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Former Obama Staffer Karine Jean-Pierre on How We Can Beat Trump

Karine Jean Pierre

Jean-Pierre, an out executive at MoveOn and author of a new book, discusses on LGBTQ&A how Democrats can unite and win next year.

This interview was conducted as part of the interview series, LGBTQ&A, a weekly podcast that documents modern queer and trans history.

If Karine Jean-Pierre, a queer woman of color who immigrated to the U.S. as a kid, could make her career in politics, then so can you. That's the message of her new book, Moving Forward -- all of us, no matter what you might think of as the typical background or narrative for a politician, can get involved in politics.

Jean-Pierre details the unlikely path that lead to her work on President Obama's first presidential campaign and, ultimately, to her job in his administration.

"I will never forget working in the White House for the first Black president. I miss those days. Working in the White House, you felt the responsibility."

Jean-Pierre now serves as the Chief Public Affairs Officer at MoveOn, the progressive public policy advocacy group, and is a political analyst at NBC and MSNBC. She sat down this week with The Advocate's LGBTQ&A podcast to talk about what she learned working with "flawed candidates" like Anthony Weiner, what the 2020 Democratic candidate needs to do to beat President Trump, and how growing up in a Haitian family made her "very aware of what it means to live in a dictatorship."

Read a preview below and click here to listen to the full podcast interview.

Jeffrey Masters: Your early experience in politics was working with John Edwards and Anthony Weiner, both of whom had high-profile scandals. Since you were just starting out, did you wonder if that was how all politicians were?
Karine Jean-Pierre: When I worked for Anthony Weiner, it was before Carlos Danger and all of the insanity, the awfulness of what happened there. He was the darling of the Democratic Party. People thought he was going to run for mayor, maybe senator one day, governor. They had high hopes for him because he was a great communicator. That's always something I say about him: He was a hard worker and an excellent communicator.

One of the things that we do is we elevate people. We put them on pedestals, and people are flawed. No one is perfect.

JM: You wrote he's one of the most gifted politicians you've ever seen.
KJP: He is one of the most gifted politicians I've ever, ever seen. I was his press secretary at the time.

In context, I wasn't there when they were "flawed," but I know that it's something that sits on my resume, right? I worked for Anthony Weiner and I worked for John Edwards. I wanted to put that in the book because we do this thing of elevating people, and people are flawed.

We should care more about their platform and their issues and what they're pushing out more than the person. It's hard because politics is that game. It's really the person that we look at.

JM: Was that something you had to learn while working in politics or did you always know that?
KJP: I was relatively young, so I think it's something that I had to learn. I mean, politics was very new to me.

Candidates inspire you. When they inspire you, you believe in them. It becomes kind of cultish in some weird way and so you have to really be able to separate that. Yes, they're a great person, but also, who are they? What are they presenting? What are they giving? What's their platform? It's a very tricky thing and we all do it. Then our person disappoints us and we're like, "Ahh." You're heartbroken.

With people in political space, we tend to lift them up in that regard, and we forget they're flawed. No one is perfect. They're human. They're not superheroes.

JM: Is a massive ego a requirement in politics?
KJP: I think it is. I think narcissism, ego plays a big role. I mean, just think about it. You think that you are the best person to run the free world, for example, right? You think you are the only one that could change the country or move it into a certain direction. That takes a lot of ego, and it takes a lot of narcissism. I think that is part of the ingredient.

JM: You worked and traveled with Joe Biden while he was vice president. Why do you think his candidacy is not dominating like some thought?
KJP: It's surprising to me, to be quite honest. I know Joe Biden well. He's a great person. He could connect with people. I think the reason why his numbers -- and even though there's been criticism of him and he's stumbled -- his numbers are still strong, in a way.

People like him. He's comfortable. He was Obama's #2, so people are familiar with him. I think he's still going to continue to have that support because of all of those things. I think the disappointment people see is that we thought we would see him more out there, more forward-looking, and we're not seeing that. I think there's been some disappointment there.

JM: If we nominate a safe candidate who might not inspire people, do you think having an exciting VP candidate would solve some of those issues?
KJP: There is that thinking out there. I don't know and I've said this many, many times, whoever's the nominee is going to have to be able to create a movement.

People want to be inspired. And yes, they want Donald Trump out, but you have to get people out who've never voted before. You have to get young people out. You have to have a coalition. That's really important.

JM: Do you think Joe Biden can start a movement?
KJP: I think that he has it in him. He does retail politics better than anybody, I think. Connecting with people, making people feel comfortable and safe, he can certainly do that. I've seen him do it. He has to just notch it up to the next level and just bring it to the people.

JM: What do you think Donald Trump is doing right as the president?
KJP: Oh! He's not doing anything right. He's doing it all wrong.

One of the things that he does that is scary brilliant is manipulate the media. He knows he is a character, right? A reality TV character and he does that incredibly well.

JM: He's a master at it.
KJP: He's a master and you have to, I don't want to say give him credit for it, but you have to give him that, right? He knows how to control the messaging, control the narrative, have us running down a rabbit hole, and we all follow him down that rabbit hole. He knows how to change and distract and all of those things, and that's the thing that's dangerous, but also that's what he does really, really well.

As long as he's able to control the narrative, it's dangerous for all of us because basically he's telling us conspiracy theories, misinformation.

JM: As a naturalized citizen, do you think you have a different view on politics?
KJP: Both my parents were born in Haiti. I was born in Martinique. They grew up in a dictatorship. In this current moment, when you have a president that seems to love dictators more than our allies and praises dictators and ignores our allies, growing up in a Haitian household, you're very aware of what it means to live in a dictatorship.

One of the things that I worry about is our democracy. We are a young democracy. We're 250-years old and I don't think people realize that.

When you have the Commander-in-Chief, the President of the United States stepping on the Constitution, that doesn't read the Constitution, that doesn't care, that asks a President of Ukraine to get dirt on their political opponent and interfere in our free and fair elections, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, that's scary.

That is scary to me hearing those stories and knowing the history of the country of my parents' birth, so there's a level of fear that I understand that I worry about because I have that history. That's my biggest, biggest concern, and that also motivates me to really try to inspire and motivate others to get involved in politics.

[Click here to listen to the full podcast with Karine Jean-Pierre.]

Moving Forward: A Story of Hope, Hard Work, and the Promise of America by Karine Jean-Pierre is available now.

New episodes of the LGBTQ&A podcast come out every Tuesday.

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