Former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe spoke at ASEAN Auditorium in the Cabot Intercultural Center on Tuesday as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College Distinguished Speakers Series. The discussion was facilitated by Tisch College Dean Alan Solomont and was later opened up to solicit student questions.
McAuliffe spoke on a wide range of topics, including how he became involved in politics, the role of young people in elections, his worst and best moments as governor and the current state of politics in America.
McAuliffe got his start in politics by working on President Jimmy Carter’s 1980 reelection campaign. He focused on the campaign’s fundraising efforts, even wrestling an alligator to secure a $15,000 donation.
McAuliffe also discussed the importance of young people in the upcoming midterm elections.
“I think young people are more engaged than I’ve ever seen them before,” McAuliffe said.
He traced that engagement to two recent polarizing political events: the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In particular, McAuliffe praised attendees of the March for our Lives rallies in March.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said in an additional discussion with Solomont after the event. “Our Congress was incapable when five and six year olds were murdered at Sandy Hook. After Vegas and after Parkland, I think young people have said ‘Enough.’”
He also said that the country’s treatment of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford fueled that fire.
“After seeing Ford speak up and the way she was denigrated, I think young people are fired up,” he said.
McAuliffe came out in firm opposition to Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the Supreme Court. He said that Kavanaugh’s environmental policies had initially dissuaded him, and that Kavanaugh’s actions during the heated congressional hearings were further proof that he was unfit to serve.
“After watching his performance, this man does not have the temperament to be on the Supreme Court,” McAuliffe said. “I Believe Dr. Ford. [People] have justifiable concerns.”
McAuliffe said that the Supreme Court’s legitimacy began its downward spiral in 2000, when the Bush v. Gore case politicized the court.
“That was the beginning of the unwinding,” McAuliffe said in an interview. “The damage that Donald Trump has done to the prestige of the Supreme Court will last a very long time. If I were a young person today, I would really question the integrity of the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Solomont also questioned McAuliffe about what it would take for Democrats to win the White House in 2020. McAuliffe stated adamantly that focusing on the midterm elections was crucial before any decisions regarding the 2020 presidential election can be made.
“2018 is what’s most important right now,” he said.
McAuliffe, who describes himself as a pro-business, fiscally conservative and socially progressive Democrat, refused to say whether he will be running as a candidate in the 2020 presidential election. Instead, he offered insight into how he transformed Virginia, historically a red state, into a blue state.
“I worked in a bipartisan way [and] got bills on economic development and transportation. I made it about Virginia and not about myself,” McAuliffe said.
As far as considering a bid for the presidency, McAuliffe stated that there are several things to look at.
“Anyone who’s thinking of running has to look at family. I have five children and that’s an important endeavor. [Deciding to run] is a hard, thoughtful process,” McAuliffe said in an interview with the Daily.
McAuliffe then discussed the current state of politics in the United States.
“Trump, what he’s done to our allies around the globe, the tariffs … he has no moral core. I’ve known him, I’ve known him for 20 years. It’s all about him. It’s not about America,” McAuliffe said. “We need to secure our borders — I’ve always said that. If you’re here illegally and you do something awful, you need to be deported. But for the other people, like people in [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals], there should be a pathway toward citizenship. Democrats are for national security. How do we do that effectively? That’s the key issue. If I were president of the United States, I would never separate a mother from a child.”
McAuliffe discussed his best and worst moments as governor of Virginia, citing the worst moment as witnessing the white supremacist riots that erupted in Charlottesville in August 2017.
“I was crestfallen as an American citizen,” McAuliffe said. “I told [the protestors] to get the hell out of our state and our country. They pretend they’re patriots, marching around, but they’re cowards.”
However, McAuliffe’s time in office was marked by more than the Charlottesville riots. The former governor recalled his best moment as restoring the voting rights of 200,000 felons.
During his discussion with Solomont and in answering audience questions, McAuliffe repeatedly touched on the importance of young candidates.
“If 100 young people wanted to run for president tomorrow, go do it,” he said. “That’s the whole idea I’m trying to get out: Go do it. I want young people in politics.”
Finally, McAuliffe discussed the state of democracy in America during his follow-up discussion with Solomont.
“In today’s hyper-partisan environment, not a lot is getting done,” McAuliffe said. “We are still a strong democracy, but we are a fractured democracy. Donald Trump deliberately creates culture wars. He may think it’s good for him — it’s not — and it’s really bad for the country.”