How Democrats can win back Trump’s working class supporters

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, says Republican Donald Trump has successfully tapped into the frustrations of white males and the working class but believes that when voters are given info on his positions on wages and other issues, that they’ll come home to Hillary Clinton and the Democrats. He and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., sit down with Gwen Ifill and Judy Woodruff.

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    For more on the gender gap and the future of the Democratic Party, we go back to Gwen and Judy in Philadelphia.


    Thank you, Hari.

    And we pick up on the challenges Hillary Clinton faces, especially with white male voters in this election, with Richard Trumka. He's the president of the AFL-CIO. It's the largest organization of labor unions in the country. And Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey.

    And we welcome both of you to the program.

    Rich Trumka, let me start with you.

    Pick up on what you just heard from our reporter Dan Bush. What do you hear, what do you know about your rank-and-file union members who are hearing Donald Trump saying, "I will be your voice, if you feel forgotten, I will be your voice," and then how does that square with this — whether it's latent or another form of sexism that may be going on?


    Well, I think he's successfully tapped into the frustration and anger across the white males and across the working people in general.

    But when you give them the facts about his policies, that he thinks our wages are too high, that he supports right-to-work, they come back across the bridge. Look, in the last election, we had the same problem with Barack Obama. It was because of race, not sex at that point or gender.

    And we were able, given our program, talking our member-to-member program, it was a 56-percent difference, 56-point difference between union white males and the white males of the general population, because we gave them the facts, we talked to them, member-to-member stuff, and we will be able to do the same thing in this election.


    Senator Booker, given what we know about Donald Trump's strengths, as well as Hillary Clinton's strengths and weaknesses, who are the Clinton voters and who are not the Clinton voters? Who's not worth going after?


    Well, I think we have got to play the full court and try to get every voter that we can.

    Now, there's naturally a base for the Democratic Party. And any Democrat running is trying to get that Obama coalition, which is an increasingly diverse voter base. It's young folks. It's minorities, as well as white women.

    But I don't think we as a party can afford to alienate or not try to speak to the concerns, fears, insecurities, aspirations of white men. We should not give up that ground.


    How do you do that? How does she do that?


    Well, I think we do that by talking about the issues, by talking about where people are, what they're struggling with, whether it's the high cost of college education, whether it's the fact that they're working harder than their parents, but making less money.

    It's trying to do things like talk to them about expanding opportunity through infrastructure investment and the kind of things that grow solid middle-class jobs. So, I'm a competitor. And I don't want to say, hey, just because this person is a woman or this person is a minority, that they're not going to get the white male vote.

    We want everybody to think about what's in their interests. And I believe that our party platform has a better vision and better actually pathway for white Americans, as well black Americans, Latino Americans, women, and so forth, to be successful.


    But, Rich Trumka, how do you know that describing what Hillary Clinton wants to do is going to be enough against what's almost a siren song coming from Donald Trump that, I will be there for you, this is a — we live in a fearful time, it's a dangerous time, and we all — we need somebody to protect us, and I will be there and I will create jobs and build a wall, and I will do all the rest of it?


    Judy, you forget that we face a campaign of fear and division every day at the workplace or every time we try to organize a work site.

    We're able to get through that by talking through the facts and having people join together.

    Look, Donald Trump, I will say three things about Donald Trump. One, he's unfit to be president. Two, he would make it much more difficult for working people to make ends meet. And, three, he would tear our country apart.

    When you talk to them about those three things, they really do understand. They're very thoughtful. Working people really amaze me. When you give them all the facts, they make the right decision every single time.


    But given what we have seen here on this convention floor, isn't trade policy, couldn't that be a breaking point, a weak point?


    Well, it's an exceptional — it's exceptionally important.

    Look, we have a raising wages agenda. And that includes tax policy, trade policy. TPP is a very bad agreement. Covers 40 percent of the world's economy, and it will cost us jobs. It's not well-drafted. It's an agreement, an investment agreement that will benefit Wall Street a lot, but not working people.

    Hillary Clinton has the same exact position. She's against TPP. She will be against TPP.


    Now. That's all it takes?


    Well, but, look, let's talk about what's a responsible legislator.

    You can be dogmatic, like Donald Trump, and say don't tell me any of the facts, I have made up my mind, I don't want to hear anything, or you can say, look, trade can be good or it can be bad, depending on the rules.

    When she saw the rules that were drafted, she said, this doesn't make it, just like we did. And so she was against it. That's responsible legislating. I wish more legislators would do exactly that.


    Senator Booker, pick up on that, because we have got a chorus of Bernie Sanders supporters out there who, for the last three nights, have been holding up signs — or, essentially, their argument is, Hillary Clinton was late to this position, she took this position for political reasons.

    We're hearing the same thing from Donald Trump.


    Well, speaking as somebody who voted against TPA and has a lot of suspicions about TPP that are reflected in our concerns about what's hurting the American economy and what the opportunity is to grow, I have to say I like a person like Hillary Clinton who is willing to analyze the facts.

    I have met no one smarter than her in politics. In fact, some of my conversations with her over the last few weeks made me go home and start studying, because I wanted to be able to keep up on some policy issues.

    So I'm happy that she came to a conclusion after studying this that resonates with what Mr. Trumka was saying. So, I just believe right now, more than ever, if you are a working-class American — I don't care if you're a working-class white, if you're a working-class black, what your ethnic background is — if you look at our two party platforms, especially if you're a union member — this is not just about TPP.

    It's even just the right to organize unions is being assaulted by the Republican Party on a continuous basis. We see it in the Senate. So the things that have built this country, strong middle-class jobs, we're fighting for those.

    And as I sit in the Senate, and see what Republicans are often advocating, it's those kind of tax loopholes for the richest of the rich or, frankly, for corporations and giving incentives for them to move jobs and opportunity overseas.

    So, this has got to be an election where we talk to people's interests. And what I don't want to see my party do is to begin to talk down towards white men, as if their concerns are not legitimate and that we shouldn't be listening to a lot of their aspirations and hopes as well.


    Senator Booker, you and I have talked about this lot.

    Four years — eight years ago, we saw the breakthrough with President Obama. And Americans had to adjust their thinking in order to elect the first black president.

    What is necessary for Americans to elect the first woman president? More or less difficult?


    Well, I think that we need to have an honest conversation in this country.

    And this idea that somehow we're beyond sexism, beyond racism is just wrong. And this is where having an honest conversation with white men about their issues and their concerns, and having honest conversations about the experiences that African-Americans are still having, despite who's the president of the United States, in the criminal justice system that we see in sentencing, we see in policing and a lot of these issues.

    Gender bias is real. I was an early Obama supporter, and I was even shocked at the way the media treated President Obama vs. how they treated Secretary Clinton. Questions that were asked about, what is wearing, how much does she weigh, about her hair were never ascribed to the president.

    We live in a gender-biased world. I see — saw it growing up with a mom who was one of first people — women to make high ranks in IBM, and the stories that I heard around my kitchen table about what she experienced.

    So, I know we have a lot. But I do know that this history we're making tonight, when Hillary Clinton will accept the nomination, I think it's going to go good steps in helping this country heal from its past and grow towards its future that's more inclusive, more accepting and more realizing that every American has value and that discrimination has no place in politics, in the workplace or anywhere at all.


    Rich Trumka, let's just come back to that first question we talked about, based on our earlier reporting.

    Are you having, are your associates having honest conversations, as Senator Booker just said, about what is sexism that still exists among men?


    We started — after Ferguson, I appointed a race commission in the AFL-CIO. And we went around the country talking first to our members, outside the spotlight, not public conversations, but private conversations.

    And it was amazing to see the difference. It takes about an hour-and-a-half for people in a room to start trusting each other enough to be able to start telling what's really in their heart and then sharing it with one another. They don't feel they are going to be attacked.

    The same is true about sex gender. Look, we had this conversation when Hillary ran against President Obama. We had that conversation. We had a twofer at that time, because I would say to our members, if you're not voting for Barack Obama because he's black, you're wrong. If you're not voting for Hillary Clinton because she's a woman, you're equally wrong.

    And so we started that conversation. We still have a long way to go. I think, quite frankly, we're further along with that conversation with the American worker than we are with race. I think race is sort of more hidden and more difficult to pull out and get people to start confronting and talking about.


    But I see great signs, when you have the head of the FBI, Republican, Comey, talking about implicit racial bias, how we can deal with it.

    Our country really is coming to a point where we're having more constructive conversations. And I have tremendous hope.


    Yes. Yes, I think so too.


    And it's a conversation we're going to have to continue another time, because we can't right now.

    Cory Booker, Rich Trumka, thank you both very much.


    Thank you both.


    Thank you.


    Thanks for having us on.

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