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Fixing the Divide; Trump: "I Didn't Divide this Country"; The Role of Polarized Media; The Role of "Dark Money" in Politics; How New Voting Maps Twist Democracy; Two Americans: Cracker Barrel Vs. Whole Foods; Can the Future Be De-Polarized?; Can Millennials Break the Political "Gridlock"? Aired 9-10p ET
Aired February 17, 2017 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
[21:00:05] MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: America split down the middle. Can the union be saved? Tonight, my special program "Fixing the Divide".
Good evening. I'm Michael Smerconish. We are four weeks to the day since President Trump was inaugurated and everything in the news keeps reinforcing one fundamental truth. We remain a nation divided. But this did not begin with Donald Trump and he said as much himself yesterday.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONAL TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't come along and divide this country. This country was seriously divided before I got here.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Just consider reaction to the President's first press conference. It was a political war shock test all dependent on which team you were on.
Here's Team Limbaugh and Team Maddow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RUSH LIMBAUGH, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: It was just -- it was fantastic. And the American people are going to eat this up.
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: This is what it looks like when a president fails in every way.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Twitter, they're saying Trump was either on fire, giving them hell or a frightening, disgraceful, rich, racist drunk uncle.
This civil war is not new. Tonight, I want tell you the story of how the last 30 years brought us to Donald Trump. I want to drill down on the partisan divide and get a real concrete ideas on how we can fix it. Before things can get better though, we need to understand how they got so bad. I've seen many causes, including money, social media, geography, and the polarization of the media.
Let me start with the media, a subject on which I have strong opinions. Three decades ago on Ronald Reagan's watch, Washington was a different place. Sure, there was partisanship but not polarization. And the ideologues were the exception back then. They weren't the rule.
According to the National Journal which took the ideological pulse of the congress every year, 60 percent of the Senate on Ronald Reagan's watch was comprised of moderates. There were so many Republican moderates that they had their own weekly gathering. They called it the Wednesday Lunch Club and members included Bob Dole and Alan Simpson, Ted Stevens and Nancy Kassebaum, John Heinz, Arlen Specter, Bob Packwood.
Today, they're gone. And they haven't been replaced. How much have things changed? Well, in 1982, according to the National Journal, 58 senators had voting records that put them between the most liberal Republican and the most conservative Democrat. In other words, they were centrists. By 2014 and for the fourth straight year, every Senate Republican was more a conservative than every Senate Democrat and every Democrat was more liberal than every Senate Republican. And the House was similarly divided.
Now here's another barometer of the schism. As late as 1970, the typical member of the House voted with their own party only about 60 percent of the time. By 2014, that number was approximately 90 percent of the time. And typical of the bygone era was a Republican member or Congress from Texas, Congressman George Herbert Walker Bush.
He served two years during the Johnson administration and voted with the Democratic Johnson administration 53 percent of the time. And then he served two years in the watch of Richard Nixon, a member of his own party. He voted with that administration, only 55 percent of the time. And so Washington has become polarized, a divided town in just the last three decades.
Well, guess what else has changed in that exact same time period? The media. Coincidence? I think not. It used to be the power in Washington was earned by paying dues and accruing seniority. Today, you just say something incendiary. And you're a fund raising superstar.
Think of Joe Wilson shouting you lie at President Obama during a joint session of Congress or Democrat Alan Grayson saying that the Republican health care plan was that you die quickly. Each of them became a fund raising magnet within 24 hours. Now, where did they learn that coarse behavior? I say from the polarized media. And I think I know because I had a front row seat.
When I began in talk radio three decades ago, there I am with hair, personality was key. Conversation was key, not ideology. Can you imagine that I once cut my teeth guess toasting for a gentleman named Bernie Herman who has stick his brand was that he was the gentleman of broadcasting. You're not going to sell that today. Those days are over.
[21:05:04] That climate changed with the ascent of Rush Limbaugh at the time of the first Gulf War. Conservatives then rightly felt shut out of the media. And Rush filled the void and he gave them a clubhouse. So Fox News was launched in 1996 and took a page out of the talk radio handbook. And then Drudge Report did likewise online. MSNBC struggled to compete until they did the same thing from the left. And then Huffington Post was born as a liberal alternative to Drudge.
And suddenly we had a totally polarized landscape which captivated the attention of primary voters and elected officials. And all of this set the stage for the entrance of a political neophyte, Donald J. Trump. His diatribes against the mainstream media and all things Clinton were well received by an audience that had been preconditioned to hate both for 30 years by the conservative media.
Donald Trump was the nation's first nominee to mirror the talk radio, Fox News, Drudge Report, Breitbart view of the world even though some of those media mouth pieces ultimately turned against them. And when after winning the nomination, Trump hired Breitbart's executive chairman Steve Bannon to be his campaign manager, well, now the transformation of our political leadership was complete.
Today, politicians reflect the real power brokers. Mostly, men with microphones, they are the ones who set the tone for the current debate and their objective is not good governance. It's to attract computer clicks to websites, ears to radio shows and eyes to T.V. cable news.
Look, we exceeded control of the debate to media equivalent of professional wrestlers. That was George, the Animal Steel, the late great George, the Animal Steel, he just passed today.
Well, I say it's time to take the debate back. Tweet me at @smerconish. I'm going to read some live during the course of this program.
Joining me now, Ronald Brownstein who was editor of the National Journal and he's now Senior Editor of The Atlantic, Dr. Brian Rosenwald, a fellow at the University of Pennsylvania. He earned his Ph.D. with a dissertation on talk radio. And political analyst Michelle Bernard, president of the Bernard Center.
Ron, I was quoting a lot of your data --
RONALD BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, you are.
SMERCONISH: -- from the National Journal days and, you know, it was hard for the journal to compete in the environment I just described.
BROWNSTEIN: Yeah, you know, it's interesting. The National Journal is a publication started in the 1970s. Really, around the observation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York who famously said everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not to their own facts.
BROWNSTEIN: And it was built on the idea that there was kind of a rational debate in Washington in which everyone would sit down and kind of, you know, Bob Dole and Ted Kennedy would sit down and work through a common set of facts maybe from different ideological perspectives and ultimately reach an agreement.
And it really found a very hard time kind of operating in a world in which people are not looking for kind of facts on which to base their views but facts on which to support the views that they came into the debate with. I mean, they really were looking for things to support talking points.
You know, look, the core -- the media, I think, real quick, Michael, is both cause and effect of the polarization. Obviously, it reinforces the polarization but I think the core issue that we've had, and as I wrote about in my book, the second civil war 10 years ago about polarization, is the parties have become much more ideologically. And I'm I just in fact, this great sorting out of liberals moving and moderates moving out of the Republican Party, conservatives moving out of the Democratic Party. Everything else has flowed from that. The behavior of the elected officials, the behavior of the media and the entire system has just become much more clarified and divided.
SMERCONISH: And, you know, to your point about everyone self-sorting, let me put to this Brian Rosenwald, the only man I know who has earned a Ph.D. by studying talk radio. Everybody can go to their own source. I mean, here's the irony. We have never, in the internet, cable television, Sirius XM, world in which we live. We'd never had so much choice and yet so few seem to be exercising it.
BRIAN ROSENWALD, HISTORY INSTRUCTOR, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANNIA: Absolutely, because now you can exercise the choice to only hear what you agree with. Now you can wake up and read Breitbart in the morning, listen to Rush in the middle of the day, come home and watch Fox News at night.
SMERCONISH: And on the left, you can do likewise.
ROSENWALD: Yes. You can absolutely do the same thing with MSNBC, NPR, you know, and podcasts and things like that --
SMERCONISH: Huffington Post.
ROSENWALD: -- Huffington Post. And you know, Rush changes this but at least in his early days, people will listen to Rush and they're watching the evening news. They're reading "The New York Times", "The Washington Post". And so they're getting some facts. Now, they're living in these incrementally sealed echo chambers and what happens is they literally, it's alternative universes.
They are talking about different things. They have different facts and I'll use air quotes because in some cases, they're not at all factual and this is poisonous to the system.
[21:10:08] SMERCONISH: Michelle, I used to draw solace from the fact, that according to Gallup, 40 percent of the country are independents. And I used to think would -- and I still think this is a healthy thing to break away from control of the parties but I'm not so sure that those 40 percent aren't playing into the same traps that we're here tonight to describe.
MICHELLE BERNARD, PRESIDENT, BERNARD CENTER: You know, I'm certain. I am hoping that they're not falling to the same traps but it's difficult if we go back and we sort of look at how we got here.
You know, in my opinion, I sort of started tracking it. I started with what they call trash T.V., the early Phil Donahue Show, early Oprah Winfrey, that were still legitimate but sort of getting us down a road that lead to Jerry Springer, Geraldo. And we now are in an era of outrage T.V. and it is designed to make people not like one another. And the one thing you left out in your opening monologue that is also driving this is profits. So if we got lots of different places where you can look for the news --
SMERCONISH: Oh, yeah.
BERNARD: -- on the web, you know, on television, online, on the radio and everyone is fighting for that little sliver of information and profit. They are inclined to be as outrageous as possible. And when they do that, let's face it, if you're a member of Congress, you don't want to be called a rhino by Rush Limbaugh, so you're going to be instead in favor of gridlock. That is not good for democracy.
SMERCONISH: And don't mean to say Ron Brownstein that I'm going to present tonight in the span of just 60 minutes.
SMERCONISH: This needs to be a 10-part series.
SMERCONISH: I don't mean to say we're going to get to the whole list here but would you agree with me Ron, that the factors we're describing are an explanation for how Donald Trump will say, this was teed up beautifully for him? He first dipped his toe in the water in Portsmouth like 30 years ago. The time wasn't right for him then. It was now.
BROWNSTEIN: Right. He was -- look, he has been a deeply polarizing candidate from day one. And you look at -- in the first weeks of his administration, the gap between the way he has viewed by members in his own party, the opposite party, is far wider in polling than we've ever seen before, but, having said that, he does transcend some boundaries. I mean he is someone who has not been in the kind of in the conventional mode of many of the debates that we've had.
He kind of downplayed some of the traditional social issues and elevated a whole new set of fissures around which you wanted. Hey, and Steve Bannon wanted to divide the country particularly trade and immigration.
Look, I think the core here, what we have had is that as we have seen, starting in the 1960s and really accelerating in the decades since, as we have seen the parties become more ideologically homogenous, the pressure for more uniformity has grown. I mean, you'd simple don't have the voter base on each side that allows people to be as -- you know, as heretical as we saw them being in the '70s and '80s.
You know, when Ronald Reagan, you talked about the early 1980s, when Ronald Reagan wanted to elevate William Bradford Reynolds to a higher position in the Justice Department, who was kind of the Jeff Sessions of his day in terms of his use of --
ROSENWALD: One-third of the Senate Republicans voted against him. Look at how many Senate Republicans voted against Nixon on his Supreme Court nominees and obviously there were many crossover Democrats. That's gone. It isn't as though we -- it isn't as if we necessarily have more disagreement in the society than we've ever had, but it is organized more precisely along partisan lines because we have an overlap between partisanship and ideology that simply did not exist at any earlier point in American history to the extent that it does now.
BROWNSTEIN: And Brian --
SMERCONISH: -- to Ron's point, when the parties are homogenized, where are they going on both sides for their leadership? They're not going to Senate leaders and House leaders. They're to talking head leaders who are pop stars.
BROWNSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, in both --
SMERCONISH: And to the profits that Michelle has described.
ROSENWALD: Yeah. The most significant figure in the Republican coalition is Rush Limbaugh. And he cares about one thing, charging confiscatory advertising rates as he likes to put it. And, as Michelle said, it's more entertaining to be bombastic, to be outrageous. And for talk radio hosts, their fighting for their -- in every increasing numbers of talk radio hosts and bloggers and media on the right and on the left, and they're fighting for the same sliver of the audience, they've, you know, was once there for many fewer people.
So the way you do that is you make sure you don't get outflanked. You don't have any daylight between you and your audience. You sure as heck don't lecture your audience and say, well, that's not true. You know, what you heard from Uncle Steve in the e-mail, that's not true or what you heard from, you know, this tweet or that tweet, it's not true. You can't do that.
So these people have every intent to demonize the opposition and have every incentive to be as entertaining and to not worry about facts.
SMERCONISH: Right. You look at that press conference just yesterday, both sides are fund raising as a result of it. Ron Brownstein, Brian Rosenwald, Michelle Bernard, hey, everybody check out the first tweet that came in. OK Maybe not the first one, but the first that we're going to post.
Put them up there, "Smerconish, CNN, fix, easy. Moderate our tribalistic tendencies so that we can flourish and thrive in our wonderful diversity." That's like poetry.
[21:15:00] Michelle, I don't -- I'm not sure if we can achieve that, but I'm all for it.
BERNAD: It all in a very few characters, but very well done.
SMERCONISH: It did not come from the President. No disrespect, Mr. President.
Up ahead. Continuing my report on "Fixing the Divide". We're going to look at another fundamental cause. We will follow the money. I want to talk to Jane Mayer of "The New Yorker" about how outside groups are now able to finance the divisive political ads without you knowing who's influencing your vote.
SMERCONISH: Tonight, we're looking at causes of our polarized divide. Well here's another. Money.
Just three decades ago, the two parties were adversaries, not enemies. Consider that when Democratic House Speaker Tip O'Neill turned 69, he was hosted by President Reagan at the White House. President Reagan proposed an old Irish toast to his political nemesis. He said, "Tip, if I had a ticket to heaven and you didn't have one too, I'd give mine away and go to hell with you." Well, those days are over. And here's another reason why.
[21:20:00] The court said deregulated limits on giving with Citizens United and its progeny. And as a result, our representatives are involved in nonstop fund raising. The campaign, they go to Washington, they win in election and then they spend only Tuesday through Thursday in the nation's capital before rushing home to raise money to keep that job. And so gone are the days when families relocate to D.C. and missing is the socialization that used to occur among members. It's far easier to demonize a political opponent you really don't know. But you haven't broken bread with.
And there's the corresponding problem of money we can't track. Groups exploiting the 501(c)(4) loophole that allows them to raise and spend in a way the public cannot track. Also those groups are notorious for using scorecards to enforce ideological purity and their influence extends from the White House to the State House.
Joining me now is Jane Mayer, author of a terrific book, " Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right."
Define dark money. JANE MAYER, AUTHOR, "DARK MONEY": Well dark money is the kind of money that you can't trace. It's money that comes from donors who are hiding their hands so you can't really -- the public can never see where it's coming from. And a lot of this money goes into these groups that are supposed to not be political. They're supposed to be social welfare groups. But in fact, they air all kinds of vicious ads and are very active in campaigns. And this all really blossoms.
As you said, right after the Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court, which was in 2010. And it really shifted the game in a lot of ways and it shifted the kind of money that was going into American politics. So that it used to come mostly from the parties, which were sort of more centrist. And instead now what we've got a kind of rogue billionaires putting money into secret groups and they're exerting a different kind of influence. It's in some ways radicalizing the politics because many of the donors are quite radical themselves/
SMERCONISH: I'm sure, Jane, that some are watching and they're saying, "Wait a minute, this sounds like a hit job on the right. Surely, there must be similar influences on the left." Address that.
MAYER: Well, I mean, there are some big donors on the left for sure. And the names that are always brought up first, you know, George Soros and Tom Steyer was one of the biggest donors in some of the recent elections. But there's a difference that, you know, I know I'll get hit for this because there really is it's asymmetric, really. A lot of the money on -- from Soros and from Steyer is disclosed. You can see it. You know where it's coming from. And off a lot of the money on the right, 80 percent at the dark money is from -- is on the right. Where it's not traceable unless you're going to spend years like I did trying to figure out where it came from.
SMERCONISH: You know --
MAYER: So --
SMERCONISH: At the time of Citizens United, and my recollection is that Justice Scalia was one and Justice Kennedy was another. They're -- and frankly, I was in this category of misreading the decision and thinking it might be a good thing relative to transparency. But instead, and, Jane, let me show a snippet of the commercial so that I can make this point. This is a 2013 commercial against Obamacare. Roll it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. Let's have a look.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: So the disclaimer we didn't get that far at the end. All we saw was Uncle Sam playing OBGYN, was paid for by generation opportunity. What the hell is that? And if I'm going to vote after that has influenced me, how do I know who just paid to influence my vote? MAYER: So what that is one of the front groups that was filled with money from Charles and David Koch who are run and own the second largest private company in America. It's a fossil fuel company for the most part but they came out swinging against the Obamacare. And we're helping to fund a lot of the sort of the Tea Party unrest during that period, so --
SMERCONISH: And, Jane, my beef is, is not so much with the fact that they gave money. I think they've got a right to be political players and that's fine. It's the lack of transparency. And so, if I'm a member of the House or the Senate and I, to get back to my original point in coming to this segment and I have to compete in this environment, then I'm not spending time in Washington, I'm not relocating my family and putting the kids in the school and having a cocktail with a colleague. I got to get the hell out of there and go raise money because I've got to be able to defend against that kind of a commercial and put one on myself.
MAYER: Well, and those commercials, a lot of them what they did was they keep the politicians in line. They keep the candidates in line. So that, for instance, on a number of issues, the American voters are really in the center, but the money is far too one-side for voters, you know.
[21:25:09] I'm sorry. Its like -- if you take an issue like guns or climate change or social security. The voters tend to be kind of in the middle but you've got private money and private interests that are really on the fringes. And so, they are keeping the politicians in line and having them tow the donors' line.
SMERCONISH: I promise that we would talk solutions. This one is a no brainer, right? We've got to close that 501(c)(4) loophole and we need full disclosure. There's nothing in Citizens United that prevents Congress from imposing total internet transparency. You agree?
MAYER: I do. And as you said, Scalia made a big point of saying that transparency is what's going to keep political money from being corrupt.
SMERCONISH: Jane Mayer, thank you so much --
MAYER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: -- for being here. Appreciate it.
MAYER: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are you thinking? Keep the tweets coming @smerconish? What do we got, Katherine?
"Smerconish, being a centrist is a dirty word today incredibly destructive to democracy." Yet Rob, you know what the new C word is? Compromise. Compromise is even worse than being a centrist and we got to get rid of that. Bring compromise and centrism back into vogue. Up ahead on our special look at how to fix the political divide, the role of gerrymandering. How has redrawing the electoral maps polarized the country further?
[21:30:38] SMERCONISH: It's funny. I just got an e-mail from former Congressman Jim Greenwood saying, "Gerrymandering, that's the issue." OK. We're about to go there. Welcome back.
Tonight, we're looking at the causes of our polarized divide. So let's talk geography and gerrymandering. Consider this, NATE SILVER of the FiveThirtyEight blog has documented that in 1992, a quarter of House districts were swing districts, meaning that the result of the presidential race would be decided within 5 percentage points.
But look at the yellow. By 2016, that number had decreased to just 37. In other words, 398 of 435 districts were no longer in play. And that explains the lack of compromise that you see in Congress because there's no incentive when members represent only the like-minded.
Here's another way of thinking about our cocooning, Cracker Barrel versus Whole Foods. As of the 2016 presidential election, there were 412 whole foods located in 184 counties and 642 Cracker Barrels in 484 counties, but they overlap only in about 90 counties. So they build in different areas. And I suspect, that's because of political data.
Well in 1992, Bill Clinton got elected and the gap between Cracker Barrel counties and Whole Food counties was only 19 percent. But in the election that just ended, Donald Trump won 76 percent of counties with a Cracker Barrel, only 22 percent of counties with a Whole Foods. In other words, the gap had grown to 54 percent. How did we get from there to here?
Joining me now, the author of the Cracker Barrel versus Whole Food analysis, David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report, and Larry Kramer, former dean of the Stanford Law School and current president of the Hewlett Foundation, which has added polarization to its list of global problems that it seeks to tackle.
All right David, explain to me, why did the gap grow?
DAVID WASSERMAN, HOUSE EDITOR & POLITICAL ANALYST, COOK POLITICAL REPORT: Well, thanks for having me on.
Look, a lot of people, including a lot of Democrats, think that if we were to end gerrymandering, if we were to have an impartial robot draw all of our political maps or at least, you know, take it out of the hands of politicians that we'd have a bonanza of newly competitive seats.
But I'm going to take a slightly contrarian view to that, because what we've seen and we calculated swing districts a little bit differently than FiveThirtyEight has. But we've seen a 56 percent decline in the number of competitive seats in the House since 1997. But according to a study we're going to put out next month, 83 percent of that decline has been attributable to factors other than redistricting which happens every 10 years.
What's happening is that voters are gerrymandering themselves. They're choosing to live in like-minded areas where the vast majority of their friends and neighbors agree with their political values. And I think we've proven that by looking at the data of Whole Foods versus Cracker Barrel.
And, you know, when I was speaking to a group of young Democrats in Arlington, Virginia several years ago, it's kind of a yuppie crowd. But there is a young woman who, when I was explaining my stats, raised her hand and asked, "Excuse me, did you mean crate and barrel? I've never heard of Cracker Barrel." I think that drove home the bubble mentality playing a lot of the Democratic --
SMERCONISH: Well, listen, I want both of you to know that I both eat the chicken fried steak and the -- drink the asparagus water and whole foods. Hey, Larry, he's reading out of your handle because you're the contrarian. You're the one who's been telling me for years, "Michael, don't overemphasize the impact of gerrymandering." Explain.
LARRY KRAMER, FORMER DEAN OF THE STANFORD LAW SCHOOL: So, part of the reason is what he just said which is, it's not that the districts are competitive, it's that they're not competitive for reasons that are not because of political gerrymandering. Of course, that would mean that you would actually have to gerrymander in order to create competitive districts.
And, you know, one thing to remember is the districting that takes place does try and sort of work along the lines of normal interests. So cities, you have city districts and, you know, suburban districts and rural districts so the people share interest. And that's what you want representatives to do. So to create competitive districts, you would have to affirm of new gerrymander districts that didn't make any sense from that perspective.
SMERCONISH: Look, you two are both bright guys but I have to believe gerrymander -- Katherine, do we have any of those crazy maps? And if we do, put them up on the screen, because they look like -- I mean, come on guys. Look at some of this stuff. It's like modern art for crying out loud.
[21:35:01] KRAMER: They're certainly --
WASSERMAN: But that's a racial gerrymandering, it's not a partisan gerrymander.
KRAMER: And in any event, there certainly is some gerrymandering but it's not tied to --
SMERCONISH: Stop right there.
KRAMER: -- polarization.
SMERCONISH: Yeah. Stop right there. I know that district. And by the way, the guy who represents, it's a good guy. His name is Pat Mann (ph). Those are the suburbs of Philadelphia. But that map was drawn to keep the seat in his hands, Larry?
KRAMER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But the question, whether it produces polarization is a different one, right? So, for instance, compared to voting behavior of representatives from competitive districts to non- competitive districts or from gerrymander districts in your sense and non-gerrymander districts and there's no difference. Because it's a different coast, it's not the district thing that is producing the polarization that's happening in the Senate. Why is the Senate as polarized as the House? There's no district thing.
But the Senate whatsoever, there are other causes of this and, you know, as you know, if you ask me the primary -- one of the primary ones is primary elections. So you've got 5 to 10 percent of the voters in each party turning out from the, you know, most extreme wings of the parties, picking the candidates exacerbated by the things you talked about earlier in this show which is money and media which, you know, balance --
KRAMER: -- out maybe in the general election but have a huge effect in these primary elections with tiny little electorates. So that when you get to the general election, the difference between a competitive district and a non-competitive district is that in the competitive district, you're choosing between an extreme Republican and an extreme Democrat, who's not going to compromise and in a non-competitive district, one of them isn't showing (ph)?
SMERCONISH: Hey, David, to that point, I mean, I said tonight, we also want to talk about fixing things and I don't know that Larry was advocating this. I will. We need more open primaries. We need more people diluting the choices of the extremes and I feel that way in the same way that I feel I'd like to see, no disrespect to my friend, Frank Fahrenkopf, I want to see more participation in presidential debates. I want to give more voice to independents, David Wasserman.
WASSERMAN: Amen, brother. And amen, Larry. Look, only 14.6 percent of illegible voters showed up to vote in the congressional primaries in 2014, setting an all time low.
And so, essentially what that means, as Larry alluded to, we have 7 percent of people on the farthest left and 7 percent people or farthest right, essentially electing over 90 percent of members of Congress, because these elections are forgone conclusions by the time we get to November.
So, a couple of things, I think it would be productive if voters want compromise to approve more of these top two primaries that we see in California and Washington. Now, other states have been very slow or, you know, skeptical of those reforms.
But I would also like to see more turnout in these primaries. If people want a distance incentivize extremism --
SMERCONISH: Go vote.
WASSERMAN: -- if people don't like the fringes, vote in every election, not just the ones that occur in November.
SMERCONISH: Larry Kramer, a final word, if I might and then pardon me, David. This is unfair to you but you're a constitutional scholar. Our founders gave us a Republican form of government. Is this what they envisioned?
KRAMER: Well, let's put it this way. We are -- we're losing some of the essence of the real threats to Republican government. You know, yes, they come from the fact that our media system has in effect turned into a propaganda system so that, you know, people are not actually being informed about issues. They come from, you know, the fact that so many of the political institutions that protect individual rights and strengthen the voter turnout and voter are breaking down.
So, you know, we still have the Republican form of government but it is under some serious stress and threat.
SMERCONISH: Larry Kramer, David Wasserman, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.
WASSERMAN: Thanks, Michael.
KRAMER: Thank you, Michael.
SMERCONISH: A lot of tweets coming in @smerconish. Katherine hit me with what you got. "The ultimate answer, a third major political party." You know, Danny, I thought that if the libertarians had gotten to 5 percent, which was a threshold in this election and just put aside the personalities of Johnson and Will (ph), by the way two good guys. But that would have really given rise for the next cycle. But it didn't happen.
Another tweet. Hit me with it quick @smerconish. "House needs to bring back cocktail hour." Hey Brad, I'm all for that. A couple of different basis, number one, because I enjoy a cocktail, but absolutely. I mean, you don't demonize someone with whom you've enjoyed a martini, right? You demonize the person that you don't know because it makes it that much easier.
And so absolutely, it should be a full-time job. They run for it. They should stay in D.C.
Still ahead, more of our special look at fixing the divide. So what hope is there for future? Can millennials help bridge the polarized country?
[21:43:42] SMERCONISH: Hey, check it out. Look at who just tweeted in real time, "The Terminator". "Smerconish, so glad you're shining a light on gerrymandering. We reformed in California." Hey, Governor, I know you did and I gave you constant credit on my Sirius XM in radio program for not only trying to professionalize the drawing of boundary lines but something else that you did which is install that top two system in California which, I don't know. I mean, like the jury still out on that, but I know it's intended to instill competition where it didn't previously exist so, I solute you for both. Come here and talk to me about it, OK?
Tonight, we've been looking at fixing the polarizing divide. And now, I want to focus on what's going to happen in the future and our millennials as polarized as their elders.
One person who I spoken about the need for more purple states is Evan Bayh, the former Democratic senator from the great state of Indiana. When he retired from the Senate he said this, "Congress is not operating as it should. There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress, too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem-solving."
I could have written that. Former Senator Bayh joins me now along with Steven Olikara, founder and president of the Millennial Action Project which seeks to organize non-partisan communities to find common ground.
[21:44:59] Hey, Senator, your father served for two decades in the United States Senate and then you served in the Senate. What changed between your dad and your time?
EVAN BAYH, FORMER DEMOCRATIC SENATOR FROM GREAT STATE OF INDIANA: It's a completely different Senate, Michael, for all the reasons that you and your panels have outlined, the gerrymandering in the House, the rise of big money that's affected the Senate. Several of you have mentioned the fact that no one votes in primaries so only the most partisan, the most extreme people select our nominees.
You pointed out repeatedly the fact that the members in the Senate don't get to know one another. When I was a young man, very frequently my mother and father would have other senators over into our home for dinner, members of the other party, they got to know each other. And as you pointed out you can't -- it's so much harder to demonize someone when you've met their family, you spend time with their children. A lot easier to find common ground.
And final thing I'd mention, I think it's Ron Brownstein have mentioned this that this big disaggregation of our society, fewer common experiences. There was a book written about this a few years ago called "Bowling Alone".
BAYH: Fewer people serve in the military together and so they don't have that familiarity with one another. And so too many Americans look at each other as almost not being a fellow citizens of the same country. And the secret that many of our politicians today don't want the public to know is the truth. The truth is that we really do have a lot more in common than we do that divides us but we get all of this obsessing, particularly in the media as you mentioned over those things that polarize us and it leads to the kind of political dysfunction that we have in a much different Senate than it was back in the day. SMERCONISH: That's a great book and I thought you were going to cite Bill Bishop's "The Big Sort" which is in a similar vein. Steven, are the millenials going to save us? Is this a generational thing? And if your answer is yes, then I'm going to ask you, why aren't more millenials participating?
STEVEN OLIKARA, CO-FOUNDER & PRESIDENT, MILLENNIAL ACTION PROJECT: Yes -- well, I think the answer is yes. Look, bipartisanship is like a muscle. And what we need to do is make sure that this new generation is cooperating across the aisle not just at the end of their political careers like we're starting to see but really at their beginning. And look, this is a fascinating generation. A plurality of us actually identify as independents and neither political party is ready for the rise of political independence.
You know, with the Millennial Action Project, we're activating these millenials who are in public office, at the congressional, state, and local levels. And the goal here is to seize those bipartisan opportunities on student loans and college affordability, on to sharing economy and entrepreneurship. We're seeing this opportunities but now the big challenge is, how do we amplify these success stories, and also, how do we create a level playing field for more millenials to enter public office?
SMERCONISH: Senator Bayh, let's talk solutions. I mean, I've addressed the media. What do I want people to do? I want them to sample more opinion. We talked about money tonight. That 501c4 loophole ought to get closed and there should be total disclosure.
Gerrymandering is an issue. Closed primaries? I'd like to open up the primaries. What is Evan Bayh thinking in terms of what would move the ball forward?
BAYH: I agree with all the things you just mentioned, Michael, but at the end of the day, those sort of structural reforms will help. But if the margins at the end of the day, the American people need to take the political process back and vote for, as the other guest just mentioned, practical problem solvers. Some progress is better than none.
We've got a group now called "No Labels" that's trying to promote practical problems solvers in the House, in the Senate. And that needs to gain some traction. You know, because at the end of the day, as Martin Luther King once said, that we may have arrived on these shores in different ships but we're all in the same boat now. We're just electing people that don't behave that way. So don't run -- vote for people who run brain dead campaigns and all they do is attack their opponents and stand for nothing. We need sort of a radical center, a radical center that exist on progress in order to turn this around. That's much more important than all these sort of structural things.
SMERCONISH: Steven, I'm convinced that the vast majority of Americans -- I mean, I bases this on social media reaction that I get in my own day-to-day existence. Pumping gas or going to a back to school night or grocery shopping. I don't meet ideologues. The only people that I meet who see the world entirely through liberal or conservative lenses are on T.V. or radio. Because the people that I meet, they're liberal on some things, they're conservative on some things and there's a heck of a lot they just haven't sorted out. The problem is the passion rests at the polar extremes and until there's an awakening like the senator was explaining among centrists, then this is going to continue.
OLIKARA: Yes. I completely agree. Look, I'm from Wisconsin which is I think one of the more polarized states right now. We seem to swing between left and right. But when I'm back home, I'm not seeing partisans, I'm seeing people who have a variety of issues and I think disproportionately millenials right now just do not fit into either partisan box.
[21:50:00] So we need to find ways that we can engage this new generation. I think one of -- I think -- Michael, first of all, thank you for having this series on fixing the divide. All the different aspects you have mentioned, money, media, gerrymandering, are all important. The fourth thing I would add is investing in this next generation of leadership.
It's so important. They're the future leaders of this country. And we're starting to see some change but there's a whole lot more we have to do to shine a spotlight on network and empower these new leaders.
SMERCONISH: Senator Bayh, Steven Olikara, thank you both so much for being here.
OLIKARA: Thank you Michael.
BAYH: Thank you Michael.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, you've been tweeting throughout the course of the program. I'll read some of the best and worst. Hit me with another one right now if you can.
"Smerconish, I try to watch Fox News along with CNN, NPR, Huff Post. But they infuriate me with their spin. So yes, the bubble stays intact."
Kathleen, I am loyal to CNN because I believe in the product but I'm constantly sampling what's going on out there. And I'm recommending that everybody do so and stop getting all their news and information from just one source. Get out of the silo.
[21:55:00] SMERCONISH: Hey, if you missed any of the program, there are going to be clips on our website. And remember, I'll be back here tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. Eastern for our usual Saturday morning program. And please follow me on @smerconish.
So, here's some of what you thought tonight during the course of our conversation about polarization. "I'm proud to say I live in county where Cracker Barrel and Whole Foods co-exist peacefully. Who knew?" Hey, Laura, I live in a community where they're the closest together that they are of any part of the United States. And guess what? It's a swing district which fits the political model. Hit me with another one.
"Smerconish, wow. Sorry I yelled at you back in the day. I was told to attack you. I totally respect you. FYI." Randy Rhodes.
Hey Randy, you just made my night. I remember back in the day. We probably both have some apologizing to do. Hit me with one more if I got time.
"Smerconish, I understand how we got to divide but how do we make the alt-right and the alt left go center? Neither opens their eyes or ears."
Karen, we're not. But there enough us who are between the two of them that if we get active and show some passion, we can control this of all those debate.
Thank you CNN for letting me do this. I wanted to do this hour. I'll see you tomorrow morning.
[22:00:05] DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. The President back on the campaign trail but what's he campaigning for?
This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon.
The President in Mar-a-Lago right now and cutting off his first full month in office with what else?