Democratic National Convention Special: Do Biden and Harris Have What It Takes to Beat Trump?

Congressional candidate Cori Bush and “Pod Save America” co-host Tommy Vietor discuss this week’s “virtual” DNC in Milwaukee.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images

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This week, the Democrats broadcasted their nominating convention from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it was a largely virtual affair, with generally well-reviewed speeches from leading party figures like Barack and Michelle Obama, the Clintons, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. Other than an address by Sen. Bernie Sanders and a one-minute cameo by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the party’s left wing was largely shut out. Missouri congressional candidate Cori Bush and “Pod Save America” co-host Tommy Vietor join Mehdi Hasan to discuss the convention and the prospects for Democrats in the fall.

Joe Biden: The current president’s cloaked American darkness for much too long. If you entrust me with the presidency, I’ll be an ally of the light, not the darkness.

[Musical interlude.]

Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

The Democratic presidential race is officially over. This week, at the very virtual Democratic convention, former Vice President Joe Biden — on his third attempt — secured his party’s presidential nomination:

JB: I’m a proud Democrat. And I’ll be proud to carry the banner of our Party into the general election. So it’s with great honor, and humility, I accept this nomination for President of the United States of America.

MH: But how hard is it going to be for him to win in November against Donald Trump? Did this week’s convention make it any easier? And is the left onboard with a Joe Biden-Kamala Harris presidential ticket?

Congresswoman-elect Cori Bush: I need him to step up, the same way that I’ve had to step up. And let me tell you, I hope that he’s able to match my energy, and let’s work together.

MH: That’s my guest today Cori Bush, the left-wing insurgent who just defeated a ten-term House Democratic incumbent in St Louis, Missouri and is now heading for Congress. I’ll also be joined by my good friend Tommy Vietor, of Pod Save America and the Obama White House, to talk about the task facing the Democrats and their new and historic presidential ticket.

JB: This is our moment. This is our mission. May history be able to say that the end of this chapter of American darkness began here tonight as love and hope and light joined in the battle for the soul of the nation. And this is a battle that we will win, and we’ll do it together.

MH: That was Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee speaking on Thursday night from Wilmington, Delaware, to a virtually empty room: to a virtual, to an online, convention.

It was a solid speech: Impressive. No gaffes. No mangling of syntax. No evidence of any mental or physical health issues.

Then again, whatever issues he’s accused of having, never — never — forget, he’s running against this guy:

President Donald J. Trump: Person. Woman. Man. Camera. TV.

MH: But back to the Democratic convention. The Biden speech was a success. Was the convention itself a success? I guess time will tell. If they don’t win the election in November, then probably no. It wasn’t.

But I think with conventions, it’s important to work out what the goal is. In terms of the short-term goal, getting Joe Biden elected to the White House, getting Donald Trump out of the White House, assembling a coalition of voters that could even maybe take back the Senate from the Republicans, come November — in terms of that very short-term, but very crucial political goal, the Democrats did what they had to do.

Speaker after speaker, reminded us of what’s at stake, the importance of voting, the threat posed by Donald Trump.

Michelle Obama delivered perhaps the speech of the week:

Michelle Obama: Donald Trump is the wrong president for our country. He has had more than enough time to prove that he can do the job, but he is clearly in over his head. He cannot meet this moment. He simply cannot be who we need him to be for us. It is what it is.

MH: Her husband, the former president, gave a rather emotional and necessarily urgent speech from the Museum for the American Revolution in Philadelphia:

Barack Obama: I never expected that my successor would embrace my vision or continue my policies. I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did.

Bernie Sanders both endorsed his friend Joe Biden and went for the Trump jugular:

Sen. Bernie Sanders: Nero fiddled while Rome burned; Trump golfs. His actions fanned this pandemic, resulting in over 170,000 deaths and a nation still unprepared to protect its people.

And, of course, Senator Kamala Harris made history:

Sen. Kamala Harris: Years from now, this moment will have passed. And our children and our grandchildren will look in our eyes and ask us: Where were you when the stakes were so high? They will ask us: What was it like? And we will tell them. We will tell them not just how we felt. We will tell them what we did.

MH: Regular listeners of this podcast will know that I’ve been very tough on Harris’s criminal justice record back in California, as a prosecutor — very critical — but it was still amazing to see history being made this week with the first African-American woman, the first Indian-American woman to join a presidential ticket in this country. And I say that as the child of Indian immigrants.

One thing though: I said a moment ago that the Democrats were clear about the threat posed by Trump. But on second thoughts, perhaps they could and should have been even stronger and much clearer about the nature of that threat, about the sheer unbearable cost of another term of Trump.

As Paul Waldman wrote in the Washington Post: “For all that has been good about this convention, it feels incomplete. It’s like we’re watching a Category 5 hurricane sweep over us while we say, ‘Things are getting pretty windy out there. We might want to close the shutters.’”

I’d prefer more Democrats use the F-word in relation to Trump and his cronies — yeah, fascism. This year’s election isn’t just Democrat versus Republican; it’s small-D democrats versus fascists.

Still, that one, rather important gripe aside, in terms of short-term political calculation, in terms of the election season that is now upon us, the Democrats pulled off a pretty clean, pretty to-the-point and effective convention. Joe Biden, who Donald Trump tried to suggest is hiding in some sort of nursing home, gave a pretty eloquent, passionate, and — at times — moving speech.

But then there’s the long-term stuff. Where is the Democratic Party heading? What’s the plan if and when Joe Biden takes the oath of office on the 20th of January? What did we learn about the party’s future this week?

Well, there was the generational problem: A lot of the speakers, and not just the presidential candidate, represented the past, not the future.

You had, among the keynote speakers, two former presidents and two former presidential candidates, three out of four of whom are in their 70s. The left was represented by Bernie Sanders, 78 and Elizabeth Warren, 71.

And then you had AOC, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez given just 90 seconds to speak to the nation.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: Good evening, bienvenidos, and thank you to everyone here today endeavoring towards a better, more just future for our country and our world.

In fidelity and gratitude to a mass people’s movement working to establish 21st century social, economic, and human rights, including guaranteed health care, higher education, living wages, and labor rights for all people in the United States.

MH: Shouldn’t we have heard from voices like hers? Where was Ilhan Omar? Ayanna Pressley?

Why were there more Never Trump Republican speakers than there were Latino speakers, despite the undeniable importance of the Latino voting coalition to the long-term Democratic Party political project. How is there space for Michael Bloomberg onstage, but not for Julián Castro? Bizarre. Offensive even.

Remember Khizr Khan in 2016? Well, this time round, there were zero Muslim speakers at a time when Muslims, including elected Muslims in Congress, are being hounded and demonized by the GOP like never before.

And then ideologically, what did this convention say about the Democrats? The platform, on the one hand, as Bernie Sanders and others have noted, is very progressive — perhaps more progressive than any in modern history — in terms of gun control, and the $15 minimum wage, and childcare, and the climate change goals, but also a platform with no mention of, or aspiration for, Medicare for All, despite this pandemic, a platform that even quietly dropped both Biden and Harris’s personal pledges to get rid of fossil fuel subsidies and tax breaks.

So yes, Biden may win the presidency. He’s the favorite. But what will a Biden presidency look like? What will a Democratic-led Senate and a House look like?

Well, in a few minutes I’ll be talking to my good friend and a former guest on this show, Tommy Vietor, co-host of Pod Save America and Pod Save the World, and a former staffer on the Obama National Security Council.

But first, who better to ask about the direction of the Democratic Party than one of its — possibly — rising stars. Cori Bush, a progressive activist and leader in the Black Lives Matter movement — who made her name in Ferguson protesting police brutality. A single mother, a pastor, a nurse became the latest left-wing outsider to shock the Democratic establishment earlier this month when she unseated William Lacy Clay, Jr. in Missouri’s 1st district.

Newscaster: Clay’s father held the seat before him, so Bush just toppled a 52-year political dynasty.

CB: It is historic that this year, of all years, we’re sending a black, working-class single mother who’s been fighting for black lives all the way from Ferguson to the halls of Congress!

Bush is expected to win the solidly Democratic district, come November, which includes the city of St Louis, and join the ranks of other rising progressive lawmakers, like Jamaal Bowman and Mondaire Jones, whom we interviewed on the show back in June.

Cori Bush joins me now from St. Louis.

MH: Cori Bush, thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed.

CB: Yes, thanks for having me.

MH: Let me jump straight in. First of all, congratulations. What a victory. Have you recovered from that yet? You still a little bit shell shocked?

CB: Still shell shocked [laughs]. Might be this way for another month. [Laughs.]

MH: [Laughs.] OK, another month is fine. Just come January, we need you ready to go? Right?

CB: That’s right.

MH: So, I mean, the Democrats are getting ready for the November elections, not just the presidency, but obviously congressional elections. This week, the Democratic Convention concluded, online — this new, virtual convention, it was a very different process to usual. If you’d been organizing, if Cori Bush had been organizing the Democratic Convention 2020, in the midst of a pandemic, what would you have done differently? What would you have done the same?

CB: Oh, wow. So I think it would have looked a little different. And, you know, I’m the kind of person that I’m all about people being their authentic selves, you know? And so some people, you know, have been able to do that, and then some people probably not so much, trying to stay in the confines of what people deem as I guess, dignified or presentable, you know?

But, so, just regular everyday people, you know, a little more of that. You know, there are stories that people can tell about so many different issues. But, you know, I just think pulling on people that are not the regular folks that you’re used to hearing and seeing, at this type of, you know, Democratic event, and pulling a little more that way.

MH: Yes.

CB: Also, you know, where are disabled community, and how much are they represented? You know, where are our Muslim community? How much are they represented? Our Latinx community, they have so much more to offer. You know, we have kids in cages, but how much are we talking about those kids in cages? You know, there’s just so much. When we talk about women, we’re talking about women, and that was beautiful, but sometimes when women stand up, and we’re those rabble rousers, then people don’t like us so much.

MH: [Laughs.]

CB: So not everybody’s happy that I’ll most likely be walking into Congress as a real rabble rouser, you know, but we celebrated it last night. So that’s what I’m talking about. Where are the activists?

MH: Well, one thing Congress definitely needs is a few more rabble rousers, at least on the Democratic side.

CB: [Laughs.]

MH: Let me ask you this. You mentioned regular, everyday people.

CB: Yes.

MH: You are a nurse, an activist, a single parent, a pastor, as well believe!

CB: Yes.

MH: Were there enough people like you speaking at the convention? And why not? Because we had a lot of people in the videos, some very powerful testimony in some of the videos from activists from the parents of victims of gun crime, and that was very, I thought very beautifully and powerfully done by the Democratic Party.

But in terms of actual keynote speakers, actual politicians, leaders, there weren’t many people. There were the Clintons, husband and wife; there were the Obamas husband and wife.

CB: Right. Right.

MH: There was obviously the candidate himself, Joe Biden, who spoke tonight, the vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris, historic nomination. But you know, AOC, 60 seconds, 90 seconds, whatever it ended up being, not many other people representing the future of the party or everyday people.

CB: Yeah. I feel like we give honor to the work that people have done in their long history, but they always get the microphone. The Clintons are always getting the microphone.

MH: [Laughs.] Yes.

CB: The Obamas, we honor the Obamas. You know, but let some time — there are so many other great people in this country that have voices. Let’s, why don’t we cut some of that time down, and then bring up some of these people who are doing on-the-ground work? Let me tell you.

MH: But then Cori, you’d have to give less time to Michael Bloomberg. And how could we do that?

CB: Well, Mike, he can pay for more time if he wants to pay for more time. [Laughs.]

MH: [Laughs.] Yes, that’s a great fundraising idea.

CB: Exactly. You know, let’s fundraise off him.

But, you know, look, there are experiences that are happening in this country that should be highlighted. And these people are doing the work that support people in democratic communities, support Democrats. Let me tell you, every time we hit that ground, and we say Black Lives Matter, every time we face tear gas and rubber bullets, who is that affecting? And this is the work the Democratic establishment says that we were all supposed to be working on together. So why aren’t those voices being highlighted on that type of a stage, you know?

To talk about it is one thing, and I commend Senator Harris for bringing it up, in her speech, it was amazing. But what about having our voices there? Because I’m telling you, we have faced some things that they haven’t, you know, so when does that voice make it to the stage?

MH: Yes. It’s interesting when people try and dismiss quote-unquote identity politics as somehow unrelated to people’s material existence. It’s your identity that actually shapes what you’ve experienced, how you’ve had to struggle, in a way that a lot of people who lead both parties haven’t had to struggle, including the guy in the White House right now.

CB: Yeah.

MH: Let me ask you this. I’ve got to ask, the top of the ticket, I know you are obviously a supporter of Bernie Sanders, you campaigned for him. He was the only member of Congress to endorse your insurgency primary campaign. You wanted Bernie Sanders to be the candidate. He wasn’t. He’s come out very strongly for Joe Biden, his friend, this week. He gave a very powerful endorsement of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this week.

When you look at that ticket, you are not just a Bernie supporter, you came to fame, as it were, as an activist in Ferguson, against police brutality and racism. How much damage — or damage is maybe not the right word? How much concern will it cause people like yourself who are campaigning for the Democratic ticket in November, that when you go into your communities, you are selling Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, who for all of their many other virtues advantages and pros, have the cons of being the architect of the crime bill and a former Attorney General?

CB: Yeah, it’s difficult because the thing is, you know, I’ve worked hard for where I am and the voice that I have right now and having the trust of members of my community, and members of the progressive community, and just an activist. Because we’ve been talking about it for a long time, you know, what that crime bill has done to our communities, and then to just say, we’re just going to pull back and you know, now everything is well, you know, I can’t say that and I haven’t said that. You know, I am going to be critical. And it has to be OK to be critical of our president; so if he becomes our president, it’s OK to be critical of him, because we have to hold him to the same standard as we would hold our local elected official.

I, you know, I have a pothole outside my home, I’m pissed off, because you know, because my alderperson won’t come to fix it.

MH: Yeah.

CB: You know, that has to be OK, because we have to get results. And so yes, difficult. I’m putting my name and my reputation that I’ve worked hard for on the line. So I need him to step up the same way that I’ve had to step up. And let me tell you, me stepping up has been me putting my body on the line, almost losing my life.

MH: Yes.

CB: So if you can’t match my energy, then we got a problem. So I hope that he’s able to match my energy and let’s work together. [Laughs.]

MH: So let me ask, let me ask you something specific about criminal justice reform. We did a show, we did a Deconstructed episode last year, which upset a lot of people, on Kamala Harris’s record in California as a prosecutor. We went through some of the kind of misdeeds, I would argue, that happened on her watch.

A lot of people say look, it’s not fair to go back to whatever she was doing then, look at her record now in the Senate. She’s been very progressive, one of the most progressive voting records in the Senate. I think second only to kind of the Warren — I think even ahead of Elizabeth, depending on which number or study you look at, she’s up there in the top three, top four most progressive senators. She’s saying the right things, as you just mentioned a moment ago, about the need for reform in this area.

How would you judge her? You’re an activist; as you say, you put your body on the line. There’s a lot of armchair warriors out there. There’s a lot of people like me sitting in studios recording shows saying, “Well, you know, what’s her record like?” What do you — do you trust her? Do you think, “You know what, whatever she did in the past, I believe her when she says now she’s on our side, she’s gonna fix this thing.”

CB: You know, I believe anyone can evolve, you know, and she has been showing that, you know, that she’s that she’s listening. But is she all the way there? No, but I don’t think that any of us will totally, 100 percent agree with everything that a politician is saying or doing? No. No different than we don’t agree with everything our partner or our children do, you know? So that’s that.

But I cannot overlook people who were hurt, or people who had their lives changed in such a negative way, you know, based upon whatever her policies were, or any actions from her office. You know, I can’t just overlook that because those are regular folks just like me, you know?

I’m someone — I saw back in the 90s my friends going away, you know? I have friends who went to jail that never came back. They’re still in jail now. You know, when I think about the crime bill, and so I think about my friends who are protesters, who have to go up against prosecutors, and they don’t have a shot.

MH: Yeah.

CB: You know, and so just thinking about what happened, what she did in her past, we still have to fix it.

MH: Yeah. Yeah.

CB: And we still have to say those people matter. And so I can’t — I can’t overlook that.

MH: So given you can’t overlook that, given that you’re torn, kind of where you are. You’re soon to be an elected house Democrat, but, as you say, you’re also an activist who’s had friends, family directly affected by this. When you’re campaigning now, come November, not just for your own house seat, but for the Democratic presidential ticket. And I’m assuming you, like Bernie Sanders, like me, like a lot of people listening to the show —

CB: I love Bernie.

MH: — think, think that, you know, think that at the end of the day getting rid of Donald Trump is the number one goal. He has to be gotten rid of. But then you hear the pushback from some on the left. You know it, you’ve heard it, I’ve heard it. I get it a lot on Twitter when I say, you know, however bad you think Biden is, Trump’s much worse, people say: You know what? Plague on both their houses. I’m not voting for either. I’m staying at home, they’re all the same. And it doesn’t help us to vote for the lesser of the two evils.

I’m intrigued to know, what do you say to voters who say that to you?

CB: I feel like those same groups of people that I was just talking about, when we talk about our Black community, Latinx community, our Muslim community, children in cages, you know all of this, our disabled, our unhoused, you know, every marginalized group that we have, their lives become even worse if he has four more years. So we have to get him out because it’s not just about him. It’s about his administration, and it’s about other leaders across the country that look to him like a father; look to him like he is this great example, starting with my own governor. You know, we have to get those people out.

And so the way to get them out, and so the way to get them out, and to not add more fire to the hatred that’s going on all over this country, but when you, when you knock him out of his seat, you know, then you also move out those other people that are hurting our communities.

MH: That’s a very good point.

CB: I cannot sit and allow four more years, because he’s been doing some really, really like wack stuff in his seat. He’s been acting like he’s the only voice, you know? And so we cannot allow him to just run amok.

MH: Yeah. It’s a very good point you made there about the link between him and the rest of the country, and the rest of his party. Noam Chomsky, when I interviewed him recently, he was making the point that look, at the end of the day, with a Biden, at least you’ve got someone who you can pressure, someone you can reason with, someone whose behavior you can change. With Trump, you’ve got nothing.

CB: Yes.

MH: He talked about the importance of putting pressure once you’ve elected Biden and Harris. I think people are gonna be reassured that there are more people joining the quote-unquote squad in Congress to put pressure on Biden-Harris from the left. Are you looking forward to joining the squad with AOC and Ayanna Presley and Ilhan Omar, Rashida Talib? And it’s not just you, there’s Jamaal Bowman and others heading for Congress in January.

CB: Yes! I am — I’m looking forward to it so much. I’m already like getting in the space in my mind. And you know, like we’re doing this, and I’ve already talked with all of them. And you know, we, you know, they’re amazing. I can’t wait to just really be a part of the team. And then pull in more! You know, 2022.

MH: Yeah. So you’re an optimist, despite everything we’re seeing in the country right now.

CB: Absolutely. Because I just won! [Laughs.] So!

MH: You can’t get better than that. That’s the best answer I’ve ever — I ask so many people on the show that question, “Are you an optimist, Cornel West?” “Noam Chomsky?” I asked them all, “Are you an optimist?” That’s the best answer I’ve heard. “I just won.” That’s a great answer, Cori.

CB: [Laughs.]

MH: And I hope there’s many more similar victories. Cori Bush, thank you so much for taking time out to join us on Deconstructed.

CB: Thank you. Have a great one.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That was Cori Bush, Democratic nominee for congress from Missouri’s 1st district.

Joining me now for a slightly different perspective is someone our listeners know very well: co-host of Pod Save the World, co-host of Pod Save America, and former Obama National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor.

Tommy, welcome back to Deconstructed.

Tommy Vietor: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

MH: Tommy, Democratic Convention. Did it do what it was supposed to do on the cam?

TV: I think so, Mehdi. I mean, look, I was really nervous going into this. I thought it could be a disaster, because it was all brand new. But I think they told a story about Joe Biden that helps you get to know him as a human being, got to know the First Lady. You had major speeches each night that drove news. Like, I’m shocked at how well I think this one for them.

MH: Yeah, there were no major gaffes or you know, technical problems or even things that people thought didn’t work. It was — it all went really smoothly. And I was tweeting earlier tonight that you know, don’t you just just miss competency?

TV: [Laughs.]

MH: Just, I mean, let’s see how the GOP convention goes next week. I see Mitch McConnell’s not even turning up.

TV: Yeah.

MH: But it’ll be interesting to see how they execute in relation to this. You know, I’m someone who works in TV as part of what I do; it’s interesting to see that it was executed in quite a powerful way, at times. It was some powerful moments.

TV: Yeah, you, know, I guess I should have known that this would be an option. Because, of course, if you have a great documentary film crew tell a story about a human being, or you see their life and, you know, you get to know them as a human, yeah, of course that’s gonna be more powerful than like, you know, the 15th speech of the day by a congressman.

MH: Indeed, indeed. I mean, I missed the audience and the crowds, because I think they do add atmosphere.

TV: For sure.

MH: But on the other hand, the restraint here, keeping things succinct to the point, you know, moving swiftly for one thing another, did work.

I was just speaking to Cori Bush earlier in the show, the new kind of progressive star, having won her primary.

TV: Yeah.

MH: And she made a very good point about how, you know, something that was missing for her — it was there in the kind of video tributes and video interviews — but you know, regular everyday people up there. You know, just before Biden spoke, we had Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire ex-Republican — some may say you don’t need the ex. And you know, you got Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, your former boss Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, John Kerry. Was there enough people representing A. ordinary people and B. the future of the party?

TV: Well, so what I think what’s interesting about this year is some of those powerful videos we all got to watch together are normally played in the hall, but all the networks and convention coverage —

MH: Cutaway!

TV: — talks over with punditry, right?

MH: Yes!

TV: So we actually saw those stories for once, so it felt so refreshing and great. I agree with Congressman-elect Bush, that the more people from organized labor, the better; the more you’re speaking directly to humans, or you’re talking directly to people with people who look like them or have their problems that is, to me, the most powerful part of the convention. I always think you can have more of that. Yes, less Mike Bloomberg. Always less Mike Bloomberg.

MH: [Laughs.] Always less Mike Bloomberg — that should be the motto for anyone in politics.

And, OK, I’m gonna do a quick rapid fire round with you.

TV: Yes.

MH: Just so we can get a sense of where we both stand. I’ll give you — you can give your answer, I can give my answer.

Best speech of the week?

TV: I’m biased, but I thought Michelle Obama’s was. It’s just so stunning to come from her.

MH: As ever, we’re in agreement. I agree. I think it was Michelle Obama. I tweeted earlier this week that, you know, it was only in 2016 that I realized that she may actually be a better speaker than her husband. In 2016 her speeches were amazing. And this week, what a way to open the convention.

TV: Yeah. Yeah.

MH: So powerful.

TV: Agreed.

MH: If only she ran, can you imagine? I, you know who I would’ve loved? I would’ve loved a Bernie-Michelle Obama ticket, that would have been a great combo.

TV: Look, it would’ve been a dream ticket.

MH: [Laughs.]

TV: We just have to take her at her word, which is like, “I hate politics.” Oh yeah, you do.

MH: Who would’ve been at the top of that ticket, as well?

OK, most powerful moment of the week.

TV: I mean that the video about Ady Barkan.

MH: Yes.

TV: I mean it brought me to tears.

MH: It was very powerful. And Ady, there, someone who doesn’t agree with Joe Biden on healthcare but gave such a powerful tribute and made the case from a progressive point of view.

TV: No. Yeah.

MH: For me, the most powerful moment I thought was the woman from Arizona, who talked about her 65-year-old father who died from COVID.

TV: Oh, yeah, that was —

MH: Because he trusted Trump and there was that line, right, that she said, “his only pre-existing condition was that he trusted Trump and he paid for it with his life.”

TV: That was an extraordinary line.

MH: An extraordinary line, and then you think about how many people that must apply to in this country.

TV: Yeah.

MH: I mean, she’s brave enough to come on TV and say it. But there must be so many families across this nation that think if only my husband/father/uncle had not been watching Fox News and not been listening to this president.

Biggest disappointment of the week?

TV: I mean, look, this will not surprise you. I don’t think Bloomberg should have gotten that much time. I get the bipartisan message on some of the other nights. Like, I’m not a big John Kasich fan, that speech didn’t blow me away, but I get what purpose it serves. I’m not sure that Bloomberg served a purpose tonight.

MH: Yeah, and I agree with you again, I think that was a disappointment. I think the bigger reason it was a disappointment is because you pair that with AOC getting 97 seconds and you think —

TV: Yes.

MH: — how is this a party that is focused on the future, if it is putting Michael Bloomberg up on the last night and giving him more time than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who, whether you agree with our politics or not, definitely represents the party more than Michael Bloomberg does.

TV: Absolutely.

MH: What made you laugh the most?

TV: So like, I felt like it was a pretty heavy convention. You know, I mean, Julia Louis-Dreyfus was great. I thought the music was great. There were uplifting moments. Maggie Rogers is great. But I don’t remember laughing all that hard.

MH: I didn’t laugh that hard, but I did laugh today, which is why I asked you this question. Did you see the clip, and we’ll play it for the listeners, the clip of all of the senators chatting on Zoom earlier today, and Cory Booker asked Bernie Sanders: Why does my girlfriend like you more than me? Referring to Rosario, asking the question we’ve all been wondering about Rosario Dawson, are her politics still Bernie-esque and Cory Booker confirming it there, which did make me chuckle.

TV: Me too. That whole segment was very funny and like, I was like, “Oh god, oh god, this is gonna be awkward, it’s like seven of the former candidates in these Zoom boxes.” But it was actually a surprisingly nice conversation and they all like interesting things to say.

MH: Indeed, indeed, although Amy Klobuchar was there, and every time I see Amy Klobuchar, I think: Well, thank god Kamala Harris. You know, whenever I think about Kamala Harris, at least it’s not Amy Klobuchar.

TV: [Laughs.]

MH: You served in the Obama-Biden administration, right?

TV: Yeah. Yeah.

MH: You were in the National Security Council, the spokesman in the first term. What kind of president is this guy, Joseph Biden, gonna be if he wins? I’m skeptical that he’s going to be a great president, or even a good president. And I’ll tell you why: Not just because I disagree with his views. I’m way to the left of him. But nothing to do with that for a moment: I’m worried about his governing style, he’s pitching as his, you know — tonight we heard about that great message of I’m going to be the president for all Americans, which is all great, all politicians have to say that. But we do know from him and his aides and advisors and spinners, that they’re not just harking back to kind of nostalgic, bipartisan bullshit; they really believe that they can do deals with Mitch McConnell once Trump is gone. I think that’s mad. And I worry that the Republicans are gonna run rings around President Biden. Am I wrong to worry about that?

TV: Look, I worry about exactly the same bucket of issues. I don’t worry about his empathy.

MH: Yep.

TV: I don’t worry about his smarts, intelligence. I don’t worry about — I think also he could move on policy to a place that’s more progressive.

MH: Yes.

TV: I do, you know, I read a quote today, I think it was by Chris Coons in The New York Times, saying, you know, if Mitch McConnell is messing around for six months, and we can’t get anything through, you know, then we have to think about getting rid of the filibuster. I’m like six months?

MH: Six months?

TV: You can’t waste six months!

MH: What happened to 100 days?

TV: Right. We need to come out of the gates fast. We need something big on climate change. They need to do something big on restoring the Voting Rights Act and voter access generally. There’s a million things they need to do immediately while you have the maximum political capital. There should be no sitting around waiting, and I hope, hope they get that.

And then, you know, the messaging around bipartisanship, it works. It’s good. Do it through the election. But no, we’re not gonna wait for Mitch McConnell.

MH: Yeah, exactly. If it was just an election thing, I’d be fine with it, he’s got to say what he’s got to say. But if the idea is that he actually thinks, you know, oh, you know, there were some quotes in Dylan Matthews’ Vox piece this week from people saying, you know, it’s gonna be bipartisan, we’re going to work — it’s just not going to happen.

And I also wonder, where was he for eight years when that same party, pre-Trump was, you know, saying we’re gonna make him a one-term president, etc, etc? It’s just — I just think it’s madness. And it’s not the way you deal with bullies either.

TV: No. No. I agree.

MH: Kamala Harris, vice presidential nominee, historic vice presidential nominee. Is she now, if Biden wins, of course, is she de facto America’s next president? I got seriously attacked by the #KHive the other day for suggesting, I suggested on the day he nominated her, that AOC may have to delay her own presidential ambition from 2024 to 2028 to avoid facing off against Harris, and people lost their minds.

But seriously, Kamala Harris, compared to other vice presidents, you know, she’s much closer to the Oval Office, I would argue, than any previous vice presidential nominee in our lifetime.

TV: I agree. I mean, look, I think that she has been vaulted to the top of the Democratic Party and she would be, you know, the heir-apparent, the poll position, I don’t know what how to describe it, but certainly, it will be — who wants to come out and primary a sitting Vice President, right?

MH: No, exactly. A sitting vice president, who is also, you know, the first Black American woman vice president as well.

TV: Yeah.

MH: Who wants to do that? No. I mean, Jon Favreau, your partner-in-crime —

TV: Mhmm.

MH: — over at Pod Save America said he got — I saw some lefties were pillorying him the other day on social media, because he pointed out what is empirically true, if you believe all those studies of people’s voting records, that she’s one of the most progressive members of the Senate, you know, up there with Warren and even Sanders on some votes.

Can she, whatever progressive bonafides she has built up in the Senate since being a prosecutor in California, can she use those progressive credentials, progressive votes on everything from Medicare For All to Yemen, can she use that to pull Biden a little bit center-left?

TV: That’s an interesting question. Because I do think if you’re looking ahead to the future, and we’re not, you know, we’re not saying that pejorative way, but everyone’s human, you’ll know that taking and then executing on those positions will be important for your political future. So maybe you can make an argument that it gives her even more incentive to pull in that direction.

MH: That’s true. If she’s preparing to kind of win the party in 2024 and has an eye on keeping people like AOC out of the race. [Laughs.]

TV: [Laughs.]

MH: Let me ask you this. We all know that, you know, at the end of the day, conventions make no difference to the final election outcome in terms of, you know —

TV: Yeah.

MH: — is it going to change the result?

But we’re only human, as you mentioned a moment ago. So as a human being, not as a kind of political pundit, are you more or less optimistic at the end of this week than you are at the beginning of this week that we might see an end to the Trump era come November?

TV: I’m more optimistic. I mean, I think the thing I’ve been concerned about in this race for a long time was we have a strong anti-Trump message, everyone only cares about the coronavirus, but if you look at polls, people don’t really know who Joe Biden is. They’re not necessarily voting for him. They don’t know all the things he stands for. I think this was the cleanest shot possible at telling his story.

Now, we’ll see if that bears out in polling in the next couple weeks. Like I don’t really care about a convention bounce, I want to see, you know, Biden’s favorite favorability rating go up. You know, I want to see other indicators where people are saying: OK, I’m coming out and voting for him versus against Trump. And I think that’s a success here.

MH: There was that poll, right, a few days ago, which said the majority of Democratic voters were saying the main reason, or the number one reason, it was a plurality or a majority, can’t remember —

TV: Yep.

MH: — saying the main reason they’re voting for Biden is not Trump and, whereas, on the other side it was because, “We think Trump’s a great leader.” The QAnon folks. And you’re right that he definitely needs — I’d also like to see him actually, I know this is an unpopular view in some parts of liberal media, but I’d like to see him go harder on Trump. This idea that they’ve gone hard on Trump, they could have been much, much harder this week. And even tonight, in his speech, he held back. He could have gone for Trump, the Trump juggler, much harder, especially on the Coronavirus. There was a moment where he talked about the national testing plan that he would bring in. I would have liked him to say, you know, I would’ve liked him to say: while the President was freaking playing golf, as people died. That’s what Bernie said in his speech, which — I liked that line. But yes, I hope they’ll really ramp up their attacks on Trump going forward. They have to.

TV: Yeah, look, I mean, I think those things are what I want to hear too, right? They’re very satisfying. They also happen to be true.

MH: [Laughs.] Yes!

TV: [Laughs.] I think that a lot of people who do you know, focus groups and polling with sort of soft Trump voters or independent voters, find that like language like: I don’t blame him for the virus getting here, but I do blame for how he’s responded since like, I think that plays better with them then being harsher.

MH: Yeah.

TV: And so I think you heard that kind of throughout the week. But, you know, I hear you.

MH: I hope you’re right. I don’t think this country can survive another four years of Trump.

TV: Me neither.

MH: That’s — my view. Tommy, thanks so much for joining me.

TV: Thank you for having me! Always fun.

[Musical interlude.]

MH: That’s our show! Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice: iPhone, Android, whatever. If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review — it helps new people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next week.

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