He was Obama’s ‘yes we can’ man. Now, campaign mastermind David Axelrod says he’s done hitting the trail – even if Hillary Clinton comes calling.
“I knew when I was working for Obama in 2012 that that was going to be my last campaign for a whole range of reasons,” Axelrod told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “I’m happy to give her whatever advice they ask for, but I’m done with campaigns. My mission now is to encourage young people to get into the public arena.”
The man called “Axe” helped Barack Obama chop up every opponent he faced during a four-year rise from Illinois state senator to U.S. senator and then president in 2008. Axelrod engineered the uplifting message and upstart candidacy that launched the Obama political phenomenon.
Now, Axelrod is focused on the Institute of Politics he’s started at the University of Chicago. But as he releases a new autobiography, titled Believer: My Forty Years in Politics, the no-nonsense strategist has clear eyes about the history – and the frustrations – that he’s seen up close.
“There are a whole bunch of things that have happened since 2008, and while it wasn’t the panacea that some hoped for, we made a huge and measurable difference in the direction of the country… that’s change,” Axelrod said, citing the economic recovery, Obamacare, and new immigration policies as key accomplishments.
Axelrod’s called Obama a “once in a lifetime candidate,” and he would know. His new autobiography covers his 40 years in politics, starting with an early career as a Chicago political reporter and ending as a senior White House adviser during Obama’s first term before it was time to ensure his 2012 re-election.
And this Axe has never lost its edge. Axelrod is a prominent pundit known for blunt and controversial takes, and he hasn’t been afraid to shine a harsh light on the man who’s defined his political life – including a particularly explosive evening before the first Obama-Romney debate in 2012 (which Obama famously lost).
“The night before, the run through was very discouraging and he asked me what I thought about it, and I told him the truth, and he was very unhappy with me,” Axelrod said. “And he made it clear in a word that I won’t use on your air, a word that I never heard before or since from him.”
And even though he’s leaving the campaign crucible behind, Axelrod has no problem weighing in on the 2016 field. He thinks that Hillary Clinton’s chances will depend on the lessons she takes from her last run.
“In 2007, [Hillary Clinton] was a very poor candidate because she was weighed down by this presumption of inevitability and very cautious,” Axelrod said. “In 2008, after she lost the Iowa caucuses, she became a very good candidate, connecting with people, showing her own vulnerabilities and humanity.”
He sees particular promise on the Republican side in former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, but only if he can win the nomination while standing firm on his moderate positions on education and immigration.
“The past few candidates have been center-right Republicans who made Faustian bargains with the right wing of their party in order to be the nominee,” Axelrod said. “If he does that, he’ll be as unelectable as the others.”
As a senior advisor during the early days of Obama’s first term, Axelrod was in the room as immigration reform floundered and campaign promises to make it a reality weren’t kept.
“The politics is what stopped it,” Axelrod said. “There was no lack of desire on anyone’s part to move forward… But the biggest thing was we couldn’t pass it without partnership on the Republican side.”
Axelrod also believes recent court battles over the president’s executive action on immigration will not derail the programs, including the Texas ruling blocking his plan to protect millions from deportation.
“The Republicans went forum shopping for a judge they knew would issue this order,” he told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos. “I don’t think it’s going to stand up over time because this has always been the prerogative of the federal government, not the states, to make immigration laws and rules.
As the president battles against lame-duck irrelevancy and looks to secure his accomplishments, Axelrod believes that there is no denying Obama’s impact – or the approach that ignited his ascent.
“He’s been willing to look beyond the politics and do the things he thought were right,” Axelrod said. “And that is a great legacy.”
Key words: david axelrod obama immigration reform hillary clinton presidential race jeb bush