Dan Schnur is a Republican strategist who teaches at USC and UC Berkeley. In July, Schnur was named the director of the Jesse. M. Unruh Institute of Politics. He served as Sen. McCain's national director of communication during the 2000 election.
Tell us about the Unruh Institute of Politics.
Our goal is to get young people more excited and involved in politics. The Unruh Institute works with the [USC] Department of Political Science to offer classes taught by political practitioners. For those who want to get involved in real world politics, there's no actual substitute for hands-on involvement. We run programs, conferences, seminars, internship programs, scholarship and fellowship programs. We'll be working aggressively to help those students who want to work in politics or government after they graduate.
Is Jess Unruh rolling over in his grave over a Republican running a program in his name?
The Institute was set up on bipartisan principles. My job is to help students get more active and involved. I hope he'd be very happy that someone was very committed to getting young people involved in politics. I certainly have my own political preferences, but I don't disclose them in the classroom and they are not relevant to the job. I take that responsibility very seriously.
Why do you think Sen. McCain has been more successful in this election?
I think there are two big differences between 2000 and 2008. First is the relative importance of national security and foreign policy. Those have generally been his specialties. I suspect if the terrorist attacks had occurred on September 11, 1999, instead of 2001, President McCain would be finishing his second term. Second is that this is the first time in modern history that there was not a candidate around whom the Republican Party establishment had rallied [around] very early in the process.
My opinion is that John McCain has changed less than the [political] environment. September 11 had not taken place eight years ago. National security is of much greater importance to the voters today. His thinking on offshore oil drilling is different because gasoline costs $4.00 a gallon instead of $1.50 a gallon. Had he been warned of the Al-Qaeda terrorist threat in the fall of 1999 and the spring of 2000, I'm not sure people would have taken him too seriously.
Who do you think would be McCain's best running mate?
Even more important for John McCain than most candidates is to have a running mate who he is personally comfortable with and trusts. He and Romney had some animosity during the primaries. You can tell by the way he talks about Tom Ridge and Joe Lieberman, even if they are unlikely picks for other reasons, that he puts great value in those personal relationships. Romney and Governor Pawlenty are probably the most likely conservative candidates. Either Ridge or Lieberman probably would have been more likely picks if McCain was still running 10 or 12 points behind. He might have done something dramatic to shake-up the equation.
I think [Sen.] Biden's selection probably hurt Pawlenty's chances because Biden is such a formidable campaigner. McCain might be reluctant to throw a relatively inexperienced candidate like Pawlenty into the ring with Biden. Other people have been mentioned- Rob Portman from Ohio, John Thune from South Dakota, Mark Sanford from South Carolina, Charlie Christ from Florida. One thing that McCain likes more than anything else is outsmarting conventional wisdom. I wouldn't be surprised if he announced a running mate none of us had been thinking about.
From working for Governor Peter Wilson and his no-nonsense approach to negotiations, what advice would you give Schwarzenegger?
He took a lot of grief for his so-called "August Revise," but it was the right thing to do. Negotiations had stalled and he had both party's caucuses and their natural suspicions toward his new proposal. He needed to do something to get the conversation going again.
You come from a Democratic family. Your brother was an Al Gore education advisor. So how'd you end up as the family elephant?
They like to call me the family piñata. There are two theories. My father likes to tell people that when I was an infant, I would bang my head against the side of the crib for attention. I prefer to think of it as a more rational process that began when I was in college. First I went to Carleton College, which makes UC Berkeley look like Brigham Young. I was there in the early 1980's at the height of the Reagan Revolution, so my guess is that the national political balance combined with my innate suspicion of what was going on around me on campus may have pointed me in that direction.
Having Sen. Paul Wellstone as a professor didn't make you any more liberal?
He and I didn't agree on anything at all, but [he was] a brilliant person. I've always told my students both at USC and UC Berkeley that I would a million times rather have them involved in what I consider to be in the wrong side of the fight than not involved at all. I will spend every ounce of energy that I can trying to get you involved in a cause that I would spend a lifetime trying to defeat. If you look at my course syllabus, in the very first paragraph, it says, "If you have a political ideology-and I hope you do-please leave it at the door because this isn't a class Republicans vs. Democrats."