Terry McAuliffe, speaking at Yale Law School on Monday, said he is done with practicing law.
The outspoken and gregarious former Democratic National Committee head’s last client — many years ago — was a bouncer who had just been arrested for hitting someone. The bouncer’s friend begged McAuliffe, who happened to have a Georgetown law degree, to represent the bouncer at 2 a.m., even though McAuliffe had been drinking beers all night and had never represented anyone before.
“It’s probably not the best thing in the world to get the judge to come in at 2:45 a.m.,” advised McAuliffe, who said he did not know what he was doing but mentioned to the judge that he was a member of the Supreme Court Bar. “The judge heard that and, ‘Not guilty!’ … The bouncer got off, and I decided I would retire at that point.”
But McAuliffe, now the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s LAW ’73 presidential campaign, is anything but retired from politics, a close cousin of the law.
The self-described “best friend” of President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 who had “just about every job you could have in Bill Clinton’s administration,” McAuliffe led a characteristically controversial, sometimes loud and often humorous discussion with the Yale Law School Democrats on Monday afternoon. He discussed the field of the 2008 presidential candidates, concluding that it was inevitable that a Democrat would win the general election but that no one should perceive that Clinton has an aura of inevitability surrounding her candidacy.
“I believe this group collectively is the best field we’ve ever had,” said McAuliffe, who wore a Clinton for President pin during the talk. “[If the election were] today, Hillary wins the nomination, and she wins the election … [but] folks, we never had inevitability. There is no such thing as inevitably in the Democratic Party. You have to earn every single vote, and as I say, any one of our candidates I think would be a great president.”
The multi-millionaire political donor — who repeatedly joked with those in the room who had not read his new book, “What a Party!” and mockingly chastised students who stood up to leave for class during his speech — also said the Republican Party was at its all-time low and that President George W. Bush ’68 was the “worst thing that has ever happened to this country.” He was particularly harsh on Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani, who he said would barely pass muster when more people realize, among other facts about his life, that his first wife was related to him by blood.
“I might be from Syracuse, N.Y., but I can tell you that I know who my second cousins are, and I’m not walking down the aisle with them,” McAuliffe said. “Honestly, the Republican Party is in a ditch, they’re in dirt, the wheels are spinning, the troops aren’t come out of Iraq … [and] where is Osama Bin Laden?”
In an interview, he said he spoke with Clinton on Sunday night, and that she was “very excited” about his visiting Yale. He suggested that Clinton might visit campus soon since it is her alma mater, belying some campus activists’ concerns that the candidates would avoid Yale because of recent negative media attention over students who burned a flag and the admission of former Taliban spokesman Rahmatullah Hashemi.
Although Obama might be winning the Facebook race, McAuliffe said, he expects Clinton to see a particularly strong show of support from women aged 18 to 34.
Shedding light onto Clinton’s heavily guarded strategy, McAuliffe said during his talk that Clinton would “definitely not go negative,” because she has to “stay above that” as the frontrunner, and he predicted that Obama would not either. He called the 2008 primary one of the “most congenial” races in recent history.
Stephen Vaden LAW ’08, president of the Yale Law Republicans, said McAuliffe’s belief in the inevitability of a Democratic victory was the “best thing” he had heard as a Republican since Bush’s second term because in making such a statement, “you have set yourself up to fail.”
“I find that incredibly interesting given the candidate he is working for,” Vaden said, noting that Clinton has the highest negative ratings of any major candidate. “And this is the same Terry McAuliffe who spent his entire time during the Clinton administration worshiping money and its role in the political process, and when Obama essentially has twice the number of donors [Clinton has], he changes his tune entirely and says money doesn’t matter, it’s the voters that matter.”
But Addisu Demissie LAW ’08, who worked for McAuliffe as an aide, said he was the same vibrant — and colorful — man he had remembered from their past acquaintance.
“At the DNC when I was there, that guy knew everybody’s name, from custodial staff to the biggest donor, by name and reached them in a real way,” Demissie said. “Not to mention that he’s one of the most skilled fundraisers there is … You want him on your team.”
The talk was sponsored by the Yale Law Democrats, who have been holding a series of talks and activities recently dedicated to the 2008 presidential race.