Todd, host of “Meet the Press” and political director of NBC News, said: “At this point, there has to be some event we don’t know about to change the trajectory of this race.”
Calling November “election month,” Todd said, 10.5 million people have already voted early and that 40 percent of the electorate will have voted before Nov. 8.
“I’ve always been careful to say it’s never over till it’s over, but it’s very, very structurally difficult,” he told WWD editor in chief Edward Nardoza, who interviewed Todd onstage Wednesday morning.
Still, should Donald Trump pull it off, Todd said it would “be a seismic event” that would rattle the international community and the “country’s psyche.”
Todd didn’t spend much time mediating on that and instead addressed the bigger question he and his colleagues are looking to answer, namely the election’s impact on the country.
“What’s the collateral damage? That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “What’s the collateral damage to our democracy? What’s the collateral damage to the Republican Party? What’s the collateral damage to whoever wins and their ability to govern?”
Before delving further into the race, Todd addressed Trump’s impact on the media, namely Fox News, in light of the aftermath of former chief executive officer Roger Ailes’ exit and his current work on Trump’s campaign.
Todd was asked about the takeaway of Tuesday night’s widely publicized skirmish between Trump supporter and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, in which Gingrich claimed she was “fascinated with sex” after she referenced Trump’s sexist comments.
“We may look back at the Newt Gingrich/Megyn Kelly, that little appearance, and say, that’s when the Roger Ailes Fox News died,” he said. “Let’s see what happens, what Fox News looks like in a year, who is the big face of it. There’s clearly turmoil there a little bit. There’s a lot of symbolism in that moment. It could symbolize a changing of the guard at Fox. It could symbolize a changing of the guard inside the Republican Party. It can symbolize a lot of things. The point is that I think it is a moment that will help explain what happened in the election.”
Turning to the Republican presidential nominee’s surrogates, Todd offered: “It does feel like anyone who is associated with Trump is not going to leave with their reputation intact.”
And while nasty politics aren’t new for our country, Todd did admit that there have been some new lows this election. He pointed to the second debate, in which Trump brought out former President Bill Clinton’s accusers.
“Everything Trump has touched — it feels like we are all sullied by it. We in the press, our political infrastructure, the debates,” he said. “Publicly humiliating a former president of the United States, that is what third-world countries do.”
But there is an anger, a rage in the country that Trump — like him or not — has tapped into.
Todd explained that Trump is an outsider, a “Queens guy,” who has always wanted to be accepted.
“I do think that’s why he has genuinely connected with the working class in this country,” he said, recounting an experience in 2015 in which he met a Trump supporter at a state fair.
“This one guy said, ‘I know exactly who he is. He’s kind of a blowhard and this stuff, but he’s my middle finger to you,’ meaning media, the political establishment, Washington,’” he said.
But there’s a bigger moment at play, he said, a moment of upheaval, which may lead to systematic change in the Democratic and Republican parties.
“I think the two political parties are going to reorganize themselves on economic issues, not on social issues,” he said. “The cultural wars have essentially ended in the last month.”
He referenced the governor’s race in North Carolina, in which a key issue is the “bathroom bill,” which concerns whether transgender people will be made to use bathrooms that correspond to the gender on their birth certificate.
While Todd anticipates the Democratic candidate winning that race, he pointed to the sort of populist movement examining capitalism that was ignited by Sen. Bernie Sanders (D., Vt.) on the left, which Trump has “stumbled onto” in his own party.
Ironically, the journalist noted that Clinton, a centrist democrat, may share more “world views” with House Speaker Paul Ryan than she does with Sanders and the left wing of her party.
Todd took it further to draw the parties in terms of internationalists and nationalists.
“There is more and more of a global [mind-set]. The business community thinks globally, many political leaders think globally, so you’re going to have the internationalists in one party, and the folks who say, ‘let’s slow down.’ They’re not saying they are anti that, but borders still matter,” he said. “Parties do evolve, we know this.”
In his view, America’s main political parties are in for just that kind of evolution, with one – probably the Democrats – becoming the internationalist party and the other becoming the isolationist party.
Asked about the Trans-Pacific Partnership issue that has been “lighting up this campaign” and the fact that the economics of the plan can make sense for the country if one thinks globally, Todd responded that that’s not what workers in the middle of the country are thinking about, as jobs are getting shipped abroad or once-thriving industries are shrinking in smaller states.
“You’re making a great rational argument on the global stage. These people are wondering what’s the future of work for me,” said Todd. “That’s what makes this presidential election so disappointing in that one of the reasons for this anxiety, we are going through this haves and have-not. I’m very concerned about this sort of split. You see it geographically, you see it on the coasts. Things are booming in cities. In middle America, in sort of this small city, big-town America, they don’t know what the future of work is.”
He noted that “Ubers are not showing up” in those towns and that working for Uber is “not even a great job,” as the company’s ultimate objective is to use “driverless cars” without workers.
“These trade deals scare the bejesus out of these people,” Todd said, who added that ironically, changes in the manufacturing industry are “not new.” The country moved manufacturing from the north to the south in order to find cheaper labor, and then it began looking abroad to Asia, he noted.
“It is not a new thing. I think the problem is, we don’t know what work looks like in 20 years,” he said. “That’s what’s scaring these folks. The people in power see that it’s inevitable, but we need to figure out the future of work for these people.”
Todd said in Clinton’s America, she may have some difficulty moving the needle once in office, as she may be pushing up against her own party.
“Her problem is going to be the left. WikiLeaks is going to haunt her for years,” Todd said. “She is an uneasy progressive.…She has a progressive mind-set, but she’s politically battle-scarred….She won the primary but lost the campaign.”
Those scars have made Clinton a tougher interview than Trump, Todd admitted, as she’s wary of being caught in a “trap.” With that in mind, there is one lingering question that the journalist has avoided asking the democratic nominee about her marriage to former President Clinton and the fallout from the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the Nineties.
“I have always wanted to ask her a question and I’ve debated whether to ask it because I don’t know if it’s relevant,” Todd said with some hesitation, before revealing the question: “When did you forgive him?
“Is that me as a voyeur. Is that any of my business? I’ve not asked her that question because I’m not 100 percent convinced that it is,” he said. “I don’t think it’s something you do in a political campaign. It is about their personal life and they’ve lived it publicly and I don’t want to judge that.”
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