Political heavyweights James Carville and Mary Matalin opened ASPPA’s 401(k) summit in New Orleans Sunday afternoon with a discussion of the Republican nominating process, the upcoming election and the national debt, among other topics. Although the session was punctuated with one-liners, something for which the couple is known, their comments were frank and at times stark, especially when discussing unemployment and healthcare.
ASPPA executive director and CEO Brian Graff (left), who moderated the session, opened by noting the Republican primary process resembled “the crippled Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy.”
Republican Matalin responded that if Carville can be a political science professor after spending 11 years matriculating at Louisiana State University, then Mitt Romney can get elected.
“Large donors are worried about the nominating process in the wake of changes that were made in 2008,” she said. “They’re concerned about the brand and the potential damage done. But history shows that longer nominating processes are actually better for the candidate in the general election. Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton had long nominating processes, John Kerry and John McCain did not.”
Romney, she asserted, is picking up key constituencies and winning delegates.
Democrat Carville then took over, opening with a trademark joke that “you might be a redneck if you think a 401(k) is your mother-in-law's bra size” in a nod to comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
GDP growth under Obama is less than the 3% traditional threshold for re-election, he explained.
“He’s a weak incumbent, but he’s going to win,” Carville said. “Romney is an even weaker frontrunner. He keeps making the same mistakes over and over again. He’s too awkward to do town hall style appearances, and his handlers have yanked him off of every network except Fox. And he can’t talk about his religion or his time as governor of Massachusetts.”
The reason he’s still winning is that “Santorum is a theocrat, and people sense that. Newt is, well, Newt. If Romney can unite the party, he’d be a very formidable candidate. He has not yet demonstrated that he can do that.”
Romney’s awkwardness, Matalin countered, is his strength, as people are tired of slick politicians. They sense that he is a strong businessman and a solid family man.
“The president is way weaker than James suggests,” she said, citing focus groups she’s conducted. “People are not angry with him, but they see him as a weak leader. He’s done nothing about the economy, and in some cases they feel he’s made it worse. This election will be a referendum on the president, no matter how much he wants to make it about Romney.”
Romney can’t open his mouth, Carville interjected, without “sticking his wingtip in it.” The country is demonstrably better than it was four years ago on a number of fronts, and if asked about it in the debates, “he’ll knock it out of the park.”
Challenged by Graff as to what he would advise Romney to do, Carville would tell him to publicize the fact that he is a problem solver and a good manager, and to not try and be something he’s not.”
“Santorum is the real conservative, Romney is not. Santorum is being told to withdraw from the race, but he can’t, because withdrawal is a form of birth control,” Carville said to laughter and groans.
Matalin added that underemployment is a key factor is re-election, and people see their friends and relatives performing tasks for which they’re overqualified and in which “there is no future. This has them anxious and afraid.”
In one of the more heated moments, Carville vehemently denied that the president has nothing for which to take credit, pointing to the recent bank stress test as evidence of a strengthening economy.