Her sleep wrecked by election defeats the night before, well-known Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile told employees from award-winning Utah workplaces she was heartened to see service dogs in the lobby.
“I need a best friend right now,” Brazile joked in her keynote speech during Top Workplaces Utah at Salt Lake City’s Little America Hotel before heading back to Washington, D.C., as apparent losses mounted in the governorships of Virginia and New Jersey and unnerved a national party she once headed.
The 61-year-old celebrity commentator heaped praise on this year’s winners of Top Workplaces awards at the morning banquet, chosen based on surveys of thousands of employees across the state amid a pandemic. Brazile thanked them for keeping their workers satisfied.
“Keep going. Keep moving. Keep growing,” she said, “because clearly they love you.”
“After three hours’ sleep, I’m not going to feel sad and sorry for anybody who lost yesterday,” Brazile told the audience of 500 or so, many of whom met in public for the first time in months. “I’m going to be happy because God gave me another day and an opportunity to be here with you.”
For the eighth consecutive year, The Salt Lake Tribune-backed survey vetted employee feedback from Utah’s large, medium and small workplaces to identify some of the state’s best employers.
Two ambassadors for canine therapy greeted arriving attendees at Wednesday’s in-person gathering, courtesy of one primary event sponsor, Best Friends Animal Society. That led Brazile to share stories about her own pet, Zora Mae, a shelter dog who broke into an April 2020 live interview segment.
“I adopted Zora,” she told the audience, “but she rescued me.”
“When we save animals, we save ourselves,” Brazile said. “And when we treat animals with respect, dignity, love and compassion, we treat others the same.”
The Democratic operative then went on to sketch midterm U.S. politics as bleak indeed for her party in Congress and dozens of state races amid sagging job-approval polls for President Joe Biden and weakening support for crucial parts of his agenda now before Congress.
Tropical storm or hurricane?
Many Democrats, she said, believe “it’s time for him to retire his jersey in 2024.”
But GOP leaders, she said, are similarly beset over former President Donald Trump’s troubling legacy, with " a large chunk of Republicans who believe that it’s time for a new slate of candidates.” Up to a dozen possible challengers could run if Trump does, including her “good friend,” former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
With more than 700,000 Americans dead from COVID-19, the health crisis continues to dominant political conversations, Brazile said, though evidence for that is muted in some polling.
Americans say they are much more confident of Biden’s handling of the pandemic than Trump’s, she noted, but compared to the economy, environment, health care and other issues, COVID-19 “is something the American people no longer consider to be an urgent crisis.”
With Biden’s approval rating as low as 42% in some polls, Brazile said, “that’s not enough to get a lot of Democrats over the finish line next year, and it’s not enough to cut deals with either side of the political divide.”
Support for Biden’s approach on infrastructure is still robust but is being weakened day by day as its passage sees delay. The climate-driven initiative referred to as “Build Back Better,” is “coming together but it’s not there yet,” she said. Negotiators are now considering eliminating that bill’s proposed tax on methane, a powerful factor among global greenhouse emissions.
This week’s election results, Brazile said, give further signs voters are restless and “personally want change. They want to see a different tomorrow than yesterday. They don’t want to go back to a previous era, but they want to focus on the here and now, which means their pocketbook. What’s in their wallet? What’s before them?”
“If Democrats don’t get their you-know-what together,” she said, “if you thought this was a tropical storm yesterday, wait until the Category 5 hurricane called the midterms.”
No ‘middle ground’
A veteran of Louisiana politics and a prominent political strategist since the mid-1980s, Brazile was acting chair of the Democratic National Committee in spring 2011, and again from July 2016 to February 2017 — the first Black woman to hold the top position for either major party.
“One of these days I want to work on a project that doesn’t involve a disaster,” she said later in her Salt Lake City speech, describing herself as “a survivor of the shellacking of 2010, the thumping of 2014. Waking up this morning tells me we’ve got to do better.”
At another point, Brazile lamented the “aging players” among Democratic Party leadership. “They are old. How old? Hell, they’re all older than me.”
Longer term, she said, she expects redistricting efforts this year to push partisan politics further toward extremes, “with red districts getting redder and blue districts getting bluer.”
“There’s no middle ground,” she said.
Up to 24 races for governor will be up for midterm balloting and 50 to 60 members of Congress could announce their retirement between now and then, she said. Republican and Democratic officials, at the same, have each amassed campaign funds of $70 million or more.
“They’re raising money by the billions, not the millions,” Brazile said. “For some reason, we’re going to find money when we’re all crying broke and are in big debt. But somehow the politicians can raise gazillions of dollars.”