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School of Business Hosts MSNBCs Chris Matthews for Discussion on Politics and Leadership

February 02, 2017
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Political commentator Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball,” discussed the mistakes he made in not predicting Donald Trump’s presidential win, his views on what leadership truly requires – in and out of politics – and more at the School of Business Cobb Leadership Lecture Series Feb. 1.

Some 350 students, alumni, faculty and staff packed Storer Auditorium and its overflow room for the event which is funded by an endowment from Ambassador Sue Cobb in honor of her husband, Ambassador Chuck Cobb, a member of the University of Miami Board of Trustees.

“Over the years, the Cobb Leadership Lecture series has provided an opportunity for our students and other members of the community to hear from some of the nation's most distinguished leaders … representing a variety of views, and tonight is no different,” said School of Business Dean Anuj Mehrotra as he welcomed the crowd.

Getting Trump’s Win Wrong

Matthews – talking quickly and, often, with humor, began with what he called “a confession.” During the recent presidential campaign, the self-described “center-left” leaner was confident that Hillary Clinton would win the presidency. “It’s not just that I got it wrong,” he said. “It’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to me in years of commentary and being just me. I followed the crowd. I hate following the crowd. I’ve made a living of betting against the margin, of not believing in the common wisdom.”

One reason he got it wrong, Matthews said, was because he went along with pollsters. They were incorrect, in large part, he believes, because those they surveyed didn’t want to say they would vote for Trump. “They thought the pollster would look down on them,” he said, noting that telephone polls conducted by live humans in Pennsylvania put Clinton ahead by eight points, while those conducted with recorded voices put Trump ahead by two. The recorded polls were accurate.

Matthews also followed the common wisdom that modern suburban Republicans wouldn’t vote for Trump and that women wouldn’t vote for Trump – especially after the recording of him discussing lewd treatment of women came out. “I figured, ‘No woman is going to vote for this guy, and no husband is going to be able to live the rest of his life if he votes for the guy,’” he explained. And, he was convinced that Trump couldn’t win Pennsylvania. He was wrong on all of those counts.

Matthews believes the main reason so many people voted for Trump was related to factory closings across the Northeast and Midwest, which led to what he called “the hollowing out of towns.” “That world is gone, and Trump knew it, and Hillary didn’t,” he said. “[Trump advisor] Kellyanne Conway, who is very smart, said ‘People are more driven by what affects them than what offends them.’” Trump, Matthews added, went to places such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Ohio – where he knew he needed votes  – and talked to people there. Clinton, on the other hand, spent more time on the phone, raising money, and relied on TV campaigns. Trump ignored the popular vote, and campaigned personally to the people he needed to win the electoral vote.

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What Makes a Good Leader – Dealmaking Matters!

Campaigning in one form or another is key to success in business as well as politics, especially when you’re just starting out, Matthews said. He advised students, especially, to “ask for stuff from other people.” Once someone helps another person, the helper is invested in that person’s success and is likely to keep investing in that person, he added.

Matthews also advised students in the audience to nurture their connections to other University of Miami students. “You gotta build that network and hold onto it,” he said.

Matthews’ third lesson in leadership was that, “leadership has to do with dealing with other people. It has to do with relating with other people, taking the first step to cut a deal.” Good leaders, he said, must negotiate. “Tradeoffs – they help you get what you want to get,” he explained.

This willingness to negotiate and make tradeoffs is missing in Washington today, Matthews lamented, and he blamed, in part, the way parties fundraise. “You can raise a lot of money by arguing – but a solution shuts down all the fundraising,” he said. “We’ve got to press politicians for dealmaking.” These deals, he said, will only come from behind-closed-doors conversations and negotiations, in which each side finds out what the other is willing to give on. “The fear I have is that they’re all afraid, afraid to make the deals that will save this country,” he said.

What Trump has to do Now

With the Trump brand is in the White House, Matthews said, “it’s really going to have to be product now: service, jobs. If he gets the economy rolling again, if he creates real manufacturing jobs, if he brings business to this country … they could reelect him.” Among the most important initiatives Trump should pursue are specific projects that yield specific economic benefits over time, Matthews said, “And I think Trump can do it.” On immigration, he said the reality is that people who have been here a long time aren’t going anywhere, and nobody is going to be able to get them out. He thinks a better approach is to strongly crack down on illegal hiring of people by businesses. For the U.S. to thrive in today’s economy, Matthews said, “I think it’s a combination of trade and innovation.”

Matthews ended his talk, which included questions from the audience, by noting that President Trump should not be undermined, although he can be weakened. “They can challenge him … but he’s the only game in town,” Matthews said. Why? “I want the government to work. This is all we have. This is what we got – a republican form of government by our representatives.”

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