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Democrats Losing Millennials?

Aired January 24, 2014 - 18:28   ET



ANNOUNCER: Tonight on CROSSFIRE, what do voters think when he says...

MIKE HUCKABEE, FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They are helpless without Uncle Sugar.

ANNOUNCER: ... or she's asked...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When are you going to be banking in the city?

ANNOUNCER: On the left, Stephanie Cutter. On the right, S.E. Cupp. In the CROSSFIRE, Joel Benenson, President Obama's pollster; and Kellyanne Conway, who polls for Republican candidates. Which political party is on its way to victory in 2014 and 2016? Tonight on CROSSFIRE.


S.E. CUPP, CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE. I'm S.E. Cupp on the right.

STEPHANIE CUTTER, CO-HOST: And I'm Stephanie Cutter on the left. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, two political pollsters including the presidents.

Democrats are so clearly unified on the middle class agenda heading into the president's State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Republicans on the other hand...


JAY LENO, HOST, NBC'S "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": Now, this GOP infighting, is this the worst you've ever seen it?

REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: Oh, no, well, maybe it is.

LENO: Yes, probably.

BOEHNER: It's bad.


CUTTER: That's the Republican House speaker admitting what we already know: Republicans are their own worst enemy, fighting with each other, failing to support a middle-class agenda and unable to stop offending the voters they need most.

For the last 24 hours, we've been forced to talk about Uncle Sugar and women's libidos instead of any kind of agenda that they would life women up in this economy.

CUPP: I agree. It is silly that we're talking about libido and Uncle Sugar when so many people are still hurting in the Obama economy. And I think Republicans need to get back on message.

All right. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, President Obama's pollster, Joel Benenson, along with Republican pollster Kellyanne Conway.

Joel, let me start with you. The president's approval numbers are, in a word, bad; in two words, not good. Here's where he rates against other presidents at this time during their presidencies. He's got Bush level numbers, and we all know Bush did not come back. So you're the pollster. Tell me what's not working with Obama's messaging?

JOEL BENENSON, OBAMA POLLSTER: Well, first of all, I think putting it in perspective, I've heard and experienced a lot of public poll numbers that were at variance with where the president's standing is with the American people. I went through a whole election in 2011 and '12 as his pollster when people said his numbers are terrible, he can't come back. And of course...

CUPP: So you're saying don't believe the polls?

KELLYANNE CONWAY, REPUBLICAN POLLSTER: There's no more elections, so...

BENENSON: I've often said don't believe the polls. I've spent a lot of time talking about a lot of the poll numbers out there.

But when you look at the president's numbers and you look at Democratic numbers and who people think care about them and you're talking about the economy where we're still fighting back and still slowly making progress. The president and the Democrats have an enormous advantage over Republicans.

And every day the Republicans spend distracting people from the mission at hand and the president stays focused on it, which is about how to get our economy moving forward for everybody, restoring security for the middle class, which is what he's focusing on and people striving to get there, he's talking to the American people about what they care about.

So I think as we go into 2014, where the president's standing is, is going to be fine for the election in 2014. I think Democratic candidates are going to be very happy to run around behind a president who has us creating more manufacturing jobs than we have in two decades.

CUPP: OK. Come on.

BENENSON: For the first time in 15 years.

CONWAY: Got it, actually.

And all the polls are wrong. The average of the polls show that your client, President Obama's disapproval rating is well over 50 percent now. That's a greater indictment of his policies than his approval rating being mired in the 40s.

The fact is that a lot of Democrats are not going to want to campaign within this time. Those people in swing states aren't asking him to come and fund-raise for him, certainly aren't running on the magic word that you failed to omit in your infomercial on behalf of the president, Obama care.

Let's talk about Obama care. Let's talk about in 2010. That election was all about Obama care. In principle, 2014 will be about Obama care in practice, the 5.5 million Americans...

BENENSON: ... in 2012 and every other Republican.

CONWAY: You're looking backwards.

BENENSON: Talked about repeal of Obama care, and your party has voted for it 44 times.

CONWAY: This is a nonpresidential year. It's not a dead issue.

BENENSON: They do not want to appeal Obama care. There are nine million Americans...

CONWAY: To people who are on Wall Street...

CUTTER: We've got a lot to talk about on Obama care, but it would bring out a couple of other economic issues.

CONWAY: Well, I would hope so, because it's the biggest issue in 2014.

CUTTER: Well, we can talk about that. There are a couple of other issues that I think will play in 2014. I can't predict what the president is going to say in the State of the Union address...

CONWAY: I can.

CUTTER: But I have a feeling that he's going to talk about some pretty core economic issues. Let's take a look at this "USA Today" poll -- despite what Joel said about public polls -- from yesterday.

CONWAY: He likes this one.

CUTTER: Sixty-three percent of the American people support extending unemployment. And 73 percent of the American people support raising the minimum wage. Now, we're likely to hear something about both of those issues in the State of the Union.

Your party stands in the way of both. They won't bring it up for a vote. They won't extend unemployment insurance. You're on the wrong side of these issues.

CONWAY: No, sorry.

CUTTER: Isn't that a problem going into...

CONWAY: No, it's not. Listen, if you ask people in a poll, "Do you support" and you fill in the blank with feel-good phraseology, you're always going to get high numbers. Even people supported, quote, "health-care reform" four years ago. Then they found out that it was actually Obama care, and health-care reform for somebody else meant higher premiums and canceled plans for me and security for me.

The fact is that this president can't have a serious conversation, Stephanie, about income and equality. If he and Bill de Blasio in New York and other Democrats on the left are against school choice and charters. Disproportionately the charter school students are black and Hispanic. How would you take away their education. The best chance they'll ever have to earn a good income is through education.

CUTTER: What about the minimum wage?

CUPP: What about it?

CUTTER: Who's on the minimum wage? More than 60 percent of minimum wage earners are women. High numbers...

CUPP: High numbers of them wage earners in temporary jobs. Teenagers, people who live...

CUTTER: ... of African-Americans and Hispanic workers. Two percent -- 20 percent are teenagers and young people. We're talking about working 40 hours a week. They're still living in poverty, and Your party won't move on it.

CUPP: Well, you know what minimum wage job earners -- you know what minimum wage earners want? Economic security. They're living in the fifth year of the Obama economy, Stephanie. And we're talking -- you want to increase minimum wage. They want better jobs and opportunity.

BENENSON: There are companies over America like Costco that are paying their employees a living wage and companies that compete with them that don't. Costco's employees stay longer. They're more productive. All the studies show it. It also drives up incomes for other workers.

But, you know, the interesting thing here is Kellyanne, you're on defense.

CONWAY: I'm not. I feel perfectly fine.

BENENSON: You said yourself you think Obama care is going to be the big issue of 2014. That's what's wrong with the Republican Party. The big issue is who's going to fight for working Americans? And that's what Democrats will clean the clocks of Republicans.

CONWAY: The fighting is not talking. I know Stanley Soundbite, otherwise known as the president's State of the Union.

BENENSON: Who's that?

CONWAY: Your client, the president in the State of the Union will be Stanley Soundbite. He'll throw out lots of great stuff from the podium about -- from the podium about minimum wage, income inequality, health care reform.

BENENSON: Minimum wage isn't a soundbite, Kellyanne. Minimum wage is a policy...

CONWAY: You had the -- he had the Congress in the first two years. What did he do?

BENENSON: ... to pay working people enough money.

CONWAY: Nobody's against that in principle.

BENENSON: Really? You have some of the biggest companies in America who are running food drives for their own employees.

CUPP: One at a time, please, go ahead.

CONWAY: We're both small business owners, Joel, and you know -- you've seen the actuarial data -- what increasing the minimum wage, it does -- it's not a victimless wage. Small business formation. Companies.

Let me tell you something. You give me $2 more an hour and you're a company, I'm going to charge you more for that product. The cost of that price -- it's not like the company says, "Oh, I've got more money sitting around to pay more people." They're going to raise their prices, and that hurts people who are trying to afford those products.

CUTTER: But your employees are also more productive. You're pouring more money into the economy. It raises wages for everybody.


CONWAY: ... President Reagan's pollster and I earned the minimum wage. It's a true story. Twenty-six years ago. I didn't sit around saying, "I'm really jealous of these people. They should give me half of what they have so we each have 50-50." No, I said, "Maybe one day I can have my own polling firm and sit on CROSSFIRE across from the president's pollster." Here we are.

BENENSON: I hope every Republican keeps making this argument that you're making. When 73 percent of Americans believe that the minimum wage is too low in this country for people who go into work hours a week and trying to feed a family and put food on the table.

CONWAY: I'm not disagreeing with you.

BENENSON: Keep making that argument.

CONWAY: I'm not disagreeing with you. But in the Obama economy, in the Obama economy, saying, "Let's cure income inequality. Let's increase minimum wage. Let's raise taxes. Let's soak the rich," that's not -- that doesn't work altogether. We're living in the fifth year of the Obama economy, and you think things are going well? Then tell the 54 percent of Americans who disapprove of the job he's doing.

CUPP: Let me switch gears for a second, because there's a big story out of "The New York Times Magazine" about Hillary-land and the planet that is the center of the universe that is now Hillary Clinton.

The president is going to lay out bench markers in his 2014 State of the Union address next week. Do you think that he has to consider Hillary when he lays out those bench markers and think about the fact that she will have to own or disown many of the failures or successes that he lays out over the next year? Is that something that he's thinking about as he prepares this speech?

BENENSON: I can't speak for him. I highly doubt that he's viewing a State of the Union speech in 2014 as a bench marker of anything other than what he wants to put down, a stake in the ground on, for his economic agenda for 2014, to continue bringing our economy back from the crisis that we walked into.

CUPP: I bet you Hillary's thinking about it. Don't you think he should be thinking about the legacy he's going to leave the next Democratic nominee?

CONWAY: He's to start caring about Hillary now?

BENENSON: I think he's thinking about what to do to keep the progress we've made going, to keep driving the unemployment rate down, which is now at the lowest point in five years, to keep creating manufacturing jobs and keep increasing exports.

If he thinks about those things, he'll put out an economic agenda that, if the Republicans would stop obstructing, we'd make even more progress than we've been making.

CUPP: Let's talk about -- let's talk about progress.

BENENSON: You want to quote some polls, S.E., you can look at...

CUPP: Six years of failed economic policies. I know, it's all the Republicans' fault.

CUTTER: I know. And many, many years, four years of Republican control of the House and a leader in the Senate who says my No. 1 agenda item is to stop the president from being a two-term agenda.

CUPP: If only one person could do that.

CUTTER: So if this was a one-party town, a monarchy...

CONWAY: I'd like to talk about Hillary, though...

CUTTER: ... then we should take the blame. But it's not. CONWAY: 2016 with Hillary or anybody else is going to be the same question for voters as it is after every two-term president. Do you want the ninth year of that presidency to start now or do you want something totally differently? And it helped your client in 2008 to say no -- a lot of people don't want the ninth year of George W. Bush. That's going to be the question for Hillary. It's one of the many reasons why she shouldn't run for president and probably won't.

CUPP: Oh, wow. Big prediction from Kellyanne.

All right. The past few election cycles, Republicans have been in a bit of poll denial. Next, I have some numbers that should come as a warning for President Obama's pollster.


CUPP: Welcome back. In the CROSSFIRE tonight, Joel Benenson and Kellyanne Conway.

Take a look at this quote. "They'll either work it out or they won't." That was Hillary Clinton's lukewarm sentiments for the president's health-care woes as quoted in the buzzy "New York Times Magazine" story. "Meh" isn't exactly the kind of support Obama wants right now, I'm sure. But it's clear Hillary is already laying the groundwork to ambivalently wash her hands of Obama care in the event that it fails and she runs for president. Not a good sign for Obama and Democrats heading into 2014.

Also not a good sign: Obama care poll numbers. Only 38 percent support it, and a whopping 56 percent are opposed.

So Joel, I'll admit, sometimes Republicans live in poll denial. I think we all remember the Iraq war polling. Even the Romney campaign polling. But are you, as a pollster, prepared to tell Democrats -- Democratic candidates running in red states. The tough reality is on Obama care when they say, "We don't want the president coming to our state?"

BENENSON: Look, we have certainly asked this question a lot, but we ask another question also of people who say that they oppose Obama care, and we say you oppose Obama care because you believe it doesn't go far enough or it goes too far? And typically, about 20 to 25 percent of the people who oppose it say it doesn't go far enough. They are liberals who think we should have done more on Obama care.

So you wind up with close to a majority or a slight majority, usually, that like it as it is or want more.

The other thing is people don't want to repeal this. As Obama care works, more and more people sign up, and more and more Democrats are saying, "If we need to make changes, including the president, to fix things, we'll fix them. But what we shouldn't do is go back to square one, repeal it and start all over." And I think...

CUPP: But what's wrong with Republicans running in -- you wouldn't tell Democrats running in red states to run on Obamacare, would you? BENENSON: I think people who want to run on Obamacare have been and will be Republicans. We want to run on economic issues and Obamacare is preventing a lot of people from falling off the cliff economically.

CONWAY: Obamacare is an economic issue, that's what Kay Hagan and Mary Landrieu and Mark Begich are against it.

BENENSON: I was just saying that, Kellyanne, and people who were getting coverage fore the first time that they couldn't afford, people with pre-existing conditions who, you know, can now get the care they need in emergency situations.

CONWAY: Which is great. Which is great. Absolutely.

BENENSON: Children up to the age of 26 who are covered. They were 9 million people --

CONWAY: Well, they're not children, but go on.

BENENSON: Well, they're on their parents' policies.

CONWAY: And, by the way, speaking of millennials, which has seen all the polling --

BENENSON: Nine million people to date --

CONWAY: Sorry, but young people --

BENENSON: -- have coverage that they wouldn't have had without Obamacare.

CONWAY: And 5 1/2 million have had their plans canceled.

The enrollments are increasing to be sure. But you see the poll numbers, people don't like it because that's not what they were promised and millennials are saying to Obama, we're just not that into you.


CUTTER: That's actually not true. And, you know, Republican talking points, that 5 1/2 million plans have been cancelled, many of those people are on better plans because of Obamacare.

CONWAY: According to you. Maybe they don't think so. Maybe they wanted to keep the pediatrician in the plan they had.


CUTTER: Their benefits are going up.

CONWAY: Typical big government, intrusive government. We know what's better for you.

CUTTER: Let's talk about another piece of reality that Republicans don't want to face. S.E. was talking about some polls that they don't face. I want to bring something else up.

Here's former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee just yesterday.


MIKE HUCKABEE (R), FORMER ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it.


CUTTER: I think that we can all agree that those comments don't help the Republican Party. That's not where the argument is.

CONWAY: Assuming we're discussing this.

CUTTER: Where I -- well, I think they make a pretty good point. My point is it's not so much what he says that's the problem, it's what Republicans do. And what they don't do is support an agenda that helps lift women in this economy.

CONWAY: That's such crap, excuse me, it is.

CUTTER: It's crap that you don't support a minimum wage. It's crap that Republicans won't bring a pay equity bill to the floor. It's crap that you spend most of your time talking about how you're going to roll back women's rights.


CUTTER: Actually, one of the first votes. Let's talk about one of the first votes, in the middle of the State of the Union is that you guys are going to vote on abortion of all things.

CONWAY: Let's talk about, not just abortion, let's talk about which party is extreme on abortion, is it the party that official party platform says no restrictions, no regulation, can you think of any time eighth month, ninth month, sex selection fetal pain when nonpartisan scientists say a baby or a zygote as you all like to say can feel pain, is there any time --


CUTTER: If it works for you -- has it worked for you to roll back funding for Planned Parenthood?

CONWAY: What does roll back mean?

CUTTER: Does it work for you guys that --


CONWAY: Is there a reason that Planned Parenthood should have -- let me answer.

CUPP: Let Kellyanne answer.

CONWAY: If you're interested in what I really have to say, yes. It makes no sense that an organization whose moneys are fungible should get half a billion dollars in taxpayer money, why don't you take the money Planned Parenthood gets and can fungibly use for abortions and give it to all these women who you want to earn more money? Why don't we give them that one?

CUTTER: Well, if we could actually talk about the facts of how that money --

CONWAY: Your party's obsessed with abortion.


CUTTER: The Democratic Party is not my client any more. Kellyanne --

CONWAY: Stephanie, name pro-life Democratic women, prominent pro-life Democratic women in this country. Can you? Name five.

CUTTER: Name five pro-choice --

CONWAY: Susan Collins, Christy -- oh, my God, the list goes on, Olympia Snowe.

BENENSON: Kellyanne, you naming one bill on abortion that Democrats have proposed. Every bill on abortion is coming out of the Republican Party.


CONWAY: Because you're scared to death to say fetal pain. You're scare to death to say that --

BENENSON: The party that is obsessed with this issue because of your deep-lying base is abortion.

CONWAY: We're talking about Governor Huckabee instead of Governor Cuomo, a sitting governor basically told 45 percent of his state you're not welcome here.

CUPP: Can we move on from that because be have some other ground to carry? Republicans do not want to just talk about abortion. I'm going to prove it right now.

Democrats' most reliable voting bloc, or one of them, has typically been millennials. And now, they represent a huge voting bloc. They are going to be the biggest generation in history and they are leaving Obama for the center.

They are not impressed with big government. They are not into Obamacare. They are not into the NSA spying program.

Shouldn't Democrats be worried about bleeding this very important voting bloc, and what are they going to do about it?

BENENSON: Yes, I think it's exaggeration to say that millennials are deserting Obama. Eighteen to 34-year-olds were solid part of President Obama's coalition in the 2012 election. We carried a majority of them.

CONWAY: That's history.

BENENSON: We carried a majority --

CUPP: Talk about polls on this show with two pollsters. I don't know why we're here.


BENENSON: S.E., you know, I'm happy to talk about these polls but I punched holes in them all through 2012 including ones that had Mitt Romney winning on Election Day. If I take them with a grain of salt because they don't ask the kind of questions that probe more deeply into the underlying attitudes to understand where millennials are, they're part of the Democratic coalition.

CUPP: I talk to millenials. I interview millennials. They are leaving Obama for the center. They're not coming to the Republican Party, but they're leaving Obama.

BENENSON: There's no doubt that they are less ideological than partisans who are older. There's no question.

CUPP: Than they were. Than they were.


CUTTER: That's not true. Now, if you're asking millennials where are they voting in a presidential election, they were voting for President Obama because they agreed with his agenda. If you're asking where they are right now, they're less ideological. They are in the center. They don't identify as millennials.


BENENSON: S.E., let's talk about poll numbers on millennial's attitude. They overwhelmingly agree climate change is real and we need action now. And that the Republican Party is out of step with that.

CONWAY: Majority of them were through with Obama.

BENENSON: They overwhelmingly agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship.

CONWAY: They overwhelming are not enrolling in Obamacare.

BENENSON: They overwhelmingly agree that gay people should be allowed to marry in America.

CUPP: You're absolutely right. Those are not single issues, unfortunately, for millennials.


BENENSON: What single issue is there for millennials?

CUPP: It's the economy. They are just as invested in the economy as people over 30.

CUTTER: Stay here. We're going to take a break.

CUPP: I think that's wise.

CUTTER: Next, the final question for both of our guests.

We also want you at home to weigh in on today's "Fireback" question. Do you agree with Governor Huckabee's controversial comments? Tweet yes or no using #crossfire.

We'll have the results after the break.


CUTTER: We're back with Joel Benenson and Kellyanne Conway.

Now, it's time for the final question.


CUPP: So, Joel, let's be honest and tell each other what's one thing you think Democrats are ignoring right now that they should be talking about? One issue.

BENENSON: Wow. That's a tough one. That they're ignoring?

CUPP: Yes, that they're not focusing on enough or that they're not making more of or that they're ignoring at their peril. Surely you can think of something.

BENENSON: I think we've been pretty good.

CUPP: OK, wow.

CONWAY: There's the problem.

BENENSON: I think as we go forward, I think we should talk about how we're going to transition to a clean energy economy and continue to bring down carbon pollution.


BENENSON: Whether that includes steps like even tougher moves to deal with cars and vehicles or office buildings and urban areas and the greening of America. I think particularly when you talk about millennials, this is an issue that they feel very passionately about.

CUPP: We do, yes. BENENSON: I think, frankly, it's important for the future of the country both economically and from the viewpoint of the planet. We're going to have to do it sooner or later. Sooner would be better.

CUTTER: Kellyanne, over to you. Same question, what's the one issue you would tell Republicans to talk more about?

CONWAY: First, the way to attract people politically is first to understand them culturally. I think the Republicans with their reboot and their autopsy, stop trying to look at people as voters, because people don't look at themselves as voters. And so, even this whole notion on abortion, does a woman, she fills up the grocery cart and the gas tank once a week. She doesn't get an abortion once a week.

It's really just to understand who people are and to understand that delivery today, message/messenger delivery, delivery is a system more than a style. It's not about what you wear and how you look at the podium, so much as meet people where they live. If you're young and you live online, I need to connect with you online politically.

If -- what the Democrats did in 2012 was masterful. You run excellent campaigns, (INAUDIBLE) run a crappy administration. But excellent campaigns and they went where people live.

CUTTER: Feel free to jump in.


CONWAY: No, no, you can't. You can't. Because I listened to all of the stuff about carbon emissions. So please don't.

CUTTER: We've got time.

CONWAY: Seriously speaking, we have to go where people live outside of the health clubs, grocery stores, beauty salons.

CUTTER: So, the RNC is debating today whether or not they should make more out of abortion. Is that counter to what you're saying?

CONWAY: It's not more or less. We have a party platform. The Democrats have a party platform. They're very, very distinct. Ours says life begins at conception, ends at natural death. Yours says abortion anyone, any time, anywhere. I'll take ours any day.

CUPP: I think -- you know, I've always said there's a good way to talk about anything in a bad way.

CONWAY: Yes, tone and content.

BENENSON: As we go forward, just to take a little bit of issue with what Kellyanne said. I said a little bit at the beginning, very quickly, we are creating manufacturing jobs the first time in 15 years. We are actually increasing our solar production and solar energy to improve the economy.

CONWAY: It's just too bad people don't think so. BENENSON: And we've reduced our dependence on foreign oil for the first time in decades.

CUPP: We've got to go, guys.

All right. Thanks to Joel Benenson and Kellyanne Conway.

CUTTER: Go to Facebook or Twitter to weigh in on our "Fireback" question. Do you agree with Governor Huckabee's controversial comments? Right now, 15 percent of you say yes, 85 percent say no.

I wouldn't have predicted that.


CUPP: All right.

CUTTER: From the left, I'm Stephanie Cutter.

CUPP: From the right, I'm S.E. Cupp.

Join us Monday for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.