‘The Run-Up’: Can Democrats Catch up to Years of Republican Unity?

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astead herndon

So there’s this show hosted by Steve Bannon, the former Trump strategist. It’s called War Room. And while it’s controversial enough that YouTube and Spotify won’t publish it, in the conservative world it’s a big deal.

archived recording (steve bannon)

OK, we’re live at CPAC. The War Room posse is —

astead herndon

A couple of months ago Bannon hosted a live recording at CPAC, basically the most important gathering of influential grassroots conservatives, and he brought out a guest.

archived recording (steve bannon)

Glenn Story is the founder of Patriot Mobile. You got to hear what he has to say. I’ll tell you what, this is a guy that puts his values in back of his business.

astead herndon

Someone with the blueprint for conservative politics in the Trump era.

archived recording (glenn story)

Yeah, it’s pretty simple. We put God first.

archived recording (steve bannon)

Amen.

astead herndon

The head of a Christian cell phone company.

archived recording (glenn story)

We are a Christian conservative cell phone company, and we carve out a portion of our proceeds and donate back to conservative causes.

astead herndon

It’s called Patriot Mobile.

archived recording (glenn story)

We take biblical principles and we say, hey, we’re going to donate to causes that really matter.

astead herndon

And during the interview —

archived recording (glenn story)

That align with his values.

astead herndon

— he lays out how they use their money.

archived recording (glenn story)

We went and found, I believe, 11 candidates and we supported them, and we won every seat. We took over four school boards.

archived recording (steve bannon)

11 seats on school boards, took over four. Can we hear it for him?

[CHEERING]

speaker 1

Wow, that’s fantastic.

astead herndon

It’s all part of a strategy to point energy at the local level and stay ahead of a changing country.

archived recording (steve bannon)

As I said last night, one of the keys is these school boards, right. The school boards are the key that picks the lock. Talk to us about what you did in Tarrant County.

astead herndon

Today —

archived recording (steve bannon)

— about these school boards.

astead herndon

A case study in grass roots Republican politics.

archived recording (glenn story)

So it is important to save Tarrant County.

astead herndon

And whether Democrats can catch up.

archived recording (steve bannon)

Are we going to save Tarrant County?

speaker 1

Yes.

archived recording (steve bannon)

Let’s give a big shoutout for Patriot Mobile and Patriot Mobile action.

astead herndon

From “The New York Times,” I’m Astead Herndon. This is “The Run Up.”

[MUSIC PLAYING]

All righty, team, y’all we all mic’d up and ready?

david goodman

I think so.

astead herndon

I kind of wanted to do the first question. So my colleague, David Goodman, is the Houston Bureau Chief, and he’s the one who told me this story about Patriot Mobile. David, what’s the backdrop of how you come to report on this story?

david goodman

So I moved to Texas last July, and one of the major political questions that’s hung over this state, really in every election cycle going back several, is when the state is going to turn blue, if ever. And hope springs eternal among Democrats that it will eventually do this, but they keep falling flat. But there’s a big asterisks to that, and it’s these suburban counties that had been trending towards the Democrats in recent years. And that was particularly the case in the surrounding county of Fort Worth called Tarrant County, where you had the county actually go slightly blue in each of the last two elections, so in 2020 and in 2018.

astead herndon

Yeah, yeah. As a political reporter, the question of whether Texas will turn blue feels like omnipresent always, everywhere. But it’s because it’s so central to the political future of the country.

If that were to happen, Democrats would have a huge, I mean, almost insurmountable advantage in things like the electoral college through big states like California and Texas. But it seems like you’re saying that if that’s going to happen, it’s likely going to be driven largely through the suburbs that have been trending toward Democrats. Is that right?

david goodman

Yeah, I mean, that’s where the Democrats have been making their gains, and where the Republicans really need to make a last stand if they’re going to keep some of the demographic shifts in voting patterns from overtaking them. And so it’s become this real battleground. And nowhere really more intensely, I think, than in the suburbs around Fort Worth and Dallas, just because those are suburbs that are just very traditionally conservative and really reacted strongly to seeing their fellow neighbors and whatnot voting more Democratic over time. And so this became a real cause. You saw, actually, a very strong Tea Party emerge in that area, and it’s sort of morphed into a pretty engaged conservative base in that part of the state.

astead herndon

So how does Patriot Mobile factor in here? I should say, I’ve heard of this company. They would pop up in my reporting on conservative politics every now and then.

Their swag is very visible at Trump rallies. I’ve seen their ads in conservative media. But I’ve never gotten a full understanding of what they’re up to.

david goodman

Well, it’s true, they’ve been around for a while. I didn’t really know too much about them, and that’s why I went out to try and set up an interview and actually talk to them face to face. It was pretty clear to me they weren’t going to agree to a phone interview with the New York Times, necessarily. That it would be better if I showed up in person and talked to them.

But when you track down the address from their campaign filings, it’s a PO box in Grapevine, Texas, north of Fort Worth. I dug a little deeper and I was able to find an actual address of a place, and I drove to that office park and knocked on the door and went through. And it was completely unmarked from the outside, but when you got inside there was all kinds of folks wearing Patriot Mobile t-shirts and there’s other branding around.

So I knew I had landed in the right place, but it was not the right time. This was back in the spring and they decided they didn’t want to have anything to do with a reporter who just showed up at their door.

astead herndon

An experience we’ve both had before.

david goodman

Well, they were surprised to see me, in fact. Because they’ve done a lot to try and conceal sort of their location, they would say for safety reasons. And so they were surprised that I’d showed up, but I did have a brief conversation with the president and one of the founders, Glenn Story.

And he essentially said he’d think about interview, and thought about it, and said no. But then I decided to keep pushing it because their influence is really very clear in that area, that they were spending a significant amount of money. And I felt like their story needed to be told. And I followed up a couple of months later and reiterated my interest in talking, and we had a long cell phone conversation off the record about what kind of story I wanted to do. And he came away, at least at that moment, convinced that he wanted to sit down.

speaker 2

Hi there.

david goodman

Hi, David.

speaker 2

Sorry about that. Hey, nice to meet you.

astead herndon

So tell me about that. You go back to this office park, and this time they let you in?

speaker 2

OK, so I guess I’ll go ahead.

david goodman

OK, so we’re going —

david goodman

Yeah, so it looks a lot like a typical small business. You have cubicles and people kind of buzzing back and forth. But it’s just a little bit different and has a little bit more of a conservative feel, namely because you have flags that you might see at a conservative rally hanging from some of those cubicles, including one modeled on the Texas flag, except there are two silhouettes of assault rifles on it and the words come and take it in Hebrew and in English.

david goodman

Who signed your guitar? Does it say MAGA on it?

glenn story

Yeah it does.

david goodman

Yeah.

glenn story

It’s — let’s just say, it’s a pretty notable name.

david goodman

Is it Trump? No.

glenn story

It is.

david goodman

Oh.

glenn story

It’s his son.

david goodman

Oh, it’s Don Jr. All right, all right.

glenn story

He’s a good guy.

david goodman

And so there’s an overtness to the politics that are just not present in your typical office space. The other thing they do at the office is every Tuesday they have a Bible study with Senator Ted Cruz’s father, Raphael.

david goodman

Where does that take place? Is it —

jenny story

It’s in that conference room.

david goodman

It’s just a packed conference room with people out in the hallways trying to listen in. So for those that are interested, and it seems like a lot of people are, that’s a real highlight of the week there. So it’s a normal sort of company, but it’s got these aspects that make it unique.

astead herndon

Yeah, and what did you learn when you sat down with Glenn?

david goodman

Yeah, so I sat down in Glenn’s office with him and with his wife, Jenny Story, who’s the chief operating officer for the company, and with their sort of VP for government affairs, Leigh Wambsganss. And she also runs the separate entity which is their political action committee. And so we spoke for almost two hours.

david goodman

I’m actually really curious just how you got started and kind of what your experience has been with the business.

david goodman

What they do, they don’t operate their own towers or anything like that. They essentially buy space from T-Mobile, is the provider they take space from, and then they will sell you your cell phone and a plan. And they’re like the customer service part of it. But really, for these executives that’s not the exciting part. The exciting part for them was the conservative politics that the business allowed them to pursue.

glenn story

And we were purely political until about three years ago when we put God first. One of my board members said, look, you guys aren’t putting your God first. Put him first, and you will be blessed richly. And right after that, our growth has just gone exponential.

david goodman

And I’m sorry, that was —

david goodman

And they talk about it as this is their for-profit mission. And they see it as a Christian mission. And on the whiteboard in Glenn’s office he has the core values for the company still sort of written in handwriting with a black marker. And the first one it says —

glenn story

Missionaries versus mercenaries.

david goodman

Missionaries versus mercenaries.

glenn story

A mercenary is somebody that’s out here just to make money. I’m going to sell as many cars. I don’t really care about the byproduct.

Well, a missionary is somebody that really buys into what you’re doing. And we’re not selling a car, we’re selling a relationship. And that’s a very different thought. We are believers. Now, the rest of it won’t make any sense to you.

david goodman

And then the second one is God is in control. And they talk about that, that all the decisions they make, they pray on. And that’s how they view their business.

astead herndon

So when they say for-profit mission, what is that mission? What are the conservative Christian causes that Patriot Mobile is most concerned about?

glenn story

We’ve migrated away from the pure politics, and really our four pillars —

david goodman

Well, so broadly they set out a mission for themselves of essentially four areas, or four pillars as they would say.

jenny story

First Amendment, Second Amendment.

david goodman

First Amendment, the Second Amendment, they’re about support for the military.

glenn story

Military and first responders and right to life.

david goodman

And then the pro-life issues.

astead herndon

Pretty standard conservative causes.

david goodman

Exactly. And for a while, Glenn was telling me they were just giving their money to politics and political causes that were bigger than them. And then they started to look more in their own backyard.

glenn story

When you hear the stuff that some of these schools were allowing these kids, the pictures we have, going into the school and getting the books, you would be mortified.

david goodman

And they just this year decided to start spending money on local school board races.

jenny story

What do you think of this one? Look at this picture.

david goodman

All the executives have kids in the schools in this area.

jenny story

And then, here, I’ll show you another one. I mean, this is just awful.

david goodman

And they were very focused, at least in the meeting that I had with them, on the content of the books that were being offered to offer to students.

leigh wambsganss

Parents do not believe gender issues should be discussed in K through 12. Especially Christian parents do not want multiple genders discussed with their children.

david goodman

And so it really wasn’t born of their pillars, per se, but more of the general sense of their faith and being able to instill that faith in their own kids and have other parents be allowed to do that themselves for their own children.

astead herndon

And so what does this actually look like for them getting involved in these races?

david goodman

Well, there were several. There’s four different independent school districts where they supported candidates. And the one that I looked at most specifically was one called Grapevine Colleyville ISD. And this is a school district that spans two towns, Grapevine and Colleyville. And Grapevine is the corporate headquarters for Patriot Mobile, so that’s the reason I was most interested in that district because everything was kind of happening right in the span of a few miles.

The other reason I was interested in focusing on that area is that it had this recent history with the district having gotten rid of a pretty popular new Black principal at its high school, the first Black principal that they’d had at the Colleyville Heritage High School. And he only lasted there a year. And that year was really marked by a lot of controversy, especially towards the end. And parents coming to school board meetings and complaining that the principal was bringing “critical race theory,” quote, unquote, into the schools.

jenny story

And I hate to say the CRT word, because people think it’s some big boogeyman. And the bottom line is there was teacher training that we got through public information requests showing that they were asking teachers to judge kids based on the amount of melanin in their skin.

david goodman

Really?

david goodman

And was privileging conversations about equity and diversity over concerns about the education of the students. And there was a pretty bitter back and forth that ended with the principal agreeing to step down and the school district moving on from him. But it was a kind of ugly chapter that came to a close only really at the end of last year. And so this was the backdrop for then the school board elections that come up in the following spring. And so there was an effort to push further with more changes that they could put into place.

astead herndon

I mean, it seems like you’re laying out a school district that has a lot going on. What kind of impact did Patriot Mobile’s involvement and investment have for those school board races?

david goodman

Well, these are races where really only a few thousand dollars is spent by a campaign. And here you had Patriot Mobile allocating $420,000 to 11 different candidates.

astead herndon

Right, right. If you want to focus on national politics, maybe that $400,000 doesn’t go that far. But when you’re looking at a school board race or a local race, that’s essentially bringing a bazooka to a knife fight. That has a big impact.

david goodman

Right, that money goes in just a dramatic way in these little races where people — name recognition is quite low, if it exists at all. And people go to the polls out of a sense of duty often on a day that’s unusual. This was a vote that was in May that didn’t have any other races besides a couple of local ones happening. So that spending had just a tremendous effect.

I mean, they won each of the 11 races where they favored a candidate. And in doing so, they put more conservative school board members on the boards of four school districts, solidifying control in some cases. And in the case of Grapevine Colleyville —

archived recording

We have a conservative majority now, and they’re focusing more on education, trying to stay out of the indoctrination.

david goodman

— actually flipping control from a board that had been more centrist to one that was decidedly much more conservative.

astead herndon

Say more about that.

david goodman

There were a bunch of new policies that were under discussion. And once the school board flipped, those new policies that more tightly restricted books and changed the way students and their pronouns would be handled, those new policies passed easily. And so it changed the atmosphere in the schools pretty quickly. But the other thing that happened during that school board fight that kind of didn’t get as much attention, it sort of flew under the radar, was that the school board at the same time as they were voting changes to how books are handled and how transgender students are dealt with in the school and pronouns and all the hot button issues, they also changed the election rules.

astead herndon

What do you mean?

david goodman

Well, what they decided to do is move from a system where you had to get a majority of the vote to win a seat on the school board to one where the person who had the plurality of the votes would win. And so the current system, if you don’t get a majority, there’s a runoff election between the two top vote getters. And what they said was, hey that system is too expensive and pointless in these small races where we can just say the person who has the most votes of the candidates who are running gets that seat. So this was presented as a cost saving measure. It’s completely within the rules of how these elections are run. You can either do a plurality system or one with runoffs.

But they changed this at this very heightened moment, and opponents of the new school board said they did it in order to preserve their majority. On the theory that the folks that are currently in control of the school board have a really animated and organized base of support, and that they could always turn out a plurality, 40 percent or so, of the voters. And as long as there was more than one other candidate they stood to hold on to those seats or even gain them with new candidates. So this is actually seen as a way of maintaining power by the folks in the school board, even if majority of voters were voting against them. As long as they could sort of split their opposition, they can hold on to their seats.

astead herndon

That feels like a pretty big success story.

david goodman

Oh, certainly. And you’ve seen them get a ton of national attention for this in conservative circles. I mean, they were vetted at CPAC by Steve Bannon. And so they’ve kind of become these darlings of the far right here, especially those who really champion Christian values and want to see them more in place in policy.

At the local level, there’s few things that have more of an impact on the community than how your schools are run. It’s what’s taught on issues of race and gender. It’s what your children are coming home with and telling you about they know about the world. And so it’s a very direct kind of reflection back to conservatives of this changing society that they’re looking to push against. And so this is a very powerful space in order to try and take a little bit more control.

And so there’s this understanding of a larger political opportunity here to own the idea of parental rights. And you’ve already seen other communities sort of looking to their playbook and thinking about how it can be expanded. And it’s something that they’ve talked about, that they sort put this together and hope to be able to show other places that maybe don’t have the resources to develop plans of their own, kind of give them essentially this strategy for how to win.

astead herndon

A blueprint.

david goodman

Exactly, exactly. And I talked to them about what’s next. And they were not really that interested in getting into the nitty gritty of where they plan to spend their money, especially after this election cycle here in Texas. But you can sort of see how the model might scale.

And for example, Fort Worth, which is the largest city in Texas that’s still run by Republicans, you have a mayor there who came up under a Republican who is fairly centrist. And that former mayor actually just lost the county race in the Republican primary to a candidate who is aligned with Patriot Mobile, and in fact, is friends with one of the folks who helped engineer Patriot Mobile strategy. And so you could sort of see them thinking we’re going to push not only school boards in a more conservative direction, but maybe also start to think about how to do that at the county level, and then at the level of one of the largest cities in the state of Texas.

astead herndon

And this feels critical, because as you said, these communities are core to the question of whether Texas flips. And that is core to the question of America’s political direction. It feels like a lot of that ties back to these communities, which is why you went there. So how should we think then about Patriot Mobile’s place in that larger story?

david goodman

Well, it’s not that Patriot Mobile is this incredibly powerful operation. It is, at the end of the day, a local cell phone provider. But I think the point is that the conservative movement has these folks like Glenn who are really willing to put their money and their businesses in service of the values and the politics that they feel most strongly about.

And I think one of the things that something like Patriot Mobile and folks like Glenn and Jenny show, or at least what they’re trying to prove, is that even as the state changes demographically it doesn’t actually mean that they need to change their values, that the state needs to change the values that it’s had before. And I think what you’re seeing with this kind of very organized movement is a minority of folks, but one that’s quite organized and really animated in their values and in their politics, can be quite effective, especially against a majority that’s much more fractured and maybe doesn’t have the same kind of alignment around similar goals. And so you can imagine that this will play out, not just in these suburbs in Texas, but in suburbs in areas all over the country.

astead herndon

Yeah. I mean, it makes me think about one of the blind spots of the demographic destiny argument. The idea that when these changes happen, conservatives or Republicans who would have been politically hurt were just going to sit there and not do anything. They are creating the infrastructure to really wrest their community back to where they are, and even willing to change some rules to do that.

david goodman

Well, that’s right. And I think the other thing that’s important to point out. And something that is notable when you go to Patriot Mobile, is that the folks that work there are quite diverse. It’s not an all White employee base. You have people of all backgrounds who are employed by the company, visibly.

And it’s sort of this idea that I think is overly simplistic, that the demographic change in Texas, which is largely towards Hispanics, that that wouldn’t mean necessarily that Democrats would take power. But I think we’ve seen, and especially what Glenn and folks like him are stressing, is the centrality of Christian values and of that kind of commonality that actually does cross racial lines in a place like Texas. And I think that may be core to the future of this kind of strategy of reaching across maybe racial divisions to find common ground on questions of values and how we should be raising our kids.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

astead herndon

So grassroots Republicans, bonded by faith and motivated by fears of a changing country, have mobilized in local races to have an outsized impact. But this summer, they may have gone too far. And in doing so, given Democrats —

astead herndon

Senator, can you —

kirsten gillibrand

Hold on a second, Astead.

astead herndon

— something of their own to mobilize around.

kirsten gillibrand

OK, hi.

astead herndon

Hi, I heard some debate over who’s a feminist and who’s not.

kirsten gillibrand

Yeah, we’re debating who’s the biggest feminist in our office.

astead herndon

We’ll be right back.

Here’s the thing, Republicans have been really good at using the system to their political advantage and changing certain rules to their own benefit, even when it’s out of step with the majority. The biggest example of that has to be the stacking of the Supreme Court with deeply conservative judges and the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

Nearly 6 in 10 adults disapprove of the court’s decision. So the question is, have conservatives gotten so out of step with the majority that there will be a backlash? One that benefits Democrats, and finally gives the party a rallying issue of their own.

astead herndon

Thank you so much for taking some time out.

astead herndon

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has been sounding the alarm on Roe for years, an issue that most of the party largely ignored while Roe was still in place. Now that it’s been overturned, I wanted to ask her, can Democrats catch up to years of Republican unity? And is their biggest problem in how they deliver their message? Or is it the message itself?

astead herndon

I read in a story that you said at a fundraiser that Democrats are terrible at messaging. It’s just a fact. I saw this week Governor Gavin Newsom of California kind of repeat a similar thing where he said Democrats have a messaging problem.

I wanted to just pose that to you directly. Is that how you feel? Democrats have a messaging problem? And what does that mean?

kirsten gillibrand

So I don’t remember the context of what I was talking about, but I don’t think it’s necessarily true. I think Democrats certainly during campaigns are very good about talking about their values and what they want to accomplish and who they want to help and what they’re willing to fight for. I think there’s not the same message discipline, I guess, is probably a more precise way to say it.

Republicans have a brand almost, whereas Democrats have so many issues we care about it’s just such a big agenda. And so candidates don’t talk about the same stuff all the time. They talk about different things.

And so it’s not really that our messaging is bad, it’s that we’re not all on the same song sheet. So you don’t have the brand management in the way I think the Republicans have done. But I think it’s changing. And I think that this issue, particularly about the right to privacy and how this has been so deeply undermined, is something that resonates across districts and across states.

astead herndon

Yeah, and I want to get to how it’s changing. But I think I want to look back a little more. Can you give me an example of a time when you thought that message discipline has come to hurt Democrats?

kirsten gillibrand

There are examples. There’s examples when people, the way they talk about an issue isn’t clear. And so it’s easy for Republicans to miss — what’s the word — to mislead people about what people mean.

astead herndon

What do you mean?

kirsten gillibrand

Let’s talk about public safety. It’s just the easiest one. If you say defund the police, that scares the hell out of millions of people because they don’t know what they meant. Whereas, many people meant things like fund mental health, fund social services, fund more social workers, all the things which we agree.

So it just didn’t make sense in terms of the words chosen. And so when we’re talking about things that we all agree on, like the right to privacy and the right to access to health care and the right to bodily autonomy, we all understand the words we’re using and it all makes sense.

astead herndon

Yeah, I mean, I feel like I hear about messaging a lot, but I also want to pull on the idea of messaging in general. I mean, what has given you the confidence that’s just a matter about getting Democrats on one accord rather than as a dislike of the message in general? I mean, I think some people would say that even to use that defund the police example that the majority of Americans just weren’t at the point that maybe some Democrats were.

Also, I’m thinking about the issues of schools and coronavirus. Republicans have been able to seize on the idea that Democrats went too far in terms of masking and making issues like parental rights rise to the top of voters’ concerns. Was that a messaging problem for Democrats? Or was it a substance issue that people didn’t like the substance of what Democrats were pitching in terms of masking and in schools?

kirsten gillibrand

So I think Republicans took this issue, again misled and lied, and created massive division in the country over it. Parents want kids to be safe. Parents want kids to be in school. And I think the Republicans just took advantage of people’s anger and frustration with the length of the COVID pandemic.

To say you’re telling us what to do as opposed to no, we’re protecting the lives of you and your families. And I think the real corruption within the Republican Party is to create these divisive issues and rile parents up. They stand for burning books. They stand for extremely misrepresenting views on things that are just not accurate.

And they went into create arguments that just aren’t true. I mean, it’s just not true. And that division they created within the school system was just intended to make people be misled and not understand what was going on.

astead herndon

So I feel like if I hear you correctly —

astead herndon

So Gillibrand says the Democrats problem is not a failure of the party’s own messaging. Rather, it’s what she calls the corruption of Republicans. But when it comes to abortion, Democrats have, at times, tried to make protecting Roe a priority long before it was overturned. But it wasn’t a unified effort, and voters didn’t really respond. And I wanted to know if she thought that actually contributed to Roe being overturned.

kirsten gillibrand

Well, I can tell you what it was like during the Kavanaugh hearings. We were just speaking every day in front of the Supreme Court, trying to be heard on this issue, raising this red flag of this is so bad that this president is putting in place someone specifically to overturn Roe. I mean, we were — I can’t say that people didn’t believe us, but they certainly weren’t as worried as the advocates were.

astead herndon

Why do you think?

kirsten gillibrand

Because they’re not paying attention to what’s happening in the red states. We are. We’re watching the pain and the horror that these families are having to face, and not all of our colleagues are recognizing this as the red flag that is.

I think, Astead, it’s an issue of men and women. I don’t know that our male colleagues fully understand what it would be like to not have a right to privacy. This is crazy.

You can’t fully absorb what it would be like that you don’t have the right to privacy in the mail, you don’t have the right to privacy in your phone calls, your discussions with doctors, your emails. That’s what’s happening in these red states to implement the Dobbs decision. It’s frightening, and people just weren’t paying attention.

And I think it’s because women in this country still don’t have a great deal of power. And it’s not just that women, of course, will care more than men. It’s that if we don’t care, then no one seems to care. So it’s just we don’t have equality and we don’t have full representation in the country. And so these issues that might affect women most deeply still get ignored.

astead herndon

I guess I’m saying, I don’t want to be dismissive of that stuff. I’m really asking about how you balance that moral clarity, that need for Democrats to speak up on that issue, with the political reality of deeply ingrained sexism, of deeply ingrained misogyny. How can Democrats lead on those issues, while at the same time messaging correctly to those crucial voting blocks that they need?

kirsten gillibrand

Well, on this issue, people are following the issue. So for example you look at what happened in Kansas. You saw an increase in voter registration. More women registered to vote by 70 percent, I think, and then we were able to defeat that measure.

You look at the special elections we’ve been having, one in upstate New York. Before the Dobbs decision came down we weren’t sure if we could hold that seat. After, we won. That’s happening all across the country.

So people are very aware of this issue. And they are hearing the message clearly that these rights are being destroyed and it is undermining basic life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness for all women for 40 years.

astead herndon

But it seemed like that awareness of right now is coming after that decision of Dobbs, which was kind of the worst nightmare. How do you wrestle those two things? That the energy of right now is only happening because of the fall of Roe?

kirsten gillibrand

Right, so I think it’s because up until now a lot of people just thought it would never happen. So they didn’t believe, they weren’t taking to heart what was happening in red states. And now they realize that it is happening and they have to take it seriously. So people are becoming more aware of this issue.

astead herndon

What’s your confidence level that Democrats can make up some of these holes that they’re in. Particularly around this issue considering that renewed energy?

kirsten gillibrand

So obviously, there’s normal dynamics in midterm elections. Usually the party that the president is from does poorly. This is an existential threat to democracy and equality. So it rises to a level that’s just bigger than any one of us or any one candidate or even Democratic politics.

I think it’s a reflection of our democracy being broken. Because these justices were chosen from a list created by a bunch of lawyers in New York City who had a religious agenda. That undermines the whole framework of our Constitution, freedom of speech, freedom of religion.

So I think what’s happening now, Astead, is not about messaging and it is not about Democratic politics. It’s literally taking away full citizenship rights for 50 percent of Americans. That’s why it’s so big. And that’s why I think it’s breaking through as something that people are not going to tolerate.

It’s structurally breaking our democracy for a religious agenda by just a bunch of really wealthy people that took a president who didn’t know much about much and said we’ll support you if you take this list of justices. And these justices then went to their hearings and said oh, no, precedent should be regarded. It should be protected. All their language was so specific to lead the Susan Collins and others of the world to say they’re not going to undermine Roe. They would never change the country in that way. And they did.

And their intention is to keep going. The worst thing about Clarence Thomas is that he says he wants to now apply this to LGBTQ equality. He wants apply it to policing your bedroom. He’s bonkers.

And you just add to Lindsey Graham the fact that he now wants to make a federal ban on access to reproductive services, which is total BS, because this Republican Party has always said we believe in states’ rights. And these red, red states want to have their laws the way they are, and you can’t tell us what to do.

Well, you know what, the blue, blue states do not want to do the way you do these things. And to have a federal ban again is going farther backwards and enshrining discrimination. It’s not OK.

astead herndon

But considering the realities that we are currently in, and that Republicans at least on the grassroots side are openly admitting what their next targets are, what is the Democratic recourse? I get the kind of intellectual hypocrisy that you’re identifying.

kirsten gillibrand

The only Democratic recourse is winning these elections, period.

astead herndon

What does that mean, winning? What is the bar for winning?

kirsten gillibrand

you. have to have a majority. You have to have a set of majorities to stop these crazy judges from being elevated and not having Mitch McConnell get to steal more Supreme Court justices. He cannot be in charge of the Senate.

And you cannot lose the House. And if you do lose the House, you better lose it by the smallest margin possible, because you need to govern on a bipartisan basis. So that’s what it means. And if people don’t realize that, then we are screwed.

astead herndon

I hear a lot of Democrats talking about the codification of Roe v. Wade as a goal coming from this midterms. I wanted to ask you about that. Is it fair to say that that is the Democratic recourse that the president and most congressional Democrats have identified?

kirsten gillibrand

Codifying Roe?

astead herndon

Mm-hmm.

kirsten gillibrand

Well, on the Senate side you can codify Roe with a Democratic only vote. So you’d have to amend or abridge the filibuster. And if we did have two more Democrats, you would have enough people to say, we will amend the filibuster for civil rights issues. You could do it for just those type of issues.

Or you could do for all issues. But you’d have to be able to pass it on the House side, too. So it depends. What is our majority in the House?

Do we have a majority, or do we have a thin minority? It matters. It absolutely matters because if you can’t pass it in the House it can’t become a law.

astead herndon

Yeah, so I mean, as you mentioned there are those laws that really govern midterms. Incumbent parties usually suffer losses. What I hear you saying, and I think what we both intuitively know, is that to codify something like Roe v. Wade, Democrats need to not only keep the House and keep the Senate, but expand those majorities. They have to do something, frankly, unprecedented than what parties have done in midterms before. Is that fair?

kirsten gillibrand

Yeah. They do. They have to work really, really hard. And everybody who’s listening to this podcast, who cares about these issues, needs to fight harder.

I mean, make phone calls for the Pennsylvania Senate race. Make phone calls for any candidate that you like in your state or in your community. Go door to door, send resources, do what you can. Elevate their voices. It all matters.

astead herndon

I think we both agree there’s such renewed enthusiasm and interest on the national level. We’re seeing Democrats really outpace Republicans in terms of fundraising and interest on those House and Senate races and a lot of statewide races. I know there has been a consistent criticism of Democrats that they haven’t focused enough on local races. Do you think that energy has shifted? Are Democrats infrastructure now putting adequate attention on local races?

kirsten gillibrand

I think we’re getting much better at it. And I also think a lot of the Republican, they had a number of billionaires just funneling money into this very right wing agenda of taking away reproductive freedom, taking away LGBTQ equality, literally going after this right wing religious agenda and doing it on a local level. And I think that constant spending did have an impact. And so I think Democrats fully understand what’s at risk and what’s at stake.

And I think people like Stacey Abrams, for example, just said, I’m going to deal with Georgia. I’m going to make sure every voter votes. I’m going to make sure we really register to vote. People feel engaged, people feel valued, people feel that their voice matters.

That’s really good democracy building. So we have to keep doing the good things. We have to keep focusing on voting, getting people registered, strengthening our voting rights.

It’s why if we ever did amend or abridge the filibuster the first thing we’d vote was to guarantee voting rights that are being reduced and eroded in red states across the country. So I think we’re quite aware of what we’re up against. But it’s a lot of corruption, and it’s money in politics that is extremely corrupting, and we have to fight against it. And the way we fight against it is by getting people to vote and getting people to understand what’s at stake and trying to strengthen the democracy.

astead herndon

Can Democrats make up the gap without ending a filibuster, without ending gerrymandering, without changing those kind of rules? It feels like because of how Republicans have kind of outpaced Democrats in some of these local races, it can sometimes feel like the solutions being presented for this midterms are inadequate. That Democrats had $10 taken away from them and these midterms may give them back five. I mean, how does that gap get made up without those structural rules?

kirsten gillibrand

You can do it through hard work, and I think making sure we organize and get people to vote. And also, just the common sense of what’s happening in this moment. There are allies.

I mean, we had a good decision out of Indiana. We had a great vote out of Kansas. These are different states that are quite red and purple that are doing the right thing in this moment because it’s so shockingly big and very important.

So I’m optimistic. I’m not pessimistic. I believe in our democracy. I believe that actually doing the hard work of registering people to vote and getting them to vote is the solution.

I mean, people are frenetic over this issue. And they’re frenetic in red places and blue places. It’s hard to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes, but denying basic bodily autonomy is really stark. It’s something that it’s hard to imagine for this generation because we’ve never been under that. So I think it matters.

astead herndon

Thank you. I have a note for my producers to ask about there was a buzz that was happening.

kirsten gillibrand

It’s just the vote being called. I got to go vote.

astead herndon

Oh, OK. That makes a lot of sense.

kirsten gillibrand

That buzz means I got to go to the Senate floor and vote.

astead herndon

Yeah, that buzz is a buzz for me and for you.

kirsten gillibrand

I have to go vote.

astead herndon

Senator, I really appreciate your time. Thank you so much.

kirsten gillibrand

Thanks, Astead. Take care.

astead herndon

What I hear from Senator Gillibrand and many prominent Democrats is that the party is hoping that backlash to overturning Roe has given them the opportunity to use the Republican blueprint and energize their own grassroots. But the Republican blueprint isn’t just reactive. It’s proactive.

From Patriot Mobile’s work in the Texas suburbs all the way to the Supreme Court, what Republicans have really done is craft a political strategy that anticipated the country’s changes and got ahead of them. So much so that it’s raised the bar for Democrats in these midterm elections and beyond. Now, Democrats have to do more than just defy expectations. They have to defy political gravity.

Next time, on the Run Up.

stacey abrams

My campaign manager and I wrote a playbook that lays out what it takes. But what is so important is that people remember that while we’re writing our playbook, the other side is writing their playbook.

astead herndon

We talk to the woman whose vision for how to do that will be tested in November.

The Run Up is reported by me, Astead Herndon, and produced by Elisa Gutierrez and Caitlin O’Keefe. It’s edited by Franny Carr Toth, Larissa Anderson and Lisa Tobin, with original music by Dan Powell, Marion Lozano and Elisheba Ittoop. It was mixed by Dan Powell and fact checked by Caitlin Love. Special thanks Paula Szuchman, Sam Dolnick, David Halbfinger, Julia Simon, Mahima Chablani, Shannon Busta, Nell Gallogly, Jeffrey Miranda and Maddy Masiello. See you next week.

#RunUp #Democrats #Catch #Years #Republican #Unity

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