What do you think? Leave a respectful comment.

What happened to Elizabeth Warren? Obama’s campaign manager weighs in

With Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s decision to end her White House bid, the battle to take on President Trump in November is now essentially a two-man race: former Vice President Joe Biden vs. Sen. Bernie Sanders. But whoever becomes the Democratic nominee, how can the party rally around him to unseat Trump? Judy Woodruff discusses with David Plouffe, campaign manager for former President Barack Obama.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    With Senator Warren's decision today to end her White House bid, the battle to take on President Trump this November is largely now a two-man race, between former Vice President Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.

    David Plouffe was Barack Obama's campaign manager in 2008. He was the architect behind the president's successful 2012 reelection bid. His book "A Citizen's Guide to Beating Donald Trump" is out this week.

    And, David Plouffe joins us now.

    Welcome, David Plouffe. And congratulations on the book.

  • David Plouffe:

    Oh, thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, Elizabeth Warren, let's talk about what went wrong.

    She said today at her — she talked with reporters. She said she thought, at the beginning of the campaign, there would be a lane between the moderates and the liberals in the Democratic Party, but she said it turned out there wasn't.

    How do you see what happened?

  • David Plouffe:

    Yes, we had two really strong front-runners in the beginning, Biden and Sanders, who at different times in the campaign looked like they might not be able to pull it together.

    So, that's important to remember. They both had a lot of vote. She ran a great campaign. She was a strong performer, had strong staff, raised good money.

    And I — she talked about gender today. I hope there's a lot of study about this by political scientists and academics and people much smarter than I am.

    There clearly was a hangover from '16, I think, where a lot of people thought Clinton lost to Trump. We can't nominate a woman again.

    But there's something deeper going on here, because it wasn't just Elizabeth Warren. We had some other talented female candidates in the field who didn't go as far as we would have thought.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So you're saying sexism was part of it?

  • David Plouffe:

    Well, I think sexism, misogyny, to me, was definitely part of '16.

    I'd like to think that most people voting in the Democratic primary might have just been fearful, wrongly, I think, that a woman couldn't win the presidency.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, now we are down to two main candidates.

  • David Plouffe:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two men, main candidates, Sanders and…

  • David Plouffe:

    Two young men, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Two very young men.

    But with regard to Bernie Sanders, how do you quantify the depth of the opposition to him and the breadth of the opposition to him from the mainstream of the Democratic Party?

  • David Plouffe:

    Well, I will say, Judy, as you know, I have worked in Democratic politics a long time.

    I have yet to meet this so-called Democratic establishment. I'd like to. I wish we were that organized.

    It's voters and it's elected officials making their own decisions. I think there's no doubt that there's some concern that, could a Democratic socialist win? I'm actually not in the camp that says he couldn't.

    But what's happening here in the primary is, Joe Biden, as you know, led all of 2019 pretty significantly nationally. That's kind of where voters were. He stumbles in debates. He performs poorly in Iowa and New Hampshire. And some of his vote left.

    And the thing I have learned in politics, it's easier to get vote back that you had initially than you never had before. So then some other candidates didn't seize the moment to break into his coalition, particularly African-American voters. He wins South Carolina. He gets endorsement from his rivals.

    He performs just a little bit better. Let's not overstate that. And all that vote came back.

    And Sanders has never been able to grow his base out of the mid to high 20s. And so he got 43 percent against Hillary Clinton. And what's clear is, about half of that, probably, maybe a little bit more, was pro-Bernie, but the rest of it was, he was the only alternative to Hillary.

    And that's where we find ourselves, where, who's going to win more races going forward by landslide margins, which is the only way you get delegates? It's probably only going to be Joe Biden, because in Southern states in particular, where you have got heavy African-American vote, he's going to roll up huge margins.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you said probably only going to be Joe Biden.

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Plouffe:

    Doesn't mean Bernie won't win states, but that's not how you get delegates.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I'm asking, because, I mean, the endorsements of Joe Biden from members of Congress and governors, senators are just rolling in every few minutes.

    And yet you don't see that happening, the Democratic Party getting behind Bernie Sanders. I'm trying to understand what it is that he's up against.

  • David Plouffe:

    There's no wizard behind the curtain doing this, is my point.

    I think a couple things are going on. A lot of people, Biden was their default. And then he wasn't performing well. He shows that he can perform well, they come back.

    Secondly, I think there are some people concerned with Bernie Sanders, even if he could get to 270, would he be good for us up and down the tickets? Some people concerned about that.

    And don't forget Joe Biden is a beloved figure. So — and, right now, he looks like he's going to win. I was part of this in '08, where we still had to rely on superdelegates. It wasn't until it was clear we were likely going to win, all of a sudden, superdelegates began saying, I'm with you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, what about the hard feelings between the two sides? I mean, look at what happened in 2016.

    Yes, Bernie Sanders did endorse Hillary Clinton, but there wasn't a lot of love between the — his voters for hers. What's stop that from happening all over again in 2020?

  • David Plouffe:

    It's a critical question.

    I actually wrote about this in my book, which I had to work on last summer and fall. So I'm glad I spent some time on this, because…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You anticipated this was going to come?

  • David Plouffe:

    Well, I didn't know it would be down to these two.

    But I went through this in '08. By the way, the Obama-Clinton primary was harsher than this primary. It took us some time to put that together.

    So here's what has to happen. The principals in the play — so, in this case, Biden, Sanders, people like Obama, both Obamas, Hillary Clinton, everybody needs to do the right thing and mean it.

    And because Trump is looming, and he's an existential threat, I think Bernie Sanders will do everything he can, as Joe Biden would do.

    But the people who support the candidates on the ground, the staff, you have got to work at this. Like, you just can't assume, we won, now it's time to get on board.

    You got to host house parties. You got to invite people…

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Whichever side it is, you're saying.

  • David Plouffe:

    Yes.

    And invite the people. So we have — if Biden is the nominee, invite the people who organized for Bernie and listen to them complain, say, you know what? You guys clearly know how to organize young people. We don't have to do that so well. We need your help.

    So I would — here's what I would say. I don't think it's the top reason we will lose to Trump, but if you don't get this right, your foundation is weak, and if — whoever our nominee is, Biden or Sanders, needs to treat this as intensively as they do winning Wisconsin for the next couple of months.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So let's talk about…

  • David Plouffe:

    Yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You title the book "A Citizen's Guide to Beating Donald Trump." And you talk about how tough it is going to be for Democrats to do that.

    The economy, it is right now — we don't know what's going to happen with the coronavirus and the effect it's going to have.

  • David Plouffe:

    Right.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right now, the economy appears to be in the president — acting in the — or moving in the president's favor, something that he can point to.

    What would it take for that to be undone? And what — how should Democrats be talking — how should Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders be talking about it? Should they be denying that it's been something that has helped…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • David Plouffe:

    Well, I make this point in my book.

    I mean, presidential races, the central argument already — always is about the economy. So, first of all, I'd say, Donald Trump's going to get 46, 47 percent of the national vote. So no one should worry about any of those people.

    It's, who is really gettable? Who's a true persuadable voter? Who's somebody who isn't sure they're going to vote or someone who is thinking about voting third party, which was a real part of Hillary Clinton's loss last time?

    So the economic case — by the way, so, someone who has a job today who's making $12 an hour doesn't feel great about their wages. They're paying more for health care. They think Donald Trump is taking care of the wealthy with his tax cuts. You have got to make that case.

    '12, when we ran for reelection against Romney, you remember the stock market was rebounding? That was not a reason to vote for Barack Obama, because most of the people who are going to decide this election are not invested in the stock market.

    And so his trade war in Wisconsin, we're technically in a manufacturing recession right now in parts of Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Health care is an economic issue. People pay more for that.

    The private student loan industry, there are so many attacks to make about this. And, at the end of the day, it's, whose side are you on? I can't believe Donald Trump won that argument in '16, but he did.

    The guy from Trump Tower in Manhattan convinced enough voters he was going to fight for people like them. And I think Biden and Sanders both have strong economic messages, and I think relate to people.

    By the way, Barack Obama won those voters, the skinny black guy from Chicago with a strange name, twice. If he can do it, I think Biden or Sanders can do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're saying they haven't been talking that way until now?

  • David Plouffe:

    Because they're trying to get into the finals.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Right. Right.

  • David Plouffe:

    So, these debates are not about making arguments against Trump.

    But every — an average citizen has a role here too. So let's say your neighbor was hurt by Trump's trade war. Take out your iPhone, or your Samsung, ask them to speak into the camera for 30 seconds about why they're not voting for Trump this time, and put it on Instagram.

    Like, we have to capture what's happening in the states, which is different than the way the economy is covered in New York and Washington.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    David Plouffe, "A Citizen's Guide to Beating Donald Trump."

    Thank you very much for joining us.

  • David Plouffe:

    It was great to see you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Appreciate it.

Listen to this Segment

The Latest