Tom Davis on Elections

Tom Davis onElections


Tom Davis, George Mason University rector and former GOP congressman from Virginia, answers questions from Steve Pearlstein and the audience at the First Tuesday Speaker Series.

Tom Davis discusses the 2018 elections with a focus on the Virginia congressional races.

Complete Video

6 Minute Edited Video

About Tom Davis

Rector: Board of Visitors, George Mason University
Former US Congressman: Virginia US House District 11

Tom Davis is a former Republican member of the United States House of Representatives who represented Virginia’s 11th congressional district in Northern Virginia. Davis was considering a run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by five-term incumbent and fellow Republican John Warner in the 2008 election, but decided against it. He announced on January 30, 2008, that he would not seek reelection to an eighth term

He is currently a director of federal government affairs at Deloitte and the rector (head of the Board of Visitors) of George Mason University and a trustee of its Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study.

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An edited transcript of the full one hour and thirteen video is summarized below.

After introducing Tom  Davis, Steve Pearlstein asks Tom Davis the following questions…

What’s happened to your Republican Party?

3:10 to 5:40
Base migrated from country club to the country.
If you live in a county with a Whole Foods in it, you probably voted  for Hillary Clinton and if  you live in a county with a Cracker Barrel joke, you probably voted for Trump… [lady says], don’t you mean crazy barrel… I said to her “I rest my case”.

What about the abortion issue?

5:50 to 6:40
Litmus test now.

How do special interests affect the parties?

6:40 to 8:20
Gun control for example.
No reward for Republicans for  being anti-gun [control].

Is it fair to say that negative feelings are stronger than positive feelings?

8:30 to 10:20
It’s now all negative … “anger is what drives voters”

If you continued to be in House, would you still be around?”

10:20 to 14:00
Who would want to be.
Would have gotten some help from  2012 redistricting
Minority party is now the “opposition” party.
Was the “Whip” for TARP.

If you can’t take a tough vote, why are you here?

Why do the people who have the power to change [the system], don’t change it?

14:06 to 16:00
For most members, the only election is the primary election.
I could d0 things because I was a Committee Chairman … 15:00 Steroid hearings

What would it take to bring the Republican Party back to the center …  have a bigger tent … more diversity?

16:00 to 17:14
Take losing an election
For example, the tea party was once for deficit reduction … governing is tough…

Why haven’t the Republicans won a state-wide race since 2009?

17:15 to 22:10
Part of it was candidate selection … If the party nominated a mammal, they would have won (18:50)
Conventions are the true believers of the true believers. Liberals and conservatives have passion, moderates have lives.

Will incumbents choose to become independents so don’t need to run in a primary and appeal to the true believers?

22:10 to 24:30
If you are a strong enough personality, can overcome.

What about campaign finance reform?

24:30 to 30:25

I thought McCain-Feingold was one the of the worst bills.
Where do you think this money is going to go? now don’t even know  where this money comes from… When we see a problem, we over fix it.
With super PACs, candidates have absolutely lost control over their campaigns and the message.
Super PAC money is mostly right or left with exceptions for example my super PACs (No Labels).
Media is similar… successful business models …  tune in to get their world views validated.
28:55- Now get news over Internet, over phones… crap to content ration is now exceptionally high.
29:35- We end up in tribes. 

Can one run a positive campaign today?

30:30- 32:20
Communicate with supportive PACs by putting stuff up on your website

Are you supporting Corey Stewart?

I am a rector of a university… but I am supporting Barbara Comstock

Why doesn’t Comstock separate herself from Trump?

33:00 to 39:50
Primary pushed her to right. Trying to be her own person as best she can. Both times she’s run ahead of her polls. Her message is to take care of people of Northern Virginia. Guns… endorsed by NRA.
37:50 There are no more earmarks [to impact legislation]. Earmarks give everyone skin in the game. Allows members to personalize districts. Makes harder for bills to pass. Somebody earmarks somewhere down the line [even if no earmarks].

Nationally, is Kavanaugh helpful or hurtful?

39:50 to 42:35
Depends on where you are. The Senate is clearly more important body. Helps Republicans in the Senate not in House.

What do people misunderstand about politics and politicians?

42:35 to 48:10
Most people are in politics for the right reasons. Pretty good people. Look at Tim Kaine.
Try to look at other politicians through their lenses. I had a great relationship with Democrat Henry Waxman. Terri Schiavo case showed how we could work together.

What’s your prediction for the control of the House and the Senate?

48:10 to 52:45
Hard to see Repubs holding the House. Hard for Dems to take the Senate.
New governance model, Senate now much more important. Courts are very important.

Any prediction about David Brat …?

52:45 to  54:45
Much more republican district than 10th. Close race.  Comstock even more difficult. Scott Taylor in 2nd district is also in trouble. Democrats have found strong candidates in each of these districts. Leslie Cochburn [5th district] has zero shot.

Does Paul Ryan have control of the House?

[Audience question]:
54:50 to 56:40
Yes... Republicans make huge mistake to ignore immigration issues.
Later. If don’t hold House, McCarthy will get it if caucus vote.


You think Trump is more about values, culture, geography coalition more than coalition about forgotten  [poor] Americans?

[Pearlstein question]
1:00:00  to 1:01:00

Still about race. Republicans a much whiter party. Lots of districts of both parties have poor people. Racism, immigrants issues.

Do you think Republicans will ever be able to come up with health care plan?

[Audience question]
1:01:00 to 1:04:30

They did come up with a plan. Yes… may not be something you like. Where’s your allocation of resources? My theory is that spend too much money on rewarding retirees… 66% of  budget. Irony is that old people are voting Republican and young  people Democratic. With rising interest rates, debt will become more and more of a problem.

Why are old people voting Republican?

[Pearlstein questions]
1:04:30  to 1:05:25

Culture. They are old school. 

What happens to Nancy Pelosis if Democrats take the House?

1:05:25 to 1:08:00
She is a pretty good speaker. She get it and take more than one ballot.
Governing is a tough business. Skills to get elected are very different than skills to govern.

Were you part of Contract for America?

[Audience question]:
1:08:00 to 1:09:00
Was for most of it.
Suggests Dems to make this election about Trump.

What about medical marijuana?

1:09:00 to 1:13:45
I don’t want America become like Yemen. More research maybe helpful.
You could lose a primary over the issue.
I was responsible for co-sponsoring cigarette regulation at FDA.

About the First Tuesday Speaker Series

From Mason News September 24, 2018
By Damian Cristodero

First Tuesday Speaker Series

Peter Hart, Dean of American Political Pollsters, speaks to students during the First Tuesday speaker series, a weekly series on the 2018 Congressional Elections, in the Main Reading Room at Fenwick Library. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

Steven Pearlstein believes the main reason that many people, particularly students, are skeptical about politics is because of their information—or lack thereof.

“Because of what they’ve read or heard, they have a misconception about what campaigns and politics are about,” he said, “about why campaigns behave the way they do, about why voters vote the way they do.”

The Robinson Professor of Public and International Affairs at George Mason University is trying to change that with his First Tuesday speaker series, so named because the series leads to Election Day, which is Nov. 6, the first Tuesday of the month.

Held in conjunction with Pearlstein’s Honors College seminar (HNRS 131 Contemporary Society in Multiple Perspectives), the Tuesday series in Fenwick Library’s Main Reading Room on the Fairfax Campus features speakers immersed in contemporary politics. Those include former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, now a Distinguished Visiting Professor in Mason’s Schar School of Policy and Government; Mason alumnus Danny Diaz, who was Jeb Bush’s campaign manager; and Washington Post political columnist Karen Tumulty.

“When they actually see a real human being talk, it humanizes [political experts] in a way and makes you a lot less cynical,” said Pearlstein, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist at The Washington Post. “You can also pick up a lot of information about what’s important in campaigns, how people who are involved think about it. But you need to see that. I can tell [students], but it wouldn’t mean anything. They have to see it.”

Experiences are the driver of Pearlstein’s class, which operates without a textbook—though, in a real sense, Pearlstein said, “The textbook is being written in real time every week by The Washington Post and The New York Times and Politico and CNN and Fox News. [The students] have to go read this stuff.”

In one exercise, students are matched with individuals in the community who have differing political views. Once a week, students speak with their partners. Those conversations are then explored in the classroom.

The First Tuesday speaker series, which is also open to faculty, staff and the community (coffee and donuts are served, by the way), enhances the course work.

Mason Visiting Professor Anne Holton, former secretary of education for Virginia and wife of Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., spoke about the emotional rollercoaster a family goes through during a political campaign. Peter Hart, one of the nation’s top analysts of public opinion, explained how political polls reflect the mood of the moment and should not be thought of as election predictors.

“These talks are very cool,” said Nick Steinmetz, a sophomore majoring in government and international politics. “It’s [about] understanding politics and understanding campaigns in a much more fleshed-out, nuanced way. It opens up views I didn’t think about.”

“It’s just a great series to be doing in a community that is politically engaged, as is this one,” Holton said. “I was thrilled to be part of it.”

First Tuesday Speaker Series @Mason

Mason Visiting Professor Anne Holton, former Virginia secretary of education and wife of Sen. Tim Kaine, spoke with Robinson Professor Steven Pearlstein about how political campaigns impact the family of a candidate. Photo by Damian Cristodero.

For more on the First Tuesday Speaker Series, see this post.


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