https://player.megaphone.fm/POL4444258668?Terry McAuliffe thinks Hillary Clinton has said enough—which is where he comes in.
He loves her. He feels for her. He believes her 2016 campaign was sunk in part by Russians actively “destabilizing our democracy,” aided by “treasonous” Americans advising them.
He also thinks she needs to stop talking about it.
“We, as a party, need to understand what happened,” the Virginia governor said in the latest episode of POLITICO’s Off Message podcast. “My advice would be to Hillary, ‘There’s enough people that will do that and get that information out.’”
McAuliffe still talks to Bill Clinton every day, sometimes several times a day. They’ve talked in passing about a White House run. The former president has said he’s supportive of whatever his friend does, but keeps urging him to focus on finishing strong in Virginia.
As for Hillary Clinton, McAuliffe said she never asked him to join her PAC. He said he didn’t even know what it was called.
“What is the name of it?” he asked.
“Onward Together,” he’s told.
“Terrific,” he said.
“Like ‘Stronger Together,’” he’s reminded.
“Got it,” he said. “Very clever.”
McAuliffe has his own PAC, and his own plans: throwing himself behind the winner of Tuesday’s Democratic primary for the job he can’t run for again (which would be an important way of protecting a record he’d want to run on), spending all of next year campaigning for Democratic gubernatorial candidates around the country (which just might give him important beachheads ahead of 2020), urging his party away from the purity test purge that’s all the rage these days (which would help protect him from the inevitable attacks that he’s not a true progressive, in touch with the presidential base).
“I’m trying to run a progressive state, putting progressive values out there. At the same time, making sure everybody has an opportunity for a job,” McAuliffe said in the interview. “I call it more values and a moral structure than labeling anything. The values of open and welcoming: pro-women’s rights, pro-gay rights, pro-environment, anti-gun. Those are a value system. You know, that’s who I am.”
No one should be talking about 2020, he said. He’s said he’s making the case for Democrats in 2018, that just happens to be the case for doing what he did: Clinton pitched herself as a progressive who gets things done, McAuliffe is going with a progressive who gets people jobs.
“What I’m proud of is that people who would never listen to me on these topics before, are now open to listening to me because the metrics, the job creation, they’ve had to say, ‘Well, I guess he’s right,’” he said.
But mention to top Democrats the White House run McAuliffe is cooking—by his account, still very much in we’ll-see territory, by another insider, almost down to the question of whether to announce in December ’18 or January ’19—and the word “really?” gets thrown around a lot. Bill Clinton’s best friend? The guy who went into business with Hillary’s brother, and ended up under FBI investigation? Who’s a one-name D.C. character, who already had a ridiculous nickname he was using himself 30 years ago—“Mary,” he “coos” in a 1987 Maureen Dowd column about the manic fundraising that had already made him Jimmy Carter’s national finance director at 23, “it’s your main man, the Macker. Got any wild dates this weekend?”
Separate him from the happy huckster insider caricature, and it makes more sense: a popular swing-state governor with a record to run on, a business background, and more connections to donors than any first-time presidential candidate ever. And no one outside of the circles where he’s famous for being the man working over donors or starring in Clinton conspiracy theory fan fiction knows who he is (though it is true he had a chicken named Hillary who died right before the election, replaced by Hillary Jr.).
“Anyone who first knew him 30 years ago, you would have said great fundraiser, great guy. No one would have thought of him as a plausible president,” said Bob Shrum, the Democratic consultant who knew him then, when they were working on Dick Gephardt’s 1988 campaign. “The governorship of Virginia has changed him.”
And then there’s the other thought running through Democrats about 2020—“Maybe we need our own Trump.”
He’s not the guy you can see as president of the United States, goes the thinking, and that’s exactly why he needs to run. As for the Clinton connections, he may not want to run Hillary Clinton’s third presidential campaign, but he can only run so far. They couldn’t be closer. He guaranteed the mortgage on their house in Washington.
“Another candidate might not be able to get away with that, but Terry is such a big personality and so engaging, optimistic and happy, I see how he could pull that off,” said a veteran of the Clinton orbit. “He doesn’t have the ideal bio from which to run, but he’s a good athlete.”
McAuliffe can be both kooky and confrontational, like when he sparked a mini-blowup by offering up in an interview during last year’s Democratic convention that Clinton would of course reverse herself and back the Trans Pacific Partnership once she won, or the story he tells about confronting the president at the National Governors Association dinner at the White House in February: “I looked him face to face, four inches from his eyeballs, and said, ‘Everything you have done has hurt my economy.’”
Back in his DNC chairman days, it was a reliable laugh line that he’d call every congressman “the greatest congressman in the country,” and he said he enjoys still being that guy. He takes credit for getting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi involved in the fundraising roadshow they’ve been doing together with Eric Holder on behalf of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, saying he called her with the idea the day after Clinton lost, though both had already been part of a preliminary redistricting pitch to donors in Philadelphia the afternoon before Clinton’s convention acceptance speech.
He exaggerates. He shoots his mouth off. He throws wild pitches.
He’s fine with people calling him a sort of Bizarro Trump, though he doesn’t get the reference.
“I have, luckily, boundless energy. I think everything is great. But yeah, I have fun,” McAuliffe said. “Listen, too many people are lemon suckers in politics today. I mean, at the end of the day, I have been successful by motivating people. People want to be with winners not whiners.”
In 2013, McAuliffe got more votes than any Democrat ever running for Virginia governor, but nonetheless squeaked out a 2.5-point win, despite outspending Ken Cuccinelli by $30 million and running right after the government shutdown that dented many Virginians’ bank accounts.
Republicans’ first opposition research presentation on him from 2013 is as accurate now as it would be in 2020, from the “28 lies, 21 half-truth, 2 overstatements, 2 mostly-false statements” identified in his book, to the “Special emphasis—McAuliffe the Businessman,” and “McAuliffe insists he’s not running for governor simply because he had time on his hands once Hillary Clinton’s campaign derailed.”
Then there’s the “What Manner of Man?” section that captures how despite McAuliffe driving them crazy, Republicans can’t help but like him at least a little. The bullet points:
• Restless, obsessive – routinely stays up all night with Bill Clinton
• Sleeps no more than four hours, most days
• Seven or eight cups of coffee each day
• Obsessive about golf
• Claims to have run a three-hour marathon (1980)
• Starts with a beer, before moving to something stronger
Under “Limitations,” the document reads, “Be alert to McAuliffe pals in GOP ranks,” identifying those as “golfing buddies, ex-party chairs, anyone whose support can be bought.”
“Terry McAuliffe is Bill Clinton without the women,” said Chris LaCivita, who was the general strategist for Cuccinelli’s campaign, who meant that as sort of a compliment, sort of not.
“They don’t know what to make of me,” McAuliffe has often gushed.
McAuliffe likes bragging about the record number of vetoes he’s sent back to the GOP-dominated state legislature, and said he’s proudest of restoring voting rights to felons. He’s eagerly joining national fights, joining the state Climate Alliance formed after Trump announced the withdrawal from the Paris Accord and pardoning a woman facing deportation because she was pulled over at a traffic stop because he said he wanted to make a statement even if he couldn’t stop the federal government from kicking her out.
The Virginia Republican Party is leaning in, accusing him of pardoning the woman as a ploy for George Soros’ affections ahead of 2020 to try to rustle up some more dollars. So “If the thought of President Terry McAuliffe makes you sick to your stomach give $5, $10, $25, or $50 to stop him now.”
Just wait until they dig into his record as governor, LaCivita said. Just wait until they smack him with those Clinton ties to voters, while he’s working his image over with Beltway reporters. He won’t seem so enticing then.
“Politics doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” LaCivita said. “If you were to ask a blind question on a poll, what do you think of this, does it sound good? Of course it sounds good. But so does ice cream every day for a week, until you’ve eaten it for seven days. It certainly sounds good, but then you’re stuck with the end result.”
And Democrats are still processing through the idea of this themselves. The guy who’s chased them down at parties and on the phone, running for president?
“What person,” said Jay Jacobs, the mega-donor and former New York State Democratic Party chair, “who runs for president doesn’t call me for money?”