I want to spend money on infrastructure and so do you...

BROCK: Yeah.

INSKEEP: ...Should Democrats resist him then even?

BROCK: I think it would depend on what the bill looks like. From everything that we know about what would be proposed, his infrastructure plan is as fraudulent as Trump University. And I would have a problem myself supporting a bill like that without having Trump's tax returns because we don't know how he would personally benefit from this bill. So I don't think it's going to be a big problem for Democrats to have to worry about, gee, where can we compromise with Donald Trump because I don't think they're going to propose that much that's going to be that attractive to the Democratic constituency.

INSKEEP: When Republicans turned against President Obama, they were labeled the party of no.

BROCK: Right.

INSKEEP: Do you want Democrats to be the party of no?

BROCK: I do. I mean, we are - if we are, quote, "obstructing," we're obstructing for the values of the majority of the country as expressed actually in this election and for working families, not for corporations. And so I'm not afraid of that label.

INSKEEP: Democrats have had this huge demographic advantage. Groups that vote Democratic have been growing. Other groups have been not growing as fast or even getting smaller. That advantage is better for Democrats every single election. They seem to have the rising tide of history behind them. And in spite of all that, they managed to lose so many white voters that they lost the election. Are you sure there's not a little bit of adjustment that might be need to be made there?

BROCK: Oh, no, I think there's adjustment to be made. I just am sounding a cautionary note about overreading and overlearning these lessons. And by that I mean, look, Hillary won a majority of voters making less than $50,000 a year. Throughout the Rust Belt, voters who said the economy was their number one issue, she won. So I think something else was going on in this election.

INSKEEP: What was it?

BROCK: There was an essay in The Nation shortly after the election by Monica Potts who basically wrote that this election was about cultural identity more than it was about economic anguish. You had three things. You had resentment politics - and there's racism as part of that - you had an inchoate desire for change, and third, there was a revolt against this notion of political correctness or elitism. And I have to say, I don't think the Trump voter was wrong on all that. We all know liberals and Democrats who look down on certain people, and there is such a thing as P.C. So there do - needs to be some adjustments, but I don't want to overlearn the lesson.

INSKEEP: Just so that I'm clear on what you're saying, you are acknowledging it's not just that you feel that voters were wrong. Democrats on cultural issues, cultural identity issues, pushed some people away.

BROCK: Absolutely.


BROCK: And that's a lesson learned.

INSKEEP: What did Democrats do?

BROCK: I think partly it's an attitude among some. I think partly it's demonizing people that you don't agree with. So for example, there are people who hold pro-life views who hold them for religious reasons. We can disagree, but we ought to respectfully disagree and not say that this view is somehow, you know, badly motivated.

INSKEEP: You want to bring pro-lifers back into the tent.

BROCK: I think we need a big tent, sure.

INSKEEP: Let me ask about another cultural identity issue - gun control. When Democrats won control of Congress in 2006, they de-emphasized gun issues - maybe didn't flip on them but talked about them differently. That perhaps fell away as President Obama called for gun control measures after a series of massacres.

BROCK: Right. Now, I think...

INSKEEP: Should Democrats rethink that issue?

BROCK: I think that's another issue that, yes, we need to take a look at. And again, this notion of stridently demonizing people who don't have the same view we have is just a wrong approach. And you know, I mean, I became a conservative for the first dozen years of my professional life in Berkeley, Calif., and it was a reaction against political correctness, so I get it. And there is still some cultural condescension that could could be dispelled because the reality is our policies are better for the Trump voter.

Now, we're going to have a real tough time communicating to the Trump voter that he has broken their promises because you have this - people are familiar with the what's the matter with Kansas phenomenon where Trump could enact a bunch of policies that really hurt people and they still may not hold him accountable for that. So we've got a messaging challenge. My answer to that is I would place a lot of focus, emphasis and firepower on the ethics issue.

INSKEEP: You said that it's time to stop demonizing people. Someone who's familiar with your record is surely listening and thinking, well, it's David Brock. He's the demonizer. He's an opposition research guy. He went after Trump. He called Trump a liar a thousand times.

BROCK: Right, right.

INSKEEP: How do you - how do you reconcile that?

BROCK: Well, look...

INSKEEP: Are you changing your approach?

BROCK: I'm not changing my approach, no. I mean, first of all, I'm not running for office. I'm not an elected official. We have our job to do, and our job is to be very hard-edged and to push the envelope and to provide political cover for those who are elected to make their choices and be - go as hard against Trump as they can. But I do think that the people who are running, standing for office, they have some different responsibilities. And I do think some of these issues - I'm just conceding that I don't think the Trump voter was entirely wrong in seeing a kind of Republican-Democrat duopoly that's not working for them. There was some truth in that.

INSKEEP: David Brock, thanks for coming by. I really appreciate it.

BROCK: Thank you.


MARTIN: Brock is a Democratic strategist who campaigned for Hillary Clinton.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.