Former Obama Ebola czar on the coronavirus pandemic’s impact on the battle for the White House

podcast playback

Ron Klain tells David Axelrod: 'We're not here rooting for Trump to fail'

Pete Souza

President Barack Obama talks with Ebola Response Coordinator Ron Klain, Lisa Monaco, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, and Chief of Staff Denis McDonough in the Outer Oval Office, Oct. 24, 2014.

Ron Klain served as chief of staff to former Vice President Joe Biden from 2009-2011 and later as President Barack Obama’s Ebola response coordinator. In this week’s episode of “The Axe Files” podcast with fellow Obama administration veteran David Axelrod, Klain discussed the coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is likely to have on the 2020 presidential election.

Replacing Trump: Klain, who has criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the outbreak, suggested that a successful end to the crisis won’t necessarily benefit the incumbent in November:

“Look, I want Joe Biden to win really badly, but I want Donald Trump to do better things and save more lives. And if he gains politically by doing that, I’ll be the first one to cheer. If he makes the right decisions, stops having this chaos in the White House, sorts things out, puts science first, stops bickering with the [nation’s] governors, starts getting things done, I’ll applaud as loudly as the next person. Will that help him politically? I mean, it might. I will also say that George H. W. Bush won a big war in Iraq and lost in 1992. Winston Churchill beat the Nazis and lost in that last election. As you have taught me many times, David Axelrod, elections are about the future, they’re not rewards for past performance. And so if the president does a good job — which he hasn’t been doing — and he beats this disease — which he’s not doing — and he gets credit for that, then still in November, the choice for the voters will be: who do you want to lead this country for the next four years and deal with the challenges of the next four years? And I feel good about that choice too. So we’re not here rooting for Trump to fail. We’re rooting for Trump to succeed and we’ll have the election either way.” 

New challenge: Klain, who has been assisting the Biden campaign with debate preparations, acknowledged that the new dynamics — campaigning in an age of social distancing — pose a challenge for the former vice president: 

“Compared to almost anyone else, we know there’s no one who loves to get out there and interact with people and shake hands and really talk to people directly and personally as much as Joe Biden does. [He] can’t do it right now. So obviously it’s taking away the principal tool in his toolkit… We’re also at a time of great enthusiasm for the Biden campaign, consolidating support in the party, and we can’t send organizers door to door to identify voters. We can’t do a lot of the basic things you’d want to be doing in the months of March and April to get ready for the fall.” 

General election appeal: Klain, who is currently executive vice president and general counsel at the investment firm Revolution, maintained that despite the difficulties, Biden is an appealing candidate for the moment and can appeal to a broad range of the electorate — including the progressive wing of the Democratic Party: 

“I do think this crisis is reminding people what they like about Joe Biden. Every time he talks about this, he begins by talking about his compassion for the people who are suffering from it. I haven’t heard those words [come] out of the president’s mouth once, and the kind of compassion for the victims of it. He talks about his experience of dealing with problems like this and we’re seeing the consequences of the president’s inexperience… Vice President Biden is running on what will be the most progressive platform of any Democratic nominee for president in history, more progressive than even the one that [Hillary] Clinton ran on in 2016 and Obama ran on in 2008. Now, is it as far out there as Senator [Bernie] Sanders or Senator [Elizabeth] Warren? No, it’s not. But it’s pretty far forward leaning in terms of progress on healthcare, on education, student loans and on climate change.”

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