Political strategists Donna Brazile and Alex Castellanos will be visiting Ohio State on Thursday to discuss the political landscape, especially in the run up to the 2016 election. In addition to managing their own political consulting firms, Brazile, a Democrat, and Castellanos, a Republican, regularly appear as political commentators on CNN.
Castellanos said he sees the event, which will occur in the Ohio Union at 7:30 p.m., as an opportunity to listen to people who are the future, which he finds “nourishing.” He said he hopes he’s able to discuss what type of government students envision. Brazile, who has lectured at hundreds of college campuses, said she plans on an adult-like conversation. Brazile said she also hopes to discuss the role Ohio plays in electing presidents and how young people can get into the room and be involved in the political landscape.
“We talk about politics a lot, but I think it is important to engage young people in their political future and why they should be involved now,” she said.
Castellanos first entered politics in the 1980s and has been involved in several presidential campaigns since. Being inside of a campaign changes the way he sees politics, he said, and very few people can say precisely what political strategy is.
“A lot of people say it’s a goal or it’s a vision,” he said. “No. It’s none of that. The best definition of strategy that I’ve seen is from a book of chess. Strategy is creating a series of imbalances that compel a desired outcome. That’s what I’ve learned over the years.”
Brazile, who managed Al Gore’s presidential campaign, said her background in politics has focused on strategies involved in winning the nomination and election as well as outreach to voters. She said voter turnout among key demographics and involvement in the political process is informative, and it helps explain what is happening in the political process.
Castellanos immigrated to the U.S. as a young child. He described his move from Cuba as everything to him. He said the freedom that the U.S. offered him is even more important as the world changes and becomes more interconnected.
“My parents gave up everything they had to get me out of Cuba so that I could live a life better than theirs,” he said. “It was so I could do whatever I dreamed, which is the American story. For me, this freedom thing you got is something worth preserving.”
Brazile said that while she has worked on many political campaigns, there’s no question that the one that means the most to her was the campaign to make a national holiday to honor Martin Luther King Jr. She said she has a strong belief in citizen activism.
“I’ve been involved not just in political campaigns but also social movement campaigns, and that’s just as important,” she said. “I believe that in a democracy more people should be engaged in the political process helping to make this a more perfect union.”
An issue Brazile has written about extensively is the intersection of race and heritage in politics. She said the country will be composed of mainly minorities in about 30 years, and she believes that every American, especially people of color who will be eventually in the majority, should get involved in politics.
“There is no question that America has had to deal with racial and gender stereotypes, but we have arrived at a moment now that I believe that every American is able to take a seat at the table regardless of their race, economic background, sexual orientation,” she said. “I believe in an inclusive democracy. No one should be excluded ever again.”
Castellanos said the most impactful projects he ever worked on were Ronald Reagan’s presidential campaigns in 1976 and 1980. He said working for the campaigns shaped him as a conservative and a Republican.
“That idea that there is something better over the horizon, that to me is still the model,” he said.
For this election, Castellanos said he believes that Americans feel that they are losing something, and they no longer feel the optimism about better days being ahead, but instead feel stuck. He said people are so frustrated with government that they want to throw it out and start over, but that he has reservations about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump because he fears “the autocrat.”
“The fact is that Donald Trump didn’t create Donald Trump,” he said. “Democrats and Republicans did. Democrats did by producing nothing but more expensive (government) failure … Republicans can only say, ‘No,’ at increasingly high decibels. We haven’t offered a better way.”
He said that while he doesn’t accept or embrace Trump, he understands why people are drawn to him.
Brazile said Trump has received $2 billion in free media, more than any other candidate before, and he has been able to dominate in social media as well.
“We have got to find ways to fix the problems and at the same time strengthen our democratic institutions,” she said. “We have a lot of work to do, but the last thing we should do is turn away in anger and discuss when one side is unhappy.”
Brazile said she thinks it is important that the next president and the next Congress reflect the country’s values. She said too many Americans don’t vote, and Americans with the power to create change should find ways to allow more people to do so.
“People should be able to be involved in their government and take a leading role in our democracy,” she said.
Brazile said the Democratic Party has changed a lot since she joined in the 1970s. She said the party is more inclusive and represents the growing diversity of the country.
“It’s a party that has not just had an African American as its presidential nominee but a woman as its speaker of the house,” she said. “I’m proud of the fact my party is an inclusive party that has at every level not just people of color and women but gay officials and young people.”
Brazile said she remains optimistic because she believes in forward-looking policies to help people. She said she believes that the election will ultimately not be about what people look like or attacks but about the future of the country.
“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams,” Brazile said. “Eleanor Roosevelt said that in the 1940s, and I still think we can say that today in the 21st century.”
Castellanos also said he remains hopeful.
“Sometimes when you see all this ugliness and division, it’s actually a sign that things are changing,” he said. “It’s because people are dissatisfied with what they have now, and they are reaching for something better.”