Political Wire Conversations

Political Wire Conversations


Engaging interviews and discussions of elections and the political issues of the day


When the Temperature Gets Too Hot  

So as you know, because you can hardly turn on the television without seeing him, Van Jones is a political commentator on CNN. But as you’ll hear, he’s got so much else going on. He is President of Dream Corps and Rebuild the Dream, and you’ll hear about that. As opposed to so many of the people we see and hear on TV and talk radio, this guy is out there getting it done. You may not agree with Van on every issue, but you’ll have to agree there’s substance there.

More biography: Van was President Obama’s green jobs adviser; you’ll hear a little about that. He’s also a Best-selling author. I didn’t even get to ask him at all about his books. There was just too much else to discuss around Trump and race and Hillary and progressives and the state of our nation and the turning point that we face.  

An Advance Man’s Look at the 2016 Campaign  

Chris Riback talks to Josh King about his new book, An Advance Man’s Guide to White House Stagecraft, Campaign Spectacle, and Political Suicide, and the 2016 presidential campaign.

King, a veteran of Bill Clinton's White House, leads readers through an entertaining and illuminating journey through the Hall of Infamy of some of the most catastrophic examples of political theater of the last quarter century.

This Has Been the Wildest Year  

If you really want to know how good the Cook Political Report is, you’ll want to listen up – because we’ve got the real thing! Charlie Cook is Editor and Publisher of the eponymous Cook Political Report. He is also a National Journal columnist, and it’s only a slight exaggeration that there is nothing in the political world that Charlie can’t analyze, clarify or explain.

Which is good news, because we’ve got plenty to cover: On the Republican side: Are votes enough? Donald Trump keeps winning them, but do they translate into enough delegates? If not, then what? For Democrats, can Hillary Clinton finally start her victory lap? And assuming she wins the nomination, has she been pulled too far left – How does she translate her message for more centrist general election voters?

The Outcomes Look Bleak for Republicans  

The candidates may be riding the subway in New York. Perhaps they’re thinking about Pennsylvania – Even California. But all political eyes are on Cleveland.

While polls show Donald Trump crushing in the Big Apple, Ted Cruz was the Big Cheese in Wisconsin. Cruz’ double-digit win there significantly increased the chances of a contested Republican Convention. 538’s panel of experts estimates Trump will fall short of the magic 1,237 delegates. As The University of Virginia Center for Politics told the New York Times: “The chances of a contested convention just went up.”

It’s no surprise that the frontrunners say a wide-open, no-holds-barred contested convention would devastate the Republican Party; delegitimize the entire primary process; silence the precious voice of primary voters. It would bring disaster.

But would it? Or instead at this point, might a contested convention be exactly the thing Republicans should hope for?

Taegan Goddard, as we all know, runs Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire. He spends the totality of his waking hours and many of his sleeping ones scouring political news of the day.

What Your Brain Really Thinks About Donald Trump  

Many of us look at this extraordinary, ridiculous, seemingly-unprecedented political season and wonder: How is this possible?

The anger perhaps we understand. The feeling that the system is so corrupted that the only effective approach will be to kick over the table and figure out later how to rebuild it? Even those who don’t agree the problem is that dire can get their heads around the idea.

But fear-mongering, name-calling, locker-room-talk-mimicking as the path the White House? What is going on?

According to historian Rick Shenkman, the answer just may be science. And evolution – or, perhaps more accurately, a lack of evolution and the way our natural instincts are helpful for, say, avoiding sharks in the ocean, but unhelpful when it comes to sharks of the political kind.

Shenkman is the New York Times best selling Author of ”Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.” Shenkman uses science to explain why so many of us are susceptible to politicians’ manipulations – and why so many don’t seem to care. Shenkman is also Editor & Founder of the History News Network.

What Do Americans Really Think About Politics?  

Chris Riback speaks with pollster Mark Blumenthal on what we know about the 2016 presidential election.

For answers to a Presidential campaign that few predicted and fewer, perhaps, pretend to understand, we often turn to the dark science of polling.

Given the overwhelming amount of data each of us generates each day – from clicks to searches to surveys and more – the people who tell us what we think and feel have taken an important if not outsized role in American society generally and American politics specifically.

Among our big questions:

Is this nasty campaign an accurate reflection of who we are as a country? What do American’s really want in our next leader? And if it does end up to be Clinton vs. Trump, who wins an election where both candidates are disliked in such intense ways by so many?

Complicated issues, which is why Mark Blumenthal is here to help us understand. Mark is Head of Election Polling for SurveyMonkey and runs their NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Election Tracking poll. He, of course, is the original Mystery Pollster, and was co-founder of Pollster.com and previously served as Senior Polling Editor at The Huffington Post. He has worked for dozens of Democratic candidates running for office at various government levels.

The Party No Longer Decides  

Chris Riback and Taegan Goddard discuss the how Donald Trump's campaign not only broke the Republican party but broke political science.

What in the world is going on?

We are well into a primary season with results few of us expected, headed straight to a general election that even fewer dare to predict. All of us – and certainly both major political parties – are in unchartered territory.

For Democrats, their new location at least appears to be on a pre-existing map. For Republicans, their new map reveals a planet they never knew existed – a place that frequently shows little signs of gravity – and I mean both definitions of the word, with its lack of seriousness alongside a certain amount of weightlessness. This place is a foreign territory – there’s no huge wall to keep us out. It’s a place where the leading candidate and possible nominee is hated by the party establishment, actively running against the Party – and Party ideology – he hopes to represent.

Yet this new planet may be exactly where the future of politics is headed. A place where the direct connection between candidate and voter has changed – and governs – everything.

So how did we get here? More importantly, where are we going?

To kick off our season and help us find answers, there’s no one better than my friend and Political Wire’s namesake, Taegan Goddard.

Former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore  

With the elections finally behind us, our focus turns the hard work of governing – and the big question of what, if anything, will get done?

With Republicans controlling Congress and a lame duck Democrat who’s surely thinking about his legacy in the White House, what will give? Or are we about to see gridlock so extreme that the last few years will look incredibly productive in comparison?

It won’t take long to find out. With the President’s Executive Order to remake Immigration in America – and with Republican vows to override – the first battle is on. What’s next? Where are we headed? And is it all really just about 2016?

To help us understand: Jim Gilmore, Founder of Growth PAC. Of course, among many other roles, he’s also former Attorney General and Governor of Virginia and former chair of the Republican National Committee…

David King, Harvard Kennedy School  

Midterms 2014 are just around the corner, and for Repubicans it seems the voting can’t come soon enough. State by state, poll by poll, the GOP appears to pick up steam by the day. They can taste Senate control.

Are the appearances true? Might there even be a Republican wave? Which key races – in the Senate and the House – should we make sure to watch?

David King is Senior Lecturer in Public Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. He directed the Task Force on Election Administration for the National Commission on Election Reform following the 2000 presidential elections and recently hosted a conversation on the upcoming Midterms…

Larry Sabato, Center for Politics at the University of Virginia  

It’s almost time – Election Day 2014, Midterm style is less than two weeks away. We can see the finish line from here – unless, that is, the finish line gets moved.

With Republicans seeming more and more likely to take Senate control, could this election instead go into overtime? With possible runoffs in Georgia and Louisiana, recounts in close races, vote count challenges in states like Alaska, decisions by independent candidates on who they will caucus with…  Could control of the Senate hang in the balance until January?

To know the answer for sure, you’d really need a crystal ball… which, of course, is just what we have for you today.

Larry Sabato is University of Virginia Professor of Politics and director of their Center for Politics. He is also Editor in Chief of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, the must-read, detailed analysis for elections across the country…

Charlie Cook, The Cook Political Report  

We’re proud to have as our guest today – our sponsor, Charlie Cook, Editor and Publisher of the Cook Political Report and Columnist for the National Journal.

Few follow the ins and outs of political campaigns more closely than Cook and his team of reporters and editors. And with less than three weeks to go before the new "most important election of our lifetimes," they’re tracking all the key races and trends – in particular, who will take control of the U.S. Senate.

Stan Greenberg, Democratic pollster  

With less than a month to go, the question that’s been at the center of the midterm elections continues to be the big unknown: Who will take control of the Senate.

We know that stats: 36 races are on the ballots; to takeover control, Republicans need a net gain of 6. And the closer we get, the more the contest seems to be coming down to just 4 or 5 key states.

As listeners of this podcast know, most predictions show probabilities leaning toward a Republican win. Of course, a few notable exceptions exist.

And now a new one: the Women’s Voices Women’s Vote Action Fund and Democracy Corp teamed up to look at the Senate races. Their finding: For the first time in this election cycle, movement across a “range of indicators that suggest the Democrats are more likely to hold control of the U.S. Senate than not.”

The survey was conducted by Stan Greenberg, longtime Democratic pollster, Polling adviser to President Bill Clinton, Al Gore and Nelson Mandela, among many others; CEO of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner and Co-Founder Democracy Corps.

Jules Witcover, author of "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power"  

Is there any office in American politics with simultaneously more and less power than the Vice Presidency?

Indeed, there may be no phrase in American politics that carries more unspoken meanings than “A heartbeat away.” It’s been used to create fear and doubt, as well as confidence and sure-handedness. It’s both an insult and an honor – the burden and opportunity that comes with attaining our nation’s second-highest office.

In recent campaigns, the office has taken on incredible – even outsized – importance. From the Veepstakes watches that dominate coverage for months to the nominees themselves -- Lloyd Bentsen and Dan Quayle; Al Gore and Jack Kemp; Sarah Palin and Joe Biden – the vice president’s role today carries unquestioned importance.

But this wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, the vice presidency was a laughing stock, a place to hide people, placate others and at times, just plain disappear. What changed?

Jules  Witcover is the famed syndicated political columnist at the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and Star and Los Angeles Times. He is the author of 14 books; co-author of 5 others. His most recent book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power”…

Sam Wang, Founder of Princeton Election Consortium  

It remains impossible to talk about the 2014 Midterms without turning immediately to the big question – the only question –which party will take Senate Control? And who are we to fight that power?

So while we wait 6 weeks for actual results, we turn instead to predictive analysis –deep dives into dozens of race-by-race polls that seem to be released hourly. What do they show? How many seats are truly still in play? Where should we focus attention, and within that focus, what should we be looking for. And most simply, can’t anyone just tell us who’s going to win?

Sam Wang is an Associate professor of neuroscience and molecular biology at Princeton University. He is also founder of the Princeton Election Consortium, where he publishes one of the most-watched polling models around. Sam’s model has come under some scrutiny this election season, as it’s been one of the few models consistently predicting that the Democrats will retain the Senate. What does Wang know that the rest of us don’t?

Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight  

As we make our way towards the first Tuesday in November, a highly-watched, always-debated component of American politics is ready to take it’s place center stage: Statistical models.

These models, which connect and weight a range of ever-changing data, have replaced the simple “who will win by how many points” projections. And with Senate control both still undetermined and central to our political future, understanding these models is key.

And, of course, none of these models is better known or more anticipated than Nate Silver’s.

Nate Silver almost single-handedly brought the art and science of political statistical modeling in our cultural mainstream. He is founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight…

Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark, authors of "Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs and Washington Handshakes"  

Every topic has its own slang, it’s own lingua franca. From football’s NFL stadiums to academia’s ivory towers to California’s beaches, every niche these days maintains a coded language of its own.

To really understand these niches – to be clear on what’s behind the headlines, what people are really saying, what’s really going on – you need to speak the language. And if you don’t speak the language, you better have the right dictionary.

Politics, of course, is no different. Here, “deep regret” is something you express only when you feel no remorse. “Bomb throwers” are celebrated, but “bridge builders” are sellouts. And the last thing you want to be is someone’s “good friend.”

To help us navigate the doublespeak and double-dealing that define the language of politics: Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark. McCutcheon is co-author of National Journal’s Almanac of American Politics and co-editor of CQ’s Politics in America 2010. Mark is Editor in Chief of Politix and former senior editor at Politico. Together, they are co-authors of the book, “Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang ,and Bluster of American Political Speech."

John Avlon, Editor in Chief of The Daily Beast, author of "Wingnuts"  

Finally, summer is over! The relaxation, beach vacations and barbecues are finally behind us and in this post-Labor Day glow, Americans can focus on our prime national sport – the one with the late hits, flagrant fouls and crazy fanatics.

Of course, I mean politics.

And while this glorious season brings out the political junkies, it also brings out the political crazies. The extremists who have spent their time since the last election cycle tearing down the governments we elected and creating the conflict that makes politics a full-contact sport.

As we speed into final lap of Midterms 2014, where do we stand? What is the state of our political debate? With President Obama’s approval ratings continuing to flounder – and with Senate control still an open question – what role might political extremism have on our campaigns and results?

Few follow process and the politics more closely than John Avlon. He’s editor-in-chief of The Daily Beast, a CNN contributor, and the author of multiple books including the recently released: “Wing Nuts: Extremism in the Age of Obama”…

John Dean, author of The Nixon Defense  

In little more than a week, we’ll mark 40 years since one of the darkest days in American politics, government and culture – 40 years since President Richard Nixon resigned our nation’s highest office.

Much has been written and reviewed about Watergate. So much that there would seem little room for anything new.

But there is.

John Dean played a key role in the Watergate tale.  He served as counsel to the President during that time, and while he did not know of the break-in when it occurred nor of White House involvement for many months later, he found himself – perhaps unwittingly – becoming a central player in what he calls The Nixon Defense.

In the last years, Dean listened to and transcribed the primary Watergate source material: Nixon’s own White House recordings. Incredibly, many of these conversations have never been transcribed, cataloged and examined. That’s what Dean has done, and in the process – he says – connected the dots between what we believe about Watergate and what actually occurred. He has documented it all in a new book: “The Nixon Defense: What He Knew and When He Knew It.”

Alex Lundry  

It’s time to review what may become the most important words in the 2014 Midterm and 2016 Presidential campaigns.

These words are not immigration or gun control or employment. They’re neither liberal or conservative

The most important words just may be microtargeting. Data mining. Analytics. That’s because the science of campaigning is hitting an all new level.

Not only can politicians and campaigns target you through direct mail and online – through websites, social media, blogs and more. They are now combining data about what you buy, wear and read with television – yes, what you watch. And not just which channel, but which show: Every click you make. And while big brother can’t connect all of this data down to you personally – at least not as far as we know – the science of campaigning is innovating at record speed.

What does this mean for the future of campaigns and voter turnout? How exactly will politicians deliver the right messages to the right voters at the right time? And while it’s all surely fascinating, is it good?


Alex Lundry is one of the political world’s foremost campaign scientists. He served as Director of Data Science for Mitt Romney in the 2012 campaign. He is now co-founder of Deep Root Analytics and Chief Data Scientist at Target Point Consulting, helping define the vanguard and intersection of political and technical development…

Noam Bramson, Mayor of New Rochelle  

Is political courage dead? The question gets asked a lot these days, most recently around President Obama and the immigration-border control disaster. Joe Klein of Time wrote what many of us feel: “True political courage is near extinct.” He continued: “Nowadays politicians are swaddled by their media consultants, who determine whether it is ‘safe’ to be ‘courageous.’”

Of course, it’s not just immigration. Pick any issue – health care, gun control, voter ID laws – and the lack of political courage is astounding. And it’s taking its toll – as the public’s disapproval of government – Congress and the President – reaches all time highs.

So today, a small but very bright example of political courage during times of very depressing headlines.

Noam Bramson is the mayor of New Rochelle, NY. He recently put a personal confession on the top of his webpage. Bramson wrote about his own complicit silence in a recent city council meeting – silence when local residents complained that they didn’t want a group home for 5 men with autism opened on their street. He wrote about his shame, and his now public stance in favor of the group home some of his very good and loyal constituents don’t want.

I guarantee the piece will move you and restore – if only for a moment – your faith that political courage may not have completely died.

Before we begin, my own confession: I am not the most objective person on this topic. Not only do I have a sister-in-law who lives in a similar type of assisted living home, but I’ve known Noam Bramson for more than 20 years. I’ve donated to his campaign. So has Taegan Goddard, publisher of Political Wire.

But I feel strongly that the sinking trust in government is a national crisis and small acts of political courage is a conversation worth having. And I’m confident, by the end of this conversation, so will you…

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