David Axelrod and Bill Kristol on Trump – how did it happen?

By Vanessa Leal, Staff Reporter

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David Axelrod (left) and Bill Kristol (right) discussed the 2016 election at the American Dream Reconsidered Conference. Photo Courtesy of Roosevelt University.

The results of the 2016 election caught the country by surprise. When most news channels, national polls and political analysts confidently pointed the United States would have its first female president, Trump pulled a surprising victory against Hillary Clinton – at least where numbers count.

On Sept. 13, political commentator David Axelrod, and political commentator and moderate Republican Bill Kristol, founder and editor at large of the political magazine The Weekly Standard, gave a talk about the outcome of the 2016 election. They came in to bring light to the questions that seem to endlessly desolate half of the nation and conceivably still surprise the other half – how did Trump happen?

“He was a clever demagogue, very lucky to have Jeb Bush as his first major opponent and then Hillary Clinton as the second at a time when people wanted change, and you had the two people from two families that have dominated American politics for 30 years,” Kristol said.

He was, however, empathetic over the fact that in the primaries, 45 percent of Republican voters went for Trump, a “complete outsider” and an “opportunistic demagogue” and that Bernie Sanders, who rejected to be called a Democrat a year before the presidential race, got 45 percent of the Democratic vote.

“It is a little startling. We had come back from the crash of ‘08,” Kristol said. “It was a complicated world, but very few American troops were in combat. So you don’t have a crisis situation and you have 45 percent of voters in each party behaving as if the country was in something close to crisis.”

Axelrod on the other hand, theorized about how the American electorate behaves in its desire for change while choosing next president. He concluded that people tend to choose the precise opposite image of the outgoing president.Therefore, successful candidates are whoever can capture that tendency and produce a sharply different voice to status quo in their campaign.

“There wasn’t anybody in the Republican field who represented a greater antithesis to Barack Obama than Donald Trump,” said Axelrod.

Sequentially, he marks himself as one of the political analysts who got the elections wrong, going over missed signals such as the Russians, former FBI director Comey’s interventions (which Hillary Clinton calls “decisive” in her new book). He then moves on to what he called most importantly missed “micro-forces,” meaning the problems with automation and the “forgotten middle class.”

He explained the feelings of a generation in rural United States. “There is a sense of abandonment (felt by rural people) and a sense that the cultural elites do look down and think of them as ignorants, toothless and, I don’t know about that, but racists,” said Axelrod. He stressed that Trump voters shouldn’t be only seen through stereotypical lenses. Bill Kristol then mentions a Gallop poll he says in 2013 found that “for the first time a plurality of Americans said they did not have confidence that their children would be better off than they were,” said Kristol.

Political science professor David Faris, the moderator for the event, asked about future elections for the Democrats, David Axelrod responded that there is a consensus within the party that economic.

On the other hand, Kristol expressed his views on the political future of the Republican party.

“People are still underestimating the severity of the rift of the war coming in the Republican Party…First of all, Trump is very different in his views of the world, politics and public policy than Paul Ryan or Mitch McConnell,” Kristol said.

Kristol, asked about the future of Trump’s presidency, comparing it to a new and never-before-seen movie. He did not hesitate to draw harsh criticism to President Trump’s campaign and figure, calling him a distasteful and vulgar comedy man.

“I don’t know if he is personally bigoted, but he has certainly shown a willingness to play with forces of bigotry in a very cavalier, irresponsible and distasteful way,” Kristol said.

“And he got bitterly attacked when he said ‘mixed Mexican judge’, which is really a disgraceful thing to say in a country you are not supposed to be judged by the country origins of your parents,” Kristol said. “What is interesting is there have been anti-immigration zealots for 15 years on the republican side. Trump was not at all interested in it. Trump is not a guy who has been sitting around chafing about immigrants. He’s been marrying them! And employing them! He is such an opportunist! Such a demagogue!”

Toward the end of the night, Kristol told the audience that in the past he used to be an upholder of the Electoral College, a view which he somewhat changed.

“One weird aspect of the electoral college is that presidential campaign is waged in 12 or 14 states,” Kristol said.

Axelrod took time to criticize Trump’s political flip flop on the matter, “A few weeks before this last election Donald Trump was railing against the electoral college and said it was rigged and it should be thrown out,” said Axelrod.

Finally, a gentleman in the audience asked if we can sleep peacefully in the United States, despite constant nuclear news on North Korea, and was advised to rest well by both guests.

“The question is how much Kim Jong-un and the rest of the world come to discount the President’s words and back check with others in the administration. It isn’t very good result if the word of the President of the United States doesn’t mean anything anymore”, said David Axelrod.

In the audience, students weren’t afraid to point out and criticize their perceived flaws in the debate.

“It stood out to me that we spend so much time discussing the fallout, which I feel we have been doing,” said Alondra Ibarra, a double major in philosophy and integrated marketing communications. “But the ones being directly impacted, the minorities such as the black and Mexican communities, we didn’t really talk about them. They referenced DACA but I don’t think there was a strong focus,” said Ibarra.

Another student also added her perceptions. “I noticed Trump administration was described as delicate. For example, words like impeachment and the conflict with North Korea were mentioned,” said senior social justice major Juliana Gonzalez.

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