Former President Bill Clinton thinks Democrats can retain control of both sides of Congress this fall but fears the GOP will try to “scare people” and deliver a strong finish.
Mr. Clinton said that Republicans managed to make critical race theory sound worse than smallpox last year even though many people couldn’t agree on whether it was actually taught in public schools.
“We could hold both these houses. But we have to say the right things. And we have to note the Republicans always close well,” Mr. Clinton told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria. “Why? Because they find some new way to scare the living daylights out of swing voters about something.”
Mr. Clinton‘s warning about scare tactics coincides with President Biden warning voters that MAGA Republicans are “semi-fascists” and a “threat to democracy.”
Political forecasters believe the GOP is positioned to win back the House this year, though perhaps narrowly, while Democrats might be able to retain the Senate.
Some pundits trace today’s culture wars and polarized political environment to skirmishes the Clinton White House had with House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the high-profile investigations of Mr. Clinton‘s sex scandals.
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Mr. Clinton said some American voters aren’t blinded by ideology and can be won over but it is an increasingly tough environment.
“The breakpoint in American politics is not much different than it was in the ‘90s. As you still have to get those people, it’s just that there’s so many fewer,” he said, dubbing the parties “somehow psychically intolerant.” “They pull more and more people toward the extremes. But there’s still some people hanging on there who are really trying to think, and trying to understand what’s going on. So I think that’s very important,” he said.
Mr. Clinton said he was able to pass a ban on so-called assault weapons because he tried not to demonize gun owners who wanted firearms for sport or personal home protection. He said it doesn’t behoove Democrats to get into a war of words with the other side and Mr. Biden will have to explain how his platform can help people in their everyday lives.
“The culture war is that it always tries to turn it back to the politicians, what’s wrong with them, and this is what the press has to guard against because if you have to worry about daily ratings, you know, the drama of two people duking it out is far more profound,” Mr. Clinton said. “It’s harder to build a barn than it is to kick one down. And then when you build it, you’ve got to explain what you built and why it’s a good thing to put your animals in your barn.”
Mr. Clinton also defended his work as president to expand NATO, rejecting those who say the push antagonized Russia and led to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine this year.
The former president said he offered Russia a special NATO partnership and eventual membership but he was rebuffed.
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“I think the fact that the Ukrainians are willing to stand up is encouraging. And who is providing a lot of those weapons and training? NATO. And what does Finland want to do? Join NATO,” Mr. Clinton said. “So, you know, I’m sorry, I just disagree. I think we did the right thing at the right time. And if we hadn’t had done it, this crisis might have occurred even sooner.”
Mr. Clinton said at home, the battle is over the fundamentals of democracy and the rule of law, citing former President Donald Trump’s refusal to accept defeat in 2020. He compared it to when his wife — former first lady and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton — conceded the 2016 race to Mr. Trump the day after the election.
“It’s daylight and dark,” Mr. Clinton said. “Why? Because we actually believe, those of us who don’t support negative populism, divisive populism, that you can be an inclusive populist or an inclusive conservative, as long as you believe in the fundamental principles of democracy, majority rule, minority rights, shared decision making, restraint by the rule of law and — so that’s really the battle we’re fighting here in America.”
During Mr. Trump’s time in office, Mrs. Clinton also declared that Mr. Trump was an “illegitimate president.”