Howard Dean says he's going after his old job: Not as Vermont's governor, but as chair of the Democratic National Committee.
Former Gov. Howard Dean was head of the DNC from 2005 to 2009, during the last time Democrats had control of both Congress and the White House.
On Monday, Dean spoke with VPR's Mitch Wertlieb about his candidacy and his 50-state, 50-year plan for the DNC.
VPR: It seems that one of two things went wrong for the Democrats in this election: Either there was a problem with the message to voters or maybe there was a problem with the messenger. Now, given that you backed Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, and some feel that Sanders may have fared better against Donald Trump, why should you be the person to guide the next strategy for the Democrats?
Dean: “Well it doesn't have anything to do with my supporting Hillary, and we can't have that, we cannot have a battle for the DNC between Hillary [Clinton]’s people and Sanders’ people. That's just what we don't need when we're been knocked out and lie on our back on the floor.
“My interest is technical. When I and my team came in in 2005 we didn't have the House, we didn't have the Senate and we didn't have the presidency. And when I left and when we all moved on when President Obama was elected, we had the House, the Senate and the presidency in four years.
"Now, I can't promise we're going to do that again but I know how to do this. You reach out to all 50 states. This time, you’ve got to really focus on people under 35 years old who are overwhelmingly for Hillary, and we've got to reach out to white, working class people. So I'm interested in the mechanics of this. I'm not interested at all in a fight between the Sanders people and the [Clinton] people — that we have to avoid at all costs.”
But is that fight going on right now? As you said the Democrats are flat on their backs right now and there has been a lot of talk about dissension within the party, Sen. Bernie Sanders is endorsing Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison to be the new DNC chair. He's a progressive on the left. How much of a rift is there right now in the Democratic Party?
"I think there's a rift leftover from the primary campaign. Look, I campaign with Keith Ellison door-to-door in his first race. I think Keith Ellison is fantastic. The problem is you cannot do this job and have a sitting, elected position, whether it's governor, congressman or senator — you just can't do it. We just had somebody who did it — it didn't work out so well," Dean said, in reference to former DNC chair and Florida representative, Debbie Wasserman-Schultz.
“But it's happened before. I mean when Bill Clinton was president we had sitting politicians and sort of this second chair who ran the place — it doesn't work. This is a full-time job. It's more than a full-time job, it's 80 hours a week."
"So I don't have to be the chair. Look I've done this. I'm going to spend some time at the DNC unsalaried, to work whether I win or whether I don't win. What I really want is to rebuild this party and I know how to do that. And I do not believe a sitting politician can rebuild his party, no matter how well-intended they are. And as I said, I adore Keith Ellison and I helped him win in his first race."
When you ran for president in 2004 you energized young people in a way that really hadn't been seen to that point. Now it's 2016, I'm wondering if you feel there's a perception problem — even if this isn't true — do young people look at someone like you as the old guard?
"I think that's unlikely. I still have a great connection with that generation. I think that this upcoming generation is fantastic. I think they're much more pragmatic than we were during the '60s. I think they're more courteous to each other than we were. And I think their values are absolutely opposed to the values that Donald Trump showed during the campaign."
"So I think that's where we have to start — is young people. Sort of shorthand for what I'm thinking about is a program I call '50-50,' 50-state strategy and a 50-year strategy. This young group is now the largest generation in America and we'll have them for 50 years if we do our work. They've already voted three times for Democrats. Once you do that you tend to stay with that party for the rest of your life. And so we've got a lot of work to do here. The key is going to be young people and it's going to be working class people."
Let's say you did win the chairmanship to be DNC head again. Would you have a plan in place for the midterm elections in 2018 and would there be a strategy you could conceive that could get some wins back from the Democrats?
"This is a tougher Congress than the one I faced when we took over the House and the Senate in the midterms, when I was chair, because of the gerrymandering and because there's a lot of Democrats and Republican states that are up, but I would use a similar formula. The first thing we did was resist the call from the Democratic Senatorial Committee and the Democratic Congressional Committee to let them choose their own candidates because they choose self-funders who they think can win.
"We don't need to be pushing people out of roles. We need to let local people who just decide for themselves, local Democrats, decide who the best candidates are in their districts and then fund the parties and give them the proper IT [information technology] to be able to win those races."
"That was the formula we use in 2006 when we took over the House and the Senate. That will be tougher this time. I'm not making any guarantees. The next thing we need to do — this is new — is we need to start a popular referendum all over, in each state in the country so that we have a California primary system, which pulls politicians towards the middle instead of pushing them to the extremes on both ends. And we need to get rid of the Electoral College with a national popular vote. That's what we need in this country is a popular movement to change the way we elect people."
Dean says that getting rid of the Electoral college would not require a constitutional amendment:
“There's a bill called ‘National Popular Vote’ — which is already passed in about a third as many states as it needs to and Vermont is one of the places it’s passed — which says once states who have 270 total electoral votes pass this, our electors in Vermont will vote for the person who has the popular vote in the country, not for the [person] who the people of Vermont have voted for. So it's a way of getting around the need for a constitutional amendment."
But why would the conservatives go for that given the Electoral College really heavily favored them?
"The conservatives may not go for that one, but I think they will go for taking redistricting out of the hands of the state legislature. The professional conservatives in Washington won't go for that but the average working class conservatives who just voted for Donald Trump will absolutely go for that because the reason they voted for Donald Trump is because he wasn't a politician or at least they didn't think he was."
Tell me what you think about this: Elizabeth Warren 2020?
You know that's great: I mean look Elizabeth Warren is a terrific candidate with a lot of following. I have to say, and I said it this time even though my candidate is my age, I think it's time for somebody who is in their 40s and 50s to be president of the United States and be nominated by the Democratic Party.