February 23rd, 2011

John King interviews David Axelrod

Tonight the second part of John King’s interview with David Axelrod the former senior adviser to President Obama aired on CNN’s John King, USA — 7pm ET.  Axelrod told King, “So many times we were being written off by people in Washington. And we took the long view.”

A transcript is after the jump. Full program transcript is posted on

EMBEDDABLE VIDEO: CNN’s John King asks David Axelrod, former White House adviser, about the 2012 GOP field in an exclusive interview



JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT:  Who, when you look at the list of prospects on the other side — I won’t say who fears you the most because you won’t answer —


KING:  Who intrigues you the most?

AXELROD:  Well, the whole field intrigues me.  It’s the most unfathomable Republican race that I’ve seen in my lifetime of following politics, which unfortunately I note on my birthday, has been quite a while now.

But I — you know, in the past the Republican Party has traditionally had a kind of pecking order and a hierarchical system where the next guy in line is the nominee and generally, that’s how it happens.  That George W. Bush was out, John McCain came that way, Bob Dole came that way, George H. W. Bush.  I mean, that’s the tradition of the Republican Party nominating process.

It’s a different process now.  The Tea Party has changed the dynamic, the rules are different.  And there is no — under the old rules, Governor Romney would be the likely nominee.  I don’t know that anybody on either side could tell you right now who the likely nominee would be. So I’m intrigued by the whole field.

KING:  Do you assume Palin runs?

AXELROD:  You know, I don’t know.  She seems to be enjoying being Sarah Palin.  Being Sarah Palin seems like a pretty good gig.  Whether she wants to give that up to be a candidate is something I can’t answer.

KING:  You know the history, when you look at projections that say, if the president’s lucky — if the president’s lucky, I use that term in the context in which I spoke it —


KING:  — unemployment would be somewhere in the ballpark of eight — people think 8.2 percent at best by October of 2012.  That in and of itself makes it a more difficult map.

AXELROD:  There’s no question that — you know, James Carville said famously 18 or 19 years ago, it’s the economy, stupid.  It’s always the economy.  The economy is the most important indicator.

But having said that, people do understand what we’ve been through and I think the sense of direction is what’s important.  If people feel in November of 2012 that we’re moving in the right direction, that we’ve weathered the storm, that we’re coming back, that we have a strategy to win the future, that we’re — that the future’s going to be better, I think we’ll be fine.  If they don’t, we won’t.

KING:  What’s the most interesting, “I’m from Chicago, I don’t work down the hall” conversation you’ve had with the president since you left?

AXELROD:  I did mention to him — you know, he was very absorbed, as he had to be, in some of the events in Egypt, and I said to him, you know, I watched the local news tonight and it took ten minutes before they even mentioned that, you know?  And it’s just a reminder that there are other things on people’s minds that are closer to home.

And, you know, Washington has its own, as I said, conversation.  So the things that people talk about there, not that they’re not interested in that stuff, but when they — when they’re making judgments, political judgments, they’re focused on the things that affect their lives more closer to home.

KING:  Because of that will you get into sometimes the inevitable, perhaps, tug of war for the president’s time and focus in the sense that he’s the president of the United States?  Libya is a question mark today, Bahrain is a question mark today.  Maybe Iran will be next week or the week after.



KING:  And you want to talk about the economy and jobs.


AXELROD:  Well, I think it’s — but — but it is very, very valuable to have spent two years in the White House, because what I recognize is that you can’t always control events to the degree that you’d like.  You can’t control the discussion to the degree that you’d like.  He has a responsibility to deal with these hot spots around the world.

And they, of course, impact on us.  Everybody’s watching Libya now to see what impact it will have on oil prices.  Oil prices will affect the economy.  So all of it is interrelated.

When you’re president of the United States, you don’t get to pick and choose.  You get served up a full plate every day and you got to deal with whatever’s on that plate.  And so I, you know, I’m very sympathetic to that and as I made recommendations, it’s going to be with that in mind.

KING:  So you’re the words guy and the ads guy.  What is it — what’s the button say or what’s the bumper sticker say?

AXELROD:  Well, that is —


AXELROD:  — that is part of the, being a marketing person, you know, you need to unfurl these things in stages.  So I would just say stay —


AXELROD:  — stay tuned.

KING:  When you — you say he starts in a couple of months, how fast do you need to get — how fast do you need people in, you know, your 30 states or your — ?

AXELROD:  You know, I think we can have people there pretty early.  We believe very strongly in grassroots organizing.  We believe that elections are determined not by, you know, decisions that are made in — political decisions made in Washington, but by decisions that people make at the grassroots, and that the most effective salespeople for a ticket or party or candidate are neighbors talking to neighbors.

And so, that is a labor-intensive process, and you know, obviously the new technology is helpful in that regard, but you also need people on the ground.  So we’ll have people working very, very soon.

KING:  By spring?

AXELROD:  I think the process will begin in the spring.

KING:  You always made the point that you were not a creature of Washington and that you were dying to come back here.  Not just for the good food —


KING:  — but to get your life back.  I mean, obviously you have family and that’s important.

AXELROD:  Yes.  Yes.

KING:  But just sort of — just sort of with a relatively short period of time to reflect, I mean, what have you sort of scribbled down as your own list, you know, I was wrong about that, or boy, we need to do more of this?  Just what — the reset button, what lessons have been learned?

AXELROD:  Well, that’s a lesson that’s always important to re-learn.  Taking the long view is — you know, we — we were left for dead by the side of the road so many times during the presidential campaign.  So many times we were being written off by people in Washington.  And we took the long view.  And it’s hard to remember that when you’re sitting in the sort of center of all of that.  Easier to remember when you leave that.

And it goes to that — that point, that people aren’t following every detail, every debate, every barb, every column.  They simply don’t have the time in their lives to do that.  So, you know, it’s best to kind of set your sight on the horizon and drive there.  And you know, know where you’re going and go there.  And not get so caught up in the day-to-day kind of maelstrom of Washington chatter.

So I’m more — you know, I feel that more strongly now, even three weeks or four weeks or however it is after — after leaving.

KING:  Do you get to shake the boss about that?  That — you find yourself —


AXELROD:  He’s pretty good about it, for a guy who’s the center of so much speculation and discussion.  He’s good at keeping his eye on the ball, but he’s human.  You know, he’s not impervious to — you know, he may catch a column out of the corner of his eye or hear someone on television.  And–

KING:  I thought he didn’t pay attention to the cable channels.

AXELROD:  He might.


AXELROD:  He might on his way over to ESPN.

KING:  Right.

AXELROD:  He may stop off and take a listen to what’s going on, on your show.  But he is ready pretty good at it.  And that’s really a strength that he has that has helped the operation.  You know, we have been through — we were through a tough two years.  His steadfastness and his ability to think long and not get terribly bothered by what was going on in town was a strength for us at the White House.

KING:  Mrs. Axelrod happy you’re home?

AXELROD:  Oh, yes.  She’s, really, the hardest thing about the last two years has been separation from my wife, from my family.  And it’s been incredibly great to be home.  And you know, just the simple thing, going to the supermarket together, all of a sudden has new meaning for me.

It’s just — it’s just a great thing.

KING: A couple points worst reinforcing from that exclusive conversation with David Axelrod. Number one, he said the president will file within weeks by early April the paperwork setting up the official re-election campaign committee so they can raise the money.

David Axelrod would not give me a specific number, but he said without a doubt this campaign will cost more than the last one and he shrugged when I said possibly raising as much as $1 billion. He also said he wants to get field organizers out in to the key targeted states again by early spring and one last point worth making, the food at Manny’s deli and coffee shop is extraordinary. Yes, if you saw that big sandwich, somehow I ate the whole thing.