Interview: Pod Save America's Jon Lovett talks Minnesota politics

The former Obama administration speechwriter is recording live shows here on Friday.
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Jon Lovett is a host of podcasts Pod Save America and Lovett or Leave It, and will be recording live shows of both at the Northrop Auditorium on Friday, where he'll welcome Rep. Ilhan Omar and Sen. Amy Klobuchar as his special guests.

A former speechwriter during the Obama administration, Lovett took some time before his appearance in Minneapolis to speak with Bring Me The News' Madeline Deninger about how he sees the current state of politics in Minnesota.

MD: I want to start out by talking about Minnesota going into 2020. Minnesota nearly went to Donald Trump in 2016, while the rest of the Midwest did go for Trump. Is it possible that Trump wins here in 2020?

JL: I think that’s a big question, and it’s something that… Sen. Amy Klobuchar has talked about and it’s part of her candidacy, sort of understanding what happened in the Midwest and how we can do better there. I also think it’s one of the questions that came out of 2016. Obviously Minnesota being close was surprising, but obviously it didn’t get as much attention as losing Wisconsin.

So … I think a lot of people were caught off guard by how the Democrats performed in the Midwest. I think we saw a lot of pandering about what happened there. And I don’t presume to know the answers and I don’t presume to know what will happen. I think part of the 2020 debate amongst a lot of these candidates is trying to answer that question, and you see different kinds of responses.

I think Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders offer one response which is to say we need a bigger and more aggressive policy agenda which speaks to the concerns of people who have felt left behind by Democrats and Republicans. I think you see other candidates offering a different kind of critique of Trump around the kind of chaos he’s brought to our policies and the need to, for lack of a better word, return to normalcy. I don’t have the answer, but I am very interested in what candidates have to say about how we can appeal to people we may have lost in 2016, some of whom we got back in 2018 without giving up on some of the core values that make up the Democrats.

I think the good news is, for the most part all, of the candidates understand that. They don’t want to win over people who may have gone for Trump by being like Trump, but they do want to understand what kind of case it will take to show people who maybe were not huge Trump fans, but were willing to look past all of his aggregise flaws because they felt like that was the choice they had to make.

MD: Democrats in Minnesota flipped two suburban congressional districts in 2018. What might these districts and the demographics they represent say about the outlook for 2020?

A big part of winning the House in 2018 was winning those suburban districts. That was true in Minnesota and that was true in California, that we picked up seats by winning over people. I think it’s a good lesson and it shows that there were a lot of that are still up for grabs and that’s a good thing.

Beyond that I think these are hard questions. What should we do about impeachment? There’s an active impassioned Democratic electorate that believes Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and it’s the right thing to do for the country. There’s also a constituency of Democrats that say that will alienate the people we need to win. How we solve that debate is really a hard question. Again I don’t presume to know the answer, but… I just think these are some of the core challenges we’re coming across right now.

The only thing I have to say is we kind of have to be doing both. We have to appeal to people who don’t always turn out for Democrats, and that includes people who may consider themselves moderates and that also means people who don’t always vote and don’t always feel like politics speak to them, and they deserve to be heard from as well.

MD: One of the biggest talking points after the 2018 elections was the election of Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has found herself making headlines with her freshman alliances with the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. What do you make of her time in office so far?

I think she’s part of a wave of new members of Congress who are part of a vanguard for younger, progressive, diverse Democrats who are upending some of the assumptions about what you’re supposed to do when you get to Congress and how you’re supposed to go along to get along. And I think that’s really exciting.

Rep. Ilhan Omar

Rep. Ilhan Omar

I also think she’s been a target for the President, as has AOC and I think it’s unusual for any new member of Congress to draw this much heat. That’s true for a number of members and I think for the most part they’ve been able to push back and they’ve been able to kind of use this platform to talk about issues they care about.

MD: One thing that Sen. Klobuchar talked about on Pod Save America last month and has repeatedly mentioned since announcing her candidacy is her ability to work across the aisle and pass legislation in a bipartisan manner. Is that a good strategy for Democrats ahead of the primaries?

I think it’s what she believes and it’s what she thinks you need in a president. Right now, I think two things can be true at the same time. Democrats can be frustrated and angry and want someone who will fight. But I also get that if you ask Democratic voters "Is it important to be able to work with people with whom you disagree?" I think they’d all say yes.

So she’s making a case about being practical, and I think that is sort of the argument for what makes her uniquely suited to be the nominee. That she’s A) someone who knows how to win in the Midwest and B) someone that can get things done. Is that going to be the message that runs with Democratic voters the most? I don’t know.

MD: Two other issues Klobuchar continually emphasized on your podcast were climate change and healthcare. Do you think these will continue to be top issues for Democrats in 2020? What else do you think will be important for candidates to address?

JL: Climate change, healthcare, those are two of the top issues. Obviously climate change is the top issue facing planet earth and obviously healthcare is on people’s minds. We’re having a big debate right now about where Democrats should stand when it comes to healthcare. There are people who think we need to come out full-throated for Medicare-For-All, while there are people who think we actually need something more incremental like either a Medicare buy-in, or a public option, or some combination.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

Sen. Amy Klobuchar

There’s a full range of progressive proposals on healthcare and that’s a big debate. But one thing we know is that Democrats are trusted on healthcare far more than Republicans and that’ll be a big part of winning the presidency. For climate I think Democrats want to know their candidates and where their heads are at. It’s "Do you appreciate how big this problem is?" and "Do you appreciate that we’re looking for big answers because we’re so angry about the state of our politics and so upset about the direction of our country and we want something big." You see a number of big proposals on climate change and some candidates are going big on a bunch of those issues.

MD: At this time Sen. Klobuchar’s poll numbers are at around 2 percent [according to a CNN poll from this week of Democratic primary voters]. Meanwhile Joe Biden is the frontrunning [at 32 percent according to the same poll]. Is it fair for people to call him the likely nominee at this point when the Iowa caucuses are still months away?

JL: I think that polls go up and polls go down. It’s useful to look at them to understand where people's heads are right now, but I’m not looking at the polls as a way to predict what will happen so far out from Iowa and so far out for these votes. Obviously these candidates are looking at these polls to see if what they’re saying is resonating. But the truth is whether a candidate is at 30 percent or 0 percent or somewhere in the middle, they’re all trying to do the same thing, which is make a case for why they are uniquely suited to take on Donald Trump and be president.

And that means outlining a vision of where the country is at and where the country should go, and they’re all doing that. Through that case they’re making and the campaigns that they run, those polls will change. How it shakes out, I have no idea. 

Pod Save America, co-hosted by Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor, records live at the Northrop Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Friday, with Lovett or Leave It recording at 10 p.m. You can find ticket information here.

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