NCSL Podcasts

Bruce Mehlman on Politics, PowerPoints and the New Gilded Age | LTIS Episode 24

Episode Summary

On this episode, Tim Storey sat down with Bruce Mehlman, founder of Mehlman Consulting, a D.C-based bipartisan lobbying firm. Mehlman and Storey talked about the forces shaping our political world, the turn to populism in recent years in numerous countries and the challenge that poses to our institutions.

Episode Notes

On this episode, Tim Storey sat down with Bruce Mehlman, founder of Mehlman Consulting, a D.C-based bipartisan lobbying firm whose clients include Walmart, AARP, Boeing and the Mayo Clinic. Mehlman’s perspective is also shaped by his experience as an assistant secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration and time in private industry.

Mehlman has a savvy, insider’s take on how Washington works and sees the day’s events with a historical perspective that is often missing from our political analysis. 

Mehlman and Storey talked about the forces shaping our political world, the turn to populism in recent years in numerous countries the challenge that poses to our institutions. They also talked about Mehlman’s slide decks, that over the years have become well-known among policy types for their clear, data-driven, often humorous analysis of political, economic and social trends. 


Episode Transcription

TS:      This is “Legislatures:  The Inside Storey.”  Thank you for listening. I am the host Tim Storey, the CEO of the National Conference of State Legislatures. My guest is Bruce Mehlman, founder and partner of Mehlman Consulting, a D.C.-based, bipartisan lobbying firm whose clients include Wal-Mart, AARP, Boeing, the Mayo Clinic and many other big employers in American politics and policy. Mehlman’s perspective is also shaped by his experience as an assistant secretary of Commerce in the George W. Bush administration and his time in private industry. 


            I wanted to sit down with him because he always has a savvy take on how Washington is working and he sees the day’s events with historical perspective that is often missing from a lot of the political analysis. Bruce talked about the forces shaping the political world including the people around the world in recent years and how they voted for change and makes it clear that they are unhappy with the status quo. The challenge that opposes to our institutions may well lead to significant economic political and social reforms in our time. We also talked about Bruce’s slide decks that, over the years, have become well known among policy wonks because of their clear data driven and often humorous analysis of political economic trends.


            Bruce Mehlman, what a joy to have you on the podcast. I’ve absolutely been looking forward to this since we set this up a few days ago. Welcome. Thank you. This is a podcast for people in legislature world. There is a podcast for everything. There is actually a new TV commercial out. I don’t know if you’ve seen it. I saw it during the football game last night but it was sort of making fun of the fact that there is a podcast for every niche. Well, our niche is legislature world. There’s not a ton of competing podcasts for legislature world. So, with that set up, thanks a lot for being with us Bruce.


BM:     It’s an honor to be here. The challenge I think for you is you guys do such amazing data work. You have such awesome information and obviously a podcast can convey ideas, but not all those charts and not all the data that I regularly come to your awesome resources for to really understand trends. So, thanks for what you do. 


TS:      You bet. I mean it sounds like an amazing organization. I will never miss a chance to taut our proudest in legislature ecosystem and I appreciate that and we do a whole lot man on every policy issue you can imagine and what legislatures are working on. So, I appreciate hearing that. Like I said, people know where you work and your sort of immediate background, but you know can you in 60 seconds or less or maybe however 65 seconds, how did you get to this gig?  I mean where what is your deeper background?  Where are you from?  I always like to know like where people grew up and then you know start when you were just a wee lad in wherever you are from.


BM:     I’m a Baltimorean so I grew up when the Colts were a Baltimore story Baltimore franchise with Johnny Unitas and others. But in the dark of night, Bob Irsay secreted the team out to Indianapolis, a scaring event in my childhood. I went to college in New Jersey at Princeton. I went to law school at UVA so I kind of Amtrak quartered the whole time. Came straight to DC as a lawyer at a law firm first, but then a lawyer at a political party committee. Nobody wants to pay or tell the truth to lawyers in political party committees so I’m like I’m out of here and I went to do legislative work for J.C. Watts when he became part of house Republican leadership back when it was much more functional. Jumped from there to Cisco Systems a high-tech company. From there to the Bush administration as an assistant secretary of commerce. And then in 2 months, it will be 20 years ago that I left the federal government and began a bipartisan lobbying firm which is where I am sitting today. 


TS:      What do you do on a daily basis?  What does a bipartisan lobbying firm look like in your I assume there is not really an average day, but let’s conjure up some imaginary world where there is an average day. What are you doing?


BM:     Yeah, you know look, I’m always despairing that people, I think unfairly, malign the lobbying work. I think it is valuable. I think it’s necessary. And I think if you got rid of everybody who does it today, you would literally reinvent it and I can explain why if you would like. But the average day, maybe one step back. What do we do?  We do three things. We help clients often businesses you know, but sometimes organizations so we represent AARP to Starbucks you know Wal-Mart and Boeing and a whole lot of wonderful folks in between. So, the three roles are first understand, what’s happening, what our government stakeholders in our case at the federal level thinking about. What are they planning to do. What have they introduced. What is likely to pass. Where are things probably going to go and what motivates people. That’s one, understand. Two anticipate. You know, how will the conversation over Israel and Hamas impact Ukraine funding or how it will impact U.S./China policy. You know what’s next in trade if there is a second Biden term, how would that differ from a second Trump term. So, one, understand. Two anticipate and three engage. Be part of the conversation. Most elected officials at the federal and state level know a whole lot about the industry that they personally worked in, but they don’t always know that much about every other industry. And most responsible legislators want to talk to employers, want to talk to innovators. Want to understand hey I’m thinking about doing something to make the water cleaner. If this is what I propose with this language, how will it impact you. Most businesses have an opinion about how things would impact them. And while lawmakers shouldn’t always rollover for one industry, they want to take in inputs from all directions. The shaping and sharing of opinions and perspectives is necessary if you want government to get the policy right. So, we help people understand. We help people anticipate and we help people impact what government stakeholders do.


            (TM):  06:10


TS:      So, and I agree more. I mean NCSL we partner with a great number of you know government relations private sector folks and just the information that that brings to the process at the state level is absolutely crucial and of course the general public let’s not stereotype them. Let’s say 99.8% of the general public has no clue. It is a word laden with emotional reaction. We all are lobbyists in this special interest. And of course, we appreciate the value and how that works similar at the state capital. Except I will say you know the big difference is the vast majority of legislators, they have another job. So, they are you know what you were talking about in terms of wanting to do due diligence as a federal legislator. In the states, it’s even more complex because you’ve got this other demand and for you know 90% of them. 


BM:     You are right and the reason it becomes so important is you have your average legislator who has a job. Most of whom are not in the medical field let’s say; don’t do healthcare. They care about it. Their constituents care about it but they are not doctors. They are not hospital administrators. So, you take those folks. They are going to need help from people who understand more about the specific domain and while I’m sure they’ve got a great and energetic staff; they don’t have the world’s greatest experts on every aspect of healthcare. So, what they will do, is they will reach out and think well who really understands healthcare. The type of people that they will reach out to are people like my client the Mayo Clinic. Frequently rated the number one hospital in the world which is great. If you ever spend time there, they have unbelievable doctors and nurses and administrators and you know what they do. They spend their time treating patients. They do healthcare. But somebody has to sit between the elected officials who don’t understand healthcare and want feedback and the nurses and the doctors who want to be in the operating rooms and want to be with patients who don’t have the time to spend you know a day, a week walking lawmakers and legislators through ideas like how about this. Would this be good. Would that be good. In the same way if you want to explain yourself in a courtroom, you hire a lawyer to help you make your case. You want to sell a house; you hire people who sell houses. You want to sell potato chips; you hire people who put together the smart advertising. If you have opinions on public policy, you hire people who understand how the public policy process works. 


TS:      Absolutely true and I think what they do know is their constituents are coming at them and saying I’m really worried about my data on the internet or they are really worried about the housing crisis and the fact that their kids can’t afford a house or they can’t afford a house and that there’s also people without a house right. So, these legislators know that, but they quickly realize there are 48 layers to this problem. You know it is not just hey what can you do to fix the or to work on data privacy or you know AI or whatever. The workforce. We can’t find enough teachers. We can’t find enough people to work in prisons. Go on and on and on. Healthcare. You name it. Bruce, I will say I feel like and you correct me if this is not fair. You’ve become the guy with this slide deck. Is this now you are you branded the guy with the greatest slide deck in Washington and public policy conversation and explain to people what I’m talking about.


BM:     Well so I don’t know if being branded such is a good or bad thing. A few people are listening to this I suspect thinking I wish I were branded the lobbyist in Washington with the slide deck. That’s you know the good news is it’s not a crazy amount of competition so the short version is I put out on a quarterly basis and any of your listeners who are interested can sign up by emailing me. My advice is I would suggest find me on Linked In or find me on Twitter at BPMehlman. It’s my pin tweet. It’s the most recent one and run through it really quick and if you hate it, don’t sign up because they are all just like that. And if you love it because you are a nerd on policy and politics, reach out. What I try to do on a quarterly basis, is try to look at some of the trends in policy and politics marry them up with things that are happening more broadly in technology or globalization or American culture you know with a big heavy dose of sort of historical perspective. And I try to take that wild stew of stuff and turn it into infographics that are data rich that are hopefully somewhat amusing that are not what everybody hates about PowerPoint which is a memo in froze that just simply is on slides cause that’s a memo. It tries to give a little bit of perspective on what’s happening, why, what does it mean, where is it likely to go. I find so much of my job requires my understanding on the day by day, week by week, hour by hour basis. You know who is going to be the speaker. What’s the legislation up next week. What are they going to have a hearing on. And that’s really important stuff. But I found some combination of because I read a lot of history because I want Saturday and because a lot of our clients, CEOs in particular, are less interested in the play by play and they want more color commentary. What’s the big picture. Why is U.S./China policy moving in this direction. Do you think we are in some kind of Covid induced anti-globalization spasm that is going to kind of return or correct to the world that we’ve been living in and by the way spoiler no. We are in a new deglobalizing world. It allows me to get my thoughts together to share ideas that a lot of clients and a lot of people who put on conferences and a lot of individuals enjoy. I’ll be honest what I really love is every now and then I’ll get like the email from a I got this one guy. This guy is a history teacher in Oregon and he will regularly say hey do you care if I share this with my class. Now in the first you know it’s public so you can share whatever you want with your class. It is nice of him to ask, but I love that. That is so cool if what I’m able to do following the Russia invasion of Ukraine is to help not only CEOs try to a war game and plan out their supply chains, but high school history teachers offer some context to what the hell is happening in the world and why. 


            (TM):  12:37


TS:      I’m just going to cut to the chase for our tens of thousands of listeners. You should go right now and sign up for it because I you know it is heavily endorsed because I think it is really, I think you’ve found this wonderful niche. You clearly have tremendous communication skills. I’ve seen you speak a handful of times and I’ve seen you in this domain. The last time I checked, I have seen 18,409 PowerPoint presentations and yours is obviously something that the doctor ordered because it is so concise and kind of gets both into the depth and at the higher level with just a perfect mount so you are doing something I think that is somewhat unique in my mind and my experience. That is what makes it kind of magic. Speaking of the magic, let’s pivot it to let’s maybe spend the last half of this conversation about where things stand. I mean you and I are recording this. The United States House Republican Conference is meeting and still trying to select a speaker. Now if you are listening to this in a week or so when we get this posted, this could be any number of days right because you don’t know which day I just referred to. We will just let people know we are onto Friday when the lease has now dropped out and all of that. So, there is this. This is just one of the many things and we live in a complex world. There are always you know currents at play. What is your current state of the game in terms of where the federal government goes and what that means for the political landscape in 2024 as well as the policy landscape. That’s a big question. And again, you know our podcast is only for another 20 minutes or so.


BM:     I was going to say give me the answer in 60 seconds. Well first thank you for all the nice, kind things that you said. It’s a labor of love although what’s funny too is that as anybody who is listening which ever writes anything or creates anything knows you know if you are lucky, the version the world sees looks really well done and almost looks easy and what they don’t see is 8 feet of torn up trial and error you know drafts and stuff that fully sucked before you finally got to somewhere between passing and good so. It’s awesome and appreciated. I appreciate you saying that.


            So, on the bigger picture of where we are, I mean you know I don’t know whether there will be a speaker today or this week or next week. Obviously, there will be a speaker. To me, it is much less about whether you know is it going to be Mr. Jordan. Is it going to be Mr. McHenry. Is it going to be somebody we don’t know. It’s more the macro the bigger trends. You know and the bigger trends are that the rise of populism all around the world reflects the fact that for so many citizens, the policies, the parties and the institutions that govern their lives aren’t getting the job done. They were created in the 20th century for the 20th century. So, you talk about data privacy. You know that wasn’t figured out in the 20th century. And on a myriad of topics whether it is how globalization works or what AI is going to mean for work, you know, where the future of energy, people feel fragile. And so, as a result they were voting for populists. That was true you know in Brazil Bolsonaro. That was true Amlo in Mexico. Boris Johnson in the Brexit tears in the UK or Modi India. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were the faces of movements that proceeded both of them here in the United States. People are stressed out at the accelerating disruption in their lives. They are voting for change. They are turning to populists. 


            With the Democrats that lead for a while to you know the very left wing of the left wing you now people like the squad and others going after historically embracing. You know Joe Biden who is the current president did the three strikes and you are out law. He has kind of always been in the center of the Democratic Party and he is way to the left where he used to be cause that’s where the center of the Democratic Party is. And Republican Party, the populism takes the form of being not only against Washington and against the establishment, but particularly against the Republican establishment. And even if you are an outsider as soon as you dethrone the insiders and become the new lead, you are instantly the establishment. And you know we are getting to the point where our speaker is may or may not last as long as Liz Trust who didn’t outlast the head of lettuce. To me what the core trend is this just reflects the same thing adulating all of that populism and in the Republican party, the way you get visibility is attack Leader McConnell. Attack Speaker Boehner, Speaker Ryan, Speaker McCarthy. You know attack all of the people running against Trump. Be populist, that’s how you get seen. That’s how you get funded. That’s how you know you see your path forward. The challenge is that’s just no path for long-term successful government.


TS:      There are multiple things here to dive into. You made this comment about institutions you know sort of the stress on institutions and this populism movement and you know I also heard you say you are a student of history so you sort of feel like nothing is new here right. This is something we’ve seen before. There are unique dynamics with the technology and change and globalization, deglobalization. So then how do institutions evolve. You know, where do you see this going, because I’m thinking about state institutions. Many of the same dynamics are very much at play.


BM:     Thankfully you are right. There is historical precedent for so much of this stuff. You know American history feels like one long series of people lamenting that things aren’t as good as they used to be. And yet, objectively each generation has lived longer, has had more wealth, has had more access to extraordinary things whether it is travel or technology or entertainment than their preceding generation. So, I’m definitely a long-term optimist. Institutions though typically are brought about often by people who are unhappy with change deciding they were needed. They figure out how to become relevant to the time that are built than over time they are likely to become a little bit more sclerotic if they are good and dynamic like the United States Constitution tried to make the United States. They can last a pretty long time. But as with the Constitution at some point you need amendments. You need things to be improved. Sometimes you need an institution to go away. Other times you need institutions to do a big reform. I tend to think the period we are in now is most decanoin as you know I did a slide deck back on this is 2017, but I think we are in a new Gilded Age. If you go back and you look at America in the Gilded Age, you had people feeling disrupted by accelerating new technologies. It was the electricity and the railroads and telegraph and then telephones, flight and automobiles number one. Number two, you had historic levels of immigration causing really nasty culture wars about whether more immigration was better or immigration was changing the character of the country in ways that people objected to. You had in the gild age you got to the highest level of inequality in American history until today or actually technically a couple of years ago, but you know modern times. And you had people feeling like the political system was broken where the richest X you know .01% were unduly influencing elections and so you had red states and blue states stuck. If that sounds like today, yup. If that sounds like the Gilded Age, that is exactly what it was. What happened that helped us get through that was an era of reforms. Teddy Roosevelt and Taft were Republicans. Woodrow Wilson was a Democrat. All of whom invent stuff and some of them FDR kind of picked up and followed through to the end, but you had economic reforms. So, the Google and Microsoft of their day were Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel. They invented antitrust law to have economic policy fit that new 20th century reality. There was worker safety law. Food safety law. Drug. In the old days, you knew a drug a pharmaceutical was unsafe if people taking it were dying. They decided maybe we want an expert agency to assess whether it is safe and effective first. So that wasn’t a thing until then. You know it was child labor was a regular thing until they fixed it. So those are the economic reforms.


            We had political reforms. The direct election of senators. Giving women the constitutional right to vote. Prohibiting corporate contributions and union contributions to political campaigns. And there were social reforms. Students finished in 8th grade at the start of the 20th century in almost every part of the country. And business leaders starting in the Northeast, but going around the country in your world, Tim, you know at the state and local level. And they realized there is this new industrial era and America is not adequately ready. How about if we have the students go to 9th through 12th grade paid for by taxpayers and learning the skills that are relevant to this new industrial era. The opponents decried it and said oh my God that is socialism. Today we call it high school and it didn’t kill American capitalism. It meant that the American capitalism system had the greatest workforce enabling us to be the arsenal of democracy that defeated fascism and to have the capabilities to outcompete communism. The 20th century was the American century very much because of the reforms. It took a broken, stuck, frustrating system of the Gilded Age and brought it into the 20th century. I think we are amidst that same sort of thing happening for the 21st. It feels horrible, but I bet it did back then too. 


TS:      There are so many parallels right and one of which is it hits people with the economic where you know they are very economic confidence and security at a time when how little technology in jobs which you were talking about electricity. I mean there were people who probably millions of the buggy. You know the buggy drivers had to adjust to vehicles coming on the scene and all of this. You used the term accelerating disruption or a wonderful phrase. I do think a little bit about the speed at which technological advance has hit us now. I mean the evolution of electricity and vehicles and these things. You know there was a lot more time for the humans of that era to you know cope with these things, but we are in you know these technologies they come and they are integrated into our lives extremely quickly. The smartphone, artificial intelligence. It leads to the question what are the institutional changes that you see happening that are most likely to happen. We are going to adjust and we are going to go through some era of upheaval and this is really just all a reflection of a cycle that we have seen before. What will be the institutional changes?


            (TM):  23:51


BM:     Well first you are right that the pace is accelerating. The technology that is driving that. The flipside of course is the ability to reskill. In the old days, like how did you do it in the old days. Would you apprentice somewhere. Technology also brings us more information, more capability to learn. In the case of this some of this new AI stuff often a way to quickly go from you know not knowing much in mediocre to having the assistance to get to pretty solid pretty fast on things that maybe used to take a long amount of time. So, you know I am worried about a lot of that, but there are technologies that help people learn faster just like technologies displace things faster. I do worry about on the parenting side and as a parent of three, but.


TS:      We could have a whole podcast about that as a parent of three.


BM:     Well, you need a guest with a lot more competence. You know in some ways I think I’m lucky or credit my wife. I’m a big fan of my kids, but it was more by accident than by ah you know genius or design. As for the institutional stuff, it feels again like we are looking at economic reforms, political reforms and social reforms. So, you know on the economic reforms you know we know that the safety nets are both in some ways insufficient and in other ways unaffordable. So, we all sort of pretend nobody is allowed to talk about whether we are going to be able to have the money to keep the safety nets the way we’ve got them. But realistically we are just going to you know get to the breaking point and then we are going to have to figure it out maybe driven by US debt. You know it may be driven by the fact that at some point interest is going to cost some point like literally over the next couple of years our annual interest spend will be more than 1 trillion dollars just paying interest on debt that prior generations have accrued. So, we are going to need to figure out how to do some of that. On technology, you know America has been great at having a pretty free market that let’s innovators ah move fast and break things to coin a phrase. But they also moved fast and broke things. We are not so great at consumer protection particularly now that technology is both ubiquitous and super powerful in the form of AI and for that matter you know some of the cyber tools and bio increasingly. We are going to need to come up with ways that don’t kill the golden goose, but that improve a little bit of consumer protection in the either Internet or if you think of AI as digital or Internet adjacent space, but there are going to need to be rules that there haven’t been in the same way that you know fintech is a thing and crypto has its positive uses. The right regulatory framework would allow that be more consistently constructive and less you know sand bankmen freed and kind of crazy. I think those are some of the reforms. Something around education as well where you know the inequality in part is driven because we are in a superstar economy where those with more skills and access to capital in education have a lead and the leads you know use of technology is growing. Well, we are going to have to find ways to create opportunities for more people to know the dignity of work. To leverage technological tools to succeed you know. We are already seeing some reforms where there was a sort of the meritocracy myth and this belief that you know if you went to Harvard or an Ivy then you are either smarter or more deserving. You know anybody who has been in the workforce knows that is bogus, but the hiring world has absolutely put more stock in what was never a particularly fair competition and is rigged in different ways today. So, I think what we educate people on. My kids my oldest who is a great math/science guy said instead of a language, he would like to take computing computer coding. You know and the school is like no. You’ve got to take you know Latin or French or Spanish. It’s like really. Was that the right way to do it. We send kids to schools today in an industrial setting on an agrarian timetable and tell them that you know they need to master what they need to understand for the digital age. There is a lot that needs to change, but so many people are invested in the way we’ve done things and if you get change wrong, you make people worse off. So, it’s painful.


TS:      You’ve touched on, I think, mostly it’s place holders, but you know big issues. immigration and disruption of the workforce there and do you see the federal government solving these problems?  I mean as someone who thinks frankly that the states are just leading on this, but maybe just out of necessity because it just seems to be so little policy guidance and the problem solving coming from the federal government right now and maybe it is just a temporary thing because of the politics at the moment. Are you optimistic that the national government is up to this task?


BM:     I am medium, and especially long term, very optimistic. I am short-term pessimistic/scared to death. You know ultimately, I think and you know this better than I, but so much of the history of great policy were experiments at state or local levels that caught onto other state and local levels because they are smart cause they are good cause they are the right way to do urban development or the right way to do education or the right way to have a public/private partnership with universities and local businesses. And as these things prove out and they catch on at some point there becomes a federal law that nationalizes what are ultimately best practices that were invented in the laboratories of state experimentation. 


TS:      I think that’s the case now. It keeps happening and probably more important than ever and you know again states they have to balance their budgets. They have deadlines that you know they don’t have infinite session you know. Most of them these are dates they have to get things done so they get things done. So, I think they will keep leading the way. What about the politics at the moment?  What do you see for let’s just quickly talk about the political landscape over the next you know 12 months. You know I guess we are closing in on a year out from the big kahuna the national election. What is your you know big brain telling you about that? 


            (TM):  30:27


BM:     It’s telling me to drink. As you saw in the most recent thing that I published last week I mean this is setting up to be the least anticipated sequel since “Caddyshack II.”  Trump v Biden 2024 is the movie nobody wants to see. You know, two thirds of Americans say really, we are a nation of 330 million people and we are going back to these knuckleheads. But it’s really hard for me to kind of think through what’s the scenario. What would happen that would cause, say Trump, to not be the Republican nominee. He’s had people running against him, you know, talented people running against him again like he had in 2016 and yet he is growing his lead. The idea that he might say something so impolitic he would lose support is blinded by the fact that he has already said as much as you can possibly come up with that’s off the charts in politics. He is like opposition research proof because even the craziest oppo researchers would never have dreamed that they would have come up with the stuff that actually happened and yet you know he is he is not even Teflon. He is like Godzilla. A nuclear bomb goes off and he seems stronger than he saw before. You know maybe so three you know I mentioned this in the report the three potential exit ramps for him. First, if every other Republican got out tomorrow except Nikki Haley, I think that would be a hell of a contest. She is a very talented person. She is normal in many, many ways. So, all of the we don’t want Trump again could coalesce around one person. That ain’t going to happen. DeSantis ain’t getting out. He would say coalesce around me. And all these other folks don’t seem like they are going to get out. But even if they did, you know, it’s not obvious you know that she would beat him, but I think she is the most talented player in the field you know personal editorial observation. So that’s one in the field could win … and then maybe. No. 2, he is a 77-year-old overweight male. The actuarial table suggests maybe, you know, health stuff could intervene, though, as now congressman and former White House doctor Ronnie Jackson allegedly wrote, he is the healthiest human being in the history of the presidency so maybe not. No. 3, it’s very much within the realm of possibility that he could be both convicted and for that matter even incarcerated. It feels like that could leave a mark in a way that nothing else had, but there won’t be new facts that come out in these trials that change the minds of Republican primary voters so I think he is the nominee. 


            For Mr. Biden, he is four years older than Mr. Trump. And while physically I hope I’m in as good of shape as he is when I’m 81, I mean the guy is riding a bike. Yeah, he fell over one time, but you know I fell over riding a bike when I was 20 so I’m going to cut the guy a break. Now at press conferences, you get the sense that he is not near what he used to be and you wonder if he, you know, if it were a Nikki Haley could he actually debate her or would that be a moment of high cringe. We don’t know. But so, health is one. Hunter is No. 2. The president’s son Hunter Biden has had all kinds of issues that currently have him indicted and dealing with federal law and, crazily, the Department of Justice that reports to Mr. Biden is also actually prosecuting Mr. Biden’s son. He is obviously a devoted dad. Ah the idea that he might pardon his son instead of having him essentially go to jail. Maybe he would, you know, he would have a Republican cellmate, but if he did that, I think he would decide, all right I’m pardoning my kid, but I’m not running with that. I’m doing that and dropping out. Again, that’s a wild theory so that would maybe be No. 2, and maybe No. 3 is notwithstanding whatever is happening with Mr. Trump and all of the indictments, Trump on average is winning the head-to-head polling contest. So theoretically just like all the Republicans except Haley could get out and that could be tight. In theory all the national Democrats could say we are not going to win this thing and we need to pull the plug and put in you know a Gavin Newsome or a Gretchen Whitmer or somebody else because we think the odds of the winnability go down if there is a recession and all of these other things that could happen you know it’s time to go to the bullpen. But you know if you had to bet assume, it’s a rematch. 


            (TM):  34:50


TS:      Taking what you just said about the landscape and what’s going to happen next year, let me just say what percentage of voters do you think are actually persuadable. You see different numbers about this, but when you factor that through your filter of what you’ve seen and history, who is truly willing to say oh I could go for Trump or I could go for Biden and then does it only matter in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Georgia or Arizona you know really just in seven states.


BM:     Well so first yes, the election only matters in the seven swing states or eight whatever the number is and otherwise it’s the fate of complete no matter what number one. No. 2, the share of voters who are truly independent are often put like by Dave Wasserman at Cooke who is as good as anybody ever on stuff like this that maybe you know 9% to 12% of the electorate isn’t heavily leaning in one way or another. And persuadable in a Trump v Biden is very different than persuadable if there were a fresh different candidate. So, you saw a lot of historic Republicans vote for Barack Obama in a way you might not have thought of. You saw that as well with a lot of lifelong Democrats back in ’84 vote for Ronald Reagan. You know Bill Clinton won some people over and in 2004 W won some people over. A lot depends on what is happening in the world, where the what the alternative is, who the other party has put up, whether the candidate seems viable and attractive or even inspires hope. Or, in the case of a rematch, you know, it’s you know like we were saying it’s hard to imagine too many facts changing minds. There are such incredibly strong opinions about Biden and Trump that I feel like they are ceilings and their floors are made out of steel. 


TS:      Which could be sort of exhausting for folks like up. We are paying attention to this world and you know and we know you know I know legislatures; I know legislative staff. These are people who have cared deeply about solving problems and trying to help people and there is just a real sense of exacerbation that seems to have settled upon our land and in our little niche world of people and policy and politics. And we are going to bring it to a close here. I what a delightful conversation, Bruce. I just always love your insights and I will say a couple of things. The historic perspective is so important. We just feel so in the moment and you know there are major wars in our world today. And you now there have been wars before. We have to understand that you know we will go through these things with a great deal of suffering which is so awful, but history can tell us so much about our times. I was reminded of a story. My mom who had not traveled out of the country. She went to Ireland when she was older and she came back and she showed us this picture of a bunch of rocks in a field. And I said to her mom why did you take a picture of this pile of rocks. And she said oh Oliver Cromwell came through and destroyed this bride and then she just had massive scorn for Oliver Cromwell and I’m like well that was like 500 years ago. I think it’s time to maybe we let go and move on. And I couldn’t help but remember that story when you brought up your grudge against Irsay taking the Colts in the dead of night from Baltimore. So, I’m just going to pass that along to you as well, Bruce. Maybe it’s time to move on.


BM:     Well then Baltimore stole the Browns from Cleveland. So, you know yes. I may not like the Irsays because of what they did to my old rooting team, but Baltimore has no moral leg to stand on. Tim, thank you for having me.


TS:      I have been talking with Bruce Mehlman, founder and partner in Mehlman Consulting, a DC based bipartisan lobbying firm about the state of American politics and governments. Thank you for joining me and Bruce on this episode of “Legislatures:  The Inside Storey” brought to you by the National Conference of State Legislatures. 


Ed:      You can check out all the podcasts from the National Conference of State Legislatures by searching for NCSL podcasts wherever you get your podcasts. Tim Storey, NCSL’s CEO hosts “Legislatures:  The Inside Storey” where he focuses on leadership and legislatures. The “Our American States” podcast dives into some of the most challenging public policy issues facing legislators. On “Across the Aisle” host Kelley Griffin tells stories of bipartisanship. Also check out our special series “Building Democracy” on the history of legislatures. 


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