Transcription – Ken Mehlman Interview

Q: OK. Did President Bush win a mandate in that election?

MEHLMAN: I’m not sure he won a mandate. Broadly, do I think he’d won a mandate to continue the kind of policies he had at a 30,000-foot level, with respect to the War on Terror? I think he did. Do I think he’d won a mandate for the kind of leadership he showed? I do. Do I think the public, though, at the same time that gave him a m ? Fifty-one percent, [47:00] 51.5% isn’t a broad victory. So I think he… I think the way he put it is, perhaps a bit inelegantly, he earned political capital. And I think… Whether it’s a mandate, I’m not sure. I think a mandate probably is a larger percentage of the vote that you have to win.

Q: Was it a mistake, after not really talking much about Social Security reform during the campaign… Talked about other domestic issues —

MEHLMAN: Yeah.

Q: — but not so much about tha Was it a mistake to make that his leading agenda item in ’05?

MEHLMAN: I don’t know that it was a mistake. I think, if you look back, we didn’t get it done. (laughs)

Q: Yeah.

MEHLMAN: That tells you that, at some level, it was. If we had done immigration, I think we could have gotten that issue done. We could have had a policy that would have served our country well economically. It also would have been, in my opinion, humane. And it would have been good for national security. So looking back, I wish that had been our priority.

Q: Yeah. I guess I wonder. I mean, going into a second term — or going to any election but particularly a second term, do you really need to think about laying the predicate during the campaign for what you actually want to do?

MEHLMAN: I think you do want to. [48:00] I think you — I think it’s very important to make elections about the future, very important.

Q: Did you feel like, because this was a party victory… You’re right. It was narrow. But the coattails were pretty significant.

MEHLMAN: Yeah.

Q: Did you feel like, as a Republican National Committee —

MEHLMAN: (laughs)

Q: — person, that you were inheriting maybe a Republican replacement of what had been the previous New Deal Democratic coalition?

MEHLMAN: Well, look. I think the New Deal Coalition had been replaced by what President Reagan did, in 1980, the victory he had, where…

Q: But no

MEHLMAN: I think the — the — if you think about it… So FDR’s elected in 1932.

Q: Thirty-two.

MEHLMAN: And essentially, there’s a Democratic majority, that I think President Kennedy, then, in some ways updated, refreshed, in 1960. It was a very narrow victory. But I think that’s what he was trying to do. So 1980, President Reagan’s elected. I think th I thought we had an opportunity to kind of refresh the Reagan coalition, to build on it. [49:00] So the Reagan coalition took traditional Republicans and added on top of that Southern voters who hadn’t supported before, ethnic Americans, Catholic and other voters who hadn’t supported Republicans before, evangelicals, who hadn’t participated in the process before. And what we thought we could do was — and we tried very hard to do was to add to that mix Latino voters, some African American voters, Jewish Americans that were supportive, for example, of the national security position that the president took, some suburban voters. We tried to expand and build on that a bit. And we had some success, obviously ultimately not what we hoped would happen longer-term. But that was what we were trying to do.

Q: But the difference between ’80 and ’32 was that what ’32 brought in was a top-to-bottom —

MEHLMAN: It did.

Q: — Democratic majority —

MEHLMAN: It did.

Q: — which ’80 didn’t.

MEHLMAN: Eighty did just the Senate and the…