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Democratic Adviser Talks 2020 Strategy

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

When Pennsylvania Democrat Conor Lamb apparently eked out a win in the special election earlier this week, it sparked a new round of debate within the Democratic Party about what it might take to win midterm races in 2018 and the White House in 2020.

Among those coming up with strategies is Philippe Reines. He has been an adviser to Hillary Clinton since 2002, and he is with us in the studio this morning. Thanks so much for coming in.

PHILIPPE REINES: No, thank you for having me.

MARTIN: You wrote this piece in The Washington Post this week titled "Trump Is A Freak Of Political Nature. Here's How You Can Beat Him." So what do you see as your party's most important strategy for 2018 and beyond?

REINES: I think, first of all, is to acknowledge that he's not an easy target. It's hard to think of someone who has had a more calamitous 14 months, and his numbers are showing it. But he's got this core - and he, as I said, is a political Weeble Wobble, where he weebles (ph) and wobbles but doesn't fall down. And I think, most importantly, you know, if this spurs debate about whether I'm right or wrong or whether a two-time, you know, aide to a losing candidate should even have a say - that's a good start.

MARTIN: You wrote, in this piece - it's like a list of bullet points serving as advice for Democrats. One of them reads as follows - quote - "don't apologize, ever - not over money you took from Harvey Weinstein, not even for attacking the pope. In fact, proactively attack the pope. Your kid is a shoplifter? You're proud of them for exposing inadequate security."

So I get that that's probably tongue in cheek, but do you really think that's...

REINES: Well, not the pope part.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

REINES: I mean, he attacked - he had a Twitter war with the pope. I'm not suggesting it, but that's why I included it. He is impervious to things that most people, most, you know, mere political mortals would succumb to. And I think there are some candidates who believe that the rules have changed for everyone.

MARTIN: That doesn't exactly appeal to our better instincts as Americans.

REINES: Well, but it's also probably not accurate to say that, oh, wow, Donald Trump is getting away with sleeping with a porn star and paying them off. I can start paying off porn stars or be honest about them is wrong. People are not going to get away with that.

MARTIN: On Wednesday morning, we spoke with the head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, about what Conor Lamb's performance can teach the party. Let's listen to this clip.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

TOM PEREZ: I've had people say to me, well, you either focus on the diverse coalition that is the Democratic Party, or you focus on white, working-class voters. I categorically reject that false choice. We're doing everything everywhere.

MARTIN: Will that work? Is that a good idea?

REINES: It is. And I think Tuesday was a very reassuring day. And yes, the Republicans can throw their talking points that he was a unique candidate and he really was a Republican, blah, blah, blah, but that's not the case. And what was particularly heartening about Tuesday is it's clear that they can't buy their way out of their problems. They spent more than $10 million of party money, and he lost. They can do that when it's one race, a special election months ahead of time. They can't do that dozens of times in November.

MARTIN: Can you give me the top thing, the one thing, Democrats must do to beat him?

REINES: The one thing they've got to do is, I think, take him seriously. But I think it's leave nothing unchecked. And that is something that he does. I don't know how consciously he does it. You know, last year, he came back to the press area on Air Force One, and he blurted out that he doesn't watch television. And everyone thought, well, what is he talking about? The week later, The New York Times wrote a piece about how much television he watches. He knew that that was coming, and he felt the need to just say it out - to just put it out there. He - his people, his supporters, are armed to the teeth with responses. Now, they also have their cries of fake news, which make it easier. But he arms everyone with something to say. And I think that's a huge lesson that people let go.

MARTIN: Philippe Reines, a longtime adviser to Hillary Clinton, thanks for your time.

REINES: No, thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.