With millennials and the generation following them becoming the largest part of the United States electorate, Dan Pfeiffer is eager to bring his can-do, must-do message to the UC Berkeley campus.
Presented by Cal Performances and appearing in conversation with Lauren Schiller, host of the syndicated pubic radio show Inflection Point, Pfeiffer will zero in on one primary point. “It’s important to talk about young people getting involved in politics,” he says in a phone interview. “Why they should, how they can make an impact, and really, how they’re the only hope for our democracy going forward.”
San Francisco-based Pfeiffer was Barack Obama’s campaign communication director before entering the White House and rising to communications director in 2009 and senior advisor in 2013. He is author of the New York Times #1 best-selling Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter and Trump, and a co-host of Crooked Media’s popular political podcast, Pod Save America. With more than 300 million downloads and 1.5 million listeners per episode, the podcast became a series of live HBO specials during the 2018 midterm elections.
Democratic politicians in 2020 he says must appeal to more than the two easily divided groups of the past. Democrats or Republicans, he says, are no longer where younger and future generations of voters land. “They vote Democrat more frequently, but they’re registering as Independents when that’s an option.”
Pfeiffer says that were he back in his seat as a campaign director during the primaries, his first, second and third priorities would be the same, regardless of the candidate: “Step one is to make a case for why I am the most electable. Polls show Democratic primary voters want to know who is the best candidate to take on Trump. Item number two is reaching out to voters and activists who got involved for the first time after the 2016 election. They were the ones taught the consequences of staying on the sideline. I’d get my butt to Iowa to win. That’s third.”
With all technology and social media platforms enabling broad-sweep connectivity, Pfeiffer insists there remains an art to tailoring the message to the format and the audience. “Do candidates have a natural connection to the voters?” he asks, then acknowledges: “There’s a lot of gender and racial stereotypes that can make it harder for a woman or person of color.”
Asked to describe the lay of the land at the end of 2019, Pfeiffer says, “As we sit here right now, Donald Trump has a slight advantage to win. As the incumbent, he has wind at his back, but he barely won last time. He won by only 100,000 votes in three states, due to a confluence of events.”
Currently completing the final draft of his new book on sale in February, Un-Trumping America: A Plan to Make America a Democracy Again, Pfeiffer provides a preview: “There’s nothing more important than beating Trump in 2020, but that’s not enough. If Democrats want to make sure we never have someone like Trump as president again, we have to make fixing our democracy the centerpiece.” Eliminating the electoral college system that he calls “fundamentally anti-democratic” is first. “We’ve never lived up to democratic ideals. We have to undo the damage done and do everything to make our democracy more inclusive and more representative of what the country looks like now.”