Democrats and Republicans aren’t easily brought together these days. But a discussion Monday between former White House insiders Karl Rove and Robert Gibbs — held during the opening session of Financial Services Institute’s OneVoice 2015 in San Antonio — revealed more common ground than controversy.
FSI President & CEO Dale Brown asked Rove, former deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, about what the industry group can do to separate the image of advisors on Main Street from those on Wall Street — in order to deflect the wrath of politicians.
“Good luck,” said Rove. “There’s a populist element in both parties.”
The ex-advisor to the younger President Bush pointed to the elections of 1896, which came down to a debate over Wall Street vs. Main Street. “Wall Street won because politicians put this side’s interests in Main Street terms,” he said, “which is easier said than done.”
His advice for the advisors and the FSI is to “show the face” more at the community level than in Washington, D.C. “Go to town hall meetings with politicians back home. It’s great to go to Washington, D.C., but it’s better to see folks back home.”
The top lessons learned for both Rove and Gibbs, the ex-White House press secretary and longtime advisor to President Barack Obama, concerned the separation of politicking and decision-making.
“I was asked to keep the politics around an issue away from the decision-making process,” Rove explained. “President Bush didn’t like [following] the polls, so he focused on the making the right decisions, so I could then deal with the politics. It was liberating.”
“It was similar for me,” Gibbs said, describing Obama’s decisions in 2009 for a government bailout of General Motors and Chrysler. “Someone said that the bailouts weren’t polling well even in Michigan.”
Gibbs would like to see Obama give more consideration to President Bill Clinton’s approach to a second term, when he moved to the middle. But, he acknowledged, both parties are now in a place “where it’s hard to give up too much [in order to] to go to middle.”
Even if Obama were to follow Clinton’s lead, “I don’t see both sides finding much in common,” he added.
As in 1995-1996, Gibbs expects budget resolutions and appropriations to be the “hot items” of the coming months. He lamented the fact that 2007 was the last year when Congress had a “normal budget cycle.”
Still, he says that some important issues could get resolved, such as corporate tax reform and trade agreements. “They are unpopular with Democrats but are the right things to do,” Gibbs said.
Though the Democratic Party veteran says his party usually has the more spirited personality-driven presidential primaries, he thinks the Republican contests for 2016 should be more interesting.
“The Democrats will only see one candidate run,” Hillary Clinton, Gibbs shared, “and you only get one nominee.” In contrast, the Republicans “have a long and robust bench.”
The parties “tend to nominate presidential candidates based on the shortcomings of the current president,” he explained. This makes candidates who have hands-on experience like Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin particularly appealing.
Still, Gibbs said, “Jeb Bush has turned a lot of heads and can help the party when it comes to tough issues like immigration.”
“I would love to see Donald Trump and Sarah Palin,” he continued, “but I don’t think the Dems will get that lucky.”
Both Gibbs and Rove say Clinton will have to move her candidacy forward by explaining her new vision for America and to not focus on the years when husband Bill was in office..
Rove offered her this advice to be more authentic: “Grab an issue that you really identify with rather than go back to the future.”
Said Gibbs: “She needs to speak from the heart and lay out the real rationale for her candidacy. If she runs like she did in 2007-2008, she’s not going to win. It’s tougher for Hillary to run than we think it is.”
On both the Democratic and Republican side, the playbook has to do more than appeal to special-interest groups, the two politicos said.
“You must say ‘here is what I am and what I want to do,’” Rove stated, and spend less time on attacking the opponent.
Republicans know they must “get it right” in 2016, and that they have to shape their message accordingly, he added. “I am hopeful it will be an optimistic message.”
Highlighting an approach that seems appropriate for financial advisors and candidates alike, Gibbs suggested that Hillary Clinton “not adopt everybody else’s rhetoric, [because] being inauthentic is the greatest danger. The next president is going to be different [from the current one], so the rhetoric of the candidate and the vision has to be different, too.”