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While the internet, social media, and the instant news cycle have changed modern politics, these tools aren’t as unique as one might think, according to political strategists and authors Jennifer Palmieri and Karl Rove.
“The abrupt introduction of the instantaneous exchange of news with the telegraph, the creation of daily newspapers with the invention of the steam-powered printing press—all were disruptive to politics,” says Rove, who will join Palmieri for a point-counterpoint discussion Wed., March 1, at the 2023 CUNA Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) in Washington, D.C.
The session will cover the top issues driving U.S. politics today, a topic Palmieri and Rove are exceedingly familiar with.
Palmieri, a Democrat, was White House deputy press secretary for President Bill Clinton, White House communications director for President Barack Obama, and head of communications for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. She’s also an author, a contributing editor to Vanity Fair, and a guest host on Showtime’s “The Circus: Inside the Greatest Political Show on Earth.”
Rove, a Republican, ran Rove + Co., a public affairs firm, before serving as President George W. Bush’s senior advisor and deputy chief of staff. He writes a weekly op-ed for The Wall Street Journal, appears frequently on Fox News, teaches at the University of Texas, and is now writing his third book.
The strategists have many stories from their time in the White House, including Rove almost “unilaterally upsetting the U.S.’ entire special relationship with Great Britain” because of a lost sock and Palmieri finding out, “When you're running late on a foreign trip, Air Force One does not wait for you.”
However, their political knowledge goes well beyond memories of diplomacy. Palmieri feels more connected than ever to the American people due to her role on “The Circus,” a docuseries in which the hosts travel the country to “pull back the curtain on American politics.”
“It's sort of a sad commentary, but I feel like I understand the country better having done this than when I worked on presidential campaigns,” she says. “It’s definitely an important time to be trying to understand the country.”
Rove agrees, suggesting the U.S. is at a hinge point leading up to a 2024 presidential election that could have the same Republican and Democratic nominees as in 2020.
“People are saying, ‘is the best we can do the 82-year-old and the 78-year-old?’ It’s going to be a very interesting election. I think the outcome of the Republican side will depend on how big the field is by the end of 2023,” Rove says, adding that a larger field of Republican candidates will make it more likely that Donald Trump is nominated to run against incumbent Joe Biden, who Palmieri believes is unlikely to face a Democratic challenger.
While Palmieri and Rove are unsure if there will be many surprises leading up to 2024, some revelations came out of the 2022 midterms. Palmieri was relieved to see that most of the losing candidates conceded, showing that voters and candidates appreciate the “responsibility we all have in trying to maintain a democracy.”
Rove was surprised by the rebirth of ticket splitting across the U.S., suggesting that many Republican or Republican-leaning independents voted for Democrats or the “normal Republicans” instead of the more extreme Republican candidates.
That ticket-splitting mindset isn’t apparent on social media. The Twitter and Facebook posts that gain attention during election season often center around arguments between people who appear unwilling to change their minds or listen to others.
However, Rove doesn’t believe people are as angry and divisive as social media makes them seem.
“It just appears that way because we let social media influence us,” he says. “Those people are not representative of America at large. It’s not healthy for us to pay attention to everybody's little Twitter snap back. That's not how most Americans operate."
Palmieri suggests the fundamental dynamics of politics and human interaction are constant. However, she believes the internet has created information silos and online ecosystems.
“People not only have the wherewithal and ability to express an opinion on everything, they feel pressured to do so. That has amped up division in a way we haven't seen in 50 years, maybe even more,” Palmieri says, adding that it’s not the first time a new method of communication has led to division and distrust. “These things keep repeating themselves, and then we sort them out. I go around America enough to know that people are not what we see on social media.”
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