Former DNC head and a leading voice in the Dem Party Donna Brazile issued a warning to President Joe Biden over rising inflation saying she ‘can’t go to the grocery store without complaining about the price of eggs and bacon.”
Brazile added the words that will sink Biden in 2024 and the Dems in Congress in 2022: “Inflation is robbing us of our joys, stealing our hard-earned wages.” Ouch.
Host Jon Karl asked Brazile: “So, Donna, the president is just over a week away from his State of the Union Address. He faces the very real possibility of going into that speech again the backdrop of a war in Europe, economic anxiety at home and a clear, decisive majority disapproving or unhappy with his performance as president. How does he turn it around?
DONNA BRAZILE, ABC NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, first of all, tone matters. And I think what the president should do is talk to the American people, just like you and I are sitting here talking. You and I have had, you know, we’ve broken bread. Talk to the American people. They want to know about the challenges that we’re facing. They want to hear what he’s doing. I mean, inflation is robbing us of our joys, stealing our hard-earned wages. I can’t go to the grocery store without complaining about the price of eggs and bacon. I mean a pound of bacon is almost $9. Jesus. I mean, that’s it for me and bacon. I never thought I would give it up.
Even former DNC Chair Donna Brazile gives a devastating assessment of how things are under Joe Biden pic.twitter.com/Nl8Z8PyrHl— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) February 20, 2022
But the point is, is that he has to talk about Covid. Yes, we’re tired of Covid, but Covid is not tired of us. He has to talk about crime. We don’t want to, you know, have a country that people are running around with guns. But at the same time, the president can also tell us what he’s doing, what has been accomplished, and the work that he needs to get done over the next couple of years.
KARL: So, we’ve heard from David Axelrod, of course, President Obama’s top adviser, with some advice for Biden on how to approach this. Let me read a portion of what he said. The state of the union is stressed, he said. To claim otherwise, to highlight the progress we have made without fully acknowledging the hard road we have traveled and the distance we need to go would seem off key and out of touch. You simply cannot jaw bone Americans into believing things are better than they feel.
So, basically, from Axelrod, Frank, we’re hearing the advice that Biden should offer a dose of humility. That’s not usually what we hear in a State of the Union Address.
FRANK LUNTZ, POLLSTER & COMMUNICATIONS ADVISER: No.
KARL: Is that really the way to go?
LUNTZ: It — he’s got to tell the truth, which means you have to acknowledge where things are. You can’t tell people that happy days are here again and you’re in the middle of — of a depression. You can’t tell people that things are good.
And, by the way, it’s not inflation. So here’s an example of language. No one actually says, “Wow, look at all that inflation,” when they walk through a supermarket, or think of inflation when they put gas in their tanks. The American people are paying more for everything they’ve got. And they wonder, “Is it ever going to stop?”
They look at what’s going on in Ukraine and they wonder, “Have we lost our respect?”
They look at shortages that they went through and they wonder, are they ever going to be able to get that house or the car that they want to buy?
This is real. There’s a level of anxiety that I haven’t seen since the 1970s, and I’d be curious to your reaction. Joe Biden ran as Harry Truman. He thought he was going to govern as Franklin Roosevelt. But this, to me, looks just like Jimmy Carter, in every possible way. And those people sitting in the chamber on the 1st of March are going to wonder from this president, is he going to do to them what Jimmy Carter did, which is give us Ronald Reagan? Is he going to do to them what Bill Clinton, which was he gave us…
KARL: Well, to take the Carter analogy one step further, I mean, if you look at Axelrod’s advice, “lean into the anxiety, humility.” I mean, he’s basically advising him to give a malaise speech.
KLEIN: Axelrod touched a nerve with a lot of Democrats…
KLEIN: … because the idea of, kind of, coming in with humility, sure, but saying things are rough — that is not the tone that people have come to expect out of a president. And there’s a lot of Democrats that I’ve heard from in the last couple of days who say “We’ve got a lot to run on. We’ve come a long way. We’re getting better. We have a lot to run against, still, in terms of what Republicans would offer.”
So to go in there and — and say, look, time’s are tough, that is — may sound good — and I think, Frank, you make a point about telling the truth. You can’t — you can only spin so much when it comes to things like inflation. But Democrats still think they have got a lot of things to brag about, about the progress that’s being made, and they think they need to — to show people that they continue to deliver. That’s hard to wedge into a malaise-type speech.
BADE: It is a tricky balance, though, because, you know, Democrats, a lot of them have been frustrated with, you know, President Biden going out there and saying inflation is, quote, “transitory,” like it’s just temporary; it’s going to go away. And it’s been months now. It’s only gotten worse.
You know, there was an interview, you know, just a few days ago where he attacked Lester Holt, calling him a “wise guy” for just asking questions that American voters, whether they be Democrats, independents or Republicans, are asking, is “What are you doing to do about inflation?”
And so he does have to do things for front-liners who are up in 2022 and who are saying “We need to tout our accomplishments, like infrastructure, what we’ve done so far with the pandemic,” but he’s really got to be careful not to sound tone deaf like he has for the past several months when it comes to this inflation issue.
BRAZILE: But, you know, the music is more important than the melody. And you know the lyrics. Because you use “Inflation doesn’t matter.” When I go in the grocery store, it jumps at me. Because I know the price of eggs.
LUNTZ: Not inflation, prices, costs.
BRAZILE: It jumps at me.
BRAZILE: Correct, the costs. But you know what also jumps at me? The number of people I know that have died because of COVID, the number of siblings that have been sick or relatives that can’t go back to work. That’s what people are also feeling, this anxiety, what — what COVID has done to this country, to the world and to all of us.
And so while we want to put him in a Jimmy Carter box or a Ronald Reagan box, let’s make sure that we understand the box that we’ve all been in.
LUNTZ: OK, but…
BRAZILE: Because COVID has made us fully aware of so much in this country, the health inequities, the fact that the supply chain got jammed up. The country was shut down, Frank, and Joe Biden is responsible for helping to reopen this economy.
LUNTZ: That’s not — but here’s the issue. I’m a pollster. And that’s not how the American people feel. They put him in to address it directly, to challenge the mistakes of the Trump administration. And instead we’ve had testing problems; we’ve had shortages. People have not been able to get access.
And there’s been continuing reversal of the federal government and what their strategy and standard should be. So Joe Biden can’t even get credit for that. On issue after issue, point after point, Biden’s numbers aren’t just in the 40s; they’re now in the 30s, and even Democrats themselves have come to say, “What’s wrong here?”
BRAZILE: Because Democrats are tired of this COVID. And you know what? For a president to have to convince Americans to get vaccinated…
LUNTZ: I agree with that.
BRAZILE: OK, for a president to have to convince Americans to get tested, and to convince governors and mayors in certain areas of this country to utilize the resources that he has made available. It has been a tough job being president. You’ve got to admit that.
LUNTZ: That’s the problem. It’s bigger than just the president. It’s bigger than just COVID, bigger than just prices. We genuinely have — and you study the polls — we generally have a malaise in this country, a belief that things are going wrong, a lack of trust in our elected officials to do what’s right…
LUNTZ: … and a fear of the future.
KARL: OK, but you…
LUNTZ: … we are as negative as we have been in 40 years.
KARL: And then you saw that San Francisco school board election, which was a local election. It’s the ultimate local election, a school board election.
KARL: But weren’t the aftershocks felt here as well. These were liberal-on-liberal — basically, a rebellion against those COVID restrictions?
For all that you say, absolutely correct, this has affected everybody and showed inequities in our health care system and all that, but people even in liberal San Francisco are sick of the restrictions.
KLEIN: A fascinating moment, Jon.
I mean, you had conservatives after the fact trumpeting the fact that liberals ousted other liberals. But this was bigger than politics. This was parents against parents. This was about how you feel things on a visceral level, how you experience the way that government interacts with you and your child, and the fact that you had people who seemed more focused on peripheral issues, issues of school renaming, that were not laser-focused on getting kids back in the classroom, that had a schools that were shut down for over a year.
The — it just, to me, spoke to the scars that people are taking out of COVID. People are really, really stung by what happened. They want lives back. And it tells you why you have got all these Democratic governors and mayors who are saying, enough with the restrictions. They’re lifting restrictions, because people are over them.
KARL: In fact, Rachael, as of this week, 49 states have either lifted or don’t have mask mandates or are moving to remove mask mandates, I mean, way ahead of the CDC on this and way ahead of the president on this.
I mean, politically, it shows where the country is right now. And I think, for Democrats, it’s a real challenge, because, if you look at polling of Democrats, they’re very much divided on the issue themselves. And a lot — and, in fact, a majority of Democrats don’t want the mask mandates, the vaccine mandates, to go away.
But what you are, you’re hearing from a lot of these front-line Democrats, people who are going to be up in 2022, who are seeing these polls and saying, oh, my gosh, we have to recalibrate.
Just a couple of days ago, we had the leader of the Democratic campaign arm saying, we have got to get back to normal life. Let’s end mandates. The next day, President Biden said it was — quote — “premature.”
And so that really shows a divide in the party on an issue that is very central to voters going into a midterm election that Democrats are already facing an uphill battle. It’s a real challenge for them.
KARL: Another big factor in the midterm election is Donald Trump, of course.
And we had a major development, Frank, regarding the Trump Organization and the investigations into their business practices, their accounting firm, Trump’s accounting firm, saying that they — not only are they dropping him as a client, but that they can’t stand by the financial statements they have made over the last decade.
So, the question I have for you, Frank, is, are Republicans feeling some anxiety about tying themselves too closely to a Donald Trump that is that — where it seems to be the legal wall seems to be kind of moving in on him?
LUNTZ: So let’s make some news.
KARL: OK, let’s make some news.
LUNTZ: If you look at the polling data, you do the focus groups, you talk to independents, as I have done, I find it difficult to see any other conclusion than Republicans winning control of the House and winning control of the Senate in November.
Now, a lot of stuff can change. And I know that we don’t know what’s going to happen in Ukraine. But Republicans should win both of those, based on what’s happening right now and what we know is going to happen over the coming months.
KARL: I sense a but coming.
LUNTZ: A but, which is only Donald Trump could stand in that way.
Only Donald Trump and what he says and how he says it could prevent Republicans from winning the majority. If he makes this about November of 2020 or January of 2021, that could cost Republicans the Senate. If he tries to make this election about himself, he will be — the Republicans…
KARL: Well, that is what he is trying to do.
The question, though, Rachael, is, how closely are the Republicans going to be tying themselves to Trump going into the midterms?
BADE: I think it’ll depend on every race. Some people will be closer than others.
But it’s interesting that you bring this up, because, last weekend, after this RNC flub, where they had this legitimate political discourse comment about January 6, there was a lot of party infighting. There’s been a lot of discontent with how that was handled.
I called a bunch of Republican strategists, about 10 of them. And I said, is this a concern for you? And, universally, I heard, look, it’s not great. But they were convinced, and they still are convinced, a lot of these Republican strategists, that this is not what people are looking at outside of Washington.
I mean, we, the media, obviously are all obsessed with it. We cover it all the time. But when it comes to voters in Wisconsin and voters in Florida, they’re worried about their bottom line. They’re worried about the pandemic.
And, so, a lot of Republicans, despite Trump and despite this divide that you still see in the party over how to handle him and January 6, they’re feeling very confident that they can still flip both chambers.
KLEIN: And, Jon…
BADE: And so we will see if that holds.
KLEIN: And, Jon, to Frank’s point, there’s an interesting split screen going on where we got — nearing a record number of House retirements on the Democratic side. But you pair that with what’s going on in the Senate, and you’re seeing recruiting failures after recruiting failures. The governors of Maryland, governor of New Hampshire, governor of Arizona so far also not getting in.
These are the kind of people that traditionally are being very strong Senate candidates, they do not want to run in this Trump-dominated environment because of the political identities that they put out there.
KARL: People you mentioned are people that have become crossed ways with Trump.
KLEIN: That’s right. And that to me — I think the House, I think most Democrats would acknowledge is almost certainly not going to go their way, but in the Senate, what might give them a fighting chance are some of these candidates who were scared away by Trump and might be some bruising primaries that end up with just people that are too far into the extremes for their states.
LUNTZ: Jon, take this — please, take this bigger. That in the Hill staff — I was up on the Hill Monday and Tuesday on the Senate side, I interviewed 33 staffers. Every single Democratic staffer had a mask. Every single Republican staffer did not.
Even on issues of health, on security, on every aspect of our lives, we’re now polarized. We’re now divided, and we don’t talk to each other anymore. There’s more of a conflict — conversation and less of a conflict on this set than there is in any other place in Washington, D.C.
BRAZILE: Well, let me just say this. Donald Trump’s accountant firm did this, okay?
BRAZILE: When somebody rips their agreement —
LUNTZ: Can I have that?
BRAZILE: No. I don’t want you to eat it. It might be important stuff.
LUNTZ: I save stuff like this.
BRAZILE: But when you’re an accountant firm says that the numbers don’t match, and they don’t want to be accused of fraud, Donald Trump is going to have to listen to the music at some point, and I do believe that the New York state attorney general is going to make sure that he sings — whether he takes the Fifth Amendment or whatever.
But I have to say one other thing. When we took out of foot off the pedal, Delta came at us. We took our hands out of the wheel, Omni came at us. We have to be very cautious and make sure what we’re doing.
To see the full transcript go here.