Behind the Scenes of the 2020 Presidential Campaign: Mike Schmuhl in conversation with Célia Belin


The Sciences Po American Foundation welcomed alumnus Mike Schmuhl, in conversation with Célia Belin, for “Behind the Scenes of the 2020 Presidential Campaign,” the second installment of the Alumni Webinar Series. Mike Schmuhl is a Director at Heartland Ventures, where he works on brand development and investor relations. A South Bend native, he was the national campaign manager of Pete for America, Pete Buttigieg’s groundbreaking 2020 presidential campaign. He received a BA in History from the University of Notre Dame and a MA in International Affairs from Sciences Po in Paris, France. Célia Belin is a visiting fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe at Brookings. Her areas of expertise include trans-Atlantic relations, U.S. foreign policy toward Europe, French politics and foreign policy, the role of civil society in foreign policy, religion/secularism, and strategic prospective analysis. Her recent book, Des Démocrates en Amérique, examines the ideological forces at play within the 2020 Democratic Party, offering a French perspective on the battle for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

Schmuhl reminisced fondly about his experiences at Sciences Po “meeting friends from all over the world, traveling around France and in Europe, reading lots, writing papers and preparing for the Grand Oral.” He says that “Sciences Po put a lot of things in perspective for me and gave me a much more expansive view of our politics, our problems, but also all of our possibilities that we have together.” 

Schmuhl opened the conversation discussing Pete Buttigieg’s campaign, Joe Biden, and the future of the Democratic Party under a potential Biden administration. He describes how, at the beginning of Pete’s campaign “We had zero dollars in the bank. He had about 25,000 people on his email list, which is not a lot. But what we had was a really great candidate, and a really compelling story.” He recounts how, “We grew from a tiny, tiny team … and became about 575 people. We raised over 100 million dollars. And we did quite well. We won the Iowa caucuses.” When it became clear that Joe Biden was in a commanding position, however, Pete dropped out of the race and has been campaigning alongside Biden ever since. Schmuhl praised Joe Biden as “a very decent person and a very kind person… the most experienced Democrat in the country.”

As for his vision of how the world could look post-Donald Trump, Schmuhl hopes that the tone of the next president will be different and people in the White House will be there for their expertise, and he is eager to see how the “the balance of progressivism and moderation plays out in the policies that are put forward by a potential Biden White House,” an approach that he believes “is more about American common sense than it is about hardcore ideology.” People are “looking for a government that really works for them,” he adds. 

Célia Belin described how “Pete embodied this vision that you can be both a Democrat and progressive on many ideas, such as his plan for minorities that he put forward or the institutions he talked about reforming” and asked Schmuhl to reflect on the idea of reconciliation going forward. He responded, stating “the key to a really successful politician …  is: do they bring more people, and by more people, I mean new people, into the process that maybe were not involved before?” Responding to a question about criticisms that the Democratic party focuses too strongly on minorities or so-called coastal elites, Schmuhl brings up the Rust Belt background that enabled Pete’s campaign “to talk to people on their level, about the issues that they care about.” Asked by an audience member how graduates of a political science program can effectively make a case for the importance of democratic institutions and norms, Schmuhl advocated for “pushing back against misinformation” to restore the trust that is missing right now from our political discourse. 

Schmuhl closed the conversation with optimism. “The next president is going to have to figure out how we navigate COVID, as a country and a world. How do we rebound our economy and make sure that people have jobs and stronger benefits?” he asked. “The next president is going to have to heal our country.” He adds confidently, “Joe Biden is his own person and I think that he knows Washington DC, he knows the world. I think that he will prioritize what is important for our country and its citizens.”

Consul General Anne-Claire Legendre closed the Webinar, remarking that the conversation “opened many fronts on the American politics of today.” Legendre emphasized the continued importance of foreign policy, and Biden’s commitment to “reestablish our alliances in the world.” According to Legendre, it is not just the big question of the choice made by the American people in November, but also a question of the actual foreign policy choices of a potential Democratic administration. 

The third installment of the Alumni Webinar Series, “Empathy in Tech: A conversation between Maëlle Gavet and Christophe Duthoit,” will take place on September 30 at 12:30 PM EST. Coinciding with the release of her new book, Trampled by Unicorns: Big Tech’s Empathy Problem and How to Fix It, Gavet will talk about the challenges facing the tech industry with Christophe Duthoit, partner and leader of BCG's global work in Technology Advantage and Operations. Hubert Joly, former Chairman and CEO of Best Buy, will give his closing remarks. You can RSVP here

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