The Brazile-Begala smackdown

Is Obama's coalition just "eggheads and African-Americans"? Is Clinton's emphasis on "Joe and Jane Sixpack" excluding black blue-collar Democrats? A frank exchange of views on CNN.

Published May 8, 2008 2:33AM (EDT)

CNN viewers got a glimpse of the deep tensions rending the Democratic Party when Donna Brazile and Paul Begala mixed it up fiercely Tuesday night. Great television, worrisome politics, although they made up in the end.

The transcript below doesn't capture what Brazile said to tick off Begala: She suggested Barack Obama might not need to worry so much about the white working-class and Latino voters that are going with Hillary Clinton, because behind Obama, the party is being remade by young voters, urban voters and suburban voters. About 15 minutes later, host Campbell Brown brought in Begala, and he went off on Brazile -- and she responded in kind. Republicans Alex Castellanos and Bill Bennett make cameos, but the action is all Brazile/Begala.

Begala: I love Donna and we go back 22 years. We've never been on different sides of an arguments in our entire lives. But if her point is that there's a new Democratic Party that somehow doesn't need or want white working-class people and Latinos, well count me out.

Brazile: Paul, baby, I did not say that.

Begala: We cannot win with egg heads and African-Americans. OK, that is the Dukakis Coalition, which carried ten states and gave us four years of the first George Bush. President Clinton -- reached across to get a whole lot of Republicans and Independents to come. I think Senator Obama and Senator Clinton both have that capacity. They both have a unique ability -- well it's not unique if they both have it. They both have a remarkable ability to reach out to those working-class white folks and Latinos. Senator Clinton has proven it; Barack has not yet, but he can. And I certainly hope he is not shutting the door on expanding the party.

Brown: OK. Let -- egg heads and African-Americans? That's the new coalition?

Brazile: First of all, Paul, you didn't hear me right. Maybe I should come and cook you something because you've got a little hearing problem. I was one of the first Democrats who were going to the white working-class neighborhoods, encouraging white Democrats not to forget their roots. I have drank more beers with "Joe Six Pack," "Jane Six Pack" and everybody else than most white Democrats that you're talking about.

In terms of Hispanics, you know Paul, I know the math. I know Colorado; I know Nevada; I know New Mexico. So that's not the issue. I'm saying that we need to not divide and polarize the Democratic Party as if the Democratic Party will rely simply on white, blue-collar male -- you insult every black blue-collar Democrat by saying that. So stop the divisions. Stop trying to split us into these groups, Paul, because you and I know both know we have been in more campaigns. We know how Democrats win and to simply suggest that Hillary's coalition is better than Obama's, Obama's is better than Hillary's -- no. We have a big party, Paul.

Begala: That's right.

Brazile: Just don't divide me and tell me I cannot stand in Hillary's camp because I'm black, and I can't stand in Obama's camp because I'm female. Because I'm both.

Begala: That's -- Donna --

Brazile: And I'm wealthy so I might go with McCain and sit with Bill Bennett, Paul.

Bennett: That's funny.

Brazile: Don't start with me, baby.

Begala: We're having a vigorous agreement then, Donna.

Brazile: A gentle --

Begala: Agreement then --

Brazile: Because we're not doing -- both --

Begala: My point is --

Brazile: Go ahead, Paul.

Begala: What worries me is this notion that somehow there's a -- and I hear this sometimes from some of my friends that are for Senator Obama -- that there is a new Democratic Party and we don't really need all those folks. And we're -- Donna is exactly right. The only way to win this in my party -- we're not the monochromatic Republican Party. In the Democratic Party, the only way we win is to stitch together white folks and African-Americans and Latinos and Asians. And that's what President Clinton did twice. That's how he won two national elections. And I'm --

Brazile: And Paul, I was there with you. I was there. It's our party, Paul. Don't say my party. It's our party. Because it's time that we bring the party back together, Paul.

Brown: But Donna, doesn't he have a point in that it is divided? He is going to have to reach into her coalition and bring some people over and she -- were she to get the nomination -- is going to have to reach into his and bring people over?

Brazile: When John McCain secured the Republican nomination, he had to do some homework and reaching out to the Bill Bennetts. If Barack Obama secures the Democratic nomination, he will have to reach out to blue collar, white voters and neutralize Senator Clinton's advantage on the economy but --

Brown: Why hasn't he been able do that yet?

Brazile: He has reached out and he's won -- do you think that Barack Obama would be leading in the pledged votes, the delegate votes, the money, if it was simply because somehow or another black people somehow or another became the majority? Barack Obama has won the hearts and the minds of white voters, as well as blacks and Hispanics. I think -- he has to continue to do his homework and that's what he showed today in North Carolina, he must prove that in the races to come.

Castellanos: He was a much broader reaching candidate when this process started. And now I think it's fair to ask: Would the people you that see in Barack Obama's life be the same people you see in his administration? Would you see Bill Ayers? Would there be people like Reverend Wright? The answer may be no, by the way.

Brazile: Alex now you -- that is so small, Alex. That's so small.

Castellanos: No, but I'm saying that whether -- the answer may be no. But the question is certainly out there for a lot of voters.

Brazile: Will he take us to war on a lie and see all of our troops die on a lie? And not ask for forgiveness? ... You all want to make a superficial conversation, not a real, substantive conversation. Let's make it about substance and not do this.

Brown: OK guys, you know what?

Brazile: That's beneath you, Alex. You know better.

Brown: All right, guys ... Hold on. I want to ask Donna something. I want to ask Donna something because you have been on these panels time and time again with us as an undecided voter, and you sound very much --

Brazile: I'm not undecided.

Brown: Uncommitted?

Brazile: I'm undeclared.

Brown: Undeclared. There you go...

Brazile: Words matter.

Brown: Words matter. It sounds very much to me tonight like you have made up your mind.

Brazile: No. It sounds like I am ready to unify my party. I'm ready to bring the party back together and I'm sick and tired of hearing people say "my party, my party." This is the Democratic Party. We have stood through thick and thin and I'm sick of the divisions. That's all I'm saying. I'm not saying that this is about -- I think Hillary is a fabulous candidate and she is doing a remarkable job in the closing days of this campaign. But Barack Obama's also a great candidate and I respect John McCain's service.

Now what does that make me?

Brown: All right ... Paul was desperate to get a word in and I cut him off -- Paul?

Begala: Yes, I'm sorry to intrude with a fact. But Alex is raising something that I think is going to be a loser for his party. His party believes that they think that they can beat Barack Obama by attacking his former pastor, or some guy he used to live in the neighborhood with 30 years ago. I think it is all nonsense.

We have some empirical proof. In the Louisiana House race, it was last week, this is a district that has been solidly Republican for 34 years, that voted 55 percent for George W. Bush. This is not a swing district. And they went in there, the Republicans did, and they ran ads attacking Barack Obama and attacking Reverend Wright.

And you know what the Republicans did?

They lost.

So as a Democrat, I don't even support Barack in the primaries, but I would gladly support him in the general election. And if Alex thinks they can win this by attacking people other than Barack Obama, somebody he used to know, somebody he used to listen to preach, I think that's a loser strategy for the Republicans.

Brown: OK, guys. Hold on. To be continued. --

By Joan Walsh

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2008 Elections