Two Former Senators Share Thoughts On The 2016 Campaign

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Former Senators Tom Daschle and Trent Lott are pictured at the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Former Senators Tom Daschle and Trent Lott are pictured at the WBUR studios. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

With the Iowa caucuses just a week away, Here & Now's Jeremy Hobson turns to former senators Tom Daschle and Trent Lott again. They were in the studio last week to talk about their new book, “Crisis Point: Why We Must – and How We Can – Overcome Our Broken Politics in Washington and Across America.” Today we hear their thoughts on the 2016 campaign.

Interview Highlights: Trent Lott (R) and Tom Daschle (D)

On the Republican side of the presidential race

Trent Lott: “It’s been a very strange year to say the least. Beats all I’ve ever seen and I’ve been watching primaries and presidential elections going back to at least 1968. I don’t feel good about the amount of anger and frustration. I’d like to hear more about how we are going to get things done together, what’s your plan?”

Are you hearing that from any candidate at this point?

Trent Lott: “Well, John Kasich. I have to confess here on the air that I am supporting John Kasich. I support him because I’ve known him for years, served in the House with him. I saw the great job he did as budget chairman and some of the leadership, which I didn’t always agree with, on the Armed Services Committee, and the leadership he’s providing in Ohio as governor. I want somebody that’s done it, been there, and knows what he needs to do now. He’s doing it with a smile on his face and without being angry. I understand what’s going on in people’s minds, and I think the political leaders better be asking themselves ‘why is it, that Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders and maybe even others are having the impact that they are having?’ I do think we have some good candidates and I hope it will be resolved sometime in March, but it could go on into April or later.”

Who would be the easiest Democrat to beat on the other side?

Trent Lott: “I’m actually chairman of Republicans for Bernie Sanders, and obviously I would not be supportive of Hillary Clinton. She’s a very capable lady and did a good job as a senator.”

But you think it would be easier to run against Bernie Sanders?

Trent Lott: “Well of course. Nobody believed in the Senate that he would actually be this serious of a candidate. I must say this, he’s done a pretty good job and he’s gotten better in his presentations and debates. The last one was pretty good, you got to give him credit.”

On the Democratic side of the presidential race

Tom Daschle: “It’s a much more competitive race than many people expected. This is the second time that Hillary has been assumed to be the nominee, almost from the very beginning, only to find a challenge from somebody. Iowa and New Hampshire are going to be close, I don’t think anyone can predict how this is going to play out right now. The one thing I will say about the Democratic side, and I think Trent would agree, is that it has been more civil. There hasn’t been the kind of personal attacks on the Democratic side like we’ve seen from Donald Trump and Ted Cruz and so many of the Republican candidates this year. I think that civility is so critically important. However, on both sides you see candidates playing to the fears, anxieties and frustrations that people have about Washington today.”

Have you picked a side on the Democratic side?

Tom Daschle: “I’ve been supporting Hillary from the beginning. I helped a little bit, nothing like what I did in 2008 for President Obama, but I have been very supportive.”

Who do you think would be the easiest Republican to beat?

Tom Daschle: “Well, that’s a close call. I would like to think Ted Cruz or Donald Trump, but I think it would be a huge mistake to underestimate them. They are getting traction for a reason. They’re articulating the frustration and anxiety of a lot of people today. Even though I think they would be easier, I think John Kasich would be the hardest candidate for the Democrats to beat, so that would be a real contest.”

Is there a way to reverse the trend of high campaign spending?

Trent Lott: “One of the things driving that is how long they go on. The presidential campaign has been going on for about eight or 10 months and it will go on for the rest of this year. It’s also further exacerbated by how much the media and social media play into all this.”

Could we shorten our election season, like in the U.K.?

Trent Lott: “That’s one of the things we suggested in the book. What we’ve looked for is ‘is there another alternative?’ I don’t want to be in a parliamentary system like Great Britain, but they have specified six-week-long campaigns. They’re shorter, people pay more attention, they have less negativity and you have a higher participation rate. Should we look at that? Should we have maybe a single primary or a few regional primaries to determine the nominee? One of the things I really want is for people to feel the civic responsibility, and not just refuse to vote out of protest. Then we have a small minority that elects our nominees and presidents, which is not good.”

On our current electoral process

Tom Daschle: “There are going to be 50 contests in less than 10 months. These are going to all be drawn out and you’re going to see enormous sums of money. I’ve heard estimates of over $5 billion spent presidential politics alone in this cycle. Money is becoming one of the most corrosive elements of politics today. I think it’s going to destroy the system unless we find a way to deal with it. This is really killing the system and ultimately we’ve got to fix it.”

How to fix the issue of voter turnout

Tom Daschle: “There are a number of things we could do, and we talk about this in the book. There’s no logical reason why elections should be held on Tuesday. Why not put them on Saturday? Why not give people more of an opportunity to vote, either by mail or early registration? Why not do as much as possible to encourage greater participation? We think that could make a major difference.”

Trent Lott: “You know, in the South, we’ve moved pretty dramatically towards a regional primary. We have Super Tuesday in which a bulk of the Deep South, in which Georgia, Texas, Tennessee, unfortunately Mississippi’s not in that group, will all vote on one day. Leading up to that date, and it’s not clear, but we may not have a nominee. After that date, it could be clear at least which two are going to be the contenders. I think that’s a good idea and I agree we should allow more early and absentee voting. I want to make sure it’s honest, but I know in Florida that they facilitate absentee ballots very aggressively and, apparently, honestly.”

Should voting be mandatory?

Tom Daschle: “There are countries that have that, I don’t think it should be required in our country. There’s something un-American about that. There are people who don’t vote for a lot of reasons, sometimes as a statement. What we want to do is create the most conducive climate to encourage people to participate. A 15 to 20 percent turnout in voter primaries is unacceptable. We’ve got to find a way to fix that too.”

Trent Lott: “This is where I begin to sound partisan. It is America, I don’t want the government trying to control more of my life. I want less government control, and I think there are too many government regulations, laws and taxes on the books now. I think we need to be reviewing those, and in the case of tax reform, I think that’s not necessarily a Republican issue. I bet there are a lot of Democrats that think the tax code is too big, difficult or complicated and would like to find a way to lower the rates on individuals and corporations as well as get rid of some of the deductions and credits.”


  • Trent Lott, Republican U.S. senator for Mississippi from 1989 to 2007 and co-author of “Crisis Point.” As a senator, he held various leadership positions, including Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader.
  • Tom Daschle, Democratic U.S. senator for South Dakota from 1987 to 2005 and co-author of “Crisis Point.” As a senator, he held various leadership positions, including Senate majority leader and Senate minority leader. He tweets @tomdaschle.

This segment aired on January 25, 2016.


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