USC Dornsife launches center to bridge the partisan divide

Led by political veterans Robert Shrum and Michael Murphy, the Center for the Political Future opens just as the 2018 midterm elections are heating up

September 04, 2018 Emily Gersema

The political divide — as stark as it’s been in modern memory — ranges from the #resist movement on the left to #MakeAmericaGreatAgain on the right and beyond. The new Center for the Political Future, opening today at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, seeks to bridge the gap with a new model for political inquiry that combines scholarly research, education and practical politics.

The center is led by longtime Democratic political strategist Robert Shrum and veteran GOP strategist Michael Murphy.

“The Center for the Political Future aims to be the premier entity on the West Coast that combines the power of academic research and education with the practical wisdom and experience of political leaders, activists and journalists to foster public dialogue in civil and constructive ways,” said Shrum, the center’s director. “Our goal is to create an environment where individuals with different political views can seek common ground and — even when they disagree — respect and listen to other viewpoints.”

This is a moment to step up and redirect the conversations.

Michael Murphy

Said Murphy, the center’s co-director: “This is a moment to step up and redirect the conversations, to surmount the challenges of rancorous rhetoric and fake news, to pave the path toward a genuine exchange of ideas and to enrich the education of tomorrow’s leaders by modeling new approaches for engagement.”

To accomplish its goals, the center sponsors an array of endeavors and draws on faculty from across USC Dornsife’s wide academic breadth. One component, the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, focuses on educating students to become active in politics. Another, the nationally recognized USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll, administered by the center’s partners at the USC Dornsife Center for Economic and Social Research, will continue to monitor what matters most to voters, as well as how they perceive elected officials and candidates for presidential, congressional and state elections.

Each year, the center will hold major conferences where scholars and practitioners focus on vital issues and significant developments in the public square. This academic year’s conferences will include the Law-Warschaw Practical Politics Conference following the midterm election, and a joint conference with USC Dornsife’s Wrigley Institute that will explore the politics of climate change.

Center for the Political Future fellows

Each semester, the center will bring resident fellows to campus. The fellows will be political and policy leaders, Republicans and Democrats, who will engage with undergraduate and graduate students, and with other programs.

  • Dan Schwerin, former director of speechwriting for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Campaign (fall 2018)
  • Gentry Collins, former national political director of the Republican National Committee (fall 2018)
  • Symone Sanders, former national press secretary for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Campaign (spring 2019)

The center will also host endowed chairs, drawing outstanding new tenure-track faculty with diverse, practical and scholarly perspectives, while engaging current faculty.

Lastly, the center will support specific research endeavors, including an ongoing project that examines how technology could be used to strengthen political discourse in the 21st century.

“We must develop creative approaches to mend our nation’s political divide,” said USC Dornsife Dean Amber Miller. “By establishing an academic center that aims to advance civil, fact-based conversations in the public square, USC Dornsife provides a forum in which the strongest ideas are valued over the loudest voices.”

Leadership at Center for the Political Future

Robert Shrum holds the Carmen H. and Louis Warschaw Chair in Practical Politics at USC Dornsife and serves as director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics, which will be a vital part of the center. He has a storied career as an author and television commentator and as a campaign adviser to Democratic candidates in nearly 40 winning U.S. Senate and gubernatorial campaigns and for the mayoralty of many of America’s major cities. His numerous clients included Edward Kennedy, Joe Biden, John Glenn and Barbara Mikulski in their Senate campaigns, and John Kerry and Al Gore in their presidential races. Overseas, his clients included Ehud Barak in his successful 1999 campaign for prime minister of Israel, the British Labour Party in the 1990s and the early 2000s, the prime minister of Ireland and the president of Colombia.

Michael Murphy is one of the Republican Party’s most successful political consultants. Murphy led more than 20 statewide campaigns to victory, including gubernatorial races for Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Christine Todd Whitman, John Engler and Tommy Thompson, as well as dozens of congressional races. He’s worked on six Republican presidential campaigns and is widely known for his work in the 2000 GOP primaries as a senior strategist for John McCain. He has advised leaders in Canada, Central America and the former Soviet Union. He is a widely known political pundit, appearing frequently on NBC, CNN and NPR.