Schmidt received a warm welcome after being introduced by Begleiter as one of the reasons Bloomberg News once called UD the “epicenter of politics.”
Begleiter noted that Schmidt, who is vice president of the public relations firm Edelman and a senior fellow at the Center for Political Communication, is a UD political science graduate. A leading international political strategist, Schmidt has been a top adviser to President George W. Bush, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain.
“It’s great to be back here at the University of Delaware,” Schmidt said. “I have a lot of great memories and it has been a great experience to come back to this University on an annual basis for the last six years.”
Schmidt described the tumultuous nature of an American electorate that gave Democrats control of the House of Representatives and the Senate in 2006, elected Obama as president in 2008 and 2012, yet elected Republicans to a majority in the House of Representatives in 2010 and gave them an overwhelming victory this year.
“What we are seeing right now is an unprecedented level of volatility in our political markets,” Schmidt said. “This is very unusual, these wild swings between two parties in successive election cycles over the better part of a decade.”
The defining issue of our time, Schmidt said he believes, is the collapse of trust in nearly every major institution in the country, with the exception of the American military.
“It’s not just the political parties, it’s not just the political leadership of country,” Schmidt said. “In institution after institution, esteemed figure after esteemed figure have betrayed the public trust in the eyes of the American people.”
The result, Schmidt said, is the lowest level of trust in major institutions in the history of polling, and represents a prolonged season of pessimism from people who historically have been the most optimistic people on Earth.
“People believe the country is headed on the wrong track,” Schmidt said. “They believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, and they don’t have confidence in the institutions and political leadership of the country to get it going in the right direction.”
A summer marked by American troops headed back to Iraq, the sweeping success of Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq, and the Ebola outbreak only served to darken the mood of the voters, Schmidt said.
“All of these events together created a sense of anxiety in the country,” Schmidt said. “People sensed that the wheels, so to speak, are coming off the wagon, and the American people are very upset about it.”
In 2014, the main strategy of the Republican Party was to run on a platform that was marked by “steely, steady opposition to the president,” Schmidt said.
“What the election was fundamentally about, in this case, was the American people rendering judgment on an unpopular president with approval percentage ratings in the low 40s, very similar to where President (George W.) Bush was in the 2006 election,” Schmidt said. “The results are what they are.”