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‘I want to increase turnout’: DNC Chair Tom Perez previews election run-up with U of M panel

Perez was questioned in the Zoom event by two Minnesotans, Republican ex-Rep. Vin Weber and Democrat Justin Buoen, who managed Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez
Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez told a University of Minnesota audience (over Zoom) Monday that that the job of Democrats between now and Election Day is to avoid any complacency about Joe Biden’s big lead in many current polls, to not let Donald Trump turn the election into a “roller coaster,” and not let up until Joe Biden has been sworn in and can remind Americans what it’s like to have a “commander in chief,” not a “tweeter in chief.”

Former Rep. Vin Weber, the Republican on the panel of questioners, suggested that the election is really very little about Biden because most voters would be voting either for or against Donald Trump. Perez rejected that framing (although I suspect there’s plenty of basis for it).

Perez, who has run for but never held elective office above the municipal level (unless you count being elected DNC chair), has held Cabinet and subCabinet positions (including secretary of labor, during the Obama administration), and has been DNC chair since 2017, which makes 2020 his first presidential election in that capacity.

In yesterday’s forum, he was a bit bland but steadfast. Democrats (and some Republicans) “know that this president is unfit to serve” in that office, Perez said.

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Weber also suggested that the leftward drift of Democrats could be a problem for the Biden-led ticket. Perez replied that the platform was already drafted, that it stands for such “radical concepts” as the idea that “every person in this country ought to have access to quality, affordable health care.”

He is well aware that Republicans will try to label everything Democrats want to do to help Americas as “socialism,” but he reminded the virtual audience that Republicans complained in the 1960s that Medicare would lead to “socialism,” and in the 1930s denounced Social Security as “socialism.”

“I understand those attacks. They will undoubtedly come. But, as my uncle used to say, ‘That dog won’t hunt.’”

He mentioned that the Democrats’ lineup of convention speakers included anti-Trump Republicans “not only on the first night but other nights. … You’re going to hear from Americans who believed Donald Trump when he said he would stand up for Social Security, when he said good jobs would be coming, and we’re going to hear from everyday Americans who took Donald Trump at his word and found out they couldn’t trust him.”

The Democrat on the panel was Justin Buoen, who managed Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s presidential campaign. He predicted that Democrats will make the campaign about “decency and leadership.”

As for the various complaints and tactics Republicans are attempting to use to make it harder for people to vote by mail and otherwise to avoid crowded Election Day polling places, Perez called such arguments “unfounded and unrelenting attacks on the reliability and integrity of vote by mail.”

“I think there’s a fundamental difference between the party of Trump and the Democratic Party on this issue,” he said. “Democrats believe that we should have a pitched battle in the marketplace of ideas on whatever the issue is, and then at the end of the day we should make it as easy as possible for eligible people to vote. I want people to vote. I want to increase turnout. I want to get as close to 100 percent as possible. I think our democracy works best when we do that.”

Perez suggested it’s a simple matter of one party favoring as much voter participation as possible, and the other favoring as little as possible.

Apologizing that he didn’t want to “paint this [difference between the parties] with too broad of a brush,” Perez asked permission to play a tape of the late Paul Weyrich, a Republican and conservative activist of the previous generation, espousing what he called the philosophy of Donald Trump and other Republicans. He played the Weyrich tape. It went like this:

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So many of our Christians have what I call the goo-goo syndrome. Good Government. They want everybody to vote. I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.

Weber objected that Weyrich has been dead for years. Perez agreed, but said the sentiment lives on and explains Trump’s opposition to making it easier to vote, including the current question of allowing Americans to vote by mail during a pandemic.

He contrasted Weyrich’s attitude with that of the recently deceased civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis, whom Perez said “gave us our marching orders” when Lewis said:

The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it, because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

Lastly, I should mention that the choice of Weber to balance the panel was an interesting one, because Weber was a never-Trumper in 2016. He didn’t discuss this yesterday, but in 2016 he denounced the rise of Trump and said he ended up voting for (former Republican Speaker of the House) Paul Ryan as a write-in.

Perez was asked whom Biden would pick as his running mate. Perez shocked no one and said he didn’t know, but he predicted it would be a woman.

(And one more thing from 2016: As it became increasingly clear that Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination in 2016, Weber said:

“I won’t vote for Trump. I can’t imagine I’d remain a Republican if he becomes president.”

He wasn’t asked about that yesterday.

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He also wasn’t asked yesterday how he would vote, but I googled around on it. Weber has been a tad cagey, but in the most recent clip I could find, Weber said that he wasn’t sure, but he “probably” would vote for Trump this year.