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Jason Kander Says Democrats Accidentally Divided the Country

The Missouri secretary of state and former senatorial candidate explains how the party’s focus on an individual message made its arguments less authentic

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Remember Jason Kander? He’s the former senatorial candidate from Missouri who went viral after running a campaign ad that featured him putting together an assault rifle — blindfolded. He ended up losing, but he made the race more competitive than it was expected to be, falling to Republican incumbent Roy Blunt by just 3.2 percentage points. Now, he joins Keepin’ It 1600 to talk with Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer about why he thinks the Democrats’ closing argument to Americans was ineffective and where the party must go from here.

Listen to the full podcast here. This transcript has been edited and condensed.

How the Democrats Sent the Wrong Message

Jason Kander: I think that accidentally, Democrats around the country wound up sort of dividing the country and provided a lane for Donald Trump to run into. I’ll explain that by way of an analogy. So imagine you’re a juror in a trial and it’s closing arguments. And the first lawyer comes out and gives about a 10-minute, very passionate closing argument with a real central theme as to why you should [decide in favor of] their client. Now sometimes, this lawyer wanders off and is kind of incoherent. And oftentimes [that lawyer] is offensive. But at the end of it, you know why that lawyer wants every member, all 12 members of that jury, to find for their client.

Then the next lawyer comes up, and the next lawyer, in front of the entire jury, goes juror by juror and individually makes a very customized and very compelling and very scientific case to each juror as to why that juror should find for that lawyer’s client. And very conspicuously, [that lawyer] skips about three of the jurors. Just kind of figures, “Hey, I’m in a state where the rule is you need nine out of 12 in a civil trial,” so they say, “Well, I only need nine.” So [the lawyer] skips three of them, and the whole jury sees that. Well, at the end of those arguments, the jury is going to go, “Well, I see what they’re saying to me, but I also see that they said something very different to every other juror, and that they skipped those other three, and by the way, those three aren’t voting for [that lawyer].” [The jury is] going to really question the authenticity of the argument that was made to them, and they’re going to have a hard time remembering exactly why it is that they’re supposed to find for that client.

And so that to me is the big difference. And I’m not just talking about the presidential [election]. I think up and down the ballot, that has happened. And one of the things we did well in our race is that whether it was in a rural area or in an urban area, I didn’t have to change my message because I had a basically progressive message. For instance, I would be in downtown Kansas City, doing a press conference with janitors who deserved a raise, talking about the minimum wage, and then I would go to a very rural part of the state and I’d still talk about the minimum wage. But people understood that I had a core set of beliefs — and that’s really what voters are looking for.

Take a Breath Before Dealing With Trump

J.K.: When Trump tweets something crazy, before you quote-retweet it, take a deep breath and then think about, “OK, how does this affect people?” Because at this point, I think Americans are convinced that Trump is not a very good guy. I don’t think Americans feel that the next president is a guy that they would really want to dog sit for them. I don’t think there’s a really large percentage that’s like, “Yeah, I think he would remember to water my plants.” And I also think that there’s a pretty good percentage that thinks that he might be kind of corrupt, that there are a lot of conflicts of interest here.

So I don’t think that Democrats should spend a ton of time trying to convince people of something that they already know. I think that what we need to do is show people how it costs them in their life. How it costs them money. How when you appoint somebody to run Health and Human Services who may have a very low regard for both health and humans, that that means that the ultimate repeal of Obamacare and having [roughly 20] million people lose health insurance is going to mean that it’s going to affect your health insurance. And it’s going to cost you more. And so it’s about making sure that people understand that all the ways in which Americans dislike President Trump are ways in which it negatively affects us in our lives. That’s where the focus has got to be.