“America at a Crossroads: The 2016 Election”

A Conversation with Karl Rove & Jim Messina


Photo by Duke Photography.

On October 25, 2016, The American Grand Strategy program hosted Karl Rove and Jim Messina as a part of the Ambassador Dave and Kay Phillips Family International Lectureship. During their visit, two small group meetings were held with students and faculty in addition to a public lecture in Page Auditorium. Sponsored by: The American Grand Strategy Program, Duke Political Science, Sanford School of Public Policy, Campaign Stop 2016, Polis: The Center for Political Leadership, Innovation, and Service, and the Triangle Institute for Security Studies.

The album of the event can be viewed here. Below is coverage of the event by the Duke Chronicle, published on October 26, 2016.

Karl Rove and Jim Messina talk ‘polarized’ 2016 election

By Harrison Labban

The Duke University Program in American Grand Strategy hosted a discussion featuring Karl Rove, deputy chief of staff and senior advisor to President George W. Bush, and Jim Messina, former deputy chief of staff and campaign manager for President Barack Obama.

During the event, which was moderated by Peter Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, Rove and Messina said that this campaign season is unlike any other they had experienced. Both noted that Trump’s chances for winning the election are slim, and Messina explained that his team’s most recent predictions give Clinton an approximately 94 percent chance of victory.

“The thing that scares the hell out of me… is to have one member, of any party, say that they won’t accept the outcome of the election,” Messina said. “I think democracy has only worked when you put [the finished election] aside and go on and work together. Now you have a nominee saying, even if he loses, he might not say [the election] is okay. Two-thirds of all Republicans say the election might be stollen from them. That’s an incredibly divisive development, which could change our democracy in a really scary way.”

Both veteran political operatives spent time speculating about how the U.S. would move forward after election day, with Rove noting that both Republican and Democratic parties will have to adapt following the close of the 2016 election.

Rove also explained that the controversy surrounding this election is nothing new in American politics.

“Don’t kid yourself—we have been highly polarized before and we will be highly polarized again,” he said. “Do not think that we are in a new situation. Go take a look at the 1800 election—you think it’s ugly today? Go see what they were saying in the 1800 election.”

Although Rove recently said on Fox News Sunday that a Trump victory was something he “didn’t see happening,” he is not abandoning the Republican cause this election. Rove was quick to contest Messina’s predictions that Democrat Roy Cooper would defeat sitting Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in this year’s North Carolina gubernatorial race, as well as Messina’s speculations that the Democrats will score a U.S. Senate seat from the state.

However, both expressed uncertainty about where the GOP will go after the election—particularly what role Trump will play.

“He’s got fourteen million [Twitter] subscribers, and he will have allies [after the election]… who understand social networks,” Rove said. “So the question will be, what does he want to do?”

When asked how Clinton will govern if elected president, Messina had a more definitive answer.

“[Clinton’s] history as a senator was bipartisan, working across party lines,” he said. “That’s the way her husband governed, and that’s what she says she’ll do.”

Although Messina did not deny the magnitude of Trump’s base—noting his social media following is second only to President Obama—he said he does suspect that GOP leaders will toss Trump aside after the election.

View the original Chronicle article here.