political-theater-podcast

Get used to it: Trumpism without Trump
Political Theater, Episode 82

From left, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna S. Pressley, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib conduct a news conference Monday to respond to attacks made on them by President Donald Trump. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Political scientist Shadi Hamid remembers growing up in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the son of Egyptian immigrants. In what was then a solidly Republican enclave of the Philadelphia suburbs, his parents and many of his Muslim neighbors voted for George W. Bush.

That seems like a long time ago, as that critical swing area of Philly has swung increasingly Democratic, along with most of America’s Muslims. So why would President Donald Trump spend so much time attacking Muslims and, in particular, a high-profile group of Democratic congresswomen, a.k.a. “the squad,” that has two Muslim members, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan? Well, because attacking your opponents across racial lines and defining them as a sinister other is a basic tenet of Trumpism, and the president and many of his Republican allies are all in. 

Harry Reid in winter: Still grappling, and dabbling, in politics
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 81

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with CQ Roll Call about Nevada politics, the presidential race and baseball in his office at the Bellagio in Las Vegas on July 2. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Harry Reid might have retired from the Senate in 2017 and started battling cancer a year later, but the former Senate Democratic leader doesn’t seem to be the retiring type, especially when it comes to Nevada politics.

“I’m a political junkie, to say the least,” he tells our own Niels Lesniewski in a wide-ranging interview in Las Vegas that we’ve excerpted for this edition of the Political Theater podcast.

‘Mike Wallace Is Here’ shows how we got here
Political Theater podcast, Episode 80

“Mike Wallace Is Here” documents the career of the legendary journalist — as well as his role in creating the political and news world we live in now. (Bryan Bedder/Getty Images file photo)

The new film “Mike Wallace Is Here” shows how legendary journalist Mike Wallace pioneered holding the powerful accountable, be they politicians, celebrities or real estate developers. But today’s world is one where journalists are in danger and the credibility of its practitioners is constantly called into question. What happened?

On the latest Political Theater podcast, the documentary’s director, Avi Belkin, discusses the arc of Wallace’s career and where things started to shift. In the course of compiling the movie — from thousands of hours of archival footage from CBS’ “60 Minutes” program that made Wallace a star — Belkin says he noticed just how much richer and articulate conversation was among journalists and the subjects they covered. And he argues that the audience bears a responsibility in all this too. 

Field notes from a North Carolina runoff and a reparations hearing
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 79

The GOP primary runoff in North Carolina’s 3rd District has become somewhat of a proxy war between House Freedom Caucus leaders Mark Meadows, left, and Jim Jordan, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

There is always a special congressional election somewhere. For the purposes of this particular Political Theater podcast, it is the upcoming Republican primary runoff in North Carolina’s 3rd District.

This is the seat that became vacant when longtime GOP Rep. Walter B. Jones died earlier this year. The April 30 GOP primary ended with two candidates heading to a July 9 runoff: state Rep. Greg Murphy and political newcomer Joan Perry. (The winner will face Democrat Allen Thomas, the former mayor of Greenville, in a Sept. 10 special general election to serve out the remainder of the 116th Congress.)

James Inhofe and the art of the bipartisan joke
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 78

Senate Armed Services Chairman James M. Inhofe and ranking member Jack Reed have a warm relationship that enables them to move bipartisan legislation, something Inhofe discusses in the latest Political Theater podcast. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Sen. James M. Inhofe is one conservative guy, and he is proud of it, trumpeting vote-tracking organizations that peg him as the most right-wing in the chamber. And yet, the Oklahoma Republican has an equally proud history of working with some of his most liberal colleagues on bipartisan legislation. 

As chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, he and Rhode Island’s Jack Reed, the panel’s ranking Democrat, constructed the highly popular defense authorization bill the last two years. And before that, he worked quite productively with California Democrat Barbara Boxer, the yin to Inhofe’s yang on environmental issues, as leaders of the Environment and Public Works Committee. This, despite Inhofe writing a book that claimed global warming was, as the title attested, “The Greatest Hoax.” And yet, “We prided ourselves in getting things done,” he says. 

‘Running with Beto’: The offstage version of Beto O’Rourke
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 77

Beto O’Rourke’s campaign for Senate in Texas provided plenty of fodder, warts and all, for David Modigliani’s ‘Running with Beto’ documentary on HBO. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Filmmaker David Modigliani got to first base with Beto O’Rourke. At an amateur club baseball game in Austin, Texas, in early 2017, O’Rourke, center fielder for the Los Diablitos de El Paso, singled and introduced himself to Modigliani, first baseman for the Texas Playboys Baseball Club, and said he was a congressman running for Senate.

This anecdote doesn’t make it into Modigliani’s documentary for HBO, “Running with Beto,” but it fits right into the movie’s vibe. O’Rourke’s “Let’s put on a multimillion-dollar Senate campaign” approach did not suffer from a lack of exposure, but Modigliani casts it in a different light by showing more than just the Texas Democrat’s armpit-sweat and crowd-surfing, DIY schtick. He wanted to document someone like O’Rourke “trying something new” in Texas, where Democrats “have been banging their heads against the wall for 30 years.”

Why the Grim Reaper thing works for Mitch McConnell
Political Theater Podcast, Episode 76

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has his own way of doing things, to the consternation of his political foes. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Mitch McConnell is an extraordinarily successful politician, despite lacking what might be described as traditional attributes of a public official.

The Senate majority leader pursues his policy goals with metronomic unflashiness. He is almost proudly uncharismatic, brandishing his fuddy-duddyism as a boy scout might display a merit badge.

When Werner met Mikhail … ‘Meeting Gorbachev’
Political Theater, Episode 75

Filmmaker Werner Herzog, seen here in 2016 promoting his film “Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World” discussed his documentary “Meeting Gorbachev” recently with Political Theater podcast host Jason Dick. (Jason Dick/CQ Roll Call)

Everything about Werner Herzog becomes theater. Talk to the iconic German filmmaker about his documentary “Meeting Gorbachev” and he might just end up scolding you about your interpretation of Russian poet Mikhail Lermontov. Scroll through historic footage of the fall of the Iron Curtain, and you could end up learning how much beer garden slugs like to drink. Quote from his movie about worries that the U.S. and Russia are heading toward an arms race, and he will downplay that Russia is a threat, while also saying world leaders need to “look beyond the horizon again,” and strive toward peace, much like Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev once did.

For better or worse, he’s always interesting. He doesn’t have much patience for small talk, so your latest Political Theater podcast, which features our conversation with him about his film on the last president of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, is a real ride. “I never would have dreamed I would have spoken to Gorbachev himself,” he says. The movie demonstrates his undreamed reality. Listen for yourself: 

Get used to talking about Pennsylvania
Political Theater, Episode 74

Hello, Pennsylvania! Air Force One arrives with President Donald Trump for a rally at the Williamsport Regional Airport in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday, May 20, 2019. The perennial battleground state will go a long way to determining the next president. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

For pure Political Theater, it will be hard to beat Pennsylvania during the 2020 campaign. The Keystone State will be, well, key to an Electoral College victory. President Donald Trump knows it. That may be why he has visited it six times since taking office, including to Montoursville in the north central part of the state on May 20.

He won’t be alone, though, because the current Democratic frontrunner, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., was born in Scranton, represented neighboring Delaware in the Senate for decades and opened his official campaign headquarters in Philadelphia on May 18. Pennsylvania has long been a swing state in presidential politics, and Democrats’ ability to flip several Republican seats in 2018 paved the way for them retaking the majority in the House.

These Democratic women don’t want to be ‘show ponies’
Political Theater: Episode 73

Democratic House freshmen banding together to help each other raise money to keep their seats in 2020 are, from left, Reps. Mikie Sherrill, Abigail Spanberger, Elissa Slotkin, and Chrissy Houlahan, along with Rep. Elaine Luria. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Five Democratic freshmen, all women with military or intelligence backgrounds, are banding together to help each other fundraise for their 2020 races. They all flipped Republican districts in 2018, and they know winning districts like theirs is the key to holding and expanding the House majority in 2020. 

After a few months in Congress, they’ve figured out who are the “workhorses” and who are the “show ponies,” in the words of Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and they’re tired of the latter getting all the attention. Along with Slotkin, Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania are fighting to hold the majority.