Howard Dean Wants To Lead The DNC Again; Has A 50-State Strategy
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
Howard Dean wants to lead the Democratic Party once again. The former Vermont governor and presidential candidate is lobbying to return as party chair. He previously held that job in the run-up to the election of President Obama. That election also saw Democratic majorities in Congress. Now, Republicans control both houses, and starting in January, also the White House, which raises a question for Dean - what happened a week ago?
HOWARD DEAN: What this was was basically a populist revolution. Luckily, we have a democracy here, so nobody got killed. And you saw a lot of people who have been left behind in globalization and they're unhappy about it. And I don't think we have done enough to include everybody in globalization.
GREENE: So President Obama, I mean, had eight years to win over people who were part of the trend you're talking about. How did he fail them? I mean, I'm thinking of these states where a lot of people who voted for him decided to vote for Donald Trump. It seems like they just didn't trust the Democratic Party to be there for them.
DEAN: I don't think they trusted anybody to be there for them. I don't think they trusted...
GREENE: Well, they trusted Donald Trump it seems like.
DEAN: Well, I don't actually think they trusted Donald Trump. I think they chose Donald Trump because they thought the establishment, both Republicans and Democrats, didn't work for them, and to a certain extent, that was right.
GREENE: Now, Howard Dean is talking about white working-class voters who swung the election in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio - voters he thinks Democrats could have and should have won over.
DEAN: This is supposedly our constituent. Our constituent is the union guys and the blue-collar workers, so I think we let them down. The Republicans have never given a damn about them. And I think we left it - let them down.
GREENE: Well, what is the Democratic Party going to do starting now to win them back?
DEAN: Well, I don't know because I'm not in charge of the Democratic Party, although maybe it'll end up that way.
GREENE: Well, what would your plan be if you were in charge of the Democratic Party - which I know you want to be.
DEAN: (Laughter) First of all, we got to go back to the 50-state strategy. We have to talk to everybody, not just the people who are going to vote for us. We have to talk to everybody all the time, and we have to talk to them everywhere. Not just in New York and California, but we've got to talk to them in places like Utah and Ohio and the Dakotas, which we're not going to win back for a while because...
GREENE: You feel like the party is talking to more people in New York and California than in places like Ohio that turned this election.
DEAN: I think we'd forgotten about all those people who were struggling. We talked about it, but we didn't do anything about it. We need real tax reform, not the kind of tax reform Trump is going to do or the Republicans are going to do. We need tax reform so that people will invest, not in derivatives and collateralized mortgage obligations and interest rate swaps but in building new roads and new schools and affordable housing for working people so they can afford to live again.
GREENE: Wouldn't it have been better to come up with this plan four or five months ago? I mean, now you're going to be making this argument trying to reconnect with these voters at a time when you don't have the White House, you don't have the House, you don't have the Senate.
DEAN: Of course it would have been better, but, you know, nobody does that until they get kicked in the butt in this business, and now we've been kicked in the butt.
GREENE: So what will Howard Dean do in coming months to bring the party back if indeed...
DEAN: Well, the first thing to do is to make sure there's not a bloodbath between the Sanders supporters and the Hillary supporters of the DNC. I don't mind having a fight, but we can't afford a big fight that's going to divide the party. Second of all, we've got to have the party run by a full-time Democratic chair, not somebody who's a sitting congressman or a governor or something like that. That doesn't work.
GREENE: You feel like Debbie Wasserman Schultz was not able to do her best job because she was - she was in Congress.
DEAN: For one of the reasons, yes.
GREENE: So who right now is doing the autopsy report for the party?
DEAN: I don't know, and I don't know that - you know, obviously autopsy reports are worthless because Reince Priebus did one and nobody paid any attention to it at all.
GREENE: You're talking about for the Republican Party, the RNC chair.
DEAN: Yeah. And, look, Trump has essentially taken over the Republican Party (laughter). This is not a Republican win. This is a Donald Trump populist win.
GREENE: But who's doing the - I mean, who is going to do - it might stun some Democrats to hear you say I have no idea who's doing the autopsy report because they're probably thinking this party better get itself back together and fast.
DEAN: I don't believe in position papers and autopsy reports. I believe in getting in the field - we know what has to be done. Barack Obama ran the two best campaigns in the history of the United States in either party. We know we have to identify every single voter. We have to be in 50 states. We have to build capacity in 50 states. Look, I don't believe in engaging in hand-wringing. We didn't win. Now we got to win. We can't indulge ourselves in internal politics inside the beltway crap. That's not where races are run, and that's where usually races are lost.
GREENE: Are you the right person to run the party, or could some people see you as part of the old guard and it's time for a new face if the party's really going to get itself back together?
DEAN: I think if people see me as the old guard, I don't have to be the chair. I've already done that, and I have - you know, my team had an incredible record. I do feel that the chair has to be a full-time chair and not have another position. I feel very strongly about that.
GREENE: Let me just ask you about one - you made some news in early stages of the campaign. You suggested that Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, would not make the best presidential candidate or president because he hadn't gone to college. That feels like the kind of thing that might really alienate the kinds of working-class voters who the Democratic Party needs to get back.
DEAN: I think I was referring to the way that he left college, which is under an ethical cloud for having tried to fix the presidential election for the presidency of his college.
GREENE: So that was misreported you're saying.
DEAN: I wasn't - it wasn't misreported. I said he wasn't fit to be president because he didn't finish college because he cheated basically.
GREENE: I guess I just mean in a general sense, like making sure not to make comments that could be seen as sort of the liberal elite. Is that part of the problem that the party's having?
DEAN: It's tricky. As you may remember, I got a lot of crap when I was running for president for saying I wanted to be the president of the guys who wear - have Confederate flags on their pickup trucks and gun racks in the back. That's not an endorsement of Confederate flags. It's an endorsement of working-class people as part of the coalition who are getting ahead. And I think we've forgotten about that.
GREENE: Who is out there in the party who has been able to start a rise up as you see as potential presidential candidate material in the next few cycles?
DEAN: There are tons and tons of people that I'm hoping will be in the next cycle. Kirsten Gillibrand is at the top of my list; other women senators who are very good but there are men as well. I happen to be very fond of Joe Kennedy III. I could go on. There's lots of people. Eric Garcetti - he's the mayor of Los Angeles. Martin Heinrich is a senator from New Mexico. I mean, there are a ton of good people in our party.
GREENE: You're talking about someone like Gillibrand, a New York senator. I mean, is - has she been held back by what some see as the Clinton juggernaut, this feeling that there was only one candidate who was going to march forward and represent the party?
DEAN: Sure, yes. Everybody was because, you know, Hillary was the senior person, the senior woman. I think there were a lot of us, including me, who want - and I was a vigorous supporter of Hillary because I really like her a lot and trust her. So yes - did she put a damper on the rest of the field? Absolutely. Why would you run against basically an icon?
GREENE: All right, Governor Dean, always good to talk to you. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
DEAN: My great pleasure.
GREENE: That was Howard Dean, the former governor of Vermont. He is also running for head of the Democratic National Committee. And we do want to clarify one exchange in that interview. Howard Dean said that Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, left college under an ethical cloud. Walker's alma mater, Marquette University, says Walker was, quote, "a senior in good standing when he voluntarily withdrew."
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.